Dmitry Orlov

Chaos: Practice and Applications

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Luciano Podcaminsky

Luciano Podcaminsky

Published at Club Orlov on March 10, 2015

 

The term “chaos” has been popping up a lot lately in the increasingly collapse-prone world in which we find ourselves. Pepe Escobar has even published a book on it. Titled Empire of Chaos, it describes a scenario “where a[n American] plutocracy progressively projects its own internal disintegration upon the whole world.” Escobar’s chaos is tailor-made; its purpose is “to prevent an economic integration of Eurasia that would leave the U.S. a non-hegemon, or worse still, an outsider.”

Escobar is not the only one thinking along these lines; here is Vladimir Putin speaking at the Valdai Conference in 2014:

A unilateral diktat and imposing one’s own models produces the opposite result. Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.

Why do they support such people? They do this because they decide to use them as instruments along the way in achieving their goals but then burn their fingers and recoil. I never cease to be amazed by the way that our partners just keep stepping on the same rake, as we say here in Russia, that is to say, make the same mistake over and over.

Indeed, Escobar’s chaos doesn’t seem to be working too well. Eurasian integration is very much on track, with China and Russia now acting as an economic, military and political unit, and with other Eurasian states eager to play a role. The European Union is, for the moment, being excluded from Eurasia because it is effectively under American occupation, but this state of affairs is unlikely to last due to budgetary problems. (To be precise, we have to say that it is under NATO occupation, but if we dig just a little, we find that NATO is really just the US military with a European façade hammered onto it Potemkin village-style.)

And so the term “empire” seems rather misplaced. Empires are ambitious undertakings that seek to exert control over their domain, and what sort of an empire is it if its main activity is stepping on the same rake over and over again? A silly one? Then why not just call it “The Silly Empire”? Indeed, there are lots of fun silly imperial activities to choose from. For example: arm and train moderate opposition to a regime you want to overthrow; find out that it isn’t moderate at all; try to bomb them into submission and fail at that too.

Some people raise the criticism that the empire does in fact function because somebody somewhere is profiting from all this chaos. Indeed they are, but taking this as a sign of imperial success is tantamount to regarding getting mugged on the way to the supermarket as a sign of economic success. Success has nothing to do with it, but Escobar’s “internal disintegration” does seem apt: the disintegrating empire’s internal chaos is leaking out and causing chaos everywhere. Still, the US makes every effort to exert control, mainly by exerting pressure on friends and enemies alike, and by demanding unquestioning obedience. Some might call this “controlled chaos.”

But what is “controlled chaos”? How does one control chaos, and is it even possible? Let’s delve.

Chaos Theory

There is a branch of mathematics called chaos theory. It deals with dynamic systems that exhibit a certain set of behaviors:

• For any causal relationship that can be observed, tiny differences in initial conditions cause large differences in outcome. The hackneyed example is the “butterfly effect” where the hypothetical flapping of the wings of a butterfly influences the course of a hurricane some weeks later. Or, to pick a more meaningful example, if the stock market were a chaotic system, then investing a million dollars in an index fund might result in a portfolio of about a million dollars a few months later; whereas investing a million and one dollars might result in a portfolio of minus a trillion dollars and change.

• Unpredictability beyond a short time-period: given finite initial information about a system, its behavior beyond a short period of time becomes impossible to predict. Since information about a real-world system is always finite, being limited by what can be observed and measured, chaotic systems are by their nature unpredictable.

• Topological mixing: any given region of a chaotic system’s phase space will eventually overlap with every other region. Chaotic systems can have several distinct states, but eventually these states will mix. For example, if a certain bank were a chaotic system, with two distinct states—solvent and bankrupt—then these states would eventually mix.

Mathematicians like to play with models of chaos, which are deterministic and time-invariant: they can run a simulation over and over again with slightly different inputs, and observe the result. But real-world chaotic systems are non-deterministic and non-time-invariant: not only do they produce wildly different outputs based on very slightly different inputs, but they produce different outputs every time. What’s more, even if deterministic chaotic systems did exist in nature, they would be indistinguishable from so-called “stochastic” systems—ones that exhibit randomness.

Control Theory

Another branch of mathematics deals with ways of controlling dynamic processes. A typical example is a thermostat: it maintains constant temperature by turning a heat source on if the temperature drops below a certain threshold, and off again if it rises above a certain other threshold. (The difference between the two thresholds is called “hysteresis.”) Another typical example is the autopilot: it is a device that computes the difference between the programmed course and the actual course, called an “error signal,” and applies that error signal to a control mechanism to keep the boat or the plane on course. There are many variations on this theme, but the overall scheme is always the same: measure system output, compare to reference, compute error signal, and apply it as negative feedback to the system.

In order to apply control theory to a system, that system must obey certain principles. One is the superposition principle: output must be proportional to the input. Left rudder always causes the boat to turn left; more left rudder causes it to boat to turn left faster. Another is time-invariance: the boat reacts to changes in rudder angle the same way every time. These are necessities; but most applications of control theory make an additional assumption of linearity: that changes in system behavior are linearly proportional to changes in control input. Since all real-world systems are non-linear, an effort is usually made to endow them with a relatively linear flat spot in the middle of their useful range. Turn a boat’s rudder a little bit, and the boat turns as expected; turn it too far, and it stalls and no longer works.

Applying control theory to chaotic systems is tricky, because of the issue of “controllability”: is it possible to put a system in a particular state by applying particular control signals? In a chaotic system, very small error signals can produce very large differences in system output. Therefore, a chaotic system cannot be controlled. However, an uncontrollable system can sometimes be stabilized and made to cycle around within a particular, useful, or at least non-lethal, part of its phase space. Generally, to stabilize the system, it must be observable: it must be possible to measure the output of the system and use it to issue corrections. However, even an an unobservable system can still be stabilized, by detecting its state periodically and applying a control signal to push it incrementally in the right direction.

Here is a real-world example. Suppose you are hurtling along a slush-covered highway in a subcompact car with bald summer tires. At some point a very minor perturbation of some sort will transform this controllable system into an uncontrollable one: the car will start spinning. Since it can no longer be steered, it will slide toward the barrier on one side of the highway or the other. It will also become unobservable: with the driver spinning along with the car, it will become impossible to observe the car’s trajectory based on short glimpses of the roadway spinning past. Can this situation be stabilized?

Yes, it turns out that it can be. This is a trick I learned from a jet fighter pilot, which I was then able to apply to the exact scenario I just described. If a jet starts tumbling out of control, the pilot’s job is to get it to stop tumbling and to get it back to level flight. This is done by twisting one’s head back and forth in rhythm with the spin, catching glimpses of the horizon, and working the yoke, also in rhythm to the spin, to slow it down, and to make the horizon go horizontal.

In a car, the driver’s job is to get the car to stop spinning without hitting the barrier on either side of the highway. This is done by twisting one’s head in rhythm to the spin, catching glimpses of the barriers on each side of the road, and working the steering wheel, also in rhythm to get the car to stop spinning while keeping it away from either barrier. If the car is spinning clockwise, then a clockwise twist to the steering wheel will move it forward, a counterclockwise twist will move it backward, and a stomp on the brakes will slow down its forward or backward motion somewhat.

This is typically the best that can be done in controlling chaos: using small perturbations to keep the system within a certain range of safe, useful states, keeping it out of any number of useless or dangerous ones. But there is one more caveat: such applications of control theory to chaotic systems require finding out the properties of the chaotic system ahead of time. That’s rather tricky to do if a system evolves continuously in response to these small perturbations. In situations that involve politics or military matters, applying the same control measure twice is about as effective as telling the same joke twice to the same audience: you become the joke.

The moral of this story should be obvious by now: as with the car on a slush-covered highway, any fool can get it to spin out, but that same fool is then unlikely to have the presence of mind, the skill and the steel nerves to keep it from hitting one of the barriers. Same goes for the would-be builders of an “empire of controlled chaos”: sure, they can generate chaos, but controlling it in a manner that allows them to derive some benefit from it is rather out of the question, and even their ability to stabilize it, so that they are not themselves hurt by it, is in grave doubt.

 


Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

Financial collapse leads to war

From the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov
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BurningRubles

Published at Club Orlov on March 3, 2015

 

Scanning the headlines in the western mainstream press, and then peering behind the one-way mirror to compare that to the actual goings-on, one can’t but get the impression that America’s propagandists, and all those who follow in their wake, are struggling with all their might to concoct rationales for military action of one sort or another, be it supplying weapons to the largely defunct Ukrainian military, or staging parades of US military hardware and troops in the almost completely Russian town of Narva, in Estonia, a few hundred meters away from the Russian border, or putting US “advisers” in harm’s way in parts of Iraq mostly controlled by Islamic militants.

The strenuous efforts to whip up Cold War-like hysteria in the face of an otherwise preoccupied and essentially passive Russia seems out of all proportion to the actual military threat Russia poses. (Yes, volunteers and ammo do filter into Ukraine across the Russian border, but that’s about it.) Further south, the efforts to topple the government of Syria by aiding and arming Islamist radicals seem to be backfiring nicely. But that’s the pattern, isn’t it? What US military involvement in recent memory hasn’t resulted in a fiasco? Maybe failure is not just an option, but more of a requirement?

Let’s review. Afghanistan, after the longest military campaign in US history, is being handed back to the Taliban. Iraq no longer exists as a sovereign nation, but has fractured into three pieces, one of them controlled by radical Islamists. Egypt has been democratically reformed into a military dictatorship. Libya is a defunct state in the middle of a civil war. The Ukraine will soon be in a similar state; it has been reduced to pauper status in record time—less than a year. A recent government overthrow has caused Yemen to stop being US-friendly. Closer to home, things are going so well in the US-dominated Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that they have produced a flood of refugees, all trying to get into the US in the hopes of finding any sort of sanctuary.

Looking at this broad landscape of failure, there are two ways to interpret it. One is that the US officialdom is the most incompetent one imaginable, and can’t ever get anything right. But another is that they do not succeed for a distinctly different reason: they don’t succeed because results don’t matter. You see, if failure were a problem, then there would be some sort of pressure coming from somewhere or other within the establishment, and that pressure to succeed might sporadically give rise to improved performance, leading to at least a few instances of success. But if in fact failure is no problem at all, and if instead there was some sort of pressure to fail, then we would see exactly what we do see.

In fact, a point can be made that it is the limited scope of failure that is the problem. This would explain the recent saber-rattling in the direction of Russia, accusing it of imperial ambitions (Russia is not interested in territorial gains), demonizing Vladimir Putin (who is effective and popular) and behaving provocatively along Russia’s various borders (leaving Russia vaguely insulted but generally unconcerned). It can be argued that all the previous victims of US foreign policy—Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, even the Ukraine—are too small to produce failure writ large enough to satisfy America’s appetite for failure. Russia, on the other hand, especially when incentivized by thinking that it is standing up to some sort of new, American-style fascism, has the ability to deliver to the US a foreign policy failure that will dwarf all the previous ones.

Analysts have proposed a variety of explanations for America’s hyperactive, oversized militarism. Here are the top three:

1. The US government has been captured by the military-industrial complex, which demands to be financed lavishly. Rationales are created artificially to achieve that result. But there does seem to be some sort of pressure to actually make weapons and field armies, because wouldn’t it be far more cost-effective to achieve full-spectrum failure simply by stealing all the money and skip building the weapons systems altogether? So something else must be going on.

2. The US military posture is designed to insure America’s full spectrum dominance over the entire planet. But “full-spectrum dominance” sounds a little bit like “success,” whereas what we see is full-spectrum failure. Again, this story doesn’t fit the facts.

3. The US acts militarily to defend the status of the US dollar as the global reserve currency. But the US dollar is slowly but surely losing its attractiveness as a reserve currency, as witnessed by China and Russia acting as swiftly as they can to unload their US dollar reserves, and to stockpile gold instead. Numerous other nations have entered into arrangements with each other to stop using the US dollar in international trade. The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t take a huge military to flush one’s national currency down the toilet, so, once again, something else must be going on.

There are many other explanations on offer as well, but none of them explain the fact that the goal of all this militarism seems to be to achieve failure.

Perhaps a simpler explanation would suffice? How about this one:

The US has surrendered its sovereignty to a clique of financial oligarchs. Having nobody at all to answer to, this American (and to some extent international) oligarchy has been ruining the financial condition of the country, running up staggering levels of debt, destroying savings and retirements, debasing the currency and so on. The inevitable end-game is that the Federal Reserve (along with the central banks of other “developed economies”) will end up buying up all the sovereign debt issuance with money they print for that purpose, and in the end this inevitably leads to hyperinflation and national bankruptcy. A very special set of conditions has prevented these two events from taking place thus far, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t, because that’s what always happens, sooner or later.

Now, let’s suppose a financial oligarchy has seized control of the country, and, since it can’t control its own appetites, is running it into the ground. Then it would make sense for it to have some sort of back-up plan for when the whole financial house of cards falls apart. Ideally, this plan would effectively put down any chance of revolt of the downtrodden masses, and allow the oligarchy to maintain security and hold onto its wealth. Peacetime is fine for as long as it can placate the populace with bread and circuses, but when a financial calamity causes the economy to crater and bread and circuses turn scarce, a handy fallback is war.

Any rationale for war will do, be it terrorists foreign and domestic, Big Bad Russia, or hallucinated space aliens. Military success is unimportant, because failure is even better than success for maintaining order because it makes it possible to force through various emergency security measures. Various training runs, such as the military occupation of Boston following the staged bombings at the Boston Marathon, have already taken place. The surveillance infrastructure and the partially privatized prison-industrial complex are already in place for locking up the undesirables. A really huge failure would provide the best rationale for putting the economy on a war footing, imposing martial law, suppressing dissent, outlawing “extremist” political activity and so on.

And so perhaps that is what we should expect. Financial collapse is already baked in, and it’s only a matter of time before it happens, and precipitates commercial collapse when global supply chains stop functioning. Political collapse will be resisted, and the way it will be resisted is by starting as many wars as possible, to produce a vast backdrop of failure to serve as a rationale for all sorts of “emergency measures,” all of which will have just one aim: to suppress rebellion and to keep the oligarchy in power. Outside the US, it will look like Americans blowing things up: countries, things, innocent bystanders, even themselves (because, you know, apparently that works too). From the outside looking into America’s hall of one-way mirrors, it will look like a country gone mad; but then it already looks that way. And inside the hall of one-way mirrors it will look like valiant defenders of liberty battling implacable foes around the world. Most people will remain docile and just wave their little flags.

But I would venture to guess that at some point failure will translate into meta-failure: America will fail even at failing. I hope that there is something we can do to help this meta-failure of failure happen sooner rather than later.

 


Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

Extinct—Extincter—Extinctest

From the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov
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Image: David Herbert

Image: David Herbert

Published at Club Orlov on February 17, 2015

 

This blog is dedicated to the idea of presenting the big picture—the biggest possible—of what is going on in the world. The abiding areas of interest that make up the big picture have included the following:

1. The terminal decay and eventual collapse of industrial civilization as the fossil fuels that power it become more and more expensive to produce in the needed quantities, of lower and lower resource quality and net energy and, eventually, in ever-shorter supply.

The first guess by Hubbert that the all-time peak of oil production in the US would be back in the 1970s was accurate, but later prediction of a global peak, followed by a swift collapse, around the year 2000 was rather off, because here we are 15 years later and global oil production has never been higher. Oil prices, which were high for a time, have temporarily moderated. However, zooming in on the oil picture just a little bit, we see that conventional oil production peaked in 2005—just 5 years late—and has been declining ever since, and the shortfall has been made up by oil that is difficult and expensive to get at (deep offshore, fracking) and by things that aren’t exactly oil (tar sands).

The current low prices are not high enough to sustain this new, expensive production for much longer, and the current glut is starting to look like a feast to be followed by famine. The direct cause of this famine will not be energy but debt, but it can still be traced back to energy: a successful, growing industrial economy requires cheapenergy; expensive energy causes it to stop growing and to become mired in debt that can never be repaid. Once the debt bubble pops, there isn’t enough capital to invest in another round of expensive energy production, and terminal decay sets in.

2. The very interesting process of the USA becoming its own nemesis: the USSR 2.0, or, as some are calling, the USSA.

The USA is best characterized as a decomposing corpse of a nation lorded over by a tiny clique of oligarchs who control the herd by wielding Orwellian methods of mind control. So far gone is the populace that most of them think that things are just peachy—there is an economic recovery, don’t you know—but a few of them do realize that they all have lots of personal issues with things like violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and gluttony. But don’t call them a nation of violent, drug-abusing gluttons, because that would be insulting. In any case, you can’t call them anything, because they aren’t listening, for they are too busy fiddling with their electronic life support units to which they have become addicted. Thanks to Facebook and the like they are now so far inside Plato’s cave that even the shadows they see aren’t real: they are computer simulations of shadows of other computer simulations.

The signs of this advanced state of decomposition are now unmistakable everywhere you look, be it education, medicine, culture or the general state of American society, where now fully half the working-age men is impaired in their ability to earn a decent living. But it is now particularly obvious in the endless compounding of errors that is the essence of American foreign policy. Some have started calling it “the empire of chaos,” neglecting to mention the fact that an empire of chaos is by definition ungovernable.

A particularly compelling example of failure is the Islamic Caliphate, which now rules large parts of Syria and Iraq. It was initially organized with American help to topple the Syrian government, but now threatens the stability of Saudi Arabia instead. This problem was made much worse by alienating Russia, which, with its long Central Asian border, is the one major nation that is interested in fighting Islamic extremism. The best the Americans have been able to do against the Caliphate is an expensive and ineffectual bombing campaign. Previous ineffectual and expensive bombing campaigns, such as the one in Cambodia, have produced unintended consequences such as the genocidal regime of Pol Pot, but why bother learning from mistakes when you can endlessly compound them?

Another example is the militarized mayhem and full-blown economic collapse that has engulfed the Ukraine in the wake of American-organized violent overthrow of its last-ever constitutional government a year ago. The destruction of the Ukraine was motivated by Zbigniew Brzezinski’s simplistic calculus that turning the Ukraine into an anti-Russian NATO-occupied zone would effectively thwart Russian imperial ambitions. A major problem with this calculus is that Russia has no imperial ambitions: Russia has all the territory it could ever want, but to develop it it needs peace and free trade. Another slight problem with Zbiggy’s “chessboard” is that Russia does have an overriding concern with protecting the interests of Russians wherever they may live and, for internal political reasons, will always act to protect them, even if such actions are illegal and carry the risk of a larger military conflict. Thus, the American destabilization of the Ukraine has accomplished nothing positive, but did increase the odds of nuclear self-annihilation. But if the USA manages to disappear from the world’s political map without triggering a nuclear holocaust, we will still have a problem, which is that…

3. The climate of Earth, our home planet, is, to put it as politely as possible, completely fucked. Now, there are quite a few people who think that radically altering the planet’s atmospheric and ocean chemistry and physics by burning just over half the fossilized hydrocarbons that could possibly be dug up using industrial methods means nothing, and that what we are observing is just natural climate variability. These people are morons. I will delete every single one of the comments they submit in response to this post, but in spite of my promise to do so, I assure you that they will still submit them… because they are morons. [Update: yup, QED.]

What we are looking at is a human-triggered extinction episode that will certainly be beyond anything in human experience, and which may rival the great Permian-Triassic extinction event of 252 million years ago. There is even the possibility of Earth becoming completely sterilized, with an atmosphere as overheated and toxic as that of Venus. That these changes are happening does not require prediction, just observation. The only parameters that remain to be determined are these:

1. How far will this process run?

Will there still be a habitat where humans can survive? Humans cannot survive without plenty of fresh water and sources of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, all of which require functioning ecosystems. Humans can survive on almost any kind of diet—even tree bark and insects—but if all vegetation is dead, then so are we. Also, we cannot survive in an environment where the wet bulb temperature (which takes into account our ability to cool ourselves by sweating) exceeds our body temperature: whenever that happens, we die of heat stroke. Lastly, we need air that we can actually breathe: if the atmosphere becomes too low in oxygen (because the vegetation has died out) and too high in carbon dioxide and methane (because the dead vegetation has burned off, the permafrost has melted, and the methane currently trapped in oceanic clathrates has been released) then we all die.

We already know that the increase in average global temperature has exceeded 1C since pre-industrial times, and, based on the altered atmospheric chemistry, is predicted to eventually exceed 2C. We also know that industrial activity, thanks to the aerosols it puts into the atmosphere, produces an effect known as global dimming. Once it’s gone, the average temperature will jump by at least another 1.1C. This would put us within striking range of 3.5C, and no humans have ever been alive with Earth more than 3.5C above baseline. But, you know, there is a first time for everything. Maybe we can invent some gizmo… Maybe if we all put on air-conditioned sombreros or something… (Design contest, anyone?)

2. How fast will this process happen?

The thermal mass of the planet is such that there is a 40-year lag between when atmospheric chemistry is changed and its effects on average temperature are felt. So far we have been shielded from some of the effects by two things: the melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice and permafrost, and the ocean’s ability to absorb heat. Your iced drink remains pleasant until the last ice cube is gone, but then it becomes tepid and distasteful rather quickly. Some scientists say that, on the outside, it will take 5000 years for us to run out of ice cubes, causing the party to end, but then the dynamics of the huge glaciers that supply the ice cubes are not understood all that well, and there have been constant surprises in terms of how quickly they can slough off icebergs, which then drift into warmer waters and melt quickly.

But the biggest surprise of the last few years has been the rate of arctic methane release. Perhaps you haven’t, but I’ve found it impossible to ignore all the scientists who have been ringing alarm bells on Arctic methane release. What they are calling the clathrate gun—which can release some 50 gigatons of methane in as little as a couple of decades—appears to have been fired in 2007 and now, just a few years later, the trend line in Arctic methane concentrations has become alarming. But we will need to wait for at least another two years to get an authoritative answer. Overall, the methane held in the clathrates is enough to exceed the global warming potential of all fossil fuels burned to date by a factor of between 4 and 40. The upper end of that range does seem to put us quite far towards a Venus-type atmosphere, and the surviving species may be limited to exotic thermophilic bacteria, if that, and certainly will not include any of the species we like to eat, nor any of us.

Looking at such numbers has caused quite a few researchers to propose the possibility of near-term human extinction. Estimates vary, but, in general, if the clathrate gun has indeed gone off, then most of us shouldn’t be planning to be around beyond mid-century. But the funny thing is (humor is never in poor taste, no matter how dire the situation) that most of us shouldn’t be planning on sticking around beyond mid-century in any case. The current oversized human population is a product of fossil fuel-burning, and once that’s over, human population will crash. This is called a die-off, and it’s something that happens all the time: a population (say, of yeast in a vat of sugary liquid) consumes its food, and then dies off. A few hardy individuals linger on, and if you throw in a lump of sugar, they spring to life, start reproducing and the process takes off again.

Another funny aspect of near-term human extinction is that it can never be observable, because no scientist will ever be around to observe it, and therefore it is a non-scientific concept. Since it cannot be used to do science, the scientists who throw it around must be aiming for an emotional effect. This is quite uncharacteristic of scientists, who generally pride themselves on being cool-headed and prefer to deal in the observable and the measurable. So, why would scientists go for emotional effect? Clearly, it is because they feel that something must be done. And to feel that something must be done, they must also feel that something can be done. But, if so, what is it?

Always first on the list is the effort to lobby governments to limit carbon emissions. This has not been a success; as to one of the many reasons why, consider point 2 above: the USA is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to carbon emissions, but the rotting corpse of America’s political system is incapable of any constructive action. It is too busy destroying countries: Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine…

Second on the list is something called geoengineering. If you don’t know what it is, don’t worry; it’s largely a synonym for mental masturbation. The idea is that you fix things you don’t understand by using technologies that don’t exist. But given many humans’ irrational belief that every problem must have a technological solution, there is always some fool willing to throw money at it. Previous efforts along these lines involved the idea of seeding the oceans with iron to promote plankton growth, or putting bits of tin foil in orbit to reflect some of the sunlight, or painting the Sahara white. These are all fun projects to think about. How about using nuclear weapons to put dust into the atmosphere, to block out some of the sunlight? Or how about nuking a few big volcanos, for the same effect? If that’s politically difficult, how about something politically easy: a limited nuclear exchange? That will darken the skies, bringing on a mini nuclear winter, and also reduce the population, which will cut down on industrial activity. There are enough nuclear weapons to keep the planet cool for as long as it takes us all to die of radiation poisoning. This geoengineering solution, along with all the others, is in line with the popular dictum “If you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.”

And so it seems to me that all the talk about near-term human extinction is just so much emotional hand-flapping designed to motivate people to try things that won’t work. Still, I believe the topic is worth pondering, for a simple reason: what if you don’t want to go extinct? We’ve already established that human extinction (whenever it might be said to occur) will never be observable, because no human will be around to observe it. We also know that population die-offs happen all the time, but they don’t always result in extinction. So, who will be most likely to die, and who might actually make it?

First on the list are the invisible victims of war. By now lots of people have seen photographs of piles of dead Ukrainian soldiers left to rot after another failed attack, or videos of residents of Donetsk expiring on the sidewalk after being hit by a government-lobbed artillery shell or mortar. But we don’t know how many children and women are dying in childbirth because the government has bombed maternity clinics and hospitals: such casualties of war are invisible. Nor will we be shown footage of all of the Ukrainian retirees expiring prematurely because they can no longer afford food, medicine or heat, but we can be sure that many of them won’t be around a year hence. When it comes to war, there are just two viable survival strategies: refuse to take part; and flee. Indeed, the million or so Ukrainians that are now in Russia, or the million or so Syrians who are no longer in Syria, are the smart ones. The Ukrainians who are volunteering to fight are the idiots; the ones who are fleeing to Russia to sit out the war are the smart ones. (However, the Russians, who are volunteering to protect their land and their families from what amounts to an American invasion, are clearly not idiots. They are also winning.) In this sense, war is a Darwinian process, delivering extinction to the foolish.

Next on the list of extinction episodes to avoid happens in major cities during a heat wave. It’s happened across Europe in 2003, and resulted in 70,000 casualties. In 2010, a heat wave in the Moscow region (which is quite far north) resulted in over 14,000 deaths in Moscow alone. The urban heat island effect, which is caused by sunlight soaked up by pavement and buildings, produces much higher local temperatures, driving them over the threshold for heat stroke. While the fossil fuel economy continues to operate, cities remain survivable because of the availability of air conditioning; once it shuts down, urban heat wave extinction episodes will become widespread. Since 50% of the population lives in cities, half of the human population is at risk of extinction from heat stroke. Therefore, if you don’t want to go extinct, don’t spend your summers in a city.

The list of places you don’t want to be if you wish to avoid extinction gets rather long. You wouldn’t want to live in California, for example, or in the arid southwestern states, because there won’t be any water there. You wouldn’t want to live along the coasts, because they are likely to be flooded by the rising oceans (they will eventually rise over 100 meters, putting all coastal cities underwater). You wouldn’t want to live in the eastern half of North America, because, paradoxically, a dramatically warmer Arctic region causes the jet stream to meander, producing increasingly fierce winters, which, minus fossil fuels, will cause widespread deaths from exposure. Even now, a bit of extra snow, which is likely to become the new normal, has caused the entire transportation infrastructure of New England (where, luckily, I am not) to roll over and play dead. Nor would you want to live in any of the places where the water source comes from glacial melt, because the glaciers will soon be gone. This includes much of Pakistan, large parts of India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam and so on. The list of places where you wouldn’t want to be if you don’t want to go extinct for this or that reason gets to be rather long.

But the entire northern half of Eurasia looks quite nice for the foreseeable future, so if you don’t want to go extinct, you better start teaching your kids Russian.

 

 

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

Masters of Parallel Universes

From the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov
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Published at Club Orlov on February 10, 2015

 

Much as we may dislike the fact, the results from quantum physics are unequivocal: parallel universes do exist. Schrödinger’s cat is both alive and dead, at the same time, while it exists as a probability distribution, which is resolved into either a live cat or a dead one by the act of opening the box and observing it. But until the observation is made, both parallel universes can be said to exist, and there is no way for us to know which one of them we inhabit.

Quantum effects dominate in the micro realm of subatomic particles. For instance, the laptop on which I am typing this contains millions of transistors which are created by implanting ions into silicon substrates to create patches with built-in electric fields and interconnecting these patches with etched aluminum wiring. Each transistor relies on the phenomenon of quantum tunneling: while in normal physics it is impossible for an electron to find itself on the wrong side of a built-in electric field, in quantum physics the electron is a probability distribution, not a particle, and quantum tunneling works reliably enough to support the entire electronics industry. But if you scale your circuit up, the chance of a pickup truck successfully “tunneling” through a brick wall becomes too minuscule to be of practical interest. It is still possible, but it would take anywhere between right now and several lifetimes of the universe hence to observe that result.

Oddly enough, such quantum effects are quite normal to observe within the political space. Here the physical objects involved are far too large to give rise to the parallel universes of quantum physics, but the narratives they give rise to are not. This is because the narratives are a matter of perception, and there can be historical periods, such as the present one, when the peephole through which the political establishment and the mainstream media allow us to see the world becomes so tiny that it becomes a toss-up as to whether or not any given photon will manage to find its way through it.

Here, reality becomes fractured into parallel universes as soon as we make the realization that we are being lied to. Were there weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? No, and the vial of white powder which Colin Powell menacingly held up at the UN was fake. The Iraqi mobile biological weapons factories did not exist. Was Al Qaeda active in Iraq prior to the US invasion? No, we know that it wasn’t. These lies are now known to be factual—uncontested, commonplace knowledge. Next: do we make the arbitrary leap of judgment and declare that that’s all the lies we will have ever been told, or do we admit the possibility that this is only the tip of an iceberg of lies, that lying is a modus operandi for the operatives behind them? If we do, then, to be conservative, for every official narrative we must construct one or more unofficial but also plausible (and perhaps much more plausible) narratives. Each of them constitutes a parallel universe, and we can’t know which of them we inhabit until some happy accident—a leak, an investigation, a damning bit of physical evidence, or an outright admission of complicity or guilt—collapses the probability waveform, destroying all the parallel universes but the real one.

Many people have been conditioned to think that this is the realm of “conspiracy theory.” Unfortunately, the term doesn’t apply. First, the existence of a conspiracy has to be accepted as a given: nobody ever perpetrates a heinous act of murder, mayhem and destruction by telegraphing their intentions ahead of time. If they do, the event usually doesn’t go off as planned, and in such cases it is usually announced that a conspiracy has been uncovered and a plot thwarted. Thus, the use of the term “conspiracy” is gratuitous; it goes without saying that there always is one. Secondly, the term “theory” is gratuitous as well: a theory is a mental construct designed to account for a given set of observations. But what if all you do is point out the observations (which are in the public domain, there for all to see) and make no effort whatsoever to account for them?

However, there is one theory that accounts for a very large class of such observations, and it is so simple that it is often overlooked. It is this: that the government and the official sources of information are normally lying. We already know that they have lied in the past (Iraqi WMD and al Qaeda in Iraq are two particularly well-known examples, but there are many others). The question then becomes, When did they stop lying (if in fact they did)? Was there a conspiracy to stop lying? There would have to have been one, because we certainly haven’t heard any statements made by public officials to the effect that “We will now stop lying.” Or did they spontaneously all stop lying at the same time? The probability of that happening is pretty low; it could, of course happen—any time between right now and several lifetimes of the universe hence. So if you believe that they have indeed stopped lying, then I suppose that makes you a conspiracy theorist par excellence. The conservative assumption is that they are still lying.

There are lots of people who have been working to keep these parallel universes alive in one form or another, by collecting and collating bits of information, by offering partial explanations, by evaluating the official explanations as to their logical consistency. They have been doing this in spite of being ostracized as “conspiracy theorists.” To be fair, they have sometimes been glorified as “truth-seekers” or “truth-tellers” and that must provide an ego boost for some people. But really what they have been doing is generating, and sustaining, alternative narratives and keeping parallel universes alive, so that at some time in the future we will find out which one we have been inhabiting all along.

Some people make the mistake of refusing to listen and to explore these parallel universes, because it makes them ill at ease not to know which one they happen to inhabit. But if you accept the extreme likelihood that the official narrative is a bunch of lies concocted to hide the truth, then there is some comfort to be gained in at least knowing something that might not be a lie. Once the initial hesitation is past, it becomes a fun, if somewhat macabre, hobby, because puzzling evidence jumps out at you just about everywhere you care to look.

An important precondition of being able to interpret the result of Schrödinger’s thought experiment is being able to figure out what a cat looks like. Here is a specific example. Currently, there are two parallel universes. In one, Russian troops have invaded Ukraine. In the other, Russian troops did not invade Ukraine. What makes this difficult is understanding what is meant by Russian troops. There are Russians in eastern Ukraine. There are troops in eastern Ukraine. A lot of the troops in eastern Ukraine are in fact Russian. But there are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. Get it? To qualify as actual Russian troops, they would have to have enlisted in the Russian military, and would have to take their orders through the Russian chain of command. And these ones obviously don’t. There is a strong political connection with Russia, but the military one is tenuous. The latest “proof” of Russian invasion, offered by the Ukraine’s president Poroshenko in Munich, consists of some Russian internal passports and military service certificates found in eastern Ukraine. Funny thing is, when you are inducted into the Russian military, you have to surrender those civilian documents. Sometimes a perfectly viable, though quite short-lived parallel universe can be concocted by twisting things in small ways.

But most of the time a parallel universe pops into existence when things get twisted in impressively brazen and shameless ways. A lot of people start with 9/11. The twin towers collapsed because they were hit by jet airliners because, you see, kerosene melts steel. Was it special, magic kerosene, and were the buildings were made of special, magic steel? Maybe that’s why since then skyscrapers can’t be insured against fire any more. Previously it was thought that skyscrapers can’t collapse due to fire because they are made of steel, and a hydrocarbon-based fire isn’t hot enough to melt it. What fools those civil engineers must have been! Turns out, all you need is some kerosene!

Then the two skyscrapers spontaneously collapsed into their own footprints—all on their own—and so the entire industry of demolition experts (whose job is to mine tall buildings with explosive charges and detonate them under computer control to keep the buildings from toppling over) has since been retired. Skyscrapers are now known to pose a huge fire hazard due to the melty steel of which they are made, and they must all be demolished right away. But don’t hire any demolition experts, since we now know that their entire industry was a hoax, because skyscrapers collapse into their own footprints all by themselves. Just take some retired old jets from American Airlines (they have plenty of them) and fly them into the skyscrapers unmanned using remote fly by wire technology.

Another “plane” hit the Pentagon. That plane had no engines, since none were found (but in spite of this it not only flew, but executed a pirouette worthy of a jet fighter). Also, it had no seats (the passengers must have mimed sitting down and buckling up) and no luggage (they must have traveled really light). The perpetrators’ identity was found out thanks to a passport found at the World Trade Center site. It was a magic passport; unlike the steel girders of the twin towers, a kerosene fireball could not even singe it.

Fast-forward to the latest staged atrocity: the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. The perpetrators were clearly well-trained, disciplined commandos, who executed a flawless mission, making it likely that they were special service people of some country or other. But then one of them magically forgot his ID in the getaway car—just like that passport magically found in the wreckage of 9/11. (Do commandos take their civilian IDs with them when they go on a secret mission?) And then the alleged driver of the getaway car surrendered to the police, saying that he has an ironclad alibi. The fact that he surrendered was reported in the media; the reason why he surrendered was not. And then the person charged with conducting the investigation killed himself while working on his report. Did his report agree with the official narrative?

Reminds me of another staged atrocity: the Boston Marathon bombing. The very large number of special ops people milling about the scene before the firecrackers went off has been noted, but clearly they had nothing to do with it—they were just enjoying their day off, all dressed the same. The two patsies who were blamed for it—the Tsarnaev brothers—were well-known to the FBI. After the firecrackers went off, a crew of specialists immediately descended on the scene, with actors posing as victims and fake blood being tossed about. Video evidence shows them taking a long time to stage photo-ops of the supposed atrocity.

The ensuing media campaign with “Boston Strong” stickers was identical to the “Je suis Charlie” campaign following the Charlie Hebdo event. And as with the Charlie Hebdo event, there was a concerted effort to kill the alleged perpetrators before they could answer any questions in ways that might contradict the official story. In the case of the Tsarnaev brothers, the attempt to kill the younger one failed. The boat in which he was hiding, scared and unarmed, was riddled with bullets, and after he surrendered an unexplained emergency tracheotomy was performed on him, but he is still alive, and defiant of the efforts to frame him.

But the most interesting part came after the event, when Boston was placed under military occupation, with residents forced to stay inside their houses for fear of being machine-gunned down by troops rumbling down the streets in APCs, supposedly in pursuit of a couple of kids. The real rationale for the event was to impose martial law on Boston (the cradle of the American Revolution) on Patriot’s Day (which commemorates a signal event that started it). If you read into these events just a little bit, you just might come to the conclusion that the US is no longer a constitutional democracy but a military dictatorship and a police state ruled by an oligarchy that likes to stage gruesome special events to show just how far above the law it really is.

Or take the Malaysian Airlines MH-17 shoot-down over Eastern Ukraine last year. Again, the media campaign was clearly set up before the event. The clairvoyant western observers know who to blame: it was the “Russian-backed rebels” and they used a weapons system provided by Russia. This was repeated endlessly, using a technique used in advertising: “proof by repetition.” Never mind that the rebels had no ability to shoot down that airliner. But the truth has been slowly dribbling out. Flight MH-17 was shot down by a Ukrainian jet fighter from Dnepropetrovsk using an air-to-air missile. (The rebels had no aircraft; why was it armed with one?) The name of the pilot is now known. The person who identified him is in Russia, in witness protection. Russian investigators are pursuing leads, and there is a good chance that we will eventually find out who issued the criminal orders.

I could keep going in this vein for a really long time, piling bits of puzzling evidence upon other bits of puzzling evidence. But the whole point of this exercise is to try to get across to you of one very simple, basic point: if you insist on ignoring all the obvious lies you’ve been told for years and years and dismiss everything but the official narrative as a “conspiracy theory,” then that makes you something of a mind control victim. And I don’t want you to be a victim.

One last thing: if you find yourself living in a Schrödinger box, do what you can to avoid ending up dead. I’ll leave it up to you to work out out the details of that, but the hint is simple: your likelihood of ending up dead is higher if you believe in lies. Don’t be a dead cat.

 

 

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

No Escape

From the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov
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Published at Club Orlov on February 3, 2015

 

Quite a few of those currently inhabiting the belly of the decrepit and senile beast of western industrial civilization are experiencing an extreme sense of unease about what the future is likely to bring. But living with such a sensation is less than pleasant. In some other, perhaps less civilized language, the resolution to this crisis may be expressed as a special way of being, but in the language of civilization, the only possible work-out is through taking action. We must DO SOMETHING!

After all, who would want to not care about things that aren’t important at the moment, not think about objects that are not immediately and tangibly present, not treat depictions or representations as real or valid—but rely exclusively on their own perceptions, and perhaps those they share with those few people who are close to them? A decidedly uncivilized person, by most people’s standards. But we must remain civilized, and to be civilized means to always be driving towards some destination, even if it is an imaginary one. “Stop the world, I want to get off!” some of them exclaim in exasperation. But they are willing prisoners of this metaphor of the world as purposeful action, and their talk of escape is a mental loop (an escapist one) within another mental loop (from which there is no escape).

And so they must DO SOMETHING. But it turns out that they can’t because of another mandatory element of civilized existence, which is to have and to own… stuff. Now, owning something is not exactly an action; it is a state of being, but a rather impersonal one: person X owning a thing is exactly the same as person Y owning that exact same thing. Nevertheless, civilized persons are very much defined by the things that they own, the brands they favor, and the physical setting they demand. So they must do something about their civilized existence, but that civilized existence demands a house with electricity, running hot and cold water, heating and air conditioning, a car, a pile of electronic toys and an even bigger pile of stuff they never actually use, but simply have.

What prompted me to think about this? First-hand observation, actually. I just started a house-sit at an off-grid house on one of the lagoons in the Bocas archipelago in northern Panama. The house is rather well set up: lots of solar panels and battery banks, internet access via a network of wifi repeaters, a rainwater collection system, a dock with two power boats (the nearest town is 30 minutes away at full throttle), a big orchard out back that produces bananas, plantains, mangoes, a cat and a dog… It’s quite an establishment, and it has to be lived in and attended to at all times, to keep entropy at bay. This house is by no means unique: it is part of a constellation of similar houses which dot the surrounding shores, whose residents are quite gregarious, with powerboats crisscrossing the lagoon as they go visiting. It is all quite civilized. Some people here have a survivalist mindset, and feel that, being ensconced in their outposts in the mangroves, they are well situated to ride out the process of the whole world going to hell in a hand-basket.

And then right next door live the local Indios. Two Indio kids show up almost every day, a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, paddling an ancient-looking cayuca carved out of a tree trunk. They hang out next to our dock, which attracts fish, which they catch for their family meal, one fish right after another, using hand lines with unbaited hooks, while their parents are off tending a patch of something or other edible out in the jungle. (The concept of child care is somehow completely missing.) Some older kids show up sporadically, who are of dating age, and since dating now requires having a cell phone, which needs to be charged, they bring us their cell phones, with chargers, in plastic bags so that they don’t get wet while they paddle over, and ask us to charge them.

These Indios inhabit a wild, roadless terrain, half-water, half-jungle (the nearest road is a two-hour hike over a mountain pass), do not avail themselves of any government services, don’t have bank accounts and trade a little or work as day-laborers for the few things they need. They are the happiest, most congenial, most carefree people it has ever been my privilege to encounter. They wear threadbare hand-me-downs (shorts and a t-shirt is almost too much clothing in this climate) and live in little shacks on pilings nailed together out of sticks that they probably salvaged as driftwood. They get around on foot or in cayucas which they carve out of trees. Their goal-directed activities seem limited to finding food and tending their few and humble possessions. They take long mid-day naps in their hamacas and paddle out to the middle of the lagoon in the cool evenings to socialize, where I can hear their laughter until well after sundown.

But we can’t be like them, now, can we? We need all this stuff: solar panels, banks of lead-acid batteries (I need to check the electrolyte levels today), propane appliances for hot water and cooking, demand pump for the water system, wifi repeaters for the internet… Whenever it is left unguarded, the whole compound needs to be locked down tight because otherwise it might get looted (there is a machete under the bed). The stable of speed boats, which are the only way to get in or out, has to be maintained. And to keep it all together somebody somewhere has to fly jet aircraft, perform rhinoplasties, tweak high-frequency trading algorithms or do something or other purposeful and goal-directed, because these things don’t pay for themselves, you know.

I suppose I could do something purposeful and goal-directed like that too, because I did, once upon a time. But I don’t, because, first of all, I don’t want to. Secondly, I have my own purposes, goals and methods. Spending winters in the tropics rent-free is, I believe, a worthy goal. Building an absolutely amazing houseboat that sails is another, and I am ready to put up with having to engage in other, unrelated, purposeful, goal-directed activities in order to raise the money. (Rhinoplasty, anyone?) There are a few more. But I refuse to rush, because that would spoil all the fun. And so I’ll do a bit of blogging, and later on today I’ll go visit a nearby organic cocoa farm. And I have no idea what I’ll be doing tomorrow, and that, I believe, is just fine.

 

 

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

2015: Grounds for Optimism

From the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov
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Published at Club Orlov on January 6, 2015

 

This may seem like an odd line of reasoning to pursue given what everyone else seems to be saying. Some are thinking that 2015 will be a repeat of 2014 with a few incremental changes (always a safe bet, but makes for boring reading) while others are warning of the potential for a nuclear confrontation between the US and Russia (always a possibility, on par with an asteroid strike or a supernova in our galactic vicinity). But this is all more of the same. The interesting question to ask is, How has the ground shifted in 2014, if indeed it has?

To my mind, the really interesting development of 2014 is that the world as a whole (with a few minor exceptions) has become quite lucid on the topic of what the United States, as a global empire, is and stands for. It is now very commonly and completely understood that:

1. The United States is an evil empire, attempting not so much to rule the world as to disrupt it to its short-term advantage.

2. The United States is failing, as an empire and as a country, and no amount of fraud, mayhem, torture and murder is going to save it.

3. The United States is still quite powerful and can cause massive damage on its way down. This damage must be contained, while plans are drawn up for an international arrangement that will arise upon its demise.

Looking back on 2013 and before, such sentiments were already being expressed, but on the fringes and quietly. The difference is that in 2014 they became commonplace knowledge, and their expressions thundered from presidential podiums. What’s more, there just isn’t that much of a counterargument being voiced. I don’t hear a single voice out there arguing that the US is a benevolent force that is on the up-and-up, would never hurt a fly and is the permanent center of the universe. Yes, some people can still think that, but it’s hard to see value in such “thought.”

There are still a few holdouts: the UK, Canada and Australia especially. But even there the true picture is being distorted because of their Murdockified national media. Judging from what I hear from the people there, they are almost uniformly nauseated by the subservient pro-US antics of their national leaders. As for the EU, the image of political uniformity presented by Brussels is largely a fiction. In the core countries of Western Europe, business leaders are almost uniformly in favor of close cooperation with Russia and against sanctions. Along the fringe, entire countries appear to be on the verge of switching sides. Hungary—never a friend of Russia—now seems more pro-Russian than ever. Bulgaria, which has had a love/hate attitude toward Russia for centuries now, seems to be edging back closer to love. Even the Poles are scratching their heads and wondering if close cooperation with the US is in their national interest.

Another major shift I have observed is that a significant percentage of the thinking people in the US no longer trusts their national media. There is a certain pattern to the kinds of messages that can go viral and spread wildly via tweets and social media. Fringe messages must, by definition, stay on the fringe. And yet last year something snapped: a few times I ran a story in an attempt to plug a gaping hole in the US mass media’s coverage of events in the Ukraine, and the response was overwhelming, with hundreds of thousands of new readers showing up. What’s more, a lot of them have kept coming back for more. I take this to mean that what I have to say, while by no means mainstream, is no longer on the fringe, and that bloggers have an increasingly important role in helping plug the giant holes in national media coverage.

Of course, the national media still has an important role to play. For instance, I have no idea how big Kim Kardashian’s derrière is—but I hear it’s big in the media. Can it sing? And so if you are looking for authoritative information on that important subject, then American national media is your friend. But for most non-ass-related things, it seems to me that the Americans who run the nation’s political and media circuses broke a fundamental rule, which they apparently forgot, because it was first expressed by an American by the name of Abe Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” In case somebody out there in the media realm is tired of playing it safe and printing stuff that’s only fit for wiping your Kardashian with, here are a some points for you to try to refute:

1. Economic inequality has to increase continuously, until the whole thing crashes, because that is the only way to continue propping the financial bubble while the real, physical, productive economy is actually shrinking. The rich can’t possibly spend all of their money in the real economy. Instead, the poor things have to content themselves with investing in various luxury items, which they can’t use all the same time, and so most of them sit and slowly decay. Or they put their money into paper wealth of various kinds—and that, of course, is very good for the financial bubble. In any event, if you have a financial bubble you need to prop up no matter what, in the face of serious physical limitations on land, energy, fresh water, high-grade ores and other essential industrial feedstocks, then your best bet is to do the reverse-Robin-Hood thing and go rob the poor and give to the rich.

2. Worldwide chaos must be driven up because that’s the only way the US military can justify its existence. It is a very expensive military, but not a particularly effective one. (Just the new F-35 fighter cost over a trillion to develop—and yet it is a complete dud of a project and may never even go into production.) But in spite of this lavish spending the US military is incapable of scoring a decisive victory in just about any conflict, against any adversary, no matter how weak and impoverished, and their end result is always some sort of ongoing low-grade conflict that can flare up again at any time. Nevertheless, it can still threaten the weak and the poor, and use these threats to its financial advantage. But the only way to make these threats effective is to destroy some country on a semi-regular basis: “Nice country you got there! We’d hate to see it go the way of Libya.” A military confrontation with any of the real military powers—Russia, China, India, even Iran—is, of course, entirely out of the question, because a single humiliating military defeat for the US (which is inevitable given its track record against smaller, weaker adversaries) would be sufficient to undermine the entire program of US militarism.

3. As another American (Dwight Eisenhower) once put it: “If you can’t solve a problem, enlarge it.” But it stands to reason that you do have to solve a problem once in a while; you can’t just go on enlarging every problem you see ad infinitum. Now, what problems has the US solved lately? Anything good happening in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria or Ukraine? No, worse than ever. How about financial reform in the wake of the narrowly averted collapse in 2008? No, and there is another big one coming up in the form of the fracas in the fracking patch due to low oil prices. Anything good to report on health care reform? No, it’s more ridiculously bloated and expensive than ever. Student debt repayable now? No, not by a long shot. How about an effort to reduce carbon emissions, to postpone (no longer to avoid!) the eastern seaboard, where half of everything is, going underwater? No, not a glimmer of hope. Problems with runaway public debt or unfunded government liabilities solved? No, there have been no efforts in that direction at all. Is the country still on course for national bankruptcy and collapse? All systems check, go with throttle up!

Now, your mileage may vary, but I have discovered that a surprising number of people around the world (though not especially in the US) is now very much clued into these things. And that is something that makes me feel optimistic about 2015.

 

 

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

Peculiarities of Russian National Character

From the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov
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Ancient Slavic god Zimnik: a squat old man, long hair the color of snow, wears a white coat, always barefoot. Carries an iron staff, one swing with which instantly freezes everything solid. Can summon snowstorms, ice storms and blizzards. Goes around taking whatever he likes, especially children who misbehave.

Ancient Slavic god Zimnik: a squat old man, long hair the color of snow, wears a white coat, always barefoot. Carries an iron staff, one swing with which instantly freezes everything solid. Can summon snowstorms, ice storms and blizzards. Goes around taking whatever he likes, especially children who misbehave.

Originally published at Club Orlov on January 13, 2015

Recent events, such as the overthrow of the government in Ukraine, the secession of Crimea and its decision to join the Russian Federation, the subsequent military campaign against civilians in Eastern Ukraine, western sanctions against Russia, and, most recently, the attack on the ruble, have caused a certain phase transition to occur within Russian society, which, I believe, is very poorly, if at all, understood in the west. This lack of understanding puts Europe at a significant disadvantage in being able to negotiate an end to this crisis.

Whereas prior to these events the Russians were rather content to consider themselves “just another European country,” they have now remembered that they are a distinct civilization, with different civilizational roots (Byzantium rather than Rome)—one that has been subject to concerted western efforts to destroy it once or twice a century, be it by Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, or some combination of the above. This has conditioned the Russian character in a specific set of ways which, if not adequately understood, is likely to lead to disaster for Europe and the world.

Lest you think that Byzantium is some minor cultural influence on Russia, it is, in fact, rather key. Byzantine cultural influences, which came along with Orthodox Christianity, first through Crimea (the birthplace of Christianity in Russia), then through the Russian capital Kiev (the same Kiev that is now the capital of Ukraine), allowed Russia to leapfrog across a millennium or so of cultural development. Such influences include the opaque and ponderously bureaucratic nature of Russian governance, which the westerners, who love transparency (if only in others) find so unnerving, along with many other things. Russians sometimes like to call Moscow the Third Rome—third after Rome itself and Constantinople—and this is not an entirely empty claim. But this is not to say that Russian civilization is derivative; yes, it has managed to absorb the entire classical heritage, viewed through a distinctly eastern lens, but its vast northern environment has transformed that heritage into something radically different.

Since this subject is of overwhelming complexity, I will focus on just four factors, which I find essential for understanding the transformation we are currently witnessing.

1. Taking offense

Western nations have emerged in an environment of limited resources and relentless population pressure, and this has to a large degree determined the way in which they respond when they are offended. For quite a long time, while centralized authority was weak, conflicts were settled through bloody conflict, and even a minor affront could cause former friends to become instant adversaries and draw their swords. This is because it was an environment in which standing your ground was key to survival.

In contrast, Russia emerged as a nation in an environment of almost infinite, although mostly quite diffuse, resources. It also drew from the bounty of the trade route that led from the Vikings to the Greeks, which was so active that Arab geographers believed that there was a salt-water strait linking the Black Sea with the Baltic, whereas the route consisted of rivers with a considerable amount of portage. In this environment, it was important to avoid conflict, and people who would draw their swords at a single misspoken word were unlikely to do well in it.

Thus, a very different conflict resolution strategy has emerged, which survives to this day. If you insult, aggrieve or otherwise harm a Russian, you are unlikely to get a fight (unless it happens to be a demonstrative beating held in a public setting, or a calculated settling of scores through violence). Instead, more likely than not, the Russian will simply tell you to go to hell, and then refuse to have anything further to do with you. If physical proximity makes this difficult, the Russian will consider relocating, moving in any direction that happens to be away from you. So common is this speech act in practice that it has been abbreviated to a monosyllabic utterance: “Пшёл!” (“Pshol!”) and can be referred to simply as “послать” (literally, “to send”). In an environment where there is an almost infinite amount of free land to settle, such a strategy makes perfect sense. Russians live like settled people, but when they have to move, they move like nomads, whose main method of conflict resolution is voluntary relocation.

This response to grievance as something permanent is a major facet of the Russian culture, and westerners who do not understand it are unlikely to achieve an outcome they would like, or even understand. To a westerner, an insult can be resolved by saying something like “I am sorry!” To a Russian that’s pretty much just noise, especially if it is being emitted by somebody who has already been told to go to hell. A verbal apology that is not backed up by something tangible is one of these rules of politeness, which to the Russians are something of a luxury. Until a couple of decades ago, the standard Russian apology was “извиняюсь” (“izviniáius’”), which can be translated literally as “I excuse myself.” Russia is now a much more polite country, but the basic cultural pattern remains in place.

Although purely verbal apologies are worthless, restitution is not. Setting things right may involve parting with a prized possession, or making a significant new pledge, or announcing an important change of direction. The point is, these all involve taking pivotal actions, not just words, because beyond a certain point words can only make the situation worse, taking it from the “Go to hell” stage to the even less copacetic “Let me show you the way” stage.

2. Dealing with invaders

Russia has a long history of being invaded from every direction, but especially from the west, and Russian culture has evolved a certain mindset which is difficult for outsiders to comprehend. First of all, it is important to realize that when Russians fight off an invasion (and having the CIA and the US State Department run Ukraine with the help of Ukrainian Nazis qualifies as an invasion) they are not fighting for territory, at least not directly. Rather, they are fighting for Russia as a concept. And the concept states that Russia has been invaded numerous times, but never successfully. In the Russian mindset, invading Russia successfully involves killing just about every Russian, and, as they are fond of saying, “They can’t kill us all.” (“Нас всех не убьёшь.”) Population can be restored over time (it was down 22 million at the end of World War II) but the concept, once lost, would be lost forever. It may sound nonsensical to a westerner to hear Russians call their country “a country of princes, poets and saints,” but that’s what it is—it is a state of mind. Russia doesn’t have a history—it is its history.

Because the Russians fight for the concept of Russia rather than for any given chunk of Russian territory, they are always rather willing to retreat—at first. When Napoleon invaded Russia, fully planning to plunder his way across the countryside, he found the entire countryside torched by the retreating Russians. When he finally occupied Moscow, it too went up in flames. Napoleon camped out for a bit, but eventually, realizing that there was nothing more to be done (attack Siberia?) and that his army would starve and die of exposure if they remained, he beat a hasty and shameful retreat, eventually abandoning his men to their fate. As they retreated, another facet of Russian cultural heritage came to the fore: every peasant from every village that got torched as the Russians retreated was in the forefront as the Russians advanced, itching for a chance to take a pot shot at a French soldier.

Similarly, the German invasion during World War II was at first able to make rapid advances, taking a lot of territory, while the Russians equally swiftly retreated and evacuated their populations, relocating entire factories and other institutions to Siberia and resettling families in the interior of the country. Then the German advance stopped, reversed, and eventually turned into a rout. The standard pattern repeated itself, with the Russian army breaking the invader’s will while most of the locals that found themselves under occupation withheld cooperation, organized as partisans and inflicted maximum possible damage on the retreating invader.

Murmansk, 68°58′45″, pop. 300,000. January 12: first sunrise in 40 days. Length of day: 38 minutes


3. Dealing with foreign powers
Another Russian adaptation for dealing with invaders is to rely on the Russian climate to do the job. A standard way of ridding a Russian village house of vermin is simply to not heat it; a few days at 40 below or better and the cockroaches, bedbugs, lice, nits, weevils, mice, rats are all dead. It works with invaders too. Russia is the world’s most northern country. Canada is far north, but most of its population is spread along its southern border, and it has no major cities above the Arctic Circle, while Russia has two. Life in Russia in some ways resembles life in outer space or on the open ocean: impossible without life support. The Russian winter is simply not survivable without cooperation from the locals, and so all they have to do to wipe out an invader is withhold cooperation. And if you think that an invader can secure cooperation by shooting a few locals to scare the rest, see above under “Taking offense.”

Russia owns almost the entire northern portion of the Eurasian continent, which comprises something like 1/6 of the Earth’s dry surface. That, by Earth standards, is a lot of territory. This is not an aberration or an accident of history: throughout their history, the Russians were absolutely driven to provide for their collective security by gaining as much territory as possible. If you are wondering what motivated them to undertake such a quest, see “Dealing with invaders” above.

If you think that foreign powers repeatedly attempted to invade and conquer Russia in order to gain access to its vast natural resources, then you are wrong: the access was always there for the asking. The Russians are not exactly known for refusing to sell their natural resources—even to their potential enemies. No, what Russia’s enemies wanted was to be able to tap into Russia’s resources free of charge. To them, Russia’s existence was an inconvenience, which they attempted to eliminate through violence.

What they achieved instead was a higher price for themselves, once their invasion attempt failed. The calculus is simple: the foreigners want Russia’s resources; to defend them, Russia needs a strong, centralized state with a big, powerful military; ergo, the foreigners should be made to pay, to support Russia’s state and military. Consequently, most of the Russian state’s financial needs are addressed through export tariffs, on oil and natural gas especially, rather than by taxing the Russian population. After all, the Russian population is taxed heavily enough by having to fight off periodic invasions; why tax them more? Thus, the Russian state is a customs state: it uses customs duties and tariffs to extract funds from the enemies who would destroy it and use these funds to defend itself. Since there is no replacement for Russia’s natural resources, the more hostile the outside world acts toward Russia, the more it will end up paying for Russia’s national defense.

Note that this policy is directed at foreign powers, not at foreign-born people. Over the centuries, Russia has absorbed numerous immigrants: from Germany during the 30 years’ war; from France after the French revolution. More recent influxes have been from Vietnam, Korea, China and Central Asia. Last year Russia absorbed more immigrants than any other country except for the United States, which is dealing with an influx from countries on its southern border, whose populations its policies have done much to impoverish. Moreover, the Russians are absorbing this major influx, which includes close to a million from war-torn Ukraine, without much complaint. Russia is a nation of immigrants to a greater extent than most others, and is more of a melting pot than the United States.

4. Thanks, but we have our own

One more interesting Russian cultural trait is that Russians have always felt compelled to excel in all categories, from ballet and figure-skating to hockey and football to space flight and microchip manufacturing. You may think of champagne as a trademark French product, but last I checked “Советское шампанское” (“Soviet champagne”) was still selling briskly around New Year’s Eve, and not only in Russia but in Russian shops in the US because, you see, the French stuff may be nice, but it just doesn’t taste sufficiently Russian. For just about every thing you can imagine there is a Russian version of it, which the Russians often feel is better, and sometimes can claim they invented in the first place (the radio, for instance, was invented by Popov, not by Marconi). There are exceptions (tropical fruit is one example) and they are allowed provided they come from a “brotherly nation” such as Cuba. That was the pattern during the Soviet times, and it appears to be coming back to some extent now.

During the late Brezhnev/Andropov/Gorbachev “stagnation” period Russian innovation indeed stagnated, along with everything else, and Russia lost ground against the west technologically (but not culturally). After the Soviet collapse Russians became eager for western imports, and this was quite normal considering that Russia wasn’t producing much of anything at the time. Then, during the 1990s, there came the era of western compradors, who dumped imported products on Russia with the long-term goal of completely wiping out domestic industry and making Russia into a pure raw materials supplier, at which point it would be defenseless against an embargo and easily forced to surrender its sovereignty. This would be an invasion by non-military means, against which Russia would find itself defenseless.

This process ran quite far before it hit a couple of major snags. First, Russian manufacturing and non-hydrocarbon exports rebounded, doubling several times in the course of a decade. The surge included grain exports, weapons, and high-tech. Second, Russia found lots of better, cheaper, friendlier trading partners around the world. Still, Russia’s trade with the west, and with the EU specifically, is by no means insignificant. Third, the Russian defense industry has been able to maintain its standards, and its independence from imports. (This can hardly be said about the defense firms in the west, which depend on Russian titanium exports.)

And now there has come the perfect storm for the compradors: the ruble has partially devalued in response to lower oil prices, pricing out imports and helping domestic producers; sanctions have undermined Russia’s confidence in the reliability of the west as suppliers; and the conflict over Crimea has boosted the Russians’ confidence in their own abilities. The Russian government is seizing this opportunity to champion companies that can quickly effect import replacement for imports from the west. Russia’s central bank has been charged with financing them at interest rates that make import replacement even more attractive.

Some people have been drawing comparisons between the period we are in now and the last time oil prices dropped—all the way to $10/barrel—in some measure precipitating the Soviet collapse. But this analogy is false. At the time, the Soviet Union was economically stagnant and dependent on western credit to secure grain imports, without which it wouldn’t have been able to raise enough livestock to feed its population. It was led by the feckless and malleable Gorbachev—an appeaser, a capitulator, and a world-class windbag whose wife loved to go shopping in London. The Russian people despised him and referred to him as “Mishka the Marked,” thanks to his birthmark. And now Russia is resurgent, is one of the world’s largest grain exporters, and is being led by the defiant and implacable President Putin who enjoys an approval rating of over 80%. In comparing pre-collapse USSR to Russia today, commentators and analysts showcase their ignorance.

Conclusions

This part almost writes itself. It’s a recipe for disaster, so I’ll write it out as a recipe.

1. Take a nation of people who respond to offense by damning you to hell, and refusing to having anything more to do with you, rather than fighting. Make sure that this is a nation whose natural resources are essential for keeping your lights on and your houses heated, for making your passenger airliners and your jet fighters, and for a great many other things. Keep in mind, a quarter of the light bulbs in the US light up thanks to Russian nuclear fuel, whereas a cut-off of Russian gas to Europe would be a cataclysm of the first order.

2. Make them feel that they are being invaded by installing a government that is hostile to them in a territory that they consider part of their historical homeland. The only truly non-Russian part of the Ukraine is Galicia, which parted company many centuries ago and which, most Russians will tell you, “You can take to hell with you.” If you like your neo-Nazis, you can keep your neo-Nazis. Also keep in mind how the Russians deal with invaders: they freeze them out.

3. Impose economic and financial sanctions on Russia. Watch in dismay as your exporters start losing money when in instant retaliation Russia blocks your agricultural exports. Keep in mind that this is a country that, thanks to surviving a long string of invasion attempts, traditionally relies on potentially hostile foreign states to finance its defense against them. If they fail to do so, then it will resort to other ways of deterring them, such as freezing them out. “No gas for NATO members” seems like a catchy slogan. Hope and pray that it doesn’t catch on in Moscow.

4. Mount an attack on their national currency, causing it to lose part of its value on par with a lower price of oil. Watch in dismay as Russian officials laugh all the way to the central bank because the lower ruble has caused state revenues to remain unchanged in spite of lower oil prices, erasing a potential budget deficit. Watch in dismay as your exporters go bankrupt because their exports are priced out of the Russian market. Keep in mind, Russia has no national debt to speak of, runs a negligible budget deficit, has plentiful foreign currency reserves and ample gold reserves. Also keep in mind that your banks have loaned hundreds of billions of dollars to Russian businesses (which you have just deprived of access to your banking system by imposing sanctions). Hope and pray that Russia doesn’t put a freeze on debt repayments to western banks until the sanctions are lifted, since that would blow up your banks.

5. Watch in dismay as Russia signs major natural gas export deals with everyone except you. Is there going to be enough gas left for you when they are done? Well, it appears that this no longer a concern for the Russians, because you have offended them, and, being who they are, they told you to go to hell (don’t forget to take Galicia with you) and will now deal with other, friendlier countries.

6. Continue to watch in dismay as Russia actively looks for ways to sever most of the trade links with you, finding suppliers in other parts of the world or organizing production for import replacement.

But now comes a surprise—an underreported one, to say the least. Russia has just offered the EU a deal. If the EU refuses to join the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the US (which, by the way, would hurt it economically) then it can join the Customs Union with Russia. Why freeze yourselves out when we can all freeze out Washington instead? This is the restitution Russia would accept for the EU’s offensive behavior with regard to the Ukraine and the sanctions. Coming from a customs state, it is a most generous offer. A lot went into making it: the recognition that the EU poses no military threat to Russia and not much of an economic one either; the fact that the European countries are all very cute and tiny and lovable, and make tasty cheeses and sausages; the understanding that their current crop of national politicians is feckless and beholden to Washington, and that they need a big push in order to understand where their nations’ true interests lie… Will the EU accept this offer, or will they accept Galicia as a new member and “freeze out”?

 

 

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

The Imperial Collapse Playbook

Off the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov

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Putin-chessPublished at Club Orlov on December 30, 2015

Some people enjoy having the Big Picture laid out in front of them—the biggest possible—on what is happening in the world at large, and I am happy to oblige. The largest development of 2014 is, very broadly, this: the Anglo-imperialists are finally being forced out of Eurasia. How can we tell? Well, here is the Big Picture—the biggest I could find. I found it thanks to Nikolai Starikov and a recent article of his.

 Now, let’s first define our terms. By Anglo-imperialists I mean the combination of Britain and the United States. The latter took over for the former as it failed, turning it into a protectorate. Now the latter is failing too, and there are no new up-and-coming Anglo-imperialists to take over for it. But throughout this process their common playbook had remained the same: pseudoliberal pseudocapitalism for the insiders and military domination and economic exploitation for everyone else. Much more specifically, their playbook always called for a certain strategem to be executed whenever their plans to dominate and exploit any given country finally fail. On their way out, they do what they can to compromise and weaken the entity they leave behind, by inflicting a permanently oozing and festering political wound. “Poison all the wells” is the last thing on their pre-departure checklist.

• When the British got tossed out of their American Colonies, they did all they could, using a combination of import preferences and British “soft power,” to bolster the plantation economy of the American South, helping set it up as a sort of anti-United States, and the eventual result was the American Civil War.

• When the British got tossed out of Ireland, they set up Belfast as a sort of anti-Ireland, with much blood shed as a result.

• When the British got tossed out of the Middle East, they set up the State of Israel, then the US made it into its own protectorate, and it has been poisoning regional politics ever since. (Thanks to Kristina for pointing this out in the comments.)

• When the British got tossed out of India, they set up Pakistan, as a sort of anti-India, precipitating a nasty hot war, followed by a frozen conflict over Kashmir.

• When the US lost China to the Communists, they evacuated the Nationalists to Taiwan, and set it up as a sort of anti-China, and even gave it China’s seat at the United Nations.

The goal is always the same: if they can’t have the run of the place, they make sure that nobody else can either, by setting up a conflict scenario that nobody there can ever hope to resolve. And so if you see Anglo-imperialists going out of their way and spending lots of money to poison the political well somewhere in the world, you can be sure that they are on their way out. Simply put, they don’t spend lots of money to set up intractable problems for themselves to solve—it’s always done for the benefit of others.

Fast-forward to 2014, and what we saw was the Anglo-imperialist attempt to set up Ukraine as a sort of anti-Russia. They took a Slavic, mostly Russian-speaking country and spent billions (that’s with a “b”) of dollars corrupting its politics to make the Ukrainians hate the Russians. For a good while an average Ukrainian could earn a month’s salary simply by turning up for an anti-Russian demonstration in Kiev, and it was said that nobody in Ukraine goes to protests free of charge; it’s all paid for by the US State Department and associated American NGOs. The result was what we saw this year: a bloody coup, and a civil war marked by numerous atrocities. Ukraine is in the midst of economic collapse with power plants out of coal and lights going off everywhere, while at the same time the Ukrainians are being drafted into the army and indoctrinated to want to go fight against “the Muscovites.”

But, if you notice, things didn’t go quite as planned. First, Russia succeeded in making a nice little example of self-determination in the form of Crimea: if it worked for Kosovo, why can’t it work for Crimea? Oh, the Anglo-imperialist establishment wishes to handle these things on a case-by-case basis, and in this case it doesn’t approve? Well, that would be a double-standard, wouldn’t it? World, please take note: when the West talks about justice and human rights, that’s just noise.

Next, the Russians provided some amount of support, including weapons, volunteers and humanitarian aid, to Ukraine’s eastern provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk, which declared themselves People’s Republics and successfully fought Ukraine’s so-called “anti-terrorist operation” to a stalemate and an imperfect, precarious cease-fire. Very significantly, Russia absolutely refused to get involved militarily, has withheld official recognition of these republics, has refused to consider breaking up Ukraine, and continues to insist on national dialogue and a peace process even as the bullets fly. According to Putin, Ukraine must be maintained as “a contiguous political space.” Thus, the Russians have responded to the Anglo-imperialists’ setting up of an anti-Russia in the form of Ukraine by setting up an anti-Ukraine in the form of DPR and LPR, thereby shunting the Anglo-imperialist attempt to provoke a war between Ukraine and Russia into a civil war within Ukraine.

You might also notice that the Anglo-imperialists have been getting very, very angry. They have been doing everything they can to vilify Russia, comparing Putin to Hitler and so on. This is because for them it’s all about the money, and they didn’t get what they paid for. What the Anglo-imperialists were paying for in corrupting Ukraine’s politics was a ring-side seat at a fight between Ukraine and Russia. And what they got instead is a two-legged stool at a bar-room brawl between Eastern and Western Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine accounts for a quarter of the Ukrainian economy, produces most of the coal that had formerly kept the lights on in the rest of the country, and contains most of the industry that had made Ukraine an industrialized nation. Western Ukraine is centered on the unhappy little rump of Galicia, where the political soil is so fertile for growing neo-Nazis. So, paying billions to watch a bunch of Ukrainians fight each other inconclusively while Russia gets to play peacemaker is not what the Anglo-imperialists wanted, and they are absolutely livid about it. If they don’t get the war they paid for PDQ, they will simply cut their losses, pack up and leave, and then do what they always do, which is pretend that the country in question doesn’t exist, which, the way things are going in the Ukraine, it barely will.

Note that leaving, and then pretending that a place doesn’t exist, is something the Anglo-imperialists have been doing a lot lately. When they left Iraq, they did succeed in setting up a sort of anti-Iraq in the form of Iraqi Kurdistan, but that all blew up in their face. Their attempts to set up an anti-Syria or an anti-Libya died in their infancy, and they don’t seem to have any plan at all with regard to Afghanistan, unless it is to repeat every single blunder the Soviets made there as carefully and completely as possible.

What’s more, it’s starting to look like they are about to get kicked out of Eurasia altogether. Most of the major Eurasian players—China, Russia, India, Iran, much of Central Asia—are cementing their ties around the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, to which the United States isn’t even admitted as an observer. As for the European Union, the current crop of EU politicians is very much bought and will be paid for upon retirement by the Anglo-imperialists, but the only reason they are still in power is that there are lots of older voters in Western Europe, and older people tend to cling to what they know even after it stops working—for them or, especially, for their kids. If it was up to the young people, the Anglo-imperialists would face open rebellion. In fact, the trends in voting patterns show that their departure from the region is a matter of time.

Here is a preview of possible coming attractions. On their way out, the Anglo-imperialists will of course try to set up an anti-Europe, and the obvious choice for that is Britain. Of all the European nations, it is the most heavily manipulated by their Anglo cousins from across the pond. It would take minimal effort for them to hurt Britain economically, then launch a propaganda campaign to redirect the blame for the bad economy toward the continent. They wouldn’t even have to hire translators for their propaganda—a simple “spelling-chequer” (or whatever) would suffice. And so, to make sure that their efforts to provoke a large-scale, hugely destructive, festering conflict between Britain and Europe fail, Europe would do well to set up an anti-Britain within Britain.

And the obvious choice for an anti-Britain is of course Scotland, where the recent independence referendum failed because of… the recalcitrance of older voters. A dividing line between the Anglo empire and Eurasia running through the English Channel/La Manche would be a disaster for Europe and moving it somewhere west of Bermuda would pose a formidable challenge. On the other hand, suppose that line ran along Hadrian’s Wall, with the traditionally combative and ornery Scots, armed with the remnants of North Sea oil and gas, aligning themselves with the Continent, while England remains an ever-so-obedient vassal of the Anglo-imperialists? That would reduce the intercontinental conflict to what Americans like to call a “pissing contest”: not worth the high price of admission. Yes, there would be some strong words between the two sides, and some shoving and shouting outside of pubs, and even some black eyes and loose teeth should diplomacy fail, but that should be the extent of the damage. That I see as the best-case outcome.

So that’s the big picture I see heading into 2015, which I am sure will be a most tumultuous year. Not to make a prediction as to timing (don’t worry, you won’t ever get one out of me!) but 2015 could be the year the Anglo-imperialist franchise finally starts shutting down in obvious ways. We know it will have to shut down eventually, because failing all the time is not conducive to its survival. The bonus question is, what sort of anti-America will these parasites set up inside America before they abandon their host and scatter to their fortified compounds in undisclosed locations around the world? Or will they not even bother, and just provoke a war of all against all?

I would think that they would at least try to leverage their expensively engineered red/blue divide within the United States. This fake cultural/political divide, with all the pseudoliberal/pseudoconservative indoctrination and university- and church-based brainwashing that put it in place, cost them a pretty penny. It was engineered to produce the appearance of choice at election-time while making sure that there isn’t any. But could it not be pressed into service in some more extreme manner? How about leveraging it to organize some sort of rabidly homophobic racist fundamentalist separatist enclave somewhere down south? Or perhaps one somewhere in the north, where zoophilia is de rigeurwhile heterosexual intercourse requires a special permit from a committee stocked with graduates in women’s studies? Now, fight, you idiots! Don’t you see how well that could work in practice? Would they waste such a nice opportunity to set up a system of controlled mayhem? I think not!

I leave all of that up to you to imagine.

Happy New Year!

 

 

Dmitry Orlov is a Russian-American engineer and a writer on subjects related to “potential economic, ecological and political decline and collapse in the United States,” something he has called “permanent crisis”. He  has written The Five Stages of Collapse and Reinventing Collapse, continues to write regularly on his “Club Orlov” blog and at EnergyBulletin.Net.

Putin to Western Elites: Play-time is Over

Off the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov

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Published on Club Orlov on October 29, 2014

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Most people in the English-speaking parts of the world missed Putin’s speech at the Valdai conference in Sochi a few days ago, and, chances are, those of you who have heard of the speech didn’t get a chance to read it, and missed its importance. (For your convenience, I am pasting in the full transcript of his speech below.) Western media did their best to ignore it or to twist its meaning. Regardless of what you think or don’t think of Putin (like the sun and the moon, he does not exist for you to cultivate an opinion) this is probably the most important political speech since Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech of March 5, 1946.

In this speech, Putin abruptly changed the rules of the game. Previously, the game of international politics was played as follows: politicians made public pronouncements, for the sake of maintaining a pleasant fiction of national sovereignty, but they were strictly for show and had nothing to do with the substance of international politics; in the meantime, they engaged in secret back-room negotiations, in which the actual deals were hammered out. Previously, Putin tried to play this game, expecting only that Russia be treated as an equal. But these hopes have been dashed, and at this conference he declared the game to be over, explicitly violating Western taboo by speaking directly to the people over the heads of elite clans and political leaders.

The Russian blogger chipstone summarized the most salient points from Putin speech as follows:

1. Russia will no longer play games and engage in back-room negotiations over trifles. But Russia is prepared for serious conversations and agreements, if these are conducive to collective security, are based on fairness and take into account the interests of each side.

2. All systems of global collective security now lie in ruins. There are no longer any international security guarantees at all. And the entity that destroyed them has a name: The United States of America.

3. The builders of the New World Order have failed, having built a sand castle. Whether or not a new world order of any sort is to be built is not just Russia’s decision, but it is a decision that will not be made without Russia.

4. Russia favors a conservative approach to introducing innovations into the social order, but is not opposed to investigating and discussing such innovations, to see if introducing any of them might be justified.

5. Russia has no intention of going fishing in the murky waters created by America’s ever-expanding “empire of chaos,” and has no interest in building a new empire of her own (this is unnecessary; Russia’s challenges lie in developing her already vast territory). Neither is Russia willing to act as a savior of the world, as she had in the past.

6. Russia will not attempt to reformat the world in her own image, but neither will she allow anyone to reformat her in their image. Russia will not close herself off from the world, but anyone who tries to close her off from the world will be sure to reap a whirlwind.

7. Russia does not wish for the chaos to spread, does not want war, and has no intention of starting one. However, today Russia sees the outbreak of global war as almost inevitable, is prepared for it, and is continuing to prepare for it. Russia does not war—nor does she fear it.

8. Russia does not intend to take an active role in thwarting those who are still attempting to construct their New World Order—until their efforts start to impinge on Russia’s key interests. Russia would prefer to stand by and watch them give themselves as many lumps as their poor heads can take. But those who manage to drag Russia into this process, through disregard for her interests, will be taught the true meaning of pain.

9. In her external, and, even more so, internal politics, Russia’s power will rely not on the elites and their back-room dealing, but on the will of the people.

To these nine points I would like to add a tenth:

10. There is still a chance to construct a new world order that will avoid a world war. This new world order must of necessity include the United States—but can only do so on the same terms as everyone else: subject to international law and international agreements; refraining from all unilateral action; in full respect of the sovereignty of other nations.

To sum it all up: play-time is over. Children, put away your toys. Now is the time for the adults to make decisions. Russia is ready for this; is the world?

Text of Vladimir Putin’s speech and a question and answer session at the final plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club’s XI session in Sochi on 24 October 2014.

It was mentioned already that the club has new co-organizers this year. They include Russian non-governmental organizations, expert groups and leading universities. The idea was also raised of broadening the discussions to include not just issues related to Russia itself but also global politics and the economy.

An organization and content will bolster the club’s influence as a leading discussion and expert forum. At the same time, I hope the ‘Valdai spirit’ will remain – this free and open atmosphere and chance to express all manner of very different and frank opinions.

Let me say in this respect that I will also not let you down and will speak directly and frankly. Some of what I say might seem a bit too harsh, but if we do not speak directly and honestly about what we really think, then there is little point in even meeting in this way. It would be better in that case just to keep to diplomatic get-togethers, where no one says anything of real sense and, recalling the words of one famous diplomat, you realize that diplomats have tongues so as not to speak the truth.
We get together for other reasons. We get together so as to talk frankly with each other. We need to be direct and blunt today not so as to trade barbs, but so as to attempt to get to the bottom of what is actually happening in the world, try to understand why the world is becoming less safe and more unpredictable, and why the risks are increasing everywhere around us.

Today’s discussion took place under the theme: New Rules or a Game without Rules. I think that this formula accurately describes the historic turning point we have reached today and the choice we all face. There is nothing new of course in the idea that the world is changing very fast. I know this is something you have spoken about at the discussions today. It is certainly hard not to notice the dramatic transformations in global politics and the economy, public life, and in industry, information and social technologies.

Let me ask you right now to forgive me if I end up repeating what some of the discussion’s participants have already said. It’s practically impossible to avoid. You have already held detailed discussions, but I will set out my point of view. It will coincide with other participants’ views on some points and differ on others.

As we analyze today’s situation, let us not forget history’s lessons. First of all, changes in the world order – and what we are seeing today are events on this scale – have usually been accompanied by if not global war and conflict, then by chains of intensive local-level conflicts. Second, global politics is above all about economic leadership, issues of war and peace, and the humanitarian dimension, including human rights.

The world is full of contradictions today. We need to be frank in asking each other if we have a reliable safety net in place. Sadly, there is no guarantee and no certainty that the current system of global and regional security is able to protect us from upheavals. This system has become seriously weakened, fragmented and deformed. The international and regional political, economic, and cultural cooperation organizations are also going through difficult times.

Yes, many of the mechanisms we have for ensuring the world order were created quite a long time ago now, including and above all in the period immediately following World War II. Let me stress that the solidity of the system created back then rested not only on the balance of power and the rights of the victor countries, but on the fact that this system’s ‘founding fathers’ had respect for each other, did not try to put the squeeze on others, but attempted to reach agreements.

The main thing is that this system needs to develop, and despite its various shortcomings, needs to at least be capable of keeping the world’s current problems within certain limits and regulating the intensity of the natural competition between countries.

It is my conviction that we could not take this mechanism of checks and balances that we built over the last decades, sometimes with such effort and difficulty, and simply tear it apart without building anything in its place. Otherwise we would be left with no instruments other than brute force.

What we needed to do was to carry out a rational reconstruction and adapt it the new realities in the system of international relations.

But the United States, having declared itself the winner of the Cold War, saw no need for this. Instead of establishing a new balance of power, essential for maintaining order and stability, they took steps that threw the system into sharp and deep imbalance.

The Cold War ended, but it did not end with the signing of a peace treaty with clear and transparent agreements on respecting existing rules or creating new rules and standards. This created the impression that the so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests. If the existing system of international relations, international law and the checks and balances in place got in the way of these aims, this system was declared worthless, outdated and in need of immediate demolition.
Pardon the analogy, but this is the way nouveaux riches behave when they suddenly end up with a great fortune, in this case, in the shape of world leadership and domination. Instead of managing their wealth wisely, for their own benefit too of course, I think they have committed many follies.

We have entered a period of differing interpretations and deliberate silences in world politics. International law has been forced to retreat over and over by the onslaught of legal nihilism. Objectivity and justice have been sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. Arbitrary interpretations and biased assessments have replaced legal norms. At the same time, total control of the global mass media has made it possible when desired to portray white as black and black as white.

In a situation where you had domination by one country and its allies, or its satellites rather, the search for global solutions often turned into an attempt to impose their own universal recipes. This group’s ambitions grew so big that they started presenting the policies they put together in their corridors of power as the view of the entire international community. But this is not the case.

The very notion of ‘national sovereignty’ became a relative value for most countries. In essence, what was being proposed was the formula: the greater the loyalty towards the world’s sole power centre, the greater this or that ruling regime’s legitimacy.

We will have a free discussion afterwards and I will be happy to answer your questions and would also like to use my right to ask you questions. Let someone try to disprove the arguments that I just set out during the upcoming discussion.

The measures taken against those who refuse to submit are well-known and have been tried and tested many times. They include use of force, economic and propaganda pressure, meddling in domestic affairs, and appeals to a kind of ‘supra-legal’ legitimacy when they need to justify illegal intervention in this or that conflict or toppling inconvenient regimes. Of late, we have increasing evidence too that outright blackmail has been used with regard to a number of leaders. It is not for nothing that ‘big brother’ is spending billions of dollars on keeping the whole world, including its own closest allies, under surveillance.

Let’s ask ourselves, how comfortable are we with this, how safe are we, how happy living in this world, and how fair and rational has it become? Maybe, we have no real reasons to worry, argue and ask awkward questions? Maybe the United States’ exceptional position and the way they are carrying out their leadership really is a blessing for us all, and their meddling in events all around the world is bringing peace, prosperity, progress, growth and democracy, and we should maybe just relax and enjoy it all?

Let me say that this is not the case, absolutely not the case.

A unilateral diktat and imposing one’s own models produces the opposite result. Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neo-fascists to Islamic radicals.

Why do they support such people? They do this because they decide to use them as instruments along the way in achieving their goals but then burn their fingers and recoil. I never cease to be amazed by the way that our partners just keep stepping on the same rake, as we say here in Russia, that is to say, make the same mistake over and over.

They once sponsored Islamic extremist movements to fight the Soviet Union. Those groups got their battle experience in Afghanistan and later gave birth to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. The West if not supported, at least closed its eyes, and, I would say, gave information, political and financial support to international terrorists’ invasion of Russia (we have not forgotten this) and the Central Asian region’s countries. Only after horrific terrorist attacks were committed on US soil itself did the United States wake up to the common threat of terrorism. Let me remind you that we were the first country to support the American people back then, the first to react as friends and partners to the terrible tragedy of September 11.

During my conversations with American and European leaders, I always spoke of the need to fight terrorism together, as a challenge on a global scale. We cannot resign ourselves to and accept this threat, cannot cut it into separate pieces using double standards. Our partners expressed agreement, but a little time passed and we ended up back where we started. First there was the military operation in Iraq, then in Libya, which got pushed to the brink of falling apart. Why was Libya pushed into this situation? Today it is a country in danger of breaking apart and has become a training ground for terrorists.

Only the current Egyptian leadership’s determination and wisdom saved this key Arab country from chaos and having extremists run rampant. In Syria, as in the past, the United States and its allies started directly financing and arming rebels and allowing them to fill their ranks with mercenaries from various countries. Let me ask where do these rebels get their money, arms and military specialists? Where does all this come from? How did the notorious ISIL manage to become such a powerful group, essentially a real armed force?

As for financing sources, today, the money is coming not just from drugs, production of which has increased not just by a few percentage points but many-fold, since the international coalition forces have been present in Afghanistan. You are aware of this. The terrorists are getting money from selling oil too. Oil is produced in territory controlled by the terrorists, who sell it at dumping prices, produce it and transport it. But someone buys this oil, resells it, and makes a profit from it, not thinking about the fact that they are thus financing terrorists who could come sooner or later to their own soil and sow destruction in their own countries.

Where do they get new recruits? In Iraq, after Saddam Hussein was toppled, the state’s institutions, including the army, were left in ruins. We said back then, be very, very careful. You are driving people out into the street, and what will they do there? Don’t forget (rightfully or not) that they were in the leadership of a large regional power, and what are you now turning them into?

What was the result? Tens of thousands of soldiers, officers and former Baath Party activists were turned out into the streets and today have joined the rebels’ ranks. Perhaps this is what explains why the Islamic State group has turned out so effective? In military terms, it is acting very effectively and has some very professional people. Russia warned repeatedly about the dangers of unilateral military actions, intervening in sovereign states’ affairs, and flirting with extremists and radicals. We insisted on having the groups fighting the central Syrian government, above all the Islamic State, included on the lists of terrorist organizations. But did we see any results? We appealed in vain.

We sometimes get the impression that our colleagues and friends are constantly fighting the consequences of their own policies, throw all their effort into addressing the risks they themselves have created, and pay an ever-greater price.

Colleagues, this period of unipolar domination has convincingly demonstrated that having only one power centre does not make global processes more manageable. On the contrary, this kind of unstable construction has shown its inability to fight the real threats such as regional conflicts, terrorism, drug trafficking, religious fanaticism, chauvinism and neo-Nazism. At the same time, it has opened the road wide for inflated national pride, manipulating public opinion and letting the strong bully and suppress the weak.

Essentially, the unipolar world is simply a means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries. The unipolar world turned out too uncomfortable, heavy and unmanageable a burden even for the self-proclaimed leader. Comments along this line were made here just before and I fully agree with this. This is why we see attempts at this new historic stage to recreate a semblance of a quasi-bipolar world as a convenient model for perpetuating American leadership. It does not matter who takes the place of the centre of evil in American propaganda, the USSR’s old place as the main adversary. It could be Iran, as a country seeking to acquire nuclear technology, China, as the world’s biggest economy, or Russia, as a nuclear superpower.

Today, we are seeing new efforts to fragment the world, draw new dividing lines, put together coalitions not built for something but directed against someone, anyone, create the image of an enemy as was the case during the Cold War years, and obtain the right to this leadership, or diktat if you wish. The situation was presented this way during the Cold War. We all understand this and know this. The United States always told its allies: “We have a common enemy, a terrible foe, the centre of evil, and we are defending you, our allies, from this foe, and so we have the right to order you around, force you to sacrifice your political and economic interests and pay your share of the costs for this collective defense, but we will be the ones in charge of it all of course.” In short, we see today attempts in a new and changing world to reproduce the familiar models of global management, and all this so as to guarantee their [the US’] exceptional position and reap political and economic dividends.

But these attempts are increasingly divorced from reality and are in contradiction with the world’s diversity. Steps of this kind inevitably create confrontation and countermeasures and have the opposite effect to the hoped-for goals. We see what happens when politics rashly starts meddling in the economy and the logic of rational decisions gives way to the logic of confrontation that only hurt one’s own economic positions and interests, including national business interests.

Joint economic projects and mutual investment objectively bring countries closer together and help to smooth out current problems in relations between states. But today, the global business community faces unprecedented pressure from Western governments. What business, economic expediency and pragmatism can we speak of when we hear slogans such as “the homeland is in danger”, “the free world is under threat”, and “democracy is in jeopardy”? And so everyone needs to mobilize. That is what a real mobilization policy looks like.

Sanctions are already undermining the foundations of world trade, the WTO rules and the principle of inviolability of private property. They are dealing a blow to liberal model of globalization based on markets, freedom and competition, which, let me note, is a model that has primarily benefited precisely the Western countries. And now they risk losing trust as the leaders of globalization. We have to ask ourselves, why was this necessary? After all, the United States’ prosperity rests in large part on the trust of investors and foreign holders of dollars and US securities. This trust is clearly being undermined and signs of disappointment in the fruits of globalization are visible now in many countries.  

The well-known Cyprus precedent and the politically motivated sanctions have only strengthened the trend towards seeking to bolster economic and financial sovereignty and countries’ or their regional groups’ desire to find ways of protecting themselves from the risks of outside pressure. We already see that more and more countries are looking for ways to become less dependent on the dollar and are setting up alternative financial and payments systems and reserve currencies. I think that our American friends are quite simply cutting the branch they are sitting on. You cannot mix politics and the economy, but this is what is happening now. I have always thought and still think today that politically motivated sanctions were a mistake that will harm everyone, but I am sure that we will come back to this subject later.

We know how these decisions were taken and who was applying the pressure. But let me stress that Russia is not going to get all worked up, get offended or come begging at anyone’s door. Russia is a self-sufficient country. We will work within the foreign economic environment that has taken shape, develop domestic production and technology and act more decisively to carry out transformation. Pressure from outside, as has been the case on past occasions, will only consolidate our society, keep us alert and make us concentrate on our main development goals.

Of course the sanctions are a hindrance. They are trying to hurt us through these sanctions, block our development and push us into political, economic and cultural isolation, force us into backwardness in other words. But let me say yet again that the world is a very different place today. We have no intention of shutting ourselves off from anyone and choosing some kind of closed development road, trying to live in autarky. We are always open to dialogue, including on normalizing our economic and political relations. We are counting here on the pragmatic approach and position of business communities in the leading countries.

Some are saying today that Russia is supposedly turning its back on Europe – such words were probably spoken already here too during the discussions – and is looking for new business partners, above all in Asia. Let me say that this is absolutely not the case. Our active policy in the Asian-Pacific region began not just yesterday and not in response to sanctions, but is a policy that we have been following for a good many years now. Like many other countries, including Western countries, we saw that Asia is playing an ever greater role in the world, in the economy and in politics, and there is simply no way we can afford to overlook these developments.

Let me say again that everyone is doing this, and we will do so to, all the more so as a large part of our country is geographically in Asia. Why should we not make use of our competitive advantages in this area? It would be extremely shortsighted not to do so.

Developing economic ties with these countries and carrying out joint integration projects also creates big incentives for our domestic development. Today’s demographic, economic and cultural trends all suggest that dependence on a sole superpower will objectively decrease. This is something that European and American experts have been talking and writing about too.

Perhaps developments in global politics will mirror the developments we are seeing in the global economy, namely, intensive competition for specific niches and frequent change of leaders in specific areas. This is entirely possible.

There is no doubt that humanitarian factors such as education, science, healthcare and culture are playing a greater role in global competition. This also has a big impact on international relations, including because this ‘soft power’ resource will depend to a great extent on real achievements in developing human capital rather than on sophisticated propaganda tricks.

At the same time, the formation of a so-called polycentric world (I would also like to draw attention to this, colleagues) in and of itself does not improve stability; in fact, it is more likely to be the opposite. The goal of reaching global equilibrium is turning into a fairly difficult puzzle, an equation with many unknowns.
So, what is in store for us if we choose not to live by the rules – even if they may be strict and inconvenient – but rather live without any rules at all? And that scenario is entirely possible; we cannot rule it out, given the tensions in the global situation. Many predictions can already be made, taking into account current trends, and unfortunately, they are not optimistic. If we do not create a clear system of mutual commitments and agreements, if we do not build the mechanisms for managing and resolving crisis situations, the symptoms of global anarchy will inevitably grow.

Today, we already see a sharp increase in the likelihood of a whole set of violent conflicts with either direct or indirect participation by the world’s major powers. And the risk factors include not just traditional multinational conflicts, but also the internal instability in separate states, especially when we talk about nations located at the intersections of major states’ geopolitical interests, or on the border of cultural, historical, and economic civilizational continents.

Ukraine, which I’m sure was discussed at length and which we will discuss some more, is one of the example of such sorts of conflicts that affect international power balance, and I think it will certainly not be the last. From here emanates the next real threat of destroying the current system of arms control agreements. And this dangerous process was launched by the United States of America when it unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, and then set about and continues today to actively pursue the creation of its global missile defense system.

Colleagues, friends, I want to point out that we did not start this. Once again, we are sliding into the times when, instead of the balance of interests and mutual guarantees, it is fear and the balance of mutual destruction that prevent nations from engaging in direct conflict. In absence of legal and political instruments, arms are once again becoming the focal point of the global agenda; they are used wherever and however, without any UN Security Council sanctions. And if the Security Council refuses to produce such decisions, then it is immediately declared to be an outdated and ineffective instrument.

Many states do not see any other ways of ensuring their sovereignty but to obtain their own bombs. This is extremely dangerous. We insist on continuing talks; we are not only in favor of talks, but insist on continuing talks to reduce nuclear arsenals. The less nuclear weapons we have in the world, the better. And we are ready for the most serious, concrete discussions on nuclear disarmament – but only serious discussions without any double standards.

What do I mean? Today, many types of high-precision weaponry are already close to mass-destruction weapons in terms of their capabilities, and in the event of full renunciation of nuclear weapons or radical reduction of nuclear potential, nations that are leaders in creating and producing high-precision systems will have a clear military advantage. Strategic parity will be disrupted, and this is likely to bring destabilization. The use of a so-called first global pre-emptive strike may become tempting. In short, the risks do not decrease, but intensify.

The next obvious threat is the further escalation of ethnic, religious, and social conflicts. Such conflicts are dangerous not only as such, but also because they create zones of anarchy, lawlessness, and chaos around them, places that are comfortable for terrorists and criminals, where piracy, human trafficking, and drug trafficking flourish.

Incidentally, at the time, our colleagues tried to somehow manage these processes, use regional conflicts and design ‘color revolutions’ to suit their interests, but the genie escaped the bottle. It looks like the controlled chaos theory fathers themselves do not know what to do with it; there is disarray in their ranks.

We closely follow the discussions by both the ruling elite and the expert community. It is enough to look at the headlines of the Western press over the last year. The same people are called fighters for democracy, and then Islamists; first they write about revolutions and then call them riots and upheavals. The result is obvious: the further expansion of global chaos.

Colleagues, given the global situation, it is time to start agreeing on fundamental things. This is incredibly important and necessary; this is much better than going back to our own corners. The more we all face common problems, the more we find ourselves in the same boat, so to speak. And the logical way out is in cooperation between nations, societies, in finding collective answers to increasing challenges, and in joint risk management. Granted, some of our partners, for some reason, remember this only when it suits their interests.

Practical experience shows that joint answers to challenges are not always a panacea; and we need to understand this. Moreover, in most cases, they are hard to reach; it is not easy to overcome the differences in national interests, the subjectivity of different approaches, particularly when it comes to nations with different cultural and historical traditions. But nevertheless, we have examples when, having common goals and acting based on the same criteria, together we achieved real success.

Let me remind you about solving the problem of chemical weapons in Syria, and the substantive dialogue on the Iranian nuclear program, as well as our work on North Korean issues, which also has some positive results. Why can’t we use this experience in the future to solve local and global challenges?
What could be the legal, political, and economic basis for a new world order that would allow for stability and security, while encouraging healthy competition, not allowing the formation of new monopolies that hinder development? It is unlikely that someone could provide absolutely exhaustive, ready-made solutions right now. We will need extensive work with participation by a wide range of governments, global businesses, civil society, and such expert platforms as ours.

However, it is obvious that success and real results are only possible if key participants in international affairs can agree on harmonizing basic interests, on reasonable self-restraint, and set the example of positive and responsible leadership. We must clearly identify where unilateral actions end and we need to apply multilateral mechanisms, and as part of improving the effectiveness of international law, we must resolve the dilemma between the actions by international community to ensure security and human rights and the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of any state.

Those very collisions increasingly lead to arbitrary external interference in complex internal processes, and time and again, they provoke dangerous conflicts between leading global players. The issue of maintaining sovereignty becomes almost paramount in maintaining and strengthening global stability.

Clearly, discussing the criteria for the use of external force is extremely difficult; it is practically impossible to separate it from the interests of particular nations. However, it is far more dangerous when there are no agreements that are clear to everyone, when no clear conditions are set for necessary and legal interference.

I will add that international relations must be based on international law, which itself should rest on moral principles such as justice, equality and truth. Perhaps most important is respect for one’s partners and their interests. This is an obvious formula, but simply following it could radically change the global situation.

I am certain that if there is a will, we can restore the effectiveness of the international and regional institutions system. We do not even need to build anything anew, from the scratch; this is not a “greenfield,” especially since the institutions created after World War II are quite universal and can be given modern substance, adequate to manage the current situation.

This is true of improving the work of the UN, whose central role is irreplaceable, as well as the OSCE, which, over the course of 40 years, has proven to be a necessary mechanism for ensuring security and cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic region. I must say that even now, in trying to resolve the crisis in southeast Ukraine, the OSCE is playing a very positive role.

In light of the fundamental changes in the international environment, the increase in uncontrollability and various threats, we need a new global consensus of responsible forces. It’s not about some local deals or a division of spheres of influence in the spirit of classic diplomacy, or somebody’s complete global domination. I think that we need a new version of interdependence. We should not be afraid of it. On the contrary, this is a good instrument for harmonizing positions.

This is particularly relevant given the strengthening and growth of certain regions on the planet, which process objectively requires institutionalization of such new poles, creating powerful regional organizations and developing rules for their interaction. Cooperation between these centers would seriously add to the stability of global security, policy and economy.  But in order to establish such a dialogue, we need to proceed from the assumption that all regional centers and integration projects forming around them need to have equal rights to development, so that they can complement each other and nobody can force them into conflict or opposition artificially. Such destructive actions would break down ties between states, and the states themselves would be subjected to extreme hardship, or perhaps even total destruction.

I would like to remind you of the last year’s events. We have told our American and European partners that hasty backstage decisions, for example, on Ukraine’s association with the EU, are fraught with serious risks to the economy. We didn’t even say anything about politics; we spoke only about the economy, saying that such steps, made without any prior arrangements, touch on the interests of many other nations, including Russia as Ukraine’s main trade partner, and that a wide discussion of the issues is necessary. Incidentally, in this regard, I will remind you that, for example, the talks on Russia’s accession to the WTO lasted 19 years. This was very difficult work, and a certain consensus was reached.

Why am I bringing this up? Because in implementing Ukraine’s association project, our partners would come to us with their goods and services through the back gate, so to speak, and we did not agree to this, nobody asked us about this. We had discussions on all topics related to Ukraine’s association with the EU, persistent discussions, but I want to stress that this was done in an entirely civilized manner, indicating possible problems, showing the obvious reasoning and arguments. Nobody wanted to listen to us and nobody wanted to talk. They simply told us: this is none of your business, point, end of discussion. Instead of a comprehensive but – I stress – civilized dialogue, it all came down to a government overthrow; they plunged the country into chaos, into economic and social collapse, into a civil war with enormous casualties.

Why? When I ask my colleagues why, they no longer have an answer; nobody says anything. That’s it. Everyone’s at a loss, saying it just turned out that way. Those actions should not have been encouraged – it wouldn’t have worked. After all (I already spoke about this), former Ukrainian President Yanukovych signed everything, agreed with everything. Why do it? What was the point? What is this, a civilized way of solving problems? Apparently, those who constantly throw together new ‘color revolutions’ consider themselves ‘brilliant artists’ and simply cannot stop.

I am certain that the work of integrated associations, the cooperation of regional structures, should be built on a transparent, clear basis; the Eurasian Economic Union’s formation process is a good example of such transparency. The states that are parties to this project informed their partners of their plans in advance, specifying the parameters of our association, the principles of its work, which fully correspond with the World Trade Organization rules.

I will add that we would also have welcomed the start of a concrete dialogue between the Eurasian and European Union. Incidentally, they have almost completely refused us this as well, and it is also unclear why – what is so scary about it?

And, of course, with such joint work, we would think that we need to engage in dialogue (I spoke about this many times and heard agreement from many of our western partners, at least in Europe) on the need to create a common space for economic and humanitarian cooperation stretching all the way from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean.

Colleagues, Russia made its choice. Our priorities are further improving our democratic and open economy institutions, accelerated internal development, taking into account all the positive modern trends in the world, and consolidating society based on traditional values and patriotism.

We have an integration-oriented, positive, peaceful agenda; we are working actively with our colleagues in the Eurasian Economic Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS and other partners. This agenda is aimed at developing ties between governments, not dissociating. We are not planning to cobble together any blocs or get involved in an exchange of blows.

The allegations and statements that Russia is trying to establish some sort of empire, encroaching on the sovereignty of its neighbors, are groundless. Russia does not need any kind of special, exclusive place in the world – I want to emphasize this. While respecting the interests of others, we simply want for our own interests to be taken into account and for our position to be respected.

We are well aware that the world has entered an era of changes and global transformations, when we all need a particular degree of caution, the ability to avoid thoughtless steps. In the years after the Cold War, participants in global politics lost these qualities somewhat. Now, we need to remember them. Otherwise, hopes for a peaceful, stable development will be a dangerous illusion, while today’s turmoil will simply serve as a prelude to the collapse of world order.

Yes, of course, I have already said that building a more stable world order is a difficult task. We are talking about long and hard work. We were able to develop rules for interaction after World War II, and we were able to reach an agreement in Helsinki in the 1970s. Our common duty is to resolve this fundamental challenge at this new stage of development.

Thank you very much for your attention.

How can you tell whether Russia has Invaded Ukraine?

Off the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov

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Published on Club Orlov on August 30, 2014

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tanks-russia-ukrainedmitryLast Thursday the Ukrainian government, echoed by NATO spokesmen, declared that the the Russian military is now operating within Ukraine’s borders. Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t; what do you know? They said the same thing before, most recently on August 13, and then on August 17, each time with either no evidence or fake evidence. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

You be the judge. I put together this helpful list of top ten telltale signs that will allow you to determine whether indeed Russia invaded Ukraine last Thursday, or whether Thursday’s announcement is yet another confabulation. (Credit to Roman Kretsul).

Because if Russia invaded on Thursday morning, this is what the situation on the ground would look like by Saturday afternoon.

1. Ukrainian artillery fell silent almost immediately. They are no longer shelling residential districts of Donetsk and Lugansk. This is because their locations had been pinpointed prior to the operation, and by Thursday afternoon they were completely wiped out using air attacks, artillery and ground-based rocket fire, as the first order of business. Local residents are overjoyed that their horrible ordeal is finally at an end.

2. The look of military activity on the ground in Donetsk and Lugansk has changed dramatically. Whereas before it involved small groups of resistance fighters, the Russians operate in battalions of 400 men and dozens of armored vehicles, followed by convoys of support vehicles (tanker trucks, communications, field kitchens, field hospitals and so on). The flow of vehicles in and out is non-stop, plainly visible on air reconnaissance and satellite photos. Add to that the relentless radio chatter, all in Russian, which anyone who wants to can intercept, and the operation becomes impossible to hide.

3. The Ukrainian military has promptly vanished. Soldiers and officers alike have taken off their uniforms, abandoned their weapons, and are doing their best to blend in with the locals. Nobody thought the odds of the Ukrainian army against the Russians were any good. Ukraine’s only military victory against Russia was at the battle of Konotop in 1659, but at the time Ukraine was allied with the mighty Khanate of Crimea, and, you may have noticed, Crimea is not on Ukraine’s side this time around.

4. There are Russian checkpoints everywhere. Local civilians are allowed through, but anyone associated with a government, foreign or domestic, is detained for questioning. A filtration system has been set up to return demobilized Ukrainian army draftees to their native regions, while the volunteers and the officers are shunted to pretrial detention centers, to determine whether they had ordered war crimes to be committed.

5. Most of Ukraine’s border crossings are by now under Russian control. Some have been reinforced with air defense and artillery systems and tank battalions, to dissuade NATO forces from attempting to stage an invasion. Civilians and humanitarian goods are allowed through. Businessmen are allowed through once they fill out the required forms (which are in Russian).

6. Russia has imposed a no-fly zone over all of Ukraine. All civilian flights have been cancelled. There is quite a crowd of US State Department staffers, CIA and Mossad agents, and Western NGO people stuck at Borispol airport in Kiev. Some are nervously calling everyone they know on their satellite phones. Western politicians are demanding that they be evacuated immediately, but Russian authorities want to hold onto them until their possible complicity in war crimes has been determined.

7. The usual Ukrainian talking heads, such as president Poroshenko, PM Yatsenyuk and others, are no longer available to be interviewed by Western media. Nobody quite knows where they are. There are rumors that they have already fled the country. Crowds have stormed their abandoned residences, and were amazed to discover that they were all outfitted with solid gold toilets. Nor are the Ukrainian oligarchs anywhere to be found, except for the warlord Igor Kolomoisky, who was found in his residence, abandoned by his henchmen, dead from a heart attack. (Contributed by the Saker.)

8. Some of the over 800,000 Ukrainian refugees are starting to stream back in from Russia. They were living in tent cities, many of them in the nearby Rostov region, but with the winter coming they are eager to get back home, now that the shelling is over. Along with them, construction crews, cement trucks and flatbeds stacked with pipe, cable and rebar are streaming in, to repair the damage from the shelling.

9. There is all sorts of intense diplomatic and military activity around the world, especially in Europe and the US. Military forces are on highest alert, diplomats are jetting around and holding conferences. President Obama just held a press conference to announce that “We don’t have a strategy on Ukraine yet.” His military advisers tell him that his usual strategy of “bomb a little and see what happens” is not likely to be helpful in this instance.

10. Kiev has surrendered. There are Russian tanks on the Maidan Square. Russian infantry is mopping up the remains of Ukraine’s National Guard. A curfew has been announced. The operation to take Kiev resembled “Shock and Awe” in Baghdad: a few loud bangs and then a whimper.

Armed with this list, you too should be able to determine whether or not Russia has invaded Ukraine last Thursday.

Permission to Steal Everything

Off the keyboard of Dmitry Orlov

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Published on Club Orlov on August 13, 2014

svoboda cowlick

The Svoboda Right Wing Party adds to the mayhem in Ukraine

Coming Soon: A Collapse Cafe Podcast discussion with Dmitry Orlov on the causes and consequences of the Ukrainian Civil War

Discuss this article at the Geopolitics Table inside the Diner

There is a convoy of 280 gleaming white trucks moving through Russia toward Ukraine loaded with humanitarian aid for the populations of Donetsk and Lugansk. This isn’t much, considering that well over a million people have been cut off from food, water, electricity and (soon) heat because of indiscriminate artillery bombardment by the Ukrainian military. But it’s a start. But it seems like a rocky start; first, NATO’s mouthpiece Rasmussen tries to characterize this humanitarian mission as a clandestine invasion. Then the Ukrainians start imposing various conditions. Let’s consider these separately.

When was the last time Russia, or, for that matter, USSR, mount a clandestine invasion? If you said “Crimea,” then you need to understand that

1. Russian troops have been in Crimea continuously for the past 231 years;
2. they were there under an international treaty; and
3. their troop levels never exceeded the levels this treaty stipulates.

If Russia wanted to invade Ukraine, it simply would. The Ukrainian troops would surrender or run away, but then what? Nobody has an answer to that question, not even the Russians. Aid—yes, invasion—no thanks. The policy of letting Ukraine “stew in its own juices until the meat falls off the bone” (as I put it back in mid-March) is working quite well, with the added bonus that the EU and the US are now at each others’ throats over their self-imposed sanctions. But it will take time, and this means that the population of Novorossiya, where Donetsk and Lugansk are located, and which ended up as part of Ukraine thanks to Lenin, has to be fed and heated through the next winter. Hence the humanitarian mission, which will be, if all goes well, the first of many.

The various Ukrainian conditions have to do with something quite different than countering the threat of a clandestine invasion. First they asked that the convoy pass through Kharkov instead of rolling straight toward Donetsk, making for a big detour. Then they demanded that the goods be offloaded at the border and loaded onto Ukrainian trucks, but they couldn’t come up with enough trucks. Then they demanded that the Russian trucks cary Ukrainian license plates and that each truck carry a Ukrainian representative. Next it will be something else.

You may be confused at what might be behind all of these fairly ridiculous conditions and stalling tactics, so let me explain. The Ukrainians are doing their best to figure out how they can steal the goods from the convoy. Until they can find a way to do that, nothing will move, because nothing ever moves in Ukraine until everybody gets their piece of the action. During their two-decade-plus experiment with Western-style “freedom and democracy,” by which I mean oligarchy and prostitution, Ukraine has bred a subspecies of survivors adept at answering just one question: “Where’s my piece of it?”

Take Arseny Yatsenyuk, the US State Department-assigned Ukrainian Prime Minister. He recently announced that Ukraine was out of money, unable even to pay its soldiers (this, by the way, is disingenuous, because Ukraine hasn’t been paying or feeding its soldiers) and that therefore he is resigning. Ukraine got a couple billion dollars from Russia as a door prize for joining Moscow’s Customs Union, under President Yanukovich, who was subsequently overthrown. Where’s that money? Om-nom-nom, burp! Then, after the coup, the West gave Ukraine some loan guarantees and a few additional billions. Om-nom-nom, burp! So, with nothing left to steal, Yatsenyuk announces his resignation and heads for the airport, on his way to a warm sunny place where he can squander his ill-gotten funds on hookers and blow. His CIA minders had to retrieve him from the airport and frog-march him back to his office. He is not allowed to resign. He can’t live the American Dream just yet—not until some brainless stooge gets to mutter the words “mission accomplished” and the CIA operatives head home, at which point the Ukrainians go back to trying to turn tricks at the Kremlin.

With regard to the convoy, getting the cargo off-loaded and put on Ukrainian trucks would have made stealing it easy, but that couldn’t happen due to lack of trucks. (Remember, Ukrainian officials have been selling off government property and pocketing the proceeds for two decades now, so that very little is now left.) Forcing the trucks to carry Ukrainian license plates is a small concession, since these probably require a bribe (nothing happens there without a bribe) but perhaps they are looking for opportunities to waylay a few of these trucks and break them up for spare parts. Getting a Ukrainian representative on board each truck is another small concession: he will need to be fed, pacified with vodka and given walking-around money. But the main problem—how to steal a substantial portion, ideally all, of the humanitarian aid going to Novorossiya—remains unsolved, and until it is solved there will be deadlock. This makes it difficult to cooperate with Ukrainian officials, who don’t seem to have any trace of human values left and function on a strictly biological level, but the Russians are trying.

How does a country sink to this level of degeneracy in just a couple of decades? Recently, Prof. Savelyev, who is an expert on, among other things, human evolution, ventured to explain. Human evolution, he said in an interview, has been primarily the evolution of the brain. In the short time that Homo Sapiens Sapiens has been in existence, its brain size increased dramatically. Although it is possible to declare that intelligence is of direct survival value, there is a more reasoned explanation for the pressure to increase brain size.

Most of the size gains have been in the prefrontal cortex—a part of the brain that does not have a strictly defined function but is implicated in modulating social behavior. Indeed, people with a lobotomized prefrontal cortex go on to function more or less normally (but do sometimes exhibit a startling lack of ethical or moral sense). But a lobotomy is by no means necessary to produce individuals with stunted morals and ethics: there is a critical learning period for developing a conception of the common good, the ability to cooperate with others in absence of selfish motivations, and a morality not directly grounded in biological self-interest. A social environment such as that which has prevailed in Ukraine during its period of “independence,” during which theft and prostitution were prized above all, is not conducive to developing any of these. A case can be made that such an environment exerts the opposite evolutionary pressure: if all desirable women are prostitutes and the only economic opportunities involve theft, then biological survival requires theft. This makes a large prefrontal cortex redundant, and those who have a smaller one perhaps make more efficient criminals. The result is a population dominated by people free of any human values, who pursue strictly biological goals of resource accumulation and reproduction.

My book The Five Stages of Collapse includes an extensive case study devoted to the Ik, a small tribe of hunter-gatherers in northern Uganda, which, when they were observed by the anthropologist Colin Turnbull in the 1970s, exhibited just such a level of cultural degeneracy. They had reached the fifth stage of collapse: cultural collapse. Turnbull’s prescription was to destroy them as a people by breaking up their society and resettling them. Prof. Savelyev has something eerily similar to say: human evolution advances through appalling acts of violence in which the males of culturally degenerate populations, which have lost their human values and conceptions of the common good, are destroyed outright. History is replete with examples of such exterminations (among numerous other ones), and although we may regard them with horror, others may regard them with pride. For instance, Prof. Savelyev points out, the French are still quite proud of their revolutionary invention, the guilliotine. To them it was a civilized, efficient way to neatly solve the problem—by neatly slicing off the heads that contained the faulty circuitry.

According to Savelyev, the Ukrainian flag shouldn’t be a field of sunflowers under a blue sky. A sausage impaled on a fork would be much more appropriate. After all, that is what they are fighting for. There is no point in shaming them, for stealing or for lying, for shame requires one of those prefrontal cortex functions: a conscience. To them, telling the truth is a surprising new requirement, they didn’t sign up for it, and they don’t understand why it’s necessary. All they have to do is lie well: “Donetsk is surrounded! We are about to prevail!” they tell you. Sure they are. Ask the rebels where they are going, and they will tell you matter-of-factly: “We are going all the way to Kiev.” Perhaps the French can send an aid convoy of their own, to Kiev, to coincide with the rebels’ arrival. It could include a few guilliotines. In the meantime, I hope that Uncle Sam is having lots of fun playing with his Ukrainian mail order bride; after all, they have plenty in common.

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