Dozens trapped in tunnel after Himalayan glacier’s collapse, scores still missing



Members of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) conduct a rescue operation outside a tunnel after a part of a glacier broke away, in Tapovan in the northern state of Uttarakhand, India, February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer NO ARCHIVES. NO RESALES.

February 9, 2021

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – Rescuers raced to free around 35 Indian construction workers trapped in a tunnel, two days after the hydroelectric dam they were helping to build was swept away by a wall of water from a collapsed glacier that barrelled down a Himalayan river.

The workers were among 197 people who officials said were still unaccounted for as the death toll from the disaster – which also broke apart bridges, cut off villages and scarred tracts of mountain landscape – rose to 28.

Packing rocks, dirt and construction debris and thought to have been triggered when a glacier lake fed by India’s second highest peak, Nanda Devi, collapsed, the flood swept down the Dhauliganga river on Sunday.

Officials said most of those still missing were shift workers at either the Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric project, where the tunnel was situated, or at Rishiganga, a smaller dam which was swept away in the flood.

Soldiers using bulldozers had cleared away rocks at the mouth of the 2.5-km (1.5-mile) tunnel, and video posted by the Indo-Tibetan border police service showed rescuers checking the water level deeper inside.

Rescuers hoped to open the tunnel up by Tuesday afternoon, said Ashok Kumar, director general of police in Uttarakhand state, where the flash flood occurred.

Officials said thermal imaging equipment had also been deployed to help locate would-be survivors, and Uttarakhand’s chief minister, Trivendra Singh Rawat, said 28 bodies had been recovered so far.

Thirteen villages had been cut off by the floodwaters were being resupplied from the air, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament.

A government official said many locals had apparently managed to escape the waters by fleeing to higher ground as soon as they heard the rumble of the water racing down the valley.

“The workers in the tunnel may not have heard anything and got stuck,” the official said.

The 520 MW Tapovan project, being built by state firm NTPC, is one of many run-of-river projects being developed to upgrade Uttarakhand’s power network.

Officials have yet to conclusively determine what caused the disaster, though scientists investigating it believe heavy snowfall followed by bright sunshine combined with a rise in temperatures may have triggered the glacier’s collapse.

A clearer picture of the circumstances is expected to emerge later this week, officials said.

(Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by John Stonestreet)



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Rescuers use bulldozers to open up tunnel where dozens are trapped after Himalayan glacier collapse


Rescuers raced to free around 35 Indian construction workers trapped in a tunnel, two days after the hydroelectric dam they were helping to build was swept away by a wall of water from a collapsed glacier that barrelled down a Himalayan river.

The workers were among 197 people who officials said were still unaccounted for as the death toll from the disaster, which also broke apart bridges, cut off villages and scarred tracts of mountain landscape, rose to 28.

Packing rocks, dirt and construction debris and thought to have been triggered when a glacier lake fed by India’s second-highest peak, Nanda Devi, collapsed, the flood swept down the Dhauliganga river on Sunday.

Officials said most of those still missing were shift workers at either the Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric project, where the tunnel was situated, or at Rishiganga, a smaller dam which was swept away in the flood.

Workers stuck in the tunnel may not have heard the flood as it approached.(Reuters)

Soldiers using bulldozers had cleared away rocks at the mouth of the 2.5-kilometre tunnel, and video posted by the Indo-Tibetan border police service showed rescuers checking the water level deeper inside.

Rescuers hoped to open the tunnel up by Tuesday afternoon, said Ashok Kumar, director-general of police in Uttarakhand state, where the flash flood occurred.

Officials said thermal imaging equipment had also been deployed to help locate survivors, and Uttarakhand’s chief minister, Trivendra Singh Rawat, said 28 bodies had been recovered so far.

Thirteen villages that had been cut off by the floodwaters were being resupplied from the air, Home Minister Amit Shah told parliament.

A government official said many locals had apparently managed to escape the waters by fleeing to higher ground as soon as they heard the rumble of the water racing down the valley.

“The workers in the tunnel may not have heard anything and got stuck,” the official said.

‘It felt like the mountain was crashing’

An aerial view shows a partially buried hydroelectric plant sitting in a deep valley with snowy peaks in the far background.
A survivor described being caught in the flood as ‘like a Hollywood movie’.(Reuters)

One of those who made it out was Rajesh Kumar, 28, who together with others clung to scaffolding rods in the tunnel for four hours before the water level fell and they were able to escape.

“Suddenly there was a sound of whistling … there was shouting, people were telling us to come out,” he said from his hospital bed.

“We thought it was a fire. We started running but the water gushed in. It was like a Hollywood movie.

“We just kept telling each other come what may, we must not let go of the rods.”

Shopkeeper Ramesh Negi was enjoying the Sunday morning sun when he heard a loud roar and saw a huge wall of water smash into and sweep away a bridge.

Light brown mud covers the ruins of a hydropower station
The Dhauliganga hydropower project was damaged by rocks, mud and debris.(AP)

Dozens of workers on the river bed and graziers leading their cattle along the mountain slopes disappeared beneath the sudden deluge, he recalled.

“There was dust and screams all over,” he said.

“We tried to alert the graziers but they were blown away by the wind pressure before being consumed by the water and slush. We can only guess what happened.”

Mangra, another survivor, remembered hearing a loud, rumbling sound and the screams of other colleagues: “Run, run, run!”

The 28-year-old scrambled out of the tunnel but six of his friends and neighbours from his village didn’t make it.

“It felt like the mountain was crashing and the Earth was moving,” he said outside the tunnel cuts and scrapes on his hands and legs.

Cause of disaster to become clearer this week

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video. Duration: 1 minute 38 seconds

Mountain glacier burst in India triggering an avalanche of water, mud and debris.

The 520-megawatt Tapovan project, being built by state firm NTPC, is one of many projects being developed to upgrade Uttarakhand’s power network.

Officials have yet to conclusively determine what caused the disaster, though scientists investigating it believe heavy snowfall followed by bright sunshine combined with a rise in temperatures may have triggered the glacier’s collapse.

A clearer picture of the circumstances is expected to emerge later this week.

The disaster has also been blamed on rapidly melting glaciers in the Himalayan region caused by global warming.

Building activity for dams and dredging riverbeds for sand and the clearing of trees for new roads, some to beef up defence on the Chinese border, are other factors.

ABC/Wires

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Collapse in booking lead times sparks concern in NT tourism industry



THE collapse in booking lead times has the Territory’s tourism industry holding its breath about the prospects of a strong dry season tourism rebound.

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India’s transformation from Adelaide collapse to day three at MCG remarkable under captain Ajinkya Rahane


If cricket reaches its zenith when the contest is balanced on a knife-edge, the telling moment of the Melbourne Test occurred when Steve Smith and his 100-run MCG average arrived at the crease midway through day three.

Australia was two wickets down in its second innings and 87 runs in arrears.

Waiting in the pavilion, Travis Head and Cameron Green didn’t shape as an intimidating prospect to the Indian bowlers. Jasprit Bumrah was soon to appear for his second spell, everything Indian captain Ajinkya Rahane touched was turning to gold, and Smith’s tail-spinning recent form darkened the chest-tightening atmosphere.

The ensuing period of play was gripping. Smith scratched and fidgeted his way to something resembling a start. Bumrah bombarded his partner Matthew Wade with short stuff to set him up for the full one, but the Tasmanian bided his time gamely and then pounced, punching a resounding drive past the bowler and into the fence.

Wade also fought back with his mouth and confrontational attitude, talking his way into the contest as much as batting his way in.

Tea was only moments away at that point, which was just as well because Ashwin’s final over of the session ended with Wade and Pant face to face by the stumps, like a couple of cocker spaniels fighting over a bone.

Rishabh Pant and Matthew Wade are kindred spirits when it comes to persistent on-field chatter.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

“I don’t know what’s so funny,” Wade said to the broadcaster as he walked off.

“It must be my batting.”

After the break, Pant would laugh loudest 29 runs into Wade and Smith’s attempted rescue mission, when the telling blow was struck. It was Bumrah’s 11th over, and after pushing Smith backward, forward, sideways and into two minds, he angled a fuller one towards the pads of the right-hander.

In years gone by, it was the sort of delivery Smith would have flicked through the 45 region, down towards fine leg. But that was precisely where Rahane had placed a leg gully to complement his square leg, so Smith’s mind was doubtless clouded by the risk involved.

Smith shaped to glance rather than flick the ball but instead it clipped his leg. He swivelled to see whether Pant had reeled in the deflection. He hadn’t, so Smith set off for a run. But there was a major problem: the leg-stump bail was off — Bumrah’s cutter had clipped the stump and Smith was gone.

Australia batsman Steve Smith looks back as a bail falls off the stumps during a Test against India at the MCG.
When Smith and Jasprit Bumrah are operating, weird things are bound to happen.(AAP: Scott Barbour)

With him went any chance of Australia turning the tables. They finished the day 6-133, two runs in front, unlikely to set India an imposing chase.

Without their captain and best batsmen, down a bowler once Umesh Yadav hobbled off halfway through the eighth over, India still embarrassed the home side in Melbourne for the second time in three summers.

Few positives on another rough day for Australian batsmen

Australia at least started the day well, firing India’s last five out for a meagre 32 and limiting the tourists’ first-innings lead to 131.

That early foray featured Mitchell Starc at his most hostile, including an unpleasant barrage of bouncers at tail-enders Yadav and Ashwin and a witless send-off of Jadeja.

Tim Paine is joined in celebration by Steve Smith, Pat Cummins and Marnus Labuschagne
Australia was somewhat fortunate to only be trailing by 131 runs after the first innings.(AP: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

And Australia was lucky, if anything.

Rahane and Jadeja looked likely to bat on with similar results as on day two when, out of nowhere, Rahane departed the only way it seemed likely — run out when a jumpy Jadeja bunted to short cover and called for a single that would have brought up his half-century.

Knowing his team never loses when he scores centuries, Rahane indicated there were no hard feelings and calmly trotted off.

The one other positive for Australia was Wade, who batted like a man determined to keep his spot, and suppressed his natural instincts for the sake of the team.

His first 45 deliveries produced just six runs. At one point he went 46 minutes without scoring.

Australia batsman Matthew Wade hits a cricket ball away as India wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant watches on at the MCG.
Wade has made himself indispensable with his dogged determination at the crease.(AP: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

Elsewhere, the sense was inevitable doom. After lunch, the beaming sunshine and flattened pitch greeting Wade and Joe Burns were considered perfect working conditions, although you could say the same of a well-appointed corner office with an anaconda stretched across the desk, because Bumrah lay in wait.

By the time Yadav caught Burns in no man’s land with a peach of an out-swinger, the Queenslander could have been out four times in the first three overs. His grim fortunes in this series are the predictable result of a very bad idea.

Likewise, Marnus Labuschagne had three lives before he departed for 28, edging to Rahane at slip, squared up by the curve, dip and angle of Ashwin’s arm ball from around the wicket.

Jadeja shot one low and fast into Wade’s pads to end an impressive hand of 40 from 137 deliveries. Head departed in a manner as cringeworthy as his first-innings dismissal, throwing his bat at the first delivery of a new spell from Mohammed Siraj to depart for 17 — another wasted start. Paine trudged off the unlucky victim of a caught behind shout that even motor-mouthed Pant didn’t fully get behind.

Australia batsmen Pat Cummins (left) and Cameron Green walk off the field on day three of the Boxing Day Test against India.
Pat Cummins (left) and Cameron Green are the only people standing between Australia and a humiliating loss right now.(AP: Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

Aside from Wade, only Cameron Green, undefeated on 17, and Pat Cummins, with him on 15, left the MCG unscathed. And in the actions of two players, there were signs of an unappealing arrogance and entitlement in this Australian team — perhaps just the by-product of the bubble life, in which cricket is the only thing, perhaps a deeper malaise.

The first was Smith, who at the start of the day reacted to a slightly sheepish version of Jadeja’s Jaddu-sword celebration by suggesting a knife would be more appropriate, since Jadeja had just run out his skipper (never mind Smith’s drop of Rahane before he reached his century the night before). Smith also responded with childish incredulity to his own dismissal, which compelled a second opinion from the TV umpire.

The second was Labuschagne — the beneficiary of maybe a dozen lives so far in this series — lingering an age before finally skulking off following his own demise.

He and Smith are the senior batsmen of their team but evidently neither is the guardian of its ideals of sportsmanship.

A makeshift India, by contrast, has transformed itself in the space of three days’ play from laughing stock to appealing winners. You can thank its level-headed captain for that.



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Interest rate collapse saves home buyers thousands but hits savers


The savings have been even bigger for those able to sniff out the lowest mortgage rates on the market.

At the start of the year, the best rate was 2.69 per cent which meant monthly repayments of $1375. The best rate now is 1.99 per cent with a monthly repayment of $1280.

The Reserve Bank has signalled it is not expecting to increase official interest for at least 3 years.

Canstar group executive of financial services Steve Mickenbecker said bargain hunters with good credit levels had done exceptionally well, with the lowest rate in the market 1.77 per cent for a loan-to-value ratio of up to 60 per cent.

“Home loan rate cuts have been one piece of good news for borrowers in 2020,” he said.

There has been strong growth in fixed rate mortgages this year as buyers seek to lock-in record low rates.

The average rate on a three-year fixed mortgage has fallen from 3.15 per cent to 2.3 per cent, a difference of $130 a month or more than $39,000 over the life of the loan.

The best three-year fixed rate is 1.89 per cent, down from 2.69 per cent at the start of the year.

“Much of the interest rate action has been in fixed rates, with five-year fixed rates down as low as 1.99 per cent and two-year rates starting from 1.88 per cent. Even the big banks have joined the fixed rate frenzy, with rates as low as 1.99 per cent for four years,” Mr Mickenbecker said.

Low rates are expected to be the norm for coming years. The Reserve Bank has signalled it is not expecting to increase official interest for at least three years.

It’s been a much tougher year, interest-wise, for people with money. As banks have cut their mortgage rates, they’ve also slashed their savings rates.

Canstar recorded 529 cuts to savings rates across the year, split between regular accounts and bonus savings accounts.

The average regular saving rate was 1.12 per cent at the start of the year but it is now just 0.43 per cent. For a person with $10,000 in their account, the drop in interest equates to a $740 in compound savings over a decade.

The current inflation rate is 0.7 per cent, meaning a person holding cash is going backwards in real terms.

The average bonus savings rate, which are often introductory rates, have fallen from 1.47 per cent 0.75 per cent.

AMP Capital chief economist Shane Oliver said record low mortgage rates, coupled with government home-buyer incentives, income support measures and bank payment holidays, were boosting home prices at present.

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But high unemployment, the collapse in immigration numbers and weak rental markets were weighing on inner city areas and units in Sydney and Melbourne.

Those with money were likely to be disappointed with their savings performances.

“Cash and bank deposits are likely to provide very poor returns, given the ultra-low cash rate of just 0.1 per cent,” he said.

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Could Victoria’s compliance collapse threaten our holiday season?


Unfortunately, an alarming number of businesses in malls, shopping centres and outlets in Victoria are ignoring the need to safeguard their patrons, are not signing in visitors and are not conducting contactless tracing.

The Victorian government has not released scan-in data on its QR code and app, and the question remains, why?

The Victorian government has not released scan-in data on its QR code and app.Credit:Luis Ascui

While NSW is on high alert, Victoria sign-in adherence has plummeted

The truth is, no one wants to talk doom-and-gloom anymore. The latest quarantine hotel figures after 53 doughnut days is not a popular discussion point.

In Victoria we continue to frequent the high streets and malls with or without visitor sign-in systems. Although manual registries have been recently discouraged by the Victorian government, too many outlets continue to work with manual registration systems that require pen and paper. Many patrons have quietly chosen to simply sign in to manual systems, or worse still, are ignoring the lack of contactless visitor sign-ins at a growing number of outlets.

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Victoria’s QR code adoption rate figures are mysteriously unknown

After months of development the Victorian government has recently released its visitor check-in QR code system. The system is not mandatory and mysteriously, the adoption rate is not available to the public, yet transparency is important when it comes to a government solution.

Privacy concerns present a major challenge in driving government system adoption, not surprisingly, after widespread criticism of operational failures and the lack of transparency. Research conducted in the United States points out that privacy concerns and trust in public health authority could also be linked to low adoption rates.

Although promoted as installation-free, the government states on its website that if you don’t have an up-to-date smartphone, you’ll need to download an app to complete check-in. Given the history of government apps, we can’t expect the public to rush to download another one.

The federal government's COVIDSafe app.

The federal government’s COVIDSafe app.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Recent reports on quarantine breaches show a poor record of transparency and a lack of notifications on the public’s potential exposure to the coronavirus. A DHHS spokesman over a week ago said the “practice of quarantining secondary contacts as a precautionary measure” only began in October, three months after the quarantine debacle.

The sharp decline in contactless sign-ins in Victoria is worrying

Many health organisations have repeatedly emphasised the importance of broad contactless visitor sign-ins across public outlets to curb the spread of COVID-19. But an alarming number of businesses in malls and shopping centres in Victoria are ignoring the need to safeguard their patrons.

If the government app cannot be mandated, shouldn’t we do more to ensure businesses and public venues are complying and helping the public avoid another COVID calamity?

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Given the variety of QR codes, apps and new contactless sensor technology, there is no shortage of ways to easily and quickly scan in or wave in the public into businesses, venues and locations.

Contactless visitor sign-in systems installed and governed in every business and outlet can and should be a crucial factor in fighting the pandemic.

What we need this summer is a massive, carefully co-ordinated strategy between government, business organisations and local communities, emphasising focused, systematic and local adoption.

Coupled with extensive testing capacity, contactless check-ins at every business and outlet will give us a fighting chance of staving off another wave of the pandemic.

Let’s secure this simple measure to protect our new-found freedom. After all, conducting contactless check-ins is a small price to pay to keep us healthy, safe and free during Christmas and 2021.

Bernadene Voss is CEO of Wavin Technologies.

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Fans, media mourn ‘Great Indian Batting Collapse’ in Adelaide


A cricket-mad India reacted with shock and disbelief on Sunday after Virat Kohli’s men registered the country’s lowest Test innings score in the opening day-night contest against Australia in Adelaide.

More than the eight-wicket defeat inside three days, it was the spectacular meltdown of India’s vaunted batting line-up in the second innings that dominated discussion in India.

Virat Kohli leaves the field at the end of the Test.Credit:Getty Images

A photo of Kohli with lowered head was printed on the front page of the Times of India newspaper, along with the 10 single-digit scores recorded by the Indian batsmen who were dismissed for 36.

“No this is not a phone number. It’s the score of the Indian line-up (in order of dismissal) in the 2nd innings at Adelaide,” the newspaper said.



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Tim Paine keeps Australia in hunt after collapse


After a day in which 15 wickets fell, India wound up 1-9 in their second innings as nightwatchman Bumrah survived with Agarwal and the tourists will take a 62-run advantage into Saturday’s third day.

While others were bogged down as Virat Kohli expertly deployed his attack, Paine batted with positivity under the Adelaide floodlights, guiding the Australian tail with an unbeaten 73 that value-added the total to a more competitive 191.

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Paine, 36, has come under scrutiny over his batting before but this was the kind of determined performance he has had a habit of producing in Australia’s time of need. The wicketkeeper had volunteered to open before the match but did the job further down.

“I was just happy to contribute with the tail and get us up closer to the India score and in the game,” Paine said.

“Whilst I was happy to go up [the order] I was happy to stay at seven as well.”

He didn’t have a great deal of support from Australia’s specialist batsmen as the absence of David Warner was felt.

Marnus Labuschagne offered 47 after being given three lives from some shocking Indian fielding but aside from him only debutant Cameron Green, with 11, managed double figures.

Steve Smith, Travis Head and temporary opening duo Matthew Wade and Joe Burns couldn’t lay claim to that as Australia collapsed to 5-79.

It was a staggering turnaround from the events of the first 30 minutes when India had lost 4-11 in 4.1 overs as Cummins and Mitchell Starc mopped up their lower order with brutal efficiency.

Seven years after tearing through Michael Clarke’s men on the infamous homework tour Ashwin was able to cause havoc against Australia outside Asia.

India’s beanpole spinner knocked over Smith at the end of his first over, the former captain scoring only one before nicking a straight one from Ashwin to Ajinkya Rahane at first slip.

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Ashwin sprinted away in delight as the world’s leading Test batsman walked off, unable to have made an impact after an interrupted preparation.

There were more celebrations ahead when Head, on seven, offered a simple return catch to the spinner and further still when Green tried to club Ashwin through midwicket but didn’t middle it and was caught brilliantly by a diving Kohli.

Australia’s battle with the bat began with new opening Wade and Burns struggling to apply any scoreboard pressure, with India pace frontman Bumrah taking care of both for eight.

They will get another opportunity in Adelaide but Friday’s initial display emphasised just how much Warner, who scored an unbeaten 335 at the same venue last year, is missed.

Wade had looked to prove an immediate success in an unfamiliar role, advancing up the order from the spot at No.5 he had bedded down since last year’s Ashes.

Joe Burns’ struggles continued when he was trapped lbw for eight.Credit:AP

Burns, meanwhile, was out to prove a nation of doubters wrong after selectors stuck by him despite a meagre return in the Sheffield Shield and for Australia A that prompted calls for his axing.

The 31-year-old was unlucky in that the straightening delivery that thumped into his pads as tried to steer a half-volley through the leg side was only found by the ball-tracking technology to have just clipped through midwicket.

Wade should resume his place in the Australian middle order when Warner returns from injury, whether that is for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne starting next Saturday or more likely for the third Test, due to be held in Sydney from January 7 but suddenly under a cloud due to a COVID-19 cluster.

Burns, however, is under pressure to save his Test career.

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Tim Paine keeps Australia in hunt after collapse


After a day in which 15 wickets fell, India wound up 1-9 in their second innings as nightwatchman Bumrah survived with Agarwal and the tourists will take a 62-run advantage into Saturday’s third day.

While others were bogged down as Virat Kohli expertly deployed his attack, Paine batted with positivity under the Adelaide floodlights, guiding the Australian tail with an unbeaten 73 that value-added the total to a more competitive 191.

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Paine, 36, has come under scrutiny over his batting before but this was the kind of determined performance he has had a habit of producing in Australia’s time of need. The wicketkeeper had volunteered to open before the match but did the job further down.

“I was just happy to contribute with the tail and get us up closer to the India score and in the game,” Paine said.

“Whilst I was happy to go up [the order] I was happy to stay at seven as well.”

He didn’t have a great deal of support from Australia’s specialist batsmen as the absence of David Warner was felt.

Marnus Labuschagne offered 47 after being given three lives from some shocking Indian fielding but aside from him only debutant Cameron Green, with 11, managed double figures.

Steve Smith, Travis Head and temporary opening duo Matthew Wade and Joe Burns couldn’t lay claim to that as Australia collapsed to 5-79.

It was a staggering turnaround from the events of the first 30 minutes when India had lost 4-11 in 4.1 overs as Cummins and Mitchell Starc mopped up their lower order with brutal efficiency.

Seven years after tearing through Michael Clarke’s men on the infamous homework tour Ashwin was able to cause havoc against Australia outside Asia.

India’s beanpole spinner knocked over Smith at the end of his first over, the former captain scoring only one before nicking a straight one from Ashwin to Ajinkya Rahane at first slip.

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Ashwin sprinted away in delight as the world’s leading Test batsman walked off, unable to have made an impact after an interrupted preparation.

There were more celebrations ahead when Head, on seven, offered a simple return catch to the spinner and further still when Green tried to club Ashwin through midwicket but didn’t middle it and was caught brilliantly by a diving Kohli.

Australia’s battle with the bat began with new opening Wade and Burns struggling to apply any scoreboard pressure, with India pace frontman Bumrah taking care of both for eight.

They will get another opportunity in Adelaide but Friday’s initial display emphasised just how much Warner, who scored an unbeaten 335 at the same venue last year, is missed.

Wade had looked to prove an immediate success in an unfamiliar role, advancing up the order from the spot at No.5 he had bedded down since last year’s Ashes.

Joe Burns’ struggles continued when he was trapped lbw for eight.Credit:AP

Burns, meanwhile, was out to prove a nation of doubters wrong after selectors stuck by him despite a meagre return in the Sheffield Shield and for Australia A that prompted calls for his axing.

The 31-year-old was unlucky in that the straightening delivery that thumped into his pads as tried to steer a half-volley through the leg side was only found by the ball-tracking technology to have just clipped through midwicket.

Wade should resume his place in the Australian middle order when Warner returns from injury, whether that is for the Boxing Day Test in Melbourne starting next Saturday or more likely for the third Test, due to be held in Sydney from January 7 but suddenly under a cloud due to a COVID-19 cluster.

Burns, however, is under pressure to save his Test career.

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4 Signposts of American Collapse Which Also Occurred in the USSR


Orlov is one of our favorite essayists on Russia and all sorts of other things. He moved to the US as a child, and lives in the Boston area.

He is one of the better-known thinkers The New Yorker has dubbed ‘The Dystopians’ in an excellent 2009 profile, along with James Howard Kunstler, another regular contributor to RI (archive). These theorists believe that modern society is headed for a jarring and painful crack-up.

He is best known for his 2011 book comparing Soviet and American collapse (he thinks America’s will be worse). He is a prolific author on a wide array of subjects, and you can see his work by searching him on Amazon.

He has a large following on the web, and on Patreon, and we urge you to support him there, as Russia Insider does.

His current project is organizing the production of affordable house boats for living on. He lives on a boat himself.

If you haven’t discovered his work yet, please take a look at his archive of articles on RI. They are a real treasure, full of invaluable insight into both the US and Russia and how they are related.


In thinking through the (for now) gradually unfolding collapse of the American empire, the collapse of the USSR, which occurred close through three decades ago, continues to perform as a goldmine of useful examples and analogies. Certain events that occurred during the Soviet collapse can serve as useful signposts in the American one, allowing us to formulate better guesses about the timing of events that can suddenly turn a gradual collapse into a precipitous one.

When the Soviet collapse occurred, the universal reaction was “Who could have known?” Well, I knew. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with a surgeon in the summer of 1990, right as I was going under the knife to get my appendix excised, waiting for the anesthesia to kick in. He asked me about what will happen to the Soviet republics, Armenia in particular. I told him that they will be independent in less than a year.

He looked positively shocked. I was off by a couple of months. I hope to be able to call the American collapse with the same degree of precision.

I suppose I was well positioned to know, and I am tempted to venture a guess at how I achieved that. My area of expertise at the time was measurement and data acquisition electronics for high energy physics experiments, not Sovietology. But I spent the previous summer in Leningrad, where I grew up, and had a fair idea of what was up in the USSR.

Meanwhile, the entire gaggle of actual paid, professional Russia experts that was ensconced in various government agencies in Washington or consuming oxygen at various foundations and universities in the US had absolutely no idea what to expect.

I suspect that there is a principle involved: if your career depends on the continued existence of X, and if X is about to cease to exist, then you are not going to be highly motivated to accurately predict that event. Conversely, if you could manage to accurately predict the spontaneous existence failure of X, then you would also be clever enough to switch careers ahead of time, hence would no longer be an expert on X and your opinion on the matter would be disregarded. People would think that you screwed yourself out of a perfectly good job and are now embittered.

Right now I am observing the same phenomenon at work among Russian experts on the United States: they can’t imagine that the various things they spent their lives studying are fast fading into irrelevance. Or perhaps they can, but keep this realization to themselves, for fear of no longer being invited on talk shows.

I suppose that since expertise is a matter of knowing a whole lot about very little, knowing everything about nothing—a thing that doesn’t exist—is its logical endpoint. Be that as it may. But I feel that we non-experts, armed with the 20/20 hindsight afforded to us by the example of the Soviet collapse, can avoid being similarly blindsided and dumbfounded by the American one.

This is not an academic question: those who gauge it accurately may be able to get the hell out ahead of time, while the lights are mostly still on, while not everybody is walking around in a drug-induced mental haze, and mass shootings and other types of mayhem are still considered newsworthy.

This hindsight makes it possible for us to spot certain markers that showed up then and are showing up now. The four that I want to discuss now are the following: 

1. Allies are being alienated
2. Enmities dissipate
3. Ideology becomes irrelevant
4. Military posture turns flaccid

All of these are plain to see already in the American collapse. As with the Soviet collapse, there is a certain incubation period for each of these trends, lasting perhaps a year or two, during which not much seems to be happening, but when it is over everything comes unstuck all at once.

1. Alliances

As the Soviet collapse unfolded, former friendships deteriorated, first into irrelevance, then into outright enmity. Prior to the collapse, the Iron Curtain ran between Eastern and Western Europe; three decades later it runs between Russia and the Baltic countries, Poland and the Ukraine.

Whereas in the post-war period the Warsaw Pact countries derived many benefits from its association with Russia and its industrial might, as the end neared their membership in the Soviet camp became more and more of a hinderance to progress, hampering their integration with the more prosperous, less troubled countries further west and with the rest of the world.

Similarly with the US and the EU now, this partnership is also showing major signs of strain as Washington tries to prevent the Europe from integrating with the rest of Eurasia. The particular threat of unilateral economic sanctions as part of a vain effort to block additional Russian natural gas pipelines into Europe and to force the Europeans to buy an uncertain and overpriced American liquefied natural gas scheme has laid bare the fact that the relationship is no longer mutually beneficial. And as Britain splits from Europe and clings closer to the US, a new Iron Curtain is gradually emerging, but this time it will run through the English Channel, separating the Anglophone world from Eurasia.

Similar developments are afoot in the east, affecting South Korea and Japan. Trump’s flip-flopping between tempestuous tweeting and conciliatory rhetoric vis-à-vis North Korea have laid bare the emptiness of American security guarantees. Both of these countries now see the need to make their own security arrangements and to start reasserting their sovereignty in military matters. Meanwhile, for the US, being incoherent is but a pit stop on the way to becoming irrelevant.

2. Enmities

During the entire period of the Cold War the United States was the Soviet Union’s arch-enemy, and any effort by Washington to give advice or to dictate terms was met with loud, synchronized, ideologically fortified barking from Moscow: the imperialist aggressor is at it again; pay no heed. This self-righteous noise worked quite well for a surprisingly long time, and continued to work while the Soviet Union was making impressive new conquests—in space, in technology, science and medicine, in international humanitarian projects and so on, but as stagnation set in it started to ring hollow.

After the Soviet collapse, this immunity against American contagion disappeared. Western “experts” and “advisors” flooded in, and proposed “reforms” such as dismemberment of the USSR into 15 separate countries (trapping millions of people on the wrong side of some newly thought-up border) shock therapy (which impoverished almost the entirety of the Russian population), privatization (which put major public assets in the hands of a few politically connected, mostly Jewish oligarchs) and various other schemes designed to destroy Russia and drive its population into extinction.

They would probably have succeeded had they not been stopped in time.

Symmetrically, the Washingtonians considered the USSR as their arch-enemy. After it went away, there was a bit of confusion. The Pentagon tried talking up “Russian mafia” as a major threat to world peace, but that seemed laughable. Then, by dint of demolishing a couple of New York skyscrapers, perhaps by placing small nuclear charges in the bedrock beneath their foundations (those were the demolition plans that were on file) they happily embraced the concept of “war on terror” and went about bombing various countries that didn’t have a terrorism problem before then but certainly do now.

Then, once that stupid plan ran its course, the Washingtonians went back to reviling and harrassing Russia.

But now a strange smell is in the wind in Washington: the smell of failure. Air is leaking out of the campaign to vilify Russia, and it is putrid. Meanwhile, Trump is continuing to make noises to the effect that a rapprochement with Russia is desirable and that a summit between the leaders should be held. Trump is also borrowing some pages from the Russian rulebook: just as Russia responded to Western sanctions with countersanctions, Trump is starting to respond to Western tariffs with countertariffs. We should expect American enmity against Russia to dissipate some time before American attitudes toward Russia (and much else) become irrelevant.

We should also expect that, once the fracking bubble pops, the US will become dependent on Russian oil and liquefied natural gas, which it will be forced to pay for with gold. (Fracking involves a two-phase combustion process: the first phase burns borrowed money to produce oil and gas; the second burns the oil and the gas.)

Other enmities are on the wane as well. Trump has just signed an interesting piece of paper with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. The deal (if we call it that) is a tacit act of surrender. It was orchestrated by Russia and China. It affirms what North and South Korea had already agreed to: eventual denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Just as Gorbachev acquiesced to the reunification of Germany and the withdrawal of Soviet troops from East Germany, Trump is getting ready to acquiesce to the reunification of Korea and the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. Just as the fall of the Berlin Wall spelled the end of the Soviet imperium, the dismantlement of the Korean Demilitarized Zone will spell the end of the American one.

3. Ideology

While the US never had anything as rigorous as the Soviet Union’s communist dogma, its hodgepodge of pro-democracy propaganda, laissez-faire capitalism, free trade and military domination was potent for a time. Once the US stopped being the world’s largest industrial powerhouse, ceding ground first to Germany and Japan, then to China, it went along accumulating prodigious levels of debt, essentially confiscating and spending the world’s savings, while defending the US dollar with the threat of violence. It was, for a time, understood that the exorbitant privilege of endless money printing needs to be defended with the blood of American soldiers.

The US saw itself, and positioned itself, as the indispensable country, able to control and to dictate terms to the entire planet, terrorizing or blockading various other countries as needed. Now all of these ideological shibboleths are in shambles.

• The pro-democracy rhetoric is still dutifully spouted by politicians mass media mouthpieces, but in practice the US is no longer a democracy. It has been turned into a lobbyist’s paradise in which the lobbyists are no longer confined to the lobby but have installed themselves in congressional offices and are drafting prodigious quantities of legislation to suit the private interests of corporations and oligarchs. Nor is the American penchant for democracy traceable in the support the US lavishes on dictatorships around the world or in its increasing tendency to enact and enforce extraterritorial laws without international consent.

Laissez-fair capitalism is also very much dead, supplanted by crony capitalism nurtured by a thorough melding of Washington and Wall Street elites. Private enterprise is no longer free but concentrated in a handful of giant corporations while about a third of the employed population in the US works in the public sector. The US Department of Defense is the largest single employer in the country as well as in the whole world. About 100 million of working-age able-bodied Americans do not work. Most of the rest work in service jobs, producing nothing durable.

An increasing number of people is holding onto a precarious livelihood by working sporadic gigs. The whole system is fueled—including parts of it that actually produce the fuel, such as the fracking industry—by debt. No sane person, if asked to provide a workable description of capitalism, would come up with such a derelict scheme.

Free trade was talked up until very recently, if not actually implemented. Unimpeded trade over great distances is the sine qua non of all empires, the US empire included. In the past, warships and the threat of occupation were used to force countries, such as Japan, to open themselves up to international trade.

Quite recently, the Obama administration was quite active in its attempts to push through various transoceanic partnerships, but none of them succeeded. And now Trump has set about wrecking what free trade there was by a combination of sanctions and tariffs, in a misguided attempt to rekindle America’s lost greatness by turning inward. Along the way, sanctions on the use of the US dollar in international trade, especially with key energy exporting nations such as Iran and Venezuela, are accelerating the process by which the US dollar is being dethroned as the world’s reserve currency, demolishing America’s exorbitant privilege of endless money-printing.

4. Militarism

The Soviet collapse was to some extent presaged by the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Prior to that point, it was still possible to talk up the “international duty” of the Red Army to make the world (or at least the liberated parts of it) safe for socialism. After that point the very concept of military domination was lost, and interventions that were possible before, such as in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968, were no longer even thinkable. When Eastern Europe rose in rebellion in 1989, the Soviet military empire simply folded, abandoning its bases and military hardware and pulling out.

In the case of the US, for now it remains capable of quite a lot of mischief, but it has become clear that military domination of the whole planet is no longer possible for it. The US military is still huge, but it is quite flaccid. It is no longer able to field a ground force of any size and confines itself to aerial bombardment, training and arming of “moderate terrorists” and mercenaries, and pointless steaming about the oceans.

None of the recent military adventures have resulted in anything resembling peace on terms that the American planners originally envisioned or have ever considered desirable: Afghanistan has been turned into a terrorist incubator and a heroin factory; Iraq has been absorbed into a continuous Shia crescent that now runs from the Indian Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

US military bases are still found throughout the world. They were meant to project American power over both hemispheres of the globe, but they have been largely neutralized by the advent of new long-range precision weapons, potent air defense technology and electronic warfare wizardry. These numerous “lily pads,” as they are sometimes called, are the opposite of military assets: they are useless but expensive targets located in places that are hard to defend but easy for potential adversaries to attack.

They can only be used for pretend-combat, and the endless series of military training exercises, such as the ones in the Baltic statelets, right on the Russian border, or the ones in South Korea, are meant to be provocative, but they are paragons of pointlessness, since attacking either Russia or North Korea would be a suicidal move. They are basically confidence-building exercises, and their increasing intensity testifies to a pronounced and growing deficit of confidence.

People never tire of pointing out the huge size of the US military budget, but they almost always neglect to mention that what the US gets per unit money is ten times less than, for example Russia. It is a bloated and ineffectual extortion scheme that produces large quantities of boondoggles—an endlessly thirsty public money sponge.

No matter how much money it soaks up, it will never solve the fundamental problem of being incapable to go to war against any adequately armed opponent without suffering unacceptable levels of damage. Around the world, the US is still loathed, but it is feared less and less: a fatal trend for an empire. But America has done quite well in militarizing its local police departments, so that when the time comes it will be ready to go to war… against itself.

* * *
This analysis may read like a historical survey detached from practical, everyday considerations. But I believe that it has practical merit. If the citizens of the USSR were informed, prior to the events of 1990, of what was about to happen to them, they would have behaved quite differently, and quite a lot of personal tragedy might have been avoided.

A very useful distinction can be made between collapse avoidance (which is futile; all empires collapse) and worst-case scenario avoidance, which will become, as collapse picks up speed, your most important concern. Your approach may involve fleeing to safer ground, or preparing to survive it where you are. You may choose your own collapse markers and make your own predictions about their timing instead of relying on mine.

But, having witnessed one collapse, and now witnessing another, the one approach I would definitely not recommend is doing nothing and hoping for the best.



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