Monday, March 25, 2013

Crimes Of The American Empire

The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.
- Woodrow Wilson

On the cover of Puck published on April 6, 1901, in
the wake of gainful victory in the Spanish–American
War, Columbia – the National personification of the
U.S. – preens herself with an Easter bonnet in the
form of a warship bearing the words “World Power”
and the word “Expansion” on the smoke coming
out of its stack.
I briefly mentioned it in my earlier article on Robert Stuart, and it’s a point that seems apt to focus on now. To wit, the Stuart case seems less like the overreach of a single state and more like the continuing opinion of the entirety of the United States: we can do whatever the fuck we want.

The Obama Administration (and the Bush Administration before it) has made plainly clear that the U.S. Government will be violent, belligerent, and break any law it sees fit in the pursuit of whatever. Is something legal in your country? We don’t care! If we don’t like it, we will go after it. This is why the WTO, NAFTA, and every other “free” trade agreement is an increasingly bad joke. We will go after your citizens. We will go after your businesses. We will go after you.

What I think infuriates me more than any other element of this is the immense history that the U.S., and indeed all powerful nations, have regarding this sort of behavior. It started with the rise of colonialism and was passed down to its children: Industrial America and Japan. It is what Noam Chomsky refers to as “really existing free-market principles.” By that he means the principle that free market responsibility only applies to the weak. Those who already have power manipulate the world to ensure that they never take responsibility for their actions. When the weak get uppity and demand actual equality, the strong will use “laws” to legitimate actions intended to again oppress the weak. This is The American Story.

So just as with Antigua and the WTO, what we have with New York is a judiciary acting as the enforcement arm for an industry that doesn’t want to have to actually compete on a level ground.1 Thus, the competition is being labeled as illicit, and as such must be stamped out. Online gambling? That’s wrong. Landed gambling? That’s fine. Online Keno? That’s wrong. Keno in a gas station? That’s fine. Online slots with a Return to Player (RTP) of 98%? That’s wrong. Lotteries with an RTP of 40%? That’s fine.

The hypocrisy inherent to this situation is enough to make my soul bleed. Oh sure, the U.S. will claim that they are “defending its citizens” from those who would take advantage of them, but that assertion doesn’t withstand even the slightest analysis. And even if we assume that we don’t know that excuse to be a pile of horseshit, it is still nauseatingly hypocritical. How many operations in the U.S. are feeding off of the populations of other countries, with nary a peep from U.S. officials? Of course, we don’t actually know, because U.S. officials aren’t making a peep. As this article at Foreign Policy Magazine explains:
As the world’s leading antidrug campaigner, the United States has spent tens of billions of dollars in recent decades trying to stop the smuggling of drugs into the country (even while doing relatively little to stop the flow of guns smuggled out). (Emphasis added)
Guns leaving the country? Who caaaares?! That’s not our problem, man. Marijuana coming in, though? For that, we need to throw more people than every other Western nation combined into jail. Pirated DVDs? We need to go on a multi-billion-dollar crusade across the entire planet. Online gambling? We need to violate international treaties and threaten small countries. When we are wronged, the world must stop. When others are wronged, too bad.

To say the least, this is going to be vexing for those on the wrong end of the exchange. But it goes much further than that. It is both the wellspring of much of our behavior, and also the salt in the wounds of other nations. America suffers from a pathological inability to appreciate the perspectives of others.

People in the United States have spent the past many generations being essentially shielded from history.2 This is especially true for the elites of our country. To be fair, we have some fine little narratives of heroism and valor, and we have certainly known pain. But even our moments of greatest sadness pale in comparison to similar moments from most other countries. We don’t know that, though. Regardless of what Clinton said, we do not feel their pain.

We feel our pain. Nothing else. And we feel it intensely, regardless of how it sits in the grander scheme -- regardless of how our pain compares to the pain of others. To see this effect in action, look at how Pearl Harbor continues to define a large element of our national narrative. It will continue to do so long after all of the veterans of World War II are dead. And yet a key part of it is victory. It hurt, but American triumphed. We were the sleeping giant, awoken.3

The closest the U.S. has come to failure in the past one-hundred years is the Vietnam War. It’s a poor example, though, because it was the very definition of tilting against a windmill. As history’s vision gets ever-closer to 20/20, it is apparent that it would have been impossible to “win” Vietnam. Even then, people still rant and rave about it! We just cannot let that shit go! You can’t watch Fox News for more than an hour without one or another of their talking heads complaining about it. One dreads the coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan in fifty years time.

To be fair to our history, America does have a home-grown example of true catastrophe, and it wonderfully illustrates the cultural memory that these events trigger. Look at the ongoing and seemingly immortal obsession of many in the southern states with the Civil War. The South will riiiise again, is the cliched saying. It’s the only thing anyone in the U.S. can remotely call true failure, and it persists one-hundred and fifty years later.

We have never known true defeat, and the few things in our history that even approximate defeat are things with which we are obsessed. And just like the myopic and tone-deaf cludge that we are, we are willfully ignorant of the trials and tribulations that define the cultures of other countries -- the things with which they may be obsessed.

Imagine yourself in the position of a nation whose narrative contains true failure. Imagine the narrative of China, which went from the world’s largest economy by far in 1820, to a slave of Britain after the Opium Wars. Compare Pearl Harbor to China’s experiences in World War II, where as many as 300,000 helpless people were massacred during The Rape of Nanking. After which, China received a colossal face-slap when the Rape’s principle architect was granted immunity by the Allies. Imagine yourself in the narrative of the Caribbean, where American and British domination begins with Christopher Columbus!4

Now imagine yourself as that nation, with failure and pain a deeply fundamental part of your psycho-social makeup, faced with the greedy demands of the United States. Exacerbating the pain is the fact that much of your narrative is peppered with failures at the hands of the United States! How do you think you would feel? You would be fucking pissed, that’s how you would feel!5

This situation has become toxic for many cultures. It’s why George W. Bush’s “cowboy” diplomacy rubbed so many the wrong way, resulting in Barack Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for simply not being Bush. It’s why so many Americans are taken aback by the vitriol directed at our nation from countries like South Korea, France, and India. It’s why we, doe-eyed and innocent, cry foul when terrorists attack us. It’s why our free-trade agreements are crumbling.

We are utterly dominant and disgustingly oblivious to that fact. We demand that other countries fight our fights. We demand that other countries respect our laws. We demand that our grievances are redressed. What hurts us is most important, and we are legitimately blown away when other nations don’t agree with that. In the resulting conflict of interests, we will simply force other nations to see “rightly.” Everything about America’s crusade against gambling is a gigantic face-slap to our supposedly equal trading partners, and America’s history vis-a-vis the history of other nations is turning this situation into a clusterfuck of truly Brobdingnagian proportions.

To plunder, to slaughter, to steal, these things they misname empire; and where they make a wilderness, they call it peace.
- Tacitus

Just because the U.S. has not “walked a mile in another’s shoes” doesn’t make them the bad guys, you might say. Truly, our behavior is almost understandable, if not forgivable, because of our history of never knowing true pain. That is indeed correct. But I don’t rely on mere block-headedness as a foundation for pronouncing the U.S. as an evil empire. For an utter and absolute condemnation of our behavior, one needs to take another short stroll through U.S. history. The United States became the world’s largest economy by relying on the very things on which it accuses nations like Antigua of relying.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom, much of today’s cross-border crime problem is not new. In fact, states have struggled with this precise challenge for centuries. And far from being a passive victim, the United States has fostered as rich a tradition of illicit trade as any other country in the world. Since its founding, the United States has had an intimate relationship with clandestine commerce, and contraband capitalism was integral to the rise of the U.S. economy.
The author goes on,
A better understanding of the historical realities of cross-border crime might even reduce the perverse and counterproductive consequences of government crackdowns and redress the chronic lack of attention to the demand side of illicit trade.
I like this guy. I think that my choice of language would be a bit more maritime, but “perverse” is a more than serviceable descriptor. It is important to note that he is only talking about illegitimate operations.6This doesn’t take into account the incalculable damage and oppression done by “legitimate” American operations like our food conglomerates, legal weapons, tobacco, alcohol, etc. Indeed, agreements like the WTO, NAFTA, and the GATT before them were used as tools to legitimize forcing other countries to accept American economic domination. We have always relied, and continue to rely, on methods both “legitimate” and not-so-legitimate to further our goals. We are doing this now, and then we turn around and have the audacity to castigate other countries for the same behavior.

Look familiar? How quickly we forget.
If it were America with the online casinos in its borders, the U.S. would be pummeling other countries into submission to allow those casinos to be accessible by their citizens. But since it is the other way around, we have officials ripping up the lives of innocent people and destroying the economies of tiny nations that have little to begin with.

So let’s assume that Antigua is indeed a nation of horrible pirates. They are doing something corrupt, illegal, and genuinely damaging to the U.S. Let’s assume that Robert Stuart’s clients are a carnival of freaks frantically sucking away the lifeblood of hardworking Americans. Indeed, let’s assume that everything that American officials say about online casinos is true.

It doesn’t change anything.

America is complaining about all of the crimes that it has done itself, often gleefully, to the detriment of other nations. The very trade agreements being used against the U.S. were created for that purpose. Screwing other countries has been a central element of America’s rise to global power, and when other nations try to follow the same path, we slap them down and wag our finger at them like some twisted, psychopathic parent.

America is a hypocrite, through and through. We casually toss aside laws, oppress other nations, and oppress our own people. We lack any sense of broad narrative, with the near totality of our actions influenced by and predicated on American Exceptionalism. We do whatever the hell we please and then post-hoc declare it to be justified, rejiggering any laws necessary to support this claim. This case in New York and Arizona, and by extension the UIGEA, is merely the most recent example of this behavior, and we should be ashamed.

1: Example, after example, after example can be found of the U.S. government being used as a tool to oppress populations for the benefit of corporations. Perhaps the most glaring recent example was the revelation that the F.B.I., instead of actually working to stop criminals, was working with the major banks to infiltrate Occupy Wall Street protestors. So when one reads comments from U.S. negotiators saying “fuck off” regarding Antigua, what we are actually reading is the work of the shadowy hand of a corporation.

2: The past one-hundred and twenty years has been the U.S. show. If we look at the historical charts of the world’s largest economy, the U.S. being #1 was almost assumed. In 1960, with the world still reeling from WWII, the U.S. alone represented nearly 2/5 of the global economy.

3: Why do you think that quote is so well-known? Partially because it was prescient about Japan’s ultimate fall, but mostly because it glorifies the strength of the United States.

4:Indeed, this narrative was the seed that caused CARICOM to recently back Antigua in its fight after the U.S. threatened, Mafia-like, that Antigua would regret its actions. As though life could suck any more than it already does under the Western thumb.

5: How does the U.S. continue its economic hegemony if everyone hates it? It
’s one of the great success stories of modern economic hegemony. All a nation has to do is tie its interests to the interests of a wealthy, ruling class. Then, the powerful leaders in an oppressed nation will continue to do the bidding of a larger nation for guaranteed support in their continued superiority.

6: “Illegitimate” is a tough word to nail down in this context. “Legitimate” and “illegitimate” are both defined by laws, and laws are nothing more than rules laid down by a group that is recognized by other groups. There is no reason why any behavior is fundamentally legitimate while others are not. I think that the use of the word as meaning “generally recognized as lawful” is useful for the purposes of this discussion. It’s the opening that also allows those in power to manipulate the words by simply forcing everyone to generally accept something different than previous.

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