Why America Matters David Galland, Managing Director Share Tweet Email Print RSS Dear Reader, Let’s play “what if.” Start by asking yourself, what if you lived in Somalia and a gang of thugs with machine guns and rocket launchers took over the neighborhood?
Or you lived in Iran, where a theocracy was in control – a theocracy with a medieval view of women and, in this scenario, you are a woman?
Or Myanmar, where a deeply corrupt military holds tight the reins of power… so much so that if you are not thought to be sufficiently docile, they’ll round you up; thus, you’ll have no trial and no future?
Or China, or Russia, or Whereverstan, where the coercive edge of government is particularly sharp for those who openly disagree with the power elite?
What if, at this very moment, you were remade into a person on the losing side of the social equation in one of these places – finding yourself and your family directly oppressed – even physically threatened – by the resident government?
Then ask yourself: Whom could you look to for relief? To play this game, you have to really imagine the situation – you need to feel yourself in such a place.
To help, picture yourself as a dirt-poor resident of a dusty African town with bad water, little food, dirt roads, sporadic electricity, and armed thugs loitering on the sidewalks, harassing the local women with impunity – your wife and daughter included. And when you protest, they beat you viciously.
Prayers to your preferred deity go unanswered, and what limited resources make it to you through the filters of corruption are barely enough to maintain health. Your family is sick, oppressed, and in constant fear for their lives.
Again, I ask you: Whom in this situation can you look to for salvation? Who is even available to play the hero – the one who, on learning of your plight, will appear riding a white horse and, with six-guns blazing, chase the bad guys out of town? Whither the Hero?
So, who in this world of ours possesses the strength to banish the forces of dark from your country, and the resources to then help put your depressed economy back on its feet? Keep in mind that it’s not just your town or country we’re talking about – but all the ill-treated towns and countries of the world.
After all, the ultimate question we’re addressing in this “what-if” exercise revolves around the exact entity that might be brought into play to rescue the downtrodden of the world.
Therefore, only if the solution can be applied globally can you be assured that the light of freedom will, in time, make its way to the remote village you have been remade in.
Starting with Woodrow Wilson’s League of Nations, humans of modernity hoped that some form of coalition of nation-states might play the role of universal savior. Even the collapse of that ill-fated institution didn’t dampen such hopes, as from its ashes emerged the United Nations.
Today, however, almost no one holds out any hope for such a coalition to prove effective at… well… anything. That the Human Rights Council of the United Nations includes Saudi Arabia, Cuba, China and, until recently, Libya, pretty much says it all.
Moving down the list of possible candidates, we come to regional cooperation organizations, which come in many flavors – some like NATO being overly military, and others such ASEAN being more economically oriented. Might not each of these intra-state organizations dedicate themselves to cleaning up their own backyards?
Unfortunately, as with the United Nations, this is very much the case of asking the foxes to tidy up the chicken coop. Once a group of individuals achieves recognition as an official government (a status not so very different from the kings and queens of yesteryear), they are largely given a free pass.
And so it is that, in most cases, inter-regional alliances and trade arrangements transcend any concerns which neighboring states might have over reports of ill-treatment of some other country’s citizens. Or, as Sergeant Schultz of Hogan’s Heroes fame was prone to intone, “I see nuthink!”
If Not Them, Who? Which brings us to the notion of a standalone entity that stands ready to act when action is required. Which is to say a global sheriff, ready to mete out justice in any corner of the world should the officially constituted authority thereabouts fail in its responsibilities to protect its citizenry – or is itself the offending party.
As I don’t need to tell you (but for the sake of a smooth transition I will), many believe that the United States government is the only possible candidate for the job. And it’s not just some Americans who think this way. Despite the steady barrage of criticism the U.S. receives in the international media for its willingness to engage in covert and overt war-making – or, perhaps because of it – downtrodden people around the globe think this way, too.
That is understandably so, given that desperate people are willing to embrace pretty much any conceivable solution to their misery. With no other country possessing anything close to the military might and reach of the United States government – coupled with the country’s storied history as a bastion of liberty – it is only logical that, by default, it is viewed as the only hope.
Unfortunately, these hopes are based on a fantasy. The reality is that the very thing that makes the United States government the only candidate for the position of global sheriff – its bloated military – is also a major component in its economic downfall.
Continuing the metaphor, the U.S. government has sold its white horse and hat to the Chinese, and now has to borrow money for the bullets it uses in its guns. Let me straighten myself and lean forward toward my desk, in order to type the next line most emphatically.
If you are waiting for the United States of America to ride to your rescue, you are out of luck. It’s not going to happen. Not today, not tomorrow, not ten years from now. Sorry, but that is the way it is; accept it. And it’s not just that the country is literally bankrupt at this point.
It is that the American people are simply not bad-assed enough to banish all the world’s oppressors.
That’s not to say that the U.S. military isn’t bad-assed – that it is willing to invade countries for suspect reasons, kick in doors, and fire missiles into cars and houses it only suspects might harbor terrorists, clearly shows that it is.
But it is, thankfully, not bad-assed enough to mount the sort of scorched-earth war seen in the fire bombings of Japanese cities during WWII, where hundreds of thousands of innocents, old and young, were immolated in the pursuit of victory, then finished off with an atomic coup de grâce. Put another way, at this point the U.S. government has neither the resources, nor the societal will, to become the Truly Evil Empire envisioned in movies such as Star Wars.
Furthermore, the world’s poor and downtrodden can no longer look to the U.S. as a potential physical sanctuary. As with many Western countries, immigration is no longer encouraged.
All of which brings me to the point. Why America Matters Being comprised as it is of mere mortals, the United States government is entirely prone to missteps and terrible lapses of judgment. Likewise it is susceptible to avarice and panicked response to crisis. Sheer folly and blatant stupidity are also part of its repertoire.
A long thread of actions emanating from such human traits imbued in the U.S. government has brought us to this place – a place where the nation must attend to its own considerable challenges. That means that if you live in one of those desperate places, you can expect no help from these quarters.
That is not the case, however, when it comes to America – which is today perhaps the only real hope you have. In case you are confused by that statement, I use the word America entirely in the sense that it encapsulates and communicates an idea. That idea is the liberty to live your life without being subjected to undue levels of coercion.
My dear partner Doug Casey has often made this point, but it is a point worth repeating in the context of these musings. You see, while there is zero chance of the government of United States coming to the rescue of the world’s downtrodden, there is every chance that America can do just that.
That contention is solidly supported by the uprisings now under way in many Arab countries. The correct way of viewing those uprisings, in my view, is as the very antithesis to the ideas pushed forward by the region’s murderous mullahs. The latter go so far as to use mysticism to get young people to kill themselves and others, with very limited real effect.
In sharp contrast, the ideas of the youth rioting in the streets of Cairo, Syria, and elsewhere are firmly rooted in the desire for increased levels of personal freedom – the driving idea of America at the birth of the nation. Thus, a very good idea is effectively chasing out some very bad ideas.
The good news is that the idea of America is an incredibly powerful and persistent idea, simply because it resonates so deeply with the basic instincts of the human animal. No one likes to be oppressed, to be threatened. Resisting the usual temptations to spin off on tangents, I’m going to try to jump straight into something of a conclusion here, then get on to other items I wanted to bring to your attention today.
The World Is Not Perfect. It never has been, and never will be. There will always be pockets of despair, the worst of which are invariably caused by especially corrupt and coercive governments.
But it’s only a matter of degree, as it is not an exaggeration in the slightest when I say that the operating principle of all the nation-states could be summed up as, “You belong to us, so do as we say, and pay up when we tell you to, or else!”
Foreign Interventions Are No Answer. For far too many reasons to list here, the idea that one entity can cross a border to bring permanent relief to another – at least on anything other than a very small scale – is a non-starter.
Nation building is incredibly difficult and expensive, and is made even more so when there are big cultural differences between the occupiers and the occupied. That two of the world’s most powerful countries – the Soviet Union and the U.S. – have broken their picks trying to remake Afghanistan provides the perfect case study.
Even in the case of the Libyan opposition, whatever semblance of solidarity of purpose that might have coalesced around the burning desire for freedom – a solidarity that would likely emerged as a key organizing principle in the post-Khaddafi era – is now likely to be diluted and even swept aside by the intervention of the West militarily, and with payoffs to favored groups, to the exclusion of others.
Neither Is Foreign Aid. Shipping billions of dollars in aid to the leadership of a nation as a way of bringing them into line with the donor country’s own interests merely serves to prop up the status quo, skew the local economy, and retard the emergence of more freedom-oriented forms of government.
I always found it positively Orwellian that at the height of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviets, the U.S. actively propped up the latter with huge supplies of corn and wheat. Absent U.S. food aid, the Soviet state would have collapsed years earlier. The United States Government, Though Counterproductive, Is Irrelevant.
As discussed in my article last week, the United States government has deviated dangerously from the ideals of America, and is now well down the slope of becoming a police state itself.
As such, it is providing a negative example to the rest of the world – and not just to the people on the street, but to their governments who look to the United States as something of a compass as to right and wrong.
The good news is that the idea of America has long ago transcended any domestic degradations of that idea. Like the contents of a benevolent version of Pandora’s box, the idea of America has been released and cannot be put back again. That, in my firmly held opinion, is why America is important.
Of course, history does not move quickly in most regards, and so the idea of America – born over 200 years ago – is still working its way around the globe. The Arab Spring is only the latest surge of the idea, and it certainly won’t be the last, because the idea of personal freedom is too powerful, too ingrained in the human psyche, not to eventually succeed against the forces that would extinguish it.
Returning momentarily to our “what-if” exercise – the stark reality is that there is little that any of us as individuals can do to effectively help people who find themselves in the iron grip of a particularly bad government.
We can, however, speak out against these governments, in order to shed light on their actions in the hope that other governments and business leaders with influence in those countries will help bring about a change.
Failing such changes, sooner or later the people themselves will rise up, as they are now in the Middle East – and as they did in America in 1775 – and force the situation to improve.
Is there an investment angle in this? Absolutely. Countries with an honest judiciary and strong private property rights, that live within their means (which in turn allows them to minimize taxation), and don’t get carried away with regulation and other forms of coercion create powerful economies.
Focus your investments in those areas, and it is hard to go wrong. Of course, few if any countries meet all those criteria, though there are those that get much right – Singapore and Switzerland, to name a couple.
Helping to make the point, check out these charts from dear reader Russ that I received today. The top chart shows the price of gold in British pounds and U.S. dollars, and the bottom in Swiss francs. Notice anything? Thus, watching the news for developments indicating that countries are moving in the right direction on the freedom scale – putting the rights of the individual ahead of the wishes of the masses, or the dictates of a self-serving leadership – can prove a very profitable pastime.
And with that, I’d like to move on by sharing with you a couple of somewhat related pieces. Understanding Coercion Everyone understands why it’s wrong for a hoodlum to demand that you hand over your wallet, and threaten you with violence if you don’t. But very few people understand the corollary between that situation and the insidious nature of government’s coercive powers.
The following short illustrated video from Reason.com does a great job of explaining the fundamental failure of principle in the operating methodology of today’s nation-states. It is very well worth a watch, and passing along.
Click on the image to watch. This next piece was written by our own Doug Hornig, following an exchange of emails about a SWAT team in California kicking down the door of some poor guy in the wee hours of the morning, and dragging him off in his underwear – on a warrant issued by the Department of Education.
Doug Hornig’s article follows… This Is America? By Doug Hornig It is an article of faith among Americans that we defeated the evil Soviet empire in the Cold War. But did we really win? True, the Soviet Union dissolved, due in part to the pressure we applied by persuading them to engage us in a financially ruinous arms race. But if the Cold War was about them trying to spread their way of life to our shores, then the line between winner and loser is blurry indeed.
The USSR was a full-blown police state, with whatever individual liberties that existed subject to the whims of the state and its minions at the KGB. Here, we pride ourselves on a Constitution that was written to protect our basic rights from the brute force of an overweening government.
But as the Cold War morphed into the War on Terror (the “Forever War,” in Doug Casey’s apt phrase), so is the country drifting ever closer to the kind of society we profess to abhor.
In the June 3 Daily Dispatch, constitutional lawyer Edwin Vieira was quoted as saying that on a freedom scale of 1-10, with 10 being a Soviet-style police state, the U.S. presently sits at about a 7.
Ever more frequently, violence is the preferred first option for law enforcement agencies which are rapidly becoming indistinguishable from the military. (This is of no small consequence – consider that a police officer’s duty is to apprehend a suspect, while a soldier’s is to kill him… a rather different mindset.)
Several recent, troubling incidents make the point. The first involves what might whimsically be termed “dirty dancing,” if it were something we could maintain a sense of humor about.
It seems that back in 2008 a group of young people descended on the Jefferson Memorial at midnight – when no one else was around – and danced to the memory of Old Tom. One woman who was arrested for this form of expression sued the Park Police, lost, and then appealed. On May 17 of this year the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against her, saying that dancing at memorials is forbidden “because it stands out as a type of performance, creating its own center of attention and distracting from the atmosphere of solemn commemoration.”
Apparently, tourists talking boisterously and clicking photos of their scampering children are not considered similarly “distracting” amid all the solemnity. In protest of the court decision, a second group gathered on May 28 and, despite warnings from the Park Police to cease and desist, began quietly to dance. They – including a couple merely embracing and swaying to their own internal music – were summarily cuffed and arrested, some after being thrown violently to the floor. A video of the bust went viral on YouTube.
Now, to be sure, the protestors were intentionally provoking the cops. And one could make the case that there are limits to the kinds of behavior that are appropriate in a public space. But it’s pretty unlikely that Thomas Jefferson, who once wrote that “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing,” would have approved of the treatment of those dancing beneath his gaze.
After all, had the protestors been allowed their dance moment, they undoubtedly would have become bored with it in short order and gone their merry way, no harm done.
Instead, the list of things for which we can be body slammed and arrested grows longer. Second up, we have a strange story out of Stockton, California. There, at 6 a.m. on June 7, a squad of 13 federal agents smashed in the door of one Kenneth Wright, a man with no criminal record.
They were in a search of the man’s estranged wife, and the warrant for the woman’s arrest was sworn out by – are you ready for this? – the Department of Education! DoE has confirmed they executed the warrant – they write about 30 a year, their inspector general’s office says – but declined to discuss the charges other than to say they’re part of an ongoing criminal investigation. (The warrant seeks evidence in a financial aid fraud case.) Well… If you’re wondering what sort of financial-aid problem necessitates a forced-entry, no-knock raid at dawn, let alone why our Education Department even needs heavily armed officers described by Wright’s neighbors as looking like a SWAT team, you’re not alone.
This tangled tale has taken some odd turns. At first, local TV said that the wife’s crime involved a delinquent student loan, but DoE claims it doesn’t search homes in such instances. The station retracted its earlier report, but continued its coverage of the story here, a site that also links to a copy of the warrant. In any event, Wright says he wasn’t presented with that warrant until after he’d been cuffed and the six-hour search of his home had begun.
If true, that’s bad enough. But there’s also the issue of why authorities felt that this level of intrusion – which included locking the man in a police car for six hours and his three small children (ages 3, 7, and 11) for two – was an appropriate action. Might not a calm knock at the door, followed by an inquiry as to the wife’s whereabouts and perhaps a gentle search of the house for evidence, have sufficed?
These days, though, standard operating procedure appears to dictate the exertion of the maximum amount of force authorities think they can get away with from the outset. Little things like destroying a door and terrorizing innocent children hardly seem to matter.
On the other hand, it’s not too paranoid a stretch to imagine that the whole thing was a setup from the get-go. Just a reminder from Big Brother that it holds all the good cards and none of us is secure in our own homes. Wright certainly looked like a guy who’d been coached when he proclaimed to the camera (in a segment that’s now been deleted): “People who have student loans, pay your bills, take care of your credit. If you don’t believe me, this could be you one morning at 6 o’clock.” Difficult to say which is worse.
There’s no such difficulty with our final story. An unwarranted death is the worst possible outcome of a police raid. At 9:30 a.m. on May 5, 26-year-old José Guerena, a Marine veteran who had logged two tours of duty in Iraq and had no criminal record, was asleep in his Arizona home after having returned from working the night shift at a mine.
For reasons that authorities have not revealed, that home was targeted as part of a multi-pronged marijuana conspiracy arrest operation. What happened next was captured by a helmet cam and leaked to someone who posted it to YouTube.
As you watch this, you’re forgiven if you think you’re seeing a Seal team raid on al-Qaeda. No, these are not soldiers. They’re Pima County sheriff’s deputies. Again, sheriff’s deputies. Guerena’s wife, who was inside with the couple’s four-year-old child, says that she panicked at the sight of these armed strangers outside her window. She screamed for her husband to wake up. He did, and in the confusion of the moment, thinking he faced a home invasion, pushed her and their son into a closet (miraculously, they were unharmed), then grabbed his AR-15 and stepped into a dark hallway to protect his family. Big mistake.
Originally, Pima County officers reported that Guerena had opened fire on them. Later, they recanted and admitted that the safety was still on and the gun had not been fired. They also confirmed that, on their end, they shot 71 times, with 60 bullets hitting the “suspect.” Though surviving such an assault seems impossible, we’ll never know for sure, because paramedics were refused access to the house for over an hour. A search turned up nothing illegal. Now, search warrants, police affidavits, and all other documents related to the case have been sealed by court order, ostensibly to protect an ongoing investigation, and the sheriff declares they may never be released.
Journalists point out that this is a peculiar explanation, considering that the records were unsealed until four days after Guerena’s death, just about the time police were forced to revise their accounts of the raid. The stench here just worsens.
So, is Vieira right: Do we clock in at 7 out of 10? Or was Ron Paul more on the mark when, asked whether America was turning into a police state, he replied that we’re already there? Either way, it’s a sobering thought.