‘The Boom’ by Russell Gold

by Mason Inman

San Francisco Chronicle (April 05 2014)

 

The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World, by Russell Gold (Simon & Schuster, 2014)

After decades of decline and stagnation, hydraulic fracturing – or simply “fracking” – has enabled US oil and gas production to make a surprise turnaround. This boom of shale gas and shale oil has been hailed as a solution to nearly every energy issue. Abundant natural gas could fuel our cars instead of oil, reindustrialize our nation with new steel and plastics factories, and replace coal, reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. We could export the gas and oil to make more money, create jobs and boost the economy. We could cut reliance on the Middle East. We could use exports to punish Russia, while helping our allies in Europe and Asia. We could achieve the Holy Grail of energy independence.

In all these aspirations there is a bit of truth. But each gets hyped, and collectively they don’t all add up. It doesn’t seem we can have our shale gas and export it, too – and have it remain cheap and abundant. (It’s worth noting that despite the boom, the United States is still a net importer of natural gas, and the world’s second-largest importer of oil, behind China.)

Russell Gold’s The Boom, authoritative and fairly balanced, is a welcome guide – the best all-around book yet on fracking. Gold has reported on the topic for the Wall Street Journal for more than a decade. He also draws on experience. His parents own a farm in Pennsylvania, and they, like thousands of other families, signed a drilling lease.

Given Gold’s reporting, his parents likely knew far more about what to expect than most other families, many of whom were dismayed by the raucous din of drilling rigs, the tree clearing to make way for pipelines, the sheer scale of activities – and how little control they had over what happened on their own land. Most vexing have been the strange happenings with water wells, which sometimes lost water pressure, or became suffused with enough natural gas to make tap water flammable, or occasionally even exploded. Such problems have been the main reason why many environmentalists have lined up against fracking, trying to force stricter regulations, or to even ban it.

How many of these water problems were caused by drilling for gas is still an open question. Groundwater contamination problems appear unrelated to fracking itself, Gold explains. Instead, the problems are far more likely to be caused by inadequate or faulty cementing around wells. The industry knows how to isolate wells from groundwater. But with weak regulations and lax enforcement, Gold argues, companies have not always taken the time and spent the money to do so.

Efforts to make drilling safer have been fended off by the industry – even by companies directed by men who thought of themselves as environmentalists, like George Mitchell. His company, Mitchell Energy, was the first to figure out how to use fracking to get profitable amounts of natural gas out of shale. Gold tells of how, in the early 1970s, Mitchell became a fan of the eccentric engineer Buckminster Fuller, and grew concerned about limits to resources and population growth.

Yet when Mitchell Energy was charged with inadequately cementing its wells, the company fought efforts to impose stronger regulations and force them to pay fines or damages. Mitchell comes across as concerned about the environment in the abstract, but not when it impinged on his bottom line.

As Gold tells it, the lure of the hunt for natural gas, and a similar level of concern about the environment, drove another of the major players in Gold’s book: Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of Chesapeake Energy. Unlike Mitchell Energy, McClendon’s company didn’t make any advances in technology or engineering. Instead, McClendon’s great skill, as Gold put it, was that he “sold the revolution to the world’s bankers”.

Handsome, charismatic and flashy, McClendon is a slick talker who talked up natural gas as a clean alternative to coal (even as he cast doubt on the link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change). As Chesapeake made a push into Ohio’s Utica shale, for example, McClendon described it as “one of our biggest discoveries in US history”. Yet so far, the Utica shale has remained a minor player in the boom.

McClendon raised tens of billions from Wall Street, catapulting his company from a minor operator to the nation’s top driller. But his company wound up more than $10 billion in debt, and over the long term has yet to turn a profit on the boom it helped spur forward.

Gold admits “the giddiness of a boom can lead to exaggeration”, which raises the question of how long it might last. He pours doubt on the supposed hundred-year supply of natural gas that the industry has touted and that President Obama cited in his 2012 State of the Union address. Yet The Boom often echoes the industry statements about a “revolution” bringing forth “enormous” and “vast” amounts of oil and gas.

The book’s major oversight is that it doesn’t delve deeply into estimates of how much oil and gas shale might yield in the long run. Will the boom continue, or go bust? Finding the answer is crucial. “We are fossil-fuel addicts”, Gold concludes. “What happens when drug addicts detox? They can be rash, cranky, even psychotic and dangerous”. If the shale boom doesn’t deliver all that Americans have been promised, how will the nation react?

_____

Mason Inman is an Oakland journalist who covers climate and energy issues. His book “The Oracle of Oil”, about the maverick geologist M King Hubbert, will be published by W W Norton in 2015.

http://www.sfgate.com/books/article/The-Boom-by-Russell-Gold-5377975.php

Categories: Uncategorized

Barbecuing the Palestinians

by Dave Lindorff

This Can’t Be Happening! (July 22 2014)

About six years ago, as part of his Bar Mitzvah, my son Jed did a project on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, producing his own graphic novel about the underground fighters who used courage, creativity and the city’s sewer system to, in some small way, offer resistance to the murderous program of the Nazis to exterminate Poland’s Jews.

In the course of his research, Jed interviewed a friend of my father’s, a Polish man who had been a teenager in Warsaw during World War Two. He told my son how one day, as he was riding the streetcar to a job, the tram came to a halt near the wall of the ghetto. Everyone was told they had to get out. Standing there in a crowd outside the wall, he saw vast amounts of smoke and heard an enormous amount of gun and cannon fire, and bombs exploding. Asking what was happening, he said he was told by a Polish woman near him, “They’re barbecuing the Jews!”

It was, it turned out, the final catastrophic leveling of the Warsaw Ghetto that he was witnessing, and this man recalled, still in horror at the memory, that people had gathered from all over the city to watch it happen, like going to a fireworks display.

Now we’re seeing the same phenomenon in Israel, as the Israeli Defense Force enters its second week of bombing and invading the walled-in ghetto of Gaza, where some 1.8 million Palestinian men, women and children have been trapped for years with nowhere to go to escape the bombs, rockets, cannon fire and IDF snipers.

And like the horrific case of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, here too we have a small-scale, improbable, resistance being put up by fighters who use home-made rockets, small arms and a network of tunnels to challenge their much better armed attackers. We also have people – ironically this time it’s Jewish citizens of Israel – dragging lounge chairs and refreshments out to hillsides in the evening to watch the fireworks as the IDF’s tanks, bombers and ships off the coast of Gaza pulverize this huge ghetto that is fully under Israeli control.

As the New York Times reported in an article about the Israeli spectator sport of watching the leveling of Gaza {1}, where by July 22 nearly 600 Palestinian, including over 100 children, had been killed by Israeli weapons, this was nothing new. Similar crowds gathered, equipped with comfortable seating and refreshments, during the prior bloody assault on Gaza in 2008 & 2009 in which between 1160 and 1400 Palestinians were reportedly killed.

As in the prior Gaza assault, the IDF has been found to have targeted children, hospitals, mosques and populated residential areas. The Times reports that Danish reporter Allan Sorensen said at 9 pm local time, when he took his photo of the Israeli spectators, who were cheering each explosion in Gaza, the IDF had just fired what it called a “precision strike”, that by either error or design hit a beachside cafe in Gaza where people had assembled to watch the Soccer World Cup semi-final between Argentina and Netherlands. At least eight people died in that bombing.

I know war is always vicious and ugly. But at least, by International Law, it is supposed to be fought between combatants, not by slaughtering innocents and terrorizing an entire population. According to the UN, at least 75 percent of those killed by the IDF in this latest war on Gaza have been civilians, a large percentage of those being children. That compares to two Israeli civilians killed by Hamas fighters, who have also reportedly killed over thirty IDF soldiers.

Popcorn anyone? What Israelis and the Americans who back them are really supporting when they cheer on the IDF in Gaza

Sadly, the hatred against Palestinians that has been stoked by politicians in Israel has been so vicious that seemingly civilized people can sit munching popcorn while cheering explosions and gunfire that are slaughtering little kids just a short distance away over a wall. That’s not to say that Palestinians don’t also cheer when they learn that an Israeli has been killed. I’m sure they do. But let’s be real here: the Palestinians trapped in their exploding ghetto hell are in no position to be sitting on couches munching popcorn while watching Hamas’s pathetic homemade rockets whiz off into Israel only to be, for the most part, knocked down harmlessly by the IDF’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

As the Canadian writer and Holocaust survivor Gabor Mate wrote yesterday in an opinion piece in the Toronto Star {2} titled: “The Beautiful Dream of Israel Has Become a Nightmare”:

 

 

There is no understanding Gaza out of context – Hamas rockets or unjustifiable terrorist attacks on civilians – and that context is the longest ongoing ethnic cleansing operation in the recent and present centuries, the ongoing attempt to destroy Palestinian nationhood. The Palestinians use tunnels? So did my heroes, the poorly armed fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto. Unlike Israel, Palestinians lack Apache helicopters, guided drones, jet fighters with bombs, laser-guided artillery. Out of impotent defiance, they fire inept rockets, causing terror for innocent Israelis but rarely physical harm. With such a gross imbalance of power, there is no equivalence of culpability.

 

 

Years ago, when President Nixon ordered the criminal “Christmas Bombing” of Hanoi and Haiphong, including (as Israel is doing today in Gaza) civilian targets like hospitals, schools and dikes along the Red River, I wrote an editorial in the Middletown Press, where I was a reporter, saying that to the Vietnamese under the bombing onslaught, delivered by giant planes flying almost too high to see, it was like living near an erupting volcano, but I pointed out that we, the Americans, controlled that volcano, and had the power to stop it from erupting.

This one-sided bloody-minded slaughter by the Israeli Defense Force has to stop. Once again, as with Nixon’s carpet bombing of North Vietnam, as the major supplier of Israel’s arms, the US is in a position to make that happen, but so far, as in prior assaults on Gaza, Washington is not demanding a halt to the killing (in fact both President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry go out of their way to justify it). Neither, sadly, are most American citizens, with a recent poll showing that 57% support Israel’s murderous assault.

For a real understanding of what is going on inside of Israel, and of how it is reaching out and destroying freedom and democracy here in the US, watch this video {3} of a talk by ex-IDF soldier Eran Efrati.

Links:

{1} http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/15/world/middleeast/israelis-watch-bombs-drop-on-gaza-from-front-row-seats.html

{2} http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2014/07/22/beautiful_dream_of_israel_has_become_a_nightmare.html

{3} http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93hqlmrZKd8

 

http://thiscantbehappening.net/node/2385

Categories: Uncategorized

Smile for the Aliens

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (July 16 2014)

Druid perspectives on nature, culture, and the future of industrial society

Last week’s post, with its uncompromising portrayal of what descent into a dark age looks like, fielded the usual quota of voices insisting that it’s different this time. It’s a familiar chorus, and I confess to a certain wry amusement in watching so many changes get rung on what, after all, is ultimately a non sequitur. Grant that it’s different this time: so? It’s different every time, and it always has been, yet those differences have never stopped history’s remarkably diverse stable of civilizations from plodding down the self-same track toward their common destiny.

It may also have occurred to my readers, and it has certainly occurred to me, that the legions of bloggers and pundits who base their reasonings on the claim that history has nothing to teach us don’t have to face a constant barrage of comments insisting that it’s the same this time. “It’s different this time” isn’t simply one opinion among others, after all; it’s one of the basic articles of faith of the contemporary industrial world, and questioning it reliably elicits screams of outrage even from those who like to tell themselves that they’ve rejected the conventional wisdom of the present day.

Yet that raises another question, one that’s going to bear down with increasing force in the years ahead of us: just how will people cope when some of their most cherished beliefs have to face a cage match with reality, and come out second best?

Such issues are rather on my mind just at the moment. Regular readers may recall that a while back I published a book, The UFO Phenomenon {1}, which managed the not inconsiderable feat of offending both sides of the UFO controversy. It did so by the simple expedient of setting aside the folk mythology that’s been heaped up with equal enthusiasm by true believers in extraterrestrial visitation and true believers in today’s fashionable pseudoskeptical debunkery. After getting past that and a few other sources of confusion, I concluded that the most likely explanation for the phenomenon was that US military and intelligence agencies invented it out of whole cloth after the Second World War, as protective camouflage for an assortment of then-secret aerospace technologies.

That wasn’t the conclusion I expected to reach when I began work on the project; I had several other hypotheses in mind, all of which had to be considerably modified as the research proceeded. It was just too hard not to notice the way that the typical UFO sightings reported in any given decade so closely mimicked whatever the US was testing in secret at any given time – silvery dots or spheres in the late 1940s, when high-altitude balloons were the latest thing in aerial reconnaissance; points or tiny blobs of light high in the air in the 1950s, when the U-2 was still top secret; a phantasmagoria of flying lights and things dropping from the sky in the 1960s, when the SR-71 and the first spy satellites entered service; black triangles in the 1980s, when the first stealth aircraft were being tested, and so on. An assortment of further evidence pointing the same way, not to mention the significant parallels between the UFO phenomenon and those inflatable tanks and nonexistent battalions that tricked the Germans into missing the real preparations for D-Day, were further icing on a saucer-shaped cake.

To call that an unpopular suggestion is to understate the case considerably, though I’m pleased to say it didn’t greatly hurt sales of the book. In the years since The UFO Phenomenon saw print, though, there’s been a steady stream of declassified documents from US intelligence agencies admitting that, yes, a lot of so-called UFOs were perfectly identifiable if you happened to know what classified projects the US government had in the air just then. It turns out, for example, that roughly half the UFO sightings reported to the Air Force’s Project Blue Book between 1952 and 1969 were CIA spyplanes; the officers in charge of Blue Book used to call the CIA when sightings came in, and issue bogus “explanations” to provide cover for what was, at the time, a top secret intelligence project. I have no reason to think that the publication of The UFO Phenomenon had anything to do with the release of all this data, but it was certainly a welcome confirmation of my analysis.

The most recent bit of confirmation hit the media a few weeks back. Connoisseurs of UFO history know that the Scandinavian countries went through a series of major “flaps” – periods in which many UFO sightings occured in a short time – in the 1950s and 1960s. The latest round of declassified data confirmed that these were sightings of US spyplanes {2} snooping on the Soviet Union. The disclosures didn’t happen to mention whether CIA assets also spread lurid accounts of flying saucer sightings and alien visitations to help muddy the waters. My hypothesis is that that’s what was going on all the way through the history of the UFO phenomenon: fake stories and, where necessary, faked sightings kept public attention fixated on a manufactured mythology of flying saucers from outer space, so that the signal of what was actually happening never made it through the noise.

Many of my readers will already have guessed how the two sides of the UFO controversy responded to the disclosures just mentioned: by and large, they haven’t responded to them at all. Believers in the extraterrestrial origin of UFOs are still insisting at the top of their lungs that some day very soon, the US government will be forced to ‘fess up to the reality of alien visitation – yes, I field emails from such people regularly. Believers in the null hypothesis, the claim that all UFO sightings result from hoaxes, illusions, or misidentification of ordinary phenomena, are still rehashing the same old arguments when they haven’t gone off to play at being skeptical about something else. That’s understandable, as both sides have ended up with substantial amounts of egg on their face.

Mind you, the believers in the extraterrestrial hypothesis were right about a great many more things than their rivals, and they deserve credit for that. They were right, for example, that people really were seeing unusual things in the skies; they were right that there was a coverup orchestrated by the US government, and that the Air Force was handing out explanations that it knew to be fake; they were even right in guessing that the Groom Lake airfield in Nevada, the legendary “Area 51″, was somehow central to the mystery – that was the main US spyplane testing and training base straight through the decades when the UFO mystery was at its peak. The one thing they got wrong was the real origin of the UFO phenomenon, but for them, unfortunately, that was the one thing that mattered.

The believers in the null hypothesis don’t have much reason to cheer, even though they turned out to be right about that one point. The disclosures have shown with uncomfortable clarity that a good many of the explanations offered by UFO skeptics were actually nonsense, just as their opponents had been pointing out all along. In 1981, for example, Philip Klass, James Oberg, and Robert Sheaffer claimed that they’d identified all the cases that Project Blue Book labeled as “unknown”. As it happens, they did nothing of the kind; what they actually did was offer untested ad hoc hypotheses to explain away the unknowns, which is not exactly the same thing. It hardly needs to be said that CIA spyplanes played no part in those explanations, and if the “unknown” cases contained the same proportion of spyplanes as the whole collection, as seems likely, roughly half their explanations are wrong – a point that doesn’t exactly do much to inspire confidence in other claims made on behalf of the debunking crusade.

So it’s not surprising that neither side in the controversy has had the least interest in letting all this new data get in the way of keeping up the old argument. The usual human reaction to cognitive dissonance is to exclude the information that’s causing the dissonance, and that’s precisely what both sides, by and large, have done. As the dissonance builds, to be sure, people on the fringes of both scenes will quiely take their leave, new recruits will become few and far between, and eventually surviving communities of believers and debunkers alike will settle into a common pattern familiar to any of my readers familiar with Spiritualist churches, Marxist parties, or the flotsam left behind by the receding tide of other once-influential movements in American society: little circles of true believers fixated on the disputes of an earlier day, hermetically sealed against the disdain and disinterest of the wider society.

They have the freedom to do that, because the presence or absence of alien saucers in Earth’s skies simply doesn’t have that much of an impact on everyday life. Like Spiritualists or Marxists, believers in alien contact and their debunking foes by and large can avoid paying more than the most cursory attention to the failure of their respective crusades. The believers can take comfort in the fact that even in the presence of overwhelming evidence, it’s notoriously hard to prove a negative; the debunkers can take comfort in the fact that, however embarrassing their logical lapses and rhetorical excesses, at least they were right about the origins of the phenomenon.

That freedom isn’t always available to those on the losing side of history. It’s not that hard to keep the faith if you aren’t having your nose rubbed in the reality of your defeat on a daily basis, but it’s quite another matter to cope with the ongoing, overwhelming disconfirmation of beliefs on which you’ve staked your pride, your values, and your sense of meaning and purpose in life. What would life be like these days for the vocal UFO debunkers of recent decades, say, if the flying saucers had turned out to be alien spacecraft after all, the mass saucer landing on the White House lawn so often and so vainly predicted had finally gotten around to happening, and Philip Klass and his fellow believers in the null hypothesis had to field polite requests on a daily basis to have their four-dimensional holopictures taken by giggling, gray-skinned tourists from Zeta Reticuli?

For a living example of the same process at work, consider the implosion of the New Age scene that’s well under way just now. In the years before the 2008 crash, as my readers will doubtless remember, tens of thousands of people plunged into real estate speculation with copies of Rhonda Byrne’s meretricious The Secret (2006) or similar works of New Age pseudophilosophy clutched in their sweaty hands, convinced that they knew how to make the universe make them rich. I knew a fair number of them – Ashland, Oregon, where I lived at the time, had a large and lucrative New Age scene – and so I had a ringside seat as their pride went before the real estate market’s fall. That was a huge blow to the New Age movement, and it was followed in short order by the self-inflicted humiliation of the grand nonevent of December 21 2012.

Those of my readers who don’t happen to follow trends in the publishing industry may be interested to know that sales of New Age books peaked in 2007 and have been plunging since then; so has the take from New Age seminars, conferences, and a galaxy of other products hawked under the same label. There hadn’t been any shortage of disconfirmations in the previous history of the New Age scene, to be sure, but these two seem to have been just that little bit more than most of the movement’s adherents can gloss over. No doubt the New Age movement will spawn its share of little circles of true believers – the New Thought movement, which was basically the New Age’s previous incarnation, did exactly that when it imploded at the end of the 1920s, and many of those little circles ended up contributing to the rise of the New Age decades later – but as a major cultural phenomenon, it’s circling the drain.

One of the central themes of this blog, in turn, is that an embarrassment on much this same scale waits for all those who’ve staked their pride, their values, and their sense of meaning and purpose in life on the belief that it’s different this time, that our society somehow got an exemption from the common fate of civilizations. If industrial society ends up following the familiar arc of decline and fall into yet another dark age, if all the proud talk about man’s glorious destiny among the stars turns out to be empty wind, if we don’t even get the consolation prize of a downfall cataclysmic enough to drag the rest of the planet down with us – what then?

I’ve come to think that’s what lies behind the steady drumbeat of emails and comments I field week after week insisting that it’s different this time, that it has to be different this time, and clutching at the most remarkable assortment of straws in an attempt to get me to agree with them that it’s different this time. That increasingly frantic chorus has many sources, but much of it is, I believe, a response to a simple fact: most of the promises made by authoritative voices in contemporary industrial society about the future we’re supposed to get have turned out to be dead wrong.

Given the number of people who like to insist that every technological wet dream will eventually be fulfilled, it’s worth taking the time to notice just how poorly earlier rounds of promises have measured up to the inflexible yardstick of reality. Of all the gaudy and glittering technological breakthroughs that have been promised with so much confidence over the last half dozen decades or so, from cities on the Moon and nuclear power too cheap to meter straight through to 120-year lifespans and cures for cancer and the common cold, how many have actually panned out? Precious few. Meanwhile most measures of American public health are slipping further into Third World territory with every year that passes, our national infrastructure is sinking into a morass of malign neglect, and the rising curve of prosperity that was supposed to give every American access to middle class amenities has vanished in a haze of financial fraud, economic sclerosis, and official statistics so blatantly faked that only the media pretends to believe them any more.

For many Americans these days, furthermore, those broken promises have precise personal equivalents. A great many of the people who were told by New Age authors that they could get rich easily and painlessly by visualizing abundance while investing in dubious real estate ventures found out the hard way that believing those promises amounted to being handed a one-way nonstop ticket to poverty. A great many of the people who were told by equally respected voices that they would attain financial security by mortgaging their futures for the benefit of a rapacious and corrupt academic industry and its allies in the banking sphere are finding out the same thing about the reassuring and seemingly authoritative claims that they took at face value. For that matter, I wonder how many American voters feel they benefited noticeably from the hope and change that they were promised by the sock puppet they helped put into the White House in 2008 and 2012.

The promises that framed the housing bubble, the student loan bubble, and the breathtaking cynicism of Obama’s campaign, after all, drew on the same logic and the same assumptions that guided all that grand and vaporous talk about the inevitability of cities on the Moon and commuting by jetpack. They all assumed that history is a one-way street that leads from worse to better, to more, bigger, louder, gaudier, and insisted that of course things would turn out that way. Things haven’t turned out that way, they aren’t turning out that way, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that things aren’t going to turn out that way any time this side of the twelfth of Never. I’ve noted here several times now that if you want to predict the future, paying attention to the reality of ongoing decline pretty {3} reliably gives you better results than trusting that the decline won’t continue in its current course.

The difficulty with that realization, of course, is precisely that so many people have staked their pride, their values, and their sense of meaning and purpose in life on one or another version of the logic I’ve just sketched out. Admitting that the world is under no compulsion to change in the direction they think it’s supposed to change, that it’s currently changing in a direction that most people find acutely unwelcome, and that there are good reasons to think the much-ballyhooed gains of the recent past were the temporary products of the reckless overuse of irreplaceable energy resources, requires the surrender of a deeply and passionately held vision of time and human possibility. Worse, it lands those who do so in a situation uncomfortably close to the crestfallen former UFO debunkers I joked about earlier in this post, having to cope on an everyday basis with a world full of flying saucers and tourists from the stars.

Beneath the farcical dimensions of that image lies a sobering reality. Human beings can’t live for long without some source of values and some sense of meaning in their lives. That’s why people respond to cognitive dissonance affecting their most cherished values by shoving away the unwelcome data so forcefully, even in the teeth of the evidence. Resistance to cognitive dissonance has its limits, though, and when people have their existing sources of meaning and value swept away by a sufficiently powerful flood of contradictions, they will seek new sources of meaning and value wherever they can find them – no matter how absurd, dysfunctional, or demonic those new meanings and values might look to an unsympathetic observer. The mass suicide of the members of the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult in 1997 offers one measure of just how far astray those quests for new sources of meaning can go; so, on a much larger scale, does the metastatic nightmare of Nazi Germany.

I wrote in an earlier post this month {4} about the implosion of the sense of political legitimacy that’s quietly sawing the props out from underneath the US federal government, and convincing more and more Americans that the people who claim to represent and govern them are a pack of liars and thieves. So broad and deep a loss of legitimacy is political dynamite, and normally results within no very long a time frame in the collapse of the government in question. There are no guarantees, though, that whatever system replaces a delegitimzed government will be any better.

That same principle applies with equal force to the collapse of the fundamental beliefs of a civilization. In next week’s post, with this in mind, I plan on talking about potential sources of meaning, purpose and value in a world on its way into a global dark age.

 

_____

 

John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {5} and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

Links:

{1} http://www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738713199

{2} http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-28143994

{3} http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-song-of-snallygaster.html

{4} http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/2014/07/in-handful-of-dust.html

{5} http://www.aoda.org/

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.jp/2014/07/smile-for-aliens.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Ukraine

No “Western” Interest In Investigating MH17

Moon of Alabama (July 25 2014)

After all the propaganda about the downed MH17 flight, screams about alleged looting and demands of access to the site, one would have expected some serious attempts to immediately investigate the case.

But hardly any are made {1}:

 

At the field in Ukraine where the exploded remnants landed, there are no guards and no recovery workers, no police officers and no investigators. Early Thursday evening, there were almost no people  –  just two curious twelve-year-old girls looking at part of the tail of the Boeing 777.

“There’s no one out here”, said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, whose monitoring mission has been on the site every day since Friday. As for the arrival of international experts, “it’s not like our door is being broken down”.

 

After the US blustering “we have evidence” that Russia did it and then showing nothing of it – “just trust us” – the US seems have lost all interests to really find out who’s ammunition downed the plane. Russia had early on called for an international investigation and it was Russia alone so far which presented real evidence {2} on the case. US ships with very capable missile defense radars were in the Black Sea over the last weeks and likely have very detailed track records of every flight and missile launch up to several hundred of miles away. None of those have been made public. We can guess why.

And those “looting” claims?

 

There were a few new faces at the site on Thursday. Three Australian investigators worked in the field, joining three Malaysians. Before departing Thursday, the Malaysians said that they were surprised at the amount of access they had to the site and that they felt safe, Mr Bociurkiw said.

There have been widespread reports of looting, but Mr Bociurkiw said his monitoring group, which has now spent more time at the site than any other, had not seen any. The Malaysians said they had seen valuables in the fields untouched, he noted, including a bottle of duty-free perfume, auto parts, backpacks full of belongings, a watch and some jewelry.

 

Those claims of looting were false just as the claims of mishandling the remains of the victims were false.

But the White House will not take back one any of those false claims. It continues its anti-Russia campaign is coming up with new claims {3} for which again no facts are presented to back them up:

 

American officials, citing military intelligence, including satellite images, warned that Russia appeared to be preparing to arm the rebels with more high-powered weaponry  –  including tanks and armored vehicles  –  than it had previously supplied. In Kiev, a military spokesman said that Ukrainian troops were coming under increased fire from the Russian side of the border and that the Ukrainian military had recently shot down three Russian surveillance drones. One was used to target a Ukrainian base near the town of Amvrosiivka, which then quickly came under heavy rocket attack, the spokesman said.

 

Again these are just claims. Not one of the “satellite images” cited was presented.

But the main stream media fall for such nonsense and market it without inserting even the least bit of doubt.

Clearly the powers who be do want a war with Russia. A cold one for now but a hot one, destroying Europe’s production capacities, would even be better for rather tepid US economy.

Links:

{1} http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/25/world/europe/ukraine-disaster-in-search-of-an-investigation.html?ref=world

{2} http://online.wsj.com/articles/russia-presents-its-account-of-malaysia-airlines-flight-17-crash-1405952441

{3} http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/26/world/europe/russian-artillery-fires-into-ukraine-kiev-says.html?ref=world

http://www.moonofalabama.org/2014/07/ukraine-no-interest-in-investigating-mh17.html

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Blaming Russia as ‘Flat Fact’

Exclusive: The American rush to judgment blaming ethnic Russian rebels and Russian President Putin for the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 continues unabated despite other possible explanations.

by Robert Parry

Consortium News (July 27 2014)

As nuclear-armed America hurtles into a completely avoidable crash with nuclear-armed Russia over Ukraine, you can now see the dangers of “information warfare” when facts give way to propaganda and the press fails to act as an impartial arbiter.

In this sorry affair, one of the worst offenders of journalistic principles has been the New York Times, generally regarded as America’s premier newspaper. During the Ukraine crisis, the Times has been little more than a propaganda conveyor belt delivering what the US government wants out via shoddy and biased reporting from the likes of Michael R Gordon and David Herszenhorn.

The Times reached what was arguably a new low on Sunday when it accepted as flat fact the still unproven point of how Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down. The Times dropped all attribution despite what appear to be growing – rather than diminishing – doubts about Official Washington’s narrative that Ukrainian rebels shot down the plane by using a powerful Russian-supplied Buk missile battery.

US and Ukrainian government officials began pushing this narrative immediately after the plane went down on July 17 killing 298 people onboard. But the only evidence has been citations of “social media” and the snippet of an intercepted phone call containing possibly confused comments by Ukrainian rebels after the crash, suggesting that some rebels initially believed they had shot the plane down but later reversed that judgement.

A major problem with this evidence is that it assumes the rebels – or for that matter the Ukrainian armed forces – operate with precise command and control when the reality is that the soldiers on both sides are not very professional and function in even a deeper fog of war than might exist in other circumstances.

Missing Images

But an even bigger core problem for the US narrative is that it is virtually inconceivable that American intelligence did not have satellite and other surveillance on eastern Ukraine at the time of the shoot-down. Yet the US government has been unable (or unwilling) to supply a single piece of imagery showing the Russians supplying a Buk anti-aircraft missile battery to the rebels; the rebels transporting the missiles around eastern Ukraine; the rebels firing the fateful missile that allegedly brought down the Malaysian airliner; or the rebels then returning the missiles to Russia.

To accept Official Washington’s certainty about what it “knows” happened, you would have to believe that American spy satellites – considered the best in the world – could not detect sixteen-feet-tall missiles during their odyssey around Russia and eastern Ukraine. If that is indeed the case, the US taxpayers should demand their billions upon billions of dollars back.

However, the failure of US intelligence to release its satellite images of Buk missile batteries in eastern Ukraine is the “dog-not-barking” evidence that this crucial evidence to support the US government’s allegations doesn’t exist. Can anyone believe that if US satellite images showed the missiles crossing the border, being deployed by the rebels and then returning to Russia, that those images would not have been immediately declassified and shown to the world? In this case, the absence of evidence is evidence of absence – absence of US evidence.

The US government’s case also must overcome public remarks by senior US military personnel at variance with the Obama administration’s claims of certainty. For instance, the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reported last Saturday {1} that Air Force General Philip M Breedlove, US commander of NATO forces in Europe, said last month that “We have not seen any of the [Russian] air-defense vehicles across the border yet”.

Whitlock also reported that “Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said defense officials could not point to specific evidence that an SA-11 [Buk] surface-to-air missile system had been transported from Russia into eastern Ukraine”.

There’s also the possibility that a Ukrainian government missile – either from its own Buk missile batteries fired from the ground or from a warplane in the sky – brought down the Malaysian plane. I was told by one source who had been briefed by US intelligence analysts that some satellite images suggest that the missile battery was under the control of Ukrainian government troops but that the conclusion was not definitive.

Plus, there were reports from eyewitnesses in the area of the crash that at least one Ukrainian jet fighter closed on the civilian plane shortly before it went down. The Russian government also has cited radar data supposedly showing Ukrainian fighters in the vicinity.

Need for a Real Inquiry

What all this means is that a serious and impartial investigation is needed to determine who was at fault and to apportion accountability. But that inquiry is still underway with no formal conclusions.

So, in terms of journalistic professionalism, a news organization should treat the mystery of who shot down Flight 17 with doubt. Surely, no serious journalist would jump to the conclusion based on the dubious claims made by one side in a dispute while the other side is adamant in its denials, especially with the stakes so high in a tense confrontation between two nuclear powers.

But that is exactly what the Times did in describing new US plans to escalate the confrontation by possibly supplying tactical intelligence to the Ukrainian army so it can more effectively wage war against eastern Ukrainian rebels.

On Sunday, the Times wrote {2}:

At the core of the debate, said several [US] officials – who, like others interviewed, spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy deliberations are still in progress – is whether the American goal should be simply to shore up a Ukrainian government reeling from the separatist attacks, or to send a stern message to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin by aggressively helping Ukraine target the missiles Russia has provided. Those missiles have taken down at least five aircraft in the past ten days, including Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. {3} [Emphasis added.]

 

The link provided by the Times’ online version of the story connects to an earlier Times’ story that attributed the accusations blaming Russia to US “officials”. But this new story drops that attribution and simply accepts the claims as flat fact.

The danger of American “information warfare” that treats every development in the Ukraine crisis as an opportunity to blame Putin and ratchet up tensions with Russia has been apparent since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis – as has been the clear anti-Russian bias of the Times and virtually every other outlet of the mainstream US news media. {4}

Since the start of the crisis last year, US officials and American-funded non-governmental organizations have not only pushed a one-sided story but have been pushing a dangerous agenda, seeking to create a collision between the United States and Russia and, more personally, between President Barack Obama and President Putin.

The vehicle for this head-on collision between Russia and the United States was the internal political disagreement in Ukraine over whether elected President Viktor Yanukovych should have accepted harsh International Monetary Fund austerity demands as the price for associating with the European Union or agree to a more generous offer from Russia.

Angered last September when Putin helped Obama avert a planned US bombing campaign against Syria, American neocons were at the forefront of this strategy. Their principal need was to destroy the Putin-Obama collaboration, which also was instrumental in achieving a breakthrough on the Iran nuclear dispute (while the neocons were hoping that the US military might bomb Iran, too).

So, on September 26 2013, Carl Gershman, a leading neocon and longtime president of the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy, took to the op-ed page of the neocon-flagship Washington Post to urge the US government to push European “free trade” agreements on Ukraine and other former Soviet states and thus counter Moscow’s efforts to maintain close relations with those countries.

The ultimate goal, according to Gershman, was isolating and possibly toppling Putin in Russia with Ukraine the key piece on this global chessboard. “Ukraine is the biggest prize”, Gershman wrote. “Russians, too, face a choice, and Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself”.

To give the United States more leverage inside Ukraine, Gershman’s NED paid for scores of projects, including training “activists” and supporting “journalists”. Rather than let the Ukrainian political process sort out this disagreement, US officials, such as neocon Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and neocon Senator John McCain, also intervened to encourage increasingly disruptive demonstrations seeking to overthrow Yanukovych when he opted for the Russian deal over the EU-IMF offer.

Though much of the ensuing violence was instigated by neo-Nazi militias that had moved to the front of the anti-Yanukovych protests, the US government and its complicit news media blamed every act of violence on Yanukovych and the police, including a still mysterious sniper attack that left both protesters and police dead.

On February 21, Yanukovych denied ordering any shootings and tried to stem the violence by signing an agreement brokered by three European nations to reduce his powers and hold early elections so he could be voted out of office. He also complied with a demand from Vice President Joe Biden to pull back Ukrainian police. Then, the trap sprang shut.

Neo-Nazi militias overran government buildings and forced Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives. The State Department quickly endorsed the coup regime – hastily formed by the remnants of the parliament – as “legitimate”. Besides passing bills offensive to ethnic Russians in the east, one of the parliament’s top priorities was to enact the IMF austerity plan.

White Hats/Black Hats

Though the major US news media was aware of these facts – and indeed you could sometimes detect the reality by reading between the lines of dispatches from the field – the overriding US narrative was that the coup-makers were the “white hats” and Yanukovych along with Putin were the “black hats”. Across the US media, Putin was mocked for riding on a horse shirtless and other indiscretions. For the US media, it was all lots of fun, as was the idea of reprising the Cold War with Moscow.

When the people of Crimea – many of whom were ethnic Russians – voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, the US media declared the move a Russian “invasion” although the Russian troops were already in Ukraine as part of an agreement with previous Ukrainian governments.

Every development that could be hyped was hyped. There was virtually no nuance in the news reporting, a lack of professionalism led by the New York Times. Yet, the solution to the crisis was always relatively obvious: a federalized system that would allow the ethnic Russians in the east a measure of self-governance and permit Ukraine to have cordial economic relations with both the EU and Russia.

But replacement President Petro Poroshenko – elected when a secession fight was already underway in the east – refused to negotiate with the ethnic Russian rebels who had rejected the ouster of Yanukovych. Sensing enough political support inside the US government, Poroshenko opted for a military solution.

It was in that context of a massive Ukrainian government assault on the east that Russia stepped up its military assistance to the beleaguered rebels, including the apparent provision of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to fend off Kiev’s air superiority. The rebels did succeed in shooting down some Ukrainian warplanes flying at altitudes far below the 33,000 feet of the Malaysia Airlines plane.

For a plane at that height to be shot down required a more powerful system, like the Buk anti-aircraft batteries or an air-to-air missile fired by a fighter jet. Which brings us to the mystery of what happened on the afternoon of July 17 and why it is so important to let a serious investigation evaluate all the available evidence and not to have a rush to judgment.

But the idea of doing an investigation first and drawing conclusions second is a concept that, apparently, neither the US government nor the New York Times accepts. They would prefer to start with the conclusion and then make a serious investigation irrelevant, one more casualty of information warfare.

Links:

{1} http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/separatists-said-to-have-had-anti-aircraft-training-in-russia/2014/07/18/0af398f2-0e82-11e4-b8e5-d0de80767fc2_story.html

{2} http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/27/world/europe/ukraine-rebels.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=LargeMediaHeadlineSum&module=photo-spot-region&region=photo-spot&WT.nav=photo-spot&_r=0

{3} http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/19/world/europe/malaysia-airlines-plane-ukraine.html

{4} http://consortiumnews.com/2014/05/03/will-ukraine-be-nyts-waterloo/

{5} http://consortiumnews.com/2014/06/25/continuing-parrys-3-book-offer/
_____

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative (2012), either in print or as an e-book. For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click {5}.

http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/27/blaming-russia-as-flat-fact/

Categories: Uncategorized

Behind the Curtains

2014/07/28 1 comment

How the Corporatocracy is Driving the US-EU Trade Agenda

by Don Quijones

Wolf Street (July 22 2014)

Last week the United States and the European Union completed their sixth round of talks on a transatlantic trade deal, with both sides saying that they are on track for the “ambitious and comprehensive” trade pact that they have been seeking in the shadows for the last two years. Unlike the Trans Pacific Partnership whose progress has been temporarily stalled in the US Congress and which apparently faces stiff resistance from a handful of Asian nations, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Treaty appears to be set on a smooth course toward consummation.

But who’s actually driving the agenda of this highly secretive trade treaty that threatens to remake the market rules and regulations governing the world’s two biggest markets? According to a report by Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), the answer is as predictable as it is depressing –  corporate lobbyists:

 

Of the 560 lobby encounters that DG Trade [The European Commission's Trade Department] held to prepare the negotiations, 520 (92%) were with business lobbyists, while only 26 (4%) were with public interest groups. So, for every encounter with a trade union or consumer group, there were twenty with companies and industry federations.

 

No sector has lobbied the European Commission more aggressively than the agribusiness sector. Food multinationals, agri-traders and seed producers have had more contacts with the Commission’s trade department (DG Trade) than lobbyists from the pharmaceutical, chemical, financial and car industry combined.

As with any bilateral trade deal, agribusiness behemoths such as Monsanto, Nestle, Kraft Foods, and Syngenta, who already control a significant chunk of the global food chain, have a great deal to gain (or lose) from the eventual outcome of the negotiations. Here’s a little taster of what’s potentially up for grabs if they get their way:

* Watered down European food safety standards. Both the pesticide and GMO industry have strongly pushed their agenda via the TTIP negotiations, with the aim of undermining current EU food regulations. Trade tools such as “mutual recognition” and “regulatory co-operation” are likely to lead to an erosion of food safety standards in the long run.

* An end to the “precautionary principle”. US negotiators on behalf of industry are doing all in their power to undermine the precautionary principle, a cornerstone of EU policymaking, calling it “unscientific”. The precautionary principle is based on the idea that manufacturers need to be able to demonstrate that there is no risk before they can put something on the market. In the US, the opposite is true –  you need to be able to prove that something is hazardous before it is taken off the shelf.

* The end of “buy local” initiatives in the US. According to the European Commission, local preference legislation is discriminatory and acts as “localisation barriers to trade”. As such, it should be minimised, if not banned outright.

* “Harmonised” regulatory standards. Harmonised is a nice-sounding word. After all, it’s the adjectival derivative of the word “harmony” and what could be nicer than a bit of harmony? Well, actually, quite a lot, at least when it comes to regulatory standards set in the exclusive interest of the world’s largest transnational corporations. As CEO warns, harmonisation is just the beginning; regulatory cooperation is the end goal –  meaning the ongoing joint review of existing rules or standards that are seen as barriers to trade, and preventing any new ones in the future.

A Who’s Who of Corporate Europe

Taken together, the groups that have seemed to have enjoyed the most influence over EU trade negotiations reads like a who’s who of the Transatlantic Corporatocracy. They include:

* Telecommunications and IT, including giant corporations such as Nokia and Ericsson as well as industry lobby groups like Digital Europe (whose members include all the big IT names, like Apple, Blackberry, IBM, and Microsoft).

* Automotive lobbies, representing some of the most powerful car brands (Ford, Daimler, BMW … ) and automotive suppliers.

* Engineering and machinery, including manufacturing behemoths such as Siemens and Alstom as well as industry federations such as Orgalime (lobbying for the mechanical, electrical and metalworking sectors) and the German Engineering Federation VDMA.

* Chemicals, including CEFIC, the EU’s biggest chemical industry lobby group (representing BASF, Bayer, Dow & Company), its US counterpart ACC (also lobbying for BASF, Bayer, Dow, and others) and the Germany industry federation (VCI).

* Finance, with lobbying by some of the world’s largest banks and insurers (Morgan Stanley, Allianz, Citigroup … ) and powerful financial sector lobby groups such as the Association of German Banks (BDB) and Insurance Europe (Europe’s main insurance lobby).

The list goes on and on, and includes lobbies for audiovisuals, media, healthcare and pharmaceuticals. Conspicuously absent from the meetings were groups representing the economies of Europe’s Southern and Eastern periphery. Indeed, CEO could not find a single lobby encounter between DG Trade and businesses from Greece and large parts of Eastern Europe (Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia).

This revelation merely compounds fears that peripheral economies –  especially those in the East –  will bear the brunt of the social costs of TTIP. With US export interests targeting mainly those sectors where the European periphery has defensive interests –  such as agriculture –  the opening up of the EU to more transatlantic competition seems destined to exacerbate the divide between the EU’s economic core and its periphery.

A Lobbyist’s Paradise

That lobbies representing the world’s biggest businesses and finance institutions wield such influence over the trade agenda of the US and EU should hardly come as a surprise. Brussels is now home to roughly 3,000 powerful industry lobby structures (and 30,000 individual lobbyists), making the city the second biggest lobby industry in the world, just behind Washington.

And unlike Washington, which strengthened its lobbying laws after the Jack Abramoff scandal of 2005 & 2006, Brussels does not even have a mandatory lobby register. Instead, it has a voluntary one whose members supposedly benefit from greater ease of access to Parliament –  but apparently not to the EU’s executive branch, the Commission. To gain access to the Commission all you need is the right business card, as illustrated by the fact that more than thirty percent (94 out of 269) of the private sector interest groups that have lobbied DG Trade on TTIP are absent from the EU’s Transparency Register. They include companies such as Walmart, Walt Disney, General Motors, France Telecom and Maersk.

Given the acute lack of meaningful accountability, transparency or democratic legitimacy at the heart of its governance institutions, the EU makes the perfect paradise for lobbyists. Granted, in the US lobbies have deeper roots and arguably a more pervasive influence, thanks largely to the fact that virtually all forms of political bribery are now effectively legal. But at least most of the racket is out in the open these days. What’s more, the government still has a few semi-functional democratic checks and balances in place –  hence Obama’s difficulty (for now!) in fast-tracking the TPP through congress.

In contrast, the EU remains a democratic work in progress, and judging by recent revelations, rather than progressing, it’s regressing. The European Commission, wholly unelected and wholly unaccountable, is not so much in bed with the lobbyists; it’s making them breakfast too, croissants included. And that’s just how the Corporatocracy likes it!  By Don Quijones, a Wolf Street exclusive.

European bankers have begun sweating, not because of the harsh heat, but fear –  fear of what could happen as battalions of bank auditors take up temporary residence at the headquarters of the biggest banks. Read European Banks Begin to Sweat As ECB Promises Scalps: http://wolfstreet.com/2014/07/21/european-banks-begin-to-sweat-as-ecb-promises-scalps/

_____

Don Quijones is freelance writer and translator in Barcelona, Spain. http://ragingbullshit.com/ is his modest attempt to challenge the wishful thinking and scrub away the lathers of soft soap peddled by political and business leaders and their loyal mainstream media. This article is a Wolf Street exclusive.

http://wolfstreet.com/2014/07/22/the-corporatocracy-driving-the-secretive-eu-us-trade-agenda/

Categories: Uncategorized

​With ISDS it’s bedtime for democracy

by Mark Bergfeld

RT.com (July 22 2014)

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) has multinational companies and transnational law firms on both sides of the Atlantic foaming at their mouths.

If the TTIP and its Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause go ahead, it would give more than 75,000 multinational corporations unprecedented powers to shape national legislation, override domestic courts and steal billions of dollars from peoples’ pockets.

ISDS promotes destructive rent-seeking

The TTIP seeks to dismantle any barriers to ‘free trade’ between the EU and the US. The fact is trade barriers between the two blocs are virtually non-existent. ISDS regulation will ensure a new type of free trade regime, which encourages destructive rent-seeking above all.

ISDS regulation would allow US investors to sue national governments of EU member states (or, vice versa) if they see their future potential earnings at risk. The words ‘future’ and ‘potential’ should ring alarm bells. ISDS regulation will be used to seek compensation when national governments seek to implement progressive policies such as higher corporate taxes, more environmental regulation, minimum wage agreements or new public services.

Since the 1990s, we have seen a significant rise of investor state attacks on domestic regulatory policy with more than 95 countries having to respond to one or more investment arbitration cases. Self-evidently, countries like Argentina, Bolivia and Ecuador who turned their backs on neoliberalism bore the brunt of this clause. With the on-going economic crisis and shifts in the political landscape, there were 58 new cases in 2012 alone according to UNCTAD. The TTIP’s implementation would drive that figure up exponentially.

The ISDS clause would facilitate destructive rent-seeking rather than productive entrepreneurship, which promotes jobs, growth and the environment. With arbitration costs of at least USD 8 million, concentrating on investor-state disputes has become a lucrative business for transnational law firms and the clients they represent. After all, 27 percent of all cases are settled outside of court with settlements paid to investors. With only nine out of 28 EU member states having ISDS regulation with the US, it is certain that the TTIP’s success hinges on the ISDS regulation.

Democracy under threat

The European Commission’s consultation paper on ISDS shows that investors’ demands for compensation would not be heard in a national or European court but a secret tribunal consisting of a representative of the investor, a representative of the defendant state, and a mediator which both parties agree to.

Surely no one would agree to such a kangaroo court which undermines national sovereignty, domestic courts and laws. However, all countries who have signed bilateral trade agreements with the USA have agreed to this provision with the exception of Australia.

Some of the US’s closest allies have learnt the hard way. The Canadian government, for example, has been sued under article 1110 of the NAFTA for CDN$250 million after Quebec introduced an anti-fracking law in 2011. Lone Pine, a Canadian energy company, is using its incorporated status in Delaware, USA to do so. This highlights the perverse nature of how this clause is being applied amongst so-called allies and friends.

In the wake of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe, Germany’s government voted to phase out its nuclear power plants and shut others down immediately. In retaliation, the Swedish energy giant Vattenfall who operates two plants near Hamburg sued for 3.5 billion euros under the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT). This was the second time that Vattenfall filed for arbitration at the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) in Washington. Previously, it had sought 1.4 billion euros in compensation after tighter environmental regulations had been passed in parliament.

Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear energy followed a process initiated by previous governments, and was supported by all major political parties and opinion polls. It was anything but a communist plot of expropriation, yet Vattenfall claimed that its previous 700 million euros investment was worthless now, and that it was being expropriated. In fact it still owned its assets and was basing its claim for compensation on future projected earnings.

Vattenfall and Germany settled outside of court. The sum remains confidential but taxpayers will foot the bill in years to come. Ecuador has experienced this first-hand. Investor-state disputes have driven the country to the brink of bankruptcy. So far, there have been 39 arbitration cases against Ecuador. Ecuador was forced to pay $1.77 billion to Occidental Petroleum Corporation the fourth largest US oil company for renationalizing its oil operations in 2006. Subsidiaries of ConocoPhillips and Perenco have filed multi-million dollar cases as well.

Is there no alternative?

Unsurprisingly, broad-based opposition to the TTIP and its ISDS clause is emerging. The last day of action on July 12 saw more than a thousand people march in London. Following the European Commission’s public consultation, more than 120 legal scholars signed a statement criticizing the ISDS provision in the TTIP. The majority of European trade unions all have a policy against the TTIP now, while civil society organizations, NGOs and churches plan to hold a second day of action on October 11.

Once envisaged to protect foreign investors in countries where legal frameworks were absent, ISDS clauses have become tools for the powerful to target progressive policies and strip countries of their national sovereignty. It renders the renationalization of public services such as water, energy and transport networks impossible, and paves the way for national bargaining agreements to be destroyed once and for all. The threat of arbitration is enough for most countries to conform to the neoliberal paradigm out of fear of losing billions of dollars.

If the TTIP negotiations were to derail and the ISDS provision not granted to foreign investors, it would open up the possibility of dealing a serious blow to the edifice of neoliberalism on both sides of the Atlantic. The odds are good.

____

Mark Bergfeld is a writer and activist based in Cologne, Germany and London, UK. He tweets @mdbergfeld

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

http://rt.com/op-edge/174636-isds-bedtime-for-democracy/

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