Plunder and Pillage (extended remix)

There is an oft overlooked global empire that has had rather bad PR over the centuries, and is little-remembered in history books. Despite having ancestors who directly enjoyed the blessings of the culture, wisdom and language brought by the benevolent emissaries of the Great Khan’s nephew /sarc/, even I knew relatively little about the 150-year reign of the Great Horde in global terms, let alone its culture and history . My teachers at the time were concerned only that we learn the short, bloody tale of being overrun for a few years – and winning the lottery by having the Great Khan die in the middle of the Central European campaign. The royal general Batu leading the assault returned to Karakorum (along with his occupying army) to attend to imperial succession matters.

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At its peak, the Mongol empire spanned two continents, from the Sea of Japan to the Gulf of Finland. It encompassed all of Korea, China, most of today’s Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Poland, and of course, Ukraine including Crimea. The area was part of the Crimean Khanate, apparently “a Turkic-speaking Muslim state which was among the strongest powers in Eastern Europe until the beginning of the 18th century”.

There is an element of their conquest that I wanted to highlight. While having earned the reputation of sadistic, homicidal maniacs in the public lore of Europe, there was a method to the Mongol madness. Batu Khan had sent spies to Europe years before the invasion began, getting the information, maps and routes well in advance. When a new province was encountered, the stories went, the central city or magistrate seat was immediately razed, all/most inhabitants slaughtered. Those who could, fled to the forests and marshes. Those not enslaved were subjected to the rule of the Khanate.

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Emissaries carrying the chopped heads of the unfortunate initial city were sent to the rest of the region, with demands of tribute. If the gold/chattel was delivered, locals could go about their business. If a community would not (or COULD not) pay the ransom demanded, it was razed and massacred without negotiation. The Mongols installed magistrates of their own, to administer justice and settle disputes, and to facilitate trade. The army moved on to the next area, and the process was repeated: an example was made of the first town (and any who tried to resist). All but the largest, and most heavily fortified cities fell (and even those would have submitted eventually, once the surrounding countryside was firmly in the invaders’ grasp). Nevertheless, this latter development led to several centuries of stone castle building in the region once the Mongols left. Through such institutionalized, central terror, the Mongol army was able to preserve its numbers as it covered ever more territory by avoiding battle in most cases during conquest, and not being subject to too many uprisings once (loose) dominion was established over a land.

Like I said, we lucked out with the death of Grand Khan Ögedei, son of Genghis Khan.

How in the blue blazes could an army from THOUSANDS of miles away so quickly and completely overrun a supposedly ‘modern’ and ‘civilized’ set of kingdoms in rapid succession? Part of it was numbers, part military tactical superiority – including the then-novel Chinese gunpowder. The Mongol light cavalry (that had in earlier centuries been OUR modus operandi) proved devastating against the much slower heavy infantry and heavy cavalry modeled after Western knights. Certainly the sheer savagery and terrifying sight of an entire nation on horseback at once had a lot to do with it as well. But ultimately, the squabbling nobility and weakened monarch (whose predecessor had signed his own Magna Carta two decades before) made it impossible to organize a cohesive national defense. The nobles were fleeced (though most survived after submission and tribute), the king fled and was held captive for ransom by the neighboring Austrian ruler.

Here is an interesting tidbit:

The Hungarian army (some 60,000 on the eve of the Battle of Mohi) was made up of individual knights with tactical knowledge, discipline, and talented commanders. Because his army was not experienced in nomadic warfare, King Béla welcomed the Cuman King Kuthen (also known as Kotony) and his fighters. However, the Cuman invitation proved detrimental as Batu Khan justified his invasion of Hungary as Béla giving asylum to the Cumans, a group Batu Khan regarded as rebels and traitors to the Mongol Empire. After rumors began to circulate in Hungary that the Cumans were agents of the Mongols, some hot-headed Hungarians attacked the Cuman camp and killed Kotony.

Glad to see the whole ‘harboring trrrrrrists’ meme was not invented just in the last decade… BTW, the Cuman tribe, enraged at the assassination, split the country's army (preventing a southern flank from joining the main body of forces on the eve of the decisive battle), and burned everything in their path as they fled to the south to avoid the incoming Mongol Horde. Of course, they never joined forces with the invaders, and were eventually invited back to settle in Hungary.

But really all of that was just theater, and known to be so:

The Hungarians had first learned about the Mongol threat in 1229, when King Andrew granted asylum to some fleeing Russian boyars. Some Magyars, left behind during the main migration to the Pannonian basin, still lived on the banks of the upper Volga. In 1237 a Dominican friar, Julianus, set off on an expedition to lead them back, and was sent back to King Béla with a letter from Batu Khan. In this letter, Khan called upon the Hungarian king to surrender his kingdom unconditionally to the Tatar forces or face complete destruction. Béla did not reply, and two more messages were later delivered to Hungary. The first, in 1239, was sent by the defeated Cuman tribes, who asked for and received asylum in Hungary. The second was sent in February 1241 by the defeated Polish princes.

So there was forewarning, and plenty of it -- 12 years, to be precise It’s not like by the final few years there was any doubt the invasion was coming. Yet an entire continent dithered, everyone looked to the East and kept reassuring themselves ‘my Eastern neighbors will be the last to fall, the invasion will surely stop before it gets to our borders’.

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The reason I thought this particular segment of 13th century history to be interesting is due to the pattern of expansion and escalation we see in our wonderful bank/MIC/BIS/IMF/choose-your-acronym controlled world. Resources run out, energy sources must be controlled. New markets must be 'OPENED UP', for all to have access to the bounties of a ‘free market economy’ and the joys and benefits of credit, both sovereign and individual. Debts MUST be created if the fiat empire is to retain forward momentum. Without collecting a tribute, the ruling classes cannot maintain their stranglehold over their dominion, and the tribute must be increased every year.

The horde being sent to conquer new vassals these days is not (for the most part) a physical set of boots and hooves on the ground, but rather the tentacles of finance. Credit can be withheld, delayed, made more expensive. A credit rating downgrade (let alone several of them) is the equivalent of a dagger between the ribs. Sovereign debt rates can be (and are) manipulated in the so-called ‘markets’ by market makers, CBs, and whomever they are beholden to. Currency exchange rates can easily be turned crippling by a few well-timed keystrokes on trading desks. Just as it was being employed against Ukraine as it was being pushed closer and close to the ledge appointed to it, it is now underway against the Big Bad Bear.

In the event this episode DOES turn out to immediately result in the demise of the current monetary governance and global web of influence represented by the West, we must not allow ourselves to ignore the clear and present warnings that have been explicitly presented.

- Vladdie: We're taking Ukraine.

- Obie: We'll impose sanctions.

- Vladdie: We will dump UST and dollar, as will our allies and trading partners. Think through the consequences of that.

- Obie: But we're going to impose SANCTIONS!!!

- Vladdie: Da svidanya.

"The record drop in U.S. government securities held in custody at the Federal Reserve is fueling speculation that Russia may have shifted its holdings out of the U.S. as Western nations threaten sanctions. [...] As of December, Russia held $138.6 billion of Treasuries, making it the ninth largest country holder. [...] China, the biggest foreign U.S. creditor, held $1.27 trillion of U.S. government bonds as of December. Japan is the second-largest holder at $1.18 trillion." -- Bloomberg, 3/14/14

In the event the current crisis DOES NOT lead to any imminent collapse of the fiat currency regime (e.g. there is something even bigger planned down the road soon), I wanted to share a possible bright spot and (grudgingly acknowledged) positive example of trying to stand up the monetary machine.

I’ve mentioned this guy Viktor Orban before, of whom I am not particularly fond for the simple reason he is, in my estimation and non-expert opinion, ALSO just a crony-enriching, demagoguery-spewing, power-lusting typical politician. I suppose it goes with the ‘profession’. But it seems there may be a side to him that he shares with our friend Vladimir: a willingness to stand up to and resist the push of the international bankster cartel.

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“Wiedermann alleges that in 2010 it became clear that in the budget handed over to Viktor Orbán’s government by former Premier Gordon Bajnai and his team, public expenditures were falsely set lower and public revenues higher. That said, Wiedermann alleges, Brussels refused to grant assistance to Hungary to rectify that misconceived budget. On the contrary, Brussels threatened serious sanctions against the new Hungarian government, Wiedermann writes. She claims the Germans recommended that Hungary’s right to vote in European Union matters should be suspended and other EU countries proposed to suspend Hungary’s access to the EU’s structural and cohesion funds.

Wiedermann claims that because Matolcsy insisted on terminating Hungary’s loan agreement with the IMF and the EU as soon as possible because that would necessitate restrictions, Hungary was subjected to a financial offensive. […]

Wiedermann claims the main purpose of the offensive was to win the replacement of Orbán with another politician of Fidesz, one who doesn’t insist on the bank tax, on the special tax on multinational corporations, one who introduces restrictions for the Hungarian population to fill the gaps of the budget in which the deficit/GDP ratio was nearly 7 percent. […]

The purpose of the financial offensive was, Wiedermann writes, to prevent the export of the Hungarian example. The past nearly four years indicate that it could not be prevented.

Wiedermann alleges that as early as in spring 2011 it was decided to have Orbán’s government overthrown. She recalls that at that time Hungary came under attack in all political and media fronts and that was timed for Hungary’s presidency of the EU.”

Does any of this sound at least vaguely familiar? Bank tax or trade zone, trade agreement or currency union, choice of head of state or central bank: all of these are deemed to be administered at the sole discretion of the Masters of the Universe. As they are frantically trying to do right now in the case of Russia.

Now, the author of the passages cited above is clearly not a disinterested observer, having been the assistant of the Hungarian FinMin during the events described. It COULD, in fact be a smokescreen to try to hide the TRUE price the country eventually paid to escape the fiscal stranglehold. IT most certainly is a PR piece designed to embellish the work anbd reputation of the current government during election campaign season.

There is also a documented case of the unbridled greed and sheer idiocy of public officials, ironically described in detail in the book -- apparently intended to showcase shrewdness and financial industry connections:

“On November 17, 2011, four hours before the Hungarian government’s official announcement that it had after all decided to turn to the IMF for a loan, Matolcsy had lunch with three representatives of Goldman Sachs. He told them that in the morning the Hungarian government had approached the IMF for a loan. According to the detailed description of Wiedermann, one of the three visitors immediately excused himself to go to the rest room, not to relieve himself but presumably to inform, directly or indirectly, Goldman’s forex trading desk of this piece of news. The lunch, Wiedermann recounts, was unusually short. The guys from Goldman had gotten their inside information and presumably had more follow-up work to do.” - anti-Orban expat blogger

There is plenty to be skeptical about, and like I said, none of these individuals should be covered in glory. But, the facts remain. The country was NOT pushed quite all the way over the edge of bankruptcy. The currency did not collapse, and has since eventually more or less recovered. The IMF loans the country still had from 2008 have finally been repaid as of last summer, and no further ‘assistance’ was drawn down.

Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, which faces an election in 2014, has sought to end what is has portrayed as undue foreign influence over its economic policies.

So as many problems as I have with the man, his approach, politics, corruption, authoritarian tendencies and ego-driven leadership, I must grudgingly recognize that he is not the most rotten apple in the basket. Yes, he had to make/renew deals with oligarchs (incl. many in Ukraine and Russia), the Russian government, and Gazprom (though of course I repeat myself). Yes, he had to cozy up to a right-wing ultranationalist party (whose election efforts he is now trying to scuttle) to win the last election. BUT:

Corrupt politicians are actually arrested for tax fraud and falsifying public documents (fake passport to open bank account, in this case). Yes, they tend to be mostly from the opposition Socialist party – but at least SOME crooks are going to jail.

There seems to be some attention being paid to who is being let into the country for a change:

"Orbán's former economy minister and current central bank governor, Gyorgy Matolcsy, wrote a letter to IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde on Monday calling on the fund to close its representative office in Budapest as it was "not necessary to maintain" it any longer." - Der Spiegel, July 2013

Plus, he makes his own sausage, and actually appears human when not preening for the cameras.

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At least he is SOMEWHAT acting to represent the interests of the country and its people, if only because they coincide with his own. He certainly has not stolen nearly as much as neighboring oligarch-backed heads of state in recent past and current time.

It seems it sometimes IS possible to slip out from the greedy, grasping and draining embrace of the Financial / Military / Industrial / Intelligence / Etc. Complex. At least enough to get a gasp of air before the next assault. I am somewhat comforted by the fact that we have very little hydrocarbons under our land, and we do NOT stand in the way of the planned pipelines. There are others who are not quite so ‘lucky’. BTW, you know the world is in serious trouble when the possession of oil/gas and the transmission mechanisms thereof are a source of mortal danger, instead of the source of prosperity they are supposed to be. What the Middle East has already learned (or should have long ago) is now coming to the non-brown sections of the world as well.

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Gratuitous Mongol pics:

If any of you happen to have small children in the family, I highly recommend this book (which I've had since early childhood, incidentally). Beautifully illustrated by Mercer Meyer, it is a tale about the Mongol invasion of northern China. Being a children's book, the good guys win in the end (though even so, the term 'good' is nuanced in a way kids can understand).

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Remember the Friar Julianus from the 1200's, above:

"Some Magyars, left behind during the main migration to the Pannonian basin, still lived on the banks of the upper Volga. In 1237 a Dominican friar, Julianus, set off on an expedition to lead them back, and was sent back to King Béla with a letter from Batu Khan. In this letter, Khan called upon the Hungarian king to surrender his kingdom unconditionally to the Tatar forces or face complete destruction."

There is a school of (obscure) historical thought that (conspiratorially?) posits that this gentleman, the Dominican friar, in his effort to find the ancient homeland, met with and talked up Batu Khan and explained to him the Eastern origin of the Hungarian people. The fact that they had been nomadic horsemen once too, and that they had found their promised land on the other side of the Carpathian Mountains (which form the western border of modern Ukraine) while chasing the Enchanted Stag (earlier story on that here). The White (or Golden) Stag is a shared mythological element of many Eurasian nomadic peoples, including the Mongols -- as well as several North American tribes, representing the starlit night sky.

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(Scythian crown and royal jewelry from Caspian Sea, 7th-8th centuries AD)

Land of milk and honey, beautiful women, sweet water and plentiful grazing lands. In his effort to impress and win the favor of the warlord, the well-meaning (or on a secret mission from the Vatican...? ) friar managed to pique the interest of the Mongol leader by raving about how great the country was. Kinda like explorers returning from South America to regale the Spanish court with tales of cities of gold and vast, unclaimed land masses... This provided sufficient grounds on which to send Mongol scouting parties and spies to the Western dominions of Ukraine, Poland and Hungary (which most certainly was done). The ultimatum sent back with the monk could also have been a gesture toward a wayward tribe. The Khan was not so much demanding surrender as demanding to be recognized as emperor and liege lord - and the distant cousins could/would have been accepted (back) into the Horde, from whence they came and to which they had 8-9 centuries earlier (probably) sworn allegiance.

Some guys just don't know when to shut up, it would seem...

And regarding making examples of (generally defenseless) victims in order to avoid future battles (in the case of Hungary this culminated in a ca. 15-20% population loss in 1241-42).

I can think of a few countries that have been drawn and quartered thus, in an effort to make sure everyone ELSE stays in line, and that other countries do not get bright ideas of disturbing the established order. We've talked many times about Iraqi oil for Euros (let alone gold), Lybia and its pan-Arabic gold currency scheme, the fate of various countries which lacked a) 'Western-style' central banks and b) newkular deterrent. But less kinetic solutions are available for achieving similar ends. One might say Greece's slow-mo collapse could have been avoided, and the country was certainly led to the precipice by willful acts of both private and public departments of the Cartel. Cyprus - clearly a warning shot/meant to scare others. The relatively minor example of Hungary, above, was probably in the end deemed not spectacular enough -- or perhaps ole Viktor was able to effectively enlist some connections (and hand out some 'tributes') in the West and East to stave it off.

Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Ukraine are perhaps more in the category of truly strategic assets -- but hey, killing two birds with one stone ain't bad, and if the outcomes in those countries deters others from inviting chaos and bloodshed by trying to align with the new power structure taking shape, so much the better.

It is this aspect (among many), that Ukraine might be intended to be made example of, that is most worrisome to me, and makes me wish I were wrong. What is heartening to see is that their attempts to 'make' these examples are now serially going awry. Despite the terrible human cost of Syria, and the as-yet undecided final outcome of Ukraine, the fact that things are not going EXACTLY according to plan is, I hope, a glimmer of a promise that the Empire's tightening grip IS indeed leading to more and more countries slipping out between their fingers. Now if only we had some reason to realistically hope that the Other Empire(s) will be materially better...

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Key Economic Events Week of 11/28

11/28 12:00 ET Goon Bullard
11/28 12:00 ET Goon Williams
11/29 9:00 ET Case-Shiller home prices
11/29 10:00 ET Consumer Confidence
11/30 8:15 ET ADP jobs report
11/30 8:30 ET Q3 GDP 2nd guess
11/30 9:45 ET Chicago PMI
11/30 10:00 ET JOLTS
11/30 1:30 ET Chief Goon Powell
12/1 8:30 ET PCE and Core PCE
12/1 8:30 ET Consumer Inc and Spend
12/1 9:30 ET Goon Bowman
12/1 9:45 ET S&P Manu PMI
12/1 10:00 ET ISM Manu PMI
12/2 8:30 ET BLSBS

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