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Hidden Agenda Behind Free Trade Deals

“Everyone but China”

by Don Quijones

Wolf Street (October 14 2014)

“Free trade” is at best a misnomer, at worst an oxymoron: these trade pacts contain surprisingly little related to trade. So, what are they really about?

On Saturday, people hit the streets of Europe to protest the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Deal (TTIP), a hyper-secret, so-called “free” trade agreement that aims to bind together two of the world’s biggest markets that together represent more than 800 million consumers and 45% of global trade.

But “free trade” is at best a misnomer, at worst an oxymoron: TTIP contains surprisingly little related to trade, as Ben Beachy of the Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch explains {1}:

In the TPP deal (DQ: TPP stands for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is currently stalled in the US Congress but which Obama seeks to revive {2} during the lame duck session) … only five of 29 chapters have anything to do with what is traditionally defined as trade (that is customs, tariffs and other barriers to trade). [Most are] so-called “non-traditional” trade issues, which would include, for example, the right of a corporation to have a monopoly patent over some drug that it produces, a right that is fundamentally antithetical to free trade.

Indeed, what gets rarely mentioned in the debate is the fact that trade between the US and Europe has never been freer, with the average tariff between the two regions already as low of three percent. Which begs the question: why the sudden need for a new, game-changing transatlantic trade agreement? Especially when you take into account that the TTIP is forecast (by a study commissioned by the European Commission, no less) to provide a paltry 0.1% boost to economic growth in Europe …  over a ten-year-period –  the equivalent of a rounding error!

So, if it’s not about trade, what is the TTIP really about? As I previously reported {3, 4}, one of the primary goals of 21st century trade deals like TTIP is to enshrine into law the corporate takeover of the political, cultural, economic, financial, agricultural, scientific, digital and public space, as well as remove any remaining barriers on the ability of multinational corporations to exploit the world’s resources –  including, of course, its human resources.

But that’s just part of the story, albeit a very important one. There is also a more subtle agenda at work: namely to secure Western domination of the global economy and geopolitical landscape for the foreseeable future.

To achieve that goal, the US and its allies have just one trick left up their sleeve: launching the mother of all trade wars.

EBC: “Everyone but China”

It’s no secret that the Western power complex is growing desperate, with the accelerating de-dollarization of international trade taking its toll, and the slow motion collapse of Europe’s economy. In 2012, the US National Intelligence Council (NIC) presented a devastating outlook on the future of US and European power in world affairs, concluding that “by 2030, no matter the power index, developing states will overtake developed states”.

When it says “developing states”, the NIC has one particular state in mind: China. By far the biggest beneficiary of global trade in the last thirty years (most of it thanks to US corporations’ offshoring of manufacturing), China has now outgrown its purpose. Even at the corporate level, China is bossing the ring {5}, boasting the world’s three biggest public companies and five of the top ten. By contrast, Europe –  officially the world’s biggest market –  couldn’t muster a single spot in the top ten, with its two biggest companies, Shell and HSBC, slipping to eleventh and fourteenth place, respectively.

Granted, there’s still a fair chance that China will fail to consolidate its ascendance, especially given the daunting economic, political, social, environmental and demographic challenges it faces. But the Asian behemoth, with its massive export market and 1.3-billion-strong internal market, represents by far the greatest threat to US global dominance.

In order to counter that threat, the US and its “allies” have decided, it seems, to isolate China, first from its own back yard (through the TPP and, of course, the US Pentagon’s “Asian Pivot”), then from the West (through the TTIP and TISA), and ultimately from the rest. In the words of Timothy Garton Ash, a British historian, and strong advocate of global “free” trade [It's worth noting that he's also a board member of the European Council on Foreign Relations]:

One way of thinking about [TTIP and TPP] is to see it as the Widest West Web, though the definition of the west [as includes] Japan, Peru, Brunei and Vietnam is wide indeed. Another way to describe it is EBC: Everyone But China.

In sum, as the Dutch think tank and diplomatic academy Clingendael {6} puts it, the new geopolitical formula would look like this: TTIP + TPP = EBC.

A New World Trade Order?

However, it’s not just China that might be excluded from the “benefits” of this new trade order. So-called “third countries” from around the world could end up losing access to both the European and North American markets. As such, the pressure on these countries – especially small ones – to sign similar such agreements with the EU or the US is almost unbearable.

Take the case of Ecuador, whose left-wing government is now on the verge of signing a “free” trade deal with the EU. It also once scorned the IMF, refusing to pay a significant chunk of its national debt on the grounds that it was illegitimate.

According to President Rafael Correa, in the case of the free trade deal with the EU, his government has little choice in the matter. With its direct neighbours to the North and South (Columbia, Peru and Chile) already full-fledged members of the Pacific Alliance –  a mini-Latin American Union that is widely seen as a precursor to the Trans Pacific Partnership and which already enjoys strong bilateral ties with the EU – Ecuador stood to lose a great deal of its current trade with the EU due to the preferential conditions enjoyed by its neighbours.

The EU brought to bear every pound of its diplomatic weight on negotiations. “Ecuador has no choice but to sign the agreement. Otherwise it will end up isolated”, warned the European Commission’s chief negotiator, Peter Thompson, in one of a series of diplomatic cables recently leaked to the Spanish daily El Diario {7}. The leaks also show that the EU threatened to withdraw vital development aid from Ecuador in the event that Rafael Correa’s government refused to sign the treaty. It also demanded that Ecuador withdraw its application to join Mercosur, Latin America’s largest trade bloc.

Countries around the world face the same existential dilemma: either sign up to a trade deal that goes against their basic national interest, threatening to transfer what remains of their sovereignty into the hands of a Global Corporatocracy still dominated by North American and European companies (accounting for 1,135 of Fortune‘s Global 2,000); or risk eternal isolation from two of the world’s biggest markets?

For decades now, the rulers of the West, with the US in the driver’s seat, have slowly, incrementally, almost imperceptibly reconfigured the global economic landscape. Not a single one of us has been consulted along the way. As the first general secretary of the World Trade Organization, Renato Ruggiero, said in 1996,

We are no longer writing the rules of interaction among separate national economies. We are writing the constitution of a single global economy.

That constitution of which Ruggiero speaks, and with which our leaders seek to supplant our respective national constitutions, protects the exclusive rights of only one type of citizen – the multinational corporation. And the economy it enshrines into law is an economy in which increasingly the rest of us have little or no place.


Meet the secretive powers behind the trade negotiations that, beyond any democratic controls, attempt to rewrite US and EU laws and regulations to their liking. Read {8}.











Don Quijones is a freelance writer, translator in Barcelona, Spain and editor at Wolf Street. Mexico is his country-in-law.  Raging Bull-Shit {9} is his modest attempt to scrub away the lathers of soft soap peddled by political and business leaders and their loyal mainstream media. This article is a Wolf Street exclusive.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Lie Machine

2014/10/18 1 comment

by Paul Craig Roberts

Institute for Political Economy (October 11 2014)

I have come to the conclusion that the West is a vast lie machine for the secret agendas of vested interests. Consider, for example, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (“TTIP”) and the Transpacific Trade and Investment Partnership (“TPP”).

These so-called “partnerships” are in fact vehicles by which US corporations make themselves immune to the sovereign laws of foreign countries in which they do business. A sovereign country that attempts to enforce its laws against an American corporation can be sued by the corporation for “restraint of trade”. For example, if Monsanto wants to sell GMO seeds in France or US corporations wish to sell genetically-modified foods in France, and France enforces its laws against GMOs, the Transatlantic Trade Partnership allows France to be sued in jurisdictions outside the courts of France for “restraint of trade”. In other words, preventing the entry into France of a prohibited product constitutes restraint of trade.

This is the reason that the US has insisted that the Transatlantic and Transpacific Partnerships be totally secretive and negotiated outside the democratic process. Not even the US Congress has been permitted knowledge of the negotiations.

Obviously, the Europeans and Asians who are agreeing with the terms of these “partnerships” are the bought-and-paid-for agents of the US corporations. If the partnerships go through, the only law in Europe and Asia will be US law. The European and Asian government officials who agree to the hegemony of US corporations over the laws of their countries will be so handsomely paid that they could enter the realm of the One Percent.

It is interesting to compare the BBC‘s coverage (October 10) with that of RT (October 11). The BBC reports that the aim of the Transatlantic Partnership is to remove “barriers to bilateral commerce” and to stimulate more trade and investment, economic growth and employment. The BBC does not report that the removal of barriers includes barriers against GMO products.

Everyone knows that the European Commission is corrupt. Who would be surprised if its members hope to be enriched by the American corporations? Little wonder the European Commission declared that concerns that the Transatlantic partnership would impact the sovereignty of countries is misplaced.  {1}

RT, which is restrained in reporting truth because it operates inside the US, still manages to come to the point in its headline:

No TTIP: Mass protests slam US-EU trade deal as “Corporate power grab”.

All over Europe people are in the streets in mass rallies against secret agreements by their corrupt governments for Washington to take over their lives and businesses. RT reports that

… social networks have been mobilized for a mass campaign that has been calling on Europeans and Americans to take action against “the biggest corporate power grab in a decade”.

RT quotes a leader of the demonstration in Berlin who says the secret agreements “give corporations more rights they’ve ever had in history”. As we all know, corporations already have too many rights.

Protests are planned in 22 countries across Europe – marches, rallies and other public events – in over 1,000 locations in UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Greece, Netherlands, Poland, The Czech Republic and Scandinavian countries.

Did you hear about this latest American corporate power grab from Fox “News”, CNN, New York Times, London Times, ABC? Of course not. Did you hear about the massive protests against it? Of course not. You only hear what the interest groups permit you to hear.

RT reports that the main aim of the international protests is “to reclaim democracy” and to put an end to the secret deals that are destroying life for everyone but the American corporations, organizations now regarded worldwide as the epitome of evil. {2}

These phony “trade agreements” are advocated as “free trade removal of tariffs”, but what they remove are the sovereignties of countries. America is already ruled by corporations. If these faux “trade agreements” go through, Europe and Asia will also be ruled by American corporations.

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Copyright (c) 2013 All rights reserved.

Categories: Uncategorized

​The Saudi Oil War …

… Against Russia, Iran and the US

by Pepe Escobar Op-Edge (October 15 2014)

Saudi Arabia has unleashed an economic war against selected oil producers. The strategy masks the House of Saud’s real agenda. But will it work?

Rosneft Vice President Mikhail Leontyev:

Prices can be manipulative … Saudi Arabia has begun making big discounts on oil. This is political manipulation, and Saudi Arabia is being manipulated, which could end badly {1}.

A correction is in order: the Saudis are not being manipulated. What the House of Saud is launching is “Tomahawks of spin”, insisting they’re okay with oil at $90 a barrel; also at $80 for the next two years; and even at $50 to $60 for Asian and North American clients {2}.

The fact is Brent crude had already fallen to below $90 a barrel because China –  and Asia as a whole –  was already slowing down economically, although to a lesser degree compared to the West. Production, though, remained high –  especially by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait – even with very little Libyan and Syrian oil on the market and with Iran forced to cut exports by a million barrels a day because of the US economic war, aka sanctions.

The House of Saud is applying a highly predatory pricing strategy, which boils down to reducing market share of its competitors, in the middle- to long-term. At least in theory, this could make life miserable for a lot of players –  from the US (energy development, fracking and deepwater drilling become unprofitable) to producers of heavy, sour crude such as Iran and Venezuela. Yet the key target, make no mistake, is Russia.

A strategy that simultaneously hurts Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, Ecuador and Russia cannot escape the temptation of being regarded as an “Empire of Chaos” power play, as in Washington cutting a deal with Riyadh. A deal would imply bombing ISIS/ISIL/Daesh leader Caliph Ibrahim is just a prelude to bombing Bashar al-Assad’s forces; in exchange, the Saudis squeeze oil prices to hurt the enemies of the “Empire of Chaos”.

Yet it’s way more complicated than that.

Sticking it to Washington

Russia’s state budget for 2015 requires oil at least at $100 a barrel. Still, the Kremlin is borrowing no more than $7 billion in 2015 from the usual “foreign investors”, plus $27.2 billion internally. Hardly an economic earthquake.

Besides, the ruble has already fallen over fourteen percent since July against the US dollar. By the way, the currencies of key BRICS members have also fallen; 7.8 percent for the Brazilian real, 1.6 percent for the Indian rupee. And Russia, unlike the Yeltsin era, is not broke; it holds at least $455 billion in foreign reserves.

The House of Saud’s target of trying to bypass Russia as a top supplier of oil to the EU is nothing but a pipe dream; EU refineries would have to be reframed to process Saudi light crude, and that costs a fortune.

Geopolitically, it gets juicier when we see that central to the House of Saud strategy is to stick it to Washington for not fulfilling its “Assad must go” promise, as well as the neo-con obsession in bombing Iran. It gets worse (for the Saudis) because Washington –  at least for now –  seems more concentrated in toppling Caliph Ibrahim than Bashar al-Assad, and might be on the verge of signing a nuclear deal with Tehran as part of the P5+1 on November 24 {3}.

On the energy front, the ultimate House of Saud nightmare would be both Iran and Iraq soon being able to take over the Saudi status as key swing oil producers in the world. Thus the Saudi drive to deprive both of much-needed oil revenue. It might work –  as in the sanctions biting Tehran even harder. Yet Tehran can always compensate by selling more gas to Asia.

So here’s the bottom line. A beleaguered House of Saud believes it may force Moscow to abandon its support of Damascus, and Washington to scotch a deal with Tehran. All this by selling oil below the average spot price. That smacks of desperation. Additionally, it may be interpreted as the House of Saud dithering if not sabotaging the coalition of the cowards/clueless in its campaign against Caliph Ibrahim’s goons.

Compounding the gloom, the EU might be allowed to muddle through this winter –  even considering possible gas supply problems with Russia because of Ukraine. Still, low Saudi oil prices won’t prevent a near certain fourth recession in six years just around the EU corner.

Go East, Young Russian

Russia, meanwhile, slowly but surely looks East. China’s Vice Premier Wang Yang has neatly summarized it; “China is willing to export to Russia such competitive products as agricultural goods, oil and gas equipment, and is ready to import Russian engineering products”. Couple that with increased food imports from Latin America, and it doesn’t look like Moscow is on the ropes.

A hefty Chinese delegation led by Premier Li Keqiang has just signed a package of deals in Moscow ranging from energy to finance, and from satellite navigation to high-speed rail cooperation. For China, which overtook Germany as Russia’s top trading partner in 2011, this is pure win-win {4}.

The central banks of China and Russia have just signed a crucial, three-year, 150 billion yuan bilateral local-currency swap deal. And the deal is expandable. The City of London basically grumbles {5} – but that’s what they usually do.

This new deal, crucially, bypasses the US dollar. No wonder it’s now a key component of the no holds barred proxy economic war between the US and Asia. Moscow cannot but hail it as sidelining many of the side effects of the Saudi strategy.

The Russia-China strategic partnership has been on the up and up since the “epochal” (Putin’s definition) $400 billion, thirty-year “gas deal of the century” clinched in May {6}. And the economic reverberations won’t stop.

There’s bound to be an alignment of the Chinese-driven New Silk Roads with a revamped Trans-Siberian railway {7}. At the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit last month in Dushanbe, President Putin praised the “great potential” of developing a “common SCO transport system” linking “Russia’s Trans-Siberian railway and the Baikal-Amur mainline” with the Chinese Silk Roads, thus “benefiting all countries in Eurasia”.

Moscow is progressively lifting restrictions and is now offering Beijing a wealth of potential investments. Beijing is progressively accessing not only much-needed Russian raw materials but acquiring cutting-edge technology and advanced weapons.

Beijing will get S-400 missile systems and Su-35 fighter jets as soon as the first quarter of 2015. Further on down the road will come Russia’s brand new submarine, the Amur 1650, as well as components for nuclear-powered satellites.

The Road is Paved with Yuan

Presidents Putin and Xi, who have met no less than nine times since Xi came to power last year, are scaring the hell out of the “Empire of Chaos”. No wonder; their number one shared priority is to dent the hegemony of the US dollar –  and especially the petrodollar – in the global financial system.

The yuan has been trading on the Moscow Exchange – the first bourse outside of China to offer regulated yuan trading. It’s still at only $1.1 billion (in September). Russian importers pay for eight percent of all Chinese goods with yuan instead of dollars, but that’s rising fast. And it will rise exponentially when Moscow finally decides to accept yuan under Gazprom’s $400 billion “gas deal of the century”.

This is the way the multipolar world goes. The House of Saud deploys the petrodollar weapon? The counterpunch is increased trade in a basket of currencies. Additionally, Moscow sends a message to the EU, which is losing a lot of Russia trade because of counter-productive sanctions, thus accelerating the EU’s next recession. Economic war does work both ways.

The House of Saud believes it can dump a tsunami of oil in the market and back it up with a tsunami of spin –  creating the illusion the Saudis control oil prices. They don’t. As much as this strategy will fail, Beijing is showing the way out; trading in other currencies stabilizes prices. The only losers, in the end, will be those who stick to trade in US dollars.










Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT and TomDispatch, and a frequent contributor to websites and radio shows ranging from the US to East Asia.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Categories: Uncategorized


Iran, Russia Planning to Establish Joint Bank

by Press TV

Global Research (October 13 2014)

Iran and Russia plan to establish a joint bank as an effort to multiply bilateral trade and bypass sanctions on the Islamic Republic’s banking sector.

Head of the Iran-Russia Joint Chamber of Commerce Asadollah Asgaroladi said that Tehran and Moscow are studying the possibilities of opening a new chapter in trade relations that could break the domination of Western currencies over bilateral exchanges.

“Since Russian banks fear the implications of working with Iran due to sanctions, we want to establish the joint Iran-Russia bank with the help of our central banks and private sectors”, Asgaroladi said.

“Such a bank would be able to exchange money between the two sides using rials and rubles and put aside dollars, euros and pounds”, he added.

Unilateral sanctions imposed on Iran’s banking sector by the US and the European Union over Tehran’s nuclear energy program and the recent Western bans against Russia over Ukraine have prompted the two countries’ trade officials to boost economic cooperation.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have held four meetings on different occasions after the Iranian president took office in 2013.

“We are responsible for our nation’s prosperity. Before the sanctions, we had 150 billion euros of deposits in the banks of West and Europe. When they sanctioned us, we transferred the money to other countries exactly where they don’t want to be”, Asgaroladi said.

Iran’s Minister of Economy Ali Tayyeb-Nia said the Islamic Republic has already traded with some of its partners through the exchange of national currencies and will welcome the plan to establish the joint bank with Russia.

“I’m glad that our country is less dependent on several currencies and this process will continue in the future”, Tayyeb-Nia said.

In September, Iran and Russia agreed to use national currencies in bilateral trade.

Copyright (c) 2014 Global Research

Categories: Uncategorized

Fighting ISIL is a Smokescreen …

2014/10/17 2 comments

… for US Mobilization against Syria and Iran

by Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya

Strategic Culture Foundation On-Line Journal (September 26 2014)

The ISIL or IS threat is a smokescreen. The strength of the ISIL has deliberately been inflated to get public support for the Pentagon and to justify the illegal bombing of Syria. It has also been used to justify the mobilization of what is looking more and more like a large-scale US-led military buildup in the Middle East. The firepower and military assets being committed go beyond what is needed for merely fighting the ISIL death squads.

While the US has assured its citizens and the world that troops will not be sent on the ground, this is very unlikely. In the first instance, it is unlikely because boots on the ground are needed to monitor and select targets. Moreover, Washington sees the campaign against the ISIL fighters as something that will take years. This is doublespeak. What is being described is a permanent military deployment or, in the case of Iraq, redeployment. This force could eventually morph into a broader assault force threatening Syria, Iran, and Lebanon.

US-Syrian and US-Iranian Security Dialogue?

Before the US-led bombings in Syria started there were unverified reports being circulated that Washington had started a dialogue with Damascus through Russian and Iraqi channels to discuss military coordination and the Pentagon bombing campaign in Syria. There was something very off though. Agents of confusion were at work in an attempt to legitimize the bombardment of the Syrian Arab Republic.

The claims of US-Syrian cooperation via Russian and Iraq channels are part of a sinister series of misinformation and disinformation. Before the claims about US cooperation with Syria, similar claims were being made about US-Iranian cooperation in Iraq.

Earlier, Washington and the US media tried to give the impression that an agreement on military cooperation was made between itself and Tehran to fight ISIL and to cooperate inside Iraq. This was widely refuted in the harshest of words by numerous members of the Iranian political establishment and high-ranking Iranian military commanders as disinformation.

After the Iranians clearly indicated that Washington’s claims were fiction, the US claimed that it would not be appropriate for Iran to join its anti-ISIL coalition. Iran rebutted. Washington was dishonestly misrepresenting the facts, because US officials had asked Tehran to join the anti-ISIL coalition several times.

Before he was discharged from the hospital after a prostate surgery, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest ranking official in Iran, told Iranian television on September 9 2014, that the US had requested that Tehran and Washington cooperate together inside Iraq on three different occasions. He explained that the US ambassador to Iraq had relayed a message to the Iranian ambassador to Iraq to join the US “then, in his own words, the same (John Kerry) – who had said in front of the camera and in front of the eyes of all the world that they do not want Iran to cooperate with them – requested (from) Dr Zarif that Iran cooperate with them on this issue, but Dr Zarif turned this (request) down”.

The third request was made by US Undersecretary Wendy Sherman to Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

Khamenei additionally made it clear that he categorically ruled out any cooperation with Washington on the issue. “On this issue, we will not cooperate with America particularly because their hands are dirty”, he publicly confirmed while explaining that Washington had ill intentions and nefarious designs in Iraq and Syria.

Like Russia, Iran has been supporting Syria and Iraq against ISIL. Also like Moscow, Tehran is committed to fighting it, but will not join Washington’s anti-ISIL coalition.

New Invasion(s) and Regime Change Project(s) in the Pipeline?

As was pointed out on June 20 2014, in Washington’s eyes Nouri Al-Malaki’s federal government in Baghdad had to be removed for refusing to join the US siege against the Syrians, being aligned to Iran, selling oil to the Chinese, and buying weapons from the Russian Federation. Iraq’s decision to be part of an Iran-Iraq-Syria pipeline also undermined the objectives of the US and its allies to control the flow of energy in the Middle East and to obstruct Eurasian integration. {1}

There were also two other unforgivable cardinal sins that Al-Malaki’s government in Baghdad committed in Washington’s eye. These offenses, however, should be put into geopolitical context first.

Remember the post-September 11 2001 (post-9/11) catchphrase of the Bush II Administration during the start of its serial wars? It went like this: “Anyone can go to Baghdad, but real men go to Tehran!”

The point of this warmongering catchphrase is that Baghdad and Damascus have been viewed as pathways for the Pentagon towards Tehran. {2}

Like Syria, Al-Malaki government’s cardinal sins were tied to blocking the pathway to Tehran. Firstly, the Iraqi government evicted the Pentagon from Iraq at the end of 2011, which removed US troops stationed directly on Iran’s western border. Secondly, the Iraqi federal government was working to expel anti-government Iranian militants from Iraq and to close Camp Ashraf, which could be used in a war or regime change operations against Iran.

Ashraf was a base for the military wing of the Iraqi-based Mujahidin-e-Khalq (MEK/MOK/MKO). The MEK is an anti-government Iranian organization that is bent on regime change in Tehran. It has even openly endorsed US-led attacks on Iran and Syria.

Although the US government itself considers the MEK a terrorist organization, Washington began to deepen its ties with the MEK when it and its staunch British allies invaded Iraq. Disingenuously and ironically, the US and Britain used Saddam Hussein’s support for the MEK to justify labeling Iraq as a state-sponsor of terrorism and to also justify the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. Since then the US has been has been nurturing the MEK.

Since 2003, the US has been has been funding the MEK. Washington has been protecting the MEK, because it wants to keep them on a leash as either leverage against Tehran or to have the option of one day installing the MEK into power in Tehran as part of a regime change operation against Iran. The MEK has literally become incorporated into the Pentagon and CIA toolboxes against Tehran. Even when the US transferred control of Camp Ashraf to Baghdad, the Pentagon kept forces inside the MEK camp.

Eventually the MEK forces would mostly be relocated in 2012 to the former US base known as Camp Liberty. Camp Liberty is now called by an Arabic name, Camp Hurriya.

The Istanbul bureau chief of the Christian Science Monitor, Scott Peterson described how US officials began to really put its weight behind the MEK during the start of the Arab Spring in 2011. This is tied to Washington’s regime change dreams. Peterson wrote that US officials “rarely mention the MEK’s violent and anti-American past, and portray the group not as terrorists but as freedom fighters with ‘values just like us’, as democrats-in-waiting ready to serve as a vanguard of regime change in Iran”. {3}

Washington Has Not Abandoned Dreams of Regime Change in Tehran

Is it a coincidence that the US and EU support for the MEK is increasing, especially when the ISIL threat in Iraq began to be noticed publicly?

Six hundred parliamentarians and politicians from mostly NATO countries were flown in for a large MEK gathering in the Parisian northeastern suburb of Villepinte that called for regime change in Iran on June 27 2014. Warmongers and morally bankrupt figures like former US senator Joseph Lieberman, Israeli mouthpiece and apologist Alan Dershowhitz, former Bush II official and Fox News pundit John Bolton, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, and former French Minister and United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNIMIK) chief Bernard Kouchner all met the MEK to promote regime change and war. According to the MEK, over 80, 000 people attended the regime change rally. Supporters of the insurgencies in Iraq and Syria were also present at the Villepinte gathering calling for regime change in Iraq, Syria, and Iran.

The irony is that the money most probably came from the US government itself. US allies probably contributed too. This money has gone to the MEK’s lobbying initiatives with the US Congress and US Department of State, which in effect is recycling the money. People like Ruddy Giuliani  –  probably one of the most hated mayors in the history of New York City until he took advantage of the tragic events of 9/11  –  are now effectively lobbyists for the MEK. “Many of these former high-ranking US officials  –  who represent the full political spectrum  –  have been paid tens of thousands of dollars to speak in support of the MEK”, according to the Christian Science Monitor. {4}

Giuliani has been speaking at MEK events at least as far back as 2010. In 2011, he publicly pushed for regime change in Tehran and Damascus at a MEK gathering. “How about we follow an Arab Spring with a Persian Summer?”, he rhetorically declared. {5} Giuliani’s next sentence revealed just how much of a scion of US foreign policy the initiative to support the MEK truly is: “We need regime change in Iran, more than we do in Egypt or Libya, and just as we need it in Syria”. {6}

Joseph Lieberman’s friend and fellow war advocate Senator John McCain was unable to make the trip to the Parisian suburb in Seine-Saint-Denis, but addressed the regime change gathering via video. Congressman Edward Royce Hello, the chair of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, also showed his support for regime change in Iran through a video message. So did Senator Carl Levin and Senator Robert Menendez.

Large delegations from the US, France, Spain, Canada, and Albania were present. Aside from the aforementioned individuals, other notable American attendees to the June 27 2014 event included the following:

1. Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the lower chamber (House of Representatives) in the bicameral US Congress;

2. John Dennis Hastert; another former speaker of the House of Representatives;

3. George William Casey Junior, who commanded the multinational military force that invaded and occupied Iraq;

4. Hugh Shelton, a computer software executive and former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff;

5. James Conway, the former chief of the US Marine Corps;

6. Louis Freeh, the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI);

7. Lloyd Poe, the US Representative who (1) sits on the US House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats and chairs (2) the US House Subcommittee on Terrorism, Non‐proliferation and Trade;

8. Daniel Davis, a US Representative from Illinois;

9. Loretta Sanchez, a US Representative from California;

10. Michael B Mukasey, a former attorney-general of the US;

11. Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont;

12. William Richardson, the former secretary of the US Department of Energy;

13. Robert Torricelli, a former legislator in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate senator who is the legal representative of the MEK in Iraq;

14. Francis Townsend, former Homeland Security advisor to George W Bush Junior;

15. Linda Chavez, a former chief White House director;

16. Robert Joseph, the former US undersecretary that ran (1) the Bureau of Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, (2) the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, and (3) the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs;

17. Philip Crowley, the former assistant-secretary of state responsible for public affairs;

18. David Phillips, the military police commander who restructured the Iraqi police and was responsible for guarding Camp Ashraf and Saddam Hussein as a prisoner;

19. Marc Ginsberg, the senior vice-president of the public relations firm APCO Worldwide and former US ambassador and US presidential advisor for Middle East policy

Like the US presence, the French presence included officials. Aside from Bernard Kouchner, from France some of the notable attendees were the following individuals:

1. Michele Alliot-Marie, a French politician who among her cabinet portfolios was responsible for the military and foreign affairs at different times;

2. Rama Yade, vice president of the conservative Radical Party of France;

3. Gilbert Mitterrand, the president of the human rights foundation France Libertes, which has focused on ethnic groups such as Kurds, Chechens, and Tibetans;

4. Martin Vallton, the mayor of Villepinte.

From Spain the notable attendees were the following:

1. Pedro Agramunt Font de Mora, the Spanish chair of the European People’s Party (EPP) and its allies in the Council of Europe;

2. Jordi Xucla, the Spanish chair of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group in the Council of Europe;

3. Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a Spanish politician and one of the fourteen vice-presidents of the European Union’s European Parliament;

4. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, the former prime minister of Spain (who was also visibly accompanied by his wife Sonsoles Espinosa Diaz).

Other notable attendees from other Euro-Atlantic countries included:

1. Pandli Majko, the former prime minster of Albania;

2. Kim Campbell, the former prime minister of Canada

3. Geir Haarde, the former prime minister of Iceland;

4. Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian senator;

5. Alexander Carile, a member of the British House of Lords, the upper house of the British Parliament

6. Giulio Maria Terzi, the former foreign minister of Italy;

7. Adrianus Melkert, a former Dutch cabinet minister, a former World Bank executive, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s former special envoy to Iraq.

Not only regime change was talked about, but the cross-border crisis in Iraq and Syria was a major subject. Fox News gave the event special coverage. Just in July, the MEK’s leadership had condemned Iranian support to the Iraqi federal government in its fight against ISIL, yet since the US has began to fight the ISIL it has begun to hold its tongue.

Before the regime change gathering, the MEK’s leader Maryam Rajavi  –  who the MEK has designated as the president of Iran since 1993  –  even meet with the puppet Syrian National Council’s leader Ahmed Jarba in Paris to discuss cooperation on May 23 2014.

Regime Change in Damascus through Mission Creep in Syria

The bombing campaign that the US has started in Syria is illegal and a violation of the UN Charter. This is why the Pentagon took the step of claiming that the US-led bombing campaign was prompted by the threat of an “imminent” attack that was being planned against the territory of the US. This allegation was made to give legal cover to bombardment of Syrian territory through a warped argument under Article 51 of the UN Charter that allows a UN member to legally attack another country if an “imminent” attack by the said country is about to take place on the UN member.

Barack Obama and the US government have done their best to confuse and blur reality
through a series of different steps they have taken to claim legitimacy for violating international law by bombing Syria without the authorization of Damascus. Although the US Ambassador Samantha Powers informed Syria’s permanent representative to the UN that US-led attacks would be launched on Al-Raqqa Governate, informing Bashar Al-Jaafari through a formal unilateral notification does not amount to being given the legal consent of Syria.

The US-led attacks on Syria do not have the backing of the UN Security Council either. The US government, however, as tried to spin the September 19 2014, meeting of the UN Security Council that John Kerry chaired as a sign that the UN Security Council and international community are backing its bombing campaign.

Nor is it a coincidence that just when the US assembled its multinational coalition to fight the ISIL and its pseudo-caliphate, that John Kerry conveniently mentions that Syria has violated the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). While admitting that Syria did not use any material prohibited by the CWC, Kerry told US legislators that Damascus had breached its commitments to the CWC on September 18 2014. In other words, Washington intends to go after Syria and pursue regime change in Damascus. If this does not make it clear, then the fact that the US will use Saudi Arabia to train more anti-government forces should. {7}

A US brinkmanship strategy to justify a US-led bombing campaign against Syria has been put into action with the intent of creating a pretext for expanding the illegal US-led airstrikes in Syria that started on September 22 2014.

What the US envisions is a long-term bombing campaign, which also threatens Lebanon and Iran. According to Ali Khamenei, the US wants to bomb both Iraq and Syria using ISIL as a smokescreen on the basis of the model in Pakistan. More correctly, the situation should be called the AfPak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) model. The US has used the spillover of instability from Afghanistan into Pakistan and the spread of the Taliban as pretext for bombing Pakistan. Iraq and Syria have been merged as one conflict zone, which Ibrahim Al-Marashi, using a neologism, has described as the rise of “Syraq”.

The Broader Objective: Disrupting Eurasian Integration

While the US has been pretending to fight the same terrorist and death squads that it has created, the Chinese and their partners have been busy working to integrate Eurasia. America’s “Global War on Terror” has been paralleled with the rebuilding of the Silk Road. This is the real story and motivation for Washington’s insistence to fight and remobilize in the Middle East. It is also the reason why the US has been pushing Ukraine to confront Russia and the EU to sanction the Russian Federation.

America wants to disrupt the reemerging Silk Road and its expanding trade network. While Kerry has been busy frightening audiences about the ISIL and its atrocities, the Chinese have been busy sweeping the map by making deals across Asia and the Indian Ocean. This is part of the westward march of the Chinese dragon.

Parallel to Kerry’s travels, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Sri Lanka and went to the Maldives. Sri Lanka is already part of China’s Maritime Silk Road project. The Maldivians are newer entries; agreements have been reached to include the island-nation into the Maritime Silk Road network and infrastructure that China is busy constructing to expand maritime trade between East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Nor is it a coincidence that two Chinese destroyers docked at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf to conduct joint drills with Iranian warships in the Persian Gulf.

Parallel to east-west trade, a north-south trade and transport network is being developed. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was in Kazakhstan recently where he and his Kazakhstani counterpart, President Nursultan Nazarbayev, confirmed that trade was due to see manifold increases. The completion of the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway, which will create a north-south transit route, is being awaited. Cooperation between Tehran and the Eurasian Union was also discussed by the two presidents. On the other western side of the Caspian Sea, a parallel north-south corridor running from Russia to Iran through the Republic of Azerbaijan has been in the works.

The anti-Russia sanctions are beginning to cause uneasiness in the European Union. The real losers in the sanctions in Russia are the members of the European Union. Russia has demonstrated that it has options. Moscow has already launched the construction of its mega natural gas Yakutia-Khabarovsk-Vladivostok pipeline (also known as the Power of Siberia pipeline) to deliver gas to China while BRICS partner South Africa has signed a historic deal on nuclear energy with Rosatom.

Moscow’s influence on the world stage is very clear. Its influence has been on the rise in the Middle East and Latin America. Even in NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan, Russian influence is on the rise. The Russian government has recently compiled a list of over one hundred old Soviet construction projects that it would like to recuperate.

An alternative to US and EU sanctions is beginning to emerge in Eurasia. Aside from the oil-for-goods deal that Tehran and Moscow signed, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak announced that Iran and Russia had made several new agreements worth seventy billion euro. Sanctions will soon merely isolate the US and the EU. The Iranians have also announced that they are working with their Chinese and Russian partners to overcome the US and EU sanctions regime.

America is being rolled back. It cannot pivot to the Asia-Pacific until matters are settled in the Middle East and Eastern Europe against the Russian, Iranians, Syrians, and their allies. That is why Washington is doing its best to disrupt, divide, redraw, bargain and co-opt. When it comes down to it, the US is not concerned about fighting the ISIL, which has been serving Washington’s interests in the Middle East. America’s main concern is about preserving its crumbling empire and preventing Eurasian integration.


{1} Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, “America pursuing regime change in Iraq again”, RT (June 20 2014).

{2} Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya, “The Syria Endgame: Strategic Stage in the Pentagon’s Covert War on Iran”, Global Research (January 07 2013).

{3} Scott Peterson, “Iranian Group’s Big-money Push to Get Off US Terrorist List”, Christian Science Monitor (August 08 2011).

{4} Ibid.

{5} Ibid.

{6} Ibid.

{7} Matt Spetalnick, Jeff Mason and Julia Edwards, “Saudi Arabia Agrees to Host Training of Moderate Syria Rebels”, Caren Bohan, Grant McCool, and Eric Walsh editors, Reuters (September 10 2014).

Republishing is welcomed with reference to Strategic Culture Foundation on-line journal

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Richest 1% Own 50% of World Wealth (October 14 2014)

World wealth has reached a record $263 trillion but is concentrated in fewer hands. The richest one percent have accumulated more wealth, and own almost fifty percent of it, which could trigger recession, according to a new report by Credit Suisse.

The Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, released Tuesday warns that the “abnormally high wealth income ratios” may spark a recession, as high disparity leads to economic friction:

Global wealth has grown to a record $263 trillion in mid-2014, $20.1 trillion more, and an 8.3 percent increase, over mid-2013. Household wealth has more than doubled since 2000, when the same report calculated it at $117 trillion.

Leading the money trail is the United States, dubbed ‘Land of Fortunes’ by the report, which again boasts the highest average wealth. It is home to 34.7 percent ($91 trillion) of global wealth. Europe’s portion comes in a close second with 32.4 percent, followed by India and China’s 23.7 percent share, and then the 18.9 percent concentrated in the Asia-Pacific region.

North America has the highest average wealth and is also the world’s leader in GDP, which the report estimates grew by $12.9 billion in 2013.

Wealth in the US and Europe was driven by a rather spectacular year on the stock exchanges. Since the financial crisis of 2008, the US has added $31.5 trillion in household wealth. In the last year alone the stock market increased in value by 22.6 percent. Credit Swiss

Germany, Canada, and France all experienced huge spurts in capital markets, gaining more than thirty percent.

Much of the world’s “new money” is coming from China and developing nations. Between 2000 and 2014, emerging markets accounted for 11.4 percent of wealth.

“As we noted last year, Asia and particularly China will account for the largest portion of newly created wealth among the emerging markets”, the report says.

Other emerging players on the international scene, according to Credit Suisse, are Russia, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey.

The conclusion of the report offers predictions for 2019, where the authors suggest global wealth will grow by forty percent and reach $369 trillion, but emerging markets will account for 26 percent, more than double what they do now.

The number of millionaires worldwide is projected to blossom from 35 million today to 53 million in 2019.

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Dark Age America: The Collapse of Political Complexity

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (October 08 2014)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

The senility that afflicts ruling elites in their last years {1}, the theme of the previous post in this sequence, is far from the only factor leading the rich and influential members of a failing civilization to their eventual destiny as lamppost decorations or some close equivalent. Another factor, at least as important, is a lethal mismatch between the realities of power in an age of decline and the institutional frameworks inherited from a previous age of ascent.

That sounds very abstract, and appropriately so. Power in a mature civilization is very abstract, and the further you ascend the social ladder, the more abstract it becomes. Conspiracy theorists of a certain stripe have invested vast amounts of time and effort in quarrels over which specific group of people it is that runs everything in today’s America. All of it was wasted, because the nature of power in a mature civilization precludes the emergence of any one center of power that dominates all others.

Look at the world through the eyes of an elite class and it’s easy to see how this works. Members of an elite class compete against one another to increase their own wealth and influence, and form alliances to pool resources and counter the depredations of their rivals. The result, in every human society complex enough to have an elite class in the first place, is an elite composed of squabbling factions that jealously resist any attempt at further centralization of power. In times of crisis, that resistance can be overcome, but in less troubled times, any attempt by an individual or faction to seize control of the whole system faces the united opposition of the rest of the elite class.

One result of the constant defensive stance of elite factions against each other is that as a society matures, power tends to pass from individuals to institutions. Bureaucratic systems take over more and more of the management of political, economic, and cultural affairs, and the policies that guide the bureaucrats in their work slowly harden until they are no more subject to change than the law of gravity.  Among its other benefits to the existing order of society, this habit – we may as well call it policy mummification – limits the likelihood that an ambitious individual can parlay control over a single bureaucracy into a weapon against his rivals.

Our civilization is no exception to any of this.  In the modern industrial world, some bureaucracies are overtly part of the political sphere; others – we call them corporations – are supposedly apart from government, and still others like to call themselves “non-governmental organizations” as a form of protective camouflage. They are all part of the institutional structure of power, and thus function in practice as arms of government.  They have more in common than this; most of them have the same hierarchical structure and organizational culture; those that are large enough to matter have executives who went to the same schools, share the same values, and crave the same handouts from higher up the ladder. No matter how revolutionary their rhetoric, for that matter, upsetting the system that provides them with their status and its substantial benefits is the last thing any of them want to do.

All these arrangements make for a great deal of stability, which the elite classes of mature civilizations generally crave. The downside is that it’s not easy for a society that’s proceeded along this path to change its ways to respond to new circumstances. Getting an entrenched bureaucracy to set aside its mummified policies in the face of changing conditions is generally so difficult that it’s often easier to leave the old system in place while redirecting all its important functions to another, newly founded bureaucracy oriented toward the new policies. If conditions change again, the same procedure repeats, producing a layer cake of bureaucratic organizations that all supposedly exist to do the same thing.

Consider, as one example out of many, the shifting of responsibility for US foreign policy over the years. Officially, the State Department has charge of foreign affairs; in practice, its key responsibilities passed many decades ago to the staff of the National Security Council, and more recently have shifted again to coteries of advisers assigned to the Office of the President.  In each case, what drove the shift was the attachment of the older institution to a set of policies and procedures that stopped being relevant to the world of foreign policy – in the case of the State Department, the customary notions of old-fashioned diplomacy; in the case of the National Security Council, the bipolar power politics of the Cold War era – but could not be dislodged from the bureaucracy in question due to the immense inertia of policy mummification in institutional frameworks.

The layered systems that result are not without their practical advantages to the existing order. Many bureaucracies provide even more stability than a single bureaucracy, since it’s often necessary for the people who actually have day to day responsibility for this or that government function to get formal approval from the top officials of the agency or agencies that used to have that responsibility, Even when those officials no longer have any formal way to block a policy they don’t like, the personal and contextual nature of elite politics means that informal options usually exist. Furthermore, since the titular headship of some formerly important body such as the US State Department confers prestige but not power, it makes a good consolation prize to be handed out to also-rans in major political contests, a place to park well-connected incompetents, or what have you.

Those of my readers who recall the discussion of catabolic collapse three weeks ago will already have figured out one of the problems with the sort of system that results from the processes just sketched out:  the maintenance bill for so baroque a form of capital is not small. In a mature civilization, a large fraction of available resources and economic production end up being consumed by institutions that no longer have any real function beyond perpetuating their own existence and the salaries and prestige of their upper-level functionaries. It’s not unusual for the maintenance costs of unproductive capital of this kind to become so great a burden on society that the burden in itself forces a crisis – that was one of the major forces that brought the French Revolution, for instance. Still, I’d like to focus for a moment on a different issue, which is the effect that the institutionalization of power and the multiplication of bureaucracy has on the elites who allegedly run the system from which they so richly benefit.

France in the years leading up to the Revolution makes a superb example, one that John Kenneth Galbraith discussed with his trademark sardonic humor in his useful book The Culture of Contentment (1992). The role of ruling elite in pre-1789 France was occupied by close equivalents of the people who fill that same position in America today: the “nobility of the sword”, the old feudal aristocracy, who had roughly the same role as the holders of inherited wealth in today’s America, and the “nobility of the robe”, who owed their position to education, political office, and a talent for social climbing, and thus had roughly the same role as successful Ivy League graduates do here and now. These two elite classes sparred constantly against each other, and just as constantly competed against their own peers for wealth, influence, and position.

One of the most notable features of both sides of the French elite in those days was just how little either group actually had to do with the day-to-day management of public affairs, or for that matter of their own considerable wealth. The great aristocratic estates of the time were bureaucratic societies in miniature, ruled by hierarchies of feudal servitors and middle-class managers, while the hot new financial innovation of the time, the stock market, allowed those who wanted their wealth in a less tradition-infested form to neglect every part of business ownership but the profits. Those members of the upper classes who held offices in government, the church, and the other venues of power presided decorously over institutions that were perfectly capable of functioning without them.

The elite classes of mature civilizations almost always seek to establish arrangements of this sort, and understandably so. It’s easy to recognize the attractiveness of a state of affairs in which the holders of wealth and influence get all the advantages of their positions and have to put up with as few as possible of the inconveniences thereof. That said, this attraction is also a death wish, because it rarely takes the people who actually do the work long to figure out that a ruling class in this situation has become entirely parasitic, and that society would continue to function perfectly well were something suitably terminal to happen to the titular holders of power.

This is why most of the revolutions in modern history have taken place in nations in which the ruling elite has followed its predilections and handed over all its duties to subordinates. In the case of the American revolution, the English nobility had been directly involved in colonial affairs in the first century or so after Jamestown. Once it left the colonists to manage their own affairs, the latter needed very little time to realize that the only thing they had to lose by seeking independence was the steady hemorrhage of wealth from the colonies to England. In the case of the French and Russian revolutions, much the same thing happened without the benefit of an ocean in the way: the middle classes who actually ran both societies recognized that the monarchy and aristocracy had become disposable, and promptly disposed of them once a crisis made it possible to do so.

The crisis just mentioned is a significant factor in the process. Under normal conditions, a society with a purely decorative ruling elite can keep on stumbling along indefinitely on sheer momentum. It usually takes a crisis – Britain’s military response to colonial protests in 1775, the effective bankruptcy of the French government in 1789, the total military failure of the Russian government in 1917, or what have you – to convince the people who actually handle the levers of power that their best interests no longer lie with their erstwhile masters. Once the crisis hits, the unraveling of the institutional structures of authority can happen with blinding speed, and the former ruling elite is rarely in a position to do anything about it. All they have ever had to do, and all they know how to do, is issue orders to deferential subordinates. When there are none of these latter to be found, or (as more often happens) when the people to whom the deferential subordinates are supposed to pass the orders are no longer interested in listening, the elite has no options left.

The key point to be grasped here is that power is always contextual. A powerful person is a person able to exert particular kinds of power, using particular means, on some particular group of other people, and someone thus can be immensely powerful in one setting and completely powerless in another. What renders the elite classes of a mature society vulnerable to a total collapse of power is that they almost always lose track of this unwelcome fact. Hereditary elites are particularly prone to fall into the trap of thinking of their position in society as an accurate measure of their own personal qualifications to rule, but it’s also quite common for those who are brought into the elite from the classes immediately below to think of their elevation as proof of their innate superiority. That kind of thinking is natural for elites, but once they embrace it, they’re doomed.

It’s dangerous enough for elites to lose track of the contextual and contingent nature of their power when the mechanisms through which power is enforced can be expected to remain in place – as it was in the American colonies in 1776, France in 1789, and Russia in 1917. It’s far more dangerous if the mechanisms of power themselves are in flux. That can happen for any number of reasons, but the one that’s of central importance to the theme of this series of posts is the catabolic collapse of a declining civilization, in which the existing mechanisms of power come apart because their maintenance costs can no longer be met.

That poses at least two challenges to the ruling elite, one obvious and the other less so. The obvious one is that any deterioration in the mechanisms of power limits the ability of the elite to keep the remaining mechanisms of power funded, since a great deal of power is always expended in paying the maintenance costs of power. Thus in the declining years of Rome, for example, the crucial problem the empire faced was precisely that the sprawling system of imperial political and military administration cost more than the imperial revenues could support, but the weakening of that system made it even harder to collect the revenues on which the rest of the system depended, and forced more of what money there was to go for crisis management. Year after year, as a result, roads, fortresses, and the rest of the infrastructure of Roman power sank under a burden of deferred maintenance and malign neglect, and the consequences of each collapse became more and more severe because there was less and less in the treasury to pay for rebuilding when the crisis was over.

That’s the obvious issue. More subtle is the change in the nature of power that accompanies the decay in the mechanisms by which it’s traditionally been used. Power in a mature civilization, as already noted, is very abstract, and the people who are responsible for administering it at the top of the social ladder rise to those positions precisely because of their ability to manage abstract power through the complex machinery that a mature civilization provides them. As the mechanisms collapse, though, power stops being abstract in a hurry, and the skills that allow the manipulation of abstract power have almost nothing in common with the skills that allow concrete power to be wielded.

Late imperial Rome, again, is a fine example. There, as in other mature civilizations, the ruling elite had a firm grip on the intricate mechanisms of social control at their uppermost and least tangible end. The inner circle of each imperial administration – which sometimes included the emperor himself, and sometimes treated him as a sock puppet – could rely on sprawling many-layered civil and military bureaucracies to put their orders into effect. They were by and large subtle, ruthless, well-educated men, schooled in the intricacies of imperial administration, oriented toward the big picture, and completely dependent on the obedience of their underlings and the survival of the Roman system itself.

The people who replaced them, once the empire actually fell, shared none of these characteristics except the ruthlessness. The barbarian warlords who carved up the corpse of Roman power had a completely different set of skills and characteristics: raw physical courage, a high degree of competence in the warrior’s trade, and the kind of charisma that attracts cooperation and obedience from those who have many other options. Their power was concrete, personal, and astonishingly independent of institutional forms. That’s why Odoacer, whose remarkable career was mentioned in an earlier post in this sequence {2}, could turn up alone in a border province, patch together an army out of a random mix of barbarian warriors, and promptly lead them to the conquest of Italy.

There were a very few members of the late Roman elite who could exercise power in the same way as Odoacer and his equivalents, and they’re the exceptions that prove the rule. The greatest of them, Flavius Aetius, spent many years in youth as a hostage in the royal courts of the Visigoths and the Huns and got his practical education there, rather than in Roman schools. He was for all practical purposes a barbarian warlord who happened to be Roman by birth, and played the game as well as any of the other warlords of his age. His vulnerabilities were all on the Roman side of the frontier, where the institutions of Roman society still retained a fingernail grip on power, and so – having defeated the Visigoths, the Franks, the Burgundians, and the massed armies of Attila the Hun, all for the sake of Rome’s survival – he was assassinated by the emperor he served.

Fast forward close to two thousand years and it’s far from difficult to see how the same pattern of elite extinction through the collapse of political complexity will likely work out here in North America. The ruling elites of our society, like those of the late Roman Empire, are superbly skilled at manipulating and parasitizing a fantastically elaborate bureaucratic machine which includes governments, business firms, universities, and many other institutions among its components. That’s what they do, that’s what they know how to do, and that’s what all their training and experience has prepared them to do.  Thus their position is exactly equivalent to that of French aristocrats before 1789, but they’re facing the added difficulty that the vast mechanism on which their power depends has maintenance costs that their civilization can no longer meet. As the machine fails, so does their power.

Nor are they particularly well prepared to make the transition to a radically different way of exercising power. Imagine for a moment that one of the current US elite – an executive from a too-big-to-fail investment bank, a top bureaucrat from inside the DC beltway, a trust-fund multimillionaire with a pro forma job at the family corporation, or what have you – were to turn up in some chaotic failed state on the fringes of the industrial world, with no money, no resources, no help from abroad, and no ticket home. What’s the likelihood that, without anything other than whatever courage, charisma, and bare-knuckle fighting skills he might happen to have, some such person could equal Odoacer’s feat, win the loyalty and obedience of thousands of gang members and unemployed mercenaries, and lead them in a successful invasion of a neighboring country?

There are people in North America who could probably carry off a feat of that kind, but you won’t find them in the current ruling elite. That in itself defines part of the path to dark age America: the replacement of a ruling class that specializes in managing abstract power through institutions with a ruling class that specializes in expressing power up close and in person, using the business end of the nearest available weapon. The process by which the new elite emerges and elbows its predecessors out of the way, in turn, is among the most reliable dimensions of decline and fall; we’ll talk about it next week.


John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {3} and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.





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