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Category Archives: International Affairs

Lebanon Predicts the Future USA

It will prove difficult for the US to Balkanize, even if it wanted to because every group is represented in every city and state.  Furthermore, the typical suburban American moves every 5 years or so to wherever their next job is.

If we want to simulate a mercantile society where many disparate groups are crammed together in the same territory some of which might be semi-nomadic, we need only look to the Levant where tribes have competed for a very long time over a narrow neck of valuable sea-side real estate with a Mediterannean climate that lies on top of a natural chokepoint of world trade routes.

In recent history, Lebanon provides us with the best example because it experienced a bloody civil war in that confined space after a multi-cultural democracy broke down over the issue of mass immigration.

We can roughly divide Lebanon into 3 major factions, Christians, Sunnis, and Shi’ites.  When Sunni Palestinian refugees flooded into the country after Israeli independence guess which faction started lobbying to make sure Palestinians stayed?  Then are any of us surprised that once the Palestinian camps were effectively permanent one of those 3 factions tried to count them towards a majority of seats in parliament?  No doubt they also wanted them on a “path to citizenship.”

Of course we are not surprised that the Sunnis conspired to upset the balance of power in their favor by “electing a new people.” A fatal flaw of mass suffrage democracy where any warm body can vote or be counted towards seats in the assembly is that the temptation for factions to bring in more warm bodies always becomes irresistible.

At the time the Christians were the ones with the most power so they were the ones to beat.  The Shi’ites and Druze were tempted to join the Sunnis and dogpile the Christians.  A fatal flaw of multi-cultural democracy is it always becomes a game of king of the hill.  In Lebanon, when one faction has an advantage the others are sure to join against them and so it repeats endlessly.

Most recently, the Christians and Shi’ites were aligned against the Sunnis because both feared the growth of ISIS in Syria.  Now that the threat of ISIS has dwindled, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was yet another re-alignment as the balance of power is re-assessed.
Right now, the Shi’ites led by Hezbollah are the most powerful, so perhaps the other two will join up to take them down a peg.  I’m sure Washington, Riyadh, and Tel Aviv would send them billions of dollars to make sure it’s worth their while.

Hezbollah gives us a model of what the neo-tribal state might look like as the power of nation-states recedes.  They are the de facto government in southern Lebanon while seemingly content to operate within the framework of a formally recognized nation-state.  They get to have their own territory while still participating in a larger economic zone.  They effectively carry out their own foreign policy as they maintain their special relationship with Iran while still participating in the national politics.  Hezbollah gets to enjoy all the privileges of being a nation without the strategic liabilities of nationhood.  They get the best of all worlds.

I noticed this same impulse for political arbitrage in the renewed flareups of European separatist movements.  The Catalonian government wanted regional autonomy under the protection of the larger EU economic zone, cutting out the annoying middleman so they could enjoy the best of all worlds.

I anticipate a similar sort of dissolution might happen in the United States.  The government in Washington might well still be there as the reality on the ground quietly changes.  De facto territories emerge but no one wants to disrupt commerce in a way that impoverishes everyone.  When Lebanon was embroiled in its civil war each militia had checkpoints at its borders to “tax” anyone passing through.  No one in present day Lebanon wants this.  I would figure even the most diehard Hezbollah member enjoys being able to drive into Beirut.

But what what about direct state coercion?  One lesson of Lebanon is multi-cultural national militaries only exist on paper once tensions are high.  I was shocked as I read there was still a national military in Lebanon amidst 20 years of civil war.  Once members of every group serve in the military, commanders know better than to order them into actions that will cause mass mutiny and infighting.
To the average soldier, the military is just a paycheck and that’s true for the United States as well where all the effusive praise and near-worship just papers over the fact that it’s a government jobs and training program for millions of Americans who would otherwise be barely employable with their high school diplomas.  The military is welfare for the working class.

Just as no one in Lebanon wants to charge territorial border tax anymore, the different ethnic groups in the military can all agree to sit on the easy paycheck even once bullets are flying and simply revolt or desert if someone tries to actually send them into battle.
Those soldiers who want to actually fight leave the military and join their group’s militia.
We can look at the Mexican military as a supporting example.  They go through the motions of following their orders for the most part but they have little appetite for challenging the power of emergent narco-states anymore than they need to.

The defensive power of neo-tribal militaries isn’t necessarily being able to defeat national militaries outright.  Like a sea urchin or a cactus pad, they need only represent a net energetic loss for large predators.

Another lesson we can take away from Lebanon is that coalitions are always shifting in the game of identity politics.  Euro-Americans are perceived as the strongest, most vulnerable faction right now, so all the other groups can agree to target them.  As this position is weakend, it will become progressively easier to peel factions away from the coalition of the fringes.  The same applies if the strongest faction seems to be winning.  Then the least loyal members of the coalition of the weaker start jumping ship.

It would do well to always watch for opportunities to re-align and ultimately divide and conquer.
In these kinds of struggles it’s smaller factions caught in the middle of the struggle that switch sides first so they will end up on the winning side.  In Lebanon this is how the Druze, a group that’s about 5% of the population, plays their hand.

If we think of Whites as Christians, Sunnis as Mestizos and Indios, Shi’ites as Blacks, and Palestinians as Illegal Immigrants, the Druze in our situation might be Asian Americans who are ambivalent about either side and shift their allegiance wherever they feel benefits them most.  Right now, they fall behind the establishment even though the other members of the coalition of the fringes envy their wealth and power.  When the American Druze begin to waver, the Christians know there has been a change in the balance of power.

Catalonia and Sovereignty

I have been aware of separatist movements in Europe for some years and I saw them as a weathervane indicating the general direction of politics and culture.  Brexit made me hold back on this thesis for awhile, but the tepid progress towards actually leaving the EU and now the resurgent talk of Catalonian independence confirms my initial intuitions.

Nations are made up of regions that in a perfect peaceful world would each be independent, their governments fully representing the wills of the locals.  As the aftermath of the Versailles treaty demonstrated, regions must combine into a tolerable nation for the sake of common security.
Once combined, the central government cannot easily allow regions to secede or it loses its legitimacy and a precedent is set for its complete disassembly.  Thus I understand the position of Lincoln in 1861 or of the Spanish government now.

However, the overall trend is nation-states are becoming far less relevant in the 21st century as most of the world is organized into interlinked economic zones.  The nations are still there with their armies, territories, legal systems and leaders but the reality is power is no longer neatly circumscribed by the borders of discrete sovereign entities drawn on maps in different colors.

For the purposes of international commerce separate political units are a nuisance.  We can imagine what it would be like going through customs every few miles or paying a fee to change currency to be able to buy anything.  There is little incentive for globalist rulers anymore to pay much attention to borders, except as it inconveniences the stupid local serfs who are still tied to the land.

To understand Catalonian “independence” we must understand they are not trying to gain sovereignty but only to change patrons.  With no threat of invasion, they are a relatively rich region with no need for a national government that funnels away their taxes into poorer regions.  They have every interest to signal they’d rather have direct allegiance to Brussels rather than Madrid.  They are like a toddler running to Daddy for protection, only to have him back up Mommy’s verdict.

The European movements for regional separation are mostly an attempt of regions to align with the larger economic zone instead of outdated nations whose protection is no longer needed.  None of these movements are succeeding though.  The regionalists are blocked by an intractable problem of modernity.  No region is really regional anymore.  For some time people from all over Spain and the world have congregated in Catalonia until the core going back centuries can no longer unite as a political whole.  Furthermore, a Spaniard in Barcelona probably has more in common with a resident of any worldwide city than an inhabitant of the Catalonian countryside.

As the experiment of regionalism falls flat as a political movement, people will begin to realize the key to modernity is a sort of techno-tribalism that unites by IQ, class, neurotype, and relatedness rather than some dumb flag people pretend to care about with tremendous heart-slapping sentimentality.  One of the most common sentiments I see online: “I have more in common with this alt-right guy far away from me than these assholes who live right next to me with their loud music.”  This is the future.

Fourth Generation Sovereignty

Why doesn’t the US take over Canada?  It doesn’t need to.  Both are seamlessly plugged into the same mass economy and international Western political and cultural system.  On maps, there is an independent, internationally recognized nation known as Canada but taking that too seriously is to misunderstand how the system works.

Before the Western powers twice committed mass suicide, power relationships were more explicit and required more direct maintenance.  Canada was little different back then except it was aligned with Britain instead of the US.  Instead of pretending to be a truly independent entity it openly called itself an affiliate of the British Empire.  Back then, as now, they sent their young men on command to fight pointless wars for their hegemon.  To suppose such a political unit is really sovereign when it does not even have its own foreign policy is, of course, a joke.

Most non-Western political units in the world were explicit territories of colonial overlords run at least at the topmost levels by imperial administrators.
Then, after WW2, we are told, all these subservient satrapies suddenly found their independence and the world lived happily ever after.

The former colonies established their own political systems but the new empire was founded on economics rather than politics.  The colonial administrators went home because they were no longer necessary.

The major powers needed only to entice the new local leaders into loan agreements with puppet strings attached.  If the new nominal countries had strategic resources, they often had no local infrastructure to exploit them.  Then they became dependent on international corporations to do the drilling and mining in hope of getting some crumbs.  The local leaders then owed their power to the resource extractors with their expensive equipment and engineers more than to their own people.

The old colonialism collapsed because it had become a bulky ideological affair and a big money loser.  Keeping colonies became an ostentatious display of national prestige instead of a profitable venture like it used to be.  The depletion of wealth after the World Wars and a worldwide depression in between them finally made this arrangement untenable.  Minimizing overhead, and maximizing profit was in again.  Allowing subject peoples nominal independence imposed all the costs and dangers of keeping order onto the local figureheads while they got to passively reap the benefits as absentee owners.

 Since the end of WW2 the state of affairs has more in common with the heyday of the British and Dutch East India Companies or the United Fruit Company with foreign affairs carried out primarily by economic actors working in conjunction with great powers.
In the earlier eras of economic imperialism the great powers supporting international extractive commerce were obviously sovereign entities acting with their own benefit in mind.

What makes our own age different is that the great powers are no longer clearly connected to anything we would consider a nation-state or even a well-defined empire with concrete borders.  The whole planet is fair game.  It is appropriate that those affiliated with this system of power are now often referred to as “globalists.”

I have stated before the thesis that in our age of fracture, political organization is both smaller and larger than the centralized bureaucratic nation-states we’ve taken for granted since the 1860s.  On the large scale we have vast economic zones that swallow up mere nations.  On the smaller scale we see actual sovereignty re-emerging in the form of tribes.  I call them “tribes” to contrast with 18th to 19th century ideas of ethnic groups or cultural groups monolithically united within the borders of one nation-state’s territory.

So far I’ve seen the term “fourth generation” used to refer to decentralized, non-state warfare.  I think this concept will apply to everything, not just warfare.  I see ISIS trying to found an Islamic state, a bunch of Kurdish enclaves across several different countries declaring themselves Kurdistan, growing separatist movements within the European Union, or now the emergence of the alt-right as signs of where we’re heading.

In the 21st century, having a nation-state is a strategic liability and an easy target.  A nation intrinsically defined by an unchanging territory and population can be isolated, blockaded, bombarded, or invaded.  A bunch of soldiers who put on official uniforms can’t act without making their permanent territorial unit a target for retaliation.  Even when they attack much smaller and weaker groups, they open the whole of their much larger group to counter-attack.  Soon there are many small, cohesive organizations that begin to overwhelm a mega nation that fewer care to be associated with anymore until it finally only exists on paper. 

If 1 US soldier charges across the Russian border screaming with bayonet fixed and randomly spraying on full auto, Russia technically could reasonably contemplate attacking New York City as a legitimate reaction. That soldier, if acting on orders, is a representative of all 330 million Americans.  In stark contrast, if one jihadi suicide bomber blows up some US soldiers there may be no clear idea of who to counter-attack or how to find them.

ISIS could set up in Nebraska and call it the Islamic State.  The Kurds could have Kurdistan in Oklahoma if they wanted to.  The Federation of Occupy could just have some moving tent towns.  Any of these polities would have far more real control over their affairs than Canada does.

The emerging neo-tribal, techno-tribal state exists firstly as its people, not as a territory its people are tied to.  They can choose to conceal their presence, influence the politics or not, stand and fight or try to set up elsewhere, they can be urban or rural as they please, gather all together or distribute far and wide across national borders and economic zones alike and still be united. 

The new tribes even if their members few in number and poor have a wealth of strategic options nation-states simply do not have access to.  They trade brute strength for maneuverability and flexibility, advantages that have been super-augmented by the information age.  Making this tradeoff is a winning strategy when nuclear weapons make massed brute force much less decisive than it used to be. 

It should have been immediately clear the old ways were over when US forces could not reconquer all of Korea after they decisively defeated the Chinese in combat or why the US could not simply crush North Vietnam or even shut down the Ho Chi Minh Trail supply lines that crossed international boundaries without serious political consequences.

Since then, organizations that have adapted to the post-nuclear, post-agriculturalist, post-colonial rules have met with astonishing success despite their relatively small sizes and limited resources.  Meanwhile, the nation-states have grown ever more sclerotic and impotent even as they dump infinite wealth into weapons systems that just sit there as their roads, hospitals, and power grids crumble.

The old nations are now easily outmaneuvered by both the globalists who manage the economic zones and by the techno-tribalists.  It is now a question of who ends up with the upper hand in a 4th generation age.  The new tribes began their rise as a counter to nation-states hobbled by the threat of nuclear weapons.  Now their fluid nature makes them suited to challenge an economic colonialism that is also nebulous by design.

The Trump Era And Iran

Iran hasn’t been a major expansionist power since the 17th century.  The modern state of Iran is a pale shadow compared to any of the empires across milennia based in the Persian homeland.
There frankly isn’t much reason for the United States to make Iran a top foreign policy priority.  They may eventually get nukes but Pakistan, a state infinitely worse than Iran already has nukes and the world hasn’t ended yet.

Aside from influence over Middle East client states, the US and Iran have no real conflicts of interest.  Rivalry with Iran was largely manufactured by US meddling in Iranian affairs.  For some bizarre reason the US establishment just can’t get over the fact that their Shah didn’t work out 40 years ago and that they need to move on.  It’s not unlike their inability to adjust to the fact that the USSR no longer exists.

President Trump, as of this writing, has just fired his national security advisor, Michael Flynn.  There are many flimsy-sounding official reasons for the dismissal but I suspect it is not without coincidence it comes shortly after Flynn put Iran “on notice” after the test launch of a missile.

Iran responded by launching more missiles and the US was again left looking foolish and impotent.
It looks like Trump took Flynn’s advice regarding Iran, but perhaps had his reservations because he made Flynn publicly own the announcement rather than doing it himself and taking the credit.

When Flynn’s sabre-rattling backfired, Trump may have decided to pull the plug even though he must understand that the optics are damaging to his administration.

 He acted similarly many times firing staff during his campaign with everyone saying he was finished and his organization falling apart.  These kinds of plays shouldn’t surprise us by now.

The open belligerence expressed by Flynn, when backed by no credible threat, makes no sense and makes the situation worse.  We need only reflect on how W Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ needlessly inflamed and encouraged his designated enemies.

Why on earth would anyone want to keep their enemies “on notice?”  Why not keep them guessing about their relationship with the US and always leave room for negotiation?  I remember how neocons and cuckservatives revolted when Obama merely said he would be willing to “talk to Iran.”  What kind of national leaders could express outrage at conducting diplomacy, a basic function of state?  This is the sort of childish idiocy an adult like Trump has to tear out by the roots.

Iran is a state with paranoid tendencies as one would expect of a land that has been under the influence of foreign powers for the last 200 years and invaded from every direction by every group for thousands of years.  Their nation lies at a natural geo-political crossroads so their government naturally has a hardliner temperament somewhat similar to that of Russia.  The key distinction that the US misunderstands is their outlook is primarily defensive in nature.
Beyond a buffer client zone in the Shia regions of Iraq along with its Shia holy cities, Iran really doesn’t seem to aspire to that much at the moment.  They have proxies all over the Middle East, but more to destabilize Sunni powers they fear than anything else.

I actually think Obama had the right general policy direction even if he was forced to by circumstance.  When his pet Syrian revolutionaries blew up into ISIS he went crawling on his knees to Tehran begging for them keep an independent Iraq in existence on paper at least.  The price was that he had to make humiliating concessions.

I think he still could have done a better job of playing the situation, though, considering he was paying the Iranians to do what they desperately wanted to do anyway.  I have to give him credit though for at least opening a dialogue when no one else in the establishment would.

The Western powers can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that Iran as the central power of Shi’ite Islam with its own great share of the petroleum market is the natural enemy of Sunni powers.  The potential for playing them off against each other should be obvious.

The US had its chance to take the Sunni side of that divide when they backed Saddam Hussein as a relatively secular Arab Nationalist leader of Iraq.  Had diplomacy been conducted with a more realpolitik understanding back then, perhaps Iraq would have been allowed to absorb Kuwait as an ally’s reward after their hard-fought war with Iran.
Perhaps that extra infusion of oil money would have enabled America’s then-ally to go back and pose a greater threat.

But that’s alternate history and now it actually makes more sense to play Iran against the Sunni Middle East and thereby have some leverage over them from behind the scenes.  At the very least, it makes sense to defuse decades of pointless hostility with Iran.  
If the US had wanted to pursue that route, it already could have with a strong ally before it invaded that ally twice, deposed its ruler, and left behind a yawning power vacuum that has caused endless headaches ever since.

At present, Iran aligns with Russia to the frustration of the establishment, but this connection need not exist.  Historically, Russian and Persian powers have been bitter enemies that have fought many wars.  Their co-operation is far from inevitable.  Theirs is an alliance made necessary by American intransigence.  As the US drove the Iranians into the arms of the Soviet Union, it now pushes them towards Russia.  If it were to become a foreign policy goal to divide them, it ought not to be that difficult.  Just encourage both to have more ambitions in the Caucasus.

For the time being, Iranian-Russian cooperation has been beneficial in keeping the Middle East from descending into complete chaos while for once the US can watch from afar as someone else puts in all the blood and sweat.

US establishment rhetoric toward Iran has frustrated me for years.  Their stupid heavy-handedness in all things has destroyed their credibility until even a non-politician TV billionaire can step in and push them aside.  Some inflammatory statements about Crimea aside, I am hoping Trump has the sense not to get drawn into the cult of unilateral, irrational belligerence.

Update 2/17/17: Was the Flynn firing also a ploy to draw out and expose enemies within the state and intelligence agencies?  Very intrigued to see what happens next.  Like in the election, Trump keeps people guessing, as he should.

Trump Foreign Policy: Post-Unilateralism

Coalition, or no, whether other nations were willing or not, the brand of America has been built on unilateral foreign policy.  The world’s only superpower was also the world’s policeman.
Power, however, is a tool and as with money even great amounts of it are easily squandered without clear objectives and a sensible strategy.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was seen as the ultimate legitimation of unilateral diplomacy, an eternal blank check for Wilsonian exceptional interventionism at the “end of history.”

Every president since Reagan doubled down on this nonsense until it reached a climax of absurdity under George W. Bush.  Obama finally toned it down a little bit, because he had to.  Meddling went on unabated, but with most of America’s once abundant international political capital finally frittered away there was only so much he could do.  By the end of his presidency he was a laughingstock openly mocked by the Chinese leadership, insulted by the leader of the Philippines, and regarded with thinly veiled contempt by Russia.

Trump leads a reaction to a political establishment that has been utterly discredited by its decades of relentless ineptitude and failure despite holding every possible strategic advantage.
It has been clear since Trump’s campaign he envisions a US that conducts foreign policy as a nation among nations, not as a bombastic world police that clumsily throws its weight around.

This will mean, thank goodness, far less meddling in the affairs of other nations and a restoration of balances of power.  By wielding power with a lighter hand, it will become possible to accomplish far more.

The US can begin to create a post-exceptionalist, post-unilateral world by simply withdrawing US military interference.
Having US bases while limiting the military power of the host countries has increased the burden on the US while merely infuriating neighboring powers needlessly.

If the US removes most of its troops and involvement in NATO it forces EU nations to spend far more of their wealth on defense.  If Europe insured itself against Russian aggression, Russia would possibly be more amenable to talking about its interests elsewhere…

With a stable balance of power between the EU bloc and Russia, the US could have more constructive conversations with Russia regarding its extremely long border with China.  China is the only world power with potential, besides a real United States of Europe, to be in the same league as the USA.
America and China are presently economic partners joined at the hip, but we must think towards the long game.  Even as the US-Chinese relationship exists now, why not encourage other powers to contain them, giving the US more bargaining leverage?
In light of this, the complete obsession of the USA’s establishment with the Middle East and anti-Russian sentiment is perplexing.  A major foreign policy coup of the 21st century will be to split Russia from China as Nixon once split China away from the Soviet Union.

America could also withdraw from Japan forming a new, more equal relationship and encouraging Japanese re-armament and cooperation with Taiwan to counterbalance Chinese naval ambitions.
Hopefully, a post-exceptional international order would see the US and Europe able to freely operate with the emerging great power of China hampered by its nervous neighbors.  Why meddle when we need only encourage them to do what serves themselves?  The Daoist maxim to “do without doing” will be very appropriate in coming years.

Regarding Korea, it is ironic that if the US renounced its military commitments in the South, it’s possible the Chinese would become suddenly more amenable to discussing phasing out a client state of North Korea they have no special love for, but have kept around as a buffer against a clumsily over-aggressive US.  Add some diplomatic pressure from  neighboring powers, and perhaps an understanding could be arrived at where none is possible now…

Much of the benefits of a post-unilateral foreign policy come from simply undoing the heavy-handed status quo that counter-productively plays at imperialism.  From now on we may see the US doing more with less or in other words, “under budget and ahead of schedule.”

The Obsolescence of the Nation State and ISIS

I found an insightful essay by an Israeli writer, Uri Avnery.  The trends of centralization until the World Wars and decentralization ever since has been a favorite topic of mine.
Excerpts:

“By the end of the 17th century, existing states could no longer cope with new demands. Small states were doomed. The economy demanded a safe domestic market large enough for the development of modern industries. New mass armies needed a base strong enough to provide soldiers and pay for modern arms.”

As I like to say: The main source of national cohesion is the fear of other nations.

“If I am not mistaken, it was Gustave Le Bon, the French psychologist, who asserted a hundred years ago that every new idea is already obsolete by the time it is adopted by the masses.

The process works like this: somebody conceives the idea. It takes a generation for it to become accepted by the intellectuals. It takes another generation for the intellectuals to teach the masses. By the time it attains power, the circumstances that gave it birth have already changed, and a new idea is required.”

“THE OBSOLESCENCE of the nation-state has given birth to a paradoxical by-product: the breakup of the state into smaller and smaller units.
While the world trend towards larger and larger political and economic units gathers strength, nation-states fall apart. All over the world, small peoples are demanding independence.”

“NATIONALISM WAS a European idea.
It never struck deep roots in the arid fields of the Arab world. Even in the heyday of Arab nationalism, it was never quite clear whether a Damascene, for example, considered himself first a Syrian or a Muslim, whether a Beiruti considered himself first a Maronite-Christian or a Lebanese, or whether a Cairene was first an Egyptian, an Arab or a Muslim.”

“The modern Arab nations were invented by European colonialists…THESE imperialist manipulations ran counter to Muslim history and tradition…THE HUGE attraction of the movement now called “Islamic State” is that it proposes a simple idea: do away with all these crazy borders drawn up by Western imperialists for their own purposes…With one swipe it clears the table of the nation-state and its derivatives. It carries a clear, simple idea, easily understood by Muslims everywhere.”

“THE WESTERN response is almost comically inadequate.  People like Barack Obama and John Kerry, and their equivalents all over Europe, are quite unable to understand what it is all about…They are facing a new phenomenon.”

The Obsolescence of the Nation State, Uri Avnery

Ottoman Empire before its non-Anatolian provinces were split up after WW1 into modern nations.

Ottoman Empire before its non-Anatolian provinces were split up after WW1 into modern nations.

Thoughts On the Ukraine Crisis

I honestly don’t see the need for war.
Ukraine has been paralyzed by conflict between ethnic Ukrainians and Russians since the collapse of the USSR.
I think the government in Kiev is actually better off without them.
My guess for now is parts of Eastern Ukraine, especially Crimea, could end up going back to Russia.
The Russians get to be part of impoverished Russia.
The western part is finally freed to become part of Europe and to join the rich EU.
Russia gains a bit more territory but at the cost of becoming even more diplomatically and economically isolated.  Even more relegated to being a mere commodity provider for rich countries.
It’s not a good move for Russia.
They may actually be doing the Ukrainians a huge favor.
Perhaps the Russian leadership are savvy enough to understand that pressing this issue won’t help them beyond a certain point and are again posturing in an attempt to boost public opinion at home and boost their appearance of prestige abroad.
Yanukovych was Putin’s man in Kiev.  He was an ethnic Russian from the East who wasn’t even fully fluent in Ukrainian, a shortcoming which made him the George W. Bush of Ukraine, sticking his foot in his mouth at every opportunity.
Irrepressible protests arose after he tried to distance Ukraine from the EU in November and there was a revolution that completely ousted him from power.
I find it odd that present news reports barely even mention the Ukrainian revolution that drove Putin to invade Ukraine.
With events out of context, few seem to understand that Putin is the desperate man, trying to salvage what he can from a wreck beyond all repair.
Ukraine is lost to him forever now and it’s only a matter of time now until it becomes part of the EU and NATO.
Putin will seize what scraps he can but even those will come at a precipitous price.  He spent the last 20 years trying to keep the former Soviet Republics in his orbit, so it’s understandable he’s not acting completely rationally.
I’ve looked at an ethnic map of the Ukraine and have understood that ethnic Russians are barely 1/5 of Ukraine’s population. They’re concentrated in the East.  Crimea is the only part of the entire country that’s majority ethnic Russian.  That may well be the only part that goes back to Russia.
I can see people making comparisons to Sudetenland concessions, but I find them ridiculous.  Nazi Germany was an economic powerhouse while Putin’s Russia is a sick man of Europe.
In time, even Russia will be pulled into the economic vortex that is Europe; even their political power plays will amount to nothing, like one tiny person trying to swim against the current of a river.

 

Percent Ethnic Russians in Ukraine Provinces

A US Collapse Vs. SU Collapse

The US and SU had many things in common as massive highly nationalistic, highly idealistic, highly militarized nation states founded on pioneering territorial expansion across their continents.

In fact, it was their very alikeness that made them competitors for the same niche!

The author of this piece argues that for all its flaws, the cooperative, state run nature of the Soviet Union made it easier to weather governmental collapse than we’d see in a zero-sum super competitive ultra privatized US that barely 20 years after the SU’s is certainly in sharp decline and possibly on its last legs.

LINK

Brookings Institute Talk on Russia and America

I attended a talk today at the Brookings Institution about the future of Russian-American relations.

Naturally there was considerable focus on current issues such as Syria and Snowden being given asylum, and how it might affect the upcoming G20 summit.

I didn’t wonder about it much, really.  There’s nothing in Syria that’s central to Russian interests and Snowden, while a nasty diplomatic slap in the face, does nothing to change the larger situation.

I was more interested in bigger political and economic developments and where they might be headed.

Interestingly, the experts pretty much all agreed that the present political order in Russia is dependent on Putin’s cult of personality – that without his influence there would be nothing to hold Russia’s oligarchs together.
And – there is no plan for succession should something happen to Putin tomorrow…

They addressed how Putin’s main objective with his anti-American gestures is to boost his popularity at home.   His anti-American posturing has a huge appeal to his base – Russia’s working classes.
The urban middle and upper middle class has little loyalty to Putin, often protesting him in Moscow and St. Petersburg, so it’s only natural Russia’s ruler tailors his image to the vast majority he relies on.

While Syria is, relatively speaking, a sideshow, the fate of former Soviet republics is not.  Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, among Russia’s first concerns is to bring countries like Ukraine closer to Moscow and prevent them from aligning with Western Europe.

If we look at the numbers, though, it seems to me Russia’s agenda is doomed to fail.

Russia’s entire economy is worth 1.8 trillion.  This is enough to make it one of the world’s bigger economies, but to put Russia’s imperial goals in perspective, Italy’s economy is considerably bigger at 2.2 trillion with 1/3rd the population.

Let’s pretend we are Ukraine for a moment:

Which would we align with:  A 1.8 trillion Russia or a 17 trillion European Union?!

Not to mention, Russia’s economy to this day is based heavily on commodities like natural gas rather than skills or tech.
Indeed, one subject to arise during the question and answer session with the experts was brain drain from Russia…

With no Soviet Union any more that can keep their best talent captive, skilled Russians are increasingly ditching their home country for places like Silicon Valley.  And Russia itself with its feudal oligarchs and powerful crime lords tends to be very unfriendly to commerce.
So long as Russian small businessmen are parasitized by protection rackets and foreign investors are confronted with corruption, their economy is not likely to become truly “modern” any time soon.

A main theme of the talk was to ask what Putin really wants and how to get Russia to work more closely with US objectives.  Even the experts seemed to regard Putin as a mystic, inscrutable, Eastern Czar.
If we look at the numbers, though, it seems clear why the US can’t seem to get Russia to budge.

Relatively speaking, the US really is not that important to Russian interests so it simply doesn’t have that much leverage.
The vast majority of Russia’s foreign trade is with the European Union and with China in a distant second place.   Commerce with the US takes a comparatively puny 4th or 5th place with just a few percent of the total.  Also, the US is just about on the other side of the planet from Russia’s major cities while China and Europe are much more immediate neighbors.
It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that US requests take a back seat compared to more immediate concerns.  What decisive advantage does America offer in exchange for Putin’s cooperation?  Putin is a pragmatist, so clearly what he’s being offered isn’t worth as much as he gets from slighting the US to boost his domestic approval ratings.

The economic reality on the ground is that Russia is already just a big commodity provider for the EU, and thus in every meaningful sense, already part of Europe.
If we look at the facts, Russia as a modern great power, is pure fantasy.

During the talk, there was mention of a new, more Western generation of Russians just waiting for the older oligarchs to die off.  Such a generation is bound to reconcile Russia’s political reality with the economic reality.
Instead of trying to keep states like Ukraine from being sucked into Europe, Russia will itself be sucked into the Euro zone.

Even if Russia somehow remains an aloof oligarchic kleptocracy, it will still be useful for its resources as a lesser partner of Europe.

Graph Russia Trade Partners

Does the Decline Make Statistical Sense? Does the American Way Make Financial Sense?

The American economy is worth 15 trillion, still over twice as big in absolute terms as a distant 2nd place, China a desperately poor nation with a huge population…
But is that wealth proportionally useful compared to other places?
If we consider GDP by purchasing power parity, China with many times more people still has only 75% as much relative wealth as the US.

The US national debt has passed 100% of GDP but the US remains one of the worlds most reliable debtors: 2% of GDP, 7-8% of Federal Revenue more than pays off all the
interest each year.  The federal government spends 4x as much each on social programs and the military!
The American debt burden would not impress struggling European powers during the Napoleonic wars.
Nations like Japan are far worse off with close to 150% GNP in national debt or Greece at 200%. Germany isn’t that much better off at 85%

The net US trade deficit is by far the largest in the world at about 450 billion, but another 30-40 billion a year of exports could plug the gap and the difference still pales in comparison next to the massive size of the US economy.

The numbers tell us that the US is a monster, yet those of us who live there are experiencing relentless and accelerating decline.  How do we explain this against awe inspiring numbers?
After all even a US in relative decline is still surpassed only by the entire EU.

Here’s some reflections on reconciling the reality on the ground with the statistics?

Virgin Bride: Unbuyable

Wife: Average income just an entry ticket to the arena

Girlfriend: Average income just an entry ticket.

Job Security: Unbuyable

House: At least $200,000 (realistically far more paid after interest, no one can afford that out of pocket)

Car: At least $10,000 if new. (realistically far more paid after interest, no one can afford that out of pocket)

Rent: At least $600/month, $7200/year even in cheap areas after utilities and fees.

Education: 16 years to satisfy basic prerequisites, consuming at least 6 years from age able to enter workforce. Possibly more than a decade with higher degrees. A doctor or successful lawyer may earn a lot but has to compensate for 10+ years of working part time or not at all. Filling a big black hole of years of tuition + living expenses.

Children, Family Before Age 30: The price is a life of grinding poverty.

How much just to break even?  A couple million dollars earned over a couple of decades? Even if everything goes as planned, break even by middle age?

The simple truth that stares us in the face: The “normal” lifestyle with house/apartment, car, job doesn’t make financial sense.
It entails a huge expenditures of time and energy in a desperate bid to break even.
In the past, people may have had prospect of having a family and securing their genetic futures, but now even this basic reward(readily available to many poor peoples all over the world) is elusive.

Just a glimpse at these basic expenses shows us that rent seeking, fees, tuition, royalties, interest on assets and payments is where wealth can actually be made.

Right now what keeps people going? Fear that the only alternative to the “break even track” is to live in true uncertainty of survival.

The United States remains fantastically wealthy on paper yet is the average person’s life essentially any different than the average across time and place?

Is someone in a poorer country who can hope for a genetic future in their reproductive prime, surrounded by supportive family, with an ancestral home to live in, a family trade to aspire to, in fact, better off?

Are Americans as atomized individuals a whole that’s less than the sum of its parts?
Are Americans despite their unprecedented wealth undermined by backwards and wasteful social institutions and culture?

Or is the present trend of declinism as the numbers suggest, a misguided fad?

Insights on this matter?

The Myth of A Europe United Against the Turks

Many modern day nationalists look back fondly on a fabled age where the Turks were twice driven back from the very gates of Vienna.

What they never seem to mention is that plenty of European powers would have liked to see the fall of Vienna and with it the threat of Habsburg power.

The Habsburgs were the European superpower of the time, with the crowns of the Spanish and Austrian empires united under one family, which included enormous bullion rich territories in the New World.

European powers such as France were more than willing to make deals or even alliances with the Ottomans if it meant taking some pressure off of them by diverting the overwhelming military power and wealth of the Habsburgs.

I’ve met far too many people who like to interpret Euro history first as a conflict between Christianity and Islam when the truth is far more complex.

LINK

France and Ottoman

Francis I of France and his ally, Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire

The Rest Are Not Rising After All

BRICs map

Brazil, Russia, India, China. The so-called BRICs.

“Over 50 percent of them(Americans), according to a Gallup poll conducted this year, said they think that China is already the world’s “leading” economy, even though the U.S. economy is still more than twice as large…

The notion of wide-ranging convergence between the developing and the developed worlds is a myth…

Of the roughly 180 countries in the world tracked by the International Monetary Fund, only 35 are developed.  The markets of the rest are emerging – and most of them have been emerging for many decades and will continue to do so for many more…

There were a few pockets of countries that did catch up with the West, but they were limited to oil states in the Gulf, the nations of southern Europe after World War II, and the economic “tigers” of East Asia…

It was only after 2000 that the emerging markets as a whole started to catch up; nevertheless as of 2011, the difference in per capita incomes between the rich and developing nations was back to where it was in the 1950s…

Other than being the largest economies in their respective regions, the big four emerging markets never had much in common.  They generate growth in different and often competing ways – Brazil and Russia for example are major energy producers that benefit from high energy prices , whereas India, as a major energy consumer, suffers from them.  Except in highly unusual circumstances…they are unlikely to grow in unison…

Russia’s economy and stock market have been…dominated by an oil-rich class of billionaires whose assets equal 20 percent of GDP, by far the largest share held by the super-rich in any major economy…

…looks back to say the seventeenth century, when China and India accounted for perhaps half of global GDP…

China’s population is simply too big and aging too quickly for its economy to continue growing as rapidly as it has.  With over 50 percent of its people now living in cities, China is nearing what economists call “‘the Lewis turning point'” the point at which a country’s surplus labor from rural areas has been largely exhausted…

One casualty will be the notion that China’s success demonstrates the superiority of authoritarian, state-run capitalism…

Although the world can expect more breakout nations to emerge from the bottom income tier, at the top and the middle, the new global economic order will probably look more like the old one than most observers predict.  The rest may continue to rise ,but they will rise more slowly and unevenly than many experts are anticipating.  And precious few will ever reach the income levels of the developed world.”

Foreign Affairs, November/December 2012 Broken BRICs: Why the Rest Stopped Rising, Ruchir Sharma

3 Dictators Who Weren’t Pure Evil?

1. Park Chung Hee – South Korea

park chung hee

Usual claim to fame: Kidnapping political opponent and future South Korean president Kim Dae Jung from Japan in broad daylight and taking him out for a ride on a boat.
Kim Dae Jung came within minutes of “sleeping with the fishes” and certainly would have if not for immediate US diplomatic pressure.
The Dictator Park was known for allowing torture, the creative use of electric shock was a specialty during his rule.
Above all he turned South Korea into corporate oligarchy mainly concerned with the needs of a few ‘chaebol’ mega-companies. Funny how they never seem to mention that both North and South Korea were dictatorships for decades.

Not Pure Evil?: Park despite his abuses is commonly credited with getting things done and putting the infrastructure in place that has allowed South Korea to become the economic superpower it is today.

Bonus: His daughter is now the president of South Korea.

Park Geun Hye

LINK

2. Augusto Pinochet – Chile

Augusto Pinochet

Usual claim to fame: Made thousands of political opponents “disappear.”

Not Pure Evil?: Pinochet turned around Chile’s economy overnight using his dictatorial power to simply get things done. Ever since, Chile has consistently been the most prosperous and stable country in South America.

Bonus: His look has had enduring influence.

Pinochet and M. Bison

Capcom vs. Reality

Also, the only of these 3 dictators to die from old age…in his 90s.

LINK

3. Rafael Trujillo – Dominican Republic

Rafael Trujillo
Usual claim to fame: Rose to power as a US puppet who was installed to collect debts the Dominican Republic had defaulted on. Soon he owned most of the country’s economy and was more than willing make opponents “disappear.”

Not Pure Evil?: Like the other two dictators Trujillo is credited with strengthening the economy and infrastructure of the Dominican Republic despite making the country into an oligarchic nepotocracy.
Perhaps more remarkable is Trujillo’s establishment of a system of national parks, regulation of logging and slash and burn farming.
Somehow people end up paying more attention to these kinds of regulations when there’s a ruthless dictator enforcing them…
The results of Trujillo’s policies speak for themselves.
Here’s a picture of the border of Haiti and the Dominican republic.

Border Dominican Republic and Haiti

Bonus: How many dictators could be marketed to the green and “fair trade” crowd? Couldn’t you envision him with that trademark smug smirk on the front of a bag of organic coffee?

LINK

An American Mercenary Who Invaded Mexico With An Army of 45 Men

Back in the 1850s, a Tennessean named William Walker and his band of mercs launched an offensive on Baja California and successfully captured the Baja del Sur capital City, La Paz.
He proceeded to declare a Republic of the Sonora complete with territorial boundaries and its own flag.

Republic of Sonora Flag

Republic of Sonora map

More amazing still, he and his men managed to get out of there alive again after the Mexican government started sending armies into the region.

Walker was a real filibuster. Not one of our modern gerontocrats deadlocking sessions of congress. No he was a filibuster in the original sense of the word. A freebooter trying to conquer a sovereign state without permission from any state.
The age of manifest destiny in America fostered an entire generation of filibuster mercs who tried to take over countries and found their own colonies.

For Walker, his personal war with Mexico was just the beginning of his career.

Next, he showed up in Nicaragua with a private army of 60 men and tried to take over the country. He actually succeeded and declared the foundation of (another) new country complete with (another) new flag.

Walker's Nicaraguan Flag

As if taking on one country wasn’t enough, Walker soon found himself at war with Costa Rica as well.
He held on for awhile despite the odds and still managed to escape with the help of the US Navy.

Still not discouraged, Walker next tried to invade Honduras but this time he was caught by the British Navy, who had no intentions of allowing an American to mess around in a zone of influence so close to where they were already planning a canal.

The British simply turned Walker over to the Hondurans, who lost little time in putting him in front of a firing squad.

Walker had no military experience and little grasp of strategy, achieving many of his impressive victories with superior firepower. Both in Mexico and Nicaragua his campaigns were ended by disastrous incidents that led to his forces being cut off from their supply lines.
An impulsive fool, he actually seized steamships from Vanderbilt, the Robber Baron sponsor who was supplying him with food, arms, and transport.
Vanderbilt retaliated by giving gold and guns to Walker’s enemies instead to get revenge and to recover his steamships.
Predictably, Walker found himself suddenly stranded in a foreign country and would have gotten himself and his men killed then if the US Navy hadn’t picked them up.

Walker got his way as a crazily charismatic dreamer in spite of his ineptitude. Newspaper articles about his crazy exploits always got him new followers no matter how badly he screwed up…until his luck finally ran out.

William Walker picture

William Walker, a 5″2 120 pound dynamo of reckless ambition that got himself and lots of his followers killed while trying to found a private Latin American empire.

LINK

M23 & Congo – 4GW In Action

gomavolcano

For a period of about 2 weeks, the rebel M23s occupied the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The government forces didn’t fight back, instead choosing to flee the city for secure government compounds. The U.N. forces concentrated themselves there, leaving the city to be plundered by the rebel forces. This isn’t a surprise as most of the Army officers had already been bought off by the rebels. Any political supporters of the government in the city could then be killed on a whim by the rebel forces. After the 2 weeks, M23 pulled out before international resistance could be formed. Both the US and UK pulled their aid from bordering Rwanda, who were likely supporting the rebels so that they could destabilize the Congo government, making it easier to gain access to the mineral rich area.

_64310102_cr

In other words, the rebels pulled out on their own terms after they had taken everything worth taking. As is standard operating procedure, many rebels simply took of their uniform and stayed behind to disrupt government infrastructure and programs, thereby further reducing the support and legitimacy of the government. The lesson is fairly simple, pay very close attention to the loyalties and self interest of everyone in a conflict region if you want to understand how it will develop. Look at the extended social networks, friends of friends.

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2012/12/2012122134149848784.html
“The soldiers we see here are the ones that took over this city? Is that it?” the 78-year-old said. “I think they are still here in hiding.”

Many residents are convinced that M23 soldiers swapped their military fatigues for civilian clothing and will remain in the city as “infiltrators”.

“Look, I am a Congolese. I am from this place. I can tell the difference between a civilian and a soldier. And, for sure, they are here,” 33-year-old mechanic Thierry Bisimwa told Al Jazeera. “Taking off their uniform and putting on civilian dress is a strategy.”

“We have a situation where army officials, in the middle of a war, were selling weapons to the M23 … what is going on?”

He was referring to General Gabriel Amisi, the DRC’s chief of land forces, who was suspended on November 23 when the UN alleged he had been “smuggling arms” to multiple rebel groups in the region.

According to people here, he was not the only military official playing both sides.

“We have an army with high-level officers selling arms and information to the other side. This is why they are so incompetent,” Bisimwa said.

There is a smouldering disdain for the United Nations here, as well as rage directed towards neighbouring Rwanda and Uganda for their roles in the crisis.

What Gave Away Bin Laden’s Location

OB-NT344_iosama_H_20110503053717

As you would expect, Osama Bin Laden kept messages to friends and family reasonably secure. However transmissions between his bodyguards and their families were not subjected to the same level of scrutiny. The fact that he stayed in such a high profile house was unusual however. Anyone with the slightest bit of curiosity would wonder about the purpose of a compound with 12 foot concrete walls and barbed wire. It is to be expected that he would have the cooperation of local military and intelligence elites, rebels have a very difficult time operating unless they stack the deck in their favor by allying with neighboring forces. Their lack of technological sophistication is also pretty standard, many documents have been captured unecrypted from insurgents because they don’t understand that encryption is very difficult to impossible to break if done properly.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-South-Central/2011/0502/Bin-Laden-bodyguard-s-satellite-phone-calls-helped-lead-US-forces-to-hiding-place

Satellite phone calls that Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard made from July to August last year are believed to have helped US forces hunt down the Al Qaeda leader in the Pakistani compound where he was killed early Monday, according to local Pakistani intelligence sources.

US intelligence agencies tracked the Kuwaiti bodyguard’s calls from the compound to Al Qaeda associates in the cities of Kohat and Charsada in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, a narrative that was corroborated by several sources.

From Wiki:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Location_of_Osama_bin_Laden#Tracking

American intelligence officials discovered the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden by tracking one of his couriers. Information was collected from Guantánamo Bay detainees, who gave intelligence officers the courier’s pseudonym and said that he was a protégé of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.[5] In 2007, U.S. officials discovered the courier’s real name and, in 2009, that he lived in Abbottābad, Pakistan.[6] Using satellite photos and intelligence reports, the CIA surmised the inhabitants of the mansion. In September, the CIA concluded that the compound was “custom built to hide someone of significance” and that bin Laden’s residence there was very likely.[7][8] Officials surmised that he was living there with his youngest wife.[8]

Built in 2005, the three-story[12] mansion was located in a compound about 4 km (2.5 mi.) northeast of the center of Abbottabad.[7] While the compound was assessed by US officials at a value of USD 1 million, local real-estate agents assess the property value at USD 250 thousand.[13] On a lot about eight times the size of nearby houses, it was surrounded by 12- to 18-foot (3.7-5.5 m)[8] concrete walls topped with barbed wire.[7] There were two security gates and the third-floor balcony had a seven-foot-high (2.1 m) privacy wall.[12] There was no Internet or telephone service coming into the compound. Its residents burned their trash, unlike their neighbors, who simply set it out for collection. The compound is located (34°10′09″N 73°14′33″E) and 1.3 km (0.8 mi.) southwest of the closest point of the sprawling Pakistan Military Academy.[14] President Obama met with his national security advisors on March 14, 2011, in the first of five security meetings over six weeks. On April 29, at 8:20 a.m., Obama convened with Thomas DonilonJohn O. Brennan, and other security advisers in the Diplomatic Room, where he authorized a raid of the Abbottābad compound. The government of Pakistan was not informed of this decision.[7]

AFRIDI_3.jpg.crop_display

US Intelligence services contacted a Pakistani physician through the US NGO Save The Children, to help them set up a fake vaccination program that would allow them to collect DNA to identify the people inside of the compound. This lead to him being arrested and sentenced to 33 years for Treason, supposedly for links to a local tribal terrorist organization:

To identify the occupants of the compound, the CIA worked with doctor Shakil Afridi to organize a fake vaccination program. Nurses gained entry to the residence to vaccinate the children and extract DNA,[9] which could be compared to a sample from his sister, who died in Boston in 2010.[10] It’s not clear if the DNA was ever obtained.[11]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakil_Afridi

Colleagues at Jamrud Hospital in Pakistan’s northwestern Khyber tribal were suspicious of Dr. Shakeel Afridi’s, the hospital’s chief surgeon, absences which he explained as “business” to attend to in Abbottabad. Dr Afridi was accused of having taken a half-dozen World Health Organization cooler boxes without authorization. The containers are for inoculation campaigns, but no immunization drives were underway in Abbottabad or the Khyber agency.[11][12]

Pakistani investigators said in a July 2012 report that Afridi met 25 times with “foreign secret agents, received instructions and provided sensitive information to them.”[13] According to Pakistani reports, Afridi told investigators that the charity Save the Children helped facilitate his meeting with U.S. intelligence agents although the charity denies the charge. The report alleges that Save the Children’s Pakistan director introduced Afridi to a western woman in Islamabad and that Afridi and the woman met regularly afterwards.

Why Splitting the Atom Split the Traditional Society

By the Middle of WWII most the world was starting to look less politically diverse than the Risk gameboard.

The world was centralizing rapidly as a few winner states with the most resources, biggest guns, best scientists, and most ardent nationalism were curb stomping the remaining minor players out of existence.

At the conclusion of WWII an all powerful US found itself at the top of the world followed by a gigantic Soviet Union in a distant 2nd place.

Eventually even the Soviet Union disappeared and for a decade or so, one clearly dominant state remained seemingly unopposed…for the first time ever.

A historian named Francis Fukuyama hailed the collapse of the USSR as the “end of history.”

He was right to recognize a critically important milestone, but it did not mean what he thought it meant.

History as it had been known had ended in 1945.

Before the industrial revolution and modern science, warring states felt sufficiently secure that their root stock civilian population and critical infrastructure was too numerous and too widely spread to be easily destroyed all at once.
The stakes were not quite as high for rulers, so wars were frequently deemed a worthwhile risk.

From the mid-19th century onwards, methods of destruction became so effective as to make mass wars on open battlefields impracticable, excessively costly, and excessively risky for States and Societies themselves.

The invention of an ultimate weapon was just the decisive and logical culmination of the trend.

The atomic bomb changed everything.

Before there was a doomsday weapon, every man was very likely sometime in his life to be needed as a soldier.

Societies that wanted to survive had to make sure their men could hope for sufficient wealth and a woman who would bear his kids.
Thus he was given the necessary status and esteem by society to accomplish these goals.

Before there was a doomsday weapon, societies could ill afford internal dissent. It was a paradise on earth for the robber parasites of each respective society.

For thousands of years, even if you hated the duke who sent armed men to collect the rent, life and society itself could be wiped out by a conquering army. If your family was to have any chance of survival…long live the King.

The collective standard of life, like wages, could be forced downward according to a collective iron law to the lowest people could be persuaded to accept. The alternative was annihilation at the hands of invaders living in as desperate a poverty as themselves.

No beast on the Savanna ever has a chance to optimize its lifestyle or treat itself for worms because it must constantly be watching out for predators instead…

To survive, the state, society had to function in certain ways so implicit and obvious, that one might as well be defining the nature of the atom. Both the peasant and the King were crammed together in a society’s nucleus. However strong the forces of self-interest pushing them apart, even stronger external forces held them together as allies in the struggle for scarce resources and the mere privilege of existence.

As the nucleus of the atom has been split, much the same has happened to societies.

Doomsday weapons did much to alleviate the ever present external threat that held it all together.

Ever since, people have been discovering that without the fear of immediate extinction, their best interests lie beyond any arbitrary State. Like is free to ally with like. Every breed knows its own.

First, the Kings themselves with their superior access to information freely multiplied their wealth by unchaining themselves from any particular population of subjects.
The previous order had already been good to them but competition had been fierce. Now they could cooperate better with one another while the masses of the world were still ostensibly locked in the ancient competition.

With the expiration of the USSR the last excuse for a world defined by competition between states had vanished.

For a decade or so, things seemed to coast along smoothly as a recognizable traditional system, but the centralized society had been steadily unraveling for decades, a trend that was suddenly and exponentially accelerated by the eruption of personal computing, the internet, and wireless communications.

There is no going back now because all the pieces that composed the old social nuclei have recombined in countless new associations. Associations more strongly governed by innate attraction than mere fear and reaction to immediate danger.

Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama: The man who proclaimed the end of history.

The Worldwide Trend of Political Centralization Is Past High Tide

Ever since gunpowder, most inventions have served to centralize more power in the hands of the state.
This trend culminated in the 20th century with technologies such as mass media, mass surveillance, airplanes, and tanks.

Now, with social media, smartphones, and the internet, power is moving back into the hands of ordinary people.
The printing press ushered in political strife across Europe as people suddenly had better access to information.
The same is now happening with new technologies and we see decades long, stable regimes suddenly toppling as the availability of information reaches a tipping point.

Monolithic governments full of bureaucrats are continuing to decrease in effectiveness and importance. These large bodies are now too slow and unwieldly to keep up with commercial enterprises or even the ordinary man on the street.
Events now breeze past these governments before they can even begin to react. The governments haven’t changed…since ancient China bureaucracies have been all about trading speed and flexibility for dependability and security. The world has changed and old school government ministries can no longer keep up.

Culture at large is moving away from the control of a few sources towards a great age of fracture.

Though the traditional culture has died out, new, vital cultures are coming into existence and they will make populations ever more difficult to control from a centralized source.

Here’s to cultural Balkanization:

North Korea Black Markets Could Take Over Economy, Undermine Kim Regime

“North Korean citizens, unable to count on a stable income or rationing, are moonlighting as security guards or coal haulers to make ends meet, eroding their allegiance to state authorities.

A South Korean research institute estimates that unauthorized economic activities, such as side businesses, account for 40-70 percent of citizens’ daily lives.

Experts say as much as 75 percent of the North Korean population does not depend on the state-owned economy at all.

The prevailing view is that the regime will lose more of its ruling power unless Kim Jong Un, who succeeded Kim Jong Il as North Korea’s new leader after his death on Dec. 17, reforms and opens up the economy…

At a shoe factory outside Pyongyang, only about 100 of the 750 employees report to the factory. Others buy materials, make shoes on their own and sell them in markets…

North Koreans at the dinner table used to talk about what Kim Il Sung, who founded the country, did and said. Today, they talk about how to make money instead.”

LINK

Why Do Violent Criminals Get Powderpuff Nicknames?

Perhaps there’s a point where someone has caused enough mayhem that hyperbole doesn’t do them justice. So people turn to understatement and deprecation instead by using girly or childish nicknames?

Billy the Kid

billy the kid face

Baby Face Nelson

baby face nelson mugshot

Pretty Boy Floyd

Pretty boy floyd

From wiki:
“According to one account, when the payroll master targeted in a robbery described the three perpetrators to the police, he referred to Floyd as ‘a mere boy — a pretty boy with apple cheeks.’ Like his contemporary Baby Face Nelson, Floyd hated his nickname (emphasis mine).”

La Barbie(The Barbie Doll)

La barbie

young la barbie

When younger he more resembles the Ken doll that gave him his nickname. Nevertheless, I suspect it’s mainly a commentary on his light hair and eyes.

La Barbie and celebrated US gangsters of the 1930s have something in common. They come from times and places characterized by widespread poverty and drug smuggling. Times when the government was seen as bumbling, corrupt, and ineffectual. Faith in the establishment was at a low.

You know the established order has failed when people start cheering for thugs.

Not only do/did people give these thugs these affectionate nicknames, they compose songs in their honor.

Violent gangsters of the 1930s figured prominently in US folklore such as in this famous ballad about the exploits of Pretty Boy Floyd.

Today, there’s a whole genre of ‘narcocorridos’; Mexican folk songs celebrating prominent cartelistas as heroes.

Naturally there’s one out there composed in honor of La Barbie, a nice guy who ordered murders and beheadings as a matter of routine.

Portugal’s Solution to the Drug Problem

“10 years on, Portugal’s drug policy is being held up as the model for other countries to follow. Rather than criminalising people found in possession of drugs, they are sent to a “dissuasion commission” for treatment and the results have been spectacular.

Portugal now has one of Europe’s lowest lifetime usage rates for cannabis and heroin abuse has decreased among vulnerable younger age-groups…

The share of heroin users who inject the drug has also fallen — from 45pc before decriminalisation to 17pc today.

Portugal’s previously high rate of HIV has also plummeted with drug addicts now accounting for only 20pc of all new cases, down from 56pc before. In 2001, new diagnosis of HIV was running at about 3,000 a year. Now, it’s down to fewer than 2,000 per annum.

Other measures have been just as encouraging. Deaths of street users from accidental overdoses also appear to have declined as has petty crime associated with addicts who were stealing to maintain their habit.

Furthermore, recent surveys in schools suggest an overall decrease in drug experimentation. It’s estimated that as much as €400m has been taken out of the illegal drugs market, with Portuguese police now focusing their attentions on high-level dealers rather than small-time operators…

‘It’s important to remember that ‘decriminalisation’ and ‘legalisation’ are two very different things. You can’t just walk down the street in Portugal smoking a joint or shooting up in the street…’

‘The drugs are confiscated and you are compelled to undertake a rehabilitation programme. It’s still illegal to be in possession of drugs, but the consequences are very different from here.’

The number of addicts registered in drug-substitution programmes rose from 6,000 in 1999 to over 24,000 in 2008, reflecting a huge rise in treatment but not drug use.”
LINK

and

Portugal Drug Policy Infographic

portugal drug decriminalization

How the French Became “Surrender Monkeys”

For centuries, the French had one of the largest and most effective militaries on the Continent.

Yet script writers give us this moment of comedy gold in Last of the Mohicans

“the French haven’t the nature for war. They would rather eat and make love with their faces than fight. *officers in the room all chuckle smugly*”

In 1753, when the movie takes place, this sentiment would have been absurd.

If anything, the British army was pathetically small and weak compared to the great armies of the Continent.

Over a century later Bismarck would say:

“If the British Army landed in Europe, I’d get the Belgian police to arrest them.”

Bismarck on the other hand certainly saw France as a real threat. As a German statesman, his ultimate nightmare was being crushed between a Franco-Russian alliance.
And, of course, he knew all too well the Prussian army had been crushed by Napoleon.

The French were a world class terror. So what the hell happened to the Anglo-American image of the French?

Our story begins when France lost Alsace and Lorraine to the Prussians thanks to the machinations of none other than Bismarck.

Though many people in that region were culturally German and spoke German anyway, this loss became an intolerable affront to France’s long military tradition and fanatically nationalist spirit.
From that point on, the French were determined to regain their losses and take their revenge, whatever the cost.

This atmosphere resulted in the rise of a breed of generals and officers who were haunted by the French defeat by the Prussians and were determined to learn the lessons of history.
At the decisive battle of Sedan, the French had lost the initiative and had been on the defensive until forced to agree to humiliating peace terms.

The solution: Never lose the initiative in the first place. Always attack.

It was with this attitude that the French military establishment approached WWI.

Far from being effete or absorbed in luxurious pleasures, the French were hyper-aggressive, often suffering twice the casualties as the Germans.
Hundreds of thousands and ultimately millions were killed often for no strategic gain whatsoever.

The generals on both sides ended up consciously designing strategies so that the other side would run out of men first rather than trying to achieve decisive strategic objectives.
It was Mutually Assured Destruction without nukes.

And guess what? The French won. Their political and military leaders got Alsace and Lorraine back. French National spirit had been avenged! Hooray!

Naturally, the belligerence that had characterized French sentiment seemed less of a good idea than it used to.

When the Great War promptly started up again after everyone took a 20 year break to grow more soldiers, the French were for some reason less than enthusiastic.
For nearly a year after war was declared there was “phoney war” where life pretty much went on as it had before. For some odd reason, no one, least of all the French, really felt like fighting.

When French defenses collapsed underneath the first German assault France promptly made its separate peace with Germany.

From this moment they’ve been characterized as effete “surrender monkeys” in the anglosphere.

The French however, truly had learned from history this time.

They could maybe still have spent years throwing away millions of lives defending abstractions such as national pride or lines on a map.

Instead they made their peace and consequently suffered very little compared to most nations in WWII.
Their cities and land stayed largely intact and they even got their own region of home rule under the Nazis.

The Vichy government was of course a puppet state, but the Nazis generally had other stuff to deal with. They preferred to let the French take care of their own internal affairs rather than having to waste their own energy on administration. For the most part the partnership worked great.

Our Surrender Monkey in chief who signed the surrender terms and headed the Vichy state was Marshal Petain.
A total wimp and a pushover, he routinely had seen more men die in a single day than the Americans lost in all of WWII.

Petain had been one of the few WWI French generals who seemed to actually give a shit about his men. He made sure his troops got rotated in and out of the trenches rather than being stuck there for months until being driven insane or having their feet rotted off.
Unmanly as he was, he was hesitant to throw away lives on suicide charges.

Given a treaty that could save millions of French lives, he signed it and then worked to sustain the peace as head of government.

His reward?
Petain was sentenced to death as a traitor after the war when he was almost 90 years old. Only on account of his age and service in WWI was he given a life sentence instead. He still managed to serve a surprising amount of his sentence dying at age 95.

After WWII, a humiliated French military establishment wasn’t satisfied with peace. They were anxious to re-establish French grandeur through more fighting.

Europe was broke many times over after the two world wars.

To even begin to put it in perspective:
The British had spent a quarter of their national wealth by the end of the war.
If the US did the same thing, that would be the equivalent of 50 trillion dollars or 10 Iraqs a year for 5 years straight.

Yet the French military tradition was old and it wasn’t going to die easy. They ended up spending huge amounts of American money trying to re-assert authority in their colonies.

The French military elites started where they had left off after WWI making notoriously disastrous moves such as parachuting an entire army into a hopelessly indefensible and unsuppliable position at Dien Bien Phu that was surrounded by Vietnamese artillery.

The average French person hadn’t too much reason to care any more about distant colonies that had never benefited them or about the military brass who were pretty thoroughly discredited by this point.

After even DeGaulle, himself a general, realized trying to hold on to the colonies was not going to work and that it didn’t have sufficient public support, he finally started to pull the plug.
Ancient militaristic strains in French culture decided they were going to go down kicking and screaming, especially after French colonists were expelled from Algeria.
DeGaulle had to survive multiple assassination attempts after finally calling it quits.

Thus, the development of the concept of the militarily inept, surrender loving French that we see in modern American culture and entertainment was a work in development not quite complete until at least the 1960s.

India Scores In Space

Interview With Jacob Appelbaum, Member of Tor and Wikileaks

If you’re wondering why they have a microscope embedded so deeply in his ass, he used to be a spokesperson for Wikileaks and he’s also a member of the Cult of the Dead Cow. Hacktivist’s have a six-degrees of Kevin Bacon connection to Wikileaks, it’s likely that not all of the material they receive was purposefully leaked. After credit card companies and banks cut ties with Wikileaks, they were introduced to an extended DDoS attack. As he describe in the interview, looking at metadata and relationships between people, even when using open source information, has created reliatble simulations of outcomttes.

Some of it is as safe as we think it can be, and some of it is not safe at all. The number one rule of “signals intelligence” is to look for plain text, or signaling information—who is talking to whom. For instance, you and I have been emailing, and that information, that metadata, isn’t encrypted, even if the contents of our messages are. This “social graph” information is worth more than the content. So, if you use SSL-encryption to talk to the OWS server for example, great, they don’t know what you’re saying. Maybe. Let’s assume the crypto is perfect. They see that you’re in a discussion on the site, they see that Bob is in a discussion, and they see that Emma is in a discussion. So what happens? They see an archive of the website, maybe they see that there were messages posted, and they see that the timing of the messages correlates to the time you were all browsing there. They don’t need to know to break a crypto to know what was said and who said it.

Traffic analysis. It’s as if they are sitting outside your house, watching you come and go, as well as the house of every activist you deal with. Except they’re doing it electronically. They watch you, they take notes, they infer information by the metadata of your life, which implies what it is that you’re doing. They can use it to figure out a cell of people, or a group of people, or whatever they call it in their parlance where activists become terrorists. And it’s through identification that they move into specific targeting, which is why it’s so important to keep this information safe first.

For example, they see that we’re meeting. They know that I have really good operational security. I have no phone. I have no computer. It would be very hard to track me here unless they had me physically followed. But they can still get to me by way of you. They just have to own your phone, or steal your recorder on the way out. The key thing is that good operational security has to be integrated into all of our lives so that observation of what we’re doing is much harder. Of course it’s not perfect. They can still target us, for instance, by sending us an exploit in our email, or a link in a web browser that compromises each of our computers. But if they have to exploit us directly, that changes things a lot. For one, the NYPD is not going to be writing exploits. They might buy software to break into your computer, but if they make a mistake, we can catch them. But it’s impossible to catch them if they’re in a building somewhere reading our text messages as they flow by, as they go through the switching center, as they write them down. We want to raise the bar so much that they have to attack us directly, and then in theory the law protects us to some extent.

But iPhones, for instance, don’t have a removable battery; they power off via the power button. So if I wrote a backdoor for the iPhone, it would play an animation that looked just like a black screen. And then when you pressed the button to turn it back on it would pretend to boot. Just play two videos. Link

Egypt Joins China Club

“President Mohammed Morsi’s historic trip to Beijing signifies a new direction for Egyptian foreign policy. The Muslim Brotherhood leader has sent a clear message by selecting China for his first state visit outside the Middle East. By forging closer ties with China, Morsi is warning the US government not to take Egyptian acquiescence for granted.”
LINK

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