October Reading List

  1. A Trillion Ways To Build a New Military Industrial Complex
  2. The Military Takes on Climate Change Deniers
  3. Amazon Must Be Stopped
  4. Japan’s Decision on Collective Self-Defense in Context
  5. Far-Right Birther’s Secret Funders
  6. Pinkwashing: Fracking Company Teams Up With Susan G. Komen to ‘End Breast Cancer Forever’
  7. Cut benefits? Yes, let’s start with our £85bn corporate welfare handout
  8. US firms could make billions from UK via secret tribunals
  9. Germany Can’t Manage Its Weapons
  10. Warmongering Hebrew University tries to muzzle Palestinian students
  11. Richest 1% of people own nearly half of global wealth, says report
  12. UK to allow fracking companies to use ‘any substance’ under homes 
  13. This One $486 Million Blunder In Afghanistan Sums Up The Disaster Of Military Spending
  14. The US and a Crumbling Levant
  15. Only 12% of drone victims in Pakistan identified as militants: report
  16. Does Rising Inequality Make a Democracy More Warlike?
  17. European banks and the global banking glut
  18. With US-led air strikes on Isis intensifying, it’s a good time to be an arms giant like Lockheed Martin
  19. Organised Hypocrisy on a Monumental Scale
  20. NASA Confirms A 2,500-Square-Mile Cloud Of Methane Floating Over US Southwest
  21. Netanyahu’s Not Chickenshit, the White House Is

A Trillion Ways To Build a New Military Industrial Complex

The panel gave its report and recommendations in January 2001. Both Senators Rudman and Hart concluded that it was not a matter of “if” the U.S. would suffer a mass-casualty terrorist strike but “when.”  Among the panel’s recommendations was the massive integration of all of the nation’s domestic security, disaster planning and recovery functions into one behemoth called the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

After 9/11, President George W. Bush faithfully executed the Hart-Rudman blueprint and President Obama and the Congress have continued to commit hundreds of billions to it. And so it was that the envisioned “peace dividend” cutbacks—which the end of the Cold War was supposed to have brought to the defense budget (and the bottom line of defense contractors)— were buried for good.

By 2011, according to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, the total cost for post-9/11 Homeland Security had already reached $649 billion and annual spending since then is running at about $70 billion a year.

At that rate, the price tag for the entire post 9/11 Homeland Security domestic undertaking is only a year or two away from reaching a trillion dollars. So what’s the return been on that investment?

The Military Takes on Climate Change Deniers

On Oct. 13, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel made it official with the release of the Pentagon’s 2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap, a 16-page document that lays out the effects of extreme weather events and rising temperatures on military training, operations, acquisitions, and infrastructure. Two previous editions, issued in 2012 and 2013, treated climate change as a future threat, but this year’s cast it as a reality that must be dealt with quickly. “Climate change will affect the Department of Defense’s ability to defend the Nation and poses immediate risks,” the document begins. …

“Climate change is a threat multiplier because it has the potential to exacerbate many of the challenges we already confront.” — Chuck Hagel

Amazon Must Be Stopped

That term doesn’t get tossed around much these days, but it should. Amazon is the shining representative of a new golden age of monopoly that also includes Google and Walmart. Unlike U.S. Steel, the new behemoths don’t use their barely challenged power to hike up prices. They are, in fact, self-styled servants of the consumer and have ushered in an era of low prices for everything from flat-screen TVs to paper napkins to smart phones. …

hese expectations help fuel our collective denial about Amazon. We seem to believe that the Web is far too fluid to fall capture to monopoly. If a site starts to develop the lameness of an AltaVista or Myspace, consumers will unhesitatingly abandon it. But while that meritocratic theory might be true enough for a search engine or social media site, Amazon is different. It has a record of shredding young businesses, like Zappos and Diapers.com, just as they begin to pose a competitive challenge. It uses its riches to undercut opponents on priceAmazon was prepared to lose $100 million in three months in its quest to harm Diapers.comthen once it has exhausted the resources of its foes, it buys them and walks away even stronger.

 Japan’s Decision on Collective Self-Defense in Context

In the East Asian regional context, Japan’s changing security posture is not the force for peace Tokyo claims it is.

On July 1, Japan passed a Cabinet decision that fundamentally changes the interpretation of war-renouncing Article 9 of its Constitution to allow the exercise of the right of collective self-defense.

Claimed to be part of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s doctrine of “pro-active pacifism,” the move stems from a correlation between Japan’s rising nationalism on the one hand, and joint U.S.-Japan efforts to strengthen their security cooperation on the other, as Washington and Tokyo are renegotiating their defense guidelines for the first time since 1997. The revised guidelines are due by year-end, with an interim report slated to be released next week. …

Despite Abe’s claim that “the reinforced Japan-U.S. alliance has contributed significantly to the peace of Japan and this region over many years, by serving as a deterrent,” the reality is in fact quite the opposite. Chinese state-run news service Xinhua has accused Japan of “dallying with the specter of war” – a view reflected by a recent survey that found that about 53 percent of Chinese and 29 percent of Japanese respondents expected a war to break out by the year 2020.

Far-Right Birther’s Secret Funders

Salon acquired a copy of the Center for Security Policy’s donor rolls, listing the organization’s biggest donors. And while far from providing the lion’s share of funding, six of the US’s biggest aerospace and defense contractors are supporters of Gaffney’s organization.

The document, which details contributions to the Center for Security Policy during the 2013 tax year, includes donations from: Boeing ($25,000); General Dynamics ($15,000); Lockheed Martin ($15,000); Northrup Grumman ($5,000); Raytheon ($20,000); and General Electric ($5,000).

A number of institutional donors with a history of supporting Islamophobia, including the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation and the Sarah Scaife Foundation, are also contributors, but the aerospace industry’s decision to support Gaffney’s highly controversial work is unusual due to his reputation as a member of the fringe, anti-Muslim far-right.

Pinkwashing: Fracking Company Teams Up With Susan G. Komen to ‘End Breast Cancer Forever’

Susan G. Komen, the largest breast cancer organization in America with more than 100,000 volunteers and partnerships in more than 50 countries, has teamed up with Baker Hughes, one of the world’s largest oilfield service companies with employees in more than 80 countries. Susan G. Komen hands out pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness, and Baker Hughes fracks. So, there you have it: a pink, fracking, drill head.

Cut benefits? Yes, let’s start with our £85bn corporate welfare handout

Last week, as the Tory faithful cheered on George Osborne’s new cuts in benefits for the working-age poor, a little story appeared that blew a big hole in the welfare debate. Tucked away in the Guardian last Wednesday, an article revealed that the British government had since 2007 handed Disney almost £170m to make films here. Last year alone the Californian giant took £50m in tax credits. By way of comparison, in April the government will scrap a £347m crisis fund that provides emergency cash for families on the verge of homelessness or starvation. …

Add to that the corporate tax benefits, the value of the cheap credit made available to banks and other business, the insurance schemes run by the government to protect exporters, the marketing for British business laid on by Vince Cable’s ministry, the public procurement from the private sector … Farnsworth calculates that direct corporate welfare costs British taxpayers just shy of £85bn a year.

This, he admits, is a conservative estimate. I would throw in the public subsidy provided to too-big-to-fail banks, or the £25bn taxpayers shelled out that year in tax credits, housing and council tax benefits to people in work but not paid enough by their employers to live on. Nevertheless, Farnsworth has achieved something extraordinary: he has yanked into the open an £85bn subsidy that big business and the government would rather you didn’t know about.

US firms could make billions from UK via secret tribunals

The Government has repeatedly played down concerns that secret tribunals established by TTIP will lead to large numbers of American corporations suing the UK in trade disputes.

But United Nations figures uncovered by The Independent show that US companies have made billions of dollars by suing other governments nearly 130 times in the past 15 years under similar free-trade agreements.

Germany Can’t Manage Its Weapons

Military procurement and management in Germany have been under heightened scrutiny ever since Berlin’s attempt to buy an European version of America’s Global Hawk drone ended in miserable failure in mid-2013.

In late September, the German military sent an explosive report to parliament, confessing that half of the armed forces’ heavy equipment is unserviceable and can’t deploy in a crisis.

Warmongering Hebrew University tries to muzzle Palestinian students

On Monday this week, the giant US weapons-maker Lockheed Martin announced that it had signed a cooperation agreement with Yissum Research and Development Company. Yissum is a “technology transfer” firm belonging to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The deal could lead to “more efficient means” of killing Palestinians. It also enables the privatization of knowledge.

Lockheed will reportedly be able to enjoy monopoly “rights” over any innovations realized by this partnership. Scientists working for a nominally public university are, therefore, being required to serve the interests of an American corporation that is a key supplier of weapons to the Israeli military.

Richest 1% of people own nearly half of global wealth, says report

According to the Credit Suisse global wealth report (pdf), a person needs just $3,650 – including the value of equity in their home – to be among the wealthiest half of world citizens. However, more than $77,000 is required to be a member of the top 10% of global wealth holders, and $798,000 to belong to the top 1%.

“Taken together, the bottom half of the global population own less than 1% of total wealth. In sharp contrast, the richest decile hold 87% of the world’s wealth, and the top percentile alone account for 48.2% of global assets,” said the annual report, now in its fifth year.

The report, which calculates that total global wealth has grown to a new record – $263tn, more than twice the $117tn calculated for 2000 – found that the UK was the only country in the G7 to have recorded rising inequality in the 21st century.

UK to allow fracking companies to use ‘any substance’ under homes 

The UK government plans to allow fracking companies to put “any substance” under people’s homes and property and leave it there, as part of the Infrastructure Bill which will be debated by the House of Lords on Tuesday.

The legal change makes a “mockery” of ministers’ claims that the UK has the best shale gas regulation in the world, according to green campaigners, who said it is so loosely worded it could also enable the burial of nuclear waste. The government said the changes were “vital to kickstarting shale” gas exploration.

Changes to trespass law to remove the ability of landowners to block fracking below their property are being pushed through by the government as part of the infrastructure bill. …

The trespass law change has attracted controversy before, when the government decided to push ahead despite the opposition of 99% of the respondents to its consultation.

This One $486 Million Blunder In Afghanistan Sums Up The Disaster Of Military Spending

A set of high-level US government letters recently disclosed as part of a Pentagon Inspector General’s investigation reveal that sixteen G222 military cargo planes were scrapped after years of poor maintenance and failed integration into the Afghan Air Force. The planes were part of a failed military aid package that ran a nearly half-billion dollar price tag for US taxpayers.

The aircraft were hardly used before being ground down and sold to an Afghan construction company for 6 cents a pound, or a total of $32,000. …

The program ran a $486.1 million tag, but the aircraft logged only 234 of the 4,500 required hours from January through September 2012.

The US and a Crumbling Levant

The British colonial term, Levant, encompasses modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, with a total population of over 70 million people. The population—mostly young, unemployed or underemployed, poor, and inadequately educated—has lost trust in its leaders and the governing elites.

The Levant has become a bloody playground for other states in the greater Middle East, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Iran, and Turkey. While dislocations in the Levant could be contained, the regional states’ involvement has transformed the area into an international nightmare. The resulting instability will impact the region for years to come regardless of Daesh’s short-term fortunes.

Only 12% of drone victims in Pakistan identified as militants: report

A recent research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that only 12% of drone victims in Pakistan have been identified as militants. Moreover, the research also stated that fewer than 4% of the people killed have been identified as members of al Qaeda.

The research contradicts US Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim last year that only “confirmed terrorist targets at the highest level” were fired at.

The number of US drone strikes in Pakistan has hit 400 between June 2004 and October 2013.

Of the 2,370 people killed in these strikes, 704 have been identified, of which only 295 were reported to be members of some kind of armed group.

 Does Rising Inequality Make a Democracy More Warlike?

Much has changed since then in terms of how and when wealthy democracies like the US make war. MIT political scientist Jonathan Caverley, author of Democratic Militarism: Voting, Wealth, and War, and himself a US Navy veteran, argues that increasingly high-tech militaries, with all-volunteer armies that sustain fewer casualties in smaller conflicts, combine with rising economic inequality to create perverse incentives that turn the conventional view of war on its head. His research looks at public opinion and military aggressiveness, and concludes that it’s the working class and poor who are more likely to favor military action today. And that bottom-up pressure makes wealthy democracies more aggressive. …

Caverley: What was interesting to me is that one of the best predictors of your desire to spend money on defense was your desire to spend money on education, your desire to spend money on healthcare, your desire to spend money on roads. I was really shocked by the fact that there is not much of a ‘guns and butter’ tradeoff in the minds of most respondents in these public opinion polls.

European banks and the global banking glut

The story of the financial crisis is a story of the failure of safe assets. That is why it was so traumatic. People expect to take losses on risky investments. They don’t expect to take losses on safe ones. Yet we are still trying to make the financial system “safer” and encourage investors to invest in “safe” assets. When will we learn that the safest investment is a risky one, and the most dangerous investments are those that are believed to be completely safe?

And it is also a warning of the consequences of regulatory arbitrage. The fact that the US and European banks had different regulatory regimes created a golden opportunity for unregulated institutions to exploit, with catastrophic consequences. Yet the US, the UK and the EU are still devising their own systems of regulation with scant regard for international consistency. When will we learn that an international industry requires international regulation?

With US-led air strikes on Isis intensifying, it’s a good time to be an arms giant like Lockheed Martin

Shares in Lockheed Martin – maker of the “All for One and One for All” Hellfire missiles – are up 9.3 per cent in the past three months. Raytheon – which has a big Israeli arm – has gone up 3.8 per cent. Northrop Grumman shares swooped up the same 3.8 per cent. And General Dynamics shares have risen 4.3 per cent. Lockheed Martin – which really does steal Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers quotation on its publicity material – makes the rockets carried by the Reaper drones, famous for destroying wedding parties over Afghanistan and Pakistan, and by Iraqi aircraft.

And don’t be downhearted. The profits go on soaring. When the Americans decided to extend their bombing into Syria in September – to attack President Assad’s enemies scarcely a year after they first proposed to bomb President Assad himself – Raytheon was awarded a $251m (£156m) contract to supply the US navy with more Tomahawk cruise missiles. Agence France-Presse, which does the job that Reuters used to do when it was a real news agency, informed us that on 23 September, American warships fired 47 Tomahawk missiles. Each one costs about $1.4m. And if we spent as promiscuously on Ebola cures, believe me, there would be no more Ebola. …

Let me give you a real-time quotation from reporter Dan De Luce’s dispatch on arms sales for the French news agency. “The war promises to generate more business not just from US government contracts but other countries in a growing coalition, including European and Arab states… Apart from fighter jets, the air campaign [sic] is expected to boost the appetite for aerial refuelling tankers, surveillance aircraft such as the U-2 and P-8 spy planes, and robotic [sic again, folks] drones… Private security contractors, which profited heavily from the US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, also are optimistic the conflict will produce new contracts to advise Iraqi troops.”

Organised Hypocrisy on a Monumental Scale

The restrictions that the Israeli state imposes on Palestinians in the West Bank (to say nothing of Gaza, which I did not visit) are most visible in the Wall and security fence, which divides the whole length of the West Bank, including deep intrusions to annex additional land for Israel. But the restrictions also cover the movement of people, the import and export of goods and services, investments, and access to basic infrastructure (electricity, water, sanitation). They are so pervasive and systematic that it almost seems as if the Israeli state has mapped the entire Palestinian economy in terms of input-output relations, right down to the capillary level of the individual, the household, the small firm, the large firm, the school, the university, so as to find all possible choke points, which Israeli officials can tighten or loosen at will.

Under these circumstances – which I’m happy to say I have never encountered elsewhere – political and economic development is barely possible. In November 2013, the Israeli foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said: ‘We can talk seriously about a political settlement with the Palestinians when their per capita GDP reaches $10,000 – not a day before that’ (because only then will Palestinians have enough at stake genuinely to want peace). This expresses organised hypocrisy on a monumental scale. Until Palestine has substantial sovereignty, including control over borders and natural resources, the conditions for a ‘political settlement’ will be postponed indefinitely, and the region will remain a generator of conflicts feeding larger regional conflicts – indefinitely.

NASA Confirms A 2,500-Square-Mile Cloud Of Methane Floating Over US Southwest

The team at NASA was finally able to take a closer look, and have now concluded that there is in fact a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane—roughly the size of Delaware—floating over the Four Corners region, where the borders of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah all intersect.

A report published by the NASA researchers in the journal Geophysical Research Letters concludes that “the source is likely from established gas, coal, and coalbed methane mining and processing.” Indeed, the hot spot happens to be above New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, the most productive coalbed methane basin in North America.

Methane is 20-times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2, and has been the focus of an increasing amount of attention, especially in regards to methane leaks from fracking for oil and natural gas. Pockets of natural gas, which is 95-98% methane, are often found along with oil and simply burned off in a very visible process called “flaring.” But scientists are starting to realize that far more methane is being released by the fracking boom than previously thought.

Netanyahu’s Not Chickenshit, the White House Is

This episode also shows how much top U.S. officials would like to put pressure on Israel to alter its behavior. A mature great power that aspired to global leadership would do exactly that, but U.S. officials are prevented from taking this obvious step by the lingering political clout of AIPAC and other groups in the lobby. When they speak in public or on the record, they have to pretend that the “special relationship” is hunky-dory, even when it is obvious to even casual observers that it is not. But when well-meaning U.S. officials are stymied, insulted, and forced to engage in repeated acts of self-censorship, frustration is bound to build and eventually spill out in public. It’s unprofessional and unhelpful, but also entirely human.