Thinking Critically


Dear Reader,

Well, I'm back from a couple of weeks traipsing about in the sunny vineyards of Argentina. As many dear readers will still be suffering from the painful condition known as "winter," I won't taunt you with tales of viscerally vibrant vistas, sun-soaked al fresco luncheons among the vines, dinners served in sidewalk cafés by favorite waiters or any of the other freshly registered memories.

Before getting down to business, however, I would like to say what a great pleasure it was spending time with so many of you at the recent Harvest Event at La Estancia de Cafayate… playing golf, pumping iron at the wonderful new Athletic Club, sharing meals and/or a glass of wine, riding Paso Peruano horses, hiking on a little-known Inca trail that winds through the beautiful canyons leading to Cafayate (thanks to Rudi Goldman, who is in the photo, for the photos) and much, much more. 

At one point, while being tenderized by the strong fingers of a skilled masajista at the Jack Zehren-designed Athletic Club, I found myself marveling at how remarkably well things had come together at "Casey's Gulch."

That's not to say there haven't been challenges along the way, but I firmly believe that community at La Estancia de Cafayate is unique in this world, and I am absolutely exhilarated to be a part of it... and, more to the point, to have it as a part of my personal "Plan B."

And on the topic of needing a Plan B, I turn to today's musings.


Thinking Critically

Any number of ideas raised their hands as possible topics for today's musings.

But as I listened to my internal voice, the thought struck me like a slap that I have been rather repetitively choosing as topics those matters that could readily be filed under the label "The Expanding Reach of Government."

The "slap" part is because it dawned on me that no matter how outrageous the misdeeds of the world's governments, or how heated up I might get about those misdeeds, they have become so commonplace that the average dear reader today almost certainly views a discourse on these outrages with roughly the same level of concern as a discussion about the weather.

"So, what do you think?"

"Well, from where I sit, it looks like a stretch of fascism with a 50% chance of dictatorship. What do you think?"

"I don't know. The sky's pretty dark and my knee's been acting up. I'm thinking maybe a 20% chance of a popular uprising followed by martial law."

"Could be, could be. Hey, did you watch American Idol last night? Boy, can that girl sing!"

Now, with the exception of my dear friend and business partner Doug Casey, I know of no one who dislikes small talk more than me. So much so that my wife sometimes chides me as suffering from Tourette's because I periodically say things during social occasions that others might consider off-the-ranch. This, in the way of illustration, from one recent conversation…

"You look bored. Are we boring you?"

"As a matter of fact, yes."

I have been known to ask old people about their sex lives when they were young or if they did drugs, rich guys if they were born rich or had to actually work for it, black people if they thought that maybe the perma-victim thing wasn't working out so well for them… the list goes on.

I don't make such remarks because I'm trying to be controversial or outrageous, but rather due to a combination of a natural curiosity and my lifelong desire to avoid conversations filled with banalities and trivialities such as sports and weather.

"Boy, our team sure played great last night."

"Oh? I didn't know you played professional baseball. What position?"

Thus, to be confronted in my mental mirror with the specter that I've become a guy who blabs on and on about the same topic… governments are meddlesome, free markets better, the Constitution is being treated like toilet paper, etc, etc… was not a particularly comfortable revelation.

Sure, I know from your letters that many of you appreciate discourse on these topics and feel a similar level of outrage. But I can assure you that we are in the minority. In fact, at this point our numbers are statistically on par with the lone bum stumbling down the sidewalk of a modest-sized town banging on a garbage can lid and mumbling dark warnings about black helicopters.

But even for those of us lid-bangers, the stories are coming so fast and furious at this point that, other than a passing utterance of indignation to no one in particular, the blood-stirring effect of  the latest news lasts no longer than it takes to finish our morning cup of coffee.

Let me give you an example so you can decide if I'm right. Okay, prepare to be outraged.

Item: Your government is rushing to complete the build-out of infrastructure allowing it to record and permanently store literally all of your communications, as well as your physical location throughout each moment of every day, highlighted with actual photos of you as you go about your business.

While there have been a number of recent stories on this topic that you may have come across, including one in Wired magazine on a massive new facility being built by the National Security Agency in Utah, I found a recent report by the Brookings Institute called Recording Everything among the more insightful. (Visit their website to download the document, or download here directly in PDF form).

Let me say that again. 

Your government is preparing to record and archive your every email, your every phone call and literally every step you make as you go through your every day.

And I am not just talking about the US government – the vast majority of governments around the world today are pressing forward with similar initiatives, and those that aren't fully intend to buy the required hardware and software just as soon as it becomes cost effective, which it will in the next year or so.

Are you outraged?

If so, don't worry… the feeling will pass momentarily.

Due to the aforementioned curiosity, I ask myself why it is that no one seems to care anymore.

The answer is a matter of some personal importance, because if all I'm doing is ranting on about a topic that is now considered of no more importance than the weather, why bother? Especially in that, if the trend continues, talking about this particular form of inclemency may very well qualify me as an enemy of the state with all the attendant unpleasant consequences.

If no one really cares, why take the risk of writing about it?

Comfortably Numb

(As musical accompaniment, you might want to listen to the wonderful rendition of Comfortably Numb by Roger Waters, live in Berlin.)

In searching for answers to why so few people seem concerned about the writing on the wall, it strikes me that the cause may rest in the fact that the ability for critical thinking has been washed out of most people by a numbing shower of government propaganda, state education and media misdirect.

The result of this trifecta of trivialization is that the vast majority of people no longer bother thinking any more deeply about the very real issues confronting them than they might in deciding whether to have sprinkles on their ice cream.

Worse than that, they don't even understand the concept of thinking critically, let alone its importance.

A quick exercise to make the point.

You've all seen this chart of US money supply, or one like it.  

It sure seems like the money supply has been growing and by quite a bit, especially in recent years. Might that mean something?

You have probably also seen this graphic representation of one hundred million dollars.

And this of one trillion dollars… which is about half of what the US government is now spending over and above its revenues each year. And it plans on continuing to spend at that level of deficit for the foreseeable future. (Note the man and the stack representing one hundred million dollars are placed in the lower left hand of the graphic).

So, do you think any of this might have an impact on the dollar in the years just ahead? And, by extension, the value of virtually everything you own?

Do you think it could it mean that, ten years down the road, even those of you dear readers who consider yourself well off – maybe even set for life – might find the bulk of your wealth eroded to a fraction of what it is today? How do you think that's going to feel?

Worth a little serious thought?

 So, what will it be? Sprinkles or no sprinkles?

Now you might think I'm just having a little fun here – and there's no question I like to write and so enjoy turning a phrase.

But the point is anything but humorous. And that point is, simplistically stated, that very few people these days have any inclination, or even ability, to think methodically through the most likely consequences of the powerful trends unfolding right under their noses.

Yet, failing to think critically about the world you will be living in, even a few years down the road, means you will almost certainly be caught without any sort of plans to mitigate the worst of the consequences. And because of the monetary component, you very well may not have the resources you think you'll be able to rely on when push comes to shove.

A dollar in the bank today could become a dime in the bank a decade from now.

How about some nuts with those sprinkles?

It's Complicated

Most people don't like to think critically because it is both time consuming and difficult. Specifically, there are any number of activities we'd rather spend our time on, and tests show that using the brain for deep thought requires expending considerable amounts of physical energy.

Those are a couple of reasons why we are willing to pay big money to lawyers, accountants and investment advisers to do the deep thinking for us.

But those people are typically unequipped to draw conclusions about the future: they are too hidebound and stultified by professions whose primary mandate is to manage a status quo that is almost entirely determined by precedence. In other words, their actions are almost invariably based on what has come before.

If you had gone to any of your "traditional" advisors back in 2000 and said you were thinking about buying gold, how do you think they would have reacted?

Put another way, you are pretty much on your own on this one.  

Now, you can choose sprinkles and get on with your life until things hit a wall,  hoping that you'll manage to cope when they do… or you can stick with me a bit longer, and I'll try to bring the rather loose ends of these musings into some sort of useful context.

Still here? Good.

To move forward, I'd like to step backwards – to the revelation that your government is on the verge of recording every move you make. As an exercise in critical thinking, let's think a little deeper about the potential consequences of this development. As I believe you'll quickly see, they're important.

To begin, let's just go with the assumption that the government will succeed in its efforts. As the Brookings report makes clear, the technology is already about 99% there – and the cost associated with recording and storing pretty much all of your communications and all of your movements throughout your every day is plummeting. In other words, we are no longer dealing with a hypothesis but a fact.

Might there be a legislative pushback against such a wholesale invasion of privacy? Isn't there some hope there? Hardly. If history tells us anything, it's that once something this powerful is created, it will be deployed. And any legislative resistance that may arise will be as quickly swept aside by the next 9/11 as the US Constitution was swept aside by the last.

May I be the first to welcome you to a world so Orwellian that even George himself would have been impressed.

First, to the new realities.

  1. With every single move you make going forward amended to your permanent record, do you really want to be visiting some of the websites you currently enjoy? And I'm not just referring to "adult" sites, but sites such as Casey Research, Lew Rockwell or any others that an algorithm might later determine to be run by malcontents.

    Remember, I'm not just talking records being stored a few months or even a few years. These records will be there a decade or more from now and available for a look back by a government that could very well be of a less warm and friendly nature.
     
  2. Do you really want to open that email from your rather quirky and angry friend? With all the data digitized, when that friend gets sideways with the authorities, electronically rounding up all his known accomplices will be reduced to a few keystrokes. Maybe you should ask him to take your name off his list now?
     
  3. Do you really want to join an organization that takes an opposing view to that of the government? Remember, every communication between the members is permanent.
     
  4. Do you want to put yourself in a physical location where individuals with views opposed to the government might be present, too? Go ahead, turn off the location services on your smart phone – that won't matter, not with the proliferation of cameras and face recognition software so well advanced. Couldn't you arrange to meet with your freedom-thinking colleagues in secret? Uh… no. After all, how are you going to arrange the time and place? With secret codes and clandestine letter drops? Even if you could manage it, the thread of electronic touch points in everyone's lives would reduce the odds of avoiding to leave traceable footprints to next to nil. 

    And even if you could actually meet up and discuss the changes you'd like to advocate against the growing power of the state, how would you then disseminate your ideas if not electronically? By cutting letters out of a newspaper and reassembling them in cryptic notes delivered to media? Even that probably wouldn't work, because you can be tracked to the post office box and back by the increasingly endemic surveillance cameras.
     
  5. Do you really want to reach out to that coin dealer? Or join GATA, or buy guns or ammunition, or inquire about a foreign trust or buying land in remote corners of Argentina? All of these actions could be perceived, when later reviewed, as indicating a certain tendency toward antisocial behavior.

    In the movie Minority Report, government algorithms were developed to spot troublemakers before they could make trouble. At the time the movie was made, that was considered real Sci-Fi stuff, but I can all but guarantee you that the government is already working on algorithms designed to accomplish much the same outcome. And remember, with the ability to track all contacts and communications between all parties, you'll be associated with the most troublesome common denominator on your personal network.

I could, of course, go on, but to be clear – I am not saying that just because you know someone who later decides to actually take his or her argument with the state to the streets, you'll automatically be rounded up… though you will certainly come under more scrutiny.

Rather, what I am saying is that the certain knowledge that our every move is, or can be, monitored must, over time, serve to dampen dissent or even debate about the government's actions.

While it is reasonable to expect that this heavy fog will settle over the body politic in a measured pace as the true understanding of the situation becomes understood over the next few years, there is also the very real risk that darkness could descend literally overnight in the light of a serious "event" – whether that event is foreign or domestic in nature.

Mitigation?

Understanding the situation, we can begin to make plans to mitigate it. 

One clear option is to plant at least one foot in an alternative jurisdiction – ideally one with a government that is well behind the curve in the adoption of advanced surveillance technologies. That might buy you at least a little time.

Another is to be very circumspect in whom you email with and, more importantly, what you say in your emails. It may feel good to unleash a good rant about the government to a friend, but it won't be so much fun when your testes are hooked up to an electrical current. 

(Okay, that probably won't happen – unless, of course, you live in the Middle East, China or about 20% of the countries of the globe.) Sad to say, but it may be time to add your particularly energetical, outspoken friend to your spam filter.

Likewise, you may want to say goodbye to some of your favorite websites. A moment ago, I mentioned adult sites, which based on the data seem to be among the best trafficked on the Internet. Who's to say that it won't later be revealed that one of the "models" was underage at the time of her photo session? Might the government, if it found itself inclined to do so, track everyone who visited the site at the time that the illegal photos were posted and use that information to begin legal proceedings, or bring pressure on a particular dissident? You betcha.

More proactively, you may want to expend some time and mental energy learning about services that allow people to use the Internet anonymously – though such services should be considered as offering only modest protection, given the computational power now available to be arrayed against them. (Read the Wired article for more).  

And let's not forget that even investigating these services, let alone signing up for one, will also go into your record. Kind of suspicious, if you ask me.

Having gone on too long already, let me state that it is not my purpose here to drill down into this particular matter to the point of identifying all possible risks and ways to mitigate those risks. Rather it is just to make the point that the need to engage in critical thought has rarely been more important. Unfortunately, because of the fount of many of the modern challenges – namely the state itself – mitigation has rarely been more difficult.  

Before moving on, however, because it's something of a set piece with the above discussion, I want to engage in another quick exercise in critical thinking – one that has to do with the foreign-policy goals of the US and other large developed countries.

Have you ever given any real thought to those goals?

Reviewing the various actions taken since 2001, a plausible case could be made that the "plan" of these powerhouse governments is to bring into conformance any nation that doesn't adhere to what might be termed current global standards of state behavior (but which are largely a US construct).

In other words, any country that fails to fall in line with "best practices" as determined by the global bureaucrats – for example, by failing to enforce "know-your-customer" rules before opening financial accounts – will be encouraged to get with the program or face ratcheting levels of pressure until it does so.

As an exercise, pull out the world map and put pins within the borders of all of the non-conforming states. When completed, you will have a complete picture of all the countries that are either currently being put under pressure, or soon will be, by the world's power elite. At the top of the list, naturally, are countries such as Iran that dare to inch toward gaining the only weapon powerful enough to defend themselves from the powerhouses… namely, nuclear missiles.

Digging down another level, the consequence of this overarching geopolitical reality is that while we may not end up with a one-world government in name, the fundamental reality will soon be much the same.

If you need a proof point, look no further than the much-vaunted Swiss bank secrecy laws – laws that held up even when the country was surrounded by Nazis in World War II. In the new world, such a non-conformity could not be left standing and so, through an onslaught of direct and indirect pressure, mostly led by the US, the Swiss caved.

And make no mistake, once the Pax Bureaucracy is in place, the sharing of best practices for controlling populations – for instance, recording everything to ensure any serious dissent is quickly uprooted and burned, or practices to trap the wealthy in steel chains of sovereign tax systems – will accelerate and become entrenched.

 At that point, there will be no place to hide.

(Hey, here's a new one. Have you seen that Congress has included an item in the Highway Funding Bill S. 1813 – a provision that allows the IRS to order the State Department to revoke a US citizen's passport if it is believed – not proven – that said taxpayer owes more than $50,000 in back taxes? Here's a link. How about a little whipped cream with those sprinkles?)

Because of the speed of technology these days, this de-facto one-world government could come to pass a lot faster than anyone anticipates. It would not surprise me in the slightest if ten years from now the world had changed fundamentally and in ways that allow only a narrow band for personal liberty and dissent. Keep your head down, pay your taxes and don't make a lot of waves, and you'll be just fine.

Or else…

Got a problem? Who are you going to talk to? Or, more to the point, who's going to listen when they know that your conversation is being recorded and stored for perpetuity?

With the world in virtual lockdown – and actual lockdown as pockets of resistance invariably flare up – the solid core of conforming nations (and there will be few remaining that don't conform) will be free to do pretty much whatever they want.

Unfortunately, it's our children and grandchildren who will be the ones who suffer the most from what we have sowed.

Does that all sound too dire? Too dystopian?

Don't worry about it. Any feelings of discomfort will soon fade.

But before they do, I'll remind you about a couple of upcoming programs that could be of tangible benefit in helping you plan for what's coming. 

  • First up is our Casey Research Recovery Reality Check Summit, being held in Weston, Florida, April 27-29. Having just told you to watch whom you hang out with, I'm going to invite you to come to Florida for our next Summit to hang out with a lot of your fellow Casey readers and some really smart analysts who have been digging through the hard data on the purported recovery and will share their findings and discuss the best ways to invest for a favorable outcome. There are too many headliners to list here, but all the information on the event can be found here.
     
  • The Theia Global "Foundation" Course, June 11-15, at the Virginia International Raceway. This is a four-and-a-half-day hands-on course featuring in-depth instruction by Pete Kofod and friends on ways to plan for, and mitigate, modern threats. While Pete will also be doing a workshop at our Florida Summit on how to plan for pretty much any contingency, if you're looking to getting fully up to speed, and quickly so, then sign up for this very-strictly-limited-attendance event. Based on feedback from his audience, Pete has made some adjustments in the schedule, breaking the course into modules to provide more flexibility and lower the costs depending on how much of the course you feel is personally relevant. Details here.

Some Parting Thoughts

I started today by stating that I don't want to be "that" guy who goes on and on about the same topic. And yet, I have pretty much done just that.

Which brings me full circle to my point.

Namely that it makes little sense for me to keep writing about this stuff. While such writings may have some passing entertainment value, at this point the only real hope for turning back the tide of the rising state rests in the hands of some young programmer, if he or she is clever enough to avoid detection and suppression long enough to unleash something that trumps and foils the authorities in their mounting campaign for control and conformity at all costs.

That's not to say that I won't continue writing… or that I'll be able to resist going off on the occasional rant. But in the same way that I rarely discuss the weather, it is my intention to stop making the dangers of the state my "go to" topic, just because it's important to me.

In the final analysis, you and I are both well aware of what's going on – how could we not be – but when it comes to making plans to try and mitigate the growing risks, that is an entirely personal matter that each of us will have to take the time to think seriously about, and take the appropriate steps… or not. Continuing to wave my arms at this point serves no real purpose.

Trying to look at the bright side, the world we'll soon be living in will not necessarily be dominated by jackbooted thugs and 24/7 surveillance to ensure you stay close to the line in all ways. While those will certainly be features of our near future, and maybe defining features, life for most will proceed in what I expect will be an acceptable manner.

Just keep your head down, do your work, pay your taxes and don't complain too much and you'll do just fine because, if nothing else, you can be assured that the trains will run on time.


News of the Weird

I thought the following article in the New York Post was somewhat entertaining and illustrative of where things are going in the government's quest for conformity…

In a bizarre case of political correctness run wild, educrats have banned references to "dinosaurs," "birthdays," "Halloween" and dozens of other topics on city-issued tests.

That's because they fear such topics "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students."

Dinosaurs, for example, call to mind evolution, which might upset fundamentalists; birthdays aren't celebrated by Jehovah's Witnesses; and Halloween suggests paganism.

Even "dancing'' is taboo, because some sects object. But the city did make an exception for ballet.

The forbidden topics were recently spelled out in a request for proposals provided to companies competing to revamp city English, math, science and social-studies tests given several times a year to measure student progress.

"Some of these topics may be perfectly acceptable in other contexts but do not belong in a city- or state-wide assessment," the request reads.

Words that suggest wealth are excluded because they could make kids jealous. Poverty is likewise on the forbidden list.

Also banned are references to divorces and diseases, because kids taking the tests may have relatives who split from spouses or are ill.

Officials say such exclusions are normal procedure.

"This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and allows our students to complete practice exams without distraction," said a Department of Education spokeswoman, insisting it's not censorship.

In fact, sensitivity guidelines recently published by a group of states creating new high-stakes exams also caution against mentioning luxuries, group dancing, junk food, homelessness or witches.

Yet a comparison shows the city's list, at 50 topics, is nearly twice as long and has fewer exceptions.

The city asks test companies to exclude "creatures from outer space," celebrities and excessive TV and video-game use — items that are OK elsewhere.

Homes with swimming pools and computers are also unmentionables here — because of economic sensitivities — while computers in the school or in libraries are acceptable.

City officials also specified that test makers shouldn't include items that are potentially "disrespectful to authority or authority figures," or give human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects.

Terrorism is deemed too scary. Slavery is also on the forbidden list.

Officials said there isn't an absolute ban on the items, in that they do get included on some exams on a case-by-case basis.

"The intent is to avoid giving offense or disadvantage any test takers by privileging prior knowledge," said Robert Pondiscio, a spokesman for the Core Knowledge Foundation, an education group.

"But the irony is they're eliminating some subjects, like junk food, holidays and popular music, that the broadest number of kids are likely to know quite a lot about."

Columbia University Teachers College professor Deanna Kuhn said, "If the goal is to assess higher-order thinking skills, controversial topics, for example, ones that are the subject of political debate, are exactly what students should be reasoning about."

And the dumbing down continues…


Friday Funnies

Health Care Mandates by Remy

I think I have shared some of the Remy videos from Reason.com before, but count me a big fan. He's a real talent with a great ability to reduce complex topics to understandable, and funny, videos. Here's one by him on the debate over health care mandates.

British Humour Is Different

These are classified ads that are purported to have been placed in UK newspapers:

FREE YORKSHIRE TERRIER. 
8 years old, hateful little bastard. Bites!

FREE PUPPIES 
1/2 cocker spaniel, 1/2 sneaky neighbor's dog.

FREE PUPPIES. Mother is a Kennel Club-registered German Shepherd.
Father is a super-dog, able to leap tall fences in a single bound.

COWS, CALVES: NEVER BRED. Also 1 gay bull for sale.

JOINING NUDIST COLONY!
Must sell washer and dryer, £100.

WEDDING DRESS FOR SALE
Worn once by mistake.
Call Stephanie

Teacher, Teacher

Teacher: "Why are you late?"

Student: "Class started before I got here."

***

Teacher: "John, why are you doing your math multiplication on the floor?"

John: "You told me to do it without using tables."

***

Teacher: "Glenn, how do you spell 'crocodile?'

Glenn: "K-R-O-K-O-D-I-A-L."

Teacher: "No, that's wrong."

Glenn: "Maybe it is wrong, but you asked me how I spell it." 

***

Teacher: "Donald, what is the chemical formula for water?"

Donald: "H I J K L M N O."

Teacher: "What are you talking about?"

Donald: "Yesterday you said it's H to O." 

***

Teacher: "Millie, give me a sentence starting with 'I.'"

Millie: "I is…"

Teacher: "No, Millie... Always say, 'I am.'"

Millie: "All right... 'I' am the ninth letter of the alphabet."

***

Teacher: "George Washington not only chopped down his father's cherry tree, but also admitted it. Now, Louie, do you know why his father didn't punish him?"

Louie: "Because George still had the axe in his hand."

***

Teacher: "Harold, what do you call a person who keeps on talking when people are no longer interested?"

Harold: "A teacher."


And Finally…

Before signing off for the week, I want to mention that there is a new Casey Phyle starting up in Cebu, the Philippines. If you are in the neighborhood and would like to meet up with other Casey readers (while you still can), please drop a note to phyle@caseyresearch.com and you'll be sent contact information.

And with that, and my sincere best wishes, I will sign off by thanking you for being a Casey Research subscriber. Together, we'll manage… somehow.

David Galland
Managing Director
Casey Research

Mar 30, 2012