Category Archives: 20 minutes in the future

The potential for far-right terrorism in the USA

I’ve been kind of busy, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon, so instead of doing a writeup myself, I’ll just direct you with links.

Orcinus has the details about the potential (and, in my view, likely) re-emergence of the “Patriot” militia movement:

One of the more disturbing trends we’ve been observing is the return of far-right “Patriot” rhetoric about government oppression with the election of President Obama. Fueled in no small part by mainstream right-wing talkers proclaiming we’re headed into “socialism” — not to mention a “radical communist” who must be “stopped” or else America will “cease to exist” — the overheated rhetoric has been gradually getting higher in volume, intensity, and frequency with each passing week.

The initial concern that this raises is the possibility of a new wave of citizen militias, particularly when you have mainstream pundits like Glenn Beck out there helping to promote the concept. As Glenn Greenwald observed, the “Patriots” are back with a vengeance.

At least for the time being, however, there isn’t any evidence of new militias forming, though we may see numbers growing within the coming months within existing units, particularly as Fox News and radio pundits start fueling right-wing anxieties.

However, we are starting to see a trend that’s even more disturbing: Military veterans voicing Patriot-movement beliefs, including threats of violent resistance to the Obama administration.

If anyone is foolish enough to think these guys are actually about liberty, I suggest you ask them where they have been for the past 8 years, or their views on Bush’s leadership.  There is a disturbing proto-fascist element to the militia movement which is really worrying.

Robert Gilpin on hegemonies and economic crises

I was reading Fifty Key Thinkers on International Relations earlier this week and ran across this interesting quote:

Essentially, Gilpin believes that all hegemonies are transient because the costs of maintaining them rise more quickly than the resources available to do so. On the one hand, the hegemon is unable to prevent the diffusion of its economic skills and technique to other states. On the other hand, the hegemon must confront the rising expectations of its own citizens. Over time, they will privilege consumption over production and resist further sacrifices in order to maintain the supremacy of the hegemon on the international stage. The combination of internal and external factors leads to what Gilpin calls ‘a severe fiscal crisis’ for the hegemon.

It then has a limited choice of options. If it wishes to maintain its power, it can either confront its internal obstacles and reverse the tendency towards complacency, or it can attack rising powers before they mount a challenge of their own. Alternatively, it can seek to reduce its overseas commitments and promote strategic alliances with other states. Gilpin illustrates the former with reference to imperial China, while in the 1930s, Britain attempted the latter course of action. Gilpin is sceptical about the lessons of history, however. While each of these options has been pursued with varying degrees of success in the past, neither has been able to prevent the onset of war to resolve the disequilibrium of global power. In the late twentieth century, such a conclusion raises urgent questions about contemporary stability in the international system and the need to discover means other than war for managing the process of change, as the next ‘systemic’ war is likely to be the last in the context of nuclear weapons.

Now, while this is unsettling reading, I don’t actually think it applies in this case, for one particular reason.  Namely, under current conditions, the economic crisis is globalized.  While the USA is indeed suffering, other nations who could become peer competitors to the US have been hit just as hard, if not harder.  And as we know, a broad economic base is essential to build the military muscle necessary to leap to hegemon status.

However, should one of those potential peer competitor nations recover while the US is still mired in trouble…when then there could be a real recipe for trouble.  It doesn’t seem likely, but it should not be discounted.

Some might suggest this analysis may be too state centric, however I very much doubt any of the current 4GW using organizations either have the capacity to create nuclear weapons in sufficient quantity, or the manpower and economic muscle to fight anything more than a guerrilla war.  In a systemic conflict, such groups would be wiped out with extreme prejudice.

Burn baby burn

Increasing complex systems have a tendency to collapse in more catastrophic ways.  Hence, when George Soros and Nassim Nicholas Taleb say that this economic crisis will be worse than the Great Depression, I am not surprised at their appraisal.

However, what does a Depression actually mean, in our current socio-political economic condition?  No doubt, circumstances across those three areas of analysis do differ from the 1930s and so we have to ask ourselves, what does that mean for us?  The only viable mass movements of the moment seem to be, at least in the American contexts, religious ones.  In the UK, I don’t think even that is possible.  While I think the worries about fascism, at least in parts of the Third World, are valid, platforms explicit about such a program are rejected, and not just because of the negative connotations of such labels.

And how will the internet affect such a Depression, as well?  Will we see spontaneous protests, or even peaceful urban takedowns, orchestrated via Facebook and Twitter?  Or will the net become a talking shop, the modern day equivalent of a soapbox, where gripes and despair about our current conditon are aired but little else is actually done?

Obviously, my thoughts turn to recent graduates and attempts to get jobs, for personal reasons.  Will unemployment and the lack of prospects lead to, as it did in Italy in the 60s, a militant intellectual movement who felt they had more in common with the proletariat than their (usually) middle class backgrounds?  Or could it breed a new class of cosmopolitan guerrilla entrepreneur, an anti-Davos man if you will.

I could really do with a team of sociologists and cultural theorists right now.

Panic! at the economic disco

Just a short economic roundup:

Japan’s economy is going down the tubes at the fastest rate in 35 years.

Ireland could default.

Keep an eye on Eastern Europe (yes, I know the Telegraph are apocalyptic enough as it is, but hysteria aside, there are valid concerns about the state of the region)

China’s recovery may be riding on the back of sham loans

Kansas is having money trouble

Collateralized Loan Obligations could be next financial black swan.

Santander has liquidity issues.

In summation, things don’t look too good.  More and more, I find myself agreeing with John Robb, even when I actively try not to.

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride…

For some unthinkable reason, I was not invited to Technoccult’s roundtable on the future of the nation-state.  Probably because they’ve never heard of me, Wes and Edward aside, but I won’t let that get in the way of some good snark.  Besides, I can now claim to be a renegade renegade futurist, which justs adds to my edgy appeal.  Or something.

Anyway, good question.  The whole viability/decline of the state has become a very interesting question in light of the credit crunch.  And I have more than a passing interest in social organization in the past and present, in no small way due to reading John Robb for the past three years or so.

Continue reading Always the bridesmaid, never the bride…

Is George Friedman smoking crack?

Stratfor’s analysis is starting to show its bias much more:

Note the section on the US missile program in central Europe.  Unless something has changed radically, the last I heard was Obama was putting the kibosh on the project at least until the Pentagon could make the case it had to be in Europe, and in return, Russia was withdrawing its plans to put nuclear warheads in Kaliningrad, which would allow them to strike anywhere in Europe with even their smallest nuclear capable missiles.

Also on Kyrgyzstan, while the analysis is accurate, they in no way mention the cyber attack which was almost certainly undertaken by Russian proxies there – one which may have been a trial run to see how US forces coped with bandwidth poor environments.  The US military is massively dependent on using state of the art communication systems, and they did have problems in Central Asia when first moving into those bases, in 2001-2002.  Russian expertise in cyber warfare is nothing new, but running an attack which may have been designed to test US responses is.  In the Georgia/Russia spat earlier last year, the Russians were probably too busy actually attacking Georgian websites and communications to see what they could do to American bases in the country.  This time, they had an attackers advantage, in choosing the time and place.  Given Obama, just today, is reviewing cyberspace security, I would think this was much more important than Russia’s long standing objections to the US presence in its percieved sphere of intersest.

And just to confirm my suspicions, I get a new email:

In our 2009 Annual Forecast, we let Stratfor Members know that Russia is resurging–but can she really do it? The short answer is YES.

Russia needs more than economic power to mount a real resurgence–military power is an equally important aspect. So we’re introducing a special four-part series on the Russian Military.

UUUUUNNNNGGGGHHHHHHH.  Paul Kennedy is quietly weeping somewhere.  Military superpowers need to be economic powerhouses first and foremost.  Obviously, a super rich country with little population is not much of a military risk (see: Saudi Arabia), but equally a populous country with a weak economy is not nearly as much of a threat as one with a strong economy.

Russia had an economy comparable to Portugal, a thin strip of mostly barren land on the Atlantic sea, which makes the majority of its money from tourists who don’t realize they crossed the border from Spain, and from the quite frankly disgusting “firewater” drink.  Oh, and Port, of course.

And most of this was because of Russian reliance on energy resources, in particular oil and gas.  Oil prices have essentially collapsed, putting the Russian economy in dire straits.  Their weapons systems are their second main export, but with the economic crisis hitting their main clients hard as well, they cannot hope to pick up the loss of earnings there.

Russia still has a decent amount of firepower, of course.  It has the world’s biggest stockpile of nuclear weapons, for starters.  It has numerous WMD programs, including a very advanced biological weapons division.  They still maintain large numbers of missiles, both conventional and otherwise.  Its intelligence assets were primed towards Europe and America for 60+ years, and many of those assets are still around, if in a reduced capacity.  It also has its much vaunted cyber warfare capacity.

But those are costly to maintain.  Equally, Russia’s population is steadily decreasing, as is its economy.  Sooner or later, cuts will have to be made, in order to save the careers of those in the Duma and Kremlin.  And Russia is already well behind in certain technical innovations than NATO, China and Japan.  Can they sustain the economy necessary for high-tech research and their already existing military power, which is still a shadow of what the USSR possessed?  Highly unlikely.  Unless Russia can reverse its economic woes, presumably by seizing the Arctic oilfields and then orchestrating price fixing via Gazprom, its a power on the decline.  Again.

Reaping a whirlwind of trouble, and why smuggling is the new boom industry

This Financial Times blog outlies the reasons why Gordon Brown’s British Jobs for British Workers probably qualifies as the most stupid thing one could promise, especially when there was a financial downturn on the cards.  To whit:

In the UK, prime minister Gordon Brown is reaping the protectionist storm he sowed with his infamous protectionist and xenophobic call for “British jobs for British workers”.  What was he thinking?  Follow the logic: ‘British jobs for British workers’,’Scottish jobs for Scottish workers’ (along with ‘It’s Scotland’s oil’), ‘Welsh jobs for Welsh workers’ and ‘English jobs for English workers’.  Why not London jobs for London Workers, or London jobs for native-born London workers, or even London jobs for white Christian native-born London workers?

How divisive can you get?  British workers are demonstrating against workers from elsewhere in the EU – Italian and Portuguese workers are currently at the centre of a rather disgusting series of altercations at UK oil refineries, gas terminals and power stations, following a dispute at Total’s oil refinery at Killinghome in Lincolnshire, where an Italian engineering company was bringing its own staff from Portugal and Italy for a egnineering construction project.

This is already being exploited by fascist organizations such as the BNP, notably through their front organization British Wildcats – if you doubt this is the case then the Ministry of Truth details the evidence.

In addition to providing propaganda to fascists, gratis no less, the other main beneficiary of protectionism will be those operating in the black market.  John Robb outlines the details, basically stating that it just increases the range of goods such groups can provide and thus improving their economic standing.  Or, if you like, the Law of Eristic Calculation.  Not to mention that stoking such nationalism, at the expense of foreign countries, will only hamper efforts to cut down on such markets.

So yeah, nice going Gordo.  I’ve always wanted to live in a third world country, complete with pointless ethnic strife, a booming illegal industry, corruption, a lowered standard of living and de facto IMF control via “economic structural adjustments”.  No, really.

The Arctic Scramble

While the eyes of conspiracy theorists are permamently fixed on the Middle East and Central Asia as the Last Great Battleground for easy access to oil, it looks like both NATO and Russia are capable of hiring slightly more intelligent people.

At least, those intelligent enough to realize that sitting under the Arctic circle are massive oil reserves, so far claimed by no-one.  And as the economic crisis continues to deepen, both are considering sending in military forces to show everyone who really owns the oil and gas hidden under the ice.

Russia is especially worried.  Their much inflated and hysterically claimed resurgence only came about due to stable political leadership, ie; Putin, along with the strategic use of Russian oil and gas reserves to improve the economy and rebuild its military power.  With the current economic crisis, consumption is down and oil prices have plummeted, putting Russia in a very precarious position.  Economic growth is not assured and Russia’s economy has not really diversified in recent years, arms sales aside.

NATO claims that global warming means sea routes previously closed would open again, and that military forces in the region could act as a stablizing factor to ensure possible rivalries don’t get out of hand.  And while this is true, we’d be fools to consider that the Russian interest in massive energy resources is not also a facor.

It is tempting to put a Cold War pun here, but I will refrain.  But I do wonder how China, Japan and other rising powers (such as India) would react to renewed tension in the Arctic circle.  Concentrating such a crisis away from Eastern Europe, the Far East or South Asia may have interesting repurcussions on previously stable alliances.

Keep an eye on this one.  It’s going to be a slow burner.

Private equity meltdown?

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has long been a favourite of ours at, well before the current crisis had materialized.  And since he has been proven remarkably right about the current crisis and how it is unfolding, its worth paying attention to him when he speaks.

Private-equity firms may follow banks into failure should U.S. stocks extend their worst rout since the Great Depression, said Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of the best- selling finance book “The Black Swan.”…

The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has dropped 4.7 percent this year following a 38 percent plunge in 2008 that was the worst in 71 years. Blackstone Group LP, manager of the world’s largest buyout fund, fell 78 percent since the end of 2007.

“Banks are being bailed out, and private-equity firms are going to go next,” Taleb said in an interview with Bloomberg Radio. “These people in a bull market look like geniuses. And now they don’t look that intelligent, and it’s going to get a lot worse for them. If the S&P goes down 20 percent from here, what will happen to private equity firms? They’re all under water.”

Layman’s terms.  You know all those venture capitalist companies with tons of money to throw at possibly profitable projects?  These are those guys.  And private equity was a boom market in the early 2000s, which is why, as Taleb says, these guys looked like geniuses.  Unfortunately, much of this boom was created by loose lending standards.  Now, why does that sound familiar…?

Private equity funds are raised by people with money to put them in the specific funds.  And, as we’ve noticed, the banks are not lending right now.  So unless you have the money to hand, cash for these firms and their managed funds is not immediately apparent.

The upshot of this is that there is going to be another round of bailouts, probably every bit as expensive as the banks.  Possibly slightly more helpful, in that such venture capital firms actually do invest and thus help create jobs.  But so long as the banks refuse to lend, this is a temporary solution at best.