You're Likely a Lot Less Prepared for Crisis Than You Realize

It seems as if Mother Nature is waking up. Either she's trying to send humans an important warning, or perhaps she's just out to kill us all.

Massive storms across the globe, earthquakes, and collapsing ecosystems all combine to remind us that we are indeed intimately connected to our planet's natural systems. And that our well-being rests on staying on Mother Nature's good side.

Well, Mother Nature has seemed pretty pissed at us of late. Her recent punishments should be taken as a disciplinary wake-up call: It's time.

It's time to prepare, everyone. Way past time.

And it's time to recognize that there are multiplying failure points across the many systems we depend on for our way of life -- both natural and man-made. For example:

  • The wealth gap between the rich and the poor is now grossly obscene and yet still growing wider.
  • Our industrially-farmed soils are being depleted of their nutrients.
  • Species are going extinct every single day.
  • Global oil consumption ticks higher every year.
  • Stock price overvaluation is about the highest it's ever been.
  • Bonds have never been more expensive (i.e. yields have never been lower) in all of recorded history.
  • Debt levels have never been higher (both globally and, in most cases, locally).
  • The planet's population continues to explode (7.5 billion today, 10 billion by 2050) while key resources deplete at accelerating rates.

Only the foolish, or the seriously self-deluded, would think that these observations and trends will be consequence-free.

Which means we have to begin doing things very differently. We have to change who we are, the actions we take, the investments we prioritize, and even our most fundamental values and priorities.

However most people simply will not prepare, not notice, and not change anything until they are forced to by crisis. And even then, some will resist any notion of change until they've lost everything.

The recent destructive hurricanes have been literally and figuratively instructive in this regard.

When To Stay And When To Go

The first lesson we learned from the hurricanes was this: Stay if you can, leave sooner than everyone else if you cannot.

Evacuating has a host of problems for those caught up in the exodus. Traffic jams, lack of fuel along the route, and having to drive for many hours only to end up in a distant hotel in a town probably not ready for a massive influx of people are just a few of the stresses. Living out of hotels and away from your job is also very expensive, especially for a nation where more than 75% live from paycheck to paycheck.

As the people of the Florida Keys learned with Irma, once you've evacuated, you're then unable to return until authorities have decided you can, creating enormous stress for people who want to check on their properties and (possibly) pets left behind, put tarps over damaged roofs, etc. The lesson many claimed to have learned from that experience was to not evacuate in the first place.

After reading enough accounts of people who regretted evacuating, coupled to the relatively low loss of life even in places like Dominca that took the full brunt of a Cat 5 hurricane where people live in less-than-ideal structures (flimsy, wood frame, tin roof affairs), it would take quite a lot for me to decide to not ride out a storm.

I'd have to have some special mitigating factors to impel me to evacuate -- like tall trees next to my house, being in a flood plain or near a flimsy dam or dyke, or having special needs people under my care who might need electricity or other services to remain alive.

I've never sat through a Cat 5 storm, so perhaps I'd change my mind if I ever did. All reports are it's an extremely terrifying experience: loud, violent, and seemingly endless. But I'm pretty confident that I'd choose to wait out a Cat 3 or lower in my house.

That said, I'd have a pre-arranged and well-defined evacuation plan in place, just in case. The experiences shared below have convinced me of the high value of doing so.

Getting Prepared Beforehand

We've had several PeakProsperity.com members write in who were in the direct paths of Harvey and Irma and came out from the storms OK. One best practice they shared in common was they were already fully stocked with emergency provisions well before the hurricanes even began forming way out in the Atlantic. These were folks who had prioritized being prepared for *whatever* future disaster might arise.

Despite this, they still experienced some surprises. No matter how well prepared you think you are, reality has a way of exposing your overlooked weaknesses.

Here's an account from one of our readers (Rector):

We live south of Corpus Christi and Harvey just missed our area. We began the usual fire drill of preparing for the hurricane, but it veered north just in time. Bizarrely the follow-on weather was delightful - sunny, crisp, and breezy - while the rest of the gulf coast became an apocalyptic nightmare. As I watched the news I was painfully aware of how close we came to being flooded, displaced, and disrupted. As a card-carrying member of the Peak Prosperity Preparer's Club - I came to the realization that Chris articulated - nothing can prepare you for this kind of Black Swan event. No matter what - losses will occur. My takeaways after being grazed by the Harvey bullet are (so far):
1. Be prepared to accept refugees. Family members are on the way (I think). At this point they are without resources and fractured. Dad is a cop and cannot leave Houston. We are happy to accept them into our home - but it wasn't exactly planned. In a wider emergency the same might happen and I will say yes then too. I need to expand my preparations for the likelihood of more people camping out with us. Turning everyone away outside of a pandemic scenario is not an option (really). What's the point of all this anyway if you can't help people?
2. Being 5% prepared is WAY better than zero. As I watch people in Houston it has occurred to me that I need a boat. I live on a body of water which has flooded before and will flood again. I built my home well above the flood plain - but Harvey just made a joke out of that math. As I watch people wade in chest deep water while others float by in boats; I'm buying a boat. Today.
3. Being prepared is great! I needed to do NOTHING to get ready for the hurricane at my home. Turns out that was really helpful because my time was spent getting other people and places prepared. All of my employees (save one) asked for the day off (to get their homes ready) leaving me alone in my preparations. Thankfully I didn't have to waste time at the gas pump, ATM, or the grocery store.
4. Evacuation plans are a real priority for me now. With four kids my mental default position has been to "hunker down". "We don't evacuate for hurricanes here" has been the attitude because we are prepared and have always done well. Harvey has demonstrated this is NOT ALWAYS POSSIBLE.
I will now focus my considerable prepping energy to developing a viable evacuation strategy. Not an overland hike in ghilli suits - but a real strategy to get this group of people somewhere else quickly and safely. Routes in every direction. A list of destinations. Checklists for packing, securing, and evacuating. Documentation, asset relocation, etc. I am even going to develop a plan to go into Mexico. I had a day and a half between threat presentation and expected landfall. Some events may present even less time.
5. I need to be able to execute a plan at less than 100%. As luck would have it, I pulled a muscle at CrossFita week before and would have needed to do all the above while limping around in pain. I represent the lion's share of muscle power for the family - but can they execute in my absence or incapacity? Hmm. . . not ready for that.
6. It is possible for two bad things to happen at the same time. The financial crisis could begin, North Korea could strike, or any of the other crap I worry about could commence at any moment. WHILE LIVING IN A FEMA SHELTER because I hadn't planned on evacuating. Am I ready to execute trades, etc. while in that shape? Hmm. . . not ready for that either.
I am thankful that we were spared the apocalypse but it has (again) identified holes in my plan that are the result of false premises. Challenge yours because you just can't make this stuff up.
Rector
(Source – Peak Prosperity)

So many lessons packed into that experience! Huge thanks to Rector for sharing that all with us. The part that really caught me and made me rethink my entire levels of preparation centered around just how unprepared I would be if I had to completely bug out and leave my home behind.

Harvey (and Katrina) showed that sometimes you have to do just that. So has Maria, which is going to leave parts of Puerto Rico without power for possibly several months, maybe as long as half a year.

Would you be willing to live without power in a tropical climate without power for 6 months? I wouldn't. Just keeping food from spoiling would be a hard challenge, but just one of many -- including sleeping without A/C or fans (or rather trying to sleep I should say).

The other important lesson to take from Rector and other like him is that if preparing beforehand is comparatively easy. But during a crisis? It becomes very hard and sometimes impossible. Another reader account, this one from Morpheus who was in the direct path of Irma for time, confirms this:

I live in Palm Beach City Florida and right now both the US and European forecasting models have a Cat 4/Cat-5 eyewall slamming right into my house. Maybe not as bad as a currency collapse, but it will be worse for me. Anyways, to make a long story short, we think that we are well prepped, at least we thought so.
But crisis' of this magnitude get you to think even deeper than you normally would. And boy o' boy, I wish I had thought deeper.
We're better prepped than 99% of the population out there but now all that procrastination over the years is grating on me like sandpaper.
Ohh the easy things that I could have done a month ago, 6 months, a year ago.
(Source – Peak Prosperity)

The message is clear: Even for those who think they are well-prepared, a true emergency can shine a harsh light on your shortcomings. The best time to prepare is as far beforehand as you can manage.

The vast majority of people will ignore this message. Take this story that made the rounds during Irma:

Like many Floridians racing to buy food and supplies before the arrival of Hurricane Irma, Pam Brekke found herself miles from home today, desperately hoping to score a generator. According to ABC affiliate WFTV-TV, Brekke, a Sanford, Florida, resident, had spent days waiting for empty shelves to be restocked and searching for a generator.
She said today that she'd traveled more than 30 miles to Orlando to a Lowe's Home Improvement store that had received a surprise shipment of a little more than 200 generators.
Within two hours, however, the generators were sold out and Brekke, who had been next in line, was empty-handed.
A heartbroken Brekke then began to cry. Ramon Santiago, who had gotten one of the generators but had not purchased it yet, noticed and insisted that she take his.
"She needs the generator," Santiago told WFTV-TV. "It's OK."
Brekke shared with Santiago that it was her ailing father who needed the generator to power his oxygen supply.
(Source)

A heartwarming story to be sure, and we can all applaud Mr. Santiago for his actions, but it's also an instructive tale that reveals the extent to which many people fail to think through their plans until forced to.

An imminent hurricane should not be a required prompt to begin thinking about scoring a generator. Look, if I had an ailing parent that required electricity in order to survive, hurricane threat or not, you can bet I would have back-up power already on site and thought through. Hey, sometimes the power goes out. Hurricane, blown transformer, or errant squirrel. It's insane to think it will always be available, uninterrupted, 100% of the time.

So while this story had a happy ending, it shouldn't have happened in the first place.

People should be prepared to take care of themselves through any reasonable and foreseeable emergency. Some are. Most are not.

Preparing in a rush while an emergency is approaching or underway is difficult, and not advised. In Puerto Rico, this was immediately apparent even before Maria landed:

"This storm promises to be catastrophic for our island," said Ernesto Morales with the U.S. National Weather Service in San Juan. "All of Puerto Rico will experience hurricane force winds." Puerto Rico has imposed rationing of basic supplies including baby formula, water, milk, canned food, batteries and flashlights.
(Source)

That is, once a disaster is on the way, it's too late to stock up! Don't get caught having delayed too long.

Preparing Is A Selfless Act

The entire topic of "prepping" seems to have gone dead over the past few years. But, trust me, it's going to come back into style again soon.

Right now, many people have a negative reaction to the idea of 'preparing' and denigrate it as some sort of loony act. This is really just a psychological evasion, a coping technique that allows them to ignore their own lack of resilience.

We all expect our corporations and governments (federal state and local) to be ready to easily predictable emergencies, and we get quite irate when that proves not to be true -- even though most of us have taken zero steps in our own lives to prepare for these "easily predictable" events.

This passage from our book Prosper! provides our views on what it means to prepare responsibly:

Selfless, Not Selfish

Another objection we hear to the prospect of preparing and becoming more resilient is that those actions could be seen by others as being selfish. Instead we see them as being selfless. Those who are not prepared when an emergency strikes are a drain on critical resources, while those who are prepared can be of assistance.
To be among those who can be in a position to render assistance, or at least need none of their own, means that your prior acts of preparation have selflessly removed you from the minus column in an emergency and placed you on the plus side. Anyone who has flown in an airplane is familiar with this model. During the emergency-procedure review prior to takeoff, you're reminded to put on your oxygen mask first before assisting others or your own children. The reason for this is obvious: if you lose consciousness, then you'll be of no help to anyone and become a burden on others.
The first steps toward preparedness usually involve addressing your own needs or those of your loved ones, but many people then go beyond that and prepare for others who may not be able to do so, or have not done so, or maybe even will not do so.
But let us put an important qualifier on that: preparing before a crisis hits is responsible and selfless, but trying to accumulate necessary items during a crisis is an act of hoarding. We do not and never will advocate hoarding. Responsible preparations begin long before any trouble appears. Anything else stands a good chance of making things worse, not better, and may earn you some enemies.
The news has been full of stories of how people behave when scarcity strikes, and these are often quite distressing tales of bad behavior and fragile civility. People in Boston fought over bottled water just hours after a water main broke in 2010. Nasty fights, too, given that the water main had broken just hours earlier.
In Venezuela, as of the writing of this book, desperate people are attempting to buy anything and everything that might remain in the stores as their national currency devalues by the day. Looting and violence are on the rise and hunger and hopelessness are taking hold. This has brought forth all sorts of stopgap government-mandated counter measures that are typically making things worse for average families.
In the process of becoming more resilient, time is your most valuable asset. Be aware that many things that are easily available now may be difficult or impossible to obtain later. Now, before any big crises have hit, it's very easy to pick up the phone, or click a mouse button, and have the big brown truck of happiness roll up to your doorstep a few days later with your purchase.
Everything you could ever want to buy is currently available and stores are abundantly stocked (in most countries). However, we can imagine a large number of possible futures where such access to consumer goods and desired items is either much more restricted, much more expensive, or even impossible. For those without monetary resources, some of your most important assets—such as Social and Emotional Capital—require no money at all…but will take time to develop.

Preparing beforehand -- and thereby being in a position to help those around you in the event of an emergency -- is selfless. Preparing in the midst of a crisis, grabbing what you can, is selfish.

Why Bring All This Up? The Coming Financial Storm

The recent hurricanes are merely reminders that sometimes things happen that are out of our control. They remind us that risk still exists.

Our longstanding view is that there's a financial storm coming. One that is going to be larger and more destructive than all the others that came before.

Just as the hurricanes in the Atlantic basin were fueled by ocean temperatures a full 1.5 degrees warmer than average, the coming financial storm will be fueled by the most excessive pool of "hot money" created in all of history.

In 2016, the stock market had convincingly rolled over and formed a very reliable head-and-shoulders top indicating an approaching correction. In response, the world's central banking cartel (led by the ECB and Bank of Japan in this case) went on the most aggressive money printing spree the world had yet seen, flooding the markets to drive prices back higher. Here's what happened to the Dow Jones industrial average in response:

While that “rescued" the stock market, it has only served to drive it to a higher level that will be far more destructive when it finally corrects. Such 'help' always turns out to have come with a long-term cost far greater than the short-term benefit.

History shows that every bubble experiences a final blow-off top phase. They all do, whether the object of fascination is a railroad, swamp land in Florida, tulip bulbs, or today's financial assets.

The final spurt on the above monthly chart of the Dow certainly looks like that moment of central bank panic of 2016 has finally resulted in the blow off-top we've been looking for. One that has been long in coming.

Another feature of bubbles is that they require prices to depart wildly from their underlying fundamentals. Well, we need look no further than small cap stocks in the US, which have just hit a brand new record high as earnings have been in terminal decline:

Yes, Virginia: stocks hitting new highs as earnings expectations hit new lows is very telling. It means that the crazy liquidity experiment of the central banks now has a life of its own. It's crazy for stocks to be behaving this way, especially since this is our third (and biggest) asset price bubble in 20 years.

Stock prices now shrug off the risk of nuclear war, despite the escalating saber-rattling between the US and North Korea. They are also immune to the increasing trade tensions between the US and China, and a host of other generally deteriorating geopolitical trends.

In short, they are in bubble land and are now in search of a pin.

The situation is now so obvious that even "mainstream" media outlets like MarketWatch are reporting on the dangerous repercussions of the Federal Reserve's behavior:

“I'll admit that it feels a little surreal that this Federal Reserve with its addiction to manipulating markets is actually trying to kick the habit. The unwinding of the balance sheet will dominate markets for at least the next two years and cements our outlook for higher rates," said Bryce Doty, senior portfolio manager at SIT Investments, which manages some $7 billion. (Source)

I suppose it's gratifying to finally see in print the same things we've been saying for years: The Federal Reserve and rest of the world's central banking cartel are addicted to manipulating markets. But the world eventually catches up.

At the same time it's a little unnerving to see these ideas going mainstream, because that means we're much closer to the end of this experiment than the beginning. All it takes is a critical mass of people to lose faith in the central banks for things to really get started to the downside.

Once they do, we predict the financial turmoil will take on a life of its own and we'll all be damned lucky if that doesn't spread into wider and more destructive geopolitical conflicts.

In Part 2 -- Crisis Preparation: What To Do, we detail out, point-by-point, the most important steps concerned individuals should take now -- before another disaster arrives -- to safeguard their investment capital, their property, and the personal security of their families.

Because whether caused by Mother Nature or man's own recklessness, we are due for more crisis. Don't be caught unprepared.

Click here to read Part 2 of this report (free executive summary, enrollment required for full access)

Ryan: Kanye West and the Great Society

Graphic by Alexander Somoskey.

Donald Trump has been name-dropped by nearly every major rapper of the last 30 years, starting with a reference by Beastie Boys on their iconic album Paul's Boutique, the Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop.

He's been mentioned by Jay Z. Ludacris. Young Thug. Nelly. Kendrick Lamar. Juicy J. Rick Ross. Eminem. Big Sean. A Tribe Called Quest. Scarface. Lil Wayne. The Coup. Master P. Ice Cube. Mos Def. Raekwon, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and various other Wu-Tang Clan affiliates. R. Kelly. Pete Rock. Nas. E-40.

And don't forget this surreal moment in our nation's history.

Then-candidate Trump on SNL ... dancing to a Drake parody.(Screenshot from YouTube)

When Bun B referred to Trump on the Chopped-n-Screwed anthem "Pocket Full of Stones," he was keeping with a tradition of rappers admiring Trump. This only changed a few years ago.

But then there's Kanye West, who proudly donned the red MAGA hat after discovering Candace Owens and being called "a jackass" by our nation's first black President. Then Kanye was hugging President Trump in the Oval Office? While wearing a Make America Great Again hat, supposed symbol of white supremacy, Nazism, hate, evil?

(Screenshot from YouTube)

People flipped. Everyone did. Longtime critics suddenly — and bizarrely — embraced Kanye as an ally, while longtime defenders disowned him, abandoned him like nail clippings, often mocking his struggles with mental illness and labeling him, if you can believe it, a white supremacist.

Then, in a moment that changed music history, Kanye released the single "Ye vs. the People."

Ye vs. the People (starring TI as the People) www.youtube.com

In it, he challenges what he sees as the unspoken rule that black Americans have to vote Democrat. He had hinted at the idea on his track "Black Skinhead," from the hauntingly gorgeous album Yeezus, but now he was addressing it head-on, with the passion of a man going to Confession for the first time in a decade.

Why should black folks have to abide by any set of cultural or political or artistic guidelines to begin with? And, he argues, the pressure to adhere to this longheld framework is itself undergirded by a subtle and cleverly masked racism, imposed by a group of people who portray themselves as the champions of race and enemies of white supremacy and destroyers of dumb yokel rednecks with their Rebel flags and monster trucks and fully-automatic AR-15 assault weapons. All of which, it turns out, is some next-level projection.

Kanye also confronts the presence of these expectations and stereotypes in hip-hop. The idea that rappers must invoke a negative persona in order to succeed. And the moment they deviate from that image they are rebuked or ignored, even though the persona is damaging to the black community as a whole. Which is especially ironic given that the people who voice the most outrage tend to be highly privileged, supposedly progressive white folks who love to rant about white privilege and black oppression.

Is it better if I rap about crack? 'Cause it's cultural?
Or how about I'ma shoot you? or f**k your b***h?
Or how about all this Gucci, 'cause I'm f****n' rich?

Best of all, Kanye has answers. And they differ from the erudite solutions offered by, say, A Tribe Called Quest, who, like Kanye, have modeled a healthy, positive image of blackness for the black community.

A central theme within "Ye vs. The People" is empathy as power, rebellion, freedom.

Make America Great Again had a negative perception
I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction
Added empathy, care and love and affection
And y'all simply questionin' my methods.

This concept is an extension of the powerful devotion to positive energy that Kanye adopted around that time, a purview he has cultivated into a wild new form of electronic gospel.

But his personal transformation was tough.

That [MAGA] hat stayed in my closet like 'bout a year and a half
Then one day I was like, "F**k it, I'ma do me"
I was in the sunken place and then I found the new me.

This is a struggle that many Americans undergo. Researchers call it the spiral of silence. The idea that the news media and social media present biased opinions as though they are fact, and when the message conflicts with a person's opinions or values, they feel isolated, alone.

Kanye and T.I. during the making of "Ye vs. the People"(Screenshot from YouTube)

As Kanye raps in "Ye vs. the People"

A lot of people agree with me but they're too scared to speak up.

Because we have an incredible ability to sense public opinion. So when we suspect that we hold a belief that rails against acceptable thought, we tend to keep quiet about it. That silence makes the opinion seem even more taboo, resulting in a more widespread silence.

In reality, many of these supposedly taboo opinions are not only popular, they are normal and practical and logical. Healthy, even. And the real danger is in demonizing them. But too many people are afraid they'll be ostracized for expressing their beliefs.

Like how — despite what we've been led to believe — most Americans cannot stand political correctness.

But the small minority of people who champion it are powerful and loud. They're like that cardboard city in North Korea, just visible enough from the border to make it seem like a thriving community. They're the Wicked Witch of the West, or Iago from Othello, or Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants.

So far, they have been successful. Although "success" by their metric is anarchic and primal, all destruction and loudness and people nervous to speak their mind. And the cost of rebellion can be devastating.

By the time Kanye West wrote "Yay versus the People," he had gotten sick of this power dynamic. So he broke the spiral of silence."

*

In the words of German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, "Whoever has language has the world."

Humans alone have it.

But in order for us to know freedom in our world, our language has to be public, shared, active. Because each of us thrives constantly with language, a stream of it always in our mind. Aristotle defined "thought" as the infinite dialogue between the soul and itself. Conversation is the exchange of thought between people. When we converse, we simultaneously release our infinite dialogue and accept the other person's. By speaking, we shape the world and free ourselves.

*

Another way to say it is that Donald Trump might have inspired the song that could very well signify the end of Hip-Hop, which is not only the most popular genre of our zeitgeist, it's the most popular, and successful, form of music in American history, which is the most important era of musical history.

If the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, and Drake literally outpaces the Beatles, then, well, you get the point God forgive me. And Kanye is bigger than Drake. So who better to have the final word on the capacities of Hip-Hop than Kanye West?

Nobody.

Every genre must come to a close. There's a reason why people aren't eagerly awaiting the next great disco album, or flocking to arenas to hear the newest bluegrass superstar, or asking to get their hair done like the latest syringe-armed guitarist of Guns N Roses.

(Screenshot from Instagram)

The great era of Rock 'N' Roll ended roughly about the time Radiohead traded their guitars and drums for synthesizers and sequencers, not long after Kurt Cobain took an insane amount of heroin and cradled a shotgun in his guesthouse, only to be discovered several days later by an electrician. Even worse, Nickelback soiled Cobain's legacy with godawful anthems, and who have their own weird and contradictory and hilarious connection to President Trump.

These days, Rock N' Roll lives mostly via nostalgia, as evinced by the explosion of cover bands. Notice how you don't see any hip-hop cover bands. You will, someday. But, for now, Hip-Hop reigns supreme. And Kanye is the King.

The brilliant Nina Simone once told a reporter that "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times."

Because music accords itself to the gravity and creative truth of the era. And currently we entrust hip-hop with this complicated maneuver.

But the past year, Kanye has been crafting a new sound through his Sunday services, weekly jam sessions with acoustic musicians and a choir and everyone dressed in white, praying through song, herding us into a better place, looking above for guidance. If it's anything like his track "Ultralight Beam," it will bring calm to our divided culture.

Mark my words: The resultant album will usher in an entirely new era, a magical flash in human history.

So far, hip-hop has been the defiant child of R&B and Electronica, the grandchild of Spoken Word and Steve Reich Minimalism, with tinges of Punk. Not for much longer. Kanye will see to that. And, weirdly, President Trump has helped inspire this transformation.

Meaning, Donald Trump will have had a hand in reinventing music as a whole, in spreading a movement of positive reformation. Love him or hate him, it does not matter. What other politician can make that claim?

There's an optimism to this that Dave Chappelle captured in his now-infamous Saturday Night Live monologue, just days after Trump was elected, asking Americans to at least give the man a chance. And again in his special "Equanimity," when he said

I swear no matter how bad it gets, you're my countrymen, and I know for a fact that I'm determined to work shit out with y'all.

In a moment of now-tired irony, the usual suspects heaped a barrage of hate at Chappelle for these remarks. But their outrage does not matter, in the grand scheme of things. Because it is an incredible time to be alive. It's beautiful. We should never forget that, no matter how petty or outrageous daily life gets.

At the moment, we are a country that is — everywhere, secretly — hurting. But we are Americans. Together. This is America. And, every day, God delights in our greatness and our empathy and our endless gift for love. So open your heart and listen. Say what you need to say.

New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday. Check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

Ryan: Michael Bennet, Little League

Photo by Sean Ryan

Every day, life getting shorter. Every day, life going faster. Every day, like a roller coaster. These were the kinds of things that Michael Bennet was saying.

Michael Bennet, God bless him, he seemed like a decent lad. All week he had his family there. He said his campaign was their family vacation. He had had prostate cancer but would you believe he survived?

"Life is getting shorter," he said. "Every day."

Photo by Sean Ryan

He was well spoken. Dry. Talked with an air of consultation. Like you were in his office, and he had things to tell you.

Like a Little League coach who could actually be a coach someday.

*

I would encounter Bennet again the next day, at the Iowa State Fair.

Having just seen Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at a small Baptist church, we ventured to the fair to see Bernie Sanders' riot of a Sunday speech. Bennet was on before him, so I got there early, and I paced off to get a restroom break. The media center is in the basement of the administration building, right by the Political Soapbox stage.

For whatever reason, the first-floor men's restroom has giant windows along the wall, and you can see right out onto the walkway that wraps around the building. I did not realize that this was the path that the candidates take to get to the stage.

Photo by Sean Ryan

And, this far into the 2020 presidential election, they never went many places alone. They had a press swarm and their wives and maybe an old friend who relocated here when the hurricane sank his house.

I was rushing. Panicking, really. Because I heard all the commotion. But nature abides by its own pace. And as I shuffled to the sink to wash my hands, my pants fell all the way down. I was exposed. Out in the open and in such desperation, you clobber yourself outside of time. It was all slo-mo with the Chopped-n-screwed voices as I scrambled to lift my trousers and audibly gasped the words, "Well just no." At that exact moment, that "accidental Renaissance" painting occurred as I locked eyes with Michael Bennet, slowly maneuvering the walkway.

These sorts of things happened, didn't they? There you were in a restroom, at an NFL game or a concert or maybe a bar, and you see someone you work with, or someone from church or school, and you lock eyes for a moment in confusion then revert to cave talk and shrug and get on with what you were doing. But it's weird when only one of you is actively part of the etiquette and allowances of a restroom and one of you is held to a higher standard, for the sake of common decency. Now let's say that you, the restroom occupant, happen to be credentialed press, and the outsider, Michael Bennet, happens to be a candidate for president of America.

Once the herd passed by behind him, I laughed a bit, quietly, because life could be very funny.

*

Onstage, Bennet, a senator from Colorado, gave the performance of a cake falling into a pool. Like he had been ghost-busted. Like he had spent the last two months learning the Fortnite dance moves and now that he had mastered them, suddenly Fortnite was for losers, and Fortnite dances, well, they were even worse.

The Political Soapbox is great because every candidate has 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes were theirs. Most of the time, they got romantic like a Backstreet Boy singing up toward an open window. Occasionally, they lost it. Bennet did neither. He belly-flopped into hay bales.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Remember that the growing crowd had the dangerous feel of a natural disaster. And it was gaspingly warm that day. So neither the crowd nor the environment were ready to give Bennet a freebie.

He gave a ravishing speech, full of neat invective. Then looked up and realized he still had 14 minutes on the clock. Oof. That was most of it, and he'd already done the Floss and the Robot and the Electro Shuffle, and honestly his shoulder was a little stiff from all that dance practice. So he opened the floor for questions.

Now, that was not the greatest idea. For one, this was not the type of place for such a thing. They called it a soapbox because you were meant to live out the phrase "on a soapbox" by ranting and fist-pounding and all other theatrics.

The Bernie Sanders supporters hadn't arrived en masse yet, so most of the people around the stage were clad in Trump gear. And they all had their hands up ready to ask him questions. Well, firebombs, really, masked as interrogative statements. Bennet shouted without breathing, then said, "I want to find a non-male person who has a question."

This did not sit well with the males who did not like the trend of personalizing all things, cautious gendering, and the sudden change of direction so that now they had to just listen.

Most people did not care.

"I do not support Bernie's plan," Bennet shouted. But would you believe the Bernie supporters had literally just arrived, you could smell their hair dye.

They jeered, then acted exactly — and I mean exactly — like the Trump supporters.

"I would rather support free pre-school than free college," he shouted. "Many people talk about... " but the jeering was too powerful. And the Bernie supporters had likely just had quinoa açaí bowls at their pre-Bernie brunch, so they were unstoppable. Well God bless the man for scratching "Give Presidency a Try" off his bucket list. Because at least he had a bucket list.

What did they have? Student debt and a restraining order? They being the growing factions of Bernie and Trump supporters in the audience. You could not see any pavement. It was just people and faces like the Mediterranean in the evening, all the way to the towering walls of the Grandstand.

Looking out at all that chaos, all that latent disaster, Bennet must have felt a deep stirring.

The night before, Slipknot headlined at the Grand Stand, a sold-out show. Rollicking and bursting and howling. How many drumbeats could drummer Jay Weinberg get per minute? At one point, vocalist Corey Taylor unleashed a demonic bellow, then adjusted his mask and looked out to all those people, those devoted fans, because many of them had Slipknot tattoos, and maybe he, like Bennet, indulged a moment for himself, a personalization of the grand setting, then shrieked, then persuaded the audience to lift their hands into the air, maybe toward a constellation of their choosing, and extend their middle finger like it was an egg landing on a pillow, which symbolizes the human condition.




New installments to this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. For live updates, check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

President Trump couldn't personally make it to Houston for the 3rd Democratic Debate, so he paid $7,500 for a single-engine Cessna to fly in circles over Texas Southern University campus while pulling a banner that said, "Socialism will kill Houston's economy! Vote Trump 2020!"

For four hours, it chugged around up there. You could hear it everywhere. It was the soundtrack of the night.

You can just imagine Trump's face as he had the banner-plane idea. You can hear him putting in the order. You can see his list of demands. And at the very top, "I WANT THE LOUDEST PLANE YOU CAN FIND!!!"

*

Was that Bret Baier in the aisle, adjusting his reading glasses and thumbing at the strap of his comically small backpack as he crossed the blue-carpeted gymnasium? He looked like the human version of Wisconsin. He was saying something but all you could hear was the plane overhead.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Bret Baier, the stoic host of "Special Report with Bret Baier" on Fox News and the network's chief political anchor. He's underrated, if you ask me. Legacy. Old-school. He just delivers the news, which is what most people want. He talks the way anchors used to talk, with the American accent unique to news anchors even though he was born in New Jersey and raised in Georgia.

I had spent the last year-and-a-half on a series of in-depth profiles on some of the major countercultural figures of our time. People like Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Carol Swain. So my first impulse was to rush over to Baier and profile the guy. Nobody else would, after all. The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's. But they ought to. The man has a hell of a story.
He joined Fox News a year-and-a-half after it was founded, as the southeast correspondent in Atlanta. A few years later, on a Tuesday in September, nineteen terrorists hijacked four passenger airliners and crashed into America.

When the first plane hit, Fox producers told Baier to just get in his car and drive to New York City. They needed back-up reporters for the next day. When the second plane crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., they said, "Step on it, Baier."

He and his producer were an hour outside Atlanta when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. Still a good 8 hours away, but closer to D.C. than to New York City. So they re-routed to Arlington, Virginia, as fast as they could. Past a blur of fields full of indifferent cows. Past houses full of people who could hardly talk, people who couldn't describe what they were seeing and hearing, all the smoke and the blood and the office-supply confetti. Past towns that barely moved, gas stations with nobody in them, people sunken into a far-away stare.

Yet there was the sun, with only a few bangles of cloud every so often. America had been paralyzed but the earth kept trucking along, quiet and unbothered. It must have felt strange for Baier, to speed down empty highways — toward literal death and chaos — under a perfect sky, below cascading light and color.

Nature doesn't care if we make it out alive.

*

That day, Baier reported live from a Citgo station across the street from the Pentagon, rubble in heaps of flame behind him. It was like he'd fallen onto a different planet and was reporting back to home.

The next day arrived and it was so quiet everywhere. Nobody knew a damn thing. We could not believe our eyes. We all turned to reporters and anchors for answers. Most often, they blurted out whatever they could.

Something about Bret Baier gave audiences a much-needed boost. Reliable, sturdy. Like he said what had to be said and not a word extra.

Fox kept him in D.C., indefinitely. A friend helped him find an apartment. He never went back to Atlanta. Two weeks later, Fox News appointed him Pentagon correspondent, a position that saw him travel the world, including 13 trips to Afghanistan and 12 to Iraq.

Halfway through George W. Bush's second term, Baier became Fox News' White House correspondent.

Then, a year before he would earn his current position as anchor, Baier became a father. His son was born with holes in his heart — five congenital heart defects. Twelve days later, the boy underwent open-heart surgery. Baier and his wife waited in tiled rooms drenched with flowers and ESPN and drab ultraviolet light, surrounded by machines full of beeps and whirring and beeps and whirring.

Baier's son has since undergone two additional open-heart surgeries, nine angioplasties, and one stomach operation. In an interview with Parents Magazine, Baier said that his son's health problems have "given me perspective about my job, going through policy and politics in Washington, D.C., to see the bigger picture."

*Part of the reason I couldn't tell whether or not it was Baier is he's usually up on the main stage. For the 2012 election, he moderated five Republican debates, and co-anchored FNC's America's Election HQ alongside Megyn Kelly.

The 2016 election would propel him into a much larger role. He anchored three Republican debates, but this time he had to handle Donald Trump.

Baier knew Trump personally, from before the election. They'd played golf together. He described Trump as "a nice guy outside of his TV persona" and never thought Trump would actually make a run for the Presidency. Onstage, Trump was much different. And Baier had been tasked with maintaining control.

A devout Roman Catholic, he appreciates a nice glass of wine and a fine cut of steak. He likes a good joke, too. In January, 2019, Baier signed a multi-year deal with Fox News to continue "Special Report." A few weeks later, he and his family went to Montana for a ski trip. The weekend was wonderful. But they had to get back to New York because Baier was scheduled to appear on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" that Tuesday.

Imagine him, again in a car hurtling toward a fateful destination. How he squinted through the frost-pocked windshield and gripped the steering wheel. As he guided the white SUV along the two-lane road to the airport. The land looked haunted, barren, lifeless. Everywhere, the world was frozen white. Snow and ice blanketing the fields, gauze over the sky.

At some anonymous intersection, Baier pumped the brakes, but the tires hit an ice patch, and the SUV spun loose. An oncoming car slammed into the driver's side, launching the vehicle into an embankment, wedged on its side. A man named Zach stopped his pickup truck and helped the family crawl free, and the Montana Highway Patrol rushed them to the hospital.

"Don't take anything for granted," Baier tweeted later. "Every day is a blessing and family is everything. It's always good to remind yourself of that before something does it for you."

Before every debate that he moderates, Baier spends 10 minutes alone, praying.

*

A Freedom of Information Act request in 2011 revealed that Fox News was actually right. That the Obama Administration really did hate them. And had intentionally excluded them from a press pool two years earlier. Then laughed about it.

The documents unearthed snarky emails between various high-ranking aides in the Obama Administration. In one, the Deputy White House communications director bemoaned Baier's reporting on the bias. "I'm putting some dead fish in the [Fox News] cubby — just cause Bret Baier is a lunatic." That same day, deputy press secretary Josh Earnest bragged in an email that "we've demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews."

The Trump administration pulled a similar stunt in July, 2018 by banning a CNN reporter from the press pool. Trump and Fox News had developed a beneficial relationship by then. And CNN was a lifelong competitor, a public enemy.
That night, Baier delivered an official statement, "This decision to bar a member of the press is retaliatory in nature and not indicative of an open and free press. We demand better. As a member of the White House press pool, Fox stands firmly with CNN on this issue of access."

Fox News rebuked Trump in solidarity with CNN. It was a heartening gesture between two seeming enemies. Fox News were standing up for truth, defending journalism, rejecting tyranny even though the ban would have benefitted them as a company.

Who knows how many books and dissertations and articles have been written about Fox News, usually in relation to bias, usually with a scathing tone. The conclusions differ wildly, yet each one claims certitude.

Generally, academics and journalists have taken a doomsday tone when talking about Fox News. Accusations of evil, fear-mongering, bigotry, hatred, misinformation, propaganda, racism, homophobia, and so on.

Despite these outcries, Fox News has consistently held its spot as the most-watched network in the country. Imagine how that makes its critics feel.

In an August 3, 2018 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Baier said, "the biggest problem is that the people who are most critical of Fox are usually people who have not watched Fox News."

Fox News is composed of two distinct departments. Punditry and straight news. Or "opinion news" and "descriptive news." Consistently, surveys of the public rate Fox News as both the least- and most-biased news network.
Last year, a survey found Fox News to be the second most-trusted television news brand in the country, after the BBC.

In a separate study, Democrats rated its bias score at (negative) -87, while Republicans placed it at (positive) +3. Which is like if, at a football game, one referee said "Touchdown," while the other referee said "Turnover, leading to Touchdown for the Defense." It can't be both, can it?

Public opinion may not be the best metric for understanding Fox News, especially in 2019.

Quantitative studies have offered clearer conclusions. In 2016, a content analysis used crowdsourcing and machine learning to examine over 800,000 news stories published over a year by 15 major outlets, from the New York Times to Fox News. They wanted to chart media bias.

What they discovered is that news outlets are far more similar than we believe. Much of the perceived bias is a matter of separating "opinion news" from "descriptive news." For conservatives, it's punditry. For those on the left, it's op-eds and long form investigative pieces, although the left tends to insist that they're not biased, that they are instead just more apt to tell the truth, even though research has disproven this belief.

The researchers found a much larger bias-divide in opinion news, whereas descriptive news was practically neutral. One of the researchers described Fox News' descriptive news as "guided by similar news values as more traditional, legacy media."

University of California Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote that "Fox News stands next to industry, state government, church, and the regular media as an extra pillar of political culture all its own."

Say what you want about Fox News, they play a crucial role in the so-called mainstream media. And, despite what Fox News will lead you to believe, they are definitely part of the mainstream. And they are by no means the innocent victim. And certainly not powerless. And they have all kinds of problems that I will not defend. But we'll talk about that in a later installment, the one about Kamala Harris at a gun control rally, advocating for propaganda.

*

After two months of political events, I suspected that different news networks have their own signifiers, like the distinct stripes and markings on various spiders.

Wall Street Journal reporters tended to carry old-timey notepads and interview any bystander they could find. Breitbart usually only sent one person, and he wandered around with his iPhone, recording every single thing. Politico, prim-suited men who could just as easily work on the stock market.

Most of the reporters dressed like that, in stagey business attire. Prim for a high school job fair. Meanwhile, the photographers, mostly men, looked like professional paintball players. The camera crews and technical staff were the only ones decked in tattoos and wearing sandals and generally not caring about the chaos all around them. On-camera talent were covered in makeup and shrink-wrapped into dresses or suits with chip-clips along the spine.

The Washington Post sent the classiest and most bored-looking people I have ever encountered. They never looked at their laptops as their fingers chopped at the keys, and you assumed they were pretending until you read their stories online. You could spot ABC because their camera crew wore faded red ABC hats. Associated Press looked like they had just come back from a battlefield assignment in Syria, and never donned the same press credentials as everyone else, preferring a tattered AP lanyard. And you always knew when someone was with the New York Times because they announced it to the entire room.

And Fox News? At democratic events, they usually hid. But not that day, in Houston, as Bret Baier walked up the aisle to a table a couple rows in front of me.

Most people arrived in the Media Filing Center several hours before the debate. Fox News got there just slightly after that, as everyone was wiggling in their seats and connecting their laptops to a shared outlet.

There were seven or so in the pack of Fox News, all grinning. They all had white to-go sacks from Chick-fil-A. And the room got quieter, so Trump's plane got louder. It was a double trolling event.

As host of the debate, ABC would be providing dinner. This information was included in the credentials email that all of us had received. So nobody else had brought food with them. No need.

Even better, I was familiar enough with that part of Houston to know that there was not a Chick-fil-A anywhere close to us. Who knew where they'd gotten that Chick-fil-A, but odds are it wasn't warm. Who knew if there was even any food in the bags.

They had brought Chick-fil-A into a building full of national media during the third Democratic Presidential debate. The 2020 election was already full of outrage about plenty of things, and one of them was Chick-fil-A. To some folks, the red chicken logo might as well have been a swastika. That very week LGBT activists had vehemently — cartoonishly — protested the opening of several Chick-fil-A's throughout North America. Chicken sandwiches had become yet another flag on the tug-of-war rope in the Culture War of our country.

To be clear, the political left was anti-Chicken and the political right was pro-Chicken. The media tended to lean anti-Chicken, and frequently wrote about anti-Chicken causes, often scolding pro-Chicken voices, or ignoring the struggles of the pro-Chicken community only to deny any opinion on Chicken at all. That was the cowardly part, of you ask me, the pretending like they weren't activists.

The Democratic candidates definitely leaned anti-Chicken. Sometimes they took it so far that it upset moderate anti-Chicken advocates. Because was it really so bad to eat Chicken? Couldn't you be anti-Chicken but also enjoy Chicken occasionally? Why did everything have to be either "all Chicken all the time unless you hate freedom" or "no chicken ever unless you support hate"?

The fight had spread everywhere. Airports, stadiums, malls, campuses. All had served as battlegrounds for the anti-Chicken versus the pro-Chicken.

The previous President was anti-Chicken. In fact, he may well have enflamed the entire movement. During his tenure, there were nationwide protests that saw pro-Chicken advocates angrily and proudly eating Chicken while anti-Chicken advocates protested outside and occasionally engaged in homosexual affection, which was being threatened by Chicken, according to them.

Every time the pro-Chicken folks bit into a Chicken sandwich, it was like they were gnawing away at the anti-Chicken people themselves. Degrading their identity. Because, for them, it was about the identity.

But the current President, unabashedly proud of his pro-Chicken stance, once served Chicken at the White House to some winning sports team, and the anti-Chicken activists saw it as proof that Chicken and hate go together. And maybe Chicken would even lead to the impeachment of the President they hate, which would mean the Vice President would become the President, but he's one of the most pro-Chicken people in America, so they'd have to impeach him, too. And the Supreme Court, it was overrun with pro-Chicken types.

This election, the Democratic front-runners competed for the bolder plan. They would end Chicken in America once and for all. They would obliterate our evil President and his Chicken Supremacy. Their stump speeches relied on harsh criticisms of pro-Chicken voters, who pretended to find the whole anti-Chicken movement amusing but were secretly enraged by it. In fact, they were certain that the anti-Chicken movement had been systematically silencing them for years, and that they had to fight for their Chicken in order to keep everything that they valued, even all the not-Chicken.

The media and the democrats and Hollywood and academia — all hated the Chicken, because they hated the pro-Chicken people. If they had their way, no more Chicken, ever again. And no more pro-Chicken deplorables. And tonight the anti-Chicken politico-culture complex would prove it, with long rants which get confirmed by glowing articles, calculated takedowns about the merits of anti-Chicken and the evils of pro-Chicken.

Yet here was Fox News, with actual Chicken. And they were smiling. Maybe in part because the police who were guarding us all tended to be pro-Chicken. And this was Texas, after all, an incredibly pro-Chicken state. But there were 49 other states and 14 territories, and all of them were fighting for or against Chicken.

Some experts even said we were on the cusp of a Civil War.


New installments to this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. For live updates, check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

We've heard the catchphrase "follow the money" so often that it's nearly a joke. It gained added attention in the 1976 movie All the President's Men, which follows the story of the two journalists who uncovered Watergate. "Follow the money," their source told them, "and you'll find corruption."

Problem is, corrupters hide their bad behavior remarkably well. They are masters of disguise. But if you look closely enough, you can spot the seams splitting in their choreographed routine.

One technique that magicians use for psychological misdirection is called the false solution. The goal is to distract the audience, to make them believe that they know what's really happening. All the while, the machinations of the actual trick are happening right in front of them, because "implanting an unlikely and unfamiliar idea in the mind can prevent participants from finding a more obvious one."

Billions of dollars. Lost. Gone.

I want to tell you a story of tremendous corruption, masked cleverly, using many of the same techniques that magicians have used for centuries. Only it's not a rabbit disappearing into a hat or a coin vanishing behind an ear. It's billions of dollars. Lost. Gone.

And the people responsible are the same people who have been so monstrously worked up about Trump's impeachment. The same people screaming about Trump's malfeasance with Ukraine are actually the ones misbehaving in Ukraine.

It's essentially an elevated, highly organized form of projection. Only instead of one person lashing out at the world, it's an entire political party, right up to the top. The very top. Barack Obama. It's right there on video.

Or how about the audio recording we uncovered, with Artem Sytnyk, Director of the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine, openly admitting a connection between the DNC and Ukraine?

So far, the story told by the Democrats and the media has been about Trump and Ukraine. Every so often, you hear mention of Joe Biden's dubious history with the war-torn country.

We were the first to talk about Joe Biden's connections to Ukraine back in April, with our candidate profile on Biden.

It turns out, the whole debacle was much worse than we thought. It stretched further than Uncle Joe. What we found out is that the DNC was working with the Ukrainian government.

This isn't a conspiracy theory. And we have the documents to prove it.

Read on to discover everything you need for a 30-second elevator pitch that you can give to your friend and say, "Look, here's what you need to know. Here's what's really going on."

If anyone is guilty, they should go to jail.

Last night, in Ukraine: The Democrats' Russia I revealed the elaborate misdirection taking place.

I said it last night and I'll say it again: If Trump is guilty, he should go to jail. If anyone is guilty, they should go to jail. Because this is too important to the Republic.

Watch the hands, follow the money.

Here are the documents, video, and audio that we found in our reporting. This is the hard evidence that will help you explain this unbelievable situation to other people.



  • June 2016 State Department memos detailing contacts between George Soros' office and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.




As you can see, we did a lot of research on this, and we've done our best to condense it for you. It still requires you to do your own homework, but there's a tremendous freedom to that.

You are seeking the truth.

You are bucking the mainstream media. You are rejecting them. And you are seeking truth. Because they abandoned truth a long time ago and they certainly aren't interested in recovering it now.