the madness of empire

Sometimes, every now and then, somebody manages to accurately and concisely nail something right on the mark. Lights come on. Truth is spoken. The question then becomes, who will pay any attention? One perfect example has appeared from Chris Hedges.

Chris Hedges: The Folly of Empire – Chris Hedges – Truthdig

Now that we have had the drama of US federal government “shutdown”, what we really have there is not a federal government shutdown. In fact, a significant chunk of the federal government was not shut down at all, we just had much of it shut down that actually serves the people of the United States. You won’t find much shut down in anything in the realm of the police state and surveillance of all of us, the people of the United States, or all the activities of military empire spread all around the planet.

The United States has been bankrupted by trillions and trillions of dollars spent since the end of World War II, the last actual threat to the nation, in ambitions of world domination military empire. It rolled onward even after the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc breaking free. Since the end of World War II, that was the big urgent justification for a massive military spread all around the world, the “Cold War”, and that ended a generation ago. For that matter, it has been slowly revealed, since that era, that the actual threat of the former Soviet Union had been massively exaggerated, even in the Cold War days when Americans were perpetually bombarded by propaganda telling them that we needed more and more and more spending in “defense”, for our national security, to protect us (and the “free world”) from the Red Menace.

What’s left after that has been devoured by avarice and plain frauds, charlatans and swindlers of all kinds, and the utterly outrageous punchline of the joke on us all is how many people have fallen for nonsense telling them that these people are some kind of heroes, and people to be admired, who should be our masters.

All of the corruption and lunacy I’m talking about there then gets packaged up and sold to people as being about freedom and prosperity and national security. Dare to say anything to the contrary, and maybe even get specific about pointing out some of the absurdity, the irrational, the corrupt, assorted forms of detachment from reality, and some people go apeshit. What are you, a communist? Why do you hate our freedoms and The American Way of Life and want the terrorists to win?

I’ll quote from Hedges, because he said this about as well as it can be said-

A nation that was still rooted in reality would never glorify charlatans such as Sen. Ted Cruz, House Speaker John Boehner and former Speaker Newt Gingrich as they pollute the airwaves. If we had any idea what was really happening to us we would have turned in fury against Barack Obama, whose signature legacy will be utter capitulation to the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex and the security and surveillance state. We would have rallied behind those few, such as Ralph Nader, who denounced a monetary system based on gambling and the endless printing of money and condemned the willful wrecking of the ecosystem. We would have mutinied. We would have turned the ship back.

Now and then I think about an old quote from Winston Churchill, who was supposed to have said (you can find variations of phrasing) the Americans always do the right thing, after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives. I wonder how things will proceed, because at this point, there seems to be an awful lot of exploring the alternatives.

Unfortunately, history shows loads of stories of people and nations who avoided reality as it is, until they couldn’t, and how that generally doesn’t go well. The staggering irony in all this is that the best of what could be regarded as an overall American character revolves around clear-minded realism and practicality.

Despite all the frequent yapping and empty platitudes about “The Founding Fathers” among some Americans, something absolutely fundamental to the essence of the conceptual foundations of the nation and how it came into being gets lost. That is, very simply, what became a growing revulsion among the people involved in the American revolution about the whole notion of empire, not just from the British empire controlling the colonies, but centuries of history, and what were current events of the time, from a batch of European nations, and all their delusions of grandeur and ambitions for world domination. It wasn’t just a rejection of the domination and remote manipulation and exploitation by the British empire, it was a rejection of the entire idea of empire.

That didn’t just mean the monarchy, either. They were just as determined about empires of banking and finance and corporations. To be clear, that is to say, they didn’t like them, they didn’t want more of them, they didn’t want future generations of citizens of the newly forming United States of America to be burdened and controlled and looted by them.

It’s unbelievable how badly people have lost the plot on these things, with the worst irony being that it’s most lost on people doing the most intense nationalistic flag waving and barking about words like freedom and liberty and regularly citing “the founding fathers” as their guides and inspiration.

I would argue that there’s a very large example of how badly wrong things are in the popularity of retired congressional representative Ron Paul. A lot of generally sensible and sometimes very intelligent people have great admiration for the man, and believe him to be the greatest hope for political leadership in America (although he’s now retired and out of office, these feelings linger). I can understand that, a little, but the simple fact of the matter is that, for me, any sense of “this guy has it right” disappeared almost immediately upon taking about five minutes to really examine the man. I can only figure that the popularity of Ron Paul among some pretty bright and generally solid people comes down to a matter of it being less of a case of him being great, and more a simple case of the selection of American political figures being so completely wretched.

In his case, it’s clear that people like what the man has said about a few things. Part of that is the simple obvious idea that the United States has been severely damaged, over a period of many decades, by squandering the wealth and energy of the nation on ambitions of worldwide military empire and domination. He’s nearly alone in American national politics in saying the obvious.

On the other hand, look at Ron Paul’s ideas about anything involving the economy, and he has some shockingly naïve and irrational ideas stuck in his head. In basic form, he projects these naïve and simplistic notions that in the realm of banking and finance, and business in general, “less government” means “more freedom”, and eliminating government from the picture will magically free up a wondrous laissez-faire “Free Market” free of those nasty government distortions and meddling, a perfect meritocracy bringing the best of everything. That sounds nice to people. Unfortunately, it’s simplistic fantasy.

Actual reality in this should be obvious to anybody past elementary school. The kind of simplistic vision offered by Ron Paul (and a batch of political actors) exists only in things like fictional fantasies of Ayn Rand, and the actual reality is that without a rational and just rule of law in banking and finance and business, there is no “free market”, there’s a chaotic swirl of bandits and thugs and every kind of swindler struggling for domination, while people dealing in actual value, and useful work, and general human goodwill and thoughts of the longer term, have to try to function while dealing with destructive chaos and misbehavior from all that. Look up Gresham’s law, or Gresham’s dynamic. As I understand discussions of the idea, the most basic idea is about different currencies and values, but there is a more general idea stemming from it, that basically comes down to an idea of bad business practices driving out good business practices.

Considering that my personal experience and observations have found that enthusiastic advocates of Ron Paul have been generally pretty bright and sensible and straightforward people, I can only attribute this popularity to a pair of things; one being people desperate to believe what they would like to believe, and the other that it’s simply a matter of the scene of current American political actors being so unbelievably bad that this guy is the best they can find, in their opinion. That’s just tragic.

This kind of problem is not new. Depending on where people fall, allowing themselves to be shoved into dogma and cliches and neat categories of Left or Right or Conservative or Liberal (capitalized, as in the political boxes, not the literal meaning of the words liberal or conservative, which have little to no relationship to the political L and C labels), or loyal members of Team R and Team D, you can find this phenomenon regarding a couple of presidents, Reagan and Obama. In both cases, the general political consciousness in America is infected by people choosing to believe a nonsensical mythical image of the men in question, quite apart from the actual reality of historical record (and up through current events, in Obama’s case).

People dismissing any realistic examination and criticism of Ronald Reagan and his two terms in the presidency as “leftist propaganda from the liberal media” would do themselves and the rest of us here in America by looking up and reading what has been written over recent years by David Stockman and Paul Craig Roberts. These two men share a pair of attributes in common; both held high level positions in the Reagan administration, and both men are absolutely scathing in examining how so much has gone so badly wrong over the past few decades as consequence and repercussions of what happened in the Reagan administration.

A surprisingly large number of Americans still have ideas about Ronald Reagan as a wonderful president, one of the greatest, that are largely based on a mythology that’s sometimes far enough removed from the reality to be delusional. In the present, it gets even worse in this kind of thing, as opposing groups of people either declare Obama to be a terrible president and even an enemy of America and all that’s good, or a great president and a shining high point in American history, with both camps operating in realms of serious reality distortion or even outright fiction. Spread this nonsense around enough, and it’s no wonder that so much of what’s presented as political discourse or debate is just waves of noisy acrimony that accomplish nothing and leave matters more confused than ever.

What gets lost in the noise is that both of these men as president have proved to be basically puppet figureheads acting to continue the dominance of military empire, banking and financial empire, and corporate empire, with all of these effectively being completely intertwined.

Feeding that multi-headed beast has bankrupted the nation. It has bankrupted the government, certainly. It has severely damaged small and local business. Much of the citizenry of the United States now either finds itself in poverty struggling to maintain life, or struggling to maintain a life that still vaguely resembles what they have known as middle class existence.

One thing that seems pretty clear over the course of recent years here in the United States is that almost all the people in positions of power and wealth and influence are determined to only follow ideas and courses of action that preserve the status quo any way possible, even if it’s only maintaining appearances of maintaining status quo, and selling ideas to people that they, too, can get the big payoff, some big reward of being ushered into the club of people extracting all they can from everything they can.

Among other problems, we have to pay careful attention to something that history has shown repeatedly. Leaders in power who are corrupt and vain and foolish, possibly even full on madmen deep into the grip of megalomania, find it useful to concoct wars to “unite” people who might turn on them, to distract the citizenry, scare them into conformity and regimentation to face a common “enemy”. See the recent episode regarding Syria. See the adventure in Iraq. Just one item to consider in this is how a sudden “threat” would suddenly become justification, “for the national security”, don’t you know, for programs of total surveillance of everyone, everywhere.

If anybody thinks that’s a bit paranoid and alarmist, consider the present, and go back through recent decades. Consider what I already pointed out a few paragraphs up, pointing out the obvious. We have a national government trillions of dollars in the hole, from spending trillions and trillions of dollars over decades, not on maintaining a protective defense of the nation, but covering the entire planet with the US military. Then, on top of that, millions of American citizens have been willing to accept sending American military people and equipment and spending hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars in adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, on the other side of the world, and accept the idea that all that is “defending our freedom”. People who can watch this, and not think there’s something profoundly and massively wrong, are people who are gullible and easily manipulated enough to be shoved into some insane war by people beating the war drum and barking jingoistic nationalistic bullshit.

I think that most Americans tend to avoid even thinking in terms of empire, and would think that even using the word as relevant to the United States is hyperbolic and silly. That’s unfortunate, because it’s just one of many things keeping people from getting a realistic and rational grasp on what’s happening. It seems to come down to mostly being a simple case of a general American consensus that empire is a bad word, that it’s a bad thing, a word that applies to bad stories of human history, and contrary to American principles about freedom and democracy. The problem is, all that seems to happen is that people then just simply avoid the word, they just don’t use the word empire. So, hey, presto, we’re not an empire!

It really is that simple and absurd. It never dawns on people, despite the lingering habits of people talking about the current president, or possible president during an election marathon, or the office in general, as “Commander in Chief”, or even “Leader of the Free World”. The latter tag is a remnant of the Cold War era, an obnoxious absurdity in more than one way. First, of course, there is the whole Cold War era presumption that any nation without a communist government is “free”. But even moving on from there, every time I hear that phrase about “leader of the free world”, I always think what should be anybody’s immediate first thought, which is, what does the rest of the world think about that?

Simply avoiding the word empire is a pretty serious national psychological problem we have on our hands. This causes us profound problems. What’s worse, I think, is that far too many Americans do this as part of some kind of internal mental dance of evasion and cognitive dissonance that keeps them from coming to what might turn out to be something of a guilty bit of awakening. It keeps them from facing the idea that they actually really like being part of empire, and whether or not they want to admit it, they fully support ideas and institutions of empire, as long as they can convince themselves that they benefit from it all. And just to be clear, we’re not looking at just the jingosim of worldwide military empire, but also, to repeat the point, the intertwined military empire, banking empire, and corporate empire that dominates every fucking thing in contemporary America.

This isn’t even remotely difficult to see, but that doesn’t mean everybody sees it. On the contrary, people either don’t see it, or they work really hard at pretending to not see it, lest they be accused of being a communist, or supporting the terrorists and hating our freedoms, or, on a different note, worrying that some part of the game that suits them might disappear. We have an ongoing national game of let’s pretend that’s making serious problems even worse.

Occasionally the current president tosses out a recurring bit of fiction in speeches about how we supposedly have “cleared away the rubble of the (2008) financial crisis”, which is pure fucking nonsense. We still have all the same problems in that realm, including the lingering incomprehensively gigantic piles of “debt” that are actually accounting figures of debt that are wholly phantasms imagined into being in the form of all the “financial innovation” or “new financial products” of the games of derivatives, credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations and all the theoretical fabrications of “wealth” that were just impossibly complex accounting games, that literally nobody seems to fully understand, even the madmen who created them.

People buy completely into what they’ve been sold for years about how what’s good for giant corporations and what’s good for Wall Street giant banks and institutions is good for the economy and the nation, and yet then seem completely baffled that “the economy” outside of those entities is such a gigantic raging dysfunctional clusterfuck.

One of the most glaring issues of cognitive dissonance in this realm can be found by watching CNBC and other business and financial news infortainment, in crude oil. I see that the price for West Texas Intermediate crude oil, essentially the US benchmark, has dipped below $100 per barrel for the first time in a long time. For quite a while, the WTI and Brent crude prices have wobbled around but both have stayed pretty much in the range of $100 to $110 per barrel. Almost nobody addresses what these kinds of prices do to “capital”, or anything else under the heading of “the economy”, how much money it sucks away from all else to feed systems dependent on petroleum, based on assumptions of endless and limitless cheap petroleum. Everything seems to just fall into the standard assumptions in that world, that high prices on anything means economic healthiness, because, to them, this means “market gains” for everybody who bought stuff at lower market prices.

The reality of diminishing returns in hydrocarbons is determining our present and future in virtually everything, and almost nobody in the public sphere is even getting a realistic grasp on this, never mind anything like rational and realistic “solutions”. I’ve been doing my part, and then some, to try to get this to people’s attention, but any realistic discussion of the subject gets most Americans thinking this is some weird obsession of a pessimistic lunatic fringe or something. All that gets their attention is what they pay per gallon of gasoline or diesel this week when they fill up the SUV.

Instead of dealing with the reality of diminishing returns in petroleum and natural gas, current American politics is almost exclusively a game of idiots arguing from “both sides of the aisle” about who’s better at political policy that will extract what we have left in the ground at an even faster rate, and talking about “energy independence”. People keep talking about extraction of tight oil in shale formations as a new “oil boom” or “energy boom”.

The last I checked a little while back, the increase in crude extraction rate from this “boom” had brought US oil extraction rates up to around 7.5 million barrels per day. That’s still a large gap from the all time US peak in 1970-1971 of about 9.5 million barrels per day, and that’s a long way off from the US daily crude oil consumption rate of around 18-19 million barrels per day. This alone should make the picture clear enough, but to complicate matters, and diffuse any grand notions of an “oil boom” even more, the very nature of tight oil deposits means that not only are all the exploration and extraction operations more complex and difficult, and more expensive, but that individual wells spit out a little bit of crude and rapidly go into severe decline. The means a major reduction in the ratio of energy return on energy input, compared to the “conventional” wells people think of as the way things work, and as a result of all this, less financial return, because of the increased costs of the complex operations, including simply more drilling, for one thing.

It’s a repeating story, but I’ll repeat it until people get this. The diminishing returns in petroleum means that from here onward, crude oil extraction is only getting more complex, more difficult, with less return, and more expensive, just to maintain present oil extraction rates. Worse, that cannot continue indefinitely, and no matter what anybody does, at some point very soon, worldwide extraction rates will pass the peak of Hubbert’s curve, never mind US extraction rates, and go into decline.

All that is a large reason why things in our near and far future are going to be a story of a path to things getting smaller, closer together, simpler, many things on a much less grand scale. This does not mean doom. It does mean many things are not going to be what many people expect, and essentially nobody in the public realm in positions of power and influence is doing anything to even get this across to people, never mind panning accordingly. They would rather play out the ridiculous political theatrics of delusions and frauds.


The end of Democracy and the defeat of the American Revolution will occur when government falls into the hands of lending institutions and moneyed incorporations. -Thomas Jefferson

Whether or not we humans would like to be in charge, Nature is, in fact, in charge. -Gail Tverberg


Charles Hugh Smith: The Poverty of our Political Theater of the Absurd

No Way to Run a Railroad … | Economic Undertow

N.Y. Fed Moves to Seal Documents in Ex-Bank Examiner’s Suit

Two Views of our Current Economic and Energy Crisis | Our Finite World

The perfect epitaph for establishment journalism | Glenn Greenwald

The Archdruid Report: The One Option Left

Museletter 257: Fingers in the Dike | Richard Heinberg

Top Economic Advisers Forecast War and Unrest | Washington’s Blog

The Snapback | KUNSTLER

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