Tom Engelhardt: An Exceptional Decline for the Exceptional County? The Empire as Basket Case

Yves here. Engelhardt argues that the official US empire, that of state/national power, has been hollowed and largely supplanted by the two real American empires, that of the surveillance state and of major corporations.

By Tom Engelhardt, a co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. Originally posted at TomDispatch

For America’s national security state, this is the age of impunity.  Nothing it does — torture, kidnapping, assassination, illegal surveillance, you name it — will ever be brought to court.  For none of its beyond-the-boundaries acts will anyone be held accountable.  The only crimes that can now be committed in official Washington are by those foolish enough to believe that a government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from this earth.  I’m speaking of the various whistleblowers and leakers who have had an urge to let Americans know what deeds and misdeeds their government is committing in their name but without their knowledge.  They continue to pay a price in accountability for their acts that should, by comparison, stun us all.

As June ended, the New York Times front-paged an account of an act of corporate impunity that may, however, be unique in the post-9/11 era (though potentially a harbinger of things to come).  In 2007, as journalist James Risen tells it, Daniel Carroll, the top manager in Iraq for the rent-a-gun company Blackwater, one of the warrior corporations that accompanied the U.S. military to war in the twenty-first century, threatened Jean Richter, a government investigator sent to Baghdad to look into accounts of corporate wrongdoing.

Here, according to Risen, is Richter’s version of what happened when he, another government investigator, and Carroll met to discuss Blackwater’s potential misdeeds in that war zone:

“Mr. Carroll said ‘that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,’ Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit. ‘Mr. Carroll’s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine,’ Mr. Richter stated in his memo. ‘I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.’”

When officials at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, heard what had happened, they acted promptly.  They sided with the Blackwater manager, ordering Richter and the investigator who witnessed the scene out of the country (with their inquiry incomplete).  And though a death threat against an American official might, under other circumstances, have led a CIA team or a set of special ops guys to snatch the culprit off the streets of Baghdad, deposit him on a Navy ship for interrogation, and then leave him idling in Guantanamo or in jail in the United States awaiting trial, in this case no further action was taken.

Power Centers But No Power to Act

Think of the response of those embassy officials as a get-out-of-jail-free pass in honor of a new age.  For the various rent-a-gun companies, construction and supply outfits, and weapons makers that have been the beneficiaries of the wholesale privatization of American war since 9/11, impunity has become the new reality.  Pull back the lens further and the same might be said more generally about America’s corporate sector and its financial outfits.  There was, after all, no accountability for the economic meltdown of 2007-2008.  Not a single significant figure went to jail for bringing the American economy to its knees. (And many such figures made out like proverbial bandits in the government bailout and revival of their businesses that followed.)

Meanwhile, in these years, the corporation itself was let loose to run riot.  Long a “person” in the legal world, it became ever more person-like, benefitting from a series of Supreme Court decisions that hobbled unions and ordinary Americans even as it gave the corporation ever more of the rights and attributes of a citizen on the loose.  Post-9/11, the corporate world gained freedom of expression, the freedom of the purse, as well as the various freedoms that staggering inequality and hoards of money offer.  Corporate entities gained, among other things, the right to flood the political system with money, and most recently, at least in a modest way, freedom of religion.

In other words, two great power centers have been engorging themselves in twenty-first-century America: there was an ever-expanding national security state, ever less accountable to anyone, ever less overseen by anyone, ever more deeply enveloped in secrecy, ever more able to see others and less transparent itself, ever more empowered by a secret court system and a body of secret law whose judgments no one else could be privy to; and there was an increasingly militarized corporate state, ever less accountable to anyone, ever less overseen by outside forces, ever more sure that the law was its possession.  These two power centers are now triumphant in our world.  They command the landscape against what may be less effective opposition than at any moment in our history.

In both cases, no matter how you tote it up, it’s been an era of triumphalism.  Measure it any way you want: by the rising Dow Jones Industrial Average or the expanding low-wage economy, by the power of “dark money” to determine American politics in 1% elections or the rising wages of CEOs and the stagnating wages of their workers, by the power of billionaires and the growth of poverty, by the penumbra of secrecy and classification spreading across government operations and the lessening ability of the citizen to know what’s going on, or by the growing power of both the national security state and the corporation to turn your life into an open book.  Look anywhere and some version of the same story presents itself — of ascendant power in the boardrooms and the backrooms, and of a sense of impunity that accompanies it.

Whether you’re considering the power of the national security state or the corporate sector, their moment is now.  And what a moment it is — for them.  Their success seems almost complete.  And yet that only begins to tell the strange tale of our American times, because if that power is ascendant, it seems incapable of being translated into classic American power.  The more successful those two sectors become, the less the U.S. seems capable of wielding its power effectively in any traditional sense, domestically or abroad.

Anyone can feel it, hence the recent Pew Research Center poll indicating a striking diminution in recent years of Americans who think the U.S. is exceptional, the greatest of all nations.  By 2011, only 38% of Americans thought that; today, the figure has dropped to 28%, and — a harbinger of future American attitudes — just 15% among 18-to-29-year-olds.  And no wonder.  By many measures the U.S. may remain the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet, but in recent years its ability to accomplish anything, no less achieve national or imperial success, has shrunk drastically.

The power centers remain, but in some still-hard-to-grasp way, the power to accomplish anything seems to be draining from a country that was once the great can-do nation on the planet.  On this, the record is both dismal and clear.  To say that the American political system is in a kind of gridlock or paralysis from which — given electoral prospects in 2014 and 2016 — there can be no escape is to say the obvious.  It’s a commonplace of news reports to suggest, for example, that in this midterm election year Congress and the president will be capable of accomplishing nothing together (except perhaps avoiding another actual government shutdown).  Nada, zip, zero.

The president acts in relatively minimalist ways by executive order, Congress threatens to sue over his use of those orders, and (as novelist Kurt Vonnegut would once have said) so it goes.  In the meantime, Congress has proven itself unable to act even when it comes to what once would have been the no-brainers of American life.  It has, for instance, been struggling simply to fund a highway bill that would allow for ordinary repair work on the nation’s system of roads, even though the fund for such work is running dry and jobs will be lost.

This sort of thing is but a symptom in a country of immense wealth whose infrastructure is crumbling and which lacks a single mile of high-speed rail.  In all of this, in the rise of poverty and a minimum-wage economy, in a loss — particularly for minorities — of the wealth that went with home ownership, what can be seen is the untracked rise of a Third World country inside a First World one, a powerless America inside the putative global superpower.

An Exceptional Kind of Decline

And speaking of the “sole superpower,” it remains true that no combination of other militaries can compare with the U.S. military or the moneys the country continues to put into it and into the research and development of weaponry of the most futuristic sort.  The U.S. national security budget remains a Ripley’s-Believe-It-Or-Not-style infusion of tax dollars into the national security state, something no other combination of major countries comes close to matching.

In addition, the U.S. still maintains hundreds of military bases and outposts across the planet (including, in recent years, ever more bases for our latest techno-wonder weapon, the drone).  In 2014, it still garrisons the planet in a way that no other imperial power has ever done.  In fact, it continues to sport all the trappings of a great empire, with an army impressive enough that our last two presidents have regularly resorted to one unembarrassed image to describe it: “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.”

And yet, recent history is clear: that military has proven incapable of winning its wars against minor (and minority) insurgencies globally, just as Washington, for all its firepower, military and economic, has had a remarkably difficult time imposing its desires just about anywhere on the planet.  Though it may still look like a superpower and though the power of its national security state may still be growing, Washington seems to have lost the ability to translate that power into anything resembling success. 

Today, the U.S. looks less like a functioning and effective empire than an imperial basket case, unable to bring its massive power to bear effectively from Germany to Syria, Iraq to Afghanistan, Libya to the South China Sea, the Crimea to Africa.  And stranger yet, this remains true even though it has no imperial competitors to challenge it.  Russia is a rickety energy state, capable of achieving its version of imperial success only along its own borders, and China, clearly the rising economic power on the planet, though flexing its military muscles locally in disputed oil-rich waters, visibly has no wish to challenge the U.S. military anywhere far from home.

All in all, the situation is puzzling indeed.  Despite much talk about the rise of a multi-polar world, this still remains in many ways a unipolar one, which perhaps means that the wounds Washington has suffered on numerous fronts in these last years are self-inflicted.

Just what kind of decline this represents remains to be seen.  What does seem clearer today is that the rise of the national security state and the triumphalism of the corporate sector (along with the much publicized growth of great wealth and striking inequality in the country) has been accompanied by a decided diminution in the power of the government to function domestically and of the imperial state to impose its will anywhere on Earth.

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  1. mmckinl

    It is called fascism … The melding of the government with the corporate state. The idea is to centralize power for control and protection of wealth in a world of diminishing returns.

    As the “base” of this new world corporatism the US will become a police state. Already we see local law enforcement militarized and given the ability to spy on telecommunications through “tower dumps”.

    Th rest of the world is being given the “with us or against us” ultimatum. The punishments are economic and social destabilization, economic and social espionage, trade and currency embargoes and sanctions.

    The role of the US military is no longer to win wars but punish adversaries or those who have weathered US non-military ultimatums such as Iran. Failed states allows the US to cut deals with those who have the commodities we need.

    We are now in a new world … a world of diminishing, not increasing, raw materials, oil, water and farmland. Prospering countries would create demand for these decreasing resources, resources the US covets.

    1. David Gespass

      Fascism always reflects weakness rather than strength. As Lenin noted — and he had many important insights — bourgeois democracy is the ideal shell for bourgeois dictatorship. Only when their power is threatened do the monopolists seek to impose a more openly dictatorial rule. This reflects the diminution of American economic power around the world and its vain attempt to maintain economic power through military force.

      1. mmckinl

        As I wrote “We are now in a new world … a world of diminishing, not increasing, raw materials, oil, water and farmland. ”

        This changes everything … continued growth is over … banking as it exists is obsolete … the massive debt and future promises of government are in jeopardy in real terms …

        The end of growth is a new paradigm for our current leveraged complex economic and financial arrangements.

    2. TedWa

      General Smedley Butler exposed a plan by the banksters to overthrow the federal government of the US and install their preferred government – fascism. His revealing of their plan to Congress stopped their plans from ever reaching fruition. However, it certainly does appear that the banksters never gave up on that goal.

      Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each:

      1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
      2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
      3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
      4. Supremacy of the Military
      5. Rampant Sexism
      6. Controlled Mass Media
      7. Obsession with National Security
      8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
      9. Corporate Power is Protected
      10. Labor Power is Suppressed
      11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
      12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
      13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
      14. Fraudulent Elections

    3. Oregoncharles

      ” it remains true that no combination of other militaries can compare” – yet, oddly enough, the US hasn’t actually won a war since Reagan beat up on Panama, a very careful choice of enemy. Apparently our vaunted military, despite its enormous pricetag, is really only good for bullying – including, I fear, American citizens.

      1. mmckinl

        The US doesn’t need to win wars … it really doesn’t want a democratic outcome … the results they want are military and economic hegemony not democratic states.

    4. Fiver


      Seems like only yesterday that the use of the ‘F’ word to describe the US political system would’ve condemned one to the outer limits of discourse. Now it is readily accepted by informed critics everywhere as the most accurate single word available.

      1. mmckinl

        Indeed … and thanks for pointing that out …

        It is also important to note that fascism comes in many flavors … Italian, Spanish and many forms of totalitarian military rule such as Egypt where the army is estimated to own 20-40% of the economy.

  2. Saddam Smith

    Perhaps we are indeed transitioning through a deep, global paradigm shift as so many assert. If so, this shift probably includes the growing recognition that oppressive/aggressive force no longer delivers the desired outcomes as cooperative alternatives slowly find form from ‘below’. As such, we scratch our heads when confronted with the phenomena set out in the article if we try to explain them from the perspective of the old (e.g. social Darwinism?) paradigm. This turbulent sea change might help to explain the absence of a clear challenger to US hegemony: hegemony per se is becoming unworkable in our brave new circumstances.

    1. mellon

      Yes, that has been obvious to me for some time. There are amazing benefits and creativity to be had from deemphasizing and reducing the hierarchy. Increased opportunity for everyone creates wealth and quality of life benefits that are tangible. Even those who allegedly “benefit the most” from hierarchy/oilgarchy are losing out by continuing it for that reason.

      A prime example is how those who control our current dysfunctional healthcare system, in order to increase profits and especially, reduce its exposure to liability, are attempting to lower the “legal standard of care” for the entire nation.

      That adversely effects everybody’s health care, even that of the rich.

      >“This turbulent sea change might help to explain the absence of a clear challenger to US hegemony: hegemony per se is becoming unworkable in our brave new circumstances.”

  3. Steve H.

    “Civilians unacquainted with the ways of the Building have only vague ideas about what it is the Pentagon does.  They think the real business of the Pentagon has something to do with defending America.  But it does not.  The real business of the Pentagon is buying weapons.”

    -Robert Coram

  4. David Lentini

    Sheldon Wohlin’s writings on inverted totalitarianism are very relevant here. Our country is becoming something that captures various aspects of fascism, corporatism, oligarchy, and plutocracy, but with certain clear differences that make it difficult to fix on any one these in particular. Wohlin’s work helps provide a more clear image of our emerging totalitarian state.

    I think two aspects in this new form of government are critical. First, the nature of power reflects more the power structures and behavior of managers of large corporations. Second, the culture is inherently technocratic. The first means that identifying reliably decision makers and responsibility is very difficult—Just look how hard it is to prosecute white collar crime. Second, technocrats are usually poor at political thinking—They see devices and methods as solutions to all problems; the idea of human interactions and feelings is often not even recognized. The great examples of this sort of thinking have been the Viet Nam and Iraq wars. In both cases, our strategies were based on the capacity to kill and destroy, thinking the other side would simply bend to our will according to some “economic calculus”. When the other side “irrationally” continued to fight despite the disparities in power, we had no effective counter measure and belatedly tried to structure a political exit because the economics of the war had now turned on us.

    I think the end of this sort of “Dilbertian fascism” will be the increasing crapification of society. The end may be the sort of population dispersion and abandonment that seem to have befell societies like the Inca.

    1. Carla

      Is it so difficult to prosecute white collar crime? Or you really saying the problem is that nobody even tries?

      1. Banger

        Because those that commit those crimes tend to be lawyered up and have connections with regulators, prosecutors, judges and politicians. How will they ever be prosecuted? This should be obvious. It is the sad reality that Americans still think we live in a society where rule of law means something–it means something but increasingly less as high-level fraud is not just not penalized but encouraged by officials.

      2. different clue

        The Obama Administration and its HolderBama Department of Justice Obstruction may well prosecute lower-end frayed white collar crimes. But it doesn’t prosecute high end silk-shirt white collar crime because the Obama Administration supports and endorses the commission of those very crimes. The criminal players will give HolderBama millions of payoff dollars later for the billions of ripoff dollars that HolderBama have immunized and impunitized and protected today. The circumstantial evidence, the order and unfolding of events; would appear to bear out that interpretation.

        1. Vatch

          Readers of NC are quite familiar with the activities of the former head of the Justice Department’s criminal division, Lanny Breuer. He saw to it that corporate leaders and the ultra-rich were never prosecuted. After leaving office, he took a position as the Vice-Chair of the prestigious law firm Covington and Burling. We may be confident that Lanny is doing quite well for himself.

          Then there’s Robert Khuzami, the former head of the SEC’s division of enforcement, made sure that the corporations “regulated” by the SEC didn’t experience much inconvenience from that regulation. After leaving government “service”, he went to work for the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis, where he is reputed to be making $5 million per year ( Columbia Journalism Review ).

          And there’s no need to go into much detail about the tens of millions of dollars that Bill Clinto has been “earning” since he left office.

          HolderBama will do quite well for themselves after they leave government office.

    2. James Levy

      The sheer size of America makes a coherent ruling class tough to establish and maintain. What we have instead are a ruling set of principles and a commonality of interests among those at the top of the economic pyramid. The rich have benefitted for a century from American interventionism, from weak unions, a Rube Goldberg Constitutional order, the two-party duopoly, the real and ascribed rights and prerogatives of Capital, and a political economy wherein a majority of American are small property owners (homes) and petty stock speculators (through the pension system). This makes our enemy diffuse and our population compromised. That is why our situation is hard to define and fight.

      1. Banger

        It is a puzzle isn’t it? I see the American ruling class as increasingly coherent and not as diffuse as it once was due to the IT revolution that allows for emergent networks to proliferate that act, virtually, as coherent entities and also allows those who are aware of those networks to manipulate and gain power through them.

        1. Jim


          It seems important, on the public sector side, to articulate the differences/similarities between what is considered the American nation-state and the deep state.

          In my understanding of the deep state conceptually, one tends to be focusing more on criminal syndicates and clandestine activities that are systematically engaged in violence, corruption and extra-legal activities (like blackmail, torture and assassination).

          Yet on the other hand the deep state conception also seems to acknowledge links between top natlonal security managers in the nation-state bureaucracy (State Department, Treasury, Defense, Foreign Service, Intelligence) and the informers, spies, police, syndicate bosses, prison guards, etc.) referred to above.

          Is this how you see the Deep State?

          1. TimR

            The Guns and Butter podcast has had several good interviews lately on different aspects of the Deep State/ Shadow Government: with Peter Dale Scott, Catherine Austin Fitts, Michel Chossudovsky.

            I would particularly like to hear what people think of CA Fitts’ thesis of a “Financial coup d’etat”, and her claim that the kind of money that’s being funneled off the books into black budgets, goes beyond corruption, to the point of what would be needed to establish a “breakaway civilization” or other incredible aims.

            1. human

              “Crossing the Rubicon” by Michael Ruppert does a good go at Their machinations during the ’80’s and ’90’s.

              Peter Dale Scott and Paul Craig Roberts also note that the instigation of Continuity of Government that was officially imposed in/on the US immediately after 9/11/01 has yet to be repealed/released. In other words, we have been living within a state of emergency now, concomitant with all that that implies, for almost 13 years!

          2. Banger

            Yes, more or less. The DS has had a long time to establish itself. I believe, for example that there is a section of the CIA that is connected to covert ops paramilitary contractors who also work for other states and corporations and blend seamlessly with various organized crime organizations that are as cried as narcos and “terrorists” (that are, basically organized crimals who use mentally ill fanatics).

            1. different clue

              Scott Wells’s blog Rigorous Intuition 2.0 studies and reports on these connections and their meanings in deep detail.

        2. fresno dan

          It strikes me that the article accepts the premise that the people at the top are still invested in the nation station, i.e., America. What if their not?
          “Today, the U.S. looks less like a functioning and effective empire than an imperial basket case, unable to bring its massive power to bear effectively from Germany to Syria, Iraq to Afghanistan, Libya to the South China Sea, the Crimea to Africa. And stranger yet, this remains true even though it has no imperial competitors to challenge it. Russia is a rickety energy state, capable of achieving its version of imperial success only along its own borders, and China, clearly the rising economic power on the planet, though flexing its military muscles locally in disputed oil-rich waters, visibly has no wish to challenge the U.S. military anywhere far from home.”

          Why does the author believe that it is in the interest of a majority of power players in the US to put at risk Russian natural resources, or the Chinese market?
          Also, the author’a statement:
          “The power centers remain, but in some still-hard-to-grasp way, the power to accomplish anything seems to be draining from a country that was once the great can-do nation on the planet. On this, the record is both dismal and clear. To say that the American political system is in a kind of gridlock or paralysis from which — given electoral prospects in 2014 and 2016 — there can be no escape is to say the obvious. It’s a commonplace of news reports to suggest, for example, that in this midterm election year Congress and the president will be capable of accomplishing nothing together (except perhaps avoiding another actual government shutdown). Nada, zip, zero”

          Well, it seems to me the demopublicans, can accomplish all sorts of things when they want to – when it comes to NAFTA, expanding copyright endlessly, “free trade” deals to circumvent various laws benevolent to American labor, protect American finance, use the courts to protect American hedge fund bondholders, and on and on are an example of an amazing consensus at accomplishing what they want. The fact that the items the majority wants or needs never gets done, is as they say, not a bug but a feature.

          1. Fiver

            There is an important bifurcation between serious critics of the domestic and foreign policies of the US Empire such as the author, and those who hold a more cynical view – i.e., much of what transpires that is deemed ‘tragic error’ or ‘unforseeable’ or ‘honest mistake” is in fact what is intended. I would suggest the fault line separating the two perspectives can be detected running straight through each group’s take re what actually took place on 9/11.

    3. Banger

      It is easy for the criminal mind to lurk behind technocracy–they feast on the stupidity inherent in the mentality that can’t see beyond the spreadsheet or its precursors. War, in the American context, is an opportunity to steal money from the Treasury by stoking fears.

    4. beene

      America as an empire has failed to understand that an empires militarizes local populations to control other states; you do not use your own military.

      Its impossible to prosecute wrong doing when there is no law about the behavior. Call it moral, law, or regulation, when there is none, there’s no crime.

      1. LillithMc

        The Bundy white supremacists did a good job of protecting the Bundy family, taking over the nearby town, directing traffic, inspiring the two in Las Vegas with killing cops and their call for revolution. So far the US military and even some police (who are now integrated) are not the source of local control in the West and rural areas as much as the massive number of guns and those willing to use them. Add the actions of the SCOTUS and we have a revolution of values that have nothing to do with “democracy” or general agreement of any kind..

    5. Jim


      Engelhardt in his above essay clearly states: “…two great power centers have been engorging themselves in twenty-first century America: there was an ever expanding national security state…and there was an increasingly militarized corporate state even less accountable to anyone…”

      But then you seem imply that Wolin and you both believe that ” the nature of power reflects more the power structure and behavior of managers of large corporations.”

      Why is it that you and perhaps as much as 70% of the NC commetariat seem to downplay the importance of the emergence, evolution and expansion of national security state managers–isn’t an explicit acknowledgment of both great centers of power (public sector national security managers and private sector corporate managers necessary to begin to grasp and understand our present situation?

  5. Keith Ackermann

    Crime is rampant in all our institutions.

    I wanted to find a story about a cop in Massacusetts who received especially lenient terms on a conviction of stealing a lot of drugs from evidence. I gave up finding the one I was thinking about because when I Googled ‘massachusetts police, stolen evidence’, in just the first 5 pages of results, here are the towns with police officers involved with the theft of evidence, and one theft from the police union:

    Boston again (for stealing explosives)
    New Bedford
    Marlboro. This one was unbelievable because they got a written confession from the cop that he stole money from the evidence locker, but they never arrested the guy. “Evidence was too weak”

    I bet if I continued searching through the links, I’d light up the whole state. I don’t think Mass is unique. Our institutions are corrupt from bottom to top. Corruption is supposedly one of the things that prevent countries from archiving a higher standard of living.

    Great article. Great links.

    1. Banger

      Great find and very interesting—can you expand on this? What do you think is going on? BTW, this has been my experience at all levels of government.

  6. Banger

    This may be a duplicate comment–I’m not sure if the comment is awaiting moderation or not but the site crashed on my system when I posted the comment so I don’t know whether the comment went through–apologies in advance if this shows up twice.

    Always a treat to read Tom’s stuff whether I agree or not. Thanks for posting.

    Indeed the power has been moving towards Corporations and the National Security State for some time. After 9/11 (that singular event that no one wants to examine), of course, everything changed. The corporate elite felt liberated to commit massive fraud in the financial markets, engage in systematic insider trading since, of course, the FBI and other enforcement entities were busy chasing “terrorists” or, to put it another way, mentally retarded men they could entrap into silly plots. Bill Black makes the case that, despite the magnitude of the fraud committed between 2001 and 2008 that was several magnitudes greater than the old S&L scandal something like a tenth of FBI agents were assigned to investigate the crimes compared to S&L crisis which many of us, at the time, felt was under-punished and let too many prominent people get away with their loot (someone did a study that showed that much of the money went to prostitutes and cocaine).

    The Empire is “crumbling” by design, i.e., the State is drowning itself not in the proverbial bathtub but in an ocean of corruption on a scale the robber barons (and I am sure of this) would envy. For example, in Tom mentions the threat by the ex-Navy Seal to an investigator–well that typifies the War in Iraq. The War was, as it turns out, mainly waged to provide profits for the Bush crime-family cronies including the MIC. Yes, there were “strategic” considerations which guaranteed U.S. “protection” of oil flows to the world and yes, in part, this was to show countries that the U.S. would not blink at killing hundreds of thousands of people (and get away with denying it since the corporate press is completely controlled by corporate elites) and destroy civil society by deliberately sowing ethnic and religious tensions which was, in my view, the central tactic to guarantee an endless future of violence in Iraq. The National Security State demands violence and chaos to thrive–it demands “threats” and if they don’t actually exist it will create those threats so that they can “protect” us from those very threats.

    There is a new Empire–it is an Empire of Crime–that is why I see no point in supporting any government function at this time. The Empire of Crime is leading us, as all periods of political chaos lead, to neofeudalism and the corporations are the main political forces (they are no longer “just” economic) at work. Washington is inert and stalemated by design so that it can no longer take any action in the public interest other than insure more corporate power. The great “reform” of our time was to make us feudal serfs to insurance companies with the vocal and enthusiastic support of the “left.”

    1. Another Gordon

      It strikes me that the US has entered a time of warlords that would be familiar to folk from Europe of the Dark Ages or from China at any of the times when one of its many dynasties crumbled into chaos. Such periods are characterised by rampant corruption and infighting at court that terminally saps the strength of a weakened imperium and eventually leaves it unable to respond effectively to external challenges opening the door for the Mongols or whoever.

      The one difference is that in olden times the warlords majored in castles and armies; now it’s corporations and ‘financial services’.

      1. Vatch

        The U.S. is moving in the direction of warlordism, but it’s not there yet. With the increasing privatization of the military, U.S. oligarchs will have the opportunity to become more heavily armed than they are in a Civil Oligarchy. Are we moving towards a Ruling Oligarchy or a Sultanistic Oligarchy (to use Jeffrey Winters’s labels)? In a Sultanistic Oligarchy, one oligarch has a monopoly or near monopoly on the means of coercion, and the other oligarchs are mostly disarmed. In a Ruling Oligarchy, there is more of a collective rule by the major oligarchs, and the oligarchs are armed. These contrast with the Civil Oligarchy, in which the oligarchs are all disarmed, because the laws protect their property rights, and the government is responsible for protecting the oligarchs.

        A Warring Oligarchy is a state of near chaos, such as medieval Europe or modern places such as Somalia.

        See pages 32 to 39 of Oligarchy, by Winters.

  7. James Levy

    The quality of the US fighting man has to be endlessly pumped up because anyone who has kept an eye on his performance since Korea has got to be anxious. I guess this is the strategic analog to the “confidence fairies” theory of economics. American soldiers are confident and aggressive when meeting weak resistance but listless and confused by when they face a hard fight. And there are not enough trigger-pullers to cover much ground and their high tech firepower support would be vulnerable to breakdowns and an inability to supply replacements and spare parts under intensive combat condition. The United States would have no chance of maintaining her position against a coalition of powerful states that could shoot back. She is overwhelmingly powerful vis-à-vis single victims that have been degraded over time by uncontested bombing and blockade.

    1. Banger

      Do you believe that powers such as Iran, Russia, or China would be able to meet the U.S. on equal terms in a battlefield situation? Saker believes Russia would prevail if it came to a U.S. vs. Russia confrontation in Ukraine.

      1. James Levy

        The problem for the Americans is where to concentrate their limited number of maneuver brigades and attack helicopters. The logistical requirements for such forces are staggering. Where could you put enough forces so that the initial exchange rate is high enough to buy the Americans time to neutralize that one enemy or if necessary shift somewhere else–that’s the big question. Meanwhile, those little outposts, listening posts, and bases all over the globe with no real protection other than the name US Government over the entrance would be gobbled up like popcorn at a Saturday matinee. The US has at least 790 bases overseas and not 300 infantrymen per base in their whole establishment. And I doubt the American politico-military elite is up to that challenge of taking those initial hits and seeing things through. They’ve had things too easy for too long to see things clearly now.

        1. Fiver

          Hello James Levy,

          Why would America be so gracious as to put boots on the ground to be lost facing the prospect of a very tough fight? I cannot imagine the US ever again fighting a major ground war when it has invested so heavily in its enormous superiority of air and missile power. Iran, for instance. Why would anyone attempt to ‘take it’ as opposed to ruin it in the strategic calculus used these days? Or in Ukraine. Suppose the Russian troops had decided to blast up the road to Kiev. Would that Russian force and whatever air support it had not have been pounded very heavily from and in the air the entire way (assuming an order to fight)? For Russia to “hold” Kiev would be expensive and draining, but more so for the US to try to ‘liberate’ it on the ground. Neither side would have the incentive to continue or escalate, especially the more the heavily damaged side, which I think would be the Russians in this scenario simply based on US technology advances. One of those daisy-cutter monstrosities, for example. Glad we didn’t see any of that, I must say.

          1. James Levy

            You’re allowing the Americans the 1 on 1 scenario they want. I pointed out that an old fashioned anti-hegemonic coalition (like the ones that fought Hapsburg Spain and Bourbon and Napoleonic France, or, in the American Revolution, an overweening Britain) would give the US fits. It would have to defend its forward bases, and there are too many of them and not enough forces to go around. The litany of bases captured and Americans made POWs would be crushing to any government in Washington. A coalition of Russia, Germany, France, and Iran would force the Americans out of Eurasia.

            1. Fiver

              Well, I have to agree with your last scenario, almost by definition – I mean, D-Day wouldn’t even have been possible if the Ruskies hadn’t tied down, what, maybe 75% of German strength?

              Thanks for your reply. I’ve enjoyed your generally excellent comments.

      2. Oregoncharles

        Since Russia and China are nuclear powers, this is a counterfactual proposal. Any shooting war directly with either state would very quickly turn nuclear and largely end civilization, along with almost all of us.

        1. James Levy

          There is no teleology that demands we use nuclear weapons. It is not preordained or inevitable. It may be likely if people are stupider than we think. In that case, we probably deserve what we would get.

          1. Oregoncharles

            The problem is that war is by nature total. As soon as either side suffers a setback, they’ll resort to bigger and bigger weapons. You can give it a couple of weeks.

        2. H. Alexander Ivey

          Off the track of the posting, but I agree with James. Lets get straight about nuclear weapons; they are weapons of terror, not weapons of tactics. There have been plenty of fighting and oportunities of use since their use on Japan, but no one has.

          1. jonboinAR

            But the “nuclear powers” have studiously avoided direct confrontations with each other, for the most part. (Pakistan and India have come the closest, but they’ve both been fairly careful, I think, not to mass force against force.) If two major fighting units whose commands both possess nuclear arms, were to confront each other directly, I’m afraid, as some others here are, that all bets would be off.

      3. Littletoot

        In a ground ‘war’ with Russia, I think the US forces would be agast at their personnel losses – the ‘Army of One’ doctrine would completely collapse, and the horror of battle against a formidable, hardened enemy, of their own class, would unman them. It wouldn’t be pretty.

    2. Whine Country

      Unfortunately your description of our “boots on the ground” is quite accurate. This should not come as any surprise to anyone who understands ground combat. I was drafted in mid 1967 and put on an express train to Viet Nam only to be greeted by the Tet Offensive of 1968. In my experience, I never met a man (there were no woman anywhere near us in those days) who wanted to be in combat. Yet today I hear of gays and women demanding that they be allowed to serve in combat. Whaaaat? In 1967 gays kissed and held hands openly while strolling along in order to “tell” without being “asked”, so that they could be discharged and sent home. (They had to do a little more than just declare their gayness back in the day) And why not, like everyone I knew, I looked under every rock to find a legal way that I could avoid the draft. Unfortunately I just could not bring myself to do as many of my peers did and run away to Canada. So I went and, like my father in WWII, did my duty. Like I said, no one wants to go into combat! So when you have an all volunteer military, with people so determined to get into the fight, you have to ask yourself, “What gives?” I’ve written before about this. At the heart of our military success has, since the beginning of the republic, been based on the concept of the “citizen soldier”. As in WWII, This requires that the constitutional process be followed and war is properly declared by Congress, and that the citizen soldiers are mobilized for one very specific purpose. (As George Patton supposedly said, “You don’t win wars by dying for your country but by making the other poor SOB die for his country!”) When that mission is completed, you go home and move on with your life. In this model, the “professional soldier” is, aside from a rather small self-defense contingent, made up of cadre who maintain the infrastructure to mobilize a sufficient force when war is necessary. Go away from this model and you have what we have today. I think Matt Taibbi’s description of Goldman Sachs would do well to describe our present day military, “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity”. (If my favor of the citizen soldier concept and the draft seem contradictory to my “looking under every rock” for a way out, please understand that the Congressional approval threshold is a huge factor that is overlooked as a motivation to serve. IMHO, the way that TPTB have played fast and loose with their bypassing of the Constitution is another example of the disgrace that should befall them for their disregard of the law. We were given a magnificent Constitution by the Founding Fathers and today we have mangled it so badly that we are truly getting not what we want, but what we deserve.The President may be the Commander in Chief of the military, but he should not be allowed to engage our military in any fashion, but for our immediate defense, unless authorized by the people.)

  8. trish

    I think we make a mistake to see the two great power centers as separate (but perhaps that’s just quibbling about words). The penumbra of secrecy is merely a tool for the corporate finance elite. A tool of and for profit – ie Silicon valley and defense/surveillance, the NSA’s see-everything for profiting through and controlling the financial markets- a tool for quelling dissent in the face of corporate crimes, for basically keeping everyone else docile, frightened, impoverished, imprisoned (or dead), and there’s of course revolving door overlap…

    The jails- another current lucrative mine of profit for corporations – are filled with the powerless, money-less, voice-less. Round ’em up. the poor, the dissenters, the political fodder (immigrants). More and more, for the police (why are they working against their own interest for those at the top??? never mind…), the prosecutors, it’s “jail anyone else at this very moment and no one can do anything about it.”

    Perhaps premature (although I think there’s compelling evidence that this has started), but I think (am haunted by?) the Jay Hanson theory involving evolution/Overshoot Loop, the Maximum Power Principle (very interesting link posted here several days ago), in this case that the weakest low rank members of society are forced to disperse, or are killed, enslaved, or imprisoned.

    and re Exceptionalism: America as Exceptional was a very effective media-trumpeted propaganda tool. It’s losing its effectiveness. They’ll move on to other tools (or incite, get some war going to get that Go America fervor started again). And we may be incapable of winning wars against minor insurgencies but there’s a lot of profit, direct and indirect, in not “winning” wars).

    1. susan the other

      They (MIC) have finally achieved the singular business model they wanted for the last century. And they are busy getting rid of the rest of the tattered social contract. Profit and pillage have always been synonymous. All the little injuries of the “free market” can no longer keep capitalism alive; it needs much, much more. All countries have failed. It’s not just us.

      1. mellon

        The monster, which is addicted to easy money, can’t exploit people in third world countries as easily as it used to so its making the developed countries into third world countries so it can more easily exploit the poor and soon to be poor in them.

    2. Jim


      Is “the penumbra of secrecy merely a tool for the corporate elite?

      Does the National Security State also have its own set of interests separate from the profits of the private sector corporate managers?

      Does the corporate elite run the NSA? If so, how exactly?

      Does the corporate elite, by itself, run the Pentagon and are other intelligence agencies?

      Isn’t it more accurate to say that public sector managers (especially national security elites) and privet sector corporate managers are both involved in running things and not that the private sector elites are primary?

      1. mellon

        Non-national security public sector rank and file, especially at the municipal and state levels, including teaching, seem to be about to be privatized by TISA, in the 3 dozen TISA countries.

        The US is the most ardent booster of the most extreme forms of “liberalisation”.

        This will most certainly represent a huge transfer of ownership of once public assets to the private sector with no compensation, of course. As well as “rights” to its permanence. Once irreversibly privatized, the jobs and contracts, which will bring millions of temporary skilled workers from the developing world to the developed, can become a form of bargaining chip in the “grand game” of globalization.

  9. Middle Seaman

    Similar societal realities happen in other countries in the developed world. The US has gotten away with the almost meaningless “exceptionalism” way too long, mainly, due to its size, economy and immigration. We have have been behind on safety net, health care, education and the like for a long time. What exceptionalism?

    The 1% dominate Europe as well; it’s just less visible. Luckily for them, they don’t have politically corrupt supreme courts. No one went to jail there either. Europe, however, doesn’t have all encompassing security sector, therefore, their CIA doesn’t torture and their NSA doesn’t collect. Whistleblowers, though, are never treated well anywhere in the world no matter what the law says.

  10. TheraP

    It is nerve-wracking to be a thinking person in today’s Amerika. It boggles the mind. It saps your energy (particularly at 69). It leaves you demoralized.

    Thank you for these excerpts. It’s good to know there are other thinking persons in this nation, gone mad on the one hand or sticking their heads in the sand on the other. I can understand those who simply capitulate to denial or “go over” to the dark side. Because it’s hell to think clearly in a society where all sane options are closing, one by one.

  11. jfleni

    Crumbling empires ALWAYS lead to political and economic split-ups!

    The new mini-states of Pacific Coast, Northeast, Upper Midwest, and South, will not be anything like Heaven on Earth, but will certainly do much better for the 320 million people of the former USA than the current disaster led by “DogPatch-DC” and their idiot-Neocon followers.

    At least half of our dozen aircraft carriers for example, could be melted down and turned into bridges and other urgently needed public works!

    1. Carolinian

      Hey down here in Dixie we tried it once (and failed thank goodness). Judging by the number of American flags in my neighborhood I doubt there’s going to be a repeat.

      America will survive the end of empire just as the British did. The question is whether the rest of the world will survive our stumbling and bloody interventions.

      1. human

        I’m genuinely curious as to why you consider the failure of a Confederate States of America to have become a sovereign as a good thing, leaving aside the issue of racial slavery as it was already in decline throughout much of the Western world, as industrial, institutional slavery was on the rise…and continues.

        No one can know the results had there been a successful secession, but, the consolidation of federal powers, after all it is also known as the “War for States Rights” in the South, has not necessarily been a good thing.

        1. James Levy

          Leaving aside the reality of 4.5 million people living in chattel slavery? That’s like saying “leaving aside the gulags” or “leaving aside Auschwitz”. It can’t be left aside. It was a moral and human abomination. It was inscribed, as Vice President Stevens said, in the basis of the Confederate Revolution, that the black man was inferior to the white man.

          I can’t tell if you neo-Confederates are amoral, unreconstructed racists, or just complete assholes (perhaps a little of each?).

          1. human

            “as it was already in decline throughout much of the Western world, as industrial, institutional slavery was on the rise…and continues.”

            Well…so much for an honest, open and frank discussion. It is a topic that is not broached, as are many others, precisely because of ad-hominem retorts such as yours.

            1. James Levy

              I was as frank as I could be, and some positions deserve only disdain. Any defense of the slave-owning oligarchy in the antebellum South deserves derision, which is what I showed for you and your idiot opinion. And wage “slaves” formed unions or picked up and moved west to homestead–could Southern slaves do that? And how about Jim Crow and lynch mobs decades after slavery was abolished down there? What does that do to your “withering away” nonsense? You see, your argument is horseshit veiling racism.

              1. human

                I had not come to any opinion and had not intended to. I was seeking additional analysis. As far as the “wage slaves” of the North, you make no mention of actual industrial slavery such as sweat shops and company towns, the violence perpetrated by private armies often with assistance from governments, then claim that they could have just moved on. A typical libertarian attitude.

                I do not condone chattel slavery nor wage slavery, regardless of the peoples involved.

                1. mellon

                  The Thirteenth Amendment did not abolish slavery, it just changed it from being racial to being reserved for those who had been “duly convicted” of a crime.

                  However, the advances in automation are rapidly making slavery no longer such an attractive proposition economically. Just as they are rapidly eliminating the need for low skill labor.

                  So, the oligarchy no longer needs the bulk of society, except as consumers. When their ability to consume goods ends, I would not be surprised if it will start trying to figure out ways to get rid of them. Or perhaps more likely, force them to the margins of society, out of sight, out of mind.

        2. Carolinian

          The South was an oligarchy run by the wealthy of the South such as South Carolina’s Wade Hampton. The poor were certainly not consulted about secession and they wouldn’t have been consulted about any government that might have resulted if the South had won. Leaving aside the question of slavery–and of course you can’t leave it aside–I wouldn’t have wanted to be born in such a country.

          So yes, thank goodness. The lost cause people have always been boobs.

          1. human

            The oligarchs of the South were not wealthy in the Western sense. It wasn’t money or jewels or stocks and bonds. What they owned was land and labor. A lot of both. The consequences of a sovereign South are unknowable.

            Thank you for putting into perspective the fact that the “poor” were not consulted. We are living a parallel predicament currently where the will of the 99% is not considered. Curent policy actually prevents my refusal to support The System even if I decide to move out of the country. I would have to seek political asylum somewhere and then go through a formal renunciation. Something quite difficult for a person of modest means.

  12. Vatch

    Exceptional “County”? Don’t you mean exceptional “Country”, with an “R”? I suppose some people might consider Yoknapatawpha County to be the exceptional county, although there is evidence that it is actually fictional.

  13. Jim Shannon

    This kind of thinking TOTALLY works to the benefit of the Military Surveillance / Corporate State it so effectively exposes to its complete dominance of the 7 billion people who continue to be lied to, manipulated, and stolen from, ALL following along in a “willful blindness”, while continuing to blame “Government$” and “corporation$” instead of focusing on why they ALL have been Corrupted!
    Always and everywhere it’s about the MONEY! And we the people have ALLOWED our elected officials and corporate CEO’s a clear license to Extract Wealth from consumers and taxpayers!
    Everyone, now waiting for their turn to be “outsourced” and unemployed and pennyless, except the “wise guys” who have rigged the “New Normal” with all it’s accounting fraud and regulator control for Personal Gain.
    There is a solution, but We The Peple have all been brainwashed into thinking “There Is No Alternatve”!

    1. TedWa

      I’m more likely to blame “The adverse spirit of speculation” that the Fed and banksters tried to lay on absolutely everyone. People that never thought of refinancing, for instance, and were happy with their lives as-is (as was the majority of people) were just too complacent for the elites, so they created an easy money ponzi knowing that the house always wins in the end. The reason I say the adverse spirit of speculation is because that is one of the reasons Jackson got rid of the central bank. Speculation is fine for those few that actually know what they’re doing, but hardships, homelessness and bankruptcy are there waiting for the vast majority that don’t. It was there before 2008 of course, but it’s infected nearly everyone today and certainly most in government. Greed comes from those growing numbers of people not being happy with what they have.

  14. Jill

    This article is propaganda for thoughtful people on the left. That means it contains and uses many profound truths in service of the same institutions it purports to criticize. Here is the propaganda: “To say that the American political system is in a kind of gridlock or paralysis from which — given electoral prospects in 2014 and 2016 — there can be no escape is to say the obvious. It’s a commonplace of news reports to suggest, for example, that in this midterm election year Congress and the president will be capable of accomplishing nothing together (except perhaps avoiding another actual government shutdown). Nada, zip, zero.

    The president acts in relatively minimalist ways by executive order, Congress threatens to sue over his use of those orders, and (as novelist Kurt Vonnegut would once have said) so it goes. In the meantime, Congress has proven itself unable to act even when it comes to what once would have been the no-brainers of American life. It has, for instance, been struggling simply to fund a highway bill that would allow for ordinary repair work on the nation’s system of roads, even though the fund for such work is running dry and jobs will be lost.”

    Congress is only in gridlock on issues that matter to the welfare of a functioning society. If the financial and war contractors need something, there is no gridlock. It’s very important to understand that gridlock is turned on and off according to the needs of the ownership class.

    Tom also argues that the king-like actions of the executive, those that violate the separation of powers, are of little consequence. In fact, this action strips out the protection of the Constitution from us all. Obama, a man Tom told us to vote for even though he knew he had committed murder and torture, is tearing up the rule of law.

    It is why I despise essays like this. The problem is that USGinc. is outside the law. Yet Tom will cheerlead for his faction of the lawless. Either citizens reject this lawlessness, no matter who engages in it, or we are all lost.

    1. James Levy

      My problem is the hypocrisy of the Republicans for attacking Executive Orders when Bush used Executive Orders and Signing Statements like toilet paper. The idea that if the Republicans win then it will mean anything is also nonsense backed by no facts. If a Republican wins in 2016 we will be right back to Executive Orders and Signing Statements and the rule of law will once again be out the window. It’s all a charade. They will all be against it until they are for it. No precedent stands because their are no principles.

      I’m moving towards the conclusion that it is all about power. What we have to do is grab that power and use it for our purposes, because it is not going away. I want very badly for the rule of law to reassert itself but we may be past the point on no return. I hate Lenin but his famous question “Who? Whom?” (in English it would more properly mean “who does what to whom?” is starting to gnaw at me.

      1. Jill

        James, I would never argue that Republicans are engaged in hypocrisy on those (and many other issues). That is absolutely true. Where we disagree is about the rule of law. It will not be out the window in 2016, it is out the window right now. Even Tom is saying this in his essay where he points to the complete lack of law being applied even to a contractor who said he would murder a govt. employee in cold blood.

        Our law requires Obama and the DOJ to investigate/prosecute for torture but they do not follow this law. They are also required to investigate financial fraud, again, something they have refused to do. So this isn’t a matter of losing the rule of law in the future. We have lost it, as even Tom’s essay shows.

        I don’t know if we can return to the rule of law. I do know we will never do so if citizens keep accepting lawlessness when “their” party engages in it. It’s all in or everyone is out in this matter. If we truly want the rule of law, we can’t keep excusing things, voting Lote, or accepting lawlessness. It won’t work, it hasn’t worked and we have to try, even if we are not successful.

    2. Banger

      I don’t think you are being fair to Tom but, at the same time I agree with you. I don’t have much love for the official left that refuses to see how deep politics works because they know, in the case of anyone at the nation or the nation institute or anywhere in leftist media land that they will be immediately fired if they let on that there may be more to our political-economy than is represented in the official Narrative–they have to, for their livelihood think conventionally. Still, is we follow what Tom is saying, the implications cannot help but lead us to the “deep” view of American politics.

        1. Banger

          By describing his piece as propaganda and I don’t think it is despite my caveats. I believe Tom does the best he can–I know someone who knew him and I understand he is the genuine article. No leftist propagandist would have mentioned the threat featured in the piece since it is, largely forbidden in the official left to imply that gangsterism plays any part in government–rather’ problems are due to “incompetence” or “mistakes.”

          1. Jill


            I can’t agree on this one. I’ve read too many of these exact types of articles/arguments, where the propaganda is hidden within important truths. Tom shilled for Obama big time. I don’t think you can shill for Obama and care about gangsterism in the govt. If you really believe that and you really want it to change, you won’t shill for any ganster, you will oppose all of them.

            Strangely, I also know people who know him (I have no personal experience to go on). They do not think he is genuine. I do agree with you that the most common excuses heard on the left are incompetence or mistakes!

    3. Carolinian

      I agree with Banger. That is too simplistic. Gridlock can also be turned on and off for political reasons. For example the Republicans probably aren’t really opposed to Obamacare (it was their plan!) but they use its unpopularity to gain the power to get the things they do want (control of the money levers).

      Alex Cockburn used to say we should view the cracking up of the empire, our “sinking ship,” as a good thing. If you lived in the time of the Roman Empire, he said, would you be cheering on their latest conquest?

      But as I said above, the real victims are the countries we are messing with. The British Empire left behind future disasters in India/Pakistan, Palestine, Iraq…in fact all those hotspots we are still dealing with today. What will our legacy be? To think somebody, a long time ago, once said “avoid foreign entanglements.”

      1. Jill

        But looking at Gridlock shows it is only sporadically being turned on and off for political reasons. You can’t get the high number of war contracting and financial industry bills regularly passed if there isn’t deep cooperation between the “two” parties. This is clearly the deep state at work.

        The victims are this planet, humans, other animals and plants which inhabit it. This is a war elite, determined to proceed on a scorched earth policy.

        1. Carolinian

          I’m not a big believer in the Deep State idea although to be sure when it comes to politics Gore Vidal’s “property party” is very much in the driver’s seat. But Vidal also said the rich don’t need to conspire because they have a shared class interest. More than likely all those meetups at the Bohemian Grove are more about toga parties.

          Which is to say the Dems and Republicans are still competing for power even if it’s the power to do the same stuff. So there are political reasons for gridlock or gridlock theater. And btw there were cuts to the MIC during the Clinton administration. The current blank check to the military isn’t set in stone.

      2. mellon


        You are completely right about the right not really being opposed to Obamacare. (I believe its beginnings came from the insurance industry-as part of a plan to hijack health care reform which started being hatched up in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a means of distracting the public so they would not realize the nations health care policy freedom was being taken away for no compensation by NAFTA, GATS, and the other subsequent FTAs – as quietly as possible.)

        Here are the things the right must love about the ACA:
        1.) It delays any actual change,, providing hooks for journalists to exploit to prevent any discussion of real money saving strategies, preserving the for-profit, tiered system despite its being an incredibly bad deal for Americans.
        2.) It has the potential to lock in privatization “forever” by means of investor-state dispute settlement rules and corporate entitlements to markets. (As happened in Slovakia recently.)
        3.) It provides a defensible legal cover (cost) for large scale corporate layoffs of “overpaid” older workers, cost is a “Reasonable factor other than age”)
        4.) It keeps already low wages down and punishes those who get raises by exposing them to huge new potential costs.
        5.) It provides a framework (incredibly narrow, “gag claused” doctor networks) which can be used to lower the “legal standard of care” (which is based on the average care delivered to address a given problem in any geographical area) nationally, to Third World levels.
        6.) It preserves the ERISA Section 514 preemption- a gift of free money to insurers, a license to deny care..of all but the MOST flagrant abuses of patients and denials of care. (I am pretty sure but not 100% sure about this. I dont think its been tested.)
        7.) It keeps poor people from being able to see the doctor when they are sick (curative care) but hides that by making some preventative care more accessible., (but not if any aches and pains are brought up, or if tests are ordered, then the visit must be paid for, and OOP costs, drug costs and deductibles are very high!)
        8.) It distracts people from the real causes of health care cost increases and provides a good excuse for a huge and confusing mess of deliberately over complicated regulations which distract from the system’s very serious problems, provide scapegoats for them, and which can be exploited to make the system even more inefficient and profitable.
        9.) “Worker nullification” – It provides a way to force people with even very treatable, chronic medical conditions who simply need to regularly see a doctor and take some drug, OUT OF THE WORKFORCE and into Medicaid- it literally forces them out of the mainstream workforce in order to keep their access to medical care, making the unemployment picture look better than it is, covertly.
        10.) Hides the extreme unaffordability of the system for a few more years.. by hiding the fact that THERE IS NO GOOD PLAN FOR ANYBODY-

        This is because adequate nongroup health insurance is more expensive than 90% of American wage earners can actually afford. Obama care makes every possible effort to hide this fact for as long as is possible, but it wont be possible to hide it for long.

        11.) Provides a lead in they can use to justify further “extreme measures”-force some kind of fake “crisis” – is being And/ or will be used to force a laundry list of insurance and drug industry demands on Americans, and lock the changes in forever using the interlocking international FTAs, taking the power to reverse the change out of any future administration’s hands.

    4. Jim Shannon

      You are on the money, but you too work to devide! Fascism works simply because it constantly uses every means available to divide and conquer the very people it uses to build Personal Wealth!
      Humans have universal needs, which fascicists manipulate for personal financial gain! Fascism would not and could not work absent the needs of man and a system allowing the Extraction of wealth from the Many to the Few!
      Changing the incentive to extract wealth from the many would change the world! A cap on personal income and wealth would get it done, but we are 7 Billion, divided by the few who only care about their money and themselves, something completely within human nature, when the 7 Billion permit the corruption of their government when attempting to live in peaceful co-existence. Peace on Earth in the last thing we will ever see as we are constantly manipulated to hate the “other” as the CentaMillionaire$ and Billionaire$ walk off with the fruits of an economic war, waged for profit and personal gain!
      Willfully Blind of our collective ignorance!

      1. Jill

        Jim, You need to explain how what I said is indicative of …”you too work to devide!”

    5. Jim Shannon

      “thoughtful propaganda for people on the left” is divide and concur language we all continue to use! We have ALL been taught by a society corrupted by Money to HATE the other! Collectively incapable of admitting that our own willful blindness and ignorance has allowed CentaMillionaire$ and Billionaire$ to run society for their exclusive benefit!
      The last 50 years has clearly proven the Financially Elite refuse to be Taxed or Regulated and will not be deterred by anyone living under the corruption their money supports! They clearly are “Above the Law” and in fact have proven they own the law!
      Welcome to the “New Normal” something started over 50 years ago and somehow only recently and miraculously discovered, when millions of consumer$ lost $TRILLION$ because of corruption on Wall Street and in Government!

  15. Jim Haygood

    ‘The U.S. still maintains hundreds of military bases and outposts across the planet (including, in recent years, ever more bases for our latest techno-wonder weapon, the drone).’

    Yesterday someone who just returned from Uganda said U.S. military personnel are quite visible in bars in Kampala, often getting into fights with locals over racial issues.

    Reportedly Uganda is a central African base for U.S. surveillance flights, but it’s hard to find any official confirmation. Do KongressKlowns even ask questions anymore, as they rubber stamp the blank checks? Or are they just told by their caucus leaders, ‘It’s classified; don’t ask. Just vote for it.’

    1. Fiver


      Joint Special Operations Command was running operations in 75 countries as of 2011 and likely more today. The line between overt and covert actions involving use of lethal force has been sufficiently blurred that Congress, even members of Committees with oversight responsibilities, are no longer informed, let alone ‘consulted’, on operations all over the world. Executive power could initiate or fight WWIII and people would know no more than the Man at the centre of the post-Apocalyptic novel “The Road”.

  16. Working Class Nero

    Although it is a cliché to say that the more things change the more they stay the same, the logic of empire really does stay pretty stable over time. The following is a long extract from John Hobson’s Imperialism: A Study, written in 1902. With a few minor changes it would describe pretty well the current state of the US Empire.

    Seeing that the Imperialism of the last three decades is clearly condemned as a business policy, in that at enormous expense it has procured a small, bad, unsafe increase of markets, and has jeopardised the entire wealth of the nation in rousing the strong resentment of other nations, we may ask, “How is the British nation induced to embark upon such unsound business?” The only possible answer is that the business interests of the nation as a whole are subordinated to those of certain sectional interests that usurp control of the national resources and use them for their private gain. This is no strange or monstrous charge to bring; it is the commonest disease of all forms of government. The famous words of Sir Thomas More are as true now as when he wrote them: “Everywhere do I perceive a certain conspiracy of rich men seeking their own advantage under the name and pretext of the commonwealth.”

    Although the new Imperialism has been bad business for the nation, it has been good business for certain classes and certain trades within the nation. The vast expenditure on armaments, the costly wars, the grave risks and embarrassments of foreign policy, the stoppage of political and social reforms within Great Britain, though fraught with great injury to the nation, have served well the present business interests of certain industries and professions.

    It is idle to meddle with politics unless we clearly recognise this central fact and understand what these sectional interests are which are the enemies of national safety and the commonwealth. We must put aside the merely sentimental diagnosis which explains wars or other national blunders by outbursts of patriotic animosity or errors of statecraft. Doubtless at every outbreak of war not only the man in the street but the man at the helm is often duped by the cunning with which aggressive motives and greedy purposes dress themselves in defensive clothing. There is, it may be safely asserted, no war within memory, however nakedly aggressive it may seem to the dispassionate historian, which has not been presented to the people who were called upon to fight as a necessary defensive policy, in which the honour, perhaps the very existence, of the State was involved.

    The disastrous folly of these wars, the material and moral damage inflicted even on the victor, appear so plain to the disinterested spectator that he is apt to despair of any State attaining years of discretion, and inclines to regard these natural cataclysms as implying some ultimate irrationalism in politics. But careful analysis of the existing relations between business and politics shows that the aggressive Imperialism which we seek to understand is not in the main the product of blind passions of races or of the mixed folly and ambition of politicians. It is far more rational than at first sight appears. Irrational from the standpoint of the whole nation, it is rational enough from the standpoint of certain classes in the nation. A completely socialist State which kept good books and presented regular balance-sheets of expenditure and assets would soon discard Imperialism; an intelligent laissez-faire democracy which gave duly proportionate weight in its policy to all economic interests alike would do the same. But a State in which certain well-organised business interests are able to outweigh the weak, diffused interest of the community is bound to pursue a policy which accords with the pressure of the former interests.


    If the special interest of the investor is liable to clash with the public interest and to induce a wrecking policy, still more dangerous is the special interest of the financier, the general dealer in investments. In large measure the rank and the of the investors are, both for business and for politics, the cat’s-paws of the great financial houses, who use stocks and shares not so much as investments to yield them interest, but as material for speculation in the money market. In handling large masses of stocks and shares, in floating companies, in manipulating fluctuations of values, the magnates of the Bourse find their gain. These great businesses—banking, broking, bill discounting, loan floating, company promoting—form the central ganglion of international capitalism. United by the strongest bonds of organisation, always in closest and quickest touch with one another, situated in the very heart of the business capital of every State, controlled, so far as Europe is concerned, chiefly by men of a single and peculiar race, who have behind them many centuries of financial experience, they are in a unique position to control the policy of nations. No great quick direction of capital is possible save by their consent and through their agency.

    Does anyone seriously suppose that a great war could be undertaken by any European State, or a great State loan subscribed, if the house of Rothschild and its connections set their face against it? Every great political act involving a new flow of capital, or a large fluctuation in the values of existing investments, must receive the sanction and the practical aid of this little group of financial kings. These men, holding their realized wealth and their business capital, as they must, chiefly in stocks and bonds, have a double stake, first as investors, but secondly and chiefly as financial dealers. As investors, their political influence does not differ essentially from that of the smaller investors, except that they usually possess a practical control of the businesses in which they invest. As speculators or financial dealers they constitute, however, the gravest single factor in the economics of Imperialism.

    To create new public debts, to float new companies, and to cause constant considerable fluctuations of values are three conditions of their profitable business. Each condition carries them into politics, and throws them on the side of Imperialism.

    The public financial arrangements for the Philippine war put several millions of dollars into the pockets of Mr. Pierpont Morgan and his friends; the China-Japan war, which saddled the Celestial Empire for the first time with a public debt, and the indemnity which she will pay to her European invaders in connection with the recent conflict, bring grist to the financial mills in Europe; every railway or mining concession wrung from some reluctant foreign potentate means profitable business in raising capital and floating companies. A policy which rouses fears of aggression in Asiatic states, and which fans the rivalry of commercial nations in Europe, evokes vast expenditure on armaments, and ever-accumulating public debts, while the doubts and risks accruing from this policy promote that constant oscillation of values of securities which is so profitable to the skilled financier. There is not a war, a revolution, an anarchist assassination, or any other public shock, which is not gainful to these men; they are harpies who suck their gains from every new forced expenditure and every sudden disturbance of public credit.

    1. TedWa

      Great post. It makes me think that the reason the Founding Fathers gave the US the power to mint it’s own money was to keep war-faring banksters from taking over all our policies at home and abroad – as they have now. Get rid of the Federal Reserve does not get much traction however. Very unfortunate.

      1. jonboinAR

        It does get some traction. I hear, or read, remarks everywhere calling for getting rid of the FR.

  17. King of the Nuthouse

    @Jill, agreed, the hackneyed language is grating, particularly “gridlock.” And why would we even think about this ‘exceptional’ nonsense, much less hang a whole article on it? Strictly speaking, the US is a weak state: able to perpetuate itself, but unable to justify its existence. It maintains repressive capacity but lacks protective capacity, so it’s stable but gravely derelict in its duties. The classic example is North Korea. Parallels to the DPRK are striking, not just the weak-state syndrome but the idiosyncratic, delusional ideology of the government elites. To see the US floundering around in the international space is eye-opening: the US bureaucrats are spouting gibberish that makes sense to no one else on earth. Diplomats and jurists sound like psychiatrists when they try to talk to US apparatchiks. The US government is just a sad loony pariah state, a pain in the ass at home and abroad. This is a state that thinks it can lead,

    Res. 36/96B 109-1 (USA)
    Res. 37/98A 95-1 (USA)
    Res. 38/187A 98-1 (USA)
    Res. 39-65B 84-1 (USA)
    Res. 37/73 111-1 (USA)
    Res. 37-78A 114-1 (USA)
    Res. 38-183M 133-1 (USA)
    Res. 39/148N 123-1 (USA)
    Res. 38/182 116-1 (USA)
    Res. 39/62 125-1 (USA)
    Res. 37/83 138-1 (USA)
    Res. 38/70 147-1 (USA)
    Res. 36/12 145-1 (USA)
    Res. 36/13 124-1 (USA)
    Res. 36/172C 136-1 (USA)
    Res. 36/172N 139-1 (USA)
    Res. 36/172O 138-1 (USA)
    Res.37/47 124-1 (USA)
    Res. 37/69E 141-1 (USA)
    Res. 37/69G 138-1 (USA)
    Res. 37/69H 134-1 (USA)
    Res.38/19 110-1 (USA)
    Res. 38/39E 149-1 (USA)
    Res. 38/39I 140-1 (USA)
    Res. 38/39K 145-1 (USA)
    Res. 36/133 135-1 (USA)
    Res. 36/199 131-1 (USA)
    Res. 38/124 132-1 (USA)
    Res. 33/137 146-1 (USA)
    Res. 41/450 146-1 (USA)
    Res. 36/19 126-1 (USA)
    Res. 38/25 131-1 (USA)
    Res.42-101 150-0-1 (USA)

  18. ExtraT

    Many comments here are more interesting, informative, and insightful than the posted articles. This I have seen many times on NC. The quality of people that blog at NC is better than anything I know on the web. NC is an (inter)national treasure. My biggest concern is that it will be only a matter of time before NC is muzzled/neutralized by TPTB. Yves, do you have contingency plans for that, for example to move out of USA?

    1. different clue

      But it is the articles themselves which attract(ed/s) the commenters who would otherwise have no “here” to gather at. So gratitude where due. Probably people who understand the enduring value of the posts and the threads (and the links they link to and so forth) should be personally archiving/storing as much as possible in little hard drives and thumb drives and so forth, which can be hidden and carried around . . . for when everything on the “MotherCloud” is erased. They should also be printed back out into all kinds of hard-copy forms . . . on acid free paper, on microfilm and microfiche ( and people should maintain microfilm and microfiche readers) and etc. People doing this should study how the Solidarity Movement in Jaruszelski-era Poland were able to move physical messages around without the Polish Secret Police intercepting them all. Versions of such skills would be useful in preserving, propagagating and distributing the free-standing little storage-hoards and storage-hordes.

      Catapult the samizdata.

      1. different clue

        Also, one finds a very high level of comments and commenters at Colonel (Retired) Lang’s blog called Sic Semper Tyrannis. I hope it can someday be installed into the relevant part of this blog’s blogroll.

  19. TG

    An interesting post, and many intelligent comments.

    My own angle: as the American elites acquire ever more power, as they become ever more unaccountable for their actions (either to the general public, or as their own failures no longer harm them personally), the elites become ever more intellectually inbred. Their only real skill is in achieving and maintaining their own personal hold over society, but absent feedback their ability to do anything else becomes increasingly incoherent and disjointed. Decisions are made based on internal political maneuvering, or trendy political fashions that are little more than made -up bullet-points on a powerpoint presentation. Contact with reality is no longer a priority for the determination of policy.

    We should perhaps even have some sympathy. If every time you did something you were always showered with praise and money, and you never ever experienced failure or criticism, you’d lose your ability to think as well. It’s what an engineer would call breaking the feedback loop.

    1. Fiver

      You mistake the public mask for the creature beneath – they want us to believe they are a bunch of boobs. Boobs are unaccountable, mistakes forgiven, good men and women all caught off-guard by utterly unforeseen events. With this formula one can commit treason, war crimes, ecocide, mammoth fraud, any wrong on any scale. These days all it takes is to say “Mistakes were made. Things were missed. But we did our best with what we had. You know, I love this country.” and with a badly written “book” and a tour of smiling, friendly media, the guilty are rehabilitated, the virtual ‘healing’ begun – free to sell their crimes and connections for all they’re worth.

      So much easier, given the population doesn’t really respond, to let them think blanket incompetence rather than havoc rationally driven by powerful actors in pursuit of goals utterly antithetical to the public interest. Even the leadership elite of the fabulously power-friendly existing US regime (for that is what it is) is not yet powerful enough to just interrupt regular everything, ensure they’ve got our full attention, and announce they are going to start telling the public what they’re really doing and why – and then do it. It would bring bedlam.

  20. Littletoot

    As an outsider, looking in, all this is absolutely obvious. The 10% (or so…) have declared themselves, in so many words, the NEW USA. They don’t WANT the unwashed, ignorant, uneducated 90% intruding in their lives, at all, for any reason. With their wealth, education, power, and control, all the petty obstacles of democracy will fall away, and they will be left to plan and live their lives in complete safety and abundance, and NEVER,EVER have to look over their shoulders again. I expect the next thing we will see is an actual WALL being built. A new border, if you will. US(A) and US(B).

  21. Fiver

    In many respects a very good piece. Also, some really solid comments.

    I would like to quickly address one point, though, and that is the author’s (and many others’) tendency to view events in a pre-9/11 Golden Age vs post-9/11 Paradise Lost manner which very badly misrepresents the degree of continuity in US Empire policy and practice since the lead-up to WWII as an evolution of the profoundly integrating feedback relationship between US State and US corporate power, and of the post-War process of US State-sponsored corporate globalization, which stopped responding to real US citizen needs via the ballot box in any effective way long, long before 9/11.

    It is this continuity of the now popularized ‘deep State’, the seamless weave of corporate and State managers (and officers, in the military) that had only been held in partial check by the brute fact of the Soviet Union that has come to dominate all else. “It” has never stopped increasing Its own share of resources, never stopped trying – and successfully – to increase Its own power by driving development and deployment of new, powerful technologies of all kinds, and never will cede control of Its own accord.

    Still dominated by Old Power (Big Oil, Finance, Military) it was when It birthed Its prodigy child, Really Big Info, safe and sound from the Tech Wreck, that the time was ripe to come out of the shadows, miscount those hanging chads and get 5 Judges to swear by it, take down the Towers and roll out Continuity, high oil prices and zero accountability – for ever, and ever, amen.

    1. Fiver

      I’d like to put the final point with a little more clarity:

      1) The NSA had the enormous information capture capability that came from tapping into the “Silicon Highway” prior to 9/11 to get critical information on anyone in the United States, though it claims it did not use this capability.

      2) Five Judges of the Supreme Court rendered the worst judgment or their respective careers.

      3) Al Gore chose not to fight a hammer-blow to democracy.

      4) Gross incompetence struck every critical piece of the US State machinery charged with preventing something like 9/11.

      5) The Towers Fall, the Saudis fly home with impunity, 2 countries are destroyed for no legitimate reason, and Big Oil, Big Finance, Big Military and Really Big Info (National Security) go on an absolute tear for the next dozen years amassing more wealth and power than even they had dared to imagine possible.

      6) The First Black President is briefed, then serves 2 terms amounting to one long “Aw shucks. Oh well, then.” as he abandons all previously proclaimed values under cover of millions of empty words.

      7) Nobody in a position of power in the entire US elite utters so much as a peep.

      Serious critics had for decades screamed their hearts out that the fusion of State and Corporate power in combination with increasingly powerful technologies would produce precisely the result we see, if not the particulars of Behemoth’s Coming Out Party.

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