Holes In The Stockings Of The Empire. Look At Ancient Rome For A Template Of What’s To Come In America. Part I.

by Daniel Russ on May 19, 2013


It came as no surprise this week when the United States State Department shut down the freely distributed 3-D printer files for a homemade gun called the Liberator from a wing-nut company called Defense Distributed. It came as no surprise as well that the response came really late, seemed clumsily worded, and not thought through. In fact, it came so late that the printing files had already been downloaded more than a hundred thousand times so claims Cody Wilson, the proprietor at Defense Distributed. Would it really have mattered if they were downloaded ten times? The fact is, the files are still out there and the audience for them is well motivated and will find little hindrance fossicking around for the files online. Apparently Pirate Bay has them up already, and the incestuous community of anti-Obamaites probably have their own secure networks and are already sharing them. It is this lead-footed response to any threat that marks perhaps not just the rips in the clothing of the American Empire, but perhaps symptoms of the beginning of the end. Or the beginning of the next chapter. Of course few in our self-absorbed media have the time to take their eyes off the Jody Arias trial even days after the verdict to comment on this obvious futility of the gesture on the part of the State Department. This ham handed sort of Cover Your Ass Check Off the Box operation has become the signature action of this do nothing president.


The slow response might just be the Obama team’s fault. It might be a symptom of a much bigger problem.


Consider the fact that despite all the work that so many Americans put in to electing Obama, and all the work put into passing the Obamcare Medicaid Expansion, or other portions of the Health Care Reform, and consider all the popularity of the reform. But if you’re in South Carolina or Texas or Oklahoma, you don’t get the help the law was supposed to deliver to you. In other words, the governors of a handful of states are more powerful than the President or Congress. A third of the population doesn’t even know that the law was passed. If the law does come, it will come with riders and waivers that essentially nullify its benefits. This reminds me of the Roman Empire in the second and third century when Roman officers burned and looted churches. This was a time when Christians had a chance to recant and swear allegiance to Roman Gods, or suffer crucifixion. The Emperor Trajan declared that just being a Christian was enough to be executed. The fact of the matter is that the laws meant little since local Roman governors were granted leeway in applying the law. Much of the anti-Christian legislation was ignored, and many of the power class were sympathetic to Christians. Officers of the court enforced it under pressure form Rome itself. Well, how did all of that legislating fare for the utterly corrupt and out of touch Roman Senate? By the end of the third century, Rome was a Christian state.


I think Rome is such a great template for understanding empires and I can’t help seeing the analogies. Because Rome flourished and evanesced before electronic technology, the fall happened in super slow motion. Remember by the time the edicts came out against the Christians, the Republic had already fallen, and the Empire had already blossomed. We say that Rome was now an Empire, or shall we give it the more correct descriptor, the Roman Series of Despicable Dictatorships. In the third century Romans woke up and began to see the Empire imploding. The next three generations of Romans saw the Empire contract; they saw Roman armies lose; they saw foreigners cross rivers and occupy their territories. Some of the aqueducts began to fail and a growing decrepitude was seen in Rome’s infrastructure. Rome needed capital expenditures and aqueducts had to be maintained and more had to hastily built to supply an ever-increasing demand on the expanding population. Today you look out the window and see a 20th century data and power infrastructure tacked onto wooden telephone poles. That’s where the Internet travels through America. It’s an eyesore and a shame that we leave this for our children. These are our aqueducts. Ninety percent of the country has no idea that our Internet speeds are the slowest in the digital world. Yet we see no legislation moving these to improve.


Ninety percent of our population has no idea how much cheaper carrier service is in Europe and Japan and how much better it works. Ninety percent of our population has no idea that our Internet and much of the back end technical development of its key parts were designed by foreigners who came here when foreigners were welcomed. Today our immigration policies serve the prurient interests of politicians, not the future of the country. Today we have no idea what to do with a smart immigrant who comes here to be productive.


The fissures in the fabric of empire can be seen  when laws are passed that do not apply to everyone. Today’s laws do not apply to political figures or stars of any kind. If you have money, you have an out. Lindsey Lohan, who is a gorgeous star would be in jail today if she wasn’t a star and had no money to defend herself. There are millions of prisoners from impecunious backgrounds. When Reagan deregulated Savings and Loans, bankers ended up cheating the system and creating a massive financial ruin. 1200 of these bankers were sent in front of a judge. The bankers who ruined the economy in 2007 were left unscathed. The folks who crashed the recent economy plunged retirees into near poverty and stole money out of our pockets and manipulated markets and were all given a free pass. In fact, they proved so powerful, so immune to prosecution that they successful paid off the police to crush the Occupy Wall Street movement. Even the Police could not be trusted to protect us.


The NYPD has over 34,000 officers serving 8 million people. It is corrupt. In regards to FOIA requests Salon recently reported:


“…but multiple interviews with reporters who cover the police department, as well as organizations dedicated to transparency, reveal a police department stunning in its disregard for the information requests of citizens, advocacy groups and news organizations…”


So, no problem. They turn over no information to anyone unless they have connections. This is New York’s finest. It is often lawless and brutal and the NYPD know that whatever they do, in this America, they can get away with it. It took six months to get Larry Pike, the Berkley Cop who pepper sprayed students fired and that was at the most liberal college in America.


When the Westboro Baptist Church shows up around the country to spread their filth they get police protection and in some cities they get port-o-potties. When college students sat in public parks and beat drums in opposition to income inequality they were beaten and arrested. It was horrifying at a news conference not long after Occupy Wall Street began to see a man ask Obama for help because people were getting beaten in the streets. He request was heartfelt, he was nervous, and he was desperate. Obama reacted in his typical Gatsby-esque insouciance. Obama might be marketing hope. But his administration can get almost nothing done. And if anyone there really cared for something beyond a great news conference, a speech, or a new initiative with a youthful sounding name you can’t tell. The entire administration acts as if it can’t wait for this to all be over so they can take their lobbying money and retire. Meanwhile Obama keeps flogging the passage of his otiose laws that don’t apply down here in the Confederacy.


Rome again is a great tutor here. Publius Aelius Hadrian re-built a moribund Pantheon. He constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. He built aqueducts. He built a wall that stretched across the southern British Isles to protect Roman interests from invading tribes. He brought art and music and science to the masses. He was considered one of the five good emperors, and he did this in one lifetime. I think of Hadrian as the Dwight David Eisenhower of his day, a brilliant military leader, brilliant lawman, and a scholar. Take that in for a moment and lets compare the achievements of the Roman Empire in the second century with the US occupation of Iraq. Look at Hadrian’s Wall. It took 14 years to build Hadrian’s Wall. It spanned across a continent. It has hundreds of watchtowers and barracks and plumbing. It was in use for centuries. The US embassy in Iraq, is larger than Vatican City, it’s 104 acres, enough for 95 football fields. It is one of the most expensive structures ever built. It has 22 buildings and a staff of thousands. It has gyms, retail shopping, water treatment facilities, its own power grid and thousands of soldiers. It took only half as long as the Romans required. Oh, and we barely have use for it. The planned headquarters of the Project for a New American Century has holes in the ceiling, unauthorized use of offices, empty gyms, retail food centers and now needs the Baghdad power grid such as it is. It turned out to be little more than a hose where funds flowed from taxpayers to contractors favored by the Bush Administration.


The US public has never really been taken on a tour through this largest embassy in the world, one that they built, for three quarters of a billion dollars. We have little idea that a billion dollars of our tax money was spent on a building that the Iraqis didn’t need, didn’t ask for, and is in the best possible meaning of the term: impracticable. Peter Van Buren of Mother Jones wrote that American architects during the Bush administration spent untold billion trying to keep a grass lawn alive in Mesopotamia inside the Embassy, like an elegiac New England college. Why find out how much we spent on the Embassy where there are so many salacious murder trials to cover? We seem to not want to know how much this costs. We want so much to believe that what we did in Iraq was noble and well-intentioned, and if we watch another mind numbing Headline News trial discussion, then maybe we won’t have to face it. Frank Bruni of the New York Times writes about how uneducated the United States citizen is and the part it’s playing into our directionless path. He says Wherever the Internet is speeding us, it’s not toward greater civic erudition and enlightenment.” Part of the reason is that we have been trained to be incurious. Our media does not look at what’s important. The most popular reality shows aggrandize people who by virtue of a public education in the poorest states can barely read and write. Good people nonetheless, but exploited for what they don’t have. The cable “News” networks look like a Hunger Games rally at the capital of Panem, screaming Technicolor harpies on a large multi boxed screen, each vying for the spotlight to opine on where the hapless defendant really was that night of the murder. The most reliable and erudite news shows on television are The Daily Show, basically two hours of written comedy a week, The Colbert Report, ditto, and Bill Maher on HBO. All comedians and satirists. All Molieres who can insult the king and still eat at his table. The news media is like our government, bought and sold and utterly untrustworthy. More, even dangerous. Frank Bruni describes it perfectly: Into the vacuum of substantive knowledge rush the unprincipled advertisements, the unctuous hucksters, the “super PACs,” the Swift boating, the Sunday-morning-talk-show spin. A clueless electorate is a corruptible one, and one that seems ill poised to make the smartest, best call about something as sweeping as Obamacare and how it gets tweaked or not down the line. Maybe we’ll blink our way to the right decisions. Or maybe we’ll just stumble around with our eyes closed.”



I wrote a few years ago that it isn’t the bullet that kills the armies of an empire. It’s the germs and the weather that kill armies. And it isn’t military defeat that kills the empire itself. It’s the bill. All empires are based on constant growth, and when they don’t grow, then the empire builders go out to find new sources of income. To conquer. To steal. To line their own pockets. The United States Armed Forces did not win either Iraq or Afghanistan. Iraq began with a bloody battle, a military win, and then it ignited an insurgency that for all intents and purposes fouled PNAC’s plans for transforming the Iraq into a democracy and of course it’s stately pleasure dome with walls of ice. Afghanistan was a debacle from day one. Whatever villages we stabilized are unstabilized the second we leave. When US forces protected the encampment at Korengal Valley for years and spilled blood doing it, most of the US never knew about it. Hell most of the US couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map with two hands and a flashlight. Combat operations are not Headline News. When we abandoned the base at Korengal, the Taliban were inside of it and posting videos of themselves on YouTube within minutes. It only has 93,000 views on YouTube. I will bet very few come from the US.






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