Russia’s Huge Oil Tanker Fleet Struggles To Find Buyer Destinations as G7 Revokes “Most Favored Nation” Status

Yves here. This article confirms something reported by Alexander Mercouris: that most if not all Russian oil is transported by Russian ships. And since Russian ships were already being rejected docking at ports in the Europe and the US, it begged the question of why Biden bothered banning Russian oil…since it was already banned.

But the rapid action to shun Russian output and break commercial ties to Russia…based largely on the sanction of the Russian central bank and the designed-to-be-leaky-and-specifically-oil-sparing sanctions. Other key industries in Europe wanted to be exempted. Recall Colonel Smithers’ list from a well-networked lobbyist on February 24:

Banking: Opposed by Austria, France, Germany and Italy. France exposed directly and via Italy.

Energy: Opposed by most member states.

Luxury goods: Opposed by France and Italy. France exposed directly and via Italy.

Diamonds: Opposed by Belgium and the Netherlands.

Railway infrastructure: Opposed by France and Italy.

Yet the lead story in today’s Financial Times is G7 moves to end normal trade relations with Russia. Key sections:

The G7 nations said they would end normal trade relations with Russia on Friday as part of a series of new measures to inflict economic punishment on Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

The joint step, first announced by US president Joe Biden, includes revoking Russia’s “most-favoured nation” status, which allows it to trade goods on preferential terms with many western countries under rules set by the World Trade Organization. The move will lead to higher tariffs on many Russian exports.

The G7 agreed on other measures as well, including stopping Russia from obtaining any financing from international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank…

While the sanctions differ by country, the US and EU said they would ban exports of luxury goods to Russia and impose further curbs on members of Russia’s elite. The US will also create the legal authority for bans on investment in any sector of the Russian economy, beyond energy.

First, the obsession with Russia’s oligarchs is un and potentially counter-productive. The West is under the mistaken impression that they wield political power in Russia, like American billionaires. My understanding is that Putin has cut them down to size in terms of the influence (after all, this would be a necessary condition to prevent further looting, which he does appear to have curbed). So in Russia, the oligarchs are perceived as parasites who got to keep their ill-gotten lucre. Making their lives unpleasant would go over well in Russia.

Moreover, to the extent that these super-rich can sell their non-Russian assets, some if not many would repatriate them if can find a route (likely). The rouble is at a bargain basement level. The withdrawal of Western firms along with Russia’s plan to install new management may create investment opportunities. Many have halted operations yet are still paying staff and rent, but that might not be good enough for the Russian government since the aren’t buying supplies. From a March 10 publication from the Kremlin:

Our core goals include protecting the domestic market and ensuring uninterrupted functioning of enterprises by eliminating disruptions in logistics and production chains and, of course, maintaining employment. It is important to help the people and businesses quickly adapt to the changing circumstances.

Two sets of draft laws with anti-sanction measures as the top priority, that’s about 20 draft laws in all, and the Government acts that are necessary to implement them, have been promptly prepared. They include specific proposals for stabilising financial markets, supporting a number of industries, ensuring sustainability of the domestic private sector, and also proposals for the return of capital to Russia’s jurisdiction.

A draft law to prevent manufacturing shutdowns has been prepared. If foreign owners shut down their facilities without reasonable grounds, the Government is proposing the introduction of external management. Depending on the owner’s decision, this will determine the future of the company. In the process, the key goal will be to maintain profile corporate activities and jobs. Most companies are announcing temporary suspension of operations while preserving jobs and salaries. We will carefully monitor this situation.

Second, there’s no question this move will hurt Russia. But quite honestly, why should Russia be selling goods in dollars when it’s being barred from using them? The West might as well be paying in cowrie shells. And even though Russia clearly needs some products from the US and Europe, like auto and aerospace parts, the West needs Russia’s commodities even more. Oh, and does the removal of most favored nation status means they’ll be subject to tariffs and if so, cost even more? How clever would that be?1

Reader Alphonse provided a persuasive theory yesterday as to why this punitive reflex, which is well into the terrain of being counterproductive, has taken hold:

I posted about this yesterday. An interview with John Robb on the topic is well worth listening to. He directly links with TDS.

Robb says he advised the U.S. government with how to deal with insurgents during the Iraq war. He has a theory of what he calls “open source” insurgency and warfare conducted by distributed networks rather than directed hierarchically. Rather than coordinating with one another, individual actors choose to contribute to a plausible goal (I forget the exact term he uses). Often they are motivated by empathy triggers (again I forget the term).

He says that the reaction of so many companies and organizations sanctioning Ukraine within just a few days could not have been organized by the U.S. government. The network (or swarm) emerged spontaneously in response to empathy triggers coming out of Ukraine. Because of his theory, he says he was tracking this from early days and saw that the first to promote the cancellation were members and organizations of the Resistance to Trump.

The problem with the network is that it has no limits. Regardless of whether Russia gives in, its demands will increase until they include deposing Putin and disarming Russia of its nuclear weapons. Which will never happen: but the network also lacks a sense of its own mortality, so in its monomaniacal focus on punishing Russia it takes no heed of collateral damage and risk, like the risk of nuclear war.

I think this connects with TDS – and also with social justice cancellations and in the persecution of the unvaccinated. The bottom-up emergence of a mass that pursues the destruction of a victim is theorized by Rene Girard in his theory of mimesis and scapegoating, by Mattias Desmet in his theory of mass formation (made famous around Covid), by Hannah Arendt in some of her work on totalitarianism, and some are apparent in the work of Byung-Chul Han, who described the digital swarm of social media. I talk about a bit of this in my comment from yesterday.

I think we are in a very dangerous situation where a non-human entity – the swarm – is pivoting from and attempting to destroy one target after another, pulling our institutions (governments, firms, NGOs) behind in its wake. There is no-one in charge. Even if we avoid blowback from its actions against Russia, the fundamental problem and danger will not go away. Not only do we have no way to establish control or limits over this phenomenon: most of us are not even aware that it is happening, even as we become wrapped up in the mania.

And now to the details on tankers, which confirms Alphonse’s self-sanctioning theme.

By Tsvetana Paraskova, a writer for with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews. Originally published at OilPrice

Several Russia-owned tankers have been idle at sea for more than a week along European and North American coasts as countries have either banned imports of Russian oil or Russian vessels docking at their ports, all this while many traders and buyers refuse to deal with Russian crude.

As many as nine mid-sized vessels, Aframaxes, owned by Russian state tanker fleet operator Sovcomflot have been idle around North America and Europe for over a week, while a typical idle time for a tanker is a day or two, Bloomberg reported on Friday, quoting ship-tracking data it has compiled.

Many Western countries and companies are not risking touching Russia-linked crude shipped by Sovcomflot, which is majority held by the Russian government.

Sovcomflot, with a total fleet of 110 tankers, owns 52 Aframaxes, which makes it the world’s largest owner of those type of vessels, according to data from Clarksons Research Services cited by Bloomberg.

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, several countries banned Russian ships from their ports and waters. Canada and the UK were the first. On March 1, Canada prohibited Russian ships and fishing vessels from entering Canadian ports and internal waters. The UK banned on the same day from it ports any vessels “owned or operated by anyone connected to Russia” and said that authorities would also gain new powers to detain Russian vessels.

Two days after the Canadian ban, two Sovcomflot-owned oil tankers rerouted from their destinations in Canada.

In the UK, port workers at a terminal on the River Mersey, from where oil is pumped to Stanlow Oil Refinery, refused last week to unload Russian oil from a Germany-flagged ship.

While Sovcomflot’s tankers in the Pacific do not appear to be idling like the ones near Europe or North America, the problem for the Russian tanker owner could become much worse from now on, considering that a growing number of traders and buyers in Europe will likely be shunning Russia-related crude due to “self-sanctioning” and reputational risks.


1 The G7 action is inconsistent with the results of a summit of EU leaders in Versailles on Thursday, where they were reported as drawing back from further financial sanctions and barring Russian energy.

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  1. JohnA

    The situation with London soccer club Chelsea, owned by Roman Abramovich, has become beyond absurd. Abramovich acquired his billions during the wild west Yeltsin years, now lives in Israel and bought Chelsea nearly 20 years ago. Like most of the Russian oligarchs, there are photographs of him with Putin, but I have no idea what specific ties he has with him. Abramovich pumped millions into the soccer team, which was on the verge of bankruptcy when he arrived, and the team is currently World Champions.
    Now Abramovich has been sanctioned, he announced he would sell the club, and negotiations were in progress with several prospective buyers. Suddenly, not only have all his assets in Britain been frozen, but the Chelsea club bank accounts as well. The club is now not even allowed to sell tickets for games, shirts and other apparel, the shirt sponsor has pulled out and demanded their logo be removed from the shirts but the club officially cannot buy blank replacement shirts. The club is allowed meagre expenses for travel etc. It is petty and vindictive beyond extreme. Chelsea is now in limbo and it is questionable whether the team can complete the season, that runs until May.

    The money Abramovich has invested in property in London and New York and elsewhere was just as tainted before 24 February but nothign was ever said. More fool the oligarchs for laundering billions in the west.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Yes, the Chelsea situation seems really weird, not least because Abramovich is very popular with the fanbase. From what I know of him, of all the oligarchs, he walked the tightest rope between trying to make a home in London while keeping his Russian connections. But making himself so high profile was very risky. I think the UK government is already backing off a little – my guess is that they’ll encourage a quick sale, although that could get complicated if the interested parties start smelling the prospect of buying on the cheap. The bigger question though for London is whether this will drive all the hot money out of that city to places like Tel Aviv or UAE or Singapore. This would of course collapse the property market there.

      I wonder if the various State investors in Premiership clubs (Qatar, UAE and now, Saudi Arabia) may have second thoughts. I’ve never fully understood what they hoped to get from these investments – they don’t seem to have realised that for every fan who loves you for improving their team, there are 10 fans of other clubs who hate you for distorting the league. For all the success of Chelsea and Manchester City, they’ve never really won all that much love worldwide – the fanbases of the traditional big clubs are still far bigger around the world.

      1. The Rev Kev

        I always thought that the UK stealing – there is no other word for it – Venezuela’s gold which was on deposit in their banks was a major error as well as a declaration that foreign deposits were not safe in the UK. That was bad enough. But this cash grab sounds nothing more than grubby and there is always the suspicion that it was done so that one of Boris’s mates could buy up Chelsea on the cheap. There must be a lot of countries right now who are thinking hard about where exactly their deposits are actually safe. Hint, the UK will no longer be on that list.

        1. Special

          One problem with being rich is that you start to feel special, so whatever happens to others won’t touch you. Putin has offered the oligarchs to return their money to Russia for many years but hey these fools didn’t so now they have to eat humble pie (possibly).
          Just becaue they steal one oligarch’s money others won’t automatically think “oh, I gotta go”, but “yes, a speial situation for him but I am special, rich abd have friends, so it won’t happen to me. Moreover the have stolen money only from a minimal amount of countries, not systematically.

          1. lance ringquist

            many wealthy germans found that out the hard way under hitler, i say tough bounce. they wanted him, they got their just deserves.

      2. M Quinlan

        I wonder how this will play out with Chinese, and other elites’, wealth being hidden abroad. I believe you have mentioned in the past that fear of confiscation is particularly strong in China, perhaps this will cause a reassessment among all the World’s Kleptocrats.
        Will the Treasure Islands become desert islands instead?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think thats the big question. I’ve heard it suggested (I’ve seen no proof of this), that there is already a diversion of property investment money to Dubai and Tel Aviv. The big attraction of owning property in London for the rich in many countries is that its seen as a safe haven. If there is a question of confiscation, then the calculation changes.

          1. Susan the other

            This is probably going beyond speculation, but the news about Biden asking Maduro for oil yesterday was a brain-changer for me. Now with the above about “the swarm” overreacting to Russian imports, keeping their tankers aimlessly floating around, and the weird stuff about the Saudis buying diesel from “other producers” – and all the cautious comments (both above and also Paul Jay) about not pushing Russia to nuclear war, and helping the oil producers maintain viable domestic economies, etc… and now you tossing up an oligarchs’ real estate boom in Dubai and Tel Aviv into this strange mix… I’m wondering if it is possible that Russia is now forced (or helped) to sell its oil to the Saudis and Dubai and they, in turn, will send it to Israel to broker. Weirder things have happened.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              For some reason that reminds me of Bulgarian wine in UK supermarkets in the 1980’s. By far the best cheap wine in most UK supermarkets was Bulgarian, superb quality for very low prices. As a student at the time it was a real treat to be able to buy a bottle of good wine for £4 to go with my badly cooked pasta dinner. It stopped when Nelson Mandela came to power. Turned out the Bulgarians were buying up all the best South African wines (it was boycotted/sanctioned) and relabelling it as Plovdiv Reserve or whatever. Everyone quickly found out that real Bulgarian wine is… a little rough.

              I don’t think the Russians can do that without it being noticed, as you can’t really hide a tanker sailing from Russia to Saudi Arabia, but I’m sure there are workarounds.

              One crucial thing thats often forgotten, including people in the industry, is that oil is not a fungible product like LNG. Every refinery is based on a particular mix of grades, you can’t just switch a refinery built for, say, North Sea light crude to using Venezuelan heavy. The importance of Venezuelan oil to the US is not the quantity of oil, but that the heavy grades are needed to mix with the very light tight oil from fracking beds. Some oils will also produce more of one grade (say, diesel) than the local market needs but not enough gasoline (which is why some net oil producing countries may still have to import oil products). So losing a major oil source isn’t just a problem in terms of barrels in the market – it can have all sorts of knock on impacts on the market. We’ll soon find out what those are.

              1. Greg

                Thanks for this comment. I’m sure I’ve read about the grade variation in the past, but it hadn’t clicked just how important it was until I read this.

              2. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

                I fondly remember drinking those 1980s ‘Bulgarian’ wines when I lived in the U.K. during the Thatcher years. It’s not only real Bulgarian wines that were a little rough. In April 1984, I booked a cheap ski holiday in Bulgaria – one week in Pamporovo, one in Borovets. A popular cocktail was the Soyuz-Apollo, vodka and cola – Pepsi I think had a big drinks franchise in the Soviet bloc IIRC. I remember ordering one. The waiter delivered a large tumbler filled with a brown liquid. That turned out to be the Apollo part. Separately, he delivered an equally large tumbler of vodka.

                1. Wukchumni

                  I bought, I think 97,000x 4 packs of Zagorka Bulgarian beer @ a US Customs auction about 25 years ago.

                  Sold em’ to the the 99 Cent Store and a week later they were selling 4 packs for 99 Cents, ah capitalism!

              3. The Rev Kev

                I can well believe your story about Bulgaria wine. When I was in South Africa during apartheid I met a guy who was an exporter. He told me that not only were South African technician scattered throughout Africa keeping things running but despite the ban on importing goods from South Africa, he would just label those exports as ‘Product of Africa.’

      3. Basil Pesto

        It’s pretty great to be honest, a lot of schadenfreude going around at the reckoning for the club formerly known as Chelski. Of course Abramovich (who’s just been barred from directorship), by all accounts a pretty terrible dude with a pretty terrible fortune, never should have been allowed to take over Chelsea in the first place but as we’ve discussed before, it’s 1) shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted in a very selective (and arguably unfair, but I don’t have a violin sufficiently tiny to convey my lack of sympathy) way and 2) replete with a certain cognitive dissonance, which Barney Ronay addresses very well here today. Abramovich’s disproportionate market power changed European football and not for the better (unless you’re a Chelsea fan), but it’s still hard to figure what, if anything, his exit portends.

    2. anon123

      About time.

      Abramovich, and other second/third world thieves, should never have been allowed into the “west” in the first place. If this means less luxury goods sales in Vancouver and Paris that is a good thing.

      The proceeds from the sale should go to the Russian Treasury.

  2. britzklieg

    I think we are in a very dangerous situation where a non-human entity – the swarm – is pivoting from and attempting to destroy one target after another, pulling our institutions (governments, firms, NGOs) behind in its wake. There is no-one in charge. Even if we avoid blowback from its actions against Russia, the fundamental problem and danger will not go away. Not only do we have no way to establish control or limits over this phenomenon: most of us are not even aware that it is happening, even as we become wrapped up in the mania.

    Deeply, deeply unsettling…

    1. Ignacio

      Indeed. Can this swarm be qualified as wokeism or wokism in motion? It was the day before yesterday I read about this here in this blog. And now see it everywhere…

      1. Lambert Strether

        > qualified as wokeism or wokism in motion?

        Insofar as wokeism employs “empathy triggers”, yes. (I was about to say “motivated by,” but I think wokeism is mostly motivated by careerism, and employs empathy triggers tactically. The parallel to warmongering is clear.)

        1. polar donkey

          The level of anti-russain propaganda penetration on both the left and right is scary. Whether my liberal sister or conservative father-in-law. Russia doing horribly. Putin a terrible dictator who will fall soon. I try to point out a third of Ukrainian army is surrounded and will cease to exist in the very near future, either through surrender or destruction. Along with most major cities being surrounded, including the capitol. This all done in 2 weeks. That smells like victory to me. When Ukraine collapses shortly, the country is split, and Russia a clear winner, how will Americans mentally handle it? People can’t even wrap their heads around what an actual shooting war with Russia would mean. Nuclear weapons apparently aren’t a thing anymore. Is the US military the sanest entity in the room at this point? The swarm is real, irrational, and a plague on the country.

          1. anon123

            Mr. Robb’s analysis is great and worth listening to as he explains much of what we are seeing.

            My issue with his analysis is that the 4 and 5 g warfare and the corporations depend on the nation state. No nation state no corporations, as the corporations depend on the nation states for enforcement at the end of the day. The other issue is the twitter mob is not physically that large in numbers and physical reality has an impact.

            I would be interested to hear other commenters opinions of the Robb interview.

            BTW my comment on Abromovich does not wish him personally any harm. Abromovich is short hand for a group of people who steal from their countries and then seek refuge elsewhere. (Vancouver cough cough) I would not deny any of these thieves food or shelter.

            1. Michaelmas

              anon123: the corporations depend on the nation states for enforcement at the end of the day.

              Not necessarily.

              The original megacorp, John Company — the East India Company — maintained a standing army twice the size of the then-existing British Army and controlled the sub-continent for all practical purposes at one point.

              1. Fritzi

                And yet this forced them to act more like a state than a for profit company in many ways.

                In the end they were dissolved and the crown took over India, partly because it wasn’t ultimately all that profitable to to have to actually run an entire country.

                Hmh, I admittedly have to read up on it again, but I seem to remember that the British government had to save them from bankruptcy more than once even before then.

                1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield

                  I highly recommend William Dalrymple’s The Anarchy, an excellent recent history of the East India Company.

              2. Yves Smith Post author

                Huh? The East India Company NEVER WOULD HAVE EXISTED had it not been given an exclusive franchise by England:

                The Adventurers convened again a year later, on 31 December, and this time they succeeded; the Queen granted a Royal Charter to “George, Earl of Cumberland, and 215 Knights, Aldermen, and Burgesses”[citation needed] under the name Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies. For a period of fifteen years, the charter awarded the newly formed company a monopoly] on English trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Straits of Magellan. Any traders in breach of the charter without a licence from the company were liable to forfeiture of their ships and cargo (half of which went to the Crown and the other half to the company), as well as imprisonment at the “royal pleasure”.


                1. Michaelmas

                  @ Yves S.

                  The extant law of any state means nothing without the implied threat of violence. Indeed, the standard line on what defines the state is that it has a monopoly on violence — it alone has the right to use or authorize the use of physical force and that’s its defining characteristic


                  IN THE REAL WORLD, when the East India Company had a standing army twice the size of England’s army of the time and the full, unconstrained use of the then-superior European military technology to enact extreme violence in the Asian sub-continent — though challenged by native rulers and the French and Dutch East India Companies initially — how much did theoretical law mean?

                  The career of the psychopathic Clive of India, who started as a company clerk, is instructive on this score —

                  “We seem to have acquired an empire in a fit of absent-mindedness,” was a slightly embarrassed joke among the 19th century Victorian British upper-class. That ‘fit of absent-mindedness’ was principally the actions of Clive and the East India Company. In 1773, Clive’s enemies in Parliament pressed for him to be put on trial for how he’d abused the charter to enrich himself at its expense and that of the British government — the atrocities and massacres he’d committed in India were a mere side issue. Parliament completely exonerated Clive, who was commended for the “great and meritorious service” he’d rendered the country.

                  IN THE REAL WORLD, in other words, as long as the loot — as we all know, originally an Indian word — flowed to the British wealthy classes, Clive’s infractions against UK law as he violently created a private empire in India were completely disregarded.

                  IN THE REAL WORLD, similarly, in the US after the 2008 financial crash four-hundred years of property law regarding chain of title were set aside as the banks and the Obama administration conspired to forge the documentation establishing chains-of-title for something like a million homes — the so-called “robosigning” — in order to save the wealth structure that kept the rich in the US rich.

                  The theoretical law meant nothing. In the end, US courts enforced the interests of the banks and the wealthy, and if necessary law enforcement agents were sent to throw people out of their homes — used violence, in other words. “He who has the gold makes the law.”

                  The East India Company at the height of its power had the REAL WORLD capability to achieve a dominant, effective use of military-style violence to enact its ends that was nominally superior in some respects to the British state of its day. It happened that the Company’s interests were identical with that of the UK’s wealthy classes. Matters could have been otherwise. If so, the law and the original terms of the Charter would have meant nothing .

                  1. Yves Smith Post author

                    You are completely and utterly talking past my point.

                    The East India Company would not have existed and become dominant and able to fund an army had it not had a 15 year state granted monopoly. Period.

                    And the Raj was not implemented in India until 1858, so query what if any legal status Indians had prior to that.

                    And it does NOT require state power to use violence. I suggest you study up on the history of labor in the US. Ford Motor once had a huge private army to harass organizers. Pinkertons was a private army for hire to manufacturers for the same purpose. Neither was state authorized, not even remotely.

                    And as for chain of title….we were there. Judges were unwilling to learn about how securitizations worked and acted as if traditional bank/borrower relations obtained…which is frankly what most borrowers assumed they were getting too. And more fundamentally, they didn’t see it as just that a borrower who had defaulted would get a free house, which would have been the outcome. So this formally WAS legal. Courts backed it. This is no different than getting an unjust-seeming from a jury in a murder trial.

                    The failure was that banks in the old days were willing to ignore their own legal agreements and make mortgage modifications to viable borrowers to reduce losses. In the new world, servicers became the choke point and made money at the expense of borrowers who could have been salvaged.

                    And the big banks had big portfolios of second mortgages which they would have had to write off 100% to modify firsts. So giving mortgage borrowers their relief would have resulted in yet another round of bailout to big banks, particularly Citi, a mere three-four years after the crisis. That was the realpolitik bit we borrower advocated kidded ourselves about. That was na ga happen.

                2. Anon123

                  Thanks. Same for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The legitimacy of both the East India Company and the HBC were from the crown. At times the HBC and England were interchangeable.

            2. hemeantwell

              Robb’s idea is interesting at first but seems upon reflection to be largely old wine (the Bulgarian vino story sticks!) and not terribly convincing. The idea of “empathy triggers” sounds to be just another term for talking about symbolically heavy propaganda.

              And what, pray tell, makes it a “non-human entity”? Is he talking about some kind of crowd psychology? Or is it crowd psychology + bots? That’s worth considering in that it could whip up a froth and keep it going. But then the question would be how it translates into real political pressure. Is NATO going to be bending to tweetstorms? And then if it were bot-based isn’t that discoverable? We’re not talking about the impact on Veepish pols here.

              1. danpaco

                I believe Robb is equating “non human entities” to social media company algorithms and their influence on what we see. My facebook feed is a testament to the “swarm” in action.

                1. hemeantwell

                  I see. I appreciate that one has to be careful about banalizing what might be conceptualizations of genuinely new phenomena. Still, whether it could really be called a non-human entity, as opposed to a crowd of people who are propagandized and then remain stimulated by reminders, is a question.

                  As I’ve mentioned here before, often these theories treat people as though they are incapable of reflection. Here it’s as though they are going to remain in a state of excitement without ever coming to realize their ally base is in fact weak. Activating tweetstorms have to play out in real world action eventually. To borrow from MacAlevey, that’s their ‘structure test.’

                  1. danpaco

                    Thats a great question.
                    It could be that after the initial push by human forces the algorithm then takes over and amplifies the message since most algorithms are designed to maximize engagement. There seems to be a critical moment when the human entity transforms to the non-human hence the “swarm”.
                    As for reflection, I think people are too overstimulated to notice that they are being “algorithimed” (new verb). Occasionally you can stick your head up above the constant crisis take a breath but its difficult to stay there.
                    Crossing the border back to Canada during the Trump years lifted a weight off your shoulders and you could finally take a deep breath. You couldn’t avoid all things Trump in the US no matter how hard you tried and I really tried.

                2. Librarian Guy

                  If you watched Black Mirror episodes a couple years back, there was an episode about specifically this type of “swarm”, which was literalized and deployed as either electronic Wasps or bees . . . so the British public would be polled weekly for some program as to who a really “evil” bad person was who would then be righteously murdered by this swarm (using facial recognition tech, etc.) when the results came in . . . someone hacked the system, unintended consequences!! Too lazy to look up the specific episode # today but highly recommended!!

          2. kareninca

            “When Ukraine collapses shortly, the country is split, and Russia a clear winner, how will Americans mentally handle it? ”

            Our media will tell them that Ukraine won, and enough of them will believe it. And anyway by then they will have moved on to the next distraction that has been provided. I have friends and relatives who have that sort of attention span, and I doubt that they are unique.

      2. Kouros

        Jacques Le Bon I think dealt first with the issue in his book on crowd psychology based on his experiences with the masses during the French Revolution…

        Crimean War was created ultimately by the English Yellow press. It is not that difficult to tone down the situation. All the little Savonarolas can be identified and easily scared away and made to take some well earned vacations and sabbaticals… with a nice message for those temporarily replacing them…

        And temporarily shut down Facebook and talk with the mods on reddit.

        1. The Rev Kev

          ‘Crimean War was created ultimately by the English Yellow press.’

          I had quite forgotten that and you are quite right. There was an insistence on Fighting The Russian Bear to save some or another people or whatever. Honour had to be maintained. So when the politicians looked at the map, realized that Russia was quite big. So they chose the peninsular of Crimea as the only reasonable place to attack them and so launched an invasion. But there was a parallel with the attack Russia mania in the press back then and now.

    2. Michaelmas

      Things are in the saddle and ride Mankind
      – Emerson

      “The bottom-up emergence of a mass that pursues the destruction of a victim is theorized by Rene Girard in his theory of mimesis and scapegoating, by Mattias Desmet in his theory of mass formation, by Hannah Arendt in some of her work on totalitarianism, and … apparent in the work of Byung-Chul Han, who described the digital swarm of social media.”

      Yes, this all sounds right. But see also Elias Canetti in his CROWDS AND POWER (1960), which the Wiki describes aptly as “like a manual written by someone outside the human race explaining to another outsider in concise and highly metaphoric language how people form mobs and manipulate power.”

      More: “The scenario that Canetti opens up in both his major work, Crowds and Power, and his collections of notes, featuring mostly crowds, rulers and survivors, is a terrifying set-up in which things ‘happen’ (killings, huge gatherings of crowds, piling up of corpses, etc.) though there is no rational and accountable agency to explain them. His denial of the existence of a rational agency operating in history produces the most daring theoretical innovation to be found in his work, that is to say, the blurring of the human sphere into the sphere of animality, in which such normative concepts as innocence and responsibility are of no use.”

      from ‘A Natural History of Crowds, Rulers and Survivors: Elias Canetti as a Political Thinker ‘ (2006)

      Canetti was a refugee from the Anschluss in Vienna. I bring him up because reader Alphonse writes: –

      “There is no-one in charge. Even if we avoid blowback from its (the electronic crowd/swarm’s) actions against Russia, the fundamental problem and danger will not go away.”

      There is nobody in charge NOW. One way in which Canetti goes further than those other intellectual figures cited in the OP is that he posits the existence throughout human history of a type he calls the Survivor. The Survivor sooner or later emerges to command the crowd and, as Canetti paints him, is not a benign figure since he identifies “his most dependable, one might say his truest, subjects [as] those he has sent to their deaths.” Etcetera.

      Regarding these idiotically self-destructive sanctions, one of the most interesting ethnographic examples Canetti presents in CROWDS AND POWER is the “Self-Destruction of the Xosas”: –

      “The Xosas are told by the spirits of their ancestors to prepare for the day of victory over the colonizers, a day on which everyone will become equal, by celebrating a feast that expends their entire food supply. The Xosas feast lavishly and wastefully, destroying all their sources of nourishment. They wait for the dawn. When nothing happens, they realize that they have committed mass suicide.”

      From “Crowd Theory” by Anna Aizman (2013.

      The analogy is clear.

      1. AndrewJ

        As far as the Survivor archetype – reminds me of one of the Rules for Evil Overlords:
        “147. I will classify my lieutenants in three categories: untrusted, trusted, and completely trusted. Promotion to the third category will be awarded posthumously.”

      2. Greg

        That sounds like a fascinating read, thanks for sharing. I’ll give that a read now, as it sounds like it might be able to put a finger on what is going on in twitter.

      3. hemeantwell

        I tried reading Canetti a while back. He reeked of LeBon. Is crowd behavior really a useful way to describe the onset of the world wars, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc? Are armies crowds? Should we say that elites do what they do because, as in Freud’s ego/id metaphor, elites are only barely hanging on to the reins? Don’t think so.

        1. Michaelmas

          He reeked of LeBon.


          Is crowd behavior really a useful way to describe the onset of the world wars, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, etc? Are armies crowds?

          Yes, often.

          Should we say that elites do what they do because … elites are only barely hanging on to the reins?

          Yes. If even that, currently.

          Don’t think so.

          You’re in the wrong thread following the wrong OP, then.

          Look. Canetti is often annoying. But he’s rewarding too, because — in somewhat the same way as J.G. Ballard, who witnessed the fall of Shanghai, then spent his boyhood in Lunghua prison camp — he understood humans are not fully civilizable and tried to develop a language to understand that.

          Because that’s the truth. Humans are not fully civilizable.

          1. Robert Hahl

            Crowds and Power was fascinating but it did not explain mobs to me as well as a quote by a sheriff who was trying to face down a Southern lynch mob bent on taking his prisoner out of the jail to hangs him. The sheriff said he decided to stand aside when he saw who was leading the mob. It was the towns only bank president.

      4. Librarian Guy

        Canetti is thoroughly brilliant. Not only is Crowds & Power a very insightful book (the only thing that possibly annoyed me in his presentation was that a lot of the social science data he used was from decades, or sometimes a century prior to when he wrote the book), but I highly recommend his book about individual madness and a descent into nihilism, Auto-da-Fe. As I recall, when he was awarded the Nobel Prize it was for both fiction and non-fiction work. (Not that the Nobel Committee have always chosen excellently.) A German writer with an Italian last name, I haven’t come across many more of those either.

    3. Eclair

      Re: britzklieg, your comment: Deeply, deeply unsettling. Doesn’t capture half of it.

      Yesterday, a younger family member lamented the increasingly loud echo in her head: Kill the bastards! And she reads the more restrained news reporting!

      I had a long conversation with my husband over how I was so tired of being pushed to hate xyz, then a few years later, woah! They’re our most favored trading partner and new exotic vacation destination.

      I first learned to hate Japs and Huns, almost before I could talk. Then it was Koreans and the Red Commie Russians. Then the Commie Gooks in VietNam. I do believe there was a post-Vietnam period in which we loved everybody, but that ended with the Century and hatred turned to embrace wild-eyed men with beards and turbans, as well as veiled women, all of whom wanted to impose Sharia Law on Texans. Now we’re back to hating Rooskies. Who are no longer Commies. In my head, I hear echoes of 1930’s Germany.

      Just gonna retire and tend my garden for a bit. Can’t fight it, but just let it pass overhead, like black storm clouds. Hope it doesn’t dump in our vicinity.

      1. kareninca

        “Yesterday, a younger family member lamented the increasingly loud echo in her head: Kill the bastards!”

        This is a clear advantage of belonging to one of the peace churches. In my denomination, we are not allowed to pick up arms. We are supposed to die rather than kill another. We are supposed to seek peace through mediation (and prayer). It really simplifies matters, but the membership of these churches is so small that it seems this does not appeal to most humans.

        1. Kouros

          Are you forbidden from spewing hatred in the blogosphere? And maybe find some truth instead?

          1. kareninca

            Yes, we are forbidden to do that. We are actually supposed to be humble, agh. But not all of us are fully there yet; I’ll spare you the theological explanation.

    1. Michael King

      Manchester City is owned by Abu Dhabi. Saudi Arabia recently purchased Newcastle. Qatar does not own an English club. However, they do own PSG (Paris).

      1. JohnA

        My bad, I thought Manchester City was Qatar. I dont follow football that closely these days because it is so moneysoaked.

  3. DJG, Reality Czar

    From Alphonse: “I think we are in a very dangerous situation where a non-human entity – the swarm – is pivoting from and attempting to destroy one target after another, pulling our institutions (governments, firms, NGOs) behind in its wake.”

    I can think of a social class that got its war: The upper-middle-class Clinton Diehards, particularly many so-called feminists who bought the idea that Russia somehow overturned the 2016 election and installed Trump as president. They aren’t a “swarm.” We know real people like Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi from that social class who fostered the lie. Now this social class has its war.

    Being pampered U.S. upper-middle-class peeps, though, they want someone else’s sons to fight their war for them.

    In short, I think it would behoove us not to think of an undifferentiated swarm so much as a swarm with distinct elements: Upper-middle class of the U.S.A, particularly aggrieved Clintonites. The business-Congressional-contractor complex. Democrats looking to salvage Biden’s presidency. The immoralist barnacles in the State Department and “intelligence community.”

    The swarm is a tactic–to enhance lack of accountability. These parts of the U.S. elites have operated with impunity. Lack of accountability is something that they believe they are entitled to.

    And after the nuclear apocalypse, there will be brunch.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > I can think of a social class that got its war: The upper-middle-class Clinton Diehards,

      That’s what I’ve been thinking for some time, but never quite got around to saying: This is the PMC’s first war after achieving class consciousness 2016-2020. They are treating every institution they manage or govern as a projection of US power*, especially the press, financial institutions, and NGOs**. Of course, they govern but don’t rule, but gawd knows what our real rulers, the oligarchs, are thinking. Perhaps they’re too busy cashing in their gains from the pandemic. I like the swarm metaphor — I’ve been saying Schwärmer for some time, and I do think it sounds better in the original German — but it’s a mistake to characterize it as “bottom-up”; it’s a phenomenon confined to the dominant factions of our PMC, i.e. Democrats.

      I think from the perspective of our rulers, it’s an enormous win to ease our naive-but-keen PMC into working with open fascists (“We can control them”); see Maddow in today’s Links. There’s no way that won’t have important domestic advantages. “Defund the Banderites? That’s crazy talk!” “Sure, they may crack a few heads, but it’s important to preserve Uber’s ability to innovate!” “Sure, they smashed up that doctor’s office, but he was selling horse paste!” Once they taste blood….

      NOTE * In their minds, they represent the US (“our democracy,” as the dominant PMC faction, liberal Democrats, would have it).

      NOTE ** Of course, this will complete the destruction of American soft power that began with the Bush Administration’s Middle East adventure. Ah well, nevertheless.

      1. DJG, Reality Czar

        Lambert Strether: I submit that the Clinton Die-Hards and their allied careerist upper-middle-class feminist allies have tasted blood. Think of the 2016 election–and that more sanctions were imposed on Russia in 2017. I’m also wondering if MeToo, and all of the never-proven allegations flying about, was also a taste of blood.

        Terminology: I like your use of the term “oligarchs” here. Let’s stop calling it the billionaire class or some other euphemism, as if they are just folksy Warren Buffetts. Oligarch is class analysis, which, ironically, the Bidenites and Clintonites would otherwise be horrified to engage in. But they love the term, used selectively.

        Currently, the U.S. government is losing its soft power over the U.S. populace. So when you refer to soft power, do you mean that Iranians, who were the most pro-American people in the Middle East, are disappointed? Or do you mean that the U.S. government / elites are engaged in beating the U.S. populace into submission?

        Finally, at least the liberal members of this class will be able to announce their pronouns when the nuclear missiles start flying. The personal is the political! (Another mistake.)

      2. Andrew Watts

        If the reaction to the war in Ukraine is the result of class consciousness then what we’ll see in the future isn’t conflict brought about by mimetic desire. It’ll be brought about by the breakdown of mimesis as the ruling class redistributes the pain caused by sanctions downward.

        Any notion of collective sacrifice will soon fall by the wayside as people see that their alleged social betters aren’t suffering at all. While the people attempting to convince themselves that the American people will endure collective sacrifice are also the same people who didn’t see Trump’s election as possible.

        1. Jim

          Yes: oligarchs!

          Saw a great tweet today by Louis Allday:
          A statistic that’s just blown my mind: according to Forbes Magazine’s figures, the wealth of the US’ richest *three* oligarchs (Musk, Bezos and Gates) alone is $594bn, a total that is greater than the wealth of the richest *one hundred* Russian oligarchs combined at $558bn.
          Louis Allday
          Replying to
          Among many things, realising the extent of that disparity has made me realise the extent to which the propaganda about Russian oligarchs and their wealth has been successful on me, I never would’ve guessed the difference in wealth would be that enormous.

      3. Susan the other

        So the government (or lack of it) is just as hoodwinked as the people? I could actually believe that. Let them all think swarm.

        1. Skip Intro

          I think the media reinforcement and authoritarian-follower tendencies of the PMC qua cult of personality-du-jour (Obama, Clinton, Maddow, Mueller, Fauci, etc.) mean that reality is of, at best, secondary importance to their ideological obedience. I think CJ Hopkins made the point that propaganda could serve as an in-group marker even better if it was mostly ridiculous. Anyone can say 2+2=4, but only the truly commilted agree with us that 2+2=5, that some nazis are good, that covid shots prevent transmission, that Russia installed Trump with 150K of bad facebook ads, etc.

      4. lance ringquist

        that type thought that they could control hitler also. in the end, many clintonites of their day, liberal germans, ended up in ovens, concentration camps, and forced labor factories.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          But the British fans of Hitler, aka the Cliveden Set, didn’t suffer any bad outcomes.

          From the rousing close to the second volume of what was to be William Manchester’s three volume biography of Churchill:

          Because their possessions were great, the appeasers had much to lose should the Red flag fly over Westminster. That was why they felt threatened by the hunger riots of 1932. It was also the driving force behind their exorbitant fear of the new Russia. They had seen a strong Germany as a buffer against Bolshevism, had thought their security would be strengthened if they sidled up to the fierce, virile Third Reich. Nazi coarseness, anti-Semitism, the Reich’s darker underside, were rationalized; time, they assured one another, would blur the jagged edges of Nazi Germany.

          So, with their eyes open, they sought accommodation with a criminal enterprise, turned a blind eye to its iniquities, ignored its frequent resort to murder and torture, submitted to extortion, humiliation, until, having sold out all who had sought to stand shoulder to shoulder against the new barbarism, led England herself into the cold damp shadow of the gallows, friendless save the demoralized republic across the Channel.

          Their end came when the House of Commons, in a revolt of conscience, wrenched power from them and summoned to the colors the one man who had foretold all that had passed, who had tried, year after year, alone and mocked, to prevent the war by urging the only policy that would have done the job.

          And now, in the desperate spring of 1940, with the reins of power at last firmly in his grasp, he resolved to lead Britain and her fading empire into one last struggle worthy of all they had been and meant, to arm the nation, not only with weapons but with the mace of honor, creating in every English breast a soul beneath the ribs of death.

          1. Librarian Guy

            Well, wealth is protection and security, isn’t it? Of course, the Nazi-loving Irish Nationalist William Joyce (actually the Wikipedia entry I’ll link on him muddies the waters; he started out narcing on the IRA to the British police, and evidently had some hidden contacts to MI-6’s Maxwell Knight), aka “Lord Haw-Haw” who did radio broadcasts from the Continent on behalf of Nazism and Hitler (who he worshiped as history’s greatest individual) to England, attempting to recruit fascist support there. Joyce was repatriated to Britain from Germany after capture at war’s end, & after a summary trial was hung for treason in January, 1946, pretty quick justice for a pathetic little man without money or allies. Link at

      5. Bruce F

        I just finished watching an interview of professor Gabriel Rockhill that added to my understanding of how the PMC operates.

        Talking to Gabriel Rockhill, professor and director of the Critical Theory Workshop. Ever wonder why the CIA thought it was worthwhile to sponsor European left-wing academic theories? We talk about Derrida, Foucault, Arendt, and why even if you think obscure academic theory isn’t important, you might be mistaken. Author or editor of nine books, Rockhill is currently working on a book tentatively titled The Intellectual World War: The CIA’s Failed Attempt to Kill the Idea of Communism.

        Two comments in the video stood out:

        the PMC are part of “Institutionalized mechanisms that format social consciousness” and “the PMC is tasked with developing new and more sophisticated forms of ideology so the ruling class can continue to rule by consent.”

    2. marym

      In US domestic politics there should be a term comparable to PMC for the conservative economic, political, religious, think tank, media elite; and its swarming rank and file social media. I don’t know if it’s comparable to a class getting its actual military war, but there’s such a wave of elite and non-elite activism at every level from school boards to Congress and the SC, on voting rights, abortion, curriculum-washing, lgbt+ rights, and guns, making effective use of similar language, symbols, villains, and enforcement tactics. Resistance to pandemic mitigation also has roots in this conservative swarm-equivalent, with the PMC stumbling toward it in more inconsistent and selective ways.

      Interesting that a lost election has provided so much fuel for both these fires.

      1. DJG, Reality Czar


        Let’s consider professional / managerial class (PMC) to have a liberal wing and a Republican wing. The liberal wing constantly oppresses the left in the Democratic Party–how else to explain how Bernie got Buttigieged in Iowa? The Republican wing includes many managers, law firms, owners of mid-sized businesses like car dealerships, many in the media, and, of course, a slice of the think tanks.

        (Let’s just categorize all think tanks as swamps of lunatics these days or, in a less harmful form, branches of the university of Laputa.)

        Upper-middle-class white-lady “feminists” who spend their days tone-policing for anti-Hillary comments, reading Heather Cox Richardson (the intelligence-community-adjacent historian), and insisting that the 2016 Russian bots were acts of war, are one slice of the PMC.

        So is their social-class buddy, Marjorie Taylor Greene.

        1. marym

          I’ll have to think about that. Each wing has a different focus of divisive identity politics, that still serves to subvert a class focus.

      2. lance ringquist

        as i have been saying, its taken a couple of centuries to cement free trade on the world, its a generational movement fueled by fundamentalism and fanaticism.

        this posted yesterday says it all,

        “On March 3, Zentos and Telizhenko planned to meet again, this time at a Washington bar called The Exchange. According to their email, Zentos wrote, “I’ll see if my colleague Eric is up for joining.” The pair also met the next day at Swing’s coffee house in Washington. After the meeting, Telizhenko emailed Zentos seeking a meeting with senior Obama NSC official Charlie Kupchan, an old Clinton hand who was Ciaramella’s boss on the Russia/Ukraine desk. Kupchan is an outspoken critic of Trump who has made remarks suggesting what countries “can do to stop him” and “protect the international institutions we’ve built .” Zentos and Telizhenko also met on March 10, patronizing the Cosi coffee shop again.”

        those institutions are controlled by corporations, the W.T.O., international monetary fund, the world bank, etc. they rule the world, they will never ever give this up.

    3. Robert Hahl

      I recall thinking after Hillary lost that at least now she can’t start a war with Russia. Turns out it wasn’t her it was her party. So now they are back in power, and now we have the war.

  4. Polar Socialist

    According to Russian news agency Interfax, the nine tankers idling in Atlantic have already unloaded their oil. Not sure what they are waiting. Maybe to be leased to Venezuela or Iran?

    Apparently most of the pacific tankers are shuttling crude from Sakhalin directly to China.

    1. PHLDenizen

      Go long petroleum laundering? Russian tankers in Saudi Arabia or UAE unload, the Saudis blend Russian oil with their own domestically sourced, ship it back out, and Russia pays a few points for their facilitation. SA, Venezuela, Iran all refusing to increase output props up high prices. Even with the transaction fee, Russia could still at least break even with pre-sanction pricing. Perhaps earn a little more scratch.

      Sanctioning SA for conspiracy with Russia is a non-starter. Banning all importation of ME oil would annihilate the western economies with a sudden and catastrophic loss of energy. So then what? The US starts ANOTHER war in SA to confiscate their oil fields as they did with Iraq? The US polices their own ports and test each and every shipment for evidence of “Russian influence”?

      I haven’t thought through how payments would be made or cleared. And there’s the issue of oil pedigree necessitating different refinery processes, e.g. heavy sour vs light, sweet and so on.

      But oligarchs are a creative bunch when it comes to hiding and moving money around. It’s not unthinkable that Putin could enlist some of them in Russian to engage in such an enterprise. And make it work over the long haul. And the Saudis certainly love commerce.

  5. The Rev Kev

    I think that Yves’s preface deserves to be an extended post in itself but will confine myself her to comment about the oil tanker situation. So maybe not all oil is banned in the UK. A supertanker – the “Seatribute” – carrying crude oil that sailed from a Russian port was due to dock in Southampton on Friday with cargo destined for an ExxonMobil refinery. But that tanker is registered in Malta and ExxonMobil is saying that it is not from Russia so everything is cool. Of the 148 tankers carrying oil & gas since the start of the war, 69 are on their way to Europe. Fortunately Greenpeace is tracking them all as the GCHQ must be busy or something. The Chinese, meanwhile, are happy to receive these oil tankers sooner or later and they are working out alternate ways to pay for them. Telegraphic transfer is one possible way as is open credit. There are risks of course but as our complete, total, entire civilization needs oil to actually work and maybe China more than most, that oil will end up being purchased one way or another-

  6. PlutoniumKun

    Thanks for highlighting Alphonses fascinating idea. The overall concept of a ‘swarm’ mind is familiar to anyone who has delved into sociology or group psychology, but it hadn’t occurred to me that this was applicable to the sanctions. There are many examples in history when a sort of mass delusion among both self-identified elites and the population as a whole sent societies into unnecessary conflict or war. Arguably, it was a primary driver of WWI, and it certainly seemed to have a role in pushing Japan into its pattern of constantly picking fights with bigger countries in the 1930’s and 40’s. I’m reminded of the comment by one historian of Japan who commented that Japan as a society seems to lack brakes. When it decides to move in one direction, it rarely stops until it hits a wall (or the USAF).

    One of the supposed benefits of democracy (there is plenty of evidence that this is true) is that open democracies are generally better at course correction. They may make mistakes, but they usually learn to self correct so they don’t step on the same fork twice (or at least, not quite so hard). I can’t help wondering whether the destruction of an independent press along with rapid spread of social media is undermining societies ability to self correct and enhancing destructive tendencies, a little like the way a marching squad of soldiers can collapse a bridge if they don’t break step.

      1. Alphonse

        This is correct. I linked to that interview and I highly recommend people listen to it. It can also be found on podcasting services. Search for John Robb on the Jack Murphy podcast.

        This is an ancient phenomenon. Rene Girard describes how the people of Ephesus, in response to a plague, were told directed to stone an old beggar – upon which they “discovered” that he was a demon responsible for the disease. Desmet’s mass formation is another example, as commenter Louis Fyne describes

        It’s happening a lot lately. Instances include Trump Derangement Syndrome, woke cancellations, the persecution of the unvaccinated, QAnon, the trucker protest (which I supported).

        In his book (I’m part way through) Robb Robb explains how network attacks, like Jujutsu, use the opponent’s strengths (networks) against him. The swarm is a network – often its targets are too. Insurgents in Iraq attacked pipelines and power grids. The truckers threatened supply chains at border crossings. Christia Freeland deployed the banks to disconnect the trucker network, then to disconnect Russia from the world.

        Technology (and globalization) both create networks vulnerable to disconnection, and – especially with electric and digital communication – foster the creation of network swarms that attack them.

        The greatest fear among covid dissidents is that vaccine passports are the beginning of a social credit system that would allow authorities to suppress dissent centrally – as was done in both the trucker and Russia cases. This is a rational response for hierarchies threatened by swarms: deploy networks to disconnect them. But that means devolving power from the hierarchy.

        Robb talks about the waning power of nation states as power diffuses into networks. It is the social media companies, not the government, that censor. It is the banks, not the government, that sanction. As networks grow stronger, our power to act intentionally declines. In the interview above he compares the nation state to the apex predator in an ecosystem: when it is removed, secondary predators move in. The apex predator evolved to limit itself so as not to destroy the system on which it depends. This does not apply to secondary predators: they lack constraints and are liable to run amok, with grave consequences.

        We are likely to be subject both to network pressures from below (e.g. cancellations) and above (e.g. social credit). Locked into oppressive networks, our societies lose freedom. Conformity reduces the diversity and flexibility to cope with challenges, moderate behaviour or change direction – as we are seeing with Russia, and likely with other problems like resource exhaustion and climate change.

        In 2019, Robb described what he calls the “long night”:

        In our lifetimes, the single most significant threat to the life, liberty, and property of the average American citizen has always been the federal government. The danger in 2019 is that a consequence of that federal government’s crescendoing dysfunction will be the replacement of that most significant threat with one far more grave, far more vicious, and far more relentless: our own neighbors.

        1. The Rev Kev

          And we see Mrs. Grundy everywhere deciding what we can say and what we can’t say while she watches everything that you do in your own neighbourhood.

    1. Louis Fyne

      IMO, We are seeing another “mass formation psychosis.”

      This is not a DSM-V recognized term but a hypothesis-theory— famously (or infamously) used by the researcher who discovered (Malone) mRNA on the Joe Rogan show.

      There are four key components needed for an environment to experience a mass formation psychosis:

      1.lack of social bonds or decoupling of societal connections, (see covid restrictions, communal bond breakdowns and social reset post-covid)
      2. lack of sense-making (things don’t make sense), [see zero Western awareness of the Eastern Europe history-politics, see cognitive dissonance with “US Military is the best ever” and I will not start WW3 from Biden, why don’t other people’s kids want to die for my social cause of the day?]
      3. free-floating anxiety, [see anxiety, anti-depressent drug sales in US—up to 15% of adults were mood drugs pre-Covid, see reported anecdotal increases in alcoholism rates during Covid] and
      4. free-floating psychological discontent. [see income-asset inequality for bottom 90%ers]

      Then of course social media is the napalm onto this dumpster fire.

      1. Ignacio

        Interesting. I believe the pandemic has had a role on this, a big one. Nicely put by you as ‘decoupling societal connections’.

      2. SOMK

        The sense that the wider society is nurturing a growing tendency towards a mass psychosis is palatable, Social media being apt as the napalm because it feeds off the impulse that would offer some kind of course correction, namely to socialise, via a route that heavily reinforces cognitive bias. Another consideration is the information explosion of the past half century, the vast majority of it is inward orientated, ie. measuring humans in some way or another (and if not measuring humans specifically we are measuring thing that are of interest or use to humans, or more specifically of interest to those humans who have the resources and power to make use of such information, thus there is still a value judgement that relates to human perception even in the fact that the the moon is approximately a light second from the earth), this is a kind of internal encroachment that is almost entirely controlled by power, they really are watching you and taking notes, albeit in a mostly impersonal sense, yet the personal doesn’t matter, because that knowledge is applied en-mass via refinement of certain techniques, it’s like a collective tower of babel, but directed inward (or perhaps to the “other place”) rather than towards heaven. It manifests in a sense of unfreedom and creates a kind of latent existential absurdity, where trust is destroyed, we all have at hand a means through which to express every need and every yearning to the world and yet… in culture you see it in art that is designed to be written about, buildings built to be photographed, people incapable of enjoying a sunset or a view for its own sake and perpetually incapable of handling a normal silence in conversation without burying a hand into their pocket for their smartphone. The capacity for meaning (as Christopher Alexander often notes when lamenting to modern built environment) is fundamentally destroyed.

      3. Anon123

        In response to point 3 I wonder how many people tweet or post when drunk or high? Can this have any impact on the social network?

    2. Lambert Strether

      > when a sort of mass delusion among both self-identified elites and the population as a whole

      I think that, so far, the war fever is confined to the dominant factions of the PMC, although that may change if they keep the propaganda knobs turned up to 11,. (In other words, “group” is doing too much work there.) See DJG’s comment above, and my response.

      It’s amusing to think what might have been achieved had the propaganda for Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions been cranked to the same level as that for Ukraine. Of course, that might have saved the lives of a few hundred thousand essential workers and elders, and who wants that?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I think it is true that there is a disconnect this time between what would once have been called the broadsheet readers and the general population. I think there is definitely a disconnect. But what seems to be happening is that the PMC is just ratcheting things up even harder – witness the last few days nonsense about supposed Russian use of chemical weapons (for a million different reasons, this is simply laughable). I don’t know how far it will permeate below the PMC levels, but its very hard to see anything good coming from this. Its not even propaganda anymore, its just pure hysteria.

        1. JMM

          > I don’t know how far it will permeate below the PMC levels.

          If it doesn’t permeate deep enough, keep drilling.

    3. Thuto

      To arm the rebels, give them each a twitter account, and their commanding officers a podcast and a substack newsletter and you’ve got a ravenous “swarm” capable of intimidating/pummeling even the largest multinational corporations, governments and famous public figures into submission. Social media collapsed both the barriers to entry and the marginal costs of spreading (dis/mis)information to near-zero in one fell swoop, with devastating effects. Instead of democratizing public discourse, what we got was the hyperscaling of cancel culture where the size of the target (a big company, a G7 government, a megacelebrity) was of little value in deterring/preventing an attack. The victims are so invested in positive PR/brand image, the very attack vector used by the swarm, that they crumble at the first sign of a threat of e.g. a boycott/employee walkout. Even in normal times twitter has become a tool to trigger the machinery of HR to purge companies of those the mob declares persona non grata, or for underperformers to decry “not feeling heard” to avoid being held accountable by management. Strange times we live in.

    4. Rolf

      One of the supposed benefits of democracy (there is plenty of evidence that this is true) is that open democracies are generally better at course correction. They may make mistakes, but they usually learn to self correct so they don’t step on the same fork twice (or at least, not quite so hard). I can’t help wondering whether the destruction of an independent press along with rapid spread of social media is undermining societies ability to self correct and enhancing destructive tendencies, a little like the way a marching squad of soldiers can collapse a bridge if they don’t break step.

      Your point about SM as a disabler of corrective, negative feedbacks is on target. IMO, social media (at least as currently constituted) is a highly destructive phenomenon. There is nothing that has given PMC elites more the ‘meritocratic’ justification they prize and legitimacy they lack, than the upvotes by their thousands (or orders of magnitude more) of Twitter ‘followers’, with any dissension snuffed instantly by a ‘block’ button.

    5. Kouros

      One needs to remember that we are not insects, and in our “swarms” everyone “knows its place” and follows the signals from the “leaders” and “influencers”. Remove those, or their ability to signal to the “swarm” and the “swarm” will calm down.

  7. VietnamVet

    This is war.

    The hysteria over the West being invaded is overwhelming the foundation belief in global free trade that was the basis of the Western Empire and enriching the elite. The invasion and its blessing by Beijing four days after the end of the Olympics indicates that this is more than snapping back at the poking/hatred of Russia by Neo-cons or revenge for Neo-Nazi Donbass shelling.

    Kremlin and Beijing crossed the Rubicon and decided to implement their commodity plus currency to replace the Eurodollar that is the heart of the parasitic de-industrialized Europe and North America. No matter that the hoi poll will starve, freeze, die. Once again, the world has turned upside down. The leeches are being ripped off and blood spilled as the parasites hang on.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You don’t have any evidence that this war was a Russia-China scheme. We put a note at the top of Links every day to warn readers about evidence-free comments. This is one.

      The fact that China can profit from this situation is a very long way from having proof it was joint operation. Where are the weapons and men that China is supplying? China hasn’t stepped up to offer, or even threaten to offer (from the perspective of the West), to use its huge dollar hoard so that Russia could swap roubles into dollars.

      1. VietnamVet

        According to NY Times, “China asked Russia to delay Ukraine War until after Olympics”. This may be war propaganda but Nations do talk about what they expect from each other in their alliance. Although they haven’t made a joint command like USA/UK in WWII or shared resources yet; this is the initial stages of WWIII before the invasion of Poland that will most certainly turn the Russia Ukraine war into a hot shooting conflict between nuclear powers and almost certainly will draw China into the apocalypse.

        And, yes, “the swarm” is good description of the hysteria sweeping the West from the real threat of financial ruin that is spinning into a whirlpool. A way out is a peace treaty that partitions Ukraine. At least then, there will be Ukrainians alive for future generations to seek revenge for the ethnic cleansing of 2022 in the separation of East from West. This would be a victory for the China Russia Axis and a clear acknowledgement of the end of the global hegemon and the start of the Chinese century. If the nuclear exchange is avoided, with the fall of the corporate Western Empire, everyone will still be on their own, as now, unless democratic constitutional government is restored.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Sorry, the Times’ spin is not plausible.

          Russia very much wanted a negotiated solution. France and Germany were pressuring Ukraine to accept a new version of Minsk. Zelensky rejected it on Feb 15.

          The Russian Parliament voted on February 16 to send an appeal to Putin to recognize the separatist republics. Observers thought this was a PR stunt, since this sequence meant the vote was not initiated by the Kremlin and was thus seen as unserious:

          As Scott Ritter has pointed out, it takes the Russian government about 4 days to go through the legislative steps to approve military action. So even if they started on the 16th, they’d be good to go on the 20th….when the Olympics ended.

          Please tell me who the sources for the claim are. This does not map onto any sensible timeline and reads like CYA for the big drum-banging that Russia was going to invade on the 16th.

          1. Grebo

            I think VietnamVet is taking a broader view than just Ukraine, as I do. After all, the US is not interested in Ukraine, or Belarus or Kazakhstan etc., for themselves but as cudgels against Russia.

            The joint statement of a New Era was Feb 4. It was essentially announcing the end of the US Empire. It was not dreamt up on the spur of the moment. Russia offered a negotiated solution but its demands were not limited to Ukraine, it wanted NATO rolled back 25 years. It could not have expected the US to agree. So apart from its immediate goals in Ukraine it clearly has wider goals in mind, goals that China shares.

  8. Louis Fyne

    The swarm is going to blow up Bretton Woods II and prove all the gold bugs right.

    2021: when US unipolarity died after being in the ICU for 18 years (Afghanistan)
    2022: when the US dollar started its descent into turning into something more like the British Pound.

      1. flora

        Wonder if India’s Modi is rethinking the gold confiscation scheme he tried and failed to implement? / ;)

    1. bwilli123

      According to Zoltan Poszar at Credit Suisse Bretton Woods III is already in formation.

      “….We are witnessing the birth of Bretton Woods III – a new world (monetary) order
      centered around commodity-based currencies in the East that will likely weaken
      the Eurodollar system and also contribute to inflationary forces in the West….

      ….From the 1997, 2008, and 2020 crises, we also learned that every crisis is about the core vs. the periphery (large New York banks
      refusing to roll U.S. dollar funding in Southeast Asia in 1997; secured funding
      against subprime collateral to SIVs, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers in 2008;
      and secured funding against good collateral to RV hedge funds during 2020).
      And from these crises we also learned that…

      …someone, somehow must always provide a backstop – or as Perry Mehrling
      would say, an “outside spread” (the IMF in Southeast Asia in 1997 in exchange
      for Washington consensus-type structural reforms; the Fed backstopping the
      shadow banking system with a range of facilities in 2008 in exchange for Basel III;
      and the Fed backstopping RV funds with QE and the SRF in March 2020, in
      exchange for “we don’t yet know what,” but history says there will be a price).
      Which brings us back to today – the present – and shipping freight rates.
      If we are right, and if this is a “crisis of commodities” – a 2008 of sorts
      thematically, if not in terms of size or severity – who will provide the backstop?
      We see but only one entity: the PBoC!

      …The PBoC has two “geo-strategic” = “geo-financial” options…
      …sell Treasuries to fund the leasing and filling of vessels to clean up subprime
      Russian commodities. That would hurt long-term Treasury yields and stabilize
      the commodities basis and would give the PBoC control over inflation in China,
      while the West would suffer commodity shortages, a recession, and higher yields.
      That can’t be good for long-term Treasury yields.
      The PBoC’s second option is to do its own version of QE – printing renminbi to
      buy Russian commodities. If so, that’s the birth of the Eurorenminbi market
      and China’s first real step to break the hegemony of the Eurodollar market. That
      is also inflationary for the West and means less demand for long-term Treasuries.
      That can’t be good for long-term Treasury yields either.”

  9. timbers

    Firms leaving Russia creates a lot of opportunity for Russians which will require a lot of labor jobs and capital. Everything she can no longer get from the West she should view as new opportunity for domestic growth and economic expansion. Which is why I wonder why Russia hiked interest to extremely high levels. High interest rates could choke off a movement to growth by limiting expansion capital jobs growth etc. IMO she should not be so concerned with exchange rates and look to ways and government policy of expanding not contracting her economy in ways and areas she needs things to be done in Russia by Russians. People I work with frequently quote the latest ruble exchange rate. I point out the exchange rate doesn’t matter, what matters is what the rubble buys in Russia because Russia is through with the West and needs to make everything for herself.

    Not blowing my horn, but I predicted years ago here that this is exactly what Russia needed to prepare for – total self sufficiency and economic independence from the West, because IMO the West would never ever back down from it’s plans agianst Russia.

    1. lance ringquist

      correct. if you buy a product almost or completely sourced in your own country using your own currency, you will not notice much that its value outside the country is in the garbage can.

  10. Dean

    There’s so many layers and cross-cutting issues involved to how we as a civilization got to this moment, yet the dominant elite/media narrative is simply “Putin is bad/crazy/evil and is invading Ukraine because he’s bad/crazy/evil/bored/maniacal.” Umm no.

    The plucky Ukrainian president is masterfully playing the propaganda war, endearing him to millions in the west.

    Individuals who want to do “something” can post thoughts and prayers towards Ukraine to harvest fake internet points* and then go on living their normal lives.

    Companies, nations, and supranational groups are racing to be first post to twitter they have cancelled all thing Russian to stay one step ahead of the swarm coming after them. (Will we we write-downs due to exiting Russian markets in Q1 earnings?)

    Opportunists (ahem Musk) see an opportunity to burnish their internet image by latching on to the karma bandwagon.

    And while the West is putting its collective head down to its cell phones to post and collect fake internet points, the reality of war is millions are displaced, families are being torn apart, and people are dying.

    *myself included

  11. Safety First

    “My understanding is that Putin has cut them down to size in terms of the influence (after all, this would be a necessary condition to prevent further looting, which he does appear to have curbed). So in Russia, the oligarchs are perceived as parasites who got to keep their ill-gotten lucre. Making their lives unpleasant would go over well in Russia.”

    Yeah…no. At least to the first part of that statement.

    (Sanders) Let me be clear. (/Sanders) The politics and power configurations among the Russian elite are extremely opaque to any outside observers. Nor is there a monolithic “elite” – there are clear factions and divisions. And then there is the issue of “state-owned corporations” such as Gazprom whose managers – nominally government employees – are acting as if they, too, were “oligarchs” and owners of these companies.

    However. At the end of the “gay 1990s”, it was not Putin who “cut them down to size” and slowed (never stopped) the looting; it was a consensus among a majority of these selfsame oligarchs, who felt that at least some rules had to be imposed to protect themselves and their property, who had installed Putin into the Kremlin in the first place. The handful of oligarchs who were expelled or imprisoned in the early 2000s did not suffer this fate because they opposed Putin in some fashion – but, rather, because they failed to go along with this consensus, to appreciate that the “Wild East” days when the term “hostile takeover” meant literally sending some men with guns to force an owner to sign over his shares of some business, are at an end.

    To Putin’s credit, he then spent 20 years strengthening the ties between his regime and the economic elite, trying to turn it from a one-way into a two-way, symbiotic relationship. [Parallels with 1920s Italy and 1930s Germany are more than apt – Putin’s favourite philosopher is none other than a proto-fascist named Il’in.] The state and its bureaucracy retain a significant enough amount of assets – and control the police and the army – and are intertwined with “state-owned” monopolies like Gazprom. Fighting against all this is costly; buy-in into whatever Putin is doing at the moment is sure to be rewarded with contracts, tax incentives, and so on. At the same time, it is no accident that quite literally the first official government meeting held the day of the invasion was between Putin and about 30-40 major oligarchs, and in the scant 10 minutes shown on Russian television (the rest obviously went on behind closed doors) it was Putin pleading his case to the oligarchs (whose representative, in turn, used the occasion to make additional demands on state structures).

    No-one knows exactly what might happen should Putin “lose” the economic elite, especially after it had spent 20 years giving him a relatively free hand at state policy, but it is unlikely Putin can survive – as in, physically – a fight with ALL of the oligarchs vs. just one or two. Which leads to one of two possibilities. If the oligarchs – at least some of them – had inspired the Ukraine invasion, then Putin is not a free actor and we ought not treat him as such. If, on the other hand, this was Putin’s “victorious little war” type of gamble taken without a pre-existing buy-in among the economic elite, then he is an independent actor of a kind who has just painted himself into one hell of a corner – find a way to accommodate the oligarchs’ interests in a new, post-sanctions world, or, well, you know…

    Incidentally, Russian left-wing commentators (Komolov, Kagarlitsky, Vestnik Buri, Semin, Levchenko, et cetera) have thus far been VERY negative on the likely impact of western sanctions. Komolov, who is a professional economist, has just done a presentation where he basically suggested that the Russian regime will end up having to undergo some form of “vassalisation” to China, and even this might not be all too helpful, depending on how much further the West chooses to go. For example, at present Russia imports, mostly from the EU, around 40%-50% of its pharmaceuticals and pharma components – and even if you continue that trade, there is the question of how to pay for it if the West is consistent in freezing Russia out of the euro-dollar space.

    Incidentally, Komolov also raised the point that, technically, as Russian assets frozen in the West tend to be in government obligations, the “freeze” is actually a technical default by western governments on some of their debt. I would disagree for the moment – I imagine the bonds are still sitting there, being paid interest and principal, it is just that the Russians cannot withdraw them – however, if I were a hedgie I would at least explore the possibility of trying to leverage this “technical default” issue in some way, against some European government…

    1. Thuto

      You preface your comment by highlighting the extreme opacity of Russian politics to outside observers but immediately undo that disclaimer by sinking your teeth into a rather sweeping analysis of how the politics of power work in contemporary Russia. There’s wide, general (and some scholarly) consensus that Putin has managed over the decades to consolidate the type of power that allowed him to somewhat cut the oligarchs down to size, even the most critical of Russia observers admits to this (What’s more, the entire edifice of western foreign policy towards Russia is predicated on this very understanding). You however take the sort of contrarian view that flies in the face of decades of analysis, and would require deep insider knowledge while claiming hardly anyone outside Russia has it. Unless you were inside the blast radius when the oligarchs instituted a controlled demolition of their own looting spree then I’m inclined to take your analysis at no more than face value.

    2. Brian Beijer

      I realize this will come across as an ignorant comment, and I apologize to all the intellectuals on NC who spend time arguing over the costs/benefits of economics and geopolitics. I need to take a moment to vent.
      In a world such as this, when does one simply stand up for one’s ideals? Russia is confronting a neo-Nazi regime. Yes, I think it’s fair to call it that considering both the Azov battalion and the president were basically financed by the same oligarch. This neo-Nazi government was conducting biological research against the Russian people. I know that this point hasn’t yet been technically proven yet, but it was printed in Sputnik and everything else the Russian press has been shown to more correct than not. And let’s not forget Victoria Nuland’s testimony about the biolabs which was incredibly weird. This neo-Nazi supported president then threatened to obtain nuclear weapons to implicitly use against Russia. One can add to these recent events, the massacre at Odessa and the constant onslaught against both the eastern territories and all Russian speaking people living in Ukraine. Then, there is the evidence that Ukraine (along with the help of NATO) was planning a massive attack against Donbass.

      Putin spent 8 years trying to resolve matters diplomatically and was basically ignored. Was there any other option left for Russia? Seriously, what else could they have done? I’m just glad these Western “pro-democracy” leaders weren’t around in 1939. We would all be speaking German now and saluting one flag from Ukraine to Alaska. So, yes, maybe Russia will become a vassal state of China. To me, that’s a much better option than having a neo-Nazi regime at your doorstep with nuclear weapons and bioweapons directed toward your country.

      At some point, you must take a stand, even if it means your demise. I’m frankly proud of Putin and Russia for doing the right thing. It’s rare to see that in these times. If I could find a Russian flag button to wear; I would proudly wear one. Am I being too simplistic? Was the West too simplistic when it decided to fight Nazi Germany? I’m sure in these woke times, there will be many argue that yes they were.

      1. Jul

        I agree with your vision. Here in Western Europe it would seem in the last 2-3 years that the minus 40 y old can’t find any job outside of entertainment of some sort (from video games to filming for… cable networks). As to the academics, all the ones I know are more or less in burn out, and obviously doing the job which a decade ago would have been filled by 3 different individuals.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      To amplify what Thuto said, this is Making Shit Up. You make sweeping claims contrary to substantial analysis by experts, including Russia/Putin critics, that find the exact opposite. You provide zero evidence.

      We have been warning daily against this sort of thing at the top of Links, and advise readers of the consequences: we are being ruthless about putting offenders in moderation or blacklisting them. One more comment like this and you will be banned.

    4. Grebo

      If the oligarchs – at least some of them – had inspired the Ukraine invasion, then Putin is not a free actor and we ought not treat him as such. If, on the other hand, this was Putin’s “victorious little war” type of gamble taken without a pre-existing buy-in among the economic elite …

      This is not a mystery. Russians are united on the matter of Ukraine and NATO, even if they shrink from the necessary action:

      On the question of extending NATO membership to Ukraine, [William] Burns’ warnings about the breadth of Russian opposition are even more emphatic. “Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin),” he wrote in a 2008 memo to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “In more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin’s sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests.” —Peter Beinart

  12. Nels Nelson

    Alphonse’s concept of the swarm reminds me of Mark Blyth’s entrainment which he describes as second order interactions of the energy of the components creating a system. He demonstrates an example of this with a video of the Millenium Bridge in London. View here: This goes with PlutoniumKun’s statement above: “I can’t help wondering whether the destruction of an independent press along with rapid spread of social media is undermining societies ability to self correct and enhancing destructive tendencies, a little like the way a marching squad of soldiers can collapse a bridge if they don’t break step.”

  13. The Rev Kev

    I wonder how this is going to effect ordinary Russians going forward. I think that by now they can see that they are in a fight to the death with the so-called west. It is either dig up the body of Yelstsin and make him President again with his policies or learn to adapt to a new world. But they will never forget their treatment. If all these sanctions had only targeted the elite, the billionaires, those in government & industry, there might have been a fracture point between the Russian people and their government. Instead the Russian people have been attacked directly and indirectly. There must certainly be a sense of betrayal. What has the “west” told ordinary Russians? It is this-

    We hate your athletes, we hate your music, we hate your food and your drinks, your culture, your writers, your musicians, your conductors, your F1 drivers, your sports people, your country, your military – we even hate your f***ing cats. We hate everything about you and you will buckle down to our demands.

    And I know that even if Russia backed down, hardly any of these sanctions would be removed but will stay in place to force Russia to radically change who they are as a country. Things have gone too far for the west to back down as it is either punch through or crash. Perhaps I am being a bit melodramatic here but I am recalling the words of Admiral Yamamato on his receiving news of the successful attack on Pearl Harbour – ‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.’

    1. Kouros

      Gilbert Doctorow has disclosed how his grandson (nice Flemish boy I think) was abused for having a Russian first name…

    2. Robert Hahl

      Yves: My grey cat Henry, who was featured in the Antidote many times, looks suspiciously like a Russian Blue. Is this the end of his modeling career?

  14. Carolinian

    Back in February Michael Tracey wrote a column tying the Ukraine crisis to TDS and Russiagate

    If you look at Biden’s actions and statements and the approval from his side of the aisle it’s becoming increasingly obvious that most of the Dems are living in an imaginary good guys/bad guys world that has tenuous connection to reality. Meanwhile what enthusiasm exists among the Repub elites is more about financial interest and devotion to the MIC with a “realist” approach to war and peace more acceptable. It’s telling that Tulsi is making her antiwar speech to CPAC and maybe she really will become a Fox Republican or perhaps a Tucker Carlson Republican. It’s likely that gay rights opposition means she has no future with the Dems.

    The problem for Biden and the Dems is that most voters live in the real world, not their PMC world. This doesn’t make the Republicans a benign force, but it does give them a leg up when it comes to elections. Will we make it to the next one before the country or perhaps the world falls apart?

    1. flora

      How much money were B and Pelosi and Kerry and Romney’s sons making in Ukraine? How did they make the money? Inquiring minds want to know. Follow the money. / ;)

      1. Pavel

        Bingo. The US kleptocracy in action.

        How long do they expect the middle class to put up with the corruption and hypocrisy?

        Let’s get rid of all the oligarchs.

      1. Carolinian

        I didn’t say she was but that seems to be a typical line of attack. Another is that she was in the military at all or that she is some kind of Trojan Horse rightwinger.

        For some of us there is simply a desire that she be given enough of a platform so as to find out what her beliefs are.

  15. flora

    Thanks for this post, for your intro, and for Alphonse’s comment and links.

    Several years ago, NC ran an excellent if chilling 6 part series on how the world should work according to Mises and Hayek neoliberalist thinking. (Thought I had it bookmarked but I can’t find it.) Neoliberals would no doubt be happy to see democratic nation states replaced by anti-democratic corporate control of most govt functions. The “swarm” may serve their purposes. (I do think the “swarm” is being guided at a high level, just like “color revolutions” are almost always guided at a high level, say from a US intel agency or other.)

    I see what’s happening with horror. The same stupidity that stumbled the world into WWI. (The boys will be home by Christmas. right.) Some may see this as the opportunity to destroy democratic nation state control of corporations – such as it is – in order to “build back better” as they define “better.”

    1. skippy

      I think this is what you were talking about –

      ***“Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard were great men, but they lived in a time when supporters of freedom needed to be careful about what they said. As a result, libertarians often fail to describe their ideal future society in clear detail. But, as the Cato Institute’s Patri Friedman has recognized, Hans-Hermann Hoppe is an exception to this reticence. He is willing to speak the truth, no matter how much it makes “politically correct” people squirm, and he is so logical and eloquent that I routinely quote from his classic book on the failure of democracy. Please color such quotes in red – I would never try to pass off my own ideas as if they were on his level.***

      I would only highlight the subservience to the high priests of this order with utter abandon.

  16. Charlie Sheldon

    Re: swarm war tactics – this has only become possible because of social media and the ability to instantly bring pressure upon anyone. While this may be, and certainly looks like, “wokeism” run amok, isn’t it really just the application of consumer choice toward something, but at a vast and super fast scale? It used to be, to do a boycott, you needed to spend weeks gathering signatures. Now this can be done instantly, as in, a million hits against Coca Cola for still selling Coke in Russia. Every side uses “cancellation.” Look at the anti gay bill or Colin Kaepernick, for example (btw I pray the Seattle Seahawks sign Colin now Russ has left). It’s too easy to lay all this at Hillary (again).

    Re: the overall narrative: this has shifted from “Putin needs an offramp” to, today, “Putin needs to lose no matter the cost.” It was the case even a couple days ago that people with some sense were arguing that if (really when) Putin takes Ukraine, partitions it, and ensures it is never in NATO, some form of peace will return – the West doesn’t “get” Ukraine but Putin has seen how poorly his military operates and will refrain from a direct NATO attacks in the future. Now, though, the argument is hardening that Putin will NEVER stop and must be beaten, as seen by public interviews of Baltic State officials. The full bore propaganda pressure is racing toward a No Fly Zone imposed by the West, risking all. That will happen because the scenes from Ukraine are terrible and heartbreaking, but then we will be seeing scenes of death and killing from Poland, Romania, the Baltics, even Germany, 20 million refugees, and constant terror of a nuclear exchange. This is where we are going. Just as Putin acted originally because he came to believe that there was no way the West would ever stop expanding NATO despite his years of pleas, now the West will choose to battle Russia directly despite the near certain risk of nuclear war because the West believes Putin will not stop and will push the button anyway and so, if he is crazy enough to use the button anyway, we better act first.

    Re: Swarm like, suicidal group behavior, whether it be the Jim Jones event or many previous civilization collapses (in fact every previous civilization has collapsed). For those among us who believe still in evolution (had to say that) maybe what we are seeing and part of is an instinctive herd like drive or awareness we need to thin our ranks for species survival, and what better way than a nuclear exchange?

    Re: Tankers waiting offshore. We don’t have any idea, not yet, how ugly the supply chain elements are going to become. The whole system of global trade, all those ships, somehow works, a huge complicated system of routes, anchorages, scheduling, port infrastructure to handle the cargo, whether containers or grain or oil or whatever, and this system was struggling because of the virus. Now this, on top of the virus. We cannot even imagine the bottlenecks that are going to rise. And this doesn’t even consider a cyber attack on the ship positioning and location systems, or GPS satellites, or wireless feeds to vessels.

    This seems to be the first time, really, nations have widened a war using national and swarm based sanctions. Again, and again, and again, Russia in the end has energy, and land to grow food, and will survive. Europe might grow their food but hasn’t energy and can only survive by eventually using Russian oil and gas as the US will not be able to export what they need. The U.S. has isolation, land for food, and enough energy if we tighten our belts. Burt can we? Everybody should look again at what our government did during World War 2 – price controls, rationing, control of all industry. This is where we will be again, must be, unless this insanity stops.

    1. Wukchumni

      If you were to take out those Russian tankers going nowhere fast en masse in one big coordinated missile strike, you’d completely cripple the Russian oil industry and probably start WW3, not that I want to give anybody any ideas.

      1. Charlie Sheldon

        I doubt they are en masse but probably scattered miles apart. The ocean is a big place, and ships generally don’t like being close to each other at all unless absolutely necessary. So you’d need a lot of missiles.

        1. Polar Socialist

          Especially considering that an empty oil tanker is just basically 16 to 32 watertight, floating compartments welded together and protected by a double hull. With a very few critical components here and there relative to the size of the vessel.

  17. juno mas

    In the UK, port workers at a terminal on the River Mersey, from where oil is pumped to Stanlow Oil Refinery, refused last week to unload Russian oil from a Germany-flagged ship.

    All of which will likely raise the price of the cost of gasoline (and energy production, in general) which these workers will pay at the pump. Folks, remember these decisions do no benefit you.

  18. David

    I don’t believe – and haven’t for a long while – that anyone is in control of what’s going on. I do find the Girard mimesis/violence/scapegoating argument very powerful (incidentally in one of his last books, on Clausewitz, Girard extended to argument to external wars).
    As a result of a whole range of factors, from economic inequality, to the environment, to social exhaustion, to wokery, to the Virus, our societies are in real danger of coming apart from unresolvable tensions. (Remember the recent discussions on the possibility of civil wars?) But our society is now arranged such that resort to traditional scapegoats (ethnic minorities etc) is impossible, and indeed accusations of such behaviour are frequent and easy to make, and just serve to ratchet up the tension even further. It’s not really possible to scapegoat the unvaccinated, or white heterosexual makes, without blowing society apart. The only place the irresolvable tensions can go is towards as designated Other: in this case the Russians.
    Moreover, this displacement actually enables us to escape from the stifling effect of competitive wokery: at last, we are free to be as racist, as hateful, as prejudiced, as bigoted, as unpleasant, as violent in our thoughts and speech as we like. And rather than threatened with losing our jobs, we’re encouraged to escalate and escalate. Indeed, not being bigoted and hateful could be a career ending move for some.

    But the problem is the lack of an obvious end to this process. This is why I don’t think anyone is in control, or if they ever were, they aren’t now. Governments have stirred something up that is in the process of escaping entirely, and I suspect it’s actually gone rather further than they ever expected, already. After all, there is a limit to how long the hatred can be kept up, and what happens then? we go back to hating each other again.

  19. Dave in Austin

    I’m very interested in the theory and practice of swarms, crowds and how they fit in with the emergence of mass media. I’ll comment on that a bit later, but right now it is 11 am Central Standard Time in Austin, 7 pm in Kiev, and there is a war going on. On that war:

    Depending on who you listen too, the Russian army is either hopelessly inept, unable to coordinate, filled with poorly trained and motivated soldiers and will crack soon, or after two weeks the Russians are methodically gaining the upper hand and have yet to unleash their air force, artillery and cyber-warfare assets to force the Ukrainians to accept an armistice under Russian conditions.

    Right now the sun is going down in Kiev. It is snowing and the high temperature today was 35. There have been some important military and diplomatic developments.

    First on the military front, thirty miles north of Mariapol the Russians have captured the small town of Polahy, completing the occupation of the defensible Konka river valley and the lateral road behind it. Mariapol is now completely isolated.

    It is unclear which side is shelling the Mariapol civilian escape routes, although at least one of the few international Twitter reporters in the area says at least some of the shelling is coming from the Ukrainian side. Inside the city many of the defenders are from the Azov brigade and they face a serious threat if the city is surrendered to the Russians. For them, this is like April 1945 in Berlin was for the SS. No place to run.

    In Mariapol it is freezing and there has been no heat for more than a week. People are moving into the subway tunnels for warmth and safety and the dead are being buried in trenches. Not yet like Stalingrad in 1942 or Berlin in 1945, but Europe hasn’t seen anything like this since Sarajevo in the 1990s, and Sarajavo doesn’t get the howling cold winters the Ukraine does. Read about the Germans during the WWII Russia winters or get a copy of Callincourt or DeSegur, who describe Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in the winter of 1812-13 to get some idea of why we in the west should feel blessed.

    On the political front, Sky News has the press conference given just now by Zelenskyy. It shows a man under great stress, no longer reading from a statement, bags under his eyes, rambling and admitting for the first time that there is a real possibility that Kiev might be reduced to rubble under his watch if he can’t find a way out. So he’s asking for a cease fire which will allow him to continue the conflict by other means- Hanoi after the 1972 Christmas bombing. This is a non-starter for Putin. In Zelenskyy’s statement he has moved from asking for “Security guarantees” from “our neighbors” to saying he will accept guarantees from Israel, which is in no position to give meaningful guarantees. But at this point Zelenskyy will apparently take what he can get.

    And Putin has gone from his: “We will not use conscripts in this action, only volunteers and long-service soldiers” to admitting “Some conscripts have been captured”. Zelenskyy is offering to turn them over to their mothers if the mothers “Come here to collect them.” The man know good theater when he sees it. There are at least some indications of more Russian reserve call-ups. The mothers of Russia will not be amused.

    I suspect the only thing that Putin really fears is a wave of incoming babushkas landing near the Kremlin. Remember, the 1905 Revolution began with monks leading processions of peasants to petition the Czar and the Communist revolution was largely sparked by lower class exhaustion over WWI and the draft calls.

    The EU and the European NATO members clearly want and end to this mess too. While in the US Biden will get to play the role of Khrushchev in the 1962 Cuban Missile crisis, a roll he richly deserves. Khrushchev was out of office two years later.

    1. Susan the other

      I can’t help thinking that for Zelensky to have gone along with this nutty standoff he was used to enable the West to threaten Russia with NATO when it really was not possible, or he was actually convinced that the West would come to his rescue. The moment he went on TV and pleaded for help and arms he looked like a different person. In 2014 Russia was not prepared for this war. 8 years on they were very prepared. But in those 8 years the West neither pushed through a NATO membership/EU membership for Ukraine nor did right wingers in Ukraine completely back off about taking Russian oil. Although they had been humiliated with lots of public exposure. And just as puzzling, now with Biden as “commander in chief” – and an obvious person of interest in Burisma – no false moves were made; no attempts to steal Russian oil. Like the whole thing had been one big disgraceful debacle. It seems for nothing.

      1. Jim

        But during these past eight years, US/NATO moved to integrate the Ukraine military into NATO through arms, training, and a multitude of joint exercises in Ukraine. All while the post-coup Ukraine regime was shelling and sniping Donbass residents daily. The Russians noticed.

    2. Soredemos

      “It is unclear which side is shelling the Mariapol civilian escape routes”

      I think it’s self-evident that it isn’t Russia bombing them. Russia are the ones who keep pressing for the evacuation corridors. I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Russia is actually taking pains to avoid civilian casualties, these corridors are just another part of that (and one that was previously used extensively in Syria).

      And even if you don’t believe Russia has any humanitarian principles, getting civilians out of the way makes city fighting much easier. It’s a pragmatic choice if nothing else.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      OMG that video! The hating on Putin and need to pathologize him (‘roid rage? His face has looked like that for years, most likely the result of plastic surgery). But yes, Zelensky is at best talking as if he is severely sleep deprived. He barely makes sense.

  20. James McFadden

    “He says that the reaction of so many companies and organizations sanctioning Ukraine within just a few days could not have been organized by the U.S. government. The network (or swarm) emerged spontaneously in response to empathy triggers coming out of Ukraine.”
    Empathy triggers in corporations? Everything I have read about corporate structure – from C. Wright Mills to Bertram Gross to Sheldon Wolin to Michael Hudson tells me this type of anthropomorphizing corporate decision making is just nonsense. The closest human analogy to corporate decision making is that of a sociopath – but a better analogy would be a machine mind designed to maximize profit — with managers, Boards and CEOs just replaceable cogs in the corporate machines. The manufacture of consent to maximize profit is determined by how the cogs are selected. As Chomsky said: “Unless you have been adequately socialized and trained so that there are some thoughts you just don’t have, because if you did have them, you wouldn’t be there.” Theories suggesting empathy in corporate decision making is just psychological dribble — built on the assumption of individualism – which just doesn’t operate in the corporate structure. If any cog fails to maximize the accrual of money and power, the other cogs will betray him. However, I would agree that this was not organized by the US government — who takes its orders from its corporate masters – in a system Wolin calls inverted totalitarianism (or Gross calls Friendly Fascism). However, there is a another structure that could explain the coordination – the interlocked directorates of the giant US-controlled multi-national conglomerates. It is those directorates, advised by their think-tanks of the need to isolate Russia, that understand the threat that a united Russia-EU economic union can make to US dollar hegemony – and dollar hegemony is key to US-controlled multinational corporate rule. The Ukraine invasion was a counter to western plans to isolate Russia. But the invasion also gave the directorates a reason for imposing the isolation of Russia needed to protect US hegemony, and a moral cover story to prevent protest by an unwitting public for the austerity and recession that such isolation will inflict on the west.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, companies these days are afraid of reputational backlash. ESG investing has also become important. Pretty much every large public company has something along the lines of (gah) a Chief Diversity Officer (although they are usually not C-suite despite the grand title).

      When the legislature of California passed a law calling for its big pension funds to dump Russia stocks with record speed, That tells you how strong sentiment (or the successful media creation of the appearance of public sentiment) is.

      Once some brand name companies you heard of started suspending operations in Russia and noising that up in the press, it became close to untenable for other public companies to hold out. There would soon be calls to sell their shares and boycott their products/stores.

      In other words, they were responding to the real risk of being swarmed. Compare how fast and united this response has been compared to #MeToo, which has also shaken up corporate America, albeit despite their efforts to cover up, and much better ability to do so.

      1. Expat2uruguay

        I’m listening to the podcast with John Robb now , and To my mind, “empathy triggers” sounds an awful lot like symbol manipulation as tagged by Lambert

  21. Amfortas the hippie

    i couldn’t remember where i got the Robb interview sometime last night.
    but i actually listened to it this am.(i very rarely listen to podcasts)
    a pretty chilling lens to look at the world through.
    finally looked at this article/thread only after mentioning the Apokalypse of John Robb in links…and here y’all all are, proving your great worth as a distributed think tank!

    on my town run a bit ago, i only went 3 places, and didn’t linger…but no one was talking about russian war…and in fact, town has been pretty dead all week.
    i had meant to do the feedstore today…but it was busy as all getout(rest of town still pretty dead), so i skipped it.
    either a sudden influx of out of towners(turkey season…or doomstead preps)…or one of the de facto town halls finally slipped into gear.

    local gas has stabilised until the next deliveries…generally tuesday and thursday.

    as for the primrose path to nukes, due to the wokesterblob’s unrequited TDS…as well as the whole idea of a bizzaro Skynet made up of frustrated PMC Karens…well…that’s just fucking terrifying.

    I’ve been readin Robb, off and on, for a long time.
    things like this:
    …go into my thinking about my place as a microstate.
    it’s also because of him that i finally gave amazon some jack over the years, and obtained things like War of the Flea, and Mao and Che’s books on gorilla strategy.
    all in order to fill out my thoughts on Thinking Like a State…
    so…like people like Chris Hedges and Pilger and the folks at Consortium News and NC…he has a track record of being pretty insightful regarding what the hell is going on, for reals.
    that makes this offering just that much more scary.

    good luck to us all…i’ll be doing fly-bys, at best…now that it ain’t 18 degrees, i have much to do.
    doing trellises, today, and a bit of soil prep.
    going large on garden…because i reckon small, local farming will be a thing again in short order.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      and one more thing on that last bit:
      took mom to fredericksburg for a scan…and that means an HEB Run(real grocery store)
      all 3 of us were shocked at the random empty shelves…not overwhelming, but glaring in their randomness.
      a whole section of cookies, for instance…gone.
      beef and pork(aside from bacon) was cheaper than i’ve seen in 3 years, so we loaded up.
      and yes, there was one bottle of Russian Dressing, sitting alone on a section of if the catalina(almost identical, to my tongue) and 1000 island and ranch were shunning it.
      all the green tea: not there…usually a large selection of that.
      also the “Real Cheese”…mostly from europe…was all but empty.
      i have no idea what it all means…but it added to the sense of inchoate dread that has been enveloping us.
      and! on that note, i’ll add that the number of military aircraft flying east over my place is higher than even last week…mostly at night…and mostly C-130’s and squadrons of choppers. this is the most such activity i’ve seen since Iraq 2.0.

      1. Wukchumni

        Haven’t heard a F-35 from NAS Lemoore overhead in almost a month, the most busy they’ve ever been was when Trump was a lame duck in December 2020 and rattling the war cage a bit.

        We had something like 8 out of 11 days with sorties above us.

      2. Daryl

        Am surprised at the empty HEB shelves. They are rather masterful with the logistics and presentation to cover logistics failures, even during the covid outbreak craziness I was still able to get eggs and toilet paper from them. I haven’t been in the store for some time now, but have noticed difficulty obtaining basics like cream recently.

        Settle in.

        1. Amfortas the hippie

          heb was excellent during the pandemic(du jur)

          as was my manager of the regional corporate grocery—Mike made shit happen

    2. Jeremy Grimm

      I just listened to the John Robb interview … but I am not sure whether to characterize it as confusing or confused. I am particularly dissatisfied by what seemed like Robb’s belief in the lack of agency in the supposed spontaneous existence of the anti-Putin, anti-Russia, Ukraine empathetic Karen ‘swarm’. The u.s. government seems more than capable and experienced at using a variety of propaganda tools to manufacture consent. How is the ‘network’ so very different than other tools of propaganda? — so different that it is able to achieve such seeming autonomy? John Robb briefly describes the high degree of control the Chinese exert over their portions of the ‘network’. Given the degree of consolidation of u.s. ‘network’ providers and their less than remote relationship with various arms of the u.s. government, how much less control does the u.s. government exert over the ‘network’ than the Chinese government? Can a mob or ‘swarm’ escape the control of its instigator? I suppose — but I would think a network ‘swarm’ is much easier to control and direct than a raging mob.

  22. steven

    Doesn’t the way out of this have to start with the admission by Western leaders that ‘mistakes were made’? Russia has legitimate security concerns that have been ignored and even escalated by US and Western policies since the end of the Cold War. Start with the 26 million deaths in WWII. Didn’t the Nazi armies invade Russia through Ukraine? Throw in the ridiculous nonsense of positioning anti-ballistic missiles on Russia’s doorsteps – a proposition the Western press may have been able to sell to its readers but not any serious students of military technology. Then add backing a coup ‘to promote democracy’ in Ukraine that used violent street demonstrations to overthrow a democratically elected government.

    Without wishing to condone mass murder – which is what war for any reason is – is it possible Putin and his military would stop the killing if they thought their concerns had at last been heard? Vilifying Putin and the Russian military for what is happening in Ukraine is infantile and counter-productive. The West bears some responsibility for what has happened there the last several weeks.

  23. Charlie Sheldon

    Steven thank you for this comment, especially on this day where the narrative window has shifted enormously away from “find Putin an off ramp” to “Putin the monster must be stopped no matter what, else all Europe will fall.” I paid close attention to Putin’s speeches right before the invasion. He was consistent and clear – Ukraine never in NATO, Donbass let alone, and make the Nazis accountable. His long hour long speech where he waxed into the Slavic soul and comments about Ukraine never being a real country were not, as the pundits now say, his overall Re-Sovietize aim, but instead some talk for his people to give them a frame and context to what he was doing. Zelenskey is racing around – Israel is the latest – looking for some kind of end to all this, now that he sees the West has been serious about the no fly denial (so far at least, but I worry about that) and one must wonder – how can we know Putin’s true intentions if he isn’t offered what he has asked for? Which is what Zelinsky needs to give him else his country be ruined.

    If Zelinsky announces agreement to end the war, he gives up Crimea and the Donbass, and Ukraine remains neutral but independent from Russia, what will the West and the US do then? I have always felt this is Zelinskey;s move to make and he is balancing between the Nazis killing him if he settles with Putin and the West killing him if he settles with Putin, or watching his country get ruined as the war continues and probably escalates to at least a whole Europe conventional war if not Nuclear disaster.

    If Zelinsky and Putin talk and agree to meet the terms Putin demanded, Putin “wins” but we all live, or those of us not in the current battle. If we decide we can thrash the Russian forces and somehow keep that red button from being pushed by Putin – and I know Serious Thinkers are in this fever as I write this – then we better all pray for our souls. It will take Biden standing tall and saying, Putin may have had a point about all this and the history, and finding a way out of this. That will take a lot of strength, and leadership, for surely he will be blamed for “losing” Ukraine, etc etc. As a near-certain one term president at his age, though, maybe he will find the strength to do this.

    Scary times…

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