Why US All the Time?

I’m feeling surly and iconoclastic, so I’m going to ask: why us all the time?

Why is it that no matter what goes wrong everybody expects us to fix it?

How many billions have we tossed blithely at Haiti over many decades only to see it frittered away, confiscated by assorted inept warlords, or used for purposes contrary to the general beliefs of their fat-headed benefactor?

We haven’t thrown away enough recently? $1.4 trillion, or whatever it is in less than a year, with Obamacare being stuffed down our throats, cap & tax and “forced union membership” next up, Bailout #5 on the drawing board for the benefit of fat cats and unions, and trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see and we still think we can afford to rebuild Port au Prince and feed 200,000 homeless? Even if we could afford it, it simply isn’t our job. It isn’t our nation. We don’t want it. We don’t owe those people anything out of the “public” treasury.

Our soldiers aren’t stressed enough after six months in Afghanistan, back only a month, that they need to leave their families and go play in the mud as a change from sand and mountains, while Hugo Chavez complains that we’re putting troops in the airport? Yeah, nothing like a new source of misery and back-breaking work to get a fellow all relaxed and ready to go back and fight useless wars–pardon me, “overseas contingency actions.” At any given time one of my dear friends has one son in a war son, alternating with both sons there.

At what point do we realize we cannot be Santa Claus for the whole world? At what point do we show some compassion for our citizens and our soldiers?

Stop looking shocked and exclaiming, “But Mrs. Traynham! Americans pride ourselves on our kind hearts!” YOUR kind hearts are fine. My gripe is that from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli the government spreads around whatever money Helicopter Ben isn’t showering on Democratic voting blocks and friends at Goldman Sachs, et al.

We don’t have a rainy day fund. We don’t have a Haitian Relief Fund. We can’t even pay our bills. So what in the name of Sam Hill are we doing racing off to “rescue” Haiti again? You know what happens when you build on flood plains in Louisiana. You know what happens when you build on fault lines in California. What do you think happens in deforested areas on top of antsy tectonic plates in hurricane zones? They are not prime building sites. We have enough problems with upside down mortgages without trying to right upside down houses in perennial disaster zones. We’ve been messing with Haiti since the time of Woodrow Wilson and accomplished absolutely nothing other than increased debt.

The island of Hispaniola is one of the glories of the Caribbean and a favorite stopping place for cruise ships–or, at least, about two-thirds of it is. If the Dominican Republic can flourish on the rest, what’s the matter with the land of Papa Doc and at least four other unpleasant leaders with sticky fingers? Gee, do you suppose it could be cultural? What sort of people think they can make “cookies” out of butter, salt, sugar, and dirt? It’s a tropical paradise, for God’s sake. Surely they can manage to grow something on those denuded hillsides to substitute for the dirt. While we’re on that subject, the French cut down all the timber to plant sugar cane. Let them repair the damage and replant timber to prevent mudslides. The Dominican Republic is highly forested at 25%; only 4% of Haiti is. You do recall that the “dirt cookies” last year were in protest to the prices of food, not a scarcity of food? Nobody over in the DR was begging for the recipe.

Most of the buildings destroyed were built by the French. Hmm…perhaps we can blame all this on the French, something I am always glad to do, and let them pay for it. I never forget that France supported the American Revolution not out of any ideas of liberte, egalite, and fraternite but purely and simply to annoy the English, something they have been doing with great success for well over a thousand years and expanded to us.

Let us recall George Bernard Shaw, who received a begging letter: “Sir, I must have five pounds or I am ruined.” GBS wrote back, “Madam, any woman who can be ruined for five pounds is not worth saving.” It seems probable that he was merely living up to his persona of caustic wit, but I think we can make the case for real where Haiti is concerned: any two bit, twice by nothing, off-and-on dictatorship that cannot manage to find peace, prosperity, and success as frequently as soft-hearted Uncle Sugar has charged to the rescue should be left to sit there and contemplate the futility of what they have been doing for the last couple of hundred years and look around for better role models. I’ll bet those in the Domincan Republic are guarding their border carefully. As usual.

Don’t give me any, “But Mrs. Traynham! People are dying and hurt and homeless.” Yeah? So what else is new? There is a lot of that going on all around the globe. You ever hear of “triage?” The only thing Haiti has produced in longer than any of us can remember is more pathetic stories and emotional blackmail for more, and more, and more of our increasingly worthless money.

Somebody name me a single strategic interest in Haiti. Not even Kruschev thought it worth putting missiles on.

I am not, of course, an ogre. If your kind heart, Christian or otherwise, is touched by the plight of Haitians, by all means give until you have assuaged your grief, guilt, kindness, or whatever emotion is involved. My point is that our tax lords have no right to appropriate funds needed for and intended for other purposes, nor have they any right to send our soldiers intended for other purposes off to play Red Cross. Unless you want to set off another diatribe, do not ask why I did not say “needed for other purposes” when speaking of the armed forces. Iraq and Afghanistan want democracy the way we want Sharia law and we aren’t even taking enough oil to cover that consumed in those overseas contingency operations, far less making a profit, in addition to which the ROE (“Rules of Engagement”) make it virtually impossible for our kids even to defend themselves, far less win a war. In both cases I must ask: why are we there? What’s in it for our nation, our financial well-being, or anything else it is sometimes necessary to fight wars about?

I have no problem with volunteers rushing to Haiti or private donations made voluntarily. Obviously, I object vehemently to being made party to endangering our economic situation and our armed forces further.

Now, as Paul Harvey said in his later years, “the rest of the story.” Off and on for the past two years I have counseled, consoled, and encouraged a young man I taught to read when he was five; he grew up on the ranch and is very much extended family to me. Clay is 22 now and starting his first year in college this week. He took time out, you see, to serve his country… two tours, virtually back to back, in Iraq–with a month of Katrina in between. When I talk about what our kids–and they may be tough, trained Marines, but they’re still kids, at least when they start–have been through I know.  I could tell you stories of what they have seen and experienced that would rip your hearts in half.

Clay came to me about a week ago and asked, very diffidently, for a favor. No, not for himself. For a friend since childhood from a very dysfunctional family trying his best to survive on his salary as Night Manager of a carwash. Audie was dossing on the floor on a sleeping bag in a small house with his father and eight half-siblings, all by different mothers. (Need we say more?) Clay wanted to know if he could borrow one of my numerous travel trailers to take just down the road to his mother’s house so Audie would have a place of his own to stay–instead of Clay using it himself, as I had offered. My heart aches far more telling you about these two young men than it ever will for a bunch of faceless strangers.

The answer was, “No.”

Because Clay is staying with his mother who has the world’s greatest one-lady house, and having him there is a stress for both of them, even though they love each other dearly. What do you do when two sons visit and your house is one giant bedroom, a nice big living room, one bathroom, and a very large kitchen/family room? I told Clay to take one trailer over to his mother’s house, as we had planned, giving him a private “guest suite” and letting her have a little solitude back, and another for Audie to use. The boys are stunned, awed, and so grateful it hurts. Audie is ecstatic over having his very own place for the first time in his life; he’s a couple of years older than Clay. It might not seem like much to most of you, a 32’ motor home, maybe a bit bigger, but to him it is his own private bedroom with a genuine bed, his own private bath, his own kitchen, heat/AC, and a separate table and banquette seating so he and Clay can talk or play games. It is blissful silence for the first time in his life. He and Clay have scrubbed it all but sparkling clean and are still working happily–another chore I had been avoiding. We bought it used and it was a mess. City water and electricity are available readily at his mother’s house.

For most of us here in the Bar that motor home is a place to spend a weekend at the lake in, perhaps, or good for a deer lease, but for Audie it is a dream he hadn’t dared consider. Clay has privacy and a place to study…and his mother, my friend of thirty years, has her home to herself except when she and the boys want to eat together or play dominoes. (You have to be a nut to play dominoes with Marolyn, who is a truly ferocious player.)

Think carefully, please, before you write yet another check for yet another anonymous disaster in some alien, distant land. Charity really does need to begin at home again and spread to our deserving neighbors who need only a little help and will pass it on to others in time. There is only so much money in the world, and I, at least, am not rich, at least in money. That makes it all the more important to choose my charities carefully. I know what will happen if I send a couple of hundred to Haitian Relief and give Sally Struthers or someone fifty a month to feed a child with no future who will spawn more starving brats in twenty years. Nothing I’m in favor of.

I also know what happens when I give a kiddo who is vouched for and can show what he has done with pathetically little the very small amount of help he needs. Audie isn’t my first “rescue,” you see, but my third, not counting Clay. Helping the boys costs me nothing; a thriving industry in Texas is buying used motor homes and travel trailers because more and more people are living in them–such as those who walk away from upside down mortgages and discover apartment managers don’t think they are good risks.  I buy carefully, usually at fifty dollars a running foot, closer to a hundred for an exceptional motor home, and I expect to turn handsome profits in the next few years. It costs me nothing to let the boys use inventory I have about $3000 in…and the cleaning and small repairs they do up the value of my stock significantly. My regular readers know why I urge each of you to buy a suitcase on wheels you can live in should you ever need to flee a hurricane or a city full of rioters.

America grew great on helping one person at a time who deserved it and is dying from funding largesse to every bum, con artist, and “victim” with a hand out. Let’s get back to basics.

My next project is to think of something Audie can do around the ranch to earn a thousand dollars so I can sell him one of our nice older cars at what I paid for it. Why? Because I asked him if he had a driver’s license, and he replied with sweet, calm resignation, “No, ma’am, because I never expected to be able to own a car.” If that doesn’t hit you harder than a pack of Haitians, it does me.  You can’t get out of High School in Texas without learning to drive, and he’s worked his way up to late afternoon and night manager of a three million dollar carwash (which I am certain pays very badly, given that he couldn’t afford an apartment.) Clay takes him to town and picks him up around his class schedule.  That’s what friends do, even when it isn’t the most convenient for either of them.

Now you know where my compassion is. It is for kids with very little more than the Haitians had who try their best to earn a living. It is for the old folks I frequently donate half a dozen hens and a rooster to, thereby giving them, as I frequently hear, “Something to get up in the morning for. I gots to feed my chickens an’ gather th’ eggs!” Six chickens provide three dozen eggs a week, so the old folks–mostly black, not that it matters at all except they live in the country or small towns and can keep chickens–now have plenty for breakfast and the hope of the hens hatching new chicks. My extra roosters go to them for dinner. No…I don’t take such things off my income tax.

It was giving my tenants a fifty dollar break on their meager rent in December because I know what toys cost for their grandchildren…and telling them that so long as the rent covers the taxes on this place I won’t raise it. It hasn’t been raised in over fifteen years. Ordinarily I dislike seeing people cry, but not in that case.

You probably don’t live in the country or have “old family retainers” and their kin who need help, but if you look around you I’m sure you can find some American more worthy of your assistance than a bunch of nameless foreigners. Given that the average Social Security check is under a thousand dollars, if you took dinner to an older couple once a week with a graceful explanation that you had made more than your family could eat…or mowed the lawn twice a month for an elderly widow…or asked your pastor who could use your children’s clothes you were just going to give to Good Will or throw out…open your eyes, America. There are a lot of us who could use help who are too proud to ask for it and don’t have an “entitlement” mentality.

Cyrus of Persia lost his throne a couple of millenia ago proving “foreign aid” doesn’t work. No country ever went wrong doing the simple, obvious kindness to those who need a brief hand up, but don’t demand a hand-out. Ask the older generation how your family got through the Great Depression. The chances are good that a neighbor helped them, or they helped a neighbor who got back on his feet and helped someone else.

Linda Brady Traynham

January 22, 2010

The Daily Reckoning