Archive for September, 2015

American “allies” in Syria: their shameful performance is perfectly explainable


[En français]

[The recent American failure to train and equip anti-Assad forces in Syria is not an isolated incident. It is a symptom of a systemic problem. This article, which recently appeared in the Russian press, explains why.]

Yevgeny Krutikov, Vzglyad

The scandal around the “30th Divison,” which was prepared by American trainers for war against Assad, and which immediately surrendered to the Islamist An-Nusra Front as soon as it crossed the border from Turkey, is now resounding around the entire planet. There will be many such scandals. They have been predetermined by the methodology of American training of “allies”—in Syria, in Georgia and in the Ukraine.

Let\’s recall that as a result An-Nusra Front (a branch Al-Qaeda) received weapons, equipment and a few pickup trucks from the USA. The commander of the \”30th Division\” assured representatives of the Front that he fooled the American military in order to get weapons. The problems which caused this to happen can be split into three uneven categories.

Problems with intelligence and psychology

The image of a CIA operative who decides whom to choose as an ally in the Middle East has been unduly exaggerated by Hollywood. In an absolute majority of cases the operatives latch onto anyone who shows even the most perfunctory signs of being loyal. But if somebody seems useful but does not show enough of the required signs, then they prefer to purchase his loyalty, even though such \”partners\” have been considered unreliable at all times. These are, roughly, the principles according to which the anti-Assad coalition was knocked together.

Add to this that the behavior of CIA operatives is very tightly regulated. Just about every eventuality is accounted for by a written instruction, which they are required to know almost by heart. Disagreement with operational instructions brings official sanction. The freedom of action of an operative is limited, and at times they are simply forced to fulfill the letter of the instructions instead of reacting to the situation. This problem plagues many intelligence services, but the American ones are, in addition, built on ideological and, to a lesser extent, on ethnic stereotypes. Generally speaking, any authentic-looking towelhead who is able to intelligibly pronounce the word \”democracy\” has a chance to receive financing and weapons. But nobody has any control over where he will then go with these weapons. By the way, Soviet intelligence services of the Brezhnev era had the same problem, latching onto any tribal chieftain who knew how to pronounce words like \”Marx\” and \”Lenin.\”

All of this is directly relevant to the case being described. The \”30th Division\” and Abd al-Tunisi personally demonstrated their loyalty, entered into Americans\’ confidence, received weapons and disappeared together with them. Stereotypical and schematic perception of the world is a surprising distinctive quality of the CIA. Of course, this resulted from the \”loss of principal adversary,\” and from perceiving oneself as a “victor” specifically in the ideological rather than the physical sense of this word. The anti-Assad coalition, knocked together using a combination of threats and wishful thinking, fell apart specifically because of bad instructions and consequent mistakes made by the CIA. It is only possible to collect and to process intelligence correctly with the help of specialists who are free of ideological bias in perceiving the world, but Langley has a deficit in this department. The career-building system that has been created there already tends to sideline people with nonstandard ways of thinking, but the massive recruitment effort directed at former Marines has fully predetermined the melt-down of its analytical abilities.

And so the scandal around the \”30th Division\” is not the only one by far; there will be many such scandals. The golden age of American intelligence has remained in the hills of Hollywood.

Physical problems

American training offered to the soldiers of their questionable allies is usually a source of pride for those being trained. For instance, Peter Poroshenko and his government waxes ecstatic while talking about American and British instructors who are preparing Ukrainian military personnel at the base in Yarov according to an accelerated program. Given the fact that they are not being provided any serious weapons, this training is becoming about the only form of Western military support.

In preparing the Ukrainians (and, before them, the Georgians, the Croatians, the Albanians, and now, in Syria, such “anti-Assad” types as the “30th Division”) the Americans rely on the system of “observe and repeat.” In reality this something akin to boot camp: running over hurdles, the basics of weapons handling, physical training. The instructors also teach the basics of using radio and encryption equipment, which the Ukrainians simply don\’t have. They also teach how to transport casualties, to minimize losses—a subject in which the Ukrainians who saw action in Eastern Ukraine could teach the Americans a thing or two. They teach how to open doors with a sledgehammer, but what sort of sledgehammer do you expect a soldier to carry to a thousand-mile-long front in the middle of open prairie? They teach how to check, using a special hook on a string, whether razor wire is booby-trapped, but not everybody learns how to do this effectively. In all, the so-called “remedial” program at Yarov contains 63 exercises divided into three courses, two months each. The result: plenty of foul language and some cases of insubordination.

This is not military training. It is, at most, police training, but even then it is only elementary. The representatives of the American army regard their students as representatives of the third world, who need to be told which end of the machine gun the bullets come out of. For example, the instructors at Yarov are very upset that Ukrainian soldiers coming back from the East carry their machine guns with the safety off. This, the instructors feel, is unprofessional of them. But many of them managed to survive specifically because of such “unprofessionalism” [being able to open fire without any warning clicks].

This might all sound like a farce, but it reflects the essence of training that\’s used in the US Army and which is being transferred to its allies. The emphasis is on physical capabilities, suppression of individual initiative, drilling in specific techniques and, of course, “teamwork.” As a result, when a fighter finds himself in a nonstandard situation, he becomes confused and cannot apply the skills in which he has been trained to the specific problem. He has been “honed” to react to situations that are consistent, homogeneous and artificially constructed.

None of this works, either in the Ukraine or in Syria. The American instructors have no idea what a frontal war is, how to act in close combat, how to hide from fire from a multiple-launch rocket system. They don\’t even know how to set up defensive positions. The Iraqi experience, of which the Pentagon is so proud, trained them to patrol, to accompany convoys, and to man garrisons in the middle of the desert. Three decades of random abuse directed at weak opponents have accustomed the American army to rely on technological superiority, and it has largely lost the skills of close-range combat. Now even at Yarov the Ukrainian military and national guard are refusing to obey instructors, whom they see as complete and utter newbies.

The Pentagon didn\’t notice the moment when blowing up defenseless, demoralized adversaries using cruise missiles stopped being the only method for waging war. And now it is very difficult to appraise the real capabilities of the huge bulk of the US Army or Marine Corps, should they ever encounter an enemy that is approximately equal to them in technical capabilities. But America\’s allies and fellow-travelers have to fight exactly such wars. They have little or no air power, cruise missiles or aircraft carriers. In the deserts of Syria or the prairies of Novorussia there is no need to open doors using a sledgehammer in the course of meditatively mopping up a population center from which everyone has already fled and hid. There, you have to hold down miles of frontline, in open country, under rocket fire.

The bottom line is that the individual preparation of “allies” and “fellow-travelers” has turned into a slapstick comedy. Some, as in the case of the anti-Assad elements in Syria, consider all this “training” as a necessary evil, sent by Allah as a test. Some, like the Ukrainians, are grumbling rather loudly. Of course, such training won\’t ruin seasoned fighters. But the Ukrainian Marines, formed out of reservists and sent through Yarov (and, based on this distinction, labeled an “elite unit” and sent to a difficult part of the front) crumbled upon their first contact with the insurgents.

Mass “breaking in” of allied units in Iraq and Afghanistan (for example, those same Ukrainians and Georgians) produced exactly the same effect. These units were pronounced “elite” because of this experience, but turned out to be unsuitable for modern wars without (and this is important) American technical support—aviation, drones and artillery. On the other hand, their ability to show initiative and to be resourceful does atrophy, as does their commanders\’ ability to think independently, starting at the level of the company.

Tactical problems

All the tactical preparation is conducted on the basis of the Iraqi experience, which, for some reason, is considered state of the art. It comes down to techniques for patrolling territory with minimal exchange of fire with the enemy. Nobody trains for engaging a well-matched enemy in direct combat at numbers above the troop level; in the age of cyberattacks, satellite systems and precision weaponry this is considered as something entirely outdated. The American military tended to be dismissive of the very idea of engaging the enemy at close range, and when, due to an artillery miscalculation, such engagements did happen, they either tried to disengage and call in air strikes, or they sustained disproportionately large casualties. Since the experience of the last three decades did not involve close-range combat, there was no reason to develop modern battle plans for it. This would be a problem just for Americans—if it didn\’t spread to all the armies they patronize in all the countries who surrendered their security to them. The difference is particularly obvious in the armies of former Soviet republics, between the units trained by the Americans and those who are still commanded by officers who received Soviet training. The Georgian army in particular gave plenty of opportunities for this sort of analysis.

Here is a characteristic episode demonstrating the value of “Iraqi-style” American tactical preparation. It occurred during the war in South Ossetia in 2008. (Especially important in it is the low quality of the decisions made by the commanders.) From 2300 hours on August 7 the 43 battalion of IV brigade of the Georgian army, located to the west of Tskhinval, started “mopping up” villages on the right bank of the river Prone. After marching all night, the battalion fanned out as separate companies, and around 1100-1200 on August 8 at a spot 2 km from the regional center Znaur one of them stumbled into an ambush. The Ossetian defensive force opened fire on the Georgian grouping, immediately wounding five of them. After this (according to an order from the battalion commander) all the companies were concentrated together at that spot “to destroy the key position of the enemy.”

Even before the start of their attack, the battalion commander requested artillery support, and received it, and was reinforced by three tanks. The Georgian grouping started firing on the position of the Ossetian irregulars, after which, around 1600, the infantry stormed and “took” this “height” (!) where there wasn\’t any enemy to be seen. Obviously, there were no casualties either. By 1800 hours the battalion, at full strength, arrived at the bridge leading into Znaur, but did not enter the settlement because it had lost artillery support. The battalion was tired and needed rest. The commander then decided to return to the “key position of the enemy” and camp there for the night. That is, all day long the battalion wandered around the forests and the mountains, discovered all on their own “a large defensive enemy position” (which later was found out to have consisted of no more than ten Ossetian irregulars who, after staging the ambush, called it a day and quietly retreated), blasted it with artillery for an hour and a half, then marched to their goal, [Znaur] but then went back to square one because they were tired.

Let\’s underscore this again: this was a unit specially prepared for serving in Iraq. They did not understand what it means to march quickly, to deliver strikes, to maneuver or to organize breakthroughs, nonstop, day and night. They acted in accordance with the unhurried Iraqi tactic of patrolling, which is entirely unsuitable for open, running battles.

This is how they attacked. How they defended was even worse. Following unclear orders, the 43 battalion spent its ordnance on one tiny position and wasted its physical strength by pointlessly marching from village to village. Until noon on August 8 they had no idea what was happening in Tskhinval or Gori. Because they were under the influence of ideological euphoria, they mistook the planes that were circling overhead for Georgian aviation—they simply didn\’t expect any other. But by noon the soldiers of the 43 battalion started receiving information about casualties in other parts of the IV brigade. The brigade started to panic. By 1900 on August 8 the 43 battalion, which was almost at the point of mutiny, was ordered by the “Iraqi” brigade to withdraw from Znaur, leaving some completely disoriented reservists to cover their retreat.

Then the 43th battalion was ordered to set up a defensive position near the village of Pkhvenisi. But none of them knew how to do this. Only a few of them volunteered to dig trenches; the rest bivouacked in irrigation ditches, in spite of the fact that construction equipment had been delivered to the site for constructing a defensive line. All night the “Iraqi brigade” lounged around an apple orchard and watched the glowing headlights of Russian columns descending toward them from the direction of Tskhinval. Around 2300 on August 10 a Russian helicopter, while flying around the area, was amazed to discover the “defensive positions” of the “Iraqi” brigade and immediately blew up the IV brigade\’s last remaining tank and a pickup truck with a large-caliber machine gun, which were left out in the open and without camouflage. Nobody was brave enough to fire back; instead they started to panic. Neither of the two shoulder-fired “Strela” anti-air rockets they had worked because nobody had paid attention to their state of repair. By dawn on August 11 Georgian command issued more orders to strengthen the by then nonexistent defensive position near Pkhvenisi, but in each company there were on average no more than 30 men ready to carry out the order. The headquarters company of the II brigade, which was stuck near Tskhinval, decided to carry out this order, even though the “Iraqi” brigade had long deserted their position. As a result, while nearing Shindisi, the headquarters company mistook Russian tanks for Georgian ones (they couldn\’t imagine that these units, so highly regarded thanks to their American training, simply ran away) and was completely destroyed.

In judging the results of the military action of August 2008, the company that was recognized as the most capable was this very II brigade, which was previously stationed in western Georgia, far from any action, and did not receive any American training.

Thus, the scandal around the “30th Division” in Syria is just the tip of the iceberg. It is already possible to declare that such problems have a systemic character that cannot be explained by psychological mistakes made by the CIA. In the near future we will learn a lot of interesting details about the quality of the training which the Americans force upon their allies. And somebody is going to have to answer for it.

America\'s Latest Foreign Policy Fiascos, Part I


[Les derniers fiascos de l’Amérique en matière de politique étrangère , Partie I]

[Gli Ultimi Fiaschi nella Politica Estera Americana – Parte I]

Some 15 months ago I published a piece on American Foreign Policy Fiascos, in which I summarized the significant negative progress that has been achieved through American involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq and Georgia, among others, and then went on to boldly predict that the Ukraine is likewise going to turn out to be another American foreign policy fiasco. Since then it certainly has turned into one.

US meddling in the Ukraine has produced none of the results it was intended to produce:

• It didn\’t isolate Russia internationally
• It didn\’t destroy Russia\’s economy
• It didn\’t pull Russia into a futile, unpopular, bloody conflict
• It didn\’t produce regime change within Russia

Just the opposite:

• It prompted Russia, China and several other countries to opt for closer economic and security ties
• It motivated Russia to think seriously about import replacement, giving its domestic economy a big boost
• It made the US and NATO part to a bloody conflict in Eastern Ukraine while Russia has steadfastly stood on the sidelines providing humanitarian aid
• It caused Russia\’s “nonsystemic opposition”—so called because it can never garner enough votes to win any election anywhere—which has been financed by American NGOs and transnational oligarchs like Soros, Khodorkovsky and others, to pretty much fade from the Russian political scene altogether, all the while complaining bitterly about the horrible Russian people who don\’t understand them and the lack of imported French cheeses, not to mention the pâtés; please, don\’t get them started on the pâtés—that would be simply too cruel.

And then here are some bonus points:

• It has increased the popularity of Russia\’s government, and Vladimir Putin personally while making the average Russian greatly dislike the US in particular, and mistrust the West in general
• It has driven a political wedge between the US and the EU, with EU member-states now starting to dimly discern for the first time that US policies are undermining rather than enhancing their security
• It has provided Russia with a bonanza in the form of 1.5 million additional Russians, in the form of refugees from the economically collapsed, war-torn Ukraine.
• It has put Russia in a position where it can just sit back and let the US, NATO and their puppets in the Ukraine twist in the wind, or soak in a cesspool of their own creation, or sit back and watch as a dunce\’s cap is lowered onto their collective head while circus music plays—or your own hyperbolic metaphor—but their level of embarrassment is already high and getting higher.

The last two points warrant some further discussion.

Not all refugees are the same; this particular refugee crisis is one only a mother could love—Mother Russia, that is. Unlike the refugees currently streaming into Western Europe, these ones are indistinguishable from the general Russian population in culture, religion, language, education or genetics. (In case you didn\’t get the memo, Ukrainians are, with relatively few exceptions, Russian.) Of course, it\’s a lot simpler when Russia grows its Russian population by annexing the territory in which they resided (as happened in Crimea) because then it\’s just a matter of issuing passports, establishing various links, updating the infrastructure and mopping up criminal elements left over from the old regime. But Russia already has plenty of territory, and while resettling so many refugees is an arduous task, it is certainly doable.

On the last point, Russia has scored a strategic victory by inadvertently borrowing a page from the West\’s own Imperial Collapse Playbook. Whenever the Empire loses its grip on a part of the world and is forced to pull out, on its way out it sets up an intractable political conflict, so that the region becomes mired in civilian strife and cannot recover—a way of poisoning the well, if you will. And so when the British pulled out of India, they set up Pakistan as an anti-India; when they got pushed out of Ireland, they set up Belfast as an anti-Ireland; when Western powers were forced to abandon China, they set up Taiwan as an anti-China, and so on. And so, having lost its grip on Russia, the US tried to set up the Ukraine as an anti-Russia.

But there was a problem with this plan. You see, the Ukraine is less a country than a figment of a feverish geopolitical imagination. Take Eastern Ukraine, which has seen most of the recent fighting: it was a part of Russia for centuries and was assigned to the Ukraine willy-nilly by Vladimir Lenin. Or take Western Ukraine—the part that\’s now considered the most Ukrainian, and is the most nationalistic: it actually consists of odd bits of Hungary, Poland and Romania thrown together willy-nilly by an arrangement between Stalin and Hitler which, most unfortunately, has outlasted both of them. Note that such “willy-nilly” arrangements are not exactly a paragon of “sovereignty and territorial integrity” trumpeted endlessly by the West. And so Eastern Ukraine automatically and spontaneously became an anti-Ukraine, and Western Ukraine became a sort of rabid anti-Russia (except it\’s nowhere near Russia), and instead of an intractable fratricidal conflict between the Ukraine and Russia, what the West got is an intractable fratricidal conflict within the Ukraine itself.

But it wasn\’t a fair contest: Eastern Ukraine is urban, densely populated, educated and industrialized. Western Ukraine is rural, sparsely populated, burdened by a few generations of brainwashed ignoramuses who have fallen victim to the disastrous program of Ukrainian “national education,” and mostly agrarian. Eastern Ukraine is becoming increasingly integrated into the Russian economy; its factories are being reopened and its institutions of higher learning have received Russian accreditation; trade is increasingly using the Russian ruble, and more and more people are receiving Russian passports. Western Ukraine has severed its ties with the Russian economy, and consequently its economy is in free fall.

The contest isn\’t fair militarily either. At first the popular insurgency in the East ran into serious difficulties: they had few fighters, few weapons, poor command structure and little opportunity to train. These were mostly factory workers and coal miners who picked up guns and went to fight, to defend the land of their forefathers from, as they saw it, yet another foreign invasion. They faced an actual army which, although corrupt Ukrainian politicians have been busy selling it off piece by piece ever since independence, still had tanks, artillery and combat aircraft. But the situation has changed, and now the East has a professional military, ample weaponry which they either captured or purchased, sufficient training and excellent intelligence and command structures, while the Ukrainian side has raw recruits who are utterly demoralized and mostly refuse to fight, and nationalist battalions which, with their cute Nazi insignia, are full of piss and vinegar but can\’t fight because they don\’t know how. Each time the Ukrainians attacked, they became surrounded, suffered massive casualties and were forced into a humiliating, demoralizing retreat.

And now the government in Kiev finds itself checkmated. They cannot attack, because they know they would lose. And they cannot demobilize and let the East go its own way because they would face open rebellion from the nationalists who helped them rise to power, toppling the previous, legitimately elected government in a bloody coup. The Kiev regime\’s Western minders are equally checkmated: they are already up to their ears in refugees, and can\’t let the Ukraine, with its 44 million people, collapse and cause an even bigger refugee crisis; they can\’t let Kiev capitulate, because that would signal their complete and utter defeat; and they can\’t let Kiev escalate the military conflict because it would be defeated.

And so checkmate it is. But unlike regular chess where, once checkmated, you topple your king, shake hands and get up and stretch, in this sort of geopolitical chess you don\’t get to give up so easily. No, you get to sit there—act paralyzed, laugh hysterically, choke on your tongue or slump forward and drip tears onto the chessboard—however you prefer to deal with international humiliation—and just run out the clock. An unenviable position if there ever was one!

This concludes this week\’s installment of America\’s Latest Foreign Policy Fiascos. The story of the Ukraine is by no means over, but by this point in time there is no doubt that it is, from the point of view of the US foreign policy establishment, a complete and total fiasco. I feel vindicated in having made this prediction over a year ago.

Next week I will discuss Syria. It is too early to call, but once again I am willing to go out on a limb and make a bold prediction.

Trump for Prezz

Steve Cutts

[En français]

Go ahead, elect, appoint, anoint—whatever it is you do with Prezzidents. It won\’t matter. Because it didn\’t matter who was President, and will matter even less who plays “The Prezz” on reality TV for the next four years.

As far as actual Presidents, we had Bush, who told lies about Iraq and Afghanistan (to name a few), who was owned by a bunch of Wall Street insiders and whose foreign policy team was stocked with murderous Neocons. And then we had Obama, who told lies about Libya, Syria and the Ukraine (to name a few), who was owned by a bunch of Wall Street insiders and whose foreign policy team was stocked with murderous Neocons. The only difference is that Obama promised a bunch of things—you know, “Change!”—and they didn\’t happen. Bush played dumb, Obama pretended to be smart, but both are just sleazy. To find a President who wasn\’t a sleazy slimeball, you have to go all the way back to Jimmy Carter. But it didn\’t matter that he was President either; everything he did was undone by the next sleazebag in line.

But Trump is different. He is actually a good fit, as an ornamental figurehead, for what the United States has become in its senescence and decrepitude. Here is a short list of things that make him an ideal pick for the role of “the Prezz” on reality TV.

1. Trump is just a brand—a picture of his likeness with the word “Trump” over it, and a salesman\’s cant: I am a smart guy, I know how to strike deals, blah blah blah. And, it turns out, by this point in time the United States is also just a brand—a stripey flag and some verbiage that rings increasingly hollow: indispensable nation, freedom and democracy, world policeman, blah blah blah. Now, the United States did at some point stand for something: the rule of law, the right to mind your own business, the ability to get things done. But now it stands for lawlessness. How many Wall Street types got jailed for their transgressions in recent years? None. They don\’t even get juvenile detention; they just get off by paying a fine. How many unarmed people got shot by police lately? Lots. Do the cops get any jail-time for what amounts to murder? No. It also stands for a surveillance state that would make Stalin blush: your right to privacy has been eliminated. And the ability to get things done has moved overseas; all that\’s left in the US is a bunch of corporate scams—in medicine, in education, in housing, in energy, plus a hyped-up “tech bubble” based on short-lived imported widgets and bits of software cludged together by overcaffeinated hipsters. Do any of these things make you want to jump up and down and yell “Rah-rah?” or “USA #1?” Well, no, so all you have left is the stripey flag; go and wave it about then!

2. Trump is damaged goods but manages to put on a brave face and act successful anyway. A lot of his vaunted deals have gone bad, and quite a lot of what he had built has gone bust. If you look at his “wealth,” most of it is intangible and ephemeral—an attempt to put a market value on various bits of puffery and hype. Now he is suing bankrupt Trump Casinos for continuing to use his name and thereby tarnishing his brand. That\’s the winning attitude! When you lose, be sure to lob a hand grenade over your left shoulder as you run away. Again, this is a perfect fit to the United States, in its current state: located at the epicenter of the Black Hole of Debt that is rigged to blow at some point, and with an economy that\’s been shrinking since the beginning of this century—two facts that no amount of accounting fraud can disguise. Add to that a legacy of very damaging and embarrassing foreign policy fiascos. Why is there a refugee crisis in Europe right now? Because America—that\’s why! If the US didn\’t run roughshod and ruin Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria or the Ukraine then there wouldn\’t be a refugee crisis in Europe right now. A country whose fortune and reputation have both been ruined needs an ornamental figurehead who can bluster and bloviate his way out of looking like a loser.

3. Most of what Trump proposes is illegal. I haven\’t researched this exhaustively, but I did sit through a couple of speeches of his, and made a tick mark every time he offered to do something, if elected, that contradicted existing domestic legislation, international law or international treaties. I made a lot of tick marks. Again, this is a perfect fit: the United States is a country that flouts international law on a regular basis, refuses to prosecute and jail members of its financial elite and routinely violates human rights through practices such as torture, indefinite detention and extraordinary rendition. It also attempts to make its laws binding on the rest of the world through acts such as FATCA, which require banks around the world to furnish it with information about their clients even when the transaction does not concern any US interest or person. So, a Prezz who doesn\’t know legal from illegal wouldn\’t be a problem at all. In fact, a Prezz who is hornswoggled by outdated notions of upholding the law and the Constitution may be at a disadvantage in riding out the unfolding national fiasco.

4. The stuff that comes out of Trump\’s mouth may sound childish, but it is stuff that Americans actually think and want to hear said in public. There has been a sort of self-appointed language police at work in the US, which has forced people to become very timid when speaking out, for fear of offending someone. Trump is not afraid of offending anyone—and that\’s very healthy. The language police, on the other hand, is a very unhealthy bunch of humans: it is not outraged or offended by actual outrages and offenses, provided these are talked about in politically correct ways—because it is all about setting limits on language. Politically incorrect use of terminology by public figures causes it to start tweeting like mad until the public figure in question tweets a public apology. But Trump does not apologize. Are you offended? Don\’t be so fragile! Never been so offended before? You should get out more! Of course there should be strict limits on hate speech. There should also be limits on obscenity, so that our children don\’t grow up sounding like goddamn sailors. But when it comes to expressing opinions on controversial topics—of course somebody is going to be offended, or the opinion wouldn\’t be worth expressing. And so Trump is an actual breath of fresh air when it comes to free speech—or what\’s left of it in the US.

5. Trump seems like a bit of a fascist. He is really popular with white supremacists, anti-immigrant vigilantes and formerly privileged but now disenfranchised and disgruntled members of white working-class society who complain endlessly about “ferners” taking away their “jerbs.” Now, this may not seem like a big positive, but it\’s bad to repress one\’s feelings forever. It results in all kinds of bad things, like domestic terrorist insurgencies. It\’s better to give a voice to these people, give them a candidate to vote for (remember, it doesn\’t matter who gets to play “the Prezz”), watch their champion completely renege on his pledges to them—which he will, because his money comes from elsewhere—and they will end up as politically spent as Occupy Wall Street and go off and blubber quietly into their soapy, watery beer. But what, you may ask, if Trump really is a fascist? Well, it still doesn\’t matter who gets to be Prezz. Plus it\’s a bit of a fascist country anyway, you know—the out of control militarism, the rampant corporatism, the ubiquitous surveillance state, the rigged, broken justice system, the gaping chasm between the über-wealthy and the rest—these are all halmarks of fascism. So electing a somewhat fascist-sounding Prezz is just a matter of calling a Hackenkreuz a Hackenkreuz.

So here are five perfectly good reasons why Trump would make one fine Prezz. But he needs a running mate. Now, wouldn\’t it be a fine thing to have a woman Vice-Prezz? It\’s been two election cycles since a spectacularly dumb bimbo—Sarah Palin—came within a few percentage points of the Vice-Prezzidency; maybe it\’s time to try again. And so I propose Kim Kardashian as Trump\’s running mate. Not Kim Kardashian herself—she doesn\’t amount to much—but, more specifically, her amazing ass. She has a stunning derrière that I am sure will make America feel proud again.

Further, I propose that Trump marry her ass, and make a sort of national royal ass-family. She\’d be the Vice-Prezz and the First Lady-Ass—killing two birds with one ass, if you will! Yes, it would require another tweak to the marriage laws to make it possible for a man and a woman\’s buttocks to join in holy matrimony. But the Supreme Court seems game for such tweaks, and, as an added benefit, when time comes for Mr. Trump to divorce (as it invariably has), the Pope would be only too happy to annul such a union.

Lastly, I recommend that the royal couple dispense with the usual White House nonsense—the press conferences, the sound bites and all the rest. Instead, the rebranded “Trump White House and Casino” should operate as a reality TV show.

In the first episode, Trump summons the Federal Open Market Committee and tells them: “You\’re fired!”

In the second episode, Trump summons the Joint Chiefs of Staff and tells them: “You\’re fired!”

In the third episode, Trump summons the Justices of the Supreme Court and tells them “You\’re fired!”

And so on to the UN Security Council, the G7 and the College of Cardinals.

Wait, wouldn\’t that be illegal, you may ask?

In the immortal words of Sarah Palin, “Ya betcha!”

Design Improvements


Over the past month I have spent some 150 hours sailing—moving south for the winter. This has given me plenty of time to rethink some elements of the QUIDNON design, and to introduce a few improvements. While some are purely products of reflection, others resulted from direct experience with a sailboat design which I found to be inadequate. Here, I will explain the changes in prose. I will come up with updated drawings as time allows.

Read more…

The Financial-Industrial Revolution\'s Origin and Destiny

Mark Bryan

[En français]

The industrial revolution made the modern world. Before it took off in the late eighteenth century, most people in Europe and elsewhere lived sustainably on renewable resources in traditional societies. Such limited energy as was available came from wind (sailboats, windmills), hydropower (waterwheels), wood (heating and cooking fireplaces and stoves), and muscle power (human and animal labor). There was no electricity, little or no heavy machinery, no modern medicine, virtually no appliances or other labor saving devices, and no telecommunication. Travel was laborious and slow. Almost everything had to be made by hand with simple technology. Death and birth rates were high, mostly because of infant mortality.

Imagine a world without fossil fuels or electricity and you begin to come close to what it was like. Life was simpler, to be sure, more natural, anchored in traditional wisdom and reliant on herbal remedies—since widely disparaged—and certainly without the stresses associated with modern life. Ritual and community were strong; most people were embedded in an intense network of social relations.

The gap between then and now is enormous. Our world today would be a total and unimaginable fantasy—or nightmare—to anyone living 250 years ago.

The question is: How did we get from there to here?

Most explanations of the industrial revolution, and indeed the rise of the whole modern world, miss the mark. They invoke purported causes such as the development of science, technological innovation, political stability, and the use of fossil fuels, beginning with coal.

None of these factors, alone or even in combination, provides a plausible explanation. All of them were present at other points in the past, and did not lead to an industrial revolution.

The ancient world, especially the Greeks, arguably had a scientific revolution, as well as considerable technological innovation, and, under Hellenistic monarchs and later the Romans, political stability, and yet no industrial revolution occurred. The potential for fossil fuels was there as well. China, at various times in its long history, also had the same ingredients, but, again, no industrial revolution occurred. Perhaps also India and the Arab world.

These conditions again obtained in Britain in the eighteenth century, but this time an industrial revolution did occur.

What was the difference?

The vital factor, I argue—present in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century England, and absent in earlier situations—was an institutionalized system of broad, debt-based finance. For the first time in world history large-scale credit became available to fund public and private enterprises.

This “financial revolution” is seldom noted, and even more rarely, pardon the pun, credited. The classic work on the subject—The Financial Revolution in England: A Study in the Development of Public Credit, 1688-1756, by P. G. M. Dickson (1967)—remains out of print.

Credit, to be clear, long preceded the financial revolution. A recent popular book by David Graeber—Debt: The First 5000 Years—traces credit all the way back to the temple economies of Sumerian city states.

But the traditional sort of credit Graeber describes was severely limited. Commercial loans were generally made to finance a relatively narrow, reliable range of projects, such as the planting of a cash crop, or goods expected from a trading expedition, and usually had to be paid off in hard-to-get precious metals.

More importantly, traditional loans of this sort depended on finding the relatively few potential creditors who had already accumulated savings they could lend. Today, it is still widely believed that money lent out by banks comes from the savings deposited in those banks, just as money borrowed from a friend or relative is presumed to come from savings or wealth they already possess. But it doesn\’t.

The financial revolution in England over 300 years ago overcame these limitations by vastly expanding the scope and function of credit. It established a credit system independent of savings and current resources, and it did so by institutionalizing the process of creating money “out of thin air.”

It takes a little history to understand this financial revolution—history that is not taught in our schools.

It was the goldsmiths in seventeenth century London that took the first step. Clients deposited gold with them for safekeeping, receiving in turn certificates of redemption. The goldsmiths discovered that only a few clients were likely to redeem their deposits at any given time. This allowed them to issue more certificates (as loans) than they actually had gold on hand to redeem them.

This new expansion, or leveraging, of the money supply (more certificates circulating than the actual gold backing them) has come to be known as fractional reserve banking.

Note that nothing is backing this new additional money, apart from confidence in the supposed ability of the borrowers to repay it in due course. It is created merely on the say-so of the lenders. The borrower suddenly has new money to spend—money that was not there before and that was not minted, earned or saved up by anyone. It is a slip of paper, with a corresponding accounting entry in the lender\’s book—no more and no less.

Important as this step was, the goldsmiths remained private proto-bankers, limited by the deposits they could attract. They were vulnerable to “runs on the bank”—sudden, excessive withdrawals by depositors which left them unable to pay out gold as promised, leaving them insolvent. Money created out of thin air, essentially as a confidence trick, could just as easily vanish into thin air as soon as confidence wavered.

This problem was exacerbated by Charles II’s insistence on ever-greater loans to conduct his military campaigns, which he could not repay. A major default by the monarchy occurred in 1671, putting many goldsmiths and other money-lenders out of business. This pattern was typical of early modern finance, where monarchs borrowed largely to fund their wars of conquest without sufficient income from taxes and royal estates to repay them.

An ingenious and fateful response to this financial instability came with the foundation of the Bank of England in 1694. A group of about 1500 investors agreed to assume the royal debt—since renamed the “national debt”—in return for a monopoly on the right to issue their own notes (loans, that is) to the public guaranteed by the reliable repayment of the government’s debt through taxation. These notes—which subsequently became known as British pounds—soon started circulating as the currency of the land.

This currency-as-debt was still ultimately denominated in precious metals, but the presence of the royal imprimatur, backed by the power of the state to meet its obligations by forceable taxation, made its indebtedness “as good as gold” for the creditors.

As this new arrangement sprung into being, nobody seemed to ask the very obvious and important question:

Why is it that a group of private investors was granted the unprecedented license to automatic public taxpayer backing and, if need be, outright bail-outs for their own privately-issued notes (loans), which were allowed to function as the currency of the land, displacing precious metals?

Since the power of the state to tax its citizens rests on a perpetual right, it follows that any private loans backed by tax receipts can also be issued, and reissued, in perpetuity. The result was a perpetual national debt used to back up perpetual private lending.

But the private bankers immediately took a further step, making full use of the fractional reserve principle of the goldsmiths: they proceeded to lend far beyond the actual amount of government debt on their books. Thus, only a fraction of the notional “money” they generated out of thin air was formally backed by the taxpayer.

Which leads to another very important question that also wasn\’t much discussed, then or now:

What if confidence lapses, there are bank runs, and it turns out that the government guarantees are insufficient?

The modern answer to this question is… bail-outs; it turns out that the taxpayer is on the hook not just for the government debt, but for all the private debt issuance as well.

But that\’s not all. Not only were these private loans backed by the taxing power of the state, but the bankers issuing them took full advantage of the relaxation of traditional prohibitions on usury. This allowed them to charge as much interest on these loans as the market would bear. In other words, they were able to skim off a generous profit for themselves simply by virtue of issuing money which they alone were allowed to freely create!

Sounds outlandish? You bet! ? Yet this is the essence of the financial revolution, which Alexander Hamilton, one of its admirers, accurately called “the English system,” and it remains the basis of our financial system today.

How does all this explain the industrial revolution? Think of it this way: for the first time in history a widespread source of reasonably secure credit became available, backed by the state, and free of the worst risks previously borne by individual lenders like the goldsmiths, or earlier family bankers like the Medici or the Fuggers. This made a huge difference: borrowers who could tap into this new credit found themselves with the wherewithal to invest in modernized production methods, becoming more profitable and outstripping their competitors.

This happened initially in agriculture, with the improvement of landed estates, and then spread to manufacturing. And even though these new loans had to be repaid with interest, which was commonly at usurious rates, the benefits of the improvements gained made the loans profitable for the borrowers as well as for the lenders.

For the first time in history, it became possible to systematically and reliably borrow against the future, betting that the future will always be bigger, better and richer, making it perpetually possible to issue ever more debt with which to roll over previously issued debt. This is what made steady economic growth through investment in innovative production methods—in short, industrial revolution—possible.

Which leads to yet another very important question that wasn\’t much asked:

What happens when it turns out that the future is not going to be bigger, better and richer, because the essential resources have been exhausted?

The modern answer to this question, which we are staring at now, is this: financial, economic and political collapse.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Remember that the price to be paid for industrialization was the interest charged on the borrowed money. This means that an enterprise, if funded by borrowed money, had to grow to compensate the lender as well as to repay the principal. Gradually, previously steady-state traditional enterprises were either destroyed by their more productive industrial competitors, or they too financialized, putting themselves on an ever-accelerating treadmill of debt.

Albert Bartlett and Chris Martenson, among others, have elaborated in Malthusian fashion the idea that the modern economy functions on the self-defeating principle of exponential growth.

But yet another questions remains: Why did exponential economic growth catch on and continue for the last 250 years? It turns out that exponential growth has a very specific driver: the usurious rates of interest charged by the new financial system created by the financial revolution.

In short, the use of borrowed money at interest provided something that did not exist earlier: a compelling motive to grow economically. Once the reciprocal exchanges of traditional, more or less steady-state economies were replaced by the use of credit borrowed at interest, it became necessary to come out ahead: one had to gain more from any exchange than the other party in order to make a profit and to pay interest to the lender.

For the first time in history a fateful imperative to growth—and exploitation—was built right into the economy. Usurious credit is what kicked economies into overdrive, forcing borrowers to exploit both people and natural resources far beyond what was allowed in traditional economies that were based on reciprocity among participants.

So yet another question–never adequately addressed–arises:

Why is it that personal vices and mortal sins have been assigned the role of foundational economic principles?

Ambition and avarice, previously private vices, were institutionalized in the financial system by usurious credit, allowing them to be legally and culturally objectified and thereby enormously magnified. No longer merely personal qualities, they assumed the power of social imperatives.

For a long time, as long as new resources and pools of labor could be exploited, all went well for the exploiters (and badly for the exploited). New frontiers were opened up and “developed,” in the New World and elsewhere, usually at the point of a gun, and slaves and indentured servants were brought in to do the labor.

Simultaneously, peasants in the old world, forcibly displaced by enclosures and the modernization of agriculture, were herded into factories as workers. Deprived of their traditional, largely independent and sustainable ways of life, they became wage-laborer consumers who had to buy goods and services at market prices.

It turned out—for a considerable time–that the globe had enough land, minerals, arable soil, fisheries, and forests to support an unprecedented explosion of production. It also turned out—for a considerable time—that the globe had enormous untapped sources of energy—particularly fossil fuels—which magnified productive potential many-fold.

The exploitation of these resources is what we call the industrial revolution.

And now it has run its course. The resource limits of a finite planet have finally been reached. There are no new frontiers left. Population has exploded, arable land has been used up, forests have been cut down, fisheries have been depleted, minerals have become scarce, the environment has been degraded and polluted. Investments in the production of fossil fuel energy, which has underpinned economic growth, have finally reached the point of diminishing returns, even as they continue to drive costly and destructive climate change.

In the meantime, the banking system has continued to lend out far more money than there are real assets in the world to back it. Hundreds of trillions of dollars of debt now dwarf the potential of the global economy to ever produce enough to repay it. We are facing another cyclical boom-bust financial crisis, to be sure, but this time it really is different: the potential for recovery and further growth can no longer be presumed to exist. The system has plateaued, for the moment, but having been designed for endless exponential growth, not for a steady state, it is destined to unravel.

It is important to understand, in sum, that “the English system,” now established worldwide, is a privatized, usurious financial system established as a monopoly by the state to benefit private investors, and is involuntarily backed by its taxpayers (as evidenced in the recent bailouts of banks deemed “too big to fail”).

This system is the root cause of the industrial economy.

What are the lessons in all this?

1. Exponential growth, powered by the financial system, is unsustainable, and doomed to collapse. This is the nature of any exponential process.

2. The true villain of the piece, and the cause of exponential economic growth, is our current, outrageous financial system, defined by the lending of money at usurious and therefore exponential interest rates by a private monopoly backed by the state.

3. The vast power unleashed by this financial-industrial revolution has completely corrupted those who have been able to manipulate and benefit from it, resulting in an inhumane, narcissistic culture of arrogance, contemptuous of traditional, sustainable ways of being.

4. Our financial system is a relatively recent invention, devised by clever, selfish men for their personal gain. It is not the product of any natural or inevitable process, nor of democratic deliberation. It is a scam. We need not be stuck with it, and the sooner we rid ourselves of it the better.

5. A sustainable, post-collapse economy on a finite planet will require a return to reciprocal, cooperative arrangements for the exchange of goods and services. Loans will have to be based on current collateral, not on leverage or on speculative exploitation of (increasingly non-existent) resources.

6. Usury will have to be prohibited in future lending. The monetary system, by which money is created through lending, cannot be a for-profit monopoly, whether it be private or public.

7. Any future financial system will have to be designed to avoid concentrations of financial power, making it possible for it to be held accountable by the public. If money creation is to serve the public, it must be done locally by institutions that are locally controlled.

Adrian Kuzminski is the author of The Ecology of Money: Debt, Growth, and Sustainability (2013), Fixing the System: A History of Populism, Ancient & Modern (2008), and Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism (2008), among other works.

Eventual Consequences

Mark Bryan

[En français] [Em português]

The US empire has murdered some 40 million people since World War II (according to John Stockwell), has suppressed popular social change in dozens of countries, has overthrown and assassinated their leaders and has organized and trained right-wing death squads that murdered and tortured their citizens. Both Al Qaeda and ISIS are largely US inventions. Meanwhile, the US enjoyed nearly the highest per capita income in the world, peace, harmony, and consumerism for decades—until recently—while sowing chaos abroad. But there have been no negative consequences for the US—until its recent economic decline.

Henry Kissinger, one of the greatest war criminals of the 20th century, lives on into his 9th decade and is consulted regularly as a respected geopolitical expert by governments and the media alike. He seems to be in the media a lot these days. He even makes quite a bit of sense; it is uncanny how people stop lying once they retire. But in case you don’t know, while he still had a day-job, Kissinger orchestrated the four-year secret bombing of Cambodia which killed two million people and set the scene for the Khmer Rouge genocidal regime of Pol Pot. He got the Nobel Peace prize for agreeing to the Vietnam peace accord in 1973—which had first been offered in 1968. Barack Obama collected his Nobel Peace prize too—and went on to destroy Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen, and perpetuate drone warfare in Pakistan and other places. Sometimes the Nobel Peace Prize seems like a license to kill.

Dick Cheney’s Halliburton company made billions while Cheney oversaw the torture program during the Bush administration. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and other Iraq fabulists walk free, while the truth-tellers Manning, Assange and Snowden remain imprisoned, trapped at an embassy, or live in exile. Many other whistleblowers, such as Binney, Drake, and Kiriakou, have also been punished. But John Woo, who wrote the torture memos in which he claimed that torture was legal, is now a highly paid faculty member at UC Berkeley. Clearly, there are cases where truth won\’t set you free, but lies are richly rewarded.

So, what about consequences? We like to explain to our children that if they keep doing bad things to good people, eventually they will pay. But so far there don\’t seem to be too many consequences for any of these perpetrators.

Until now.

For example, there is the refugee problem, which seems to be affecting all the countries that bombed, invaded or otherwise disrupted the countries that are now causing the refugee crisis. It never seemed to dawn on the highly compensated eurocratic morons that helping the US empire to destroy Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and Yemen, and sow chaos all over the Middle East would result in a torrent of humans deluging their shores. And now they are reduced to explaining at the top of their lungs how the refugee crisis has nothing at all to do with their foreign policy.

On the other side of the Atlantic, it never occurred to the Americans that their support of right wing coups in Central America, such as the recent one in Honduras, or their support for the insane drug war in Mexico, or their sowing of massive violence, destruction, and poverty in the region, would lead to the horrendous illegal immigration problem that Donald Trump is currently making hay out of.

Need more examples? Australia helped bomb Vietnam and supported Indonesian dictator Suharto’s domestic massacre and genocide against the people of East Timor, among its other supporting imperial roles. Suharto ruled for three decades, stole billions and lived to a ripe old age of 86. Becoming a genocidal dictator seems to be a good plan if you want longevity. Australia, on the other hand, has a refugee problem too—and from that exact region.

More consequences are on their way. The people in the EU still haven\’t fully realized that helping the US start a new cold war by puppet-mastering an illegal coup in Ukraine, then imposing sanctions on Russia under false pretenses would be bad for business, disrupt trade and help collapse the Euro. But they are learning fast.

And then there is the biggest consequence of all: The US and Europe seem to be suffering a devastating series of climate problems such as heat waves, forest fires, droughts, floods, hurricanes and the like. California in particular has been in an extreme drought for the last four years. California epitomizes the American consumerist, car-centric culture that is largely responsible for the vast increase in CO2 emissions, and exports this toxic lifestyle worldwide through the entertainment industry of Hollywood. Climate disasters seem rampant in the US—the country that has emitted the majority of CO2 emissions that are now causing climate change. The US even had a Polar Vortex deep freeze each winter the last two years affecting the east coast. But that\’s only the beginning; in a few decades, the entire Eastern Seaboard of the US, where half the population lives, is going to be underwater.

Call it coincidence, call it karma, call it their luck running out, or whatever else you want. But what if it\’s cause and effect? What if it takes a while, but the consequences of your actions do eventually come to haunt you?


The Howling Wilderness of the Mind


[En français]

I grew up in a tiny town of less than 1500 people in western Montana. It is a land of breathtaking natural beauty, and for 18 years I lived in the same house in a form of bucolic perfection. We prided ourselves on living 100 miles from the nearest stoplight. I smile to imagine that many young villagers from all over the planet share a form of kinship enforced by the laws of small communities and big mountains.

It was my home and they were my people, but after traveling, education and 13 years of living elsewhere, I can see what a strange accident of history small town America actually is, a residue left by a frontier that has moved on and twisted inward. This is a report from a correspondent embedded for 18 years and a hundred miles behind the front lines of the American frontier.

I was enabled to see it clearly by the fact that almost half of the buildings on the one main street are the originals from when the town was slapped together in the 1890s. One century later the layout and social structure were unchanged. I remember vividly the moment it struck: my parents and I were crossing the main street to dine at a Chinese restaurant. (Of course!) A glance to the right revealed where the street lamps petered out, a look over the left shoulder saw the other end of town. The mountains brooded over us, dark except for the scattered isolated houses here and there like embers from a dying fire. I stopped in the middle of the empty road and gasped: “This is still a frontier town!” That epiphany shattered the insular perfection of my home, and I have been struggling with it ever since.

It is painful to see the frontier scrawled across the personalities and culture of individuals and a town I love dearly, but now that I am an outsider it is obvious. Their little fenced estates in the woods are their half of the quid pro quo their ancestors fulfilled: tame the wilderness and your private claims will be protected. Their desires are clear and simple: they want taxes to be low, infrastructure to be mediocre (certainly not good enough to help the poorest) and fuel to be cheap. They love their trucks and jet skis and four­-wheelers and cars and dirt­ bikes and speed­boats and snowmobiles and motorcycles and SUVs and brush cutters and chainsaws and log splitters and lawn mowers and backhoes and shotguns and semi­trailers and rifles and pistols and guns. They hate the government and complain that it doesn’t do enough for them.

They are profoundly ignorant of the vast human diversity and history around them and serenely contemptuous of the few snippets of knowledge they have collected. Put 500 of them in a room together and there probably won’t be a single classic poem or plotline of a work of world literature memorized between them, and if there is it will be in the head of a lone weirdo. There are only about three dates anybody appears to be aware of: 1492, 1776, 1945, and, by the time I was a senior in high school, 9/11, 2001. Most of them at some point complete the pilgrimage to the great holy city in the south, the place in the desert that god itself has touched, made sacred, made itself physically manifest in the world. They return from Las Vegas renewed, uplifted, their faith in financial manipulation restored, and full of hope that if they are pure enough, the god Mammon just might bless their own lives, someday.

So even though they are poor, in debt, and only able to move in a tiny world, mentally they are all little aristocrats. Therein lays the genius and opportunity of a frontier. If in the early 1800s you were a plantation owner in Virginia or a financial tycoon in New York, how do you simultaneously gain access to all those resources west of Appalachia, reduce pressure for social reform and of course not do any of the work yourself? The social architecture of the frontier answers all three questions elegantly, but it concomitantly makes a hollow society, a government without a nation underneath.

I took my epiphany and outsider status with me when I attended university on the outskirts of Tacoma, Washington. There was no physical relic of the frontier to observe, but after wandering around the local suburbs at night and especially after visiting the homelands of ancient nations in Peru and Guatemala on study­-abroad trips it gradually dawned on me that the frontier was everywhere in the United States. Its peculiar dynamics have been so deeply ingrained that they define Americans better than any other interpretive framework, long after the physical circumstances of the frontier have ceased to exist.

What took me years to see in the suburbs of Tacoma is that the frontier has been turned on its s​ide. Not inverted; an inverted frontier would resemble Brazilian farmers retreating hundreds of kilometers back from the edge of the Amazon rainforest and coming together to build beautiful sustainable cities. No, what I see is an internalization of that terrible frontier interface.

Fast food makes the most vivid case: how does one create money from otherwise worthless agricultural products, reduce social pressure for reform by fattening and stupefying the commoners, and of course not do any of the work oneself? Economically fast food joints are not restaurants at all—they are commodity dumps. They are a means to inflate massive profits out of otherwise inaccessible resources. If the dreck they served in place of food were sustainably farmed, if the workers were paid living wages and if the American people would defend their health, fast food chains would vanish. The exact same dynamic applies to the suburbs: overpriced cardboard boxes filled with cheesy appliances that would not be worth constructing if the Earth were taken into account. Whatever field of endeavor you care to examine, be it medicine or education, science or art, the frontier interface prevents it from serving human needs and demands that it serve one purpose only: that of converting resources into profits.

The American people are not building society. They are still doing the work of conversion for those same financial interests that opened the frontier in the first place. The same impulse that carried their ancestors across the Atlantic and maintained them through the crushing labor of deforestation and sod busting is now directed into mowing lawns, cleaning gutters, washing the car and, of course, shopping. Stand on any busy street and watch the frontier at work. Single out the delivery truck drivers, the look on their faces. They will hunt down and liquidate (financialize) every last pocket of natural resources left on the planet if they can.

I believe the lens of the frontier clarifies the otherwise bizarre suicide of the American empire. We must remember that settling the American west was swift and easy. Technological superiority, diseases and overwhelming numbers allowed civilians to do most of the ethnic cleansing while there was an actual boundary between the natives and European colonists.

The United States never had to demand sacrifices of its citizens or seriously negotiate with the natives. After all the territory in North America was settled, a series of historical accidents bumped the U.S. into a brief period of hegemony. Industrialization exploded just as the frontier ended. The same settlers who walked from St. Louis to Oregon Territory took trains back east a few decades later. Then the old imperial powers of Eurasia destroyed themselves in two world wars and voilà, the U.S. found itself the one intact industrial power! This is not the stuff of long-lasting empires. The upper classes have never stared defeat in the eye or had to restrain themselves and ask the common people for massive collective effort.

This explains why the government cannot repair national infrastructure or implement sound industrial policy. The internalized frontier is why the military cannot administer conquered territory and the ethnic minorities in the homeland cannot receive equal treatment under the law. The regime in Washington D.C. is not there to create a vast polyglot imperial structure (like the Achaemenid empire) nor to represent the collective will of a single nation (like Switzerland, or many others.) It exists to divvy up resources and then defend those aristocratic interests at all costs. It was set up in that form from the very beginning.

This explains why September 11 was used as another date that granted legitimacy to aristocratic claims, right in line with 1776 and 1945. Instead of leading a worldwide effort to bring criminals to justice and rooting out actual causes, the regime set about trying to create new frontier zones in places like Iraq and many others, hunting grounds for certain corporations and government agencies. Those efforts roused the ire of two of the oldest, most puissant imperial systems in the world, and were subsequently checked.

Nobody in D.C. seems to have read the memo that they are no longer allowed to set up frontiers for their cronies (or masters, depending on what side of the revolving door between corporations and government they are on.) They do not realize that China and Russia will never ever grant favorable terms to Western interests, and that the absurd commitment to “free markets” is actually a back door into the heart of what is left of the American economy.

Of course, such knowledge cannot exist inside such a regime, and anyway, it would make no difference. The U.S. government cannot ask the common people to make the kind of colossal sacrifice necessary to take on China and Russia at the same time. It cannot even shut down or control the mechanism of the frontier. It must keep talking about “free markets” because that is the main linguistic shield for aristocratic freedom of action from democratic controls. It certainly cannot tax the rich at progressive levels or shut down offshore havens.

So if its mercenary armies keep getting defeated overseas and efforts to control resources and markets in places like the Middle East keep getting thwarted, those same incompetent people still have to make ridiculous sums of money from nothing without doing the work, and the frontier takes another turn in upon itself. The government begins shedding excess population and militarizing civilian governance and privatizing the national patrimony and binding the poor with debt and austerity and meaninglessly spying on everything and on and on. After all, if they can’t run roughshod all over Central Asia and the Middle East, there’s no place like home!

There will be no coherent national uprising against this final suicide. There cannot be, because there is no American nation. Real nations have wrenching, defining events like the Dreyfus Affair, the Tupac Amaru rebellion, Tahrir Square, the taking of the Winter Palace, the storming of the Bastille, the trial of the Gang of Four, the Polish Deluge. The agony and ecstasy of being a nation, of being a people, evolving through time regardless of the specifics of where the capital city is or what dynasty sits on the throne has not yet happened to the mess of immigrants and descendants of immigrants in North America.

The process is beginning. Alaskan or Southern Californian or Cascadian or Texan are embryonic nationalities. If Washington D.C. actually tried to win the fight against Russia (let alone China) and keep its tottering financial empire intact, the effort itself would exacerbate the nascent breakup along those already visible lines. Why would an Alaskan fisherman obey a bureaucrat in D.C. when his livelihood depends on selling seafood to China? What possible situation or political figure could align the interests of a Texan and a Cascadian? The inevitable breakup of North American economic and political unity is clear to anyone with a sense of how and why nations evolve on this planet. It will be messy, lubricated by rivers of blood, and in most areas accompanied by a long dark age, but the rest of the world will breathe a sigh of relief.

For individuals like myself, born inside the frontier and soaked in its propaganda, the U.S. seems like A Very Important Thing. For minds still trapped, the breakup of the U.S. feels like The End Of The World, which is a way of simplifying events to the point of not thinking about them at all. I would like to end this report by exploring a perspective about the next few decades not often seen, which does not involve Nuclear War or Utter Collapse or The End of the US Dollar.

North America was almost inevitably going to be treated as a single huge frontier the moment any old world explorer, with all his weapons, diseases, domesticated animals and crops stepped ashore. Present-day old world nations and empires understand this and no longer envy or fear what amounts to a historical blip. They also observe that the deep social foundations necessary for a government to play with the big boys in the arena of culture are missing. But a vast, distant frontier is just as useful at converting worthless commodities into money for them as it has proven for our own aristocrats.

Keeping this in mind, I suspect that far from decisive military engagements or outright economic warfare, we might eventually observe China and Russia (among others) carefully managing the U.S. decline, expending small efforts to keep the regime in D.C. afloat as long as they keep getting a positive return on investment. After all, powerhouses like them will from time to time need to dump commodities like pork snouts or almost worthless forestry byproducts. As long as the frontier exists in the hearts and minds of Americans, they won’t lack for people willing to do the work of conversion for them.