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How Does the US Empire End?

The world has largely been at peace for almost 80 years now under American hegemony. It’s pretty impressive, really. Constant war and high levels of local violence have been the rule for most of human history. The world is a far more tame and centralized place than it used to be…for now. No one lifts a finger without an ID number that’s far more important than their mere given name. So what after all, is so bad about our entrenched ruling classes?

There were also about 100 years between the Conference of Vienna and World War 1. It would seem that when conflicts have been held in stasis for awhile and the balance of power becomes ever more like a precarious house of cards, it can all come tumbling down at once.
As with forest fires, even managed forests have to have controlled burns to prevent a much worse conflagration later in a forest packed full of trees weakened by tight competition.

But how does the seemingly impregnable national order actually end? It took two world wars to finally end the British Empire and unseat the pound as the world reserve currency.
America has an enviable geopolitical position with domination of an entire continent, separated from any competitors by thousands of miles of ocean.
It has a stranglehold on the world economy. They say when a debtor gets too big, the creditors are at their mercy. Too big to fail, as they say. If the US were to fold we would see another worldwide depression.
Hence it’s in everyone’s interests to make sure that doesn’t happen. So long as US consumers are indispensable to the world economy, the whole world of servants will rush to keep the consumers aloft on their luxurious palanquin and comport them along their way, above the sweaty press of the common crowds.

However, Golden Age Spaniards also thought they could purchase more than they could produce forever and that never works. Even if you have access to bottomless bullion from a whole New World, it’s just stand-in token for real wealth. Sooner or later, reality catches up. If, like a Spanish Habsburg King, you’re buying all your tapestries from Flanders, your parade armor from Milan, your glasswork from Venice, sooner or later the bill comes due and all the people you poured your money on for a hundred years are now the powerful people.

At present, though, the thought of a Chinese unilateral superpower remains laughable when we consider they’d be thrust back into bare subsistence farming with human shit for fertilizer if it were not for the juggernaut of 1st world demand. Constant hysteria aside, China cannot be even a truly sovereign power until they are no longer utterly dependent on other powers for their wellbeing.

I am a fan of the Mark Yuray hypothesis that besides a US led “international community” there are only really two sovereign powers, China and Russia. While the two “sovereign powers” may have formidable home rule, though, they are still completely dependent on the international system.
If we were to reformulate a bit, we might say there are:
-Powers under the direct political hegemony of the US Neo-Liberal Establishment
-Powers (like China and Russia) that manage their internal affairs but still answer to the world-wide economy.

China is stuck making manufactured goods for Wal-Mart, or else there would probably be a second Taiping rebellion composed of the starving unemployed.
Russia can’t really deny shipments of natural gas to Europe or even the oligarchs would be facing hard times. The whole economy of Russia is only worth a bit more than that of Italy with nearly 3 times the population. Accounting for Purchasing Power Parity means the numbers aren’t quite as ridiculous—everything 1st world is ridiculously expensive. It doesn’t change the fact Russia isn’t really 1st world and never really has been. They have tons of weapons, but so what until you actually use them?

Manufacturing and commodities comprise the backbone of economic activity, yet in the post-modern era the real proceeds go to value-added goods and rent-seeking. An I-phone beats the crap out of the world’s best potassium anyday when it comes to securing money and power. Every step of the process, outsourced all over the world, accrues a bit more profit than the last and presents that much more of a barrier to entry against any competitors. As for rents, why actually make stuff when you can just charge someone to use your same old property every month?

So, we have a world economy where finance, interest, rent, value-added products are the predators and commodities and manufacturing are prey.
Of course, the weakness of predator nations is they increasingly lack a backbone to support all their stored-up fat after decades of feasting.
As with the Spanish after their golden century, all the money gets sent to the actual producers of tangible goods and all the manipulations of finance and rent might as well be a sleight of hand with Chuck-E-Cheese tokens.

But for now, banana republics like Russia that churn out boring commodities are suckers. How do we transition into the long run?

On casual observation, the US Empire has two main mechanisms that keep it in power:
-Economic interdependence. No one can afford to opt out.
-Military dominance. If persuasion fails no one can opt out, even if they want to.

On one side of the world, the oil exporters of the Middle East are obligated to do business in dollars by both the overwhelming convenience of the network effect (the same one that keeps people using Windows) and and if the offering of bread fails, then the stick.  “Pan o palo,” as Porfirio Diaz liked to put it.

On the other side of the world along the Pacific Rim, the price of mass exporting to the US is you have to use much of the proceeds to finance US debt.  It also pays to buy tons of US currency to be able to manipulate the dollar.

The net effect is that these East Asian powers are at once tributary vassal states and shareholders in the US Empire.  This is what makes the prevailing order so stable.  The USA and East Asia are joined at the hip.  China and Japan can engage in considerable internal manipulations in the US.  In return, their interests are intricately tied to the fortunes of the US, holding them hostage to its capricious whims and holding them responsible to keep their great benefactor propped up no matter what.

Those who like to obsess about the national debt fail to understand that the US, as the center of the Empire, operates by different rules.  If the US incurs trillions in debt, so what?  They simply auction it off as bonds and there must be enough takers willing to buy them up or the whole game is up and nobody wants another worldwide depression.
In reality even the national debt is just another system of extracting tribute from lesser nations and from the hapless peasantry who happen to live within the bounds of the Central Imperial Zone aka. USA.

But all Empires so far have fallen, so how does the US Empire, perhaps the most powerful in history, deteriorate?

To begin with, it has already begun.  The idiotic foreign policy of the decadent mandarin classes within the Washington beltway has already driven Russia and China into alignment.  Only their high-flung lunacy and idiocy could have managed to forge these two most natural rivals together!

This new Eurasian alliance with China and Russia at its center has begun the process of negotiating trade agreements outside of the sacred US dollar.  One by one, numerous satellites of the Empire are signalling they are dropping out and it happens with barely a headline.  Last month I think it was Cambodia.  A couple weeks ago, Pakistan after decades of enormous bribes to their leaders while getting little in return.  Much more well-broadcast, the Philippines, once literally an Amerian colony failed to kowtow to the American President.
What is most telling is how these entities can drop out now without any “color revolutions” fomented by US intelligence or wars of “freedom” fomented against them on phony pretexts.  The fear of reprisal, unless truly weak and without strong nearby allies just isn’t what it used to be.

But this steady decline isn’t enough and meaningful change is fairly rarely gradual anyway.  Even if the erosion has progressed steadily there is still a catalyst and a cataclysm that brings about a new order, always more abruptly than the bean counters expect.  In history, the water level reaches a certain key height and then there’s a flood that tends to take us by surprise.  What is that in the case of the US Empire?

A couple obvious answers right now:

-The US gets involved in more Middle East quagmires as the military budget perpetually bloats in size.  As the Empire gets more desperate to keep its “clients” in order, it starts to take off the velvet gloves.  We now see a Sunni-Israeli alliance against a Shi’ite-Russian bloc with Turkey and Egypt acting as opportunists.  The US foreign policy establishment has committed more and more to the Saudis and Israelis, a stance that could suck them into a general conflict that will finally siphon off too much of their resources, like the Soviets in Afghanistan.  Worse for the US, the Persians are throughout history a higher IQ, more civilized, and competent people than the Arabs who beyond the inception of Islam and the Rashidun Caliphate were hardly ever a major power.  Pumping money and weapons into Saudi Arabia through years of protracted conflict will be as much a black hole of wealth as social programs in inner St. Louis or Detroit.  For now, the Arabs put oil profits into useless fighter planes as the Chinese put their export profits into US bonds and dollars.  The smug US establishment will gape in astonishment as the financially bulky Saudis start to tire after just a few rounds and then they have to pay them to take more weapons, desperately trying to keep them in the fight.  As guys like Hitler can attest, crappy allies are just a liability.

-The US debt at some point simply becomes big enough to fail and the rest of the world has built just enough of its own infrastructure that they are willing to let it drop.  Already, city and state governments are failing in the US even as the federal edifice continues to vacuum up the world’s wealth.  The main takeaway though is the circle of people and organizations who benefit from the Empire’s streams of tribute grows ever smaller.  Once it grows small enough, there simply won’t be enough people with power and money who are invested in the Empire’s continuation.

The Calm Before She Sinks

It’s that perfect point in time to savor, a moment frozen in crystal before the outcomes click into place.  The last sunny fall day of safe normality.  It’s the moment just as people begin to grasp the new reality.
What has been increasingly strident contempt and dismissal has finally given way to open panic and desperation.
Perhaps many thought the fall of Hillary would somehow go unnoticed but I’ve watched her polls plummet a half point per day since 9/11 and the videos have racked up millions of views.
Even going with the kindest, most official accounts, it’s lose/lose for her.  She’s already admitted she’s lied about her health claims of “overheating” and “allergies” only after being left with no avenue to evade.  Everyone knows the coverup would have been successful if not for a private citizen or two with smartphones.  If it was contagious pneumonia all along why was she out shaking hands and hugging kids?  In even the best possible case for her, ignoring everything else, she’s still a compulsive liar who has no qualms about getting other people sick to further her aims.  Appearing weak at the memorial of a time Americans craved strong leadership, the abject humiliation of being dragged around by mere peasant guards like a sack of potatoes, remains devastating.
That’s before we even consider anything else.  Let’s for a moment still put aside all the theories of her long term maladies and simplify this.  The fact is she spent all of August with low key campaign events, her only rallies being tightly controlled and scripted with small audiences.
Once her lead started to melt with her near absence of campaigning it became less and less plausible she was just letting the clock run out.
Tellingly, she only surfaced into sight for major holidays and memorials when she absolutely had to and still struggled with the best medicine in the world to prop her up.  Even the bare minimum was too much.  She was like a whale followed by a whaling vessel getting speared every time she came up for breath, each harpoon with an airbladder tied to it to make staying submerged progressively more difficult.
Keeping this as simple as possible, I went to the website for each candidate to look at their scheduled events.  Trump of course, is doing 3 events in 3 states per day.
Hillary had 1 more rally in North Carolina with only luncheons and other small events as far as I could tell for the rest of her campaign.  Even with these, Hillary appeared to be doing less than 1 event per day while her VP, her campaign manager, and even her daughter are doing 90% of the actual campaigning.  It now appears even Obama, a sitting president, is campaigning for Hillary, a presidential candidate, instead of doing his job.  Now this is what desperation looks like.
9/15/2016 in Greensboro, NC was Hillary’s final test, her absolute last chance.  The obvious thing she needed to do was give an hours-long speech worthy of Fidel Castro in front of a real audience.  Nope.  Another scripted lifeless “event” in a small auditorium that barely lasted 20 minutes.  That she did not do the obvious thing leads to the inescapable conclusion that she cannot.  The reason does not even matter.  As of this writing there’s still about 9 days until the 1st debate.  9 endless days of a ship adrift getting pounded with relentless broadsides.  Today is the day of parity with both coalitions looking each other right in the eyes before one passes the other up forever and we see just who is on the wrong side of history.  As of this moment, if we add CO, IA, NE, NC, NV, OH, FL to Trump’s electoral map based newly favorable polling, he’s already won.  If any of MI, VA, PA, WI, NH, OR flip before election day it starts to move into landslide territory.
By the first debate, if it even happens at this point, Trump will probably already be ahead
(Update 9/25: Appears I was wrong about this part, 2 NBC Polls and McClatchy have gangraped the numbers to 2.5 in Hillary’s favor although state polls continue to drift Trumpwards.  Also the POTUS, FLOTUS, former politicians and former cabinet members, lots of celebrities have started actively campaigning for absentee Hillary which seems to have genuinely helped a bit.  However, I was stunned to see this kind of immense political capital squandered in a single flash in the pan.  Celebs like Kardashian are already learning from their mistakes and shifting to a more neutral stance.  Damn, they are burning through their reserves over a month too early!)and the delicious panic, tears, and despairing wails at a climax.  The inability to campaign alone would have sunk Hillary by election day.  A politician who can’t campaign is like a musician without fingers.  Her “basket of deplorables” disaster, plus the 9/11 collapse are just bonus points.  I have written plenty on human nature on this blog and one of the constants is that people despise weakness.  It’s an instinctual directive that comes eons before mere party loyalties and let’s face it, most people just go to their day job not caring about politics and end up voting for the stronger force, whatever it may be.

In my head I get images of winning a war of attrition in Civilization 4.  The enemy’s armies cluster in their cities watching helplessly as their roads, mines, and cottages get leveled back into the stone age and my coffers fill with plunder, each turn sealing their fate more tightly than the last.  Brahm’s 1st Hungarian dance from the game’s soundtrack plays as the death spiral winds down, and another road gets demolished with a crisp slapping sound, their last trade route cut off.
I’ve spent happy hours on twitter, politico, huffington post, r/political discussion, r/politics savoring their screams like Lord Yabu from Sho-Gun.  Actually, their jedi backflips of rationalization and denial might be even better. “But FDR hid an illness too!”  “But HW Bush threw up!” “But Romney in 2012!”  The very best treat was the comments on New York Times opinion pieces.  Lots of snobby upper middle class douchebags who have enough smarts and education to understand the social order they knew is collapsing and what it means for them.  As much as I like tantrums fueled by pure emotion, it’s more delicious still to witness the paroxysms of those who lucidly perceive impending apocalypse.

As for Hillary, the situation remains indescribably poetic.  She is at the end of her life watching her world begin to fall apart all around her.  The beautiful irony is that most of it was her own making.  At this very moment, Europe is slipping away to the right largely because of the human waves sent over by her disastrous bungling in the Middle East and North Africa.  Her selfishness in running while sick is about to destroy her party’s credibility with everything it’s worked for soon to be dismantled by her rival.  In the end, she’s been the best friend ever to radicals who would have passed their days skulking in the shadows if not for her.  Images from great revenge stories pop into my head.  I think of Titus Andronicus—truly in the end, she’s being fed her own children baked into a pie.  I think of the Punisher movie with evil Travolta told “Made you kill your wife.  Made you kill your best friend” before he’s dragged behind a car through a lot full of exploding cars.
One final set of images:   Back in the primary I always envisioned Trump’s rivals having this moment, especially Jeb.  In underwater movies, it’s the cracks that appear in the window before the cockpit implodes from water pressure(The Abyss provides a great example).  In space operas, it’s the sparks and shit that fly around, giving the pilot a warning they’re about to blow up.  The character gets those last couple of seconds to have a horrific realization and flail around impotently—that’s Hillary and her supporters at this moment.

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