A Day in the Life of Government

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I was doing my usual surfing of news sites last week when I came across an amazing succession of stories that are tragically typical of humanity’s never-ending struggle with government. These stories emanated from a bewildering variety of lands and cultures, but are unified in their testimony to the tragic effects of statism on the human condition.

Story #1 The Ukrainian Revolution: Meet the New Boss…

A mere five months ago, Viktor Yushchenko successfully toppled the pro-Russian government of the Ukraine in his "Orange Revolution." The Bush Administration, using a variety of front groups, helped to finance Yushchenko’s rise to power. At the time, American taxpayers were told that our aid would help to create a new dawn for democracy in Eastern Europe. Those who opposed the covert intervention in the internal affairs of the Ukraine were brushed off as "isolationists."

My somber day of news surfing started with a stratfor.com (a subscription foreign affairs site) article written on April 13, 2005 titled Ukraine: Anti-Corruption Campaign Political Terrorism?

The article begins by suggesting that things aren’t going so well in the latest land of American-sponsored freedom.

The current anti-corruption drive by the new government in Ukraine pursues several political goals, all ultimately aimed at rejuvenating a regime that — just five months after the “Orange Revolution” — finds itself increasingly troubled. The continued attacks on the opposition will likely spur strong political reaction and social unrest, indicating that the current government might not rule the country very long.

Not only is the new government unstable, it is beginning to engage in "payback" directed at the backers of the old regime:

New Transportation and Communication Minister Eugen Chervonenko, a political appointee lacking specific professional and managerial experience, raised tariffs on rail cargo from 50 percent to 200 percent overnight. This likely will doom Ukraine’s rail-dependent metallurgical sector, among others.

According to government sources, Chervonenko did not base his decision on how it would benefit the Ukrainian economy. He wanted to do one thing: punish oligarchs and industry managers from the east who belong to the political opposition.

From the very beginning, critics were speculating that the new government in Kiev did not represent a qualitative break with the corrupt practices that have dominated Ukrainian politics since time immemorial, but rather merely represented a new set of cronies who would proceed to loot the economy just like the old oligarchs did before.

If reason dominated America’s foreign policy, none of this would be any of our business. It is hard to make an argument that the political economy of the extreme Eastern parts of Europe is relevant to the well-being of the typical American citizen. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in the grip of political elites who are soaked in world-dominating hubris. To them, everything is our business.

The problem with a foreign policy based on this philosophy is that intervention creates moral responsibility for the negative effects that result. Back in the days of the old American Republic, if the Ukraine was being misgoverned, then the quarrel was between its government and the Ukrainian people. Now that America has precipitated the downfall of the old regime and is financing the new one, we have become responsible (in the eyes of the Ukrainian people) for its misdeeds.

Things have even degenerated to the point that "our man in Kiev" is starting to arrest political opponents under the guise of an "anti-corruption campaign."

Running the campaign is National Security Defense Council Secretary Pyotr Poroshenko, the Ukrainian oligarch responsible for funding much of the president’s initial electoral campaign — and thus often called Yushchenko’s “money purse.” The campaign gained the media spotlight when authorities arrested [city council leader] Kolesnikov on charges of “separatism.” Just three days later, a Kiev court gave prosecutors permission to keep Kolesnikov in jail for up to two months while investigations are under way.

Meet the new boss…the same as the old boss.

Story #2 Perfidy, Thy Name is Ottawa

The next story I perused was from our Canadian friends up north. The Economist reports that the government in Ottawa has been caught in an embarrassing scandal. It seems that the federal government has been funneling taxpayers’ money into propaganda campaigns aimed at eroding public support for independence in French-speaking Quebec.

All this is the result of the explosive turn taken by the Gomery inquiry. This is looking into the abuse of a C$250m ($200m) scheme to promote federalism in Quebec set up by Jean Chrétien, Mr. Martin’s predecessor, in the wake of the narrow defeat of the last referendum on secession a decade ago.

A government’s use of public money to propagandize its citizens is a common practice of totalitarian societies. This occurs when governing elites arrogate to themselves the right to mold and shape the opinions of their citizens to suit their own agenda.

In a free society, the people weigh arguments surrounding an issue and make up their own mind. Government policy is subsequently crafted in response to their wishes (within the sharply defined limits of individual rights).

In a totalitarian society, Il Duce decides what the people should think and then proceeds to exploit the financial and regulatory powers of the state to ensure that the masses make up their minds in the "correct" way.

But the arrogance and statism are only the beginning. This story gets even richer.

Last week, Jean Brault, a Montreal advertising man, told the inquiry that his agency had received C$23.4m for services that included adding Liberal Party workers to his payroll. He also said he had contributed $1.2m to Liberal funds, much of it in cash in brown envelopes or against fake invoices. In other evidence, the inquiry heard claims that a graphic-design firm headed by Jacques Corriveau, a friend of Mr Chrétien and fundraiser for him, received sub-contracts worth $6.7m through the scheme.

What fun is micromanaging society if you can’t skim a little graft along the way?

As the story progresses and the plot thickens, the most curiously disturbing part of the whole sordid tale unfolds:

Judge John Gomery’s decision to ban publication of Mr Brault’s testimony (some of which is contested) was reversed in part after this was posted on an American website. The effect of the ban was merely to draw more attention to the testimony

Now what possible motivation might the judge have had to keep this whole story under wraps? My hunch (and it is admittedly only a hunch…but it is a hunch borne of a many years spent closely observing government) is that the judge was attempting to minimize the damage done to the Canadian government by the explosive testimony being given in his court.

The judge is, after all, a denizen of the corridors of power. Volatile stories of this sort have the possibility of literally imploding the federation. I’ve noticed through the years that whenever the state itself is imperiled, those who live off of it usually circle the wagons, regardless of political affiliation. This may well have been a last desperate attempt by the system to keep the citizens of Canada in the dark about the sordid manipulations of the democratic process.

Fortunately, the Internet rode to the rescue. In the pre-web days, the judge might well have pulled this off and kept the whole scandal from the public eye. But thankfully, the glaring spotlight of the Internet is here to illuminate even the most despicable back-alleys of modern governance.

Story #3 Zimbabwe Rules the Skies

Robert Mugabe has been the Big Man in Zimbabwe since the advent of majority rule nearly a quarter of a century ago. In that time, he has destroyed the economy, looted most of its wealth, and perpetrated a pogrom against the English farmers (who produced most of the nation’s exports and provided employment for a large portion of its workers). His policies have turned what had been the breadbasket of Southern Africa into a nightmare land of malnutrition and human misery.

So, given the destitution and bankruptcy that prevails, it might surprise the rational observer that Mugabe has decided to use what little money his treasury has left to buy a spiffy new air force.

Stratfor.com reports:

The Zimbabwean government has purchased six K-8 fighter jets, state radio in Zimbabwe reported April 13 without identifying the supplier or the purchase price. Officials in the Zimbabwean air force said the purchase would “go a long way to improve the operations of our air force in order to defend the country’s air space and territorial integrity,” as well as “enable the force to deal with any challenges.”

The story goes on to mention that the claim that these jets will somehow "defend the country’s air space" is completely ridiculous since the K-8 is only equipped for ground attack and has no air-to-air combat capabilities.

Although one must consider the possibility that the Zimbabwean regime is imbecilic enough to have purchased ground attack planes without actually knowing that they lacked aerial combat capabilities (without significant refitting), the story speculates a more sinister motivation:

Such an internal conflict could occur as a result of food shortages, the inflated prices of basic commodities and Mugabe’s own declining popularity. In Indonesia, the BAe Hawk was used in Aceh to clear the battlefield before deploying troops into combat against rebels from the Free Aceh Movement. In the event the Zimbabwean government finds itself fighting an insurgency, these aircraft would give Mugabe’s forces a significant battlefield advantage.

So he may be preparing to use these against his own people.

I would add that only a pathetic banana republic spends piles of money on worthless warplanes while its economy is sliding into bankruptcy…but others might accuse me of living in a glass house and throwing stones.

Story #4 Haiti, the United Nations, and Clinical Psychosis

My last article of the day was an AP story UN peace mission in Haiti may expand. The story began by discussing the current desperate situation facing UN peacekeepers in the Caribbean nation.

A U.N. peacekeeper from the Philippines was shot and killed Thursday on the fringes of a Haitian slum where troops have clashed with politically aligned street gangs, underscoring the volatile situation as the U.N. Security Council discussed expanding the mission.

Apparently, things still aren’t going so well all the way around. The story continues:

Haiti is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation, and residents desperate for fuel and cash have stripped its hillsides of trees, harming water quality and contributing to devastating floods.

I found one particular paragraph to be the most interesting of all:

Interim Prime Minister Gerard Latortue asked council members for more international assistance disarming an array of militant groups who could disrupt the electoral process, according to diplomats who attended the meeting. [Emphasis mine]

How on earth can Haiti still have an interim prime minister? We overthrew the old government and "restored democracy" eleven years ago! We spent billions of dollars during the course of that mission…and they still haven’t set up a permanent government yet?

What gives?

As some wise guy once said, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result." Given that our 1994 invasion was only the most recent of several US interventions in Haiti, it raises interesting questions about the very sanity of our foreign policy establishment.

Conclusions

The primary obstacle facing humanity today can be found in the uncontrolled and abusive powers of the state. These four stories represent only one hour’s surfing, and doubtless anyone could find numerous similar examples on any given day. These incidents cross geographical and cultural boundaries, and highlight practices that range from lying and petty larceny to unjust detention and mass murder.

If we are to avoid repeating the tragedies of the hideous 20th Century, which saw the triumph of the Total State over the lives of the people, then we must come to accept that the state is the single biggest threat to our peace and tranquility. Diagnosing the disease is the first step to finding a cure.

Steven LaTulippe [send him mail] is a physician currently practicing in Ohio. He was an officer in the United States Air Force for 13 years.

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