January Reading List

  1. Sir Peter to take on new role in the defence sector
  2. Breaking Taboos, BDS Gains Ground Among Academics
  3. No, Chancellor, 0.5% inflation is not “welcome news”
  4. It is ‘impossible’ for today’s big oil companies to adapt to climate change
  5. Leave fossil fuels buried to prevent climate change, study urges
  6. The wealth that failed to trickle down: The rich do get richer while poor stay poor, report suggests
  7. Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists 
  8. Why we must reject the dangerous delusions of Davos
  9. Is USAID Helping Haiti to Recover, or US Contractors to Make Millions? 
  10. New Oxfam report says half of global wealth held by the 1% 
  11. Revealed: how the wealth gap holds back economic growth
  12. Old ice in Arctic vanishingly rare
  13. Pentagon says air force’s ‘expanding drone fleet’ is unjustified and wasteful 
  14. Tory and Labour seats face fracking and groundwater concerns
  15. Fossil fuel firms accused of renewable lobby takeover to push gas 
  16. As inequality soars, the nervous super rich are already planning their escapes
  17. They Pretend to Think, We Pretend to Listen
  18. George Osborne urges ministers to fast-track fracking measures in leaked letter
  19. Social conscience is key to cutting household energy
  20. In depth: Infrastructure bill amendments on fracking, fossil fuels, and zero carbon homes
  21. MPs have given the thumbs up to fracking – but this one’s far from over
  22. Winning an Election Does Not Mean Winning Power
  23. How the CIA made Google
  24. Why is terror Islamist?
  25. The Myth of the Terrorist Safe Haven
  26. Their mantra was ‘Hope begins today’: the inside story of Syriza’s rise to power
  27. A State Licence to Rob the Public
  28. Can Cool Pope Francis Change the Catholic Church?
  29. Any Government Must Fund The NHS Properly
  30. Claims that climate models overestimate warming are “unfounded”, study shows
  31. 33 Latin American and Caribbean states endorse Austrian Pledge and call for negotiations on a ban treaty
  32. Islamic State: the unknown war 
  33. Why Is an Israeli Defense Contractor Building a ‘Virtual Wall’ in the Arizona Desert? 
  34. Five Years After: Long Live Howard Zinn 
  35. Pentagon Seeks 13% Weapons Increase as Obama Urges End to Cuts
  36. How America Could Collapse
  37. Fracking set to be banned from 40% of England’s shale areas
  38. Put the Pentagon On a Real Budget
  39. Don’t Blame Islam
  40. Cameron’s five-year legacy: has he finished what Thatcher started?


Sir Peter to take on new role in the defence sector

Worcestershire MP Sir Peter Luff is to take on a lobbying role in the defence sector.

The former minister for defence equipment, support and technology, who is leaving Parliament after May’s general election, is to become a patron of NDI, the trade body representing companies involved in the defence industry. The move comes just weeks after NDI’s ownership was taken over by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, allowing NDI members to benefit from being part of the largest and most influential force backing UK manufacturing and engineering.

Breaking Taboos, BDS Gains Ground Among Academics

Most academic organizations have been wary of discussing, much less endorsing, the academic boycott of Israel. But things have changed since April 2013, when the Association of Asian American Studies became the first academic organization to answer the call for solidarity from the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) emanating out of Palestinian civil society. The American Studies Association vote to endorse the academic boycott of Israel that December put into motion a mass movement that has had a ripple effect way beyond the United States. …

As another indicator of the sea change when it comes to the BDS campaign, The Chronicle of Higher Education has just named the American Studies Association to its “2014 Influence List,” commenting: “As national organizations go, the American Studies Association is fairly small. But its impact this year on political discourse has been outsized. By voting in favor of an academic boycott of Israel, its eighteen-member executive body provoked a bitter debate nationally and internationally, within higher education and beyond.”

No, Chancellor, 0.5% inflation is not “welcome news”

For ordinary consumers, workers, farmers and for the owners of firms and shops – especially those with debts – there is no such thing as “good deflation”. …

The reason is as follows: if producers or retailers sell their wares below cost, then they will invariably make a loss on those sales. Their business will become less profitable. The sensible response when a firm is not able to price its goods to make a profit, or to cover costs, is to produce less of what it is unprofitable. In other words: to shrink productive activity. This is done by cutting production, trimming wages and inevitably, laying off staff. Thus the fall in prices, leads to a fall in profits, which leads to falls in wages and to a rise in unemployment. Unemployment means that workers lack disposable income, and find it harder to buy products and services on offer. As a result producers sell even fewer of their already low- priced products or services. Bankruptcies and unemployment rise, while wages and prices fall further, and so the deflationary spiral takes hold.

Furthermore, the price indices managed by government –in particular the Consumer Price Index (CPI  – are used to fix wages in private and public sector wage negotiations. Benefits received by disabled people and pensioners increase (or decrease) in line with CPI inflation. So when the CPI falls, be sure wages and benefits will fall too. (And with a political consensus in the British Parliament promising savage spending cuts in the next Parliament, pensions and other benefits will have to be cut in line with the falling level of CPI, if the proposed extreme spending targets are to be met.) …

And while prices, wages and incomes can fall below zero, debts remain fixed, and in relation to falling wages and incomes – rise in value.

This is why creditors encourage, and even pressure politicians and policy-makers (central bankers and officials) to apply deflationary policies – because deflationary policies protect and even increase the value of their most important asset – debt.

To repeat: whereas inflation erodes the value of debt, deflation increases the real value of debt. …

The 1920s era of deflation and high unemployment came about as a result of the very same austerity policies being vigorously re-applied today by ‘neoclassical’ or monetarist economists and politicians across the Eurozone and in the UK.

It is ‘impossible’ for today’s big oil companies to adapt to climate change

Without some kind of truly traumatic shock to the system (‘Macondo x 10’, as one of my erstwhile and most trusted colleagues in BP once described it), we came to the conclusion that it was impossible for today’s oil and gas majors to adapt in a timely and intelligent way to the imperative of radical decarbonisation. Although a small proportion of our total funding comes from oil and gas majors (for specific projects we believe have the potential to transform part of their value chain) and from companies that are involved in the offshore energy supply chain, we felt we had no option but to end our long-standing partnerships with both Shell and BP.

All oil majors are trapped by a short-term mandate that leaves little room for manoeuvre. Shareholder expectations still dominate, and are still largely untouched by any kind of ‘unburnable carbon’ analysis of the staggering amount of economic value now at risk. Plus, most people’s pension funds would take a massive hit if any of these companies proved me wrong and Jeremy Leggett right.

Leave fossil fuels buried to prevent climate change, study urges

“We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2C temperature limit,” said Christophe McGlade, at University College London (UCL), and who led the new research published in the journal Nature. The work, using detailed data and well-established economic models, assumed cost effective climate policies would use the cheapest fossil fuels first, with more expensive fuels priced out of a world in which carbon emissions were strictly limited. For example, the model predicts that significant cheap-to-produce conventional oil would be burned but that the carbon limit would be reached before more expensive tar sands oil could be used.

Unburnable fossil fuels

The wealth that failed to trickle down: The rich do get richer while poor stay poor, report suggests

Can it be true? Not according to Larry Summers and Ed Balls. The former American Treasury Secretary and Labour’s shadow Chancellor, in a new report produced yesterday by the Centre for American Progress, attempt to explode a bomb under this theory of a virtuous economic circle. “Left to their own devices, unfettered markets and trickle-down economics will lead to increasing levels of inequality, stagnating wages, and a hollowing out of decent, middle-income jobs,” the report argues.

The trickle-down effect

Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists 

Two major new studies by an international team of researchers have pinpointed the key factors that ensure a livable planet for humans, with stark results.

Of nine worldwide processes that underpin life on Earth, four have exceeded “safe” levels – human-driven climate change, loss of biosphere integrity, land system change and the high level of phosphorus and nitrogen flowing into the oceans due to fertiliser use. …

They found that the changes of the last 60 years are unprecedented in the previous 10,000 years, a period in which the world has had a relatively stable climate and human civilisation has advanced significantly.

Why we must reject the dangerous delusions of Davos

Unfortunately, as a new report from Global Justice Now has shown, when you scratch the surface of this story, and look closely at the figures we are being fed, things begin to fall apart. …

Alas, the myths of the Davos elite are very convenient. They cast the super-rich as heroes of charity, rather than as the unjust beneficiaries of a system that has brought us a world in which just 80 billionaires own as much wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people.

And, as the poor as more or less excluded from the discussion there, these are myths that will go more or less unchallenged.

Is USAID Helping Haiti to Recover, or US Contractors to Make Millions? 

And so, the big question five years later remains: “Where did the money go?” The funds pledged were enough to hand every single Haitian a check for $1,000. Yet compared to the lofty expectations, the internationally led reconstruction process has been a failure. To answer the question, you have to forget the notion that foreign aid is simply an altruistic endeavor to better the lives of those in need.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which has spent more than $1.5 billion in Haiti, explains its goal as “furthering America’s interests.” In a more candid assessment, contained in a document now over a decade old and no longer publicly available, USAID explained that “the principal beneficiary of America’s foreign assistance programs has always been the United States.” Evidence from Haiti backs this up. For every $1 that USAID has spent, less than one penny went directly to Haitian organizations, be it the Haitian government or in Haiti’s private sector. More than 50 cents went to Beltway firms—handling everything from housing construction, rubble removal, health services, security and more—located in DC, Maryland and Virginia. As a jobs creator back home, USAID’s Haiti reconstruction effort has been an astounding success. The single largest recipient of USAID funding in Haiti was a for-profit, DC-based firm, Chemonics International, through USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives. In an earlier contract with Chemonics released through Freedom of Information Act requests, USAID clearly explained: “While humanitarian aid is distributed on the basis of need alone, transition assistance is allocated with an eye to advancing U.S. foreign policy objectives and priorities.”

New Oxfam report says half of global wealth held by the 1% 

The charity’s research, published on Monday, shows that the share of the world’s wealth owned by the best-off 1% has increased from 44% in 2009 to 48% in 2014, while the least well-off 80% currently own just 5.5%.

Oxfam added that on current trends the richest 1% would own more than 50% of the world’s wealth by 2016.

Revealed: how the wealth gap holds back economic growth

The west’s leading economic thinktank on Tuesday dismissed the concept of trickle-down economics as it found that the UK economy would have been more than 20% bigger had the gap between rich and poor not widened since the 1980s.

Publishing its first clear evidence of the strong link between inequality and growth, the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development proposed higher taxes on the rich and policies aimed at improving the lot of the bottom 40% of the population, identified by Ed Miliband as the “squeezed middle”. …

According to the OECD, rising inequality in the two decades after 1985 shaved nine percentage points off UK growth between 1990 and 2000. The economy expanded by 40% during the 1990s and 2000s but would have grown by almost 50% had inequality not risen. Reducing income inequality in Britain to the level of France would increase growth by nearly 0.3 percentage points over a 25-year period, with a cumulated gain in GDP at the end of the period in excess of 7%.

Old ice in Arctic vanishingly rare


Pentagon says air force’s ‘expanding drone fleet’ is unjustified and wasteful 

The Pentagon’s internal watchdog has questioned the air force’s need for 46 armed Reaper drones, and suggested the flying service is wasting $8.8bn on superfluous aircraft.

As purchases of General Atomics’s MQ-9 Reaper ballooned from 60 aircraft in 2007 to the current 401, air force officials did not justify the need for an expanding drone fleet, the Pentagon said.

During that time, costs for purchasing one of the signature counter-terrorism weapons of Barack Obama’s presidency increased by 934%, from $1.1bn to more than $11.4bn, according to a declassified September report by the Pentagon inspector general. Purchasing costs are a fraction of what the drones cost to operate and maintain over their time in service: in 2012, the Pentagon estimated the total costs for them at $76.8bn. …

Pentagon inspectors found that the air force’s inability to justify its continuing Reaper purchases risks wasting $2.5bn for 13 mission-ready drones; $2.1bn for 11 training drones; $958m for five test drones; $766m for four air national guard drones; and $1.7bn for nine attrition-reserve drones.

The per-cost waste of the questionable drone purchases works out to roughly $192m for each of the 46 Reapers the inspector general was unable to justify buying.

Tory and Labour seats face fracking and groundwater concerns

The analysis by Greenpeace found that more than 300 seats may contain both shale gas exploration blocks and designated groundwater zones. This includes large swathes of the Tory heartlands. …

The analysis shows there are around 200 Conservative seats in England and Wales that have groundwater showing on fracking blocks, out of about 260 that could potentially be fracked.

Compared to other parties, this signifies a disproportionate risk of fracking in groundwater protection areas  – Labour have about 100 constituencies with overlapping fracking blocks and groundwater out of around 200 with fracking blocks, while the Lib Dems have about 25 out of 40, respectively.

Fossil fuel firms accused of renewable lobby takeover to push gas 

Major fossil fuel companies and energy utilities have used their financial power to take control of key renewable energy lobby groups in Europe in an effort to slow the continent’s transition to clean energy, according to industry insiders.

Big energy firms such as Total, Iberdrola, E.On and Enel have together adopted a dominant position in trade bodies such as the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA) and European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). Their representatives now constitute a majority on both group’s boards.

Officials in EPIA were told to argue for a renewable-gas alliance as the answer to Europe’s energy security concerns, while EWEA lowered its 2030 clean energy ambitions by a third, according to ex-staffers, renewables experts and policy insiders. They argue that the more pro-gas stance influenced the 2030 climate targets adopted by EU governments last year.

“One of the advantages the fossils still have over renewables is capital and that is why they say that the perfect match is between renewables and gas,” the Green MEP Bas Eickhout told the Guardian. “The strategy is familiar. It ends with a fossil fuel takeover.”

As inequality soars, the nervous super rich are already planning their escapes

With growing inequality and the civil unrest from Ferguson and the Occupy protests fresh in people’s mind, the world’s super rich are already preparing for the consequences. At a packed session in Davos, former hedge fund director Robert Johnson revealed that worried hedge fund managers were already planning their escapes. “I know hedge fund managers all over the world who are buying airstrips and farms in places like New Zealand because they think they need a getaway,” he said.

They Pretend to Think, We Pretend to Listen

In order to recapture politicians, intellectuals, and the media, corporations increased their Washington lobbying efforts and jacked up campaign contributions as well. Just as important, corporations shoveled cash into existing think tanks and established dozens of new ones. The Heritage Foundation began in 1973, and within a decade its annual budget topped $12 million. The American Enterprise Institute, which began life as a fairly nondescript business advocacy group, became more politically emboldened and saw its budget triple between 1975 and 1985. New conservative think tanks founded in the post-Watergate period included the Cato Institute, the Manhattan Institute, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center. …

PPI was affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council, which had been founded to regain the White House by pulling the party in a more centrist direction. Bill Clinton was a charter member of the Council, and when he became president, PPI pumped out reams of studies in support of NAFTA, welfare reform, and other “New Democrat” priorities. In effect, Clinton and PPI stand at one end of an era, while Obama and CAP sit at the other—the era in question being that of the full corporate takeover of the Democratic Party and, by extension, American politics. …

Such self-advertised vacuity makes perfect sense for an institution like CAP, for the simple reason that these pious word clouds are also the standard argot of corporate America. CAP’s board and roster of scholars are stuffed with the most rancid elements of the Democratic Party, many of them Clinton administration veterans or key political supporters. Last December, it named Lawrence Summers, formerly Clinton’s treasury secretary and Obama’s National Economic Council director, as a distinguished senior fellow. “As our country continues to confront challenges to establishing economic growth that is more broadly shared, there are few thinkers with Larry’s insights, keen intellect, and policy creativity,” Tanden said at the time. …

Any suggestion that CAP is in the business of airing dispassionate policy research and then letting the chips fall where they may for the sake of broadening the scope of intellectual debate in Washington should, of course, be greeted by a torrent of bitter laughter. A review of CAP’s research track record shows that the group’s work is dictated by two simple mainsprings: its obvious and overwhelming fealty to the Democratic Party, and the pursuit of corporate cash. For evidence of the former, one need look no further than the frenetically revolving door that connects the think tank and the Obama administration. At least forty CAP staffers have taken administration jobs since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, and at least eight administration officials moved to CAP after leaving their government posts. White House visitor logs show hundreds of meetings between CAP staffers and administration officials; CAP leaders Podesta and Tanden, not surprisingly, are among the most frequent White House visitors. …

Of course, it also helps that Lockheed, Boeing, and Raytheon, all members of the Business Alliance, are major BMD contractors. CAP’s 2009 statement specifically praised two highly controversial programs, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and the Aegis system, on which all three companies are primary contractors or subcontractors. CAP’s “Idea of the Day” on January 4, 2010, was “Continue Funding for Reliable Missile Defense Systems,” which said that the Pentagon should “continue research and testing” the THAAD and the Aegis so they could “be perfected to provide the most cost-effective means of missile defense available.”

George Osborne urges ministers to fast-track fracking measures in leaked letter

George Osborne has requested that ministers make dozens of interventions to fast-track fracking as a “personal priority”, including the delivery of numerous “asks” from shale gas company Cuadrilla.

The list of requests are laid out in a leaked letter to the chancellor’s cabinet colleagues. They include interventions in local planning, and offering public land for potential future drilling. Anti-fracking campaigners claim the letter reveals collusion with the industry, while Labour said it showed the government was an “unabashed cheerleader for fracking”.

Social conscience is key to cutting household energy

Altruism is alive and well and living in California. An extended experiment involving more than 100 households suggests that people are more likely to reduce energy use if they believe it is good for the environment rather than good for their pockets.

Those who tuned into the messages about public good saved, on average, 8% on their fuel bills, while households with children reduced their energy use by 19%. But people who were repeatedly reminded that they were using more power than an economy-conscious neighbour altered their consumption hardly at all.

In depth: Infrastructure bill amendments on fracking, fossil fuels, and zero carbon homes

  • MPs vote to increase restrictions on fracking.
  • Conservatives and Labour claim credit for creating a positive investment environment for UK shale gas industry.
  • Government agrees to obligation to outline how fracking fits within the UK’s climate targets.
  • Industry react positively to amendments. Environmental groups fear changes are superficial.
  • Opposition fails to remove a clause obligating the UK to “maximise” oil and gas extraction.
  • Infrastructure bill leaves House of Commons with watered-down proposal for building new zero-carbon homes.

MPs have given the thumbs up to fracking – but this one’s far from over

The Infrastructure Bill will now head back to the House of Lords, to be wrapped up soon after some further wrangling and no doubt renewed lobbying from the bottomless pockets of Mr Osborne’s bosom buddies.

In the meantime, all eyes turn to Lancashire, a key battleground in the fracking fight. Lancashire is being lined up to be the laboratory for the UK’s fracking experiment, yet its own MPs want a moratorium. They face tens of thousands of constituents, businesses, community groups and unions who are deeply unhappy about the risks and impacts fracking their countryside and villages would bring.

Winning an Election Does Not Mean Winning Power

But upon seeing the son of Enriquez, I remembered what Salvador Allende said to the young members of the MIR: “We haven’t chosen the terrain. We have inherited it. We have the government, but we don’t have power.” That bitter clarity of Allende is something I also found among our brother-presidents in Latin America. What we have ahead of us is not going to be an easy road. We first have to win the elections — and only afterwards will the real difficulties begin. …

Winning elections is far from winning power. That’s why we must bring together everyone who is committed to change and decency, which is nothing more than turning the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into a manual for government.

How the CIA made Google

Google styles itself as a friendly, funky, user-friendly tech firm that rose to prominence through a combination of skill, luck, and genuine innovation. This is true. But it is a mere fragment of the story. In reality, Google is a smokescreen behind which lurks the US military-industrial complex. …

In sum, many of Google’s most senior executives are affiliated with the Pentagon Highlands Forum, which throughout the period of Google’s growth over the last decade, has surfaced repeatedly as a connecting and convening force. The US intelligence community’s incubation of Google from inception occurred through a combination of direct sponsorship and informal networks of financial influence, themselves closely aligned with Pentagon interests. …

In sum, the investment firm [Goldman Sachs] responsible for creating the billion dollar fortunes of the tech sensations of the 21st century, from Google to Facebook, is intimately linked to the US military intelligence community; with Venables, Lee and Friedman either directly connected to the Pentagon Highlands Forum, or to senior members of the Forum.

Why is terror Islamist?

Let’s consider a few simple facts: Christians drew the boundaries of the states in which most Muslims live. They named those same formations, from “Senegal” to “Jordan” to “Indonesia.” Currently, people in Christian countries make up one-third of the world’s population, while holding two-thirds of its wealth and nine-tenths of its military might. …

There is no justification for slaying and maiming innocents. Terrorism can never be justified. But it can be explained.

The Myth of the Terrorist Safe Haven

The need to destroy safe havens — defined by the U.S. State Department as an “area of relative security exploited by terrorists to indoctrinate, recruit, coalesce, train, and regroup, as well as prepare and support their operations” — was the premise for the war in Afghanistan and for the expansion of drone operations into Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Most recently, it has underlined the rationale for initiating an open-ended war to degrade and destroy the Islamic State. Although Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has emphasized since September that the Islamic State poses no credible threat to the U.S. homeland, policymakers continue to conflate the group’s relative safe haven with its ability to conduct international attacks. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel claimed, “These fighters can exploit [the Islamic State’s] safe haven to plan, coordinate, and carry out attacks against the United States and Europe.” Similarly, Nicholas Rasmussen, now director of the National Counterterrorism Center, contended that a safe haven would allow the Islamic State “to bring additional Western potential operatives into Iraq or Syria, into that safe haven, and potentially train, equip, and deploy them back out to Europe and the United States.”

Given that the United States is over 13 years into this campaign and that the size of foreign terrorist organizations that the United States is at war with has grown or stayed the same size, it is well past time to test the truth and wisdom behind the safe-haven assumption. Spoiler alert: The support for its universal acceptance simply is not there. …

Core al Qaeda — the ultimate perpetrators of 9/11 — has not conducted another attack against the homeland. More broadly, it is overlooked that other terrorist groups based in safe havens have accounted for only 1 percent of terrorist attacks against the U.S. homeland. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for just two out of more than 200 attacks, neither of which resulted in any deaths. And only six of 60 publicly documented, uncovered plots by international terrorist organizations against the United States since 9/11 were directly linked to al Qaeda — either operatives communicated with or the plot was orchestrated by senior leadership.

Their mantra was ‘Hope begins today’: the inside story of Syriza’s rise to power

Tsipras crafted Syriza from a loose alliance into a party that is the quintessential expression of the values of this broad-left section of the Greek electorate. All it took was for their natural party, Pasok, to destroy itself.

A State Licence to Rob the Public

An example of how this could work is the installation of a community energy supply in Balcombe in Sussex, the site of some of Britain’s most determined anti-fracking protests. The co-operative that local people have formed there as an alternative to the smash-and-grab fossil fuel extraction pursued by the drilling companies has attached £30,000 of solar panels to the roof of a cowshed. They will switch on the array within the next few days. The co-op, REPOWERBalcombe, hopes eventually to produce as much energy as the village uses, and to invest some of the profits in local energy efficiency and the alleviation of fuel poverty. …

This is more or less what has happened in Germany, whose Big Four are now in serious trouble as a result of the government’s encouragement of community schemes. I believe that Germany’s priorities are wrong: that getting rid of fossil fuels is a much more into important task than getting rid of nuclear power, which is orders of magnitude less dangerous. But despite proceeding with a ball and chain around its leg (the irrational pledge to abolish the nation’s primary source of low carbon energy, which impedes the transition away from oil, gas and coal) the government there has at least succeeded in challenging the big energy companies’ licence to print money. …

This was the future promised to the United Kingdom by Ed Davey’s department. In this oligarchs’ island paradise, whose government often seems to be little more than a channel for corporate power, it sounded too good to be true. And it was. His coalition partners have now sabotaged Davey’s community energy revolution. The Big Six can relax: their inordinate profits remain safe on these shores.

First, the Financial Conduct Authority changed the rules under which energy co-operatives could be established. As a result of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Actpassed into law last year, the model that has proved so successful in Germany has been deemed ineligible here. The FCA has been rejecting attempts to establish new energy co-ops on the grounds that they sell the electricity they produce onto the grid, rather than to their members.

Then the Treasurer, George Osborne, quietly slipped a change to the tax rules into last year’s autumn statement. Uniquely among small new businesses, community energy schemes will, from April, no longer be eligible for two major incentives to investors: Enterprise Investment Scheme and Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme tax relief.

Can Cool Pope Francis Change the Catholic Church?

All of Pope Francis’ prior statements and actions may pale in importance next to his stand on global climate change. Following numerous exhortations that humanity become a better and more thoughtful steward of creation and a great deal of preparatory groundwork, the Pope is preparing an encyclical on ecology and climate change in advance of this year’s G20 climate talks. That may not sound like much, but it’s a very big deal. Papal encyclicals are rare. Pope Benedict XVI issued only three during his eight-year tenure; his predecessor Pope John Paul II was somewhat more prolific, producing 14 in his 27 years as Pope. …

While it may not be the most beloved of organizations by progressives, the Vatican is one of the few organizations in the world with a global power and reach that even the biggest multinational corporations and corrupted governments cannot sway, and with a moral authority that has the potential to shame great nations into taking stronger actions than they might otherwise have done.

Any Government Must Fund The NHS Properly

The current NHS crisis has been caused by the lack of funding. Or, put another way, the government refusing to spend our money as we expect. The crisis is on the head of the coalition because the government has chosen instead to spend our money reducing the deficit (or, put another way, the poor paying the rich even more) and investing in the HS2 railway. If HS2 was cancelled and the funding redirected towards health there would be no crisis at A&E. The government should be funding the NHS to ensure a high standard, universal service that is open to all.

It has become something of a disdainful argument from politicians about the NHS because it tends to be rooted in economics not people; it flows from the ‘cost-cutting’ obsession of the Tories and Liberals; and forgets that the NHS is about providing high quality universal healthcare to those in need. It also seems that the politicians have forgotten one other fundamental of the NHS. It is paid for in advance so it is there when we need it. We pay for it, with our taxes so that when we go to A&E we can be seen without the hurdle of means testing, bills, or even immigration status checks which has somehow crawled onto the agenda. It is not free, but it is provided in communities across the UK on a universal basis.

Claims that climate models overestimate warming are “unfounded”, study shows

A new paper takes an in-depth look at the suggestion that climate models routinely overestimate the speed at which Earth’s surface is warming – and finds the argument lacking.

A look back over the past century shows that, by and large, what we see in global average temperature is extremely well captured by models, the authors tell Carbon Brief.

The new research, a collaboration between scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of Leeds, is published today in the journal Nature.

33 Latin American and Caribbean states endorse Austrian Pledge and call for negotiations on a ban treaty

Latin American and Caribbean states have once again shown a united front and a clear vision for the future of nuclear disarmament.

At the third annual summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), heads of state of all 33 countries, issued a declaration fully supporting the outcomes of the Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in Vienna last December and formally endorsing the Austrian Pledge. The Austrian Pledge, delivered by the deputy foreign minister of Austria at the end of the Vienna Conference, recognised the existence of a “legal gap” in the international framework regulating nuclear weapons and called on all states to join in efforts to fill this legal gap by pursuing measures which would stigmatise, prohibit and lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons.

Islamic State: the unknown war 

The current edition of Jane’s Defence Weekly, the authoritative defence publication, says that the entire plan has been put on hold. The troops will not, after all, be sent in the foreseeable future. The core reason is most indicative both of domestic priorities and of the real state of affairs in Syria-Iraq.

The decision, reports Jane’s, was taken at a meeting of the UK’s national-security council (NSC) on 16 December  2014, chaired by prime minister David Cameron. “According to senior defence sources in London, fears that UK troops could be killed or taken hostage in the run-up to the UK general election in May were behind the rejection of the plans” (see Tim Ripley, “UK puts training Iraq mission on hold“, Jane’s Defence Weekly, 19 January 2015).

Why Is an Israeli Defense Contractor Building a ‘Virtual Wall’ in the Arizona Desert? 

Just a few more minutes on foot and Elkabetz could have watched green-striped US Border Patrol vehicles inching along the trickling Rio Grande in front of Ciudad Juarez, one of Mexico’s largest cities filled with US factories and the dead of that country’s drug wars. The Border Patrol agents whom the general might have spotted were then being up-armored with a lethal combination of surveillance technologies, military hardware, assault rifles, helicopters and drones. This once-peaceful place was being transformed into what Timothy Dunn, in his book The Militarization of the US Mexico Border, terms a state of “low-intensity warfare.” …

If, however, the United States follows the “common sense” of the border-surge bill, the result could add more than $40 billion worth of agents, advanced technologies, walls and other barriers to an already unparalleled border enforcement apparatus. And a crucial signal would be sent to the private sector that, as the trade magazine Homeland Security Today puts it, another “treasure trove” of profit is on the way for a border control market already, according to the latest forecasts, in an “unprecedented boom period.” …

Like the Gaza Strip for the Israelis, the US borderlands, dubbed a “constitution-free zone” by the ACLU, are becoming a vast open-air laboratory for tech companies. There, almost any form of surveillance and “security” can be developed, tested and showcased, as if in a militarized shopping mall, for other nations across the planet to consider. In this fashion, border security is becoming a global industry and few corporate complexes can be more pleased by this than the one that has developed in Elkabetz’s Israel. …

This is not the first time Israeli companies have been involved in a US border build-up. In fact, in 2004, Elbit’s Hermes drones were the first unmanned aerial vehicles to take to the skies to patrol the southern border. In 2007, according to Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine, the Golan Group, an Israeli consulting company made up of former IDF Special Forces officers, provided an intensive eight-day course for special DHS immigration agents covering “everything from hand-to-hand combat to target practice to ‘getting proactive with their SUV.’” The Israeli company NICE Systems even supplied Arizona’s Joe Arpaio,“America’s toughest sheriff,” with a surveillance system to watch one of his jails.

As such border cooperation intensified, journalist Jimmy Johnson coined the apt phrase “Palestine-Mexico border” to catch what was happening. In 2012, Arizona state legislators, sensing the potential economic benefit of this growing collaboration, declared their desert state and Israel to be natural “trade partners,” adding that it was “a relationship we seek to enhance.”

In this way, the doors were opened to a new world order in which the United States and Israel are to become partners in the “laboratory” that is the US-Mexican borderlands. Its testing grounds are to be in Arizona. There, largely through a program known as Global Advantage, American academic and corporate knowhow and Mexican low-wage manufacturing are to fuse with Israel’s border and homeland security companies.

No one may frame the budding romance between Israel’s high-tech companies and Arizona better than Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild. “If you go to Israel and you come to Southern Arizona and close your eyes and spin yourself a few times,” he says, “you might not be able to tell the difference.” …

Think of Global Advantage as a multinational assembly line, a place where homeland security meets NAFTA. Right now there are reportedly 10 to 20 Israeli companies in active discussion about joining the program. Bruce Wright, the CEO of Tech Parks Arizona, tells TomDispatch that his organization has a “nondisclosure” agreement with any companies that sign on and so cannot reveal their names.

Though cautious about officially claiming success for Global Advantage’s Israel Business Initiative, Wright brims with optimism about his organization’s cross-national planning. As he talks in a conference room located on the 1,345-acre park on the southern outskirts of Tucson, it’s apparent that he’s buoyed by predictions that the Homeland Security market will grow from a $51 billion annual business in 2012 to $81 billion in the United States alone by 2020, and $544 billion worldwide by 2018. …

Although the Arizona-Israeli romance is still in the courtship stage, excitement about its possibilities is growing. Officials from Tech Parks Arizona see Global Advantage as the perfect way to strengthen the US-Israel “special relationship.” There is no other place in the world with a higher concentration of homeland security tech companies than Israel. Six hundred tech start-ups are launched in Tel Aviv alone every year. During the Gaza offensive last summer, Bloomberg reported that investment in such companies had “actually accelerated.” However, despite the periodic military operations in Gaza and the incessant build-up of the Israeli homeland security regime, there are serious limitations to the local market.

The Israeli Ministry of Economy is painfully aware of this. Its officials know that the growth of the Israeli economy is “largely fueled by a steady increase in exports and foreign investment.” The government coddles, cultivates and supports these start-up tech companies until their products are market-ready. Among them have been innovations like the “skunk,” a liquid with a putrid odor meant to stop unruly crowds in their tracks. The ministry has also been successful in taking such products to market across the globe. In the decade following 9/11, sales of Israeli “security exports” rose from $2 billion to $7 billion annually.

Israeli companies have sold surveillance drones to Latin American countries like Mexico, Chile and Colombia, and massive security systems to India and Brazil, where an electro-optic surveillance system will be deployed along the country’s borders with Paraguay and Bolivia. They have also been involved in preparations for policing the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. The products of Elbit Systems and its subsidiaries are now in use from the Americas and Europe to Australia. Meanwhile, that mammoth security firm is ever more involved in finding “civilian applications” for its war technologies. It is also ever more dedicated to bringing the battlefield to the world’s borderlands, including southern Arizona. …

Such violations matter little, of course, when there is money to be made, as Brigadier General Elkabetz indicated at that 2012 border technology conference. Given the direction that both the United States and Israel are taking when it comes to their borderlands, the deals being brokered at the University of Arizona look increasingly like matches made in heaven (or perhaps hell). As a result, there is truth packed into journalist Dan Cohen’s comment that “Arizona is the Israel of the United States.”

Five Years After: Long Live Howard Zinn 

Zinn reminded teachers that the point of learning about social studies was not simply to memorize facts, but to imbue students with a desire to change the world. “A modest little aim,” Zinn acknowledged, with a twinkle in his eye. …

A key premise that needs to be questioned, according to Zinn, is the notion of “national interests,” a term so common in the political and academic discourse as to be almost invisible. Zinn points out that the “one big family” myth begins with the Constitution’s preamble: “We the people of the United States. . .” Zinn noted that it wasn’t “we the people” who established the Constitution in Philadelphia—it was 55 rich white men. Missing from or glossed over in the traditional textbook treatment are race and class divisions, including the rebellions of farmers in Western Massachusetts, immediately preceding the Constitutional Convention in 1787. No doubt, the Constitution had elements of democracy, but Zinn argues that it “established the rule of slaveholders, and merchants, and bondholders.” …

Howard Zinn cuts through this curricular fog: “War is terrorism. . . . Terrorism is the willingness to kill large numbers of people for some presumably good cause. That’s what terrorists are about.” Zinn demands that we reexamine the premise that war is necessary, a proposition not taken seriously in any high school history textbook I’ve ever seen. Instead, wars get sold to Americans—especially to the young people who fight those wars—as efforts to spread liberty and democracy. As Howard Zinn said many times, if you don’t know your history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. Leaders can tell you anything and you have no way of knowing what’s true.

Pentagon Seeks 13% Weapons Increase as Obama Urges End to Cuts

The Pentagon is seeking an increase of $20.4 billion, or 13 percent, for weapons and research as President Barack Obama begins a push to remove defense budget caps that would force cuts in spending instead. …

The Pentagon will propose a base defense budget of $534 billion for fiscal 2016, about $34 billion more than sequestration would allow. The budget totals and potential cuts are separate from procurement funds in the supplemental $51 billion being proposed for war spending. The Defense Department has indicated that those funds also would be cut if the military had to live with sequestration.

How America Could Collapse

Worryingly, there’s been very little consideration of how systemic collapses can happen in another, perhaps more dangerous realm—the industrial supply system that keeps us in everything from medicine to food to cars to, yes, videotape. In 2004, for instance, England closed one single factory, which caused the United States to lose half of its flu vaccine supply.

Barry Lynn of the New America Foundation has been studying industrial supply shocks since 1999, when he noticed that global computer chip production was concentrated in Taiwan. After a severe earthquake in that country, the global computer industry nearly shut down, crashing the stocks of large computer makers. This level of concentration of the production of key components in a globalized economy is a new phenomenon. Lynn’s work points to the highly dangerous side of globalization, the flip side of a hyper-efficient global supply chain. When one link in that chain is broken, there is no fallback. …

Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, has made the case that America needs to be building things here, investing here and manufacturing here. We need the know-how and the ecosystem of innovation. The more corporate America seeks to push production risk off the balance sheet onto an increasingly fragile global supply chain, the more it seeks to wound the state so there is no body that can constrain its worst impulses, the more likely we will see a truly devastating Lehman-style industrial supply shock.

Fracking set to be banned from 40% of England’s shale areas

Neither the government nor Labour have stated how much of the land available for future shale gas drilling – 60% of England – would be affected by the new bans. But a Guardian data analysis has revealed it is 39.7%, with large swaths of the south and south east off-limits, as well as the Yorkshire Dales and Peak district.

An independent analysis by Greenpeace also found that 45% of the 931 blocks being licensed for fracking in England were at least 50% covered by protected areas, which it said was likely to make them unattractive to fracking companies. Just 3% of of the blocks have no protected areas at all, Greenpeace found.

Put the Pentagon On a Real Budget

The Obama administration’s new Pentagon budget proposal exceeds the budget caps established in current law by $34 billion. That’s a hefty sum even by Pentagon standards.

But it doesn’t stop there. The proposed war budget for fiscal year 2016 will come in at $51 billion. That’s tens of billions of dollars more than the amount needed to wind down the war in Afghanistan and sustain current operations against ISIL (also known as Islamic State). The rest will be used as a slush fund to pay for weapons and activities that have nothing to do with fighting either war. …

The biggest savings should come from scaling back the Pentagon’s oversized bureaucracy. According to an analysis by Gordon Adams, the former head of national security budgeting in the White House during the Clinton administration, this “back office” includes at least 800,000 civilian employees, 700,000 contractor employees, and 340,000 military personnel engaged in civilian or commercial activities. That makes the Pentagon bureaucracy the equivalent of the fifth largest city in the United States. Right-sizing this bureaucratic behemoth could save tens of billions of dollars per year that could be used for other purposes. …

Another massive procurement program that should be scaled back is the next generation ballistic missile submarine. The Navy wants to build 12 of the subs over the next two decades at a cost of up to $100 billion. Yet an analysis by the Arms Control Association has shown that the sea-launched ballistic missile force could be configured to carry the same number of warheads with only eight submarines, at a savings of $16 billion over the next decade.

Don’t Blame Islam

The sentiment recalls the prevailing view after September 11, 2001, when Susan Sontag was blasted for pointing out that “this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed super-power, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions.” …

There is, however, a longstanding US effort to use specific facets of Muslim theology as weapons. This is part of a larger context that includes the European colonialism that preceded it and the American coups and wars that have sown chaos and sectarianism and undermined the self-determination of people in the region.

Milne offers a familiar take: the West inflicts enormous violence on people in the Middle East, and — as Ward Churchill once put it — “some people push back.” This is true. Many of those who’ve carried out attacks in Western capitals in the name of Islam — from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to Faisal Shahzad, the would-be Times Square bomber — cite the West’s violence as their motive. Their explanations jibe not only with common sense but with the research of University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape, who found that by far the most significant cause of suicide bombing across the world is foreign occupation. …

“The US forged a working relationship in the Saudi Arabia, intent on using its foreign policy arm, Wahhabi fundamentalism,” Dreyfuss writes. “The United States joined with King Saud and Prince Faisal (later King Faisal) in pursuit of an Islamic bloc from North Africa to Afghanistan and Pakistan.” To that end, Saudi Arabia formed a host of global institutions, including the Wahhabi Muslim World League, and built thousands of mosques and madrassas.

Cameron’s five-year legacy: has he finished what Thatcher started?

The coalition agreement that was hashed out in the days before the rose garden show was a strange magna carta. It promised a national tree-planting campaign, “honesty in food labelling” and a pledge to “encourage live music”. These turned out to be distractions – only the thundering final clause mattered: “Deficit reduction takes precedence over any of the other measures in this agreement.” From then on, the Liberal Democrats were a sideshow, passively approving the most brutish cuts and offering negligible contributions of their own. …

Child poverty has started to rise, ending the downward trend established before 2010. This was inevitable once Osborne decreed that four-fifths of deficit reduction would come from spending and welfare cuts but only one fifth from tax increases. The government, like its predecessor, turned a blind eye to billions owed in tax. Unpaid debts for tax and fines in March 2013 were £22bn. The Treasury estimates that the “tax gap” – the difference between what companies and individuals pay in tax and what they actually owe – is £35bn per year. The National Audit Office (NAO) adds in another £50bn for criminal and fraudulent transactions – a total loss to the exchequer of nearly £100bn a year. What was done about it? Revenue and customs staff were cut. …

“Sanctions are applied for anything at all, just to hit the targets.” Officially the government denied having targets to reduce claimant numbers. “Many don’t know what’s happened until their benefit suddenly stops. Many can hardly read. It’s very easy to hand someone two sheets of A4 and get them to agree to 50 ‘steps’ towards work but they don’t know what a step is, so they’re sanctioned; their claim is shut down and they disappear from the figures.” …

It’s true that the budget for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) constitutes 23% of public spending. But half of that budget goes to pensioners, a group the Tories protected for electoral purposes. Only £1 out of every £33 spent on benefits goes to the unemployed. The government’s own policies sent DWP costs soaring. More “hardworking families” qualified for tax credits because with jobs increasingly low-paid and part-time, they needed the state top-up to survive. Meanwhile the number of people in work who also draw housing benefit is set to double between 2010 and 2018, as rents rise. More than £1 in every £7 from the social security bill now goes to private landlords. …

Toryism is now in deep intellectual disarray. What is the party for, beyond cosseting corporate interests, the much‑praised “wealth-creators”? Shrinking the state is a reflex, not a vision. Business goes on demanding public investment – and rightly so. Businesses, like everyone in Britain, depend on the state to maintain the roads, promote the health and education of a useful workforce, manage the police who provide security, and ensure the quality of air they breathe and the water they drink. The desirability of Britain as a place to live, work and invest all depends on the strength of the state. …

His foreign policy has been a kind of armed voyeurism, more worried about Russian money than incursions into Sevastopol. The RAF’s air-sea rescue service has been privatised and the UK has no aircraft to patrol its maritime borders. We “found it difficult to divine any strategic vision”, said MPs on the Commons defence committee, several times.

The Cobweb

But a 2013 survey of law- and policy-related publications found that, at the end of six years, nearly fifty per cent of the URLs cited in those publications no longer worked. According to a 2014 study conducted at Harvard Law School, “more than 70% of the URLs within the Harvard Law Review and other journals, and 50% of the URLs within United States Supreme Court opinions, do not link to the originally cited information.” The overwriting, drifting, and rotting of the Web is no less catastrophic for engineers, scientists, and doctors. Last month, a team of digital library researchers based at Los Alamos National Laboratory reported the results of an exacting study of three and a half million scholarly articles published in science, technology, and medical journals between 1997 and 2012: one in five links provided in the notes suffers from reference rot. It’s like trying to stand on quicksand.