September Reading List

  1. How the west created the Islamic State
  2. Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?
  3. The Pentagon’s $800-Billion Real Estate Problem
  4. Lefties and liberals still don’t do enough to stop wars
  5. How the super rich got richer: 10 shocking facts about inequality
  6. ISIS’s Enemy List: 10 Reasons the Islamic State Is Doomed
  7. Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault
  8. Democracy in the Twenty-First Century
  9. Israeli drone conference features weapons used to kill Gaza’s children
  10. New Report on Water Impacts of Shale Gas Development
  11. Behind the headlines: Fracking and water contamination
  12. Story of a War Foretold: Why we’re fighting ISIS
  13. Richard Brooks and Andrew Bousfield, 19th September 2014. Shady Arabia and the Desert Fix. Private Eye.
  14. “My childhood was not an episode from Downton Abbey”
  15. Russell Tribunal finds evidence of incitement to genocide, crimes against humanity in Gaza
  16. ‘Blood on their hands’: Glasgow activists shut down drone manufacturer
  17. Inequality is a choice: U.S. inequality in two shocking graphics
  18. Europe Tries to Stop Flow of Citizens Joining Jihad
  19. On the streets with the People’s Climate March
  20. The Great Frack Forward
  21. The Unaffordable Arsenal

How the west created the Islamic State

Since 2003, Anglo-American power has secretly and openly coordinated direct and indirect support for Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda across the Middle East and North Africa. This ill-conceived patchwork geostrategy is a legacy of the persistent influence of neoconservative ideology, motivated by longstanding but often contradictory ambitions to dominate regional oil resources, defend an expansionist Israel, and in pursuit of these, re-draw the map of the Middle East. … The rise of the ‘Islamic State’ is not just a direct consequence of this neocon vision, tied as it is to a dangerous covert operations strategy that has seen al-Qaeda linked terrorists as a tool to influence local populations – it has in turn offered a pretext for the launch of a new era of endless war, the spectre of a prolonged US-led military presence in the energy-rich Persian Gulf region, and a return to the dangerous imperial temptation to re-configure the wider regional order.

Who’s Paying the Pro-War Pundits?

But what you won’t learn from media coverage of IS is that many of these former Pentagon officials have skin in the game as paid directors and advisers to some of the largest military contractors in the world. Ramping up America’s military presence in Iraq and directly entering the war in Syria, along with greater military spending more broadly, is a debatable solution to a complex political and sectarian conflict. But those goals do unquestionably benefit one player in this saga: America’s defense industry. … When the Pentagon sent a recent $2 billion request for ramped-up operations in the Middle East, supposedly to confront the IS issue, budget details obtained by Bloomberg News revealed that officials asked for money for additional F-35 planes. The F-35 is not in operation and would not be used against IS. The plane is notoriously over budget and perpetually delayed—some experts call it the most expensive weapon system in human history—with a price tag now projected to be over $1 trillion. In July, an engine fire grounded the F-35 fleet and again delayed the planned debut of the plane. How it ended up in the Pentagon’s Middle East wish list is unclear. “I think an inclination to use military action a lot is something the defense industry subscribes to because it helps to perpetuate an overall climate of permissiveness towards military spending,” says Ed Wasserman, dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School for Journalism. Wasserman says that the media debate around IS has tilted towards more hawkish former military leaders, and that the public would be best served not only with better disclosure but also a more balanced set of opinions that would include how expanded air strikes could cause collateral civil casualties. ”The past fifty years has a lot of evidence of the ineffectiveness of air power when it comes to dealing with a more nimble guerrilla-type adversary, and I’m not hearing this conversation,” he notes.

The Pentagon’s $800-Billion Real Estate Problem

The U.S. Department of Defense owns more than half a million properties worth in excess of $800 billion dollars. The military’s real estate holdings span the globe and, all together, sprawl across 30 million acres.

Pentagon auditors can’t explain what half the properties are for—and doesn’t have a plan for finding out. All this according to a Sept. 8 report from the Government Accountability Office.

The nearly trillion-dollar real estate glut is merely another example of egregious military waste.

Lefties and liberals still don’t do enough to stop wars

It’s not something that David Cameron or Nicky Morgan are likely to mention as they encourage us to mark the war’s centenary. War was used as an excuse to restrict civil liberties in 1914, just as the fear of terrorism has been used to do so again and again since 2001. Indeed, the number of similarities between politics today and politics in the First World War is both amusing and alarming. Foremost among them is the role of the arms trade – and the hypocrisies of politicians in relation to it ( MPs recently criticised David Cameron for licensing sales of military equipment to Russia. The Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) points out that the UK is continuing to arm Israel despite the attacks on Gaza. After war broke out in 1914, it was revealed that the Austro-Hungarian fleet was armed with torpedoes made by Whitehead’s, a subsidiary business of the British arms company Vickers. Shareholders of Vickers included the under-secretary of state for war, the Speaker of the House of Commons and 25 peers. Vickers has since become part of BAE Systems.

How the super rich got richer: 10 shocking facts about inequality

1. The top 1% no longer includes most doctors and head teachers 2. London is the home of the 1%

ISIS’s Enemy List: 10 Reasons the Islamic State Is Doomed

ISIS will fall. It is inevitable. That is, unless the United States becomes the stupid one and gives them what they want.

Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault

But this account is wrong: the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine — beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 — were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president — which he rightly labeled a “coup” — was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West. … But this grand scheme went awry in Ukraine. The crisis there shows that realpolitik remains relevant — and states that ignore it do so at their own peril. U.S. and European leaders blundered in attempting to turn Ukraine into a Western stronghold on Russia’s border. Now that the consequences have been laid bare, it would be an even greater mistake to continue this misbegotten policy.

Democracy in the Twenty-First Century

Sometimes an increase in measured financial wealth corresponds to little more than a shift from “unmeasured” wealth to measured wealth – shifts that can actually reflect deterioration in overall economic performance. If monopoly power increases, or firms (like banks) develop better methods of exploiting ordinary consumers, it will show up as higher profits and, when capitalized, as an increase in financial wealth. But when this happens, of course, societal wellbeing and economic efficiency fall, even as officially measured wealth rises. We simply do not take into account the corresponding diminution of the value of human capital – the wealth of workers. … What we have been observing – wage stagnation and rising inequality, even as wealth increases – does not reflect the workings of a normal market economy, but of what I call “ersatz capitalism.” The problem may not be with how markets should or do work, but with our political system, which has failed to ensure that markets are competitive, and has designed rules that sustain distorted markets in which corporations and the rich can (and unfortunately do) exploit everyone else. … If we get the rules of the game right, we might even be able to restore the rapid and shared economic growth that characterized the middle-class societies of the mid-twentieth century. The main question confronting us today is not really about capital in the twenty-first century. It is about democracy in the twenty-first century.

Israeli drone conference features weapons used to kill Gaza’s children

Organized in partnership with the US embassy in Tel Aviv, “Israel Unmanned Systems 2014” offers Israeli military firms an opportunity to flaunt the performance of their products, many of which were tested on Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip this summer. …

Speaking to the German magazine Der Spiegel last month, Avner Benzaken, head of the Israeli army’s “technology and logistics” division — a unit “comprised largely of academics who also happen to be officers” — explained the benefits of this occupation.

“If I develop a product and want to test it in the field, I only have to go five or ten kilometers from my base and I can look and see what is happening with the equipment,” said Benzaken. “I get feedback, so it makes the development process faster and much more efficient.”

Easy access to a captive population to experiment on allows Israeli weapons manufacturers to market their products as “combat-proven,” a coveted label that gives Israel a competitive edge in the international arms trade. Israel’s suppression technology is then exported to regimes that are similarly invested in subjugating the poor and marginalized.

This dystopian arrangement has paved the way for Israel, a country the size of New Jersey, to rank among the globe’s top five largest arms exporters and to become the world’s number one exporter of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones. …

Elbit’s stock jumped to its highest level since 2010 during the Gaza slaughter, a phenomenon Bloomberg Businessweek attributed to investor speculation that the Haifa-based company would see increasing demand for its products from governments impressed by its blood-soaked performance. …

Mired by debt prior to the Gaza onslaught, Israel Military Industries (IMI) was on life support. The company’s slump was so severe, the Israeli government planned to privatize it by 2016 and was offering $370,000 severance packages to any employee willing to retire early. But now things are looking up for IMI. …

Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest “defense” contractor, is also looking to get in on the action, having just formed a subsidiary inside Israel. “The move is part of a wider push by Lockheed Martin to seek overseas defense contracts amid a slowdown in US military spending,” reportedThe Wall Street Journal.

New Report on Water Impacts of Shale Gas Development

On September 12th, the World Resources Institute held an event to unveil their new report on the fresh water impacts of shale gas development. The WRI report examines the availability of freshwater across shale plays globally. Shale resources of natural gas, natural gas liquids and tight oil are extracted using hydrofracking techniques that require substantial quantities of water for every well drilled. The report offers the first global overview that cross references fresh water availability against shale gas resources. The report highlights the need to be aware that many of the world’s shale plays are in water constrained regions and that water constraints can potentially limit the ability to develop the resources.

Behind the headlines: Fracking and water contamination

Both headlines are accurate, if rather incomplete. As The Times says, the new research found the fracking procedure was not to blame for water contamination. But as The Guardian points out, the study did confirm that some peoples’ water had been contaminated by shale gas extraction activities, if not the process of drilling itself.

Extracting shale gas involves drilling deep underground through a vertical well that is later lined with a concrete casing. At depths of hundreds or even thousands of metres, horizontal wells are drilled sideways off into shale rock that is split apart using pressurised water and sand. …

The new research provides much stronger evidence that shale gas extraction can contaminate water supplies, if concrete well casings crack or leak due to poor construction or design. This vindicates the 2012 Royal Society inquiry into fracking safety, which placed great emphasis on well integrity.

Story of a War Foretold: Why we’re fighting ISIS

Founded in 2008, the year of the global financial crash, the Minerva initiative is a multi-million dollar programme funding social science research at universities around the world to support US defence policy. As I reported exclusively in The Guardian and, Minerva-funded projects have focused on studying and modelling the origins and trajectories of “social contagions” to track the propensity for civil unrest and insurgencies that could undermine US strategic interests at home and abroad.

This has included developing powerful new data-mining tools capable of in-depth analysis and automated threat-assessment of social media posts by nonviolent social movements, civil society networks, NGOs, and political activists, as well as potentially those by violent or extreme groups and organisations. These algorithms, according to NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, could be used, for instance, to fine-tune CIA kill lists for drone warfare at a time when the US defence industry is actively (and successfully) lobbying federal and local government to militarise the homeland with drone technology. …

The elephant in the room, however, is that the US intelligence community did anticipate the rise of IS. There is now mounting evidence in the public record that President Obama had been warned of a major attack on Iraq by IS extremists. …

If Minerva research is not really about addressing a non-existent gap in assessing threats in the Middle East, what is it about? According to Fitzgerald, as reported by Tucker: “In contrast to data-mining system development or intelligence analysis, Minerva-funded basic research uses rigorous methodology to investigate the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of phenomena such as influence, conflict escalation and societal resilience.”

The reality is different. As my detailed investigation, including my interviews with senior US intelligence experts, showed, Minerva is attempting to develop new tools capable of assessing social movements through a wide range of variables many of which can be derived from data-mining of social media posts, as well as from analyses of private metadata – all informed by sociological modelling with input from subject-area social science experts. …

Whether or not the west is serious about defeating IS, there can be little doubt that the acceleration of western military intervention in Iraq and Syria is pitched to aggravate regional crisis, while permitting policymakers to dramatically extend the unaccountable powers of the surveillance state.

Richard Brooks and Andrew Bousfield, 19th September 2014. Shady Arabia and the Desert Fix. Private Eye.

Last week’s Private Eye, drawing on a dossier of recordings and emails, alleges that a British company has paid £300m in bribes to facilitate weapons sales to the Saudi national guard. When a whistleblower in the company reported these payments to the British Ministry of Defence, instead of taking action it alerted his bosses. He had to flee the country to avoid being thrown into a Saudi jail.

“My childhood was not an episode from Downton Abbey”

Russell Tribunal finds evidence of incitement to genocide, crimes against humanity in Gaza

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine’s Emergency Session on Israel’s Operation Protective Edge held yesterday in Brussels has found evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of murder, extermination and persecution and also incitement to genocide.

‘Blood on their hands’: Glasgow activists shut down drone manufacturer

Activists from Scotland’s Glasgow Palestine Action scaled their way inside the perimeter fence of a Thales UK factory in Govan, Glasgow in the early hours of the morning Tuesday, blockaded multiple entrances, climbed onto the roof top and shut down the weapons manufacture for the day protesting the companies collaboration with Israeli defense behemoth Elbit Systems, currently producing ‘Watchkeeper’ drones for the Israeli military.

Inequality is a choice: U.S. inequality in two shocking graphics Inequality-USA-2014   USA-income-growth Gini-developing-countries-1990s Europe Tries to Stop Flow of Citizens Joining Jihad

Peter Neumann, director of the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London, said the potential for new violence in Europe had increased.

The concerns “are not bigger because the number of jihadis are increasing — which has been happening for months — but because it’s clearer that with the Western intervention, the attention of the jihadis is increasingly turning to the West,” he said. “Most of the jihadi groups were not interested in attacking the West, but now it has become a priority for them. It is because of the changing nature of the conflict, and it is probably happening quicker than what everyone expected.”

Further, Mr. Neumann said, having a Western enemy is serving to unite rival groups like the Islamic State and the Nusra Front, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda. “Western involvement has excited people, and the ‘Islam versus the West’ does create excitement, not only in Europe but also in places like Tunisia where recruitment is up because of that,” he said.

On the streets with the People’s Climate March

Emma Thompson on global warming

The Great Frack Forward

The US-China Oil and Gas Industry Forum, sponsored by the US departments of Commerce and Energy, as well as China’s National Energy Administration, has convened for the last 13 years. But the focus turned to shale gas in 2009, when President Obama and then-President Hu Jintao announced an agreement to develop China’s immense resources. The partnership set the stage for companies in both countries to forge deals worth tens of billions of dollars. …

But China’s push to wean itself from coal has also triggered a rush to develop alternative power sources. The natural gas that lies deep within its shale formations is now a top contender. By current estimates from the US Energy Information Administration, China’s shale gas resources are the largest in the world, 1.7 times those in the United States. So far, fewer than 200 wells have been drilled, but another 800 are expected by next year. By then, China aims to pump 230 billion cubic feet of natural gas annually from underground shale—enough to power every home in Chicago for two years. By 2020, the country expects to produce as much as 4.6 times that amount. It’s moving at “Chinese speed,” as one energy investment adviser put it—the United States took roughly twice as long to reach that volume.

The Unaffordable Arsenal

As the New York Times reported on Sept. 22, the United States plans to spend about $355 billion on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years, and up to $1 trillion over 30 years. As they say in Washington, that’s real money. Yet these weapons play essentially no role in responding to today’s highest-priority threats. U.S. nuclear weapons did not keep Russia from taking Crimea. They did not stop the Islamic State from rampaging through Iraq and Syria. And Ebola? Yeah, right. …

This summer, an independent, bipartisan federal commission co-chaired by former Secretary of Defense William Perry and retired Gen. John Abizaid called the Obama administration’s plans for the arsenal “unaffordable” and a threat to “needed improvements in conventional forces.” But, of course, the Pentagon already knows this. The Navy wants 12 new ballistic missile submarines that would cost about $100 billion to build. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-capable strategic bombers for at least $80 billion, as well as land-based ballistic missiles and air-launched cruise missiles. Both services know that planned spending will not cover these costs, so they are seeking additional funds — outside of their own budgets. The Senate Armed Services Committee has already approved a “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund” to finance the construction of new submarines from another source, yet to be determined. In the services’ view, the nuclear programs are so important that someone else should pay for them.