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.
There are a lot of behaviors being exhibited by those in positions of power in the US that seem disparate and odd. We watch Trump who is imposing sanctions on country after country, dreaming of eradicating his country’s structural trade deficit with the rest of the world. We watch pretty much all of US Congress falling over each other in their attempt to impose the harshest possible sanctions on Russia. People in Turkey, a key NATO country, are literally burning US dollars and smashing iPhones in a fit of pique. Confronted with a new suite of Russian and Chinese weapons systems that largely neutralize the ability of the US to dominate the world militarily, the US is setting new records in the size of its already outrageously bloated yet manifestly ineffectual defense spending. As a backdrop to this military contractor feeding frenzy, the Taliban are making steady gains in Afghanistan, now control over half the territory, and are getting ready to stamp “null and void,” in a repeat of Vietnam, on America’s longest war. A lengthening list of countries are set to ignore or compensate for US sanctions, especially sanctions against Iranian oil exports. In a signal moment, Russia’s finance minister has recently pronounced the US dollar “unreliable.” Meanwhile, US debt keeps galloping upwards, with its largest buyer being reported as a mysterious, possibly entirely nonexistent “Other.”
Although these may seem like manifestations of many different trends in the world, I believe that a case can be made that these are all one thing: the US—the world’s imperial overlord—standing on a ledge and threatening to jump, while its imperial vassals—too many to mention—are standing down below and shouting “Please, don’t jump!” To be sure, most of them would be perfectly happy to watch the overlord plummet and jelly up the sidewalk. But here is the key point: if this were to happen today, it would cause unacceptable levels of political and economic collateral damage around the world. Does this mean that the US is indispensable? No, of course not, nobody is. But dispensing with it will take time and energy, and while that process runs its course the rest of the world is forced to keep it on life support no matter how counterproductive, stupid and demeaning that feels.
What the world needs to do, as quickly as possible, is to dismantle the imperial center, which is in Washington politically and militarily and in New York and London financially, while somehow salvaging the principle of empire. “What?!” you might exclaim, “Isn’t imperialism evil.” Well, sure it is, whatever, but empires make possible efficient, specialized production and efficient, unhindered trade over large distances. Empires do all sorts of evil things—up to and including genocide—but they also provide a level playing field and a method for preventing petty grievances from escalating into tribal conflicts.
The Roman Empire, then Byzantium, then the Tatar/Mongol Golden Horde, then the Ottoman Sublime Porte all provided these two essential services—unhindered trade and security—in exchange for some amount of constant rapine and plunder and a few memorable incidents of genocide. The Tatar/Mongol Empire was by far the most streamlined: it simply demanded “yarlyk”—tribute—and smashed anyone who attempted to rise above a level at which they were easy to smash. The American empire is a bit more nuanced: it uses the US dollar as a weapon for periodically expropriating savings from around the world by exporting inflation while annihilating anyone who tries to wiggle out from under the US dollar system.
All empires follow a certain trajectory. Over time they become corrupt, decadent and enfeebled, and then they collapse. When they collapse, there are two ways to go. One is to slog through a millennium-long dark age—as Western Europe did after the Western Roman Empire collapsed. Another is for a different empire, or a cooperating set of empires, to take over, as happened after the Ottoman Empire collapsed. You may think that a third way exists: of small nations cooperating sweetly and collaborating successfully on international infrastructure projects that serve the common good. Such a scheme may be possible, but I tend to take a jaundiced view of our simian natures.
We come equipped with MonkeyBrain 2.0, which has some very useful built-in functions for imperialism, along with some ancillary support for nationalism and organized religion. These we can rely on; everything else would be either a repeat of a failed experiment or an untested innovation. Sure, let’s innovate, but innovation takes time and resources, and those are the exact two things that are currently lacking. What we have in permanent surplus is revolutionaries: if they have their way, look out for a Reign of Terror, followed by the rise of a Bonaparte. That’s what happens every time.
Lest you think that the US isn’t an empire—a collapsing one—consider the following. The US defense budget is larger than that of the next ten countries combined, yet the US can’t prevail even in militarily puny Afghanistan. (That’s because much of its defense budget is trivially stolen.) The US has something like a thousand military bases, essentially garrisoning the entire planet, but to unknown effect. It claims the entire planet as its dominion: no matter where you go, you still have to pay US income taxes and are still subject to US laws. It controls and manipulates governments in numerous countries around the world, always aiming to turn them into satrapies governed from the US embassy compound, but with results that range from unprofitable to embarrassing to lethal. It is now failing at virtually all of these things, threatening the entire planet with its untimely demise.
What we are observing, at every level, is a sort of blackmail: “Do as we say, or no more empire for you!” The US dollar will vanish, international trade will stop and a dark age will descend, forcing everyone to toil in the dirt for a millennium while mired in futile, interminable conflicts with neighboring tribes.
None of the old methods of maintaining imperial dominance are working; all that remains is the threat of falling down and leaving a huge mess for the rest of the world to deal with. The rest of the world is now tasked with rapidly creating a situation where the US empire can be dealt a coup de grâce safely, without causing any collateral damage—and that’s a huge task, so everyone is forced to play for time.
There is a lot of military posturing and there are political provocations happening all the time, but these are sideshows that are becoming an unaffordable luxury: there is nothing to be won through these methods and plenty to be lost. Essentially, all the arguments are over money. There is a lot of money to be lost. The total trade surplus of the BRICS countries with the West (US+EU, essentially) is over a trillion dollars a year. SCO—another grouping of non-Western countries—comes up with almost the same numbers. That’s the amount of products these countries produce for which they currently have no internal market. Should the West evaporate overnight, nobody will buy these products. Russia alone had a 2017 trade surplus of $116 billion, and in 2018 so far it grew by 28.5%. China alone, in its trade just with the US, generated $275 billion in surplus. Throw in another $16 billion for its trade with the EU.
Those are big numbers, but they are nowhere near enough if the project is to build a turnkey global empire to replace US+EU in a timely manner. Also, there are no takers. Russia is rather happy to have shed its former Soviet dependents and is currently invested in building a multilateral, international system of governance based on international institutions such as SCO, BRICS and EAEU. Numerous other countries are very interested in joining together in such organizations: most recently, Turkey has expressed interest in turning BRICS into BRICTS. Essentially, all of the post-colonial nations around the world are now forced to trade away some measure of their recently won independence, essentially snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The job vacancy of Supreme Global Overlord is unlikely to attract any qualified candidates.
What everyone seems to want is a humble, low-budget, cooperative global empire, without all of the corruption and with a lot less life-threatening militarism. It will take time to build, and the resources to build it can only come from one place: from gradually bleeding US+EU dry. In order to do this, the wheels of international commerce must continue to spin. But this is exactly what all of the new tariffs and sanctions, the saber-rattling and the political provocations, are attempting to prevent: a ship laden with soya is now doing circles in the Pacific off the coast of China; steel I-beams are rusting at the dock in Turkey…
But it is doubtful that these attempts will work. The EU has been too slow in recognizing just how pernicious its dependence on Washington has become, and will take even more time to find ways to free itself, but the process has clearly started. For its part, Washington runs on money, and since its current antics will tend to make money grow scarce even faster than it otherwise would, those who stand to lose the most will make the Washingtonians feel their pain and will force a change of course. As a result, everyone will be pushing in the same direction: toward a slow, steady, controllable imperial collapse. All we can hope for is that the rest of the world manages to come together and build at least the scaffolding of a functional imperial replacement in time to avoid collapsing into a new post-imperial dark age.
The drama behind the Anglo-Irish Treaty
On December 6th 1921 a document was signed that would shape Ireland for at least a century.
Throughout October, November and early December of 1921, tense negotiations on the future of the island took place in London after years of conflict.
The Irish team, led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, were untrained and badly prepared. They lacked clear instructions or guidance and had no agreed counter-proposals prepared. They were not even a united team.
They also faced some serious British political talent, including the prime minister Lloyd George and future prime minister Winston Churchill.
In the early hours of the 6th of December 1921, the talks reached a dramatic climax at Number 10 Downing Street.
With the British under increasing pressure to get a deal done, an ultimatum was issued: sign or face war again.
The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed. Its aim was to bring the curtain down on the war in Ireland and while it did mark the end of the War of Independence, it sparked another conflict almost immediately – the Civil War.
It also set the scene for the partition of Ireland with the devastating consequences that was to have half a century on from the signing of the Treaty.
Countless books, plays and even a Hollywood film have been made about the Treaty but what is it legacy and why is it an important story to tell?
Playwright Colin Murphy, historian Micheal O Fathartaigh, author Gretchen Friemann and Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy talk to In The News about the Treaty, the negotiations and the impact the document has had on Irish history.
Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi GP to draw level with Max Verstappen
After chaos, needle, misunderstanding and some absolutely uncompromising racing, it took a cool head to prevail and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, his win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ensuring there is now nothing in it going into the Formula One season finale.
Beating title rival Max Verstappen into second, the pair are now level on points after a race of complexity and confusion fitting perhaps in a season that has been impossible to predict. The two protagonists endured an ill-tempered race and both left with differing views, Hamilton accusing his rival of being dangerous and Verstappen aggrieved. What it made clear is that neither will leave anything on the table next week in Abu Dhabi.
The investigations and debriefs will go on long into the night after this staccato affair interrupted by red flags, safety cars and the two leaders clashing repeatedly on track but ultimately and crucially for his title hopes it was an exhausted Hamilton who came out on top.
Hamilton had gone into the race trailing Verstappen by eight points, they are now level. The lead has changed hands five times during this enthralling season, which has ebbed and flowed between them but of course Hamilton has experience in tense showdowns, pipped to his first title in the last race of 2007 and then sealing it in a nail-biting showdown in Brazil a year later.
Verstappen is in his first title fight but has shown no indication of being intimidated, instead eagerly grasping his chance to finally compete and he still has it all to play for despite his clear disappointment at the result at the Jeddah circuit.
Hamilton admitted how hard the race been. “I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough,” he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean. It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us.”
Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington credited his man with how he had handled it, noting: “It was the cool head that won out”. It was a necessary skill beyond that of wrestling with this tricky, high speed circuit, given the incidents that defined the race as it swung between the two rivals.
Hamilton held his lead from pole but an early red flag due to a crash left Verstappen out front when Red Bull had opted not to pit under a safety car. Thus far at least it was fairly straightforward.
When racing resumed from a standing start Hamilton, off like a bullet, had the lead into turn one but Verstappen went wide and cut the corner of two to emerge in front. Esteban Ocon took advantage to sneak into second only for the race to be stopped again immediately after several cars crashed in the midfield.
With the race stopped, the FIA race director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the chance for Verstappen to be dropped to third behind Hamilton because of the incident, rather than involving the stewards. In unprecedented scenes of negotiations with Masi, Red Bull accepted the offer, conceding Verstappen had to give up the place, with the order now Ocon, Hamilton.
Verstappen launched brilliantly at the restart, dove up the inside to take the lead, while Hamilton swiftly passed Ocon a lap later to move to second.
The front two immediately pulled away with Hamilton sticking to Verstappen’s tail, ferociously quick as they matched one another’s times. Repeated periods of the virtual safety car ensued to deal with debris littering the track and when racing began again on lap 37, Hamilton attempted to pass and was marginally ahead through turn one as both went off but Verstappen held the lead, lighting the touchpaper for the flashpoint.
Verstappen was told by his team to give the place back to Hamilton but when Verstappen slowed apparently looking to do so, Hamilton hit the rear of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing. Mercedes said they were unaware Verstappen was going to slow and the team had not informed Hamilton, who did not know what Verstappen was doing. Hamilton was furious, accusing Verstappen of brake-testing him. Both drivers are under investigation by the stewards for the incident and penalties may yet be applied.
Verstappen then did let Hamilton through but immediately shot back up to retake the lead but in doing so went off the track. He was then given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a lap later Verstappen once more let his rival through, concerned he had not done so sufficiently on the previous lap. After all the chaos, Hamilton finally led and Verstappen’s tyres were wearing, unable to catch the leader who went on to secure a remarkable victory.
It was all too much for Verstappen who left the podium ceremony immediately the anthems concluded. “This sport is more about penalties than racing and for me this is not Formula One,” he said “A lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with.”
Both teams had diverging viewpoints on the incidents but both must now look forward. After 21 highly competitive races, the last a febrile, unpredictable drama, the season will be decided in a one-off shootout where both drivers have without doubt earned their place but just when the respect between them appears at its lowest ebb. – Guardian
Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force
New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.
At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.
The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.
For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.
Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.
Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.
The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.
The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.
The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.
Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.
On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.
Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”
The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.
From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.
Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.
Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.
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