Archive for January, 2020

Peak Free Oil


Back in my halcyon days of youth I went to some anti-war demonstrations, not to protest against the first Gulf War, since I could already see that such protest would turn out to be futile, but to pick up women. Sure, I shouted “No war for oil!” as loud as I could, but that was just my mating call. Even in those salad days of yore I was already smart enough to know that “No war for oil!” was a spectacularly stupid thing for us to be shouting. “We want to die!” would have been equally dumb. What would North Americans, with their own reserves badly depleted, but with their car-dependent suburban sprawl still sprawling, do without oil stolen from some unlucky country? Crawl slowly toward the nearest gas station and expire from exhaustion along the way? But we aren’t dead just yet, so let’s crawl back down the memory lane and see how this situation came about, then crawl back to see where we are today.

Once upon a time the USA was a remarkably oily nation, with prolific oil wells such as the renowned Spindletop in East Texas. Juvenile USAnians competed against each other on who could burn the most rubber while getting the shittiest gas mileage. I caught the tail end of that failed experiment: my first car was a monstrous, hulking land yacht: a ’68 Chevrolet Caprice. In 1970 a phenomenon called Peak Oil arrived in the US, oil production fell and drastic steps became necessary. One of them was to convert from a “take our dollars or our gold” scheme to a “take our dollars or else” scheme: if you don’t like dollars, we also have bombs. Another was to start going directly after the oil wherever in the world it is found and trying to take it without paying for it. But all things, good and bad, must come to an end eventually, and free oil is no exception. In fact, what we may be witnessing at the moment is a phenomenon I wish to call Peak Free Oil.

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Life After Putin


Two days ago Vladimir Putin delivered his annual address before the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, and since then I have received a flurry of emails and comments from people asking me to explain what he meant. I don’t want to make assumptions about the depth of your interest in Russian affairs, and so, to save you time, let me start by providing a very short executive summary: Putin will step down as president after his current term, which will end in 2024 unless an early election is held, but the system he has put in place will stay in place. Essentially, life after Putin will be more Putin under a different name. If that’s all you care about, you can stop reading now.

To delve deeper, we need to draw a distinction between Putin the man and the system of governance he has built over the past 20 years. There is always plenty to complain about, but overall it has been quite effective. During Putin’s period in power, Russia has solved the problems of separatism and domestic terrorism, reigned in the predatory oligarchy, paid off virtually all of its foreign debts including ones it inherited from the USSR, grew its economy by a factor of six (vs. China’s five and USA’s one), regained Crimea (which had been part of Russia since 1783), rebuilt its armed forces to a point where international security is no longer a major concern, and achieved an overall level of societal well-being that is unparalleled in all of Russian history.

The system of governance he has built has worked well with him as the head of government, but it will require some adjustments in order to work well under future presidents, who may not be equally gifted. Recognizing this fact, on Wednesday Putin has launched a limited overhaul of the Russian Constitution. In addition to an entire raft of minor tweaks that will limit the powers of the President and give more powers to the Parliament, to provide for better checks and balances and a more democratically responsive system, there are a few proposed changes that stand out:

• The word “consecutive” is going to be struck from Article 81.3: “The same person may not be elected President of the Russian Federation for more than two consecutive terms.” This wording created a loophole, which Putin duly exploited: after serving two terms, he sat out a term and then got elected for two more. This loophole will now be closed.

• Article 14.4 is a rather curious one. It reads, in part: “If an international treaty or agreement of the Russian Federation imposes rules that are contrary to [Russian] law, the international rules shall be applied.” This creates a hole in Russian sovereignty which allows foreign bodies to overrule Russian law. This hole will now be closed.

• Dual citizens and holders of foreign residency permits will now be barred from holding official positions within the Russian Federation. In addition, 25 years of Russian residency will be required of anyone running for President instead of the current 10. This may seem like a minor change, but it is causing Russia’s fifth-columnists and members of the liberal opposition to tear their hair out while gnashing their teeth because most of the current ones will be automatically disqualified from holding office while any future ones will be forced to choose between serving Russia and having a bug-out plan. More specifically, given their new outsider status, their Western masters will consider them useless and will no longer funnel funds to them or offer them free regime change training. This approach is sure to be more effective than the current, more labor-intensive one of playing whack-a-mole with foreign-financed NGOs and foreign agents attempting to infiltrate Russia’s government. Personally, I’ll miss having some of these miscreants around. They have provided quite a bit of entertainment, adding an element of stark raving lunacy to what is otherwise a rather stolid and detail-oriented political process.

• The State Council, which until now has been an extraconstitutional advisory body, will now be written into the Constitution and endowed with certain constitutional prerogatives. Perhaps that is where Putin will move to once his current term as President expires, there to serve as an elder statesman and an arbiter between various levels and branches of government. The State Council could plug a major gap that currently exists between the federal and the regional levels. There are numerous problems that cannot be addressed effectively at the regional level but, given the vastness of the land, cannot be addressed effectively at the federal level either. It may also provide for a smoother transition to life after Putin, similar to what Kazakhstan has recently achieved, with Nursultan Nazarbayev stepping down as president and moving to the Security Council.

• Other bits and pieces to be written into the Russian Constitution have to do with fleshing out the definition of the Russian Federation as a “social state.” Russia, as a sovereign entity, has a specific purpose: to serve and insure the welfare of its citizens, as already enshrined in Article 7: “1. The Russian Federation is a social state whose policy is aimed at creating conditions for a worthy life and the free development of the population. 2. The labor and health of population shall be protected, guaranteed minimum wages and salaries shall be established, state support ensured to the family, maternity, paternity and childhood, to disabled persons and the elderly, a system of social services developed, and state pensions, allowances and other social security guarantees shall be established.”

So far so good, but a bit vague. Proposed changes will insure that incomes and pensions are such that everybody has decent living conditions. There are also proposed legislative changes to what’s called “maternal capital” to make having more than two children financially attractive. The demographic situation in Russia is not as dire as it was in the 1990s, and certainly a lot less dire than in Western Europe whose native populations are rapidly going extinct, but the fact remains that to achieve its stated goals Russia is going to need a lot more Russians. The Russian government has the money to spend on these initiatives, and getting the job done is largely a matter of lighting a fire under the federal and regional bureaucracies. Spelling out the social guarantees right in the Constitution is a good way to make that happen.

Putin proposed that the constitutional changes be voted for in a referendum. Beyond the procedural nicety and the legitimizing effect of this exercise, it is sure to stimulate a lot more public interest and civic participation, making it more likely that the ever foot-dragging Russian bureaucrats (in the more remote regions especially) will be prevailed upon to act swiftly to enact the changes.

This is all quite positive, yet, as you might have suspected, there is still something left for me to criticize. There are three elements which I believe are missing from the proposed constitutional changes: titular nation status for Russians, their right of return, and right of self-determination for long-term de facto independent regions.

First, Russians are a nation without a homeland. If this sounds bizarre, that’s because it is. Within the Russian Constitution, there are just two uses of the word “Russian”: “Russian Federation” (which is defined as a “multinational state,” and “Russian language,” which is its official language alongside numerous others, but there is no mention of “Russian people.” Ethnic Russians make up roughly two-thirds of the population, yet no part of the Russian Federation, nor the entirety of it, is properly theirs.

Compare that to the Jews: not only do they have the State of Israel, which is defined as a “Jewish state,” but they also have the Jewish Autonomous Region within the Russian Federation to return to if the Israeli experiment doesn’t work out (again). Birobidzhan (the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region) is a whole lot nicer than Babylon, and its ruler, Alexander Levintal, an economics professor and a native son, is a whole lot nicer than King Nebuchadnezzar was.

Part of this dismissive attitude toward Russians is a legacy of the Russian Revolution. The communist revolutionaries, Lenin and Trotsky especially, saw the Russian people as a pile of kindling to throw under the bonfire of world revolution, were biased in favor of various other ethnic groups and battled against “Russian chauvinism.” Stalin swiftly fell off the world revolution bandwagon, but then Bolshevist Russophobia raised its ugly head again under Khrushchev and Brezhnev. Since a lot of the Russian leadership from the 1990s, when the current constitution was drafted, got their start in the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, this same attitude prevailed.

Another aspect that influenced the decision to exclude all mention of Russians from the Russian Constitution has to do with well-founded fear of Russian ethnic nationalism. Nationalism is indeed an ugly and fantastically destructive phenomenon, as evidenced by the extreme nationalistic chauvinism currently on display in a number of former East Block countries, including the Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The Ukraine, with its Nazi parades, is beyond horrible, but even Belarus, whose population is pretty much just plain Russian, has its lunatic fringe of nationalist extremists doing their best to muddy the waters. Within the Russian Federation there was once a nationalist movement, but it was quashed. Last I checked, some of its more radicalized members were still serving out long prison sentences for extremist activities.

With the communist internationalist ideology dead as a doornail, and the nationalist threat within Russia now very much under control, it is perhaps time to address the bizarre problem of Russians being a nation without a homeland—by writing the Russians as the titular nation of the entire Russian Federation into the Russian Constitution. Some mention of Russian culture would be helpful as well. Russian is recognized as the common, official language, but without being informed by Russian culture, developed over a thousand years, it is bound to become just a bunch of Cyrillic characters, and the resulting level of common discourse is going to be rather low.

With that done, the next natural step is to recognize, directly within the Russian Constitution, the right of return, which is a principle recognized in international law and enshrined in international conventions. Within Russian law it is currently provided for in an ad hoc manner by a combination of administrative laws and direct presidential orders—for instance, granting special privileges to Russians within the Ukraine or Belarus while denying those same rights to Russians living elsewhere. Sure enough, half a million people from these two countries have received Russian passports since these privileges were enacted.

This ad hoc approach is warranted given the dire situation of Russians in Eastern Ukraine, but in general the right of return should be granted based on who people are, not on where they happen to reside. Granting this right to the entirety of the huge Russian diaspora, which was partly created when the USSR broke up, stranding many Russians on the wrong side of some entirely artificial Soviet administrative boundary that instantly became an international border, and partly as a result of a huge outflow of emigrants during the economically and socially disastrous 1990s, would help solve Russia’s demographic deficit.

The last, and perhaps the most controversial suggestion I would like to make is to consider defining lawful, constitutional procedures for political self-determination, which is likewise an internationally recognized legal principle. The borders of the Russian Federation are, in some cases, the end product of a series of errors made during the Soviet era. During the post-Soviet era some of these have been remedied, after a fashion, and the regions in question have become de facto independent: Transnistria split off from Moldova and has been de facto independent for 28 years; Abkhazia from Georgia for 26 years; South Ossetia from Georgia for 12; Donetsk and Lugansk from the Ukraine for six. In many ways they have already been functioning as parts of the Russian Federation. But there is no constitutional mechanism for resolving this situation de jure by allowing them to determine their status in accordance with international law and to petition the Russian Federation for incorporation.

When it comes to questions of self-determination, double standards abound. When Kosovo seceded from Serbia, no specific democratic procedures were followed, yet no questions were asked or even allowed. But when Crimea voted overwhelmingly to secede from the Ukraine and rejoin Russia, this was considered to be illegal and resulted in international sanctions that are in place to this day. Given the extreme level of rancor on this issue internationally, this may be an extreme stretch goal, but at some point a solution will have to be arrived at for adjudicating the status of territories that have been de facto independent for decades, and for their subsequent entirely voluntary inclusion in the Russian Federation.

New Decade, New Rules


[Nueva década, nuevas reglas]
Decadal boundaries are arbitrary things untethered to any physical phenomena other than the usual boring changing of the seasons. But just two weeks into the new decade the atmosphere seems different from the past decade, and it has been difficult for me just to keep up with the sweeping changes that are taking place, never mind analyze them. Yet write I must, because not only is the mass media completely useless at best and harmful at worst, but also even the more enlightened and independent-minded commentators seem mired in paradigms that are out of date and reliant on invalidated political and economic assumptions. This prompts me to step into the breach and try to set things straight.

Here is a quick list of what’s new so far this decade:

• If you want to blow up a US military base in the Middle East, or anywhere else for that matter, just go ahead. Nothing will happen to you. Just be sure to warn them first, so that they can evacuate or hide in bomb shelters. If you don’t have diplomatic channels to the US, just ask the Swiss for help. Don’t worry about US air defense systems—they don’t have any. But don’t get carried away, because the point of the exercise is to provide a teachable moment.

• As a corollary to this point, if you happen to be a US drone operator, your job is no longer as safe as playing a video game (in which you assassinate some folks). This realization has probably caused some US drone operators to soil their diapers and to then seek psychological counseling, in the course of which they may be told that mass murder is bad for their karma. Let the healing begin!

• If you are a sovereign nation and happen to have some US military bases on your territory that you want gone, that’s now doable. But you can’t just tell the Yankees to go home; you also have to pay them something, so be prepared for some heavy haggling. If this bargaining doesn’t go well for them, it may be followed by depression, which may or may not be followed by acceptance—because depression can be the permanent end-state of the grieving process.

• If you want to assassinate public officials who are traveling abroad on official business and under diplomatic immunity, that’s still totally illegal and a war crime—unless they happen to be US officials, in which case I guess it would be fine—since the US Attorney General William Barr (and former defense attorney to pedophile extraordinaire Jeffrey Epstein) said that it’s perfectly legal (though morally repugnant, I hasten to add).

• If you are the US military, don’t assume that you can fly missions from your foreign military bases, even if they are on the territory of a NATO ally—and especially if that ally is NATO’s number two Turkey. Specifically, don’t assume that you can run your political assassination missions from Turkey’s Incirlik airbase. The Turks are now armed with Russian air defense systems and will knock you out of the sky faster than you can say “no-fly zone.”

• If you are a US military contractor, you can breathe a sigh of relief because it no longer matters whether the weapons systems you build are any good, work at all, or are useful for any stated or unstated purpose. Their excellence is evaluated based on just one parameter: how expensive they are. The US military is the most expensive in the world, ergo, it is the best, no annoying questions allowed. The House of Representatives recently voted to forbid military action against Iran, which is like having bees vote against honey. But apparently the new rules are such that the legislators will get their campaign contribution kickbacks from the defense contractors even if the weapons don’t get used. Some of them will be sold to the hopeless Saudis (who last year beat their own record on beheadings) and buried in the sand; some to assorted NATO vassals. The new modus operandi for the US military is “Let’s not and say we did.”

• Boeings, 737 MAX’s especially, have been known to crash whenever somebody sneezes. More recently, Boeing executives have also been going sky-diving sans golden parachutes. And we now have two cases of Boeings crashing for political rather than mechanical reasons; Malaysian Airlines MH17 over Ukraine was one case; and now Ukraine International Airlines PS752 over Iran is another. My working theory is that this 737-800 was a zombie. It got hacked and flown by remote control: transponder was turned off, radio was turned off, then it executed an inexplicable banking turn to starboard and toward restricted airspace over Teheran. And then it was shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile. Nothing else matches the facts so far, but I’ll wait for the results of the investigation. The new rule is: if you can’t win diplomatically and can’t compete militarily, then try to cause a minor humanitarian disaster and prepare to make hay politically. But please, people, don\’t get caught concocting your fake news narratives while the plane is still in the air!

• If your country has been in the grip of a civil war and you want to end it, you need to go straight to Moscow and talk to Putin. Be it Libya, or Syria, or Afghanistan, or Iraq, Moscow is where Western foreign policy errors get straightened out. You can still fly to New York (provided you can get a visa) but then you’ll be forced to sit through endless meetings at the UN and listen to Americans bloviating about “freedom and democracy” while nothing gets done. Geneva is still a fine destination in case you are shopping for a high-quality wristwatch. For everything else, there is Moscow. If you want quick results, leave the Americans completely out of the loop.

• If you are a former industrial power that has squandered its resources on solar panels and wind generators while shutting down your coal-fired power plants (to avoid a potential 4±15ºC global average temperature rise by 2100) as well as your nuclear power plants (because of Fukushima) you need to go to Moscow as well. To smooth out the ragged, intermittent power output from sun and wind you’ll need lots of cheap natural gas imports, and here Russia’s Gazprom is your friend. (The +4ºC is from the IPCC consensus estimate, and ±15ºC is the size of the error bars on that number based on standard error propagation analysis of errors on current climate measurements; so, yeah, it could be +19ºC, or it could be ‑11ºC, or anything in between—take your pick!—though ±19ºC doesn’t look physically possible while ‑11ºC would put us in the middle of the next hundred-thousand-year glaciation cycle.) Your other option is to wait for your “renewables” to get worn out, then reread printouts of this article by candlelight while gently weeping.

• Back on Planet Earth during the 2020s, the US is looking quite comparable to the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD, during which the legionnaires were being paid in copper coin instead of silver and were being awarded farmland that had been overrun by barbarians while the populace subsisted on bread and circuses (in the case of the US, that’s beer, cannabis/opiates and television/internet porn). Living very far beyond its means, the US takes on 3.5 units of new debt for each unit of GDP it produces. Half of the US population spends more than it earns. This shall not last! Already, in what’s looking like a rerun of the Great Depression, hundreds of thousands are living on the streets; this looks like a major trend. Looking at the West more broadly, young people around the world are not particularly drawn to its combination of gay pride and Sharia law (here’s where we cross-dress and prance around waving the rainbow flag, and here’s where we gang-rape virgins and flog people for sodomy and adultery). This shall not last either.

I hope that you will find these thumbnail sketches of our new reality helpful. I’ll be doing my best to unfold them into more full-blown analyses in the coming weeks. Given the pace of change so far this decade, it’s going to be difficult to keep up, but I’ll try.

Donnie Walks off the Reservation


Until now, Donnie Trump, Putin’s man in Washington, has been more or less doing as he has been told. Since he is due to be reelected later this year, now is a good time to evaluate his performance so far, and I am sure that his Kremlin report card shows his overall grade as “acceptable.” Here are some of his most notable achievements, listed in no particular order:

• He has steered trade negotiations with China into a cul de sac where the Chinese basically do whatever they want while the US pays them ever more for the privilege of importing their products. So far, his “art of the deal” has only driven up Chinese imports, along with the trade deficit, and there is no reason to think that this will change.

• He has pushed the already wobbly Federal Reserve into another cul de sac: it can’t raise interest rates without bankrupting lots of US companies and crashing the stock market, and it can’t lower them without triggering a bond crisis and crashing the US dollar.

• His erratic pronouncements on the uselessness of NATO have turned them into a self-fulfilling prophesy, to a point where Turkey is now a NATO member in name only while the Ukraine, which has stupidly written the goal of NATO membership directly into its constitution, is now reduced to crying over spilled ink.

• He has cleverly used the Syrian Kurds to demonstrate to the world the value of US friendship by throwing them under Syrian tanks at a moment’s notice while giving them the option to surrender to the dread Syrian dictator Bashar Assad (which they did).

• He has cleverly subverted his own slogan “Make America Great Again,” reinterpreting “America” to just mean “the stock market”—which is indeed great, at the moment, but can become not at all great moments after somebody somewhere flips the wrong switch.

• He has masterfully played to the ancient horrors that haunt the US constitution, driving a wedge between the liberal and populous Blue states and the mostly empty conservative Red ones, where the Reds get the Senate, the Executive and the Supreme Court, the popular vote be damned, while the Blues get the consolation prize of a madhouse House of Representatives.

• And throughout, Donnie has been able to maintain plausible deniability, like a good Russian agent should, causing his political enemies to make fools of themselves and develop aneurisms while passing toothless impeachment resolutions.

Given this legacy of success, Donnie can easily coast to reelection, then sit pretty for another four years, watching the country burn, tweeting sporadically to clean up on insider trading (legal if you are Prezz) and playing plenty of golf.

But lately there has been trouble in paradise.

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Predictions for the 2020s


While many commentators see it fit to publish their predictions for the year ahead, I find a single year to be too fine-grained for any meaningful forecast. For me, plus or minus five years is about the right size of the error bars to place on any prediction with regard to timing, making it possible to time any major change to within a couple of decades. And it just so happens that another decade has gone by since I published my last set of predictions for the United States in the 2010s and it is therefore time to come up with a new set, for the 2020s.

My last set of predictions worked out moderately well. Although in some cases the process has not run its course, the trends are all unmistakable and the processes I outlined should be expected to continue and in some cases to run to completion within the new decade. But this time around I will attempt to make more specific predictions.

With regard to economics, something is bound to snap, possibly quite early in the decade, and color the rest of it. There is a growing disconnect between the financial economy, which functions based on rules that people can, and do, make up as they go along, and the physical economy of mining, manufacturing and logistics. There is no reason to particularly trust official statistics with regard to economic growth, unemployment, inflation, stock market valuations: these are all clever forgeries. A sufficiently bubbly stock market or real estate market can be maintained by suitably huge injections of fake money conjured into existence and handed out to key insiders. But if we look at how much stuff gets made and shipped, how much new public infrastructure gets built, and other such physical factors, we can already observe steady deterioration.

While finance types and economists, who deal in dimensionless quantities identified by quasi-religious mystical symbols such as $, €, ¥ and £, toil tirelessly to maintain a fake Potemkin village façade of a thriving economy, no such theatrical suspension of disbelief is possible when looking at tonnes, cubic meters or kilowatt-hours. A bunch of ruthless financial swindlers teamed up with pointy-hatted economists spend their days reasoning circularly about price determining value determining price while resolutely confusing money creation with wealth creation. Meanwhile, a shrinking physical economy obscured by runaway debt remains on a collision course with reality; once the collision takes place, the result will be similar to what happened during the financial collapse of 2007-8, except that the desperate financial manipulations that were then used to arrest it will no longer work at all and the physical economy, which is already languishing, will grind to a halt.

A particular canary in the coal mine is likely be the fracking industry. It never really made any money, but it did win the US a reprieve from the ravages of Peak Oil. And now production from fracked wells is peaking, depletion rates are going up, fracking companies are going bankrupt and the newly drilled wells are less oily and more gassy, with the gas not particularly high-quality or valuable. At some point during this decade the US will again be forced to rely on importing most of its oil and gas. Meanwhile, any attempt at a Green New Deal to decarbonize the US economy will result in a cost structure for electricity and transportation that will make virtually every kind of industrial production noncompetitive, as has already happened everywhere this has been tried, including the UK and Germany.

Another canary may turn out to be the market for US treasury debt. As the US shipped its industry overseas and replaced industrial production with a service economy of overpriced lawyers, doctors and dentists, lots of swindles in real state, finance, retirement planning, insurance and education, plus lots of underpaid baristas, dog groomers and yoga instructors, an unwritten rule was that the trading partners, who now make all the stuff the US has to import, will invest their trade surplus in US treasury debt, making it possible for the US to continue to get something for nothing. But lately China, Russia and other countries have started selling off their hoard of US debt and instead using their ever-growing trade surpluses to stimulate their export industries and to provide import credits to their more solvent new partners among the developing countries. This development is pushing the Federal Reserve in the direction of direct debt monetization, which is sort of illegal for it to do, but it can easily get around this restriction by lying about it. Direct debt monetization has a pronounced tendency to result in hyperinflation, especially in a country such as the US, which is running staggeringly huge budget and trade deficits. This particular canary suffered a coronary arrest during the REPO crisis in September 2019, and the Federal Reserve has been keeping it on life support ever since.

With regard to military matters, it seems safe to declare that by the end of the 2020s the US empire will be definitively over. It is already the case that the US can no longer even threaten a long list of countries, especially those armed with Russia’s new air defense systems which can establish no-fly zones for US aircraft, while the US military cannot function at all if it is denied air superiority. It is also already the case that the entire US aircraft carrier fleet is obsolete and useless because the latest Russian missiles can reliably sink it from greater distances than can be reached by the armaments or the aircraft these aircraft carriers carry.

Add to this the fact that Russia’s latest missiles, which can achieve Mach 20 and which cannot be intercepted using any current or planned missile defense systems, make it possible to take out targets on the US mainland, including the Pentagon itself, should the US ever attack Russia. The US still has nuclear deterrence, plus the ability to cause minor mischief by arming and training terrorist groups around the world, but it is so woefully behind Russia in weapons development that it will probably never catch up in spite of constantly outspending Russia ten-to-one on defense.

Russia’s stance with regard to NATO troops training, preening and posturing provocatively right on Russia’s borders has been largely dismissive. Russia has largely rearmed with new weapons based on new physical principles known only to its scientists, engineers and designers and is now cutting its defense budget while bringing in billions from increased worldwide weapons sales. The US cannot catch up—not due to lack of money (as long as the printing press continues to run) but due to lack of brains.

As the impotence of the US military becomes obvious, the NATO alliance will come apart. Already Turkey, which is NATO’s second-largest member, is barely a member at all and far more interested in cooperating with Russia and Iran on defense matters rather than with the US. In spite of this, the US military-industrial complex will continue its zombie-like existence until the money dries up, at which point my initial prediction of US troops left stranded at a multitude of overseas locations with no resources available to repatriate them will come true.

In the meantime, the US military will do what it can to justify its existence by periodically staging provocations against such small but invincible adversaries as Iran and North Korea while meddling in the politics of the weaker and less stable nations that happen to have resources that US industry wants to “liberate” (be it Venezuelan oil or Bolivian lithium for electric cars). It will repeatedly come nauseatingly close to unleashing an all-out military confrontation but will refuse to commit to one for three excellent reasons.

First, based on all of its recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond, it knows that it cannot win. Second, it knows that it can no longer even fight for any length of time because the industrial base needed to resupply troops in the field no longer exists. Third, it knows that it can no longer protect the US mainland; all it would take is a few rocket attacks to take out the large power line transformers that maintain the electric grid and the oil and gas pipeline pumping stations that provide for the rest of the energy infrastructure and its entire economy would simply stop.

In all, I am optimistic that a large-scale war will be avoided, for the simple fact that wars are fought to be won, not to be lost. If it is immediately obvious that any large-scale military action will reliably result in complete and utter defeat, humiliation and ruin, then it becomes a suicidal move to order that action. In turn, the upper echelons in the military chain of command are not staffed with suicidal types; they didn’t spend half their lives working to get promoted by kissing ass to then turn around and kill themselves. Sure, they will assassinate people and cause humanitarian disasters whenever they feel that they get away with it. But even if their personal risks are low enough to assure them of their own continued physical existence, they will avoid strategies that result in major casualties on the US side, for fear of getting their precious yarbles in a vice politically.

With regard to politics, the US has already stopped functioning. The ruling elite has split up into two warring camps which are now treating each other with the same viciousness, malice and disdain they have previously reserved for foreigners. This development is inevitable: faced with their own full-spectrum failure, the elites have been forced to search for a scapegoat—anybody but their own beloved selves—and have found… each other, of course!

As the warring sides of the ruling elite proceed to gnaw off each others’ faces, various faults enshrined in the US system of governance will come to the forefront and thwart all efforts at making positive changes. Most of the trouble stems from a particular obsolete and faulty document: the US constitution. It allows a president to be elected without gaining a majority at the polls. It also makes it possible for that president’s party to control the upper house of parliament while completely disregarding the interests of the most populous states in favor of the underpopulated hinterland.

Finally, it allows that president to also stack the judiciary with his own people, who can then overrule any legislation based on their creative reinterpretations of any piece of legislation including that same faulty and obsolete constitution. And a particularly insidious bit of English tribal law known as “precedent” means that a law, once broken by a judge (reinterpreted, that is) stays broken. For instance, some judges decided that the 2nd amendment allows people to have firearms in their possession even if they are not part of a state militia, settling the issue in perpetuity. This principle, coupled with the severe shortcomings of the constitution and the system as a whole, results in a tendency to run to the courts to settle any and all disputes, be it an indecisive presidential election or the question of whether one should be allowed to marry one’s Saint Bernard. The result is a gigantic legal Gordian knot knitted together out of a myriad of smaller legal boondoggles.

This flawed constitutional arrangement may have worked before, when the country was more united, had more of a sense of common purpose and destiny, and had a chance at securing positive outcomes for much of its citizenry. But now that none of these wholesome ingredients is available, it provides for maximum political dysfunction at every level of government. Nevertheless, much of the populace in the US still feels that there is something to be achieved by voting, remaining impervious to very simple and well reasoned arguments that the US is not a democracy at all and that it doesn’t matter who is president. Although these words will most likely fall on deaf ears, it bears repeating that the country is going to get flushed down the same golden toilet no matter who is nominally in charge.

Although collapse in the US is yet to run its course, I feel that it is already time to give the United States of America a more appropriate name. After all, it is not the only united states on the American continent: there is also Estados Unidos Mexicanos. This shameful, self-important name-squatting has to come to an end at some point. I therefore propose renaming the USA—perhaps not immediately, but in a decade, maybe two. As its new name I would like to suggest something like the Republic of Deteriorado, Degenerado or Disintegrado. Its national language is likely to become Spanglish. Its national bird already seems to be the extended middle finger. As for its flag, here we can simply observe which flag is considered sufficiently sacred and inviolable to result in jail time for anyone who dares to burn it in public. And it turns out to be the LGBTQ rainbow flag.