Empire of Chaos

by lizard

Looking for a book for that geopolitical enthusiast in your family? Look no further than Pepe Escobar’s compilation, titled Empire of Chaos: The Roving Eye Collection. From the link:

The essential features of the empire of chaos, “where a plutocracy progressively projects its own internal disintegration upon the whole world,” are “a progressive drift towards not conventional war but above all economic war – manifestations of Liquid War.” The purpose of that chaos is “to prevent an economic integration of Eurasia that would leave the U.S. a non-hegemon, or worse still, an outsider.”

The book covers the era from early 2009 up to late 2014. The central idea being the empire of chaos and its range of activities to thwart the Eurasian integration by way of pipelines (Pipelinestan), road, rail, and cyberlinks from China through various routes to western Europe, the “New Silk Road.” Along the way it touches on what are considered by the western mainstream media to be separate topics, perhaps united by an underlying violence, but nothing of a unified geopolitical attempt at preventing the loss of western (Washington) hegemony.

It is a wonderful read, occasionally repetitive due to the nature of it being a series of compiled distinct articles into a whole, sometimes humorous – generally rather dark – accounting of modern history or current events. It is sometimes whimsical when writing about a particular cultural aspect of his sojourns or when critiquing another author or activist. If history could be written/read this way, there would be far more historians in academic circles – this is not the history of the dominant media, but that of an educated roving eye capable of putting ideas and actions together into a coherent, somewhat scary whole.

The long-anticipated rise of China passed a statistical mark that Forbes was quick to dismiss as not mattering a darn:

There’s much worrywarting over the new figures from the IMF telling us the fact that China is now the world’s number one economy in terms of size. The truth is though that, other than for collectors of statistical trivia, this really isn’t important. Perhaps on a par with wondering how Lady Gaga is going to dress next but no more than that. Because the whole idea of “an economy” as defined by the borders of a nation state is pretty arbitrary anyway and further, it matters a great deal more how many people that economy is spread over than it does the size of it. Luxembourg’s economy is considerably smaller than that of India but with 400,000 people not 1.4 billion who is living better?

I like how Forbes parses out their perspective with a Lady Gaga reference. That’s how much this doesn’t matter, right? But there’s more to the not mattering that Forbes wants its readers to understand, and that’s the per capita breakdown:

There’s simply so many people in that area of land that, barring any truly stupid set of economic policies (here’s lookin’ at you, Marxism) the place is simply going to be one of the larger, if not the largest, component of the global economy. Think of it this way: why shouldn’t 18% of the people on the planet have 18% of the economy of the planet?

So apart from the obviousness of this there’s also that other thing that we might want to consider: its importance. And it’s not important. For what determines how well people live (and yes, aiding people in living well is pretty much the point of this whole having an economy thing) is economic output per capita. That total economy divided by the number of people who get to consume the output. Here the US is well ahead (north of $50,000 a year in the US, only just over $5,000 a year in China and yes, that is after adjusting for price differences) and China would need another three generations of breakneck growth to close that gap.

There are other realities beyond the continuing abysmal living standards for the majority of the Chinese population, and that’s the sheer scale of the infrastructure being developed, and for a look at that reality we can go to Pepe Escobar’s latest piece, titled Go West, Young Han. From the link:

November 18, 2014: it’s a day that should live forever in history. On that day, in the city of Yiwu in China’s Zhejiang province, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, the first train carrying 82 containers of export goods weighing more than 1,000 tons left a massive warehouse complex heading for Madrid. It arrived on December 9th.

Welcome to the new trans-Eurasia choo-choo train. At over 13,000 kilometers, it will regularly traverse the longest freight train route in the world, 40% farther than the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. Its cargo will cross China from East to West, then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain.

You may not have the faintest idea where Yiwu is, but businessmen plying their trades across Eurasia, especially from the Arab world, are already hooked on the city “where amazing happens!” We’re talking about the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods — from clothes to toys — possibly anywhere on Earth.

The Yiwu-Madrid route across Eurasia represents the beginning of a set of game-changing developments. It will be an efficient logistics channel of incredible length. It will represent geopolitics with a human touch, knitting together small traders and huge markets across a vast landmass. It’s already a graphic example of Eurasian integration on the go. And most of all, it’s the first building block on China’s “New Silk Road,” conceivably the project of the new century and undoubtedly the greatest trade story in the world for the next decade.

Escobar calls this new silk road the project of the new century, which seems legit from where I sit, December 20th, 2014. 14 years ago the Neocons were day dreaming of their Project for a New American Century. The goals of that little project outlined a decade and a half ago went something like this:

* Reposition permanently based forces to Southern Europe, Southeast Asia and the Middle East;
* Modernize U.S. forces, including enhancing our fighter aircraft, submarine and surface fleet capabilities;
* Develop and deploy a global missile defense system, and develop a strategic dominance of space;
* Control the “International Commons” of cyberspace;
* Increase defense spending to a minimum of 3.8 percent of gross domestic product, up from the 3 percent currently spent.

The fourth bullet point is an interesting one, considering the Sony hack. While conservatives freak out, b at Moon of Alabama is skeptical:

A Japanese company with some offices in California was hacked. Several terrabytes of data were copied off its internal networks and some of it was put on file sharing sites. One of the items copied was a film produced in Canada that depicts as comedy the terror act of killing of a current head of state. The U.S. State Department applauded that movie scene. But there were tons of other data like social security numbers, payroll data, and internal emails stolen all of which that might have been the real target of the hackers.

The tools to hack the company are well known and in the public domain. The company, Sony, had lousy internal network security and had been hacked before. The hackers probably had some inside knowledge. They used servers in Bolivia, China and South Korea to infiltrate. There is zero public evidence in the known that the hack was state sponsored.

But the U.S. is claiming that the event is a “national security matter”. Who’s national security? Japan’s? Canada’s? Why? A private Japanese entertainment(!) company left the doors open and had some equipment vandalized and some of its private property stolen. Why, again, is that of U.S. “national interest”? Why would the U.S. even consider some “proportional response”?

Good questions.

As Americans idiotically whine about being deprived of a stupid movie, time would be better spent reading up on Stuxnet:

In 2011, the US government rolled out its “International Strategy for Cyberspace,” which reminded us that “interconnected networks link nations more closely, so an attack on one nation’s networks may have impact far beyond its borders.” An in-depth report today from the New York Times confirms the truth of that statement as it finally lays bare the history and development of the Stuxnet virus—and how it accidentally escaped from the Iranian nuclear facility that was its target.

The article is adapted from journalist David Sanger’s forthcoming book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power, and it confirms that both the US and Israeli governments developed and deployed Stuxnet. The goal of the worm was to break Iranian nuclear centrifuge equipment by issuing specific commands to the industrial control hardware responsible for their spin rate. By doing so, both governments hoped to set back the Iranian research program—and the US hoped to keep Israel from launching a pre-emptive military attack.

The code was only supposed to work within Iran’s Natanz refining facility, which was air-gapped from outside networks and thus difficult to penetrate. But computers and memory cards could be carried between the public Internet and the private Natanz network, and a preliminary bit of “beacon” code was used to map out all the network connections within the plant and report them back to the NSA.

That program, first authorized by George W. Bush, worked well enough to provide a digital map of Natanz and its industrial control hardware. Soon, US national labs were testing different bits of the plan to sabotage Natanz (apparently without knowing what the work was for) using similar centrifuges that had come from Libya’s Qadaffi regime. When the coders found the right sets of commands to literally shake the centrifuges apart, they knew that Stuxnet could work.

Empire of Chaos indeed.


  1. Watching (a disgustingly patronizing) CBS News two nights ago, I was appalled that they flashed some computer code across the screen and asserted without doubt that NK had done the Sony hack. The notion is ludicrous, and CBS News did nothing more than an appeal to authority.

    Thanks for this piece. Very well sourced and written.

  2. steve kelly

    Just happened to catch PBS news clip with David Brooks giving a strong impression that Sony is an American company. In the same breath he cleverly covered his butt with a qualifier: “The government has to say an attack on a U.S. company or any company sited in the U.S. is an attack on the country, and the government has to step in. And, frankly, journalists have to step in.”

    Three-card Monte. This guy is good.

    Then see him drop the money card: “Somebody is going to publicize what was in the e-mails. I do not think we should be involved in that business. It’s sort of — let somebody else do it. It is sort of aiding what is basically a terrorist act.”

    Did you catch that? Who yelled “terrorism?” Brooks did it anyway, without a shread of evidence.

    Scared yet? It’s why he’s paid the big bucks.

  3. JC

    Because the whole idea of “an economy” as defined by the borders of a nation state is pretty arbitrary anyway and further, it matters a great deal more how many people that economy is spread over than it does the size of it.

    Well, in the U.S. the top 1% own as much of the wealth (22%) as the bottom 90%. I wonder how much that inequality matters to Forbes.

    Think of it this way: why shouldn’t 18% of the people on the planet have 18% of the economy of the planet?

    Well, going by Forbes’ logic, shouldn’t 90% of the U.S. population have 90% of the wealth?

    I realize extrapolating from Forbes’ comments about gdp to wealth is a stretch, but isn’t that the strategy of the geopoliticians here? To denigrate a country if they don’t meet the median norm, both GDP or median income? Likewise in the U.S. we denigrate people who don’t meet up to a median income norm of $50k/family, even when that median income is heavily skewed by the wealth of the top 90%?

    In 2011 the average AGI of the vast majority fell to $30,437 per taxpayer, its lowest level since 1966 when measured in 2011 dollars. The vast majority averaged a mere $59 more in 2011 than in 1966. For the top 10 percent, by the same measures, average income rose by $116,071 to $254,864, an increase of 84 percent over 1966.

    You can read Forbes’ back flips trying to micro-parse out their perceived problems with Picketty’s numbers just above. It’s pretty hilarious when read with their statements in Liz’s post above.

    So yeah, Cartalucci has been doing some great writing. I follow him at Land Destroyer.

  4. Steve W

    Great read, Liz. Thanks.

    • lizard19

      you’re welcome!




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