Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.
He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.
He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.
He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.
His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.
If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.
For the past 500 years European nations—Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain, France and, briefly, Germany—were able to plunder much of the planet by projecting their naval power overseas. Since much of the world’s population lives along the coasts, and much of it trades over water, armed ships that arrived suddenly out of nowhere were able to put local populations at their mercy.
The armadas could plunder, impose tribute, punish the disobedient, and then use that plunder and tribute to build more ships, enlarging the scope of their naval empires. This allowed a small region with few natural resources and few native advantages beyond extreme orneriness and a wealth of communicable diseases to dominate the globe for half a millennium.
The ultimate inheritor of this naval imperial project is the United States, which, with the new addition of air power, and with its large aircraft carrier fleet and huge network of military bases throughout the planet, is supposedly able to impose Pax Americana on the entire world. Or, rather, was able to do so—during the brief period between the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of Russia and China as new global powers and their development of new anti-ship and antiaircraft technologies. But now this imperial project is at an end.
Prior to the Soviet collapse, the US military generally did not dare to directly threaten those countries to which the USSR had extended its protection. Nevertheless, by using its naval power to dominate the sea lanes that carried crude oil, and by insisting that oil be traded in US dollars, it was able to live beyond its means by issuing dollar-denominated debt instruments and forcing countries around the world to invest in them. It imported whatever it wanted using borrowed money while exporting inflation, expropriating the savings of people across the world. In the process, the US has accumulated absolutely stunning levels of national debt—beyond anything seen before in either absolute or relative terms. When this debt bomb finally explodes, it will spread economic devastation far beyond US borders. And it will explode, once the petrodollar wealth pump, imposed on the world through American naval and air superiority, stops working.
New missile technology has made a naval empire cheap to defeat. Previously, to fight a naval battle, one had to have ships that outmatched those of the enemy in their speed and artillery power. The Spanish Armada was sunk by the British armada. More recently, this meant that only those countries whose industrial might matched that of the United States could ever dream of opposing it militarily. But this has now changed: Russia’s new missiles can be launched from thousands of kilometers away, are unstoppable, and it takes just one to sink a destroyer and just two to sink an aircraft carrier. The American armada can now be sunk without having an armada of one’s own. The relative sizes of American and Russian economies or defense budgets are irrelevant: the Russians can build more hypersonic missiles much more quickly and cheaply than the Americans would be able to build more aircraft carriers.
Equally significant is the development of new Russian air defense capabilities: the S-300 and S-400 systems, which can essentially seal off a country’s airspace. Wherever these systems are deployed, such as in Syria, US forces are now forced to stay out of their range. With its naval and air superiority rapidly evaporating, all that the US can fall back on militarily is the use of large expeditionary forces—an option that is politically unpalatable and has proven to be ineffective in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is also the nuclear option, and while its nuclear arsenal is not likely to be neutralized any time soon, nuclear weapons are only useful as deterrents. Their special value is in preventing wars from escalating beyond a certain point, but that point lies beyond the elimination of their global naval and air dominance. Nuclear weapons are much worse than useless in augmenting one’s aggressive behavior against a nuclear-armed opponent; invariably, it would be a suicidal move. What the US now faces is essentially a financial problem of unrepayable debt and a failing wealth pump, and it should be a stunningly obvious point that setting off nuclear explosions anywhere in the world would not fix the problems of an empire that is going broke.
Events that signal vast, epochal changes in the world often appear minor when viewed in isolation. Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon was just one river crossing; Soviet and American troops meeting and fraternizing at the Elbe was, relatively speaking, a minor event—nowhere near the scale of the siege of Leningrad, the battle of Stalingrad or the fall of Berlin. Yet they signaled a tectonic shift in the historical landscape. And perhaps we have just witnessed something similar with the recent pathetically tiny Battle of East Gouta in Syria, where the US used a make-believe chemical weapons incident as a pretense to launch an equally make-believe attack on some airfields and buildings in Syria. The US foreign policy establishment wanted to show that it still matters and has a role to play, but what really happened was that US naval and air power were demonstrated to be almost entirely beside the point.
Of course, all of this is terrible news to the US military and foreign policy establishments, as well as to the many US Congressmen in whose districts military contractors operate or military bases are situated. Obviously, this is also bad news for the defense contractors, for personnel at the military bases, and for many others as well. It is also simply awful news economically, since defense spending is about the only effective means of economic stimulus of which the US government is politically capable. Obama’s “shovel-ready jobs,” if you recall, did nothing to forestall the dramatic slide in the labor participation rate, which is a euphemism for the inverse of the real unemployment rate. There is also the wonderful plan to throw lots of money at Elon Musk’s SpaceX (while continuing to buy vitally important rocket engines from the Russians—who are currently discussing blocking their export to the US in retaliation for more US sanctions). In short, take away the defense stimulus, and the US economy will make a loud popping sound followed by a gradually diminishing hissing noise.
Needless to say, all those involved will do their best to deny or hide for as long as possible the fact that the US foreign policy and defense establishments have now been neutralized. My prediction is that America’s naval and air empire will not fail because it will be defeated militarily, nor will it be dismantled once the news sinks in that it is useless; instead, it will be forced to curtail its operations due to lack of funds. There may still be a few loud bangs before it gives up, but mostly what we will hear is a whole lot of whimpering. That’s how the USSR went; that’s how the USA will go too.
Spanish architecture: The story of Madrid’s abandoned ‘beach’ for its working class | Culture
La Playa de Madrid was just 15 minutes from the Spanish capital’s Puerta del Sol square when it was inaugurated. Nine decades later, the distance is the same, but the premises developed by the architect Manuel Muñoz Monasterio in 1932 to create a “beach” in the landlocked city are in a state of complete disrepair.
The great leisure project for Madrid’s working class on the banks of the River Manzanares now houses fetid mattresses, crumpled beer cans, rank swimming pools, tattered tennis courts and facilities that are at risk of disappearing altogether.
Owned by the state agency Patrimonio Nacional, which manages Spain’s national heritage, La Playa de Madrid has been closed for six years. Defaults in rent payments forced it to close, and it subsequently became the target of vandalism. “There is no longer even any security,” says Juan García Vicente from the green group Ecologists in Action, who is upset by the state of dereliction of a site with social and architectural significance in the city’s history.
The access point to the “beach,” which borders La Zarzuela racetrack on one side and the Puerta de Hierro Sports Park (previously known as Parque Sindical) on the other, has not been opened since the authorities evicted staff and members at the end of October 2014. The company running the complex at that time, which belonged to the former president of the Spanish employers association CEOE, Arturo Fernández, received a court order to vacate the premises as it had failed to pay rent or any tax despite operating the five swimming pools, 11 tennis courts, four paddle courts, one roller-skating rink, four frontón courts, the cafeteria, the restaurant and the parking lot.
Arturo Fernández has left a hole in the National Heritage agency’s accounts to the tune of €867,006, which will have to be paid as soon as his company’s bankruptcy is resolved. The 3,000 Playa de Madrid members who had paid their fees were also denied access. Fernández’s contract had been renewed in 2011, despite the fact that he was already €466,831 in arrears. It was a sum that, according to the Court of Auditors, “he paid a few days before signing the new contract.”
To add insult to injury, EL PAÍS has learned that on July 30, National Heritage filed a complaint in court in a bid to evict the new company running the complex, Centro de Eventos Playa de Madrid, which is also behind on payments.
“It has not paid even one month’s rent and has run up a debt of €530,523,” says a National Heritage spokesperson. The new contract went into effect on October 17, 2017, after the president of National Heritage at the time, Alfredo Pérez de Armiñán, decided to lease the 184,800 square-meter property to a company that not only failed to pay rent, but also reneged on a commitment to invest €3.2 million to renovate the complex.
Meanwhile, under the National Heritage’s current president, Llanos Castellanos, an initiative is underway to revamp the more than 22,000 hectares of green spaces owned by the institution throughout the country, including the Playa de Madrid complex, which will be finalized when the judicial process ends. “The aim is to turn it into a sustainable property that is financially self-sufficient, and to make sure that what has happened does not happen again,” says Castellanos.
The phony beach was fashioned from a shallow river, from which “a beautiful arm of the sea” was created, to quote an ad from that period. But the dam that stored up the water to create a 300-meter shoreline was dismantled this January by the Tajo Water Confederation so that the river could follow its natural course unimpeded, according to García Vicente.
“It was a very interesting dam because it still allowed the water to flow and remain clean,” says Alberto Tellería, a member of the Madrid Citizenship and Heritage Association, who still remembers the complex’s dance floor and the announcement of a design competition for cheap evening dresses in 1934.
The “beach” was very popular among the working classes during the Second Republic, before Francisco Franco’s air forces razed it. And it was there that the photojournalist Robert Capa constructed his iconic image of of two militiamen greeting each other under the lighthouse tower.
But unpaid dues and ignored commitments have proved the ruin of the site, which is these days trapped between two highways. “These are public facilities of extraordinary significance,” says Juan García Vicente, who has been fighting for years for a path that will connect Madrid with El Pardo, on the left bank of the river.
This path should be ready in a couple of months and access to the “beach” will be reserved for pedestrians and cyclists. Meanwhile, the dignity of the complex is still to be restored, which according to Carlos Ripoll, a member of the Madrid Architects Association (COAM), has an “impeccable” language all of its own.
The simple and modern lines of the structures designed by the creator of the Las Ventas bullfighting ring and the Santiago Bernabeu soccer stadium are hidden behind pines, cork oak and poplars, and they are reminiscent of the international tone set by Swiss architect Le Corbusier. Muñoz Monasterio, who sided with the regime after the civil war (1936-1939), carried out the post-war reconstruction in 1948, refurbishing it according to Franco’s taste, with slate roofs and spires. But the subsequent inauguration of the nearby Parque Sindical (now known as the Puerta de Hierro Sports Park) and water contamination ended Madrid’s dream of having a beach.
English version by Heather Galloway.
Russians’ Alcohol Consumption Drops 80% in 7 Years
Alcohol consumption has been reduced by 80% over the past 5-7 years in Russia, Minister of Health Veronika Skvortsova stated at a working breakfast during the Gaidar Forum today, reports RIA-Novosti.
The Gaidar Forum is an annual event in Moscow hosted by the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, which brings together economist, Nobel Prize winners, leading professors, and representatives of the Russian and foreign elite to discuss the most acute problems of the day, especially as concerns Russia’s position and strategic role in the world.
“We have managed to reduce the consumption of alcoholic beverages by 80% per capita…” Skvortsova stated. Meanwhile, “the number actively engaged in sports has grown by more than 40%.”
She also noted that smoking among adults has dropped 22%, and has been reduced thrice over among children and adolescents.
According to a 2012 report from the World Health Organization, the number of Russians who drink several times a week had by then declined to 5%, and the number who drink several times a month to 33%. Russian citizens were found to drink about as much as citizens of Denmark, Great Britain and Croatia.
The Russian Orthodox Church has played a key role in reducing the amount of alcohol consumption in the country. There are more than 500 active anti-alcoholism projects in Russia today under the auspices of the Church.
“One of the Church’s most successful works in the sphere of temperance education is the celebration of the All-Russian Day of Sobriety on September 11,” stated Valery Doronkin, head of the Coordinating Center for Combating Alcoholism and Endorsing Sobriety of the Synodal Charity Department.
Special prayers are added to the Litany of Peace and the Litany of Fervent Supplication on the Day of Sobriety. His Holiness Patriarch Kirill stated on this day in 2016:
By decision of the Holy Synod in 2014, the day of the Beheading of St. John the Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist is deemed the Day of Sobriety, because precisely the mad state of Herod, drunk on wine at his banquet, was the cause of such a frightful order which he gave—to behead the holy prophet.
We know what terrible sufferings drunkenness has brought our people in the past, and which continue today: the destruction of families, the birth of sick children, people, losing the meaning of life and health, called to the fullness of existence, becoming invalids in youth only because they didn’t have enough strength to turn from sinful attractions and stop drinking.
According to the primate, not only the health of the nation, but also “the very existence of our people and state” depends upon this question.
Source: Orthodox Christianity
G7 countries accused of prioritising military spending over climate action
G7 countries “are stuck in the 1970s and 1980s” and avoiding profound societal changes needed to address the climate crisis, while embracing “the ruse of net-zero” carbon emissions, according to leading climate scientist Prof Kevin Anderson.
Speaking at a briefing on climate issues at the summit of the Group of Seven leaders, comprising Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States, in Cornwall, Prof Anderson said: “Net zero is the latest ruse that we’re using to avoid making profound social changes and to avoid the rapid and just phasing out of our existing oil, gas and coal industries.”
The former director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in the UK said this was also avoiding the adoption of challenging policies and the huge transformation of infrastructure required.
Net zero was “a way of passing the buck to future generations”, he said at the event hosted by the COP26 Coalition – the campaign group seeking greater climate justice commitments at the United Nations climate conference in November.
“We need leaders now who are prepared to grasp the enormity of the climate challenge but also the wider ecological crisis – rather than the eloquent, simple greenwashing of ‘business as usual’. And that’s what we’re seeing currently.
“Despite ramping up of good news stories in advance of COP26, the reality is that the gap between the necessary action and actual cuts in emissions for both 1.5 degrees and 2 degrees is just getting bigger. Playing into this ongoing failure is the ubiquitous language of ‘net zero’, under which almost any organisation, region or country can claim to be aligned with the Paris commitments,” Prof Anderson said.
“But dig a little deeper and claims of net zero are often little more than a ruse whereby immediate cuts in actual emissions are substituted for future speculative ‘negative emissions’, offsetting and other forms of mitigation denial,” he said.
Niamh Ní Bhriain of the Transnational Institute’s war and pacification programme said prioritisation of military spending, costing almost $2 trillion (€1.7 trillion) a year, was an issue that “must be brought into the room in discussing climate justice and global poverty”.
A total of 57 per cent of that spend on military, security, intelligence and borders came from G7 countries, she added. “This is a political choice. This is a question of political will; that we’re spending this much on the military.”
Unprecedented spending on borders by rich countries of the global north to prevent migrants coming to their shores was part of a militarised response to migration, which she predicted would become even more prevalent when parts of the world became uninhabitable as the climate crisis deepened.
COP26 Coalition spokesman Asad Rehman of War on Want said G7 countries, who bear the greatest responsibility for fuelling crises that threaten the lives and livelihoods of billions, could no longer make empty statements or hollow promises to act. “Leaders must listen to the millions of people in every corner of the world who are demanding a justice transition.”
As a first step the G7 must commit to doing their fair share of emissions reductions by 2030 to limit warming to well below 1.5 degrees, he said, and commit “to unlocking the trillions needed to build a sustainable economy of the future – one that guarantees universal public services, living wages and puts people before profit.”
Rising sea levels
Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion Ireland have been staging theatrical displays along the coast of Ireland calling on G7 leaders to take adequate action against sea level rise.
The UN estimates there could be anywhere between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, with many of those on the move because of the effects of sea level rise, an Extinction Rebellion Ireland spokeswoman said. “These estimates envisage flooding of Irish coasts; meanwhile, other island nations around the world are already suffering,” she said.
“Since signing the Paris Agreement in 2015 these nations have utterly failed to meet their commitments to reduce emissions and mitigate the worst effects of climate change. Greenwashing and empty promises won’t stop the sea levels from rising; our crops from failing or the entire ecosystem on which our lives rely on from collapsing. 2021 is a critical year and the decisions made by the G7 are make or break,” she added.
In Cork, protestors used a tape measure to mark the rising sea levels and highlight the risk of flooding that coastal communities face. Off the Down coast Extinction Rebellion Northern Ireland members dressed as red rebels served tea at a table half submerged in the sea.
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