Posts Tagged ‘terminal decline’

Trump Hastened Inexorable Demise of American Empire by a Decade: 1

May 9, 2019 10 comments

The world is full of idiots who keep chasing every new morsel of whatever passes for news, while almost deliberately ignoring larger trends at work- especially if the later contradict their existing mental model. While this intellectual deficiency is seen in all races, countries and eras of human history- it is especially prevalent in unstable and decaying societies who still mentally live in a previous (and often mythical) era. And yes.. I am talking about USA and its vassal states. The rest of this short series is about my contention that election of Trump and his presidency has sped up the inevitable demise of American Empire by at least a decade. However, it is important to note that he was not the first president to ‘preside’ over the inevitable demise of American Empire. That dubious honor goes to Richard Milhous Nixon.

Some of you might remember a few of my previous post (link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4) about why USA has not won a real war against any semi-competent army or been able to successfully occupy any place beyond a few Latin-american countries since the end of WW2. Moreover the ability of USA to pull off successful coups (outside Latin-america) had dropped pretty dramatically since early 1960s. In retrospect, these should have been the first warning signs that American Empire came with an expiry date. At that time, almost nobody cared or believed this was the case because a long post-WW2 socio-economic boom, which in some parts lasted until mid-1990s, has ensured internal stability. Then again, everyone and their dog is smart, handsome or beautiful and invincible until winds of fortune start blowing in a different direction.

The full list of reasons why things started going bad for USA is rather long and beyond the scope of this post. Let us instead focus on a subset of those reasons, specifically how many decisions and actions of successive american governments has sped up this process- increasingly in an exponential manner. As late as the beginning of 21st century it appeared that the American Empire could go on (in some form) until the 2040s. However three events and their sequelae, which occurred almost 8 years apart, have drastically shortened the remainder of its potential life. It should be mentioned that such a fast decline is not uncommon- just think of where UK was in 1938 compared to where it ended up in 1948. Or the difference between USSR of 1982 and 1992. Declining empires are rather fragile and unable to withstand otherwise small setbacks.

The first of these major acts of self-inflicted stupidity came in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. The invasion and occupation of Iraq (and to a lesser extent, Afghanistan) in the immediate aftermath of that attack was one the dumbest possible moves. While there are those who want to believe that those colossally expensive mistakes were some fancy 4D chess moves, the judgement of reality is far harsher. Both those failed and expensive occupations ended up exposing something which every smart bully dreads- their lack of actual capability and hidden vulnerabilities. As some of you know, smart bullies never push hard enough to get into real fights because it is hard to maintain the image of cool dominance once you get your ass kicked hard.

To make a long story short, the failed occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan showed the rest of world that USA did not have the capability to win long and drawn-out insurgencies, even if they possessed magnitudes more military hardware and other resources than the insurgents. While it may not seem like a big deal in 2019, the idea that USA could not win against rag-tag local militia in 2004 was a massive shock to the egos of many flag-waving idiots.. I mean patriotic Americans. Countries such as Iran, Syria and DPRK took an even more important lesson from those two american debacles, namely that USA was fundamentally incapable of successful occupation or fighting insurgencies. As you will see, this had a huge impact on our present.

The next major act of self-inflicted stupidity took the form the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, or more precisely its aftermath. Prior to that crisis, a significant percentage of the world believed that the financial system of USA and its vassal states was run by smart and competent people in a reasonably safe manner. As it turns oust, GFC 2008 quickly and thoroughly destroyed global belief in the “american way” of running financial systems. While this loss of faith was less evident and slower to manifest itself in USA and west European vassal states, the rest of the world got the message loud and clear. If you don’t believe me, just look at how countries such as China accelerated internal investment and creating its own consumer class after 2008.

Of course, GFC 2008 had a major cultural impact in USA and its vassal states. There is a reason why Brexit won in 2015, Trump won in 2016 and why almost everyone born after 1970 seems to be into socialism. That is also why right-wing populist parties suddenly started winning seats in multiple European countries. All of this, however, is best left for another post. Getting back to the issue at hand, how exactly did the election of Trump speed up the inevitable demise of american empire by a decade? Some of you (especially ‘centrists’ such as MikeCA) might attribute this to Trump being a buffoon and laughing stock of anybody in the world with more than half-a-brain. Mike also likely wants to believe that ‘The West Wing’ could someday become reality.

While almost nobody denies that Trump is an amphetamine-abusing buffoon and braggart, those qualities by themselves are simply not sufficient to speed up the decline of American empire by a decade. The reason why even the first two years of his presidency has “achieved” what none of his predecessors could, has a lot to do with something that LIEbrals and establishment democrats don’t like to talk about. Indeed, the very decisions and actions which are now greasing the tracks for inevitable demise of American Empire happen to be the only things which establishment democrats like about Trump. In case you are wondering, I am referring to his tendencies to act as if the world is still stuck in the mid 1990s or perhaps 1950s. To understand what I am talking about, let me ask a question- one that very few are asking.

What is up with Trump’s neocon-on-steroids policy towards countries such as Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, Russia and China etc. What sort of idiot will enter into so many different conflicts at once? This is even more peculiar given his desire to “win” or at least appear to be “winning”. Let me rephrase that question- what is going through Trump’s mind to make him believe that he can antagonize so many different nations (including one with same number of nuclear weapons of USA and another with the world’s largest economy in real terms) and appear to “win”? Or ask yourself why Obama44 or Bush43 (especially the later) decided against getting involved in the sheer number and types of conflicts that the orange buffoon has gotten himself into?

The simple answer to that question is Bush43 experienced the fundamental weakness of american imperial power in a very personal manner, after his misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan ended as incredibly expensive defeats. While the village idiot from Texas was gung-ho about american power until late 2004, the stench of failure became too strong to ignore. That is why necons lost favor in the last two years of his presidency. But by then, the damage was already done and he is the reason why people voted for a black guy named Barack Hussein Obama in 2008. Obama44 being somewhat smarter than Bush43 chose to not get involved in any big dustups around the world because he cared about his legacy, especially as it relates to lucrative lecture and book deals after his presidency. On the bright side, this ensured a relatively uneventful presidency.

Trump, as I have mentioned in previous posts is street smart, but very poor at strategic thinking. It does not help that he lacks the ability to think through problems systematically and to put it bluntly- likes to get high on his own supply of MAGA. Having assorted delusional idiots with no skin in the game such as Pompeo, Bolton etc does not help the situation. To make a long story short, it is very likely that the numerous conflicts Trump has entered into over past two years are going to backfire on his presidency in a synergistic manner. He seems unable to accept the hard limitations of an inexorably diminishing American Empire. Trump does not understand that American Empire is like an old ex-Boxer who thinks he can enter into a street brawl and win against multiple far nimbler and competent younger opponents, just because he is rich.

In the next part, I will tell you my thoughts on how this darkly comic attempt by Trump (and his flunkies) to enter into multiple brawls against nimbler and often equally powerful opponents might end- and what connection the outcomes might have with on the speed of diminution for American Empire.

What do you think? Comments?

737-Max Fiasco is about Late Capitalism and Terminal Decline of USA

March 13, 2019 30 comments

By now, almost everyone of you must have heard about the 737-Max fiasco. In case you have not, let me quickly summarize it. About six months, a 737-Max 8 airliner with barely 800 flight hours crashed in Indonesia resulting in the death of all 189 people on board. Even at that time, this incident raised many eyebrows- largely because it was barely 3 months old in addition to being the most recent version of the long-running 737 family of airliners. The crash was subsequently determined to be the result of undesired behavior by a new automated trim control system. At that time, Boeing promised current and future customers of its new ‘737 Max’ series that the trim control problem would be fixed by a software update or something along those lines.

And then about three days ago, another 737-Max 8 went down under similar circumstances killing all 157 people on board. While we do not, yet, have the final report on this accident- it appears that this particular crash (too) occurred within a few minutes of takeoff and had something to do with the automated trim control behaving in an anomalous manner. Which brings us to the first question regarding this pair of airplane crashes- How does a large corporation such as Boeing with decades of experience building tens of thousands of airliners manage to build an updated version of the venerable 737 with bad flight characteristics during takeoffs and landings. In case you are wondering, dozens of incident reports from all around the world, including USA, filed during the past year about this version of the 737 have reported similar problems.

But what does any of this have to with late capitalism and the terminal decline of USA? A couple of poorly designed airliners falling out of the sky and killing over 300 people, while tragic, is by no means a harbinger of national collapse.. right? Well.. let me put it this way- I see it as another sign of the ongoing terminal death spiral of USA, at least of the form it exists in today. To better understand what I am talking about, let me ask you another question- At what point did people in USSR stop becoming optimistic about their future? The answer to that question is.. sometime in the mid-1970s. But why then and not during WW2 or the early 1950s when material conditions were far worse? Well.. because people will persevere in face of adversity if there is a realistic hope for a better future, but they won’t care about a system if there is no hope for one.

But how did this societal malaise manifest itself? Well.. in many ways and a multitude of areas. The one common thread which ran through most of them was a slow but steady degradation of pre-existing capabilities. Apparently, the quality of things built during that era, from apartments, cars, consumer appliances to unmanned space-probes and commercial aircraft, well.. basically anything not absolutely essential to survival of the existing government, went down. I have long held the view that post-2008 USA is increasingly like ex-communist countries in Eastern Europe after the early 1970s. Think about it- youth who do not see a brighter future for themselves.. check. An out-of-touch elite who want to maintain the status quo.. check. Widespread despair and slow decrease in life-expectancy.. check. Rampant alcoholism or drug addiction.. check. Increasing crapification of consumer products and services.. check.

I could go on, but you get the point. But how does the 737 Max fiasco fit in this picture? Let me explain.. but before we do that, let me give you a quick historical primer about the 737 family of aircraft so you can better appreciate what I am talking about. The project to develop the 737 was started by Boeing in the mid-1960s because they wanted a bigger 727 that could fly a bit further. At that time, Boeing had already making the 707 for longer routes, 720 for medium distance routes and the 727 for short hauls. In case you are wondering, all three of these aircraft were powered by turbojet or first-gen turbofan engines. And yes.. this fact is relevant. The 737 was originally designed to use first-gen and therefore low-pass turbofans. While these engines were less efficient and more fuel hungry than later high-pass turbofans, they were also far slimmer.

Some of you might wonder as to what this fact has to do with the current 737 Max fiasco. The answer is.. a whole fucking lot! Because Boeing wanted an airliner that was simple to operate, easy to repair and with a high dispatch reliability, they made some design choices. Specifically, they built an aircraft which sat pretty close to the ground- something that was possible because of the slim first-gen turbofan engines (-100 and -200). And it worked very well. After a somewhat slow start, sales picked up and it became pretty popular. But then Airbus came on the scene and its 310 series started providing competition for the 737. Boeing responded by developing the 737-Classic (-300, -400 and -500). This is also where they first faced the problem of how to install a fat high-bypass turbofan in a low-slung design meant for older and slimmer turbofans. They did it with some ingenious shaping and positioning for the new engine and it worked.

The next major update, aptly named the 737 Next Gen (-600, -700, -800 and -900) proved to be their most successful. Its engines were a bit less fatter than the Classic series, while being more efficient. It, however, proved to be the furthest they could safely stretch their original design. For a decade or so, this design was in a happy sales equilibrium with members of the Airbus 320 family. And then Airbus started developing the Airbus 320neo. It offered considerable fuel savings, lower noise levels and a longer range than its predecessors. But most importantly Airbus was able to develop it without spending a ton of money because the original design it was based on (the 320) could easily accommodate even wider turbofan engines. Remember that the 320 was developed after 2nd gen turbofan engines were developed.

Anyway, this forced Boeing to update the 737- with even wider and more efficient turbofan engines. The thing is, they had two choices. They could either use their institutional knowledge and ability to build a new design from scratch or they could just try to somehow shoehorn the new big-ass engine into the 737 design template. They chose the latter option for reasons that had everything to do with financial considerations. Through a combination of “clever” placement of the extra-fat engines, a slight height increase in their landing gear and a bit of wing redesign- they were able to develop a design that checked all the boxes their bean-counters cared about. However physical reality is a bitch and the new design had a less-than-optimal weight distribution and flying characteristics. Loathe to abandon something that almost worked, they decided to use a software solution to improve its flight characteristics.

Enter the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS). Without going into too much detail, this system was not well implemented and caused problems when the aircraft changed altitude rapidly such as during takeoff and landing. Furthermore, the issues with this system were not consistently reproducible- which is a fancy way of saying that the system misbehaved in an unpredictable manner. Also, the new cockpit interface which came with his update was different from the one in its predecessors and it took multiple steps to switch it off and the MCAS was automatically turned back on after each flight. Did I mention that the new manuals and checklists did a poor job of explaining the updated interface and this system.

In summary, Boeing built upon an old design template to save money resulting in problematic flying characteristics. To make matters worse, the hardware and software components of their auto-trim system (meant to fix poor flying characteristic) was inadequately engineered and poorly implemented. The user interface through which this system could be overridden was unfamiliar, poorly designed and even more poorly documented. On the bright side, a bunch of senior Boeing executives made a shitload of money and performance bonuses. And this is what happens when you run a company based on the whims and series of MBAs, bean-counters and other ivy-league scam artist as opposed to listening to and respecting the judgment of your engineers.

What do you think? Comments?