Informed Comment Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:49:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 U.S. Ally Yemen in Danger of Splitting into Two – Again Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:49:44 +0000 By Thalif Deen –

UNITED NATIONS, (IPS) – When North and South Yemen merged into a single country under the banner Yemen Arab Republic back in May 1990, a British newspaper remarked with a tinge of sarcasm: “Two poor countries have now become one poor country.”

Yemeni protesters in Sanaa carrying pictures of arrested men. Credit: Yazeed Kamaldien/IPS

Since its birth, Yemen has continued to be categorised by the United Nations as one of the world’s 48 least developed countries (LDCs), the poorest of the poor, depending heavily on foreign aid and battling for economic survival.

But the current political chaos – with the president, prime minister and the cabinet forced to resign en masse last week – has threatened to turn the country into a failed state.

And, more significantly, Yemen is also in danger of being split into two once again – and possibly heading towards another civil war.

Charles Schmitz, an analyst with the Middle East Institute, was quoted last week as saying: “We’re looking at the de facto partitioning of the country, and we’re heading into a long negotiating process, but we could also be heading toward war.”

In a report released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group said the fall of the government has upended the troubled transition and “raises the very real prospect of territorial fragmentation, economic meltdown and widespread violence if a compromise is not reached soon.”

The ousted government of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was a close U.S. ally, who cooperated with the United States in drone strikes against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) holed up in the remote regions of Yemen.

The United States was so confident of its ally that the resignation of the government “took American officials by surprise,” according to the New York Times.

Matthew Hoh, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy (CIP), told IPS, “I don’t know if Yemen will split in two or not. [But] I believe the greater fear is that Yemen descends into mass chaos with violence among many factions as we are seeing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, all nations that have been the recipient of interventionist U.S. foreign policy.”

According to an Arab diplomat, the Houthis who have taken power are an integral part of the Shiite Muslim sect, the Zaydis, and are apparently financed by Iran.

But the country is dominated by a Sunni majority which is supported by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, he said, which could trigger a sectarian conflict – as in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.

Ironically, all of them, including the United States, have a common enemy in AQAP, which claimed responsibility for the recent massacre in the offices of a satirical news magazine in Paris.

“In short, it’s a monumental political mess,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS it is very hard to gauge what will happen in Yemen at this time.

“The battle lines are far from clear,” he said.

The so-called pro-U.S, government has, since 2004, played a very dainty game with the United States in terms of counter-terrorism.

On the one side, he said, the government of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and then Hadi, suggested to the U.S. they were anti al-Qaeda.

But, on the other hand, they used the fact of al-Qaeda to go after their adversaries, including the Zaydis (Houthis).

“This double game was well known to the Americans. They went along with it. It is what allowed AQAP to take Jar and other regions of Yemen and hold them with some ease,” Prashad said.

He dismissed as “ridiculous” the allegation the Zaydis are “proxies of Iran”. He said they are a tribal confederacy that has faced the edge of the Saleh-Hadi sword.

“They are decidedly against al-Qaeda, and would not necessarily make it easier for AQAP to exist,” said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut and author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter.’

Hoh told IPS: “Based upon the results from decades of U.S. influence in trying to pick winners and losers in these countries or continuing to play the absurd geopolitical game of backing one repressive theocracy, Saudi Arabia, against another, Iran, in proxy wars, the best thing for the Yemenis is for the Americans not to meddle or to try and pick one side against the other.”

American foreign policy in the Middle East, he said, can already be labeled a disaster, most especially for the people of the Middle East.

“The only beneficiaries of American policy in the Middle East have been extremist groups, which take advantage of the war, the cycles of violence and hate, to recruit and fulfill their message and propaganda, and American and Western arms companies that are seeing increased profits each year,” said Hoh, who has served with the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and on U.S. embassy teams in Afghanistan and Iraq.

When the two Yemens merged, most of the arms the unified country inherited came from Russia, which was a close military ally of South Yemen.

Yemen’s fighter planes and helicopters from the former Soviet Union – including MiG-29 jet fighters and Mi-24 attack helicopters – were later reinforced with U.S. and Western weapons systems, including Lockheed transport aircraft (transferred from Saudi Arabia), Bell helicopters, TOW anti-tank missiles and M-60 battle tanks.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst monitoring Middle East/Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS U.S. arms and military aid have been crucial to Yemen over the years, especially through the Defense Department’s 1206 “train and equip” fund.

Since 2006, she pointed out, Yemen has received a little over 400 million dollars in Section 1206 aid which has significantly supported the Yemeni Air Force (with acquisitions of transport and surveillance aircraft), its special operations units, its border control monitoring, and coast guard forces.

Meanwhile, U.S. military aid under both Foreign Military Financing (FMF) and the International Military Education and Training (IMET) programme has risen substantially, she added.

Also, Yemen is now being provided assistance under Non-Proliferation, Anti-Terrorism, De-mining, and Related programmes (NADR) and International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement (INCLE) programmes.

According to the U.S. Congressional Budget Justification – U.S. support for the military and security sector “will remain a priority in 2015 in order to advance peace and security in Yemen.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

Licensed from Inter Press Service

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Why the Israeli-Hizbullah Tit for Tat Probably won’t turn to War Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:41:02 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

Last week an Israeli helicopter gunship targeted Hizbullah outposts in Syria southwest of Damascus, near the front with the rebel Support Front (Syria al-Qaeda), which controls the Golan Heights on the Syrian side. These outposts were not in fact bordering Israel or likely aimed at Israel, but rather were intended to push back al-Qaeda from the outskirts of Damascus and ultimately to dislodge it from the Golan. Therefore, it is likely that the Israeli strike was merely opportunistic– Tel Aviv received intelligence that commanders who had humiliated them in 2006 were present and vulnerable, so they struck.

Ooops. Along with high ranking Hizbullah personnel, they killed a general in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, who was advising Syria and Hizbullah on how to roll back al-Qaeda in the Golan. Lebanon is a country of some 4 million and there are probably only 1.5 million Shiites there, and not all of them back Hizbullah. So it isn’t actually all that formidable for Israel (a country of over 7 million). But Iran is a country of 77 million. I think it is entirely possible that if the Israelis had known they risked killing an IRGC commander in this strike, they might not have done it.

As it was, the Israelis uncharacteristically conveyed to Iran a statement that they hadn’t intended to assassinate Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdad. It wasn’t exactly an apology, but it was clearly intended to dial back the resulting tensions.

Nevertheless, Iran sent a message through the US to Israel that the latter had crossed a red line in killing Allahdad, and that Iran would find a way to retaliate.

Hizbullah also vowed to retaliate, and did so on Wednesday, killing two Israeli soldiers and wounding seven in the disputed Shebaa Farms strip, which is occupied by Israel but claimed by Lebanon. Since Hizbullah hit a military convoy, this was not technically an act of terrorism but rather an act of war or resistance. And since they targeted Israeli soldiers in an occupied territory that Israel has illegally annexed, Hizbullah had not violated international law as most countries would understand it.

Israel responded yet again, shelling Shiite villages along the Lebanon-Israel border. They killed a Spanish peacekeeping soldier, for which Spain angrily blamed Israel. Ironically, in this case, Israel and not Hizbullah was guilty of a war crime insofar as it directed arbitrary fire at civilian, non-combatant villages. If they killed a Spaniard they likely killed other innocents.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warned that the Lebanese should take a look at how he had reduced Gaza to rubble.

Quite apart from the war of words and a few shells between Israel and Hizbullah, it seems to me that Netanyahu just announced that he deliberately reduced Gaza to rubble and killed 2000 mostly non-combantants as punishment for its having defied him. If so, that would be a war crime.

But Netanyahu’s likely was an empty threat for the moment. With elections coming up, it isn’t the right time for Netanyahu to launch a new Lebanon war. And the fact is that Israel didn’t do very well in the 2006 war with Hizbullah, despite its overwhelming military superiority.

As for Hizbullah, its leader Hasan Nasrallah probably felt that he had no choice but to restore face by striking back at an Israeli target. But Hizbullah is bogged down in Syria defending the regime of Bashar al-Assad, and is in no position to fight both Syrian al-Qaeda offshoots and the Israeli army. Even Israel agrees that this is likely the case.

So likely the two sides will gradually wind down the confrontation and concentrate on bigger and more important enemies. At least for now.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

RT” “Border Fire: UN peacekeeper dead after IDF shells Lebanon border”

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Egypt bets on Suez Canal Expansion to combat Economic Crisis Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:35:08 +0000 CCTV America | –

“Egyptian president Abdel Fattah El Sisi said he hopes the Suez Canal expansion project will increase his country’s foreign cash reserves during his meetings while on an official visit to China earlier this week. Egypt expects the expanded canal will bring in more $100 billion annually. CCTV’s Adel EL Mahrouky reported this story from Cairo.”

CCTV: “Egypt hopes Suez Canal expansion will increase revenues, revive waterway”

On why this matters to the USA, I wrote 18 months ago:

“But what happens in Egypt affects US security, so it is part of the thing for which they are willing to just toss away the Bill of Rights. Shouldn’t they be more interested in security-related developments if they are going to use them as a pretext to give up our key constitutional liberties? In any case, here are some material reasons for which Egypt is important to every American, beyond the humanist and humanitarian ones that should be foremost:

1. How many bargains you get when shopping depends on Egypt’s Suez Canal being open for business. Between 8% and 12% of all international trade goes through Egypt’s Suez Canal, which cuts thousands of miles off ship journeys from Asia to Europe and to the North American East Coast. We can call it 10% of world trade on a rolling average (trade is still down after the 2008 crash). But note that if the Suez Canal were to be closed by the country’s turbulence, it wouldn’t just affect that ten percent– the impact on prices of many commodities would be across the board.

2. The price of your smart phone and Tablet are dependent on Egypt. Some 22% of all the world’s container traffic goes through the Suez Canal, which can handle larger ships at lower tolls than the Panama Canal, at least for the next few years. Containers are those huge boxes in which goods are packed compactly, allowing one ship to carry many tons of them. Your iPhones and tablets, made mostly in Asia, would be much more expensive without the Suez Canal.

3. Although Egypt is not a big exporter of fuels, a lot of oil and gas comes through the canal or through pipelines across Egypt. Even without interruptions, the instability in Egypt will likely put gasoline prices up around 30 cents a gallon for the rest of the summer, just on speculation. Over 2 million barrels a day of petroleum goes either through the Suez Canal or through pipelines across Egypt, destined for the European and American markets. (Despite what the Right wing tells you, the US imports 40 percent of its oil daily, and there is no prospect of it being oil independent any time soon unless we go to electric cars powered by wind and solar). Likewise, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) shipments through the canal have increased 8-fold since 2008 and as the US Energy Information Agency notes, “Countries such as the United Kingdom, Belgium, and Italy received over 80 percent their total LNG imports via the Suez Canal in 2010, while Turkey, France, and the United States had about a quarter of their LNG imports transited through the Canal.” Moreover, those businessmen who want to export fracked natural gas from the US to, e.g. India, need it to go through the Suez Canal. If the canal were closed by political instability or the pipelines were blown up by guerrillas, the impact on energy and fuel prices in the United States would not be trivial.

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The Need for New Blood at State Dept.: Obama’s Problem with the ‘Vision Thing’ Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:32:09 +0000 By Andrew J. Bacevich | ( –

En route back to Washington at the tail end of his most recent overseas trip, John Kerry, America’s peripatetic secretary of state, stopped off in France “to share a hug with all of Paris.” Whether Paris reciprocated the secretary’s embrace went unrecorded.

Despite the requisite reference to General Pershing (“Lafayette, we are here!”) and flying James Taylor in from the 1960s to assure Parisians that “You’ve Got a Friend,” in the annals of American diplomacy Kerry’s hug will likely rank with President Eisenhower’s award of the Legion of Merit to Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza for “exceptionally meritorious conduct” and Jimmy Carter’s acknowledgment of the “admiration and love” said to define the relationship between the Iranian people and their Shah.  In short, it was a moment best forgotten.

Alas, this vapid, profoundly silly event is all too emblematic of statecraft in the Obama era.  Seldom have well-credentialed and well-meaning people worked so hard to produce so little of substance.

Not one of the signature foreign policy initiatives conceived in Obama’s first term has borne fruit. When it came to making a fresh start with the Islamic world, responsibly ending the “dumb” war in Iraq (while winning the “necessary” one in Afghanistan), “resetting” U.S.-Russian relations, and “pivoting” toward Asia, mark your scorecard 0 for 4.

There’s no doubt that when Kerry arrived at the State Department he brought with him some much-needed energy.  That he is giving it his all — the department’s website reports that the secretary has already clocked over 682,000 miles of travel — is doubtless true as well.  The problem is the absence of results.  Remember when his signature initiative was going to be an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal?  Sadly, that quixotic plan, too, has come to naught.

Yes, Team Obama “got” bin Laden.  And, yes, it deserves credit for abandoning a self-evidently counterproductive 50-plus-year-old policy toward Cuba and for signing a promising agreement with China on climate change.  That said, the administration’s overall record of accomplishment is beyond thin, starting with that first-day-in-the-Oval-Office symbol that things were truly going to be different: Obama’s order to close Guantanamo.  That, of course, remains a work in progress (despite regular reassurances of light glimmering at the end of what has become a very long tunnel).

In fact, taking the president’s record as a whole, noting that on his watch occasional U.S. drone strikes have become routine, the Nobel Committee might want to consider revoking its Peace Prize.

Nor should we expect much in the time that Obama has remaining. Perhaps there is a deal with Iran waiting in the wings (along with the depth charge of ever-fiercer congressionally mandated sanctions), but signs of intellectual exhaustion are distinctly in evidence.

“Where there is no vision,” the Hebrew Bible tells us, “the people perish.”  There’s no use pretending: if there’s one thing the Obama administration most definitely has not got and has never had, it’s a foreign policy vision.

In Search of Truly Wise (White) Men — Only Those 84 or Older Need Apply

All of this evokes a sense of unease, even consternation bordering on panic, in circles where members of the foreign policy elite congregate.  Absent visionary leadership in Washington, they have persuaded themselves, we’re all going down.  So the world’s sole superpower and self-anointed global leader needs to get game — and fast.

Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, recently weighed in with a proposal for fixing the problem: clean house.  Obama has surrounded himself with fumbling incompetents, Gelb charges.  Get rid of them and bring in the visionaries.

Writing at the Daily Beast, Gelb urges the president to fire his entire national security team and replace them with “strong and strategic people of proven foreign policy experience.”  Translation: the sort of people who sip sherry and nibble on brie in the august precincts of the Council of Foreign Relations.  In addition to offering his own slate of nominees, including several veterans of the storied George W. Bush administration, Gelb suggests that Obama consult regularly with Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and James Baker.  These distinguished war-horses range in age from 84 to 91.  By implication, only white males born prior to World War II are eligible for induction into the ranks of the Truly Wise Men.

Anyway, Gelb emphasizes, Obama needs to get on with it.  With the planet awash in challenges that “imperil our very survival,” there is simply no time to waste.

At best, Gelb’s got it half right.  When it comes to foreign policy, this president has indeed demonstrated a knack for surrounding himself with lackluster lieutenants.  That statement applies equally to national security adviser Susan Rice (and her predecessor), to Secretary of State Kerry (and his predecessor), and to outgoing Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.  Ashton Carter, the technocrat slated to replace Hagel as defense secretary, comes from the same mold.

They are all “seasoned”  — in Washington, a euphemism for bland, conventional, and utterly unimaginative — charter members of the Rogers-Christopher school of American statecraft.  (That may require some unpacking, so pretend you’re on Jeopardy.  Alex Trebek:  “Two eminently forgettable and completely forgotten twentieth-century secretaries of state.”  You, hitting the buzzer:  “Who were William Rogers and Warren Christopher?”  “Correct!”)

Members of Obama’s national security team worked long and hard to get where they are.  Yet along the way — perhaps from absorbing too many position papers, PowerPoint briefings, and platitudes about “American global leadership” — they lost whatever creative spark once endowed them with the appearance of talent and promise.  Ambition, unquestioned patriotism, and a capacity for putting in endless hours (and enduring endless travel) — all these remain.  But a serious conception of where the world is heading and what that implies for basic U.S. policy?  Individually and collectively, they are without a clue.

I submit that maybe that’s okay, that plodding mediocrity can be a boon if, as at present, the alternatives on offer look even worse.

A Hug for Obama

You want vision?  Obama’s predecessor surrounded himself with visionaries.  Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz, products of the Cold War one and all, certainly fancied themselves large-bore strategic thinkers.  Busily positioning the United States to run (just another “i” and you have “ruin”) the world, they were blindsided by 9/11.  Unembarrassed and unchastened by this disaster, they initiated a series of morally dubious, strategically boneheaded moves that were either (take your pick) going to spread freedom and democracy or position the United States to exercise permanent dominion.  The ensuing Global War on Terror did neither, of course, while adding trillions to the national debt and helping fracture great expanses of the planet.  Obama is still, however ineffectually, trying to clean up the mess they created.

If that’s what handing the keys to big thinkers gets you, give me Susan Rice any day.  Although Obama’s “don’t do stupid shit” may never rank with Washington’s Farewell Address or the Monroe Doctrine in the history books, George W. Bush might have profited from having some comparable axiom taped to his laptop.

Big ideas have their place — indeed, are essential — when the issues at hand are clearly defined.  The Fall of France in 1940 was one such moment, which President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized.  So too, arguably, was the period immediately after World War II.  The defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan had left a dangerous power vacuum in both Europe and the Pacific to which George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and their compatriots forged a necessary response.  Perhaps the period 1968-1969 falls into that same category, the debacle of Vietnam requiring a major adjustment in U.S. Cold War strategy.  This Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger undertook with their opening to China.

Yet despite the overwrought claims of Gelb (and others) that America’s very survival is today at risk, the present historical moment lacks comparable clarity.  Ours is not a time when we face a single overarching threat.  Instead, on several different fronts, worrisome developments are brewing.  Environmental degradation, the rise of China and other emerging powers, the spread of radical Islam, the precarious state of the global economy, vulnerabilities that are an inevitable byproduct of our pursuit of a cyber-utopia: all of these bear very careful watching.  Each one today should entail a defensive response, the United States protecting itself (and its allies) against worst-case outcomes.  But none of these at the present moment justifies embarking upon a let-out-all-the-stops offensive.  Chasing after one problem would necessarily divert attention from the rest.

The immediate future remains too opaque to say with certainty which threat will turn out to pose the greatest danger, whether in the next year or the next decade — and which might even end up not being a threat at all but an unexpected opportunity.  Conditions are not ripe for boldness.  The abiding imperative of the moment is to discern, which requires careful observation and patience.  In short, forget about strategy.

And there’s a further matter.  Correct discernment assumes a proper vantage point.  What you see depends on where you sit and which way you’re facing.  Those who inhabit the upper ranks of the Obama administration (and those whom Leslie Gelb offers as replacements) sit somewhere back in the twentieth century, their worldview shaped by memories of Munich and Yalta, Korea and Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Berlin Wall, none of which retain more than tangential relevance to the present day.

You want vision?  That will require a new crop of visionaries.  Instead of sitting down with ancients like Kissinger, Scowcroft, Brzezinski, or Baker, this president (or his successor) would be better served to pick the brain of the army captain back from multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, the moral theologian specializing in inter-religious dialog, the Peace Corps volunteer who spent the last two years in West Africa, and the Silicon Valley entrepreneur best able to spell out the political implications of the next big thing.

In short, a post-twentieth century vision requires a post-twentieth century generation, able to free itself from old shibboleths to which Leslie Gelb and most of official Washington today remain stubbornly dedicated.  That generation waits in the wings and after another presidential election or two may indeed wield some influence.  We should hope so.  In the meantime, we should bide our time, amending the words of the prophet to something like: “Where there is no vision, the people muddle along and await salvation.”

So as Obama and his team muddle toward their finish line, their achievements negligible, we might even express a modicum of gratitude.  When they depart the scene, we will forget the lot of them.  Yet at least they managed to steer clear of truly epic disasters.  When muddling was the best Washington had on offer, they delivered.  They may even deserve a hug.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a TomDispatch regular, is writing a military history of America’s War for the Greater Middle East. His most recent book is Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Andrew Bacevich


Related video added by Juan Cole:

AP: “Kerry: Wants to ‘share a Hug’ With Paris”

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Over 80 Cartoonists And Comics Workers Boycott Israeli Occupation Firms Fri, 30 Jan 2015 05:25:32 +0000 By IMEMC News & Agencies Report post

More than 80 cartoonists and other workers in the comics industry, including colorists, writers, critics, and editors, from over 20 countries, signed an open letter this week addressed to Franck Bondoux, the head of the International Festival of Comics at Angoulême, which opened in France on January 29th.


The letter, a follow up to a 2014 letter, demands that he sever ties between the Festival and Sodastream, an Israeli manufacturing company complicit in the occupation of Palestinian land. The authors of the letter include 10 prize winners at Angoulême itself, two winners of the MacArthur “Genius Grant,” many Eisner and Ignatz awardees, and a Palestinian cartoonist previously imprisoned for his work by the Israeli military.

The organizers of the letter also released an accompanying statement, in the wake of the slaying of cartoonists Wolinski, Cabu, Honoré, Tignous and Charb, among many others in Paris this month. “These horrific acts of violence compel artists of the world to act urgently for a world where the dignity, freedom, and equality of all people are respected and promoted,” said cartoonist Ethan Heitner and writer Dror Warschawski, organizers of the open letter. “We affirm that the Palestinian boycott movement is one important step towards that vision, and we urge others to join us.”

The 2015 letter expands on its predecessor in several key ways. Its signatories include workers in the comics industry beyond cartoonists, including critics Jeet Heer and former heads of the Cité internationale de la bande dessinée Thierry Groensteen and Gilles Ciment, and organizers of the first-ever festival of comics held in Palestine, Palestine Comics, which opened in November of 2014.

The letter also addresses itself beyond Angoulême, to “all festivals, conventions, and celebrations of comics and cartooning art in which we participate.” Finally, the letter expands its target beyond Sodastream, to all “Israeli companies and institutions” complicit in ethnic cleansing, discrimination, and war crimes. Noting that Israel’s assault on Gaza in the summer 2014 alone killed over 2,100 Palestinians, the signatories urge, “No business as usual with Israel.”

View the full letter and signatories at the Palestinian News Network.


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The false promise of fracking and local jobs Thu, 29 Jan 2015 07:38:17 +0000 By Susan Christopherson | (The Conversation)

In a surprise decision that led to consternation in the oil and gas industry and elation among fracking opponents, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in December banned fracking in the state. He attributed his decision to unresolved health risks associated with this drilling technique, but the governor surely also weighed the economics and the politics.

During the past five years, I’ve researched and written about the economic impacts of fracking and, as a long-time resident of New York, I have observed its fractious politics. What I’ve found is that most people, including politicians and people in the media, assume that fracking creates thousands of good jobs.

But opening the door to fracking doesn’t lead to the across-the-board economic boon most people assume. We need to consider where oil and gas industry jobs are created and who benefits from the considerable investments that make shale development possible. A look at the job numbers gives us a much better idea of what kind of economic boost comes with fracking, how its economic benefits are distributed and why both can be easily misunderstood.

Not a recession buster

Pennsylvania is one of the centers of dispute over fracking job numbers. In Pennsylvania, the job numbers initially used by the media to describe the economic impact of fracking were predictions from models developed by oil and gas industry affiliates. For example, a Marcellus Shale Coalition press release in 2010 claimed:

“The safe and steady development of clean-burning natural gas in Pennsylvania’s portion of the Marcellus Shale has the potential to create an additional 212,000 new jobs over the next 10 years on top of the thousands already being generated all across the Commonwealth.”

These job projections spurred enthusiasm for fracking in Pennsylvania and gave many people the impression that oil and gas industry employment would lead Pennsylvania quickly out of the recession. That didn’t happen.

Pennsylvania’s unemployment roughly tracked the national average throughout the state’s gas boom. While some counties benefited from the fracking build-up, which occurred during the “great recession,” the state economy didn’t perform appreciably better than the national economy.

Nationally, the oil and gas industry employs relatively few people compared to a sector like health care and social assistance, which employed over 16 million Americans in 2010. The drilling, extraction and support industries employed 569,000 people nationwide in 2012, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Although it grew faster than other sectors of the economy, the core of oil and gas employment constitutes only one half of one percent of total US private sector employment. This total includes jobs unrelated to shale development and jobs that preceded the shale boom. As for job growth, the EIA indicates that 161,600 of these jobs were added between 2007 and 2012. Drilling jobs specifically increased by only 6,600.

Impressive growth percentages notwithstanding, that is not a lot of jobs. In 2010, more than 143 million people were employed in the US, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In Pennsylvania, the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative (MSSRC) report on shale employment in the Marcellus states found that shale development accounts for 1 out of every 249 jobs, while the education and health sectors account for 1 out of every 6 jobs.

FedEx drivers?

The central issue with job projections is how many additional jobs are credited to oil and gas development beyond the relatively small number of people directly employed in oil and gas extraction.

In December 2014, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry reported that just over 31,000 people were employed in the state’s oil and gas industry. That figure was higher than the federal data indicates, but appears to be reasonable. However, what’s striking is that the Department attributed another 212,000 jobs to shale development by adding employment in 30 “ancillary” industries.

All employment in these related industries – including such major employers as construction and trucking – was included in this attributed jobs figure. Thus, a driver delivering for FedEx or a housing construction worker were “claimed” as jobs produced by the shale industry.

This is eye-rolling territory for economists. They know that attributing two additional jobs to every one directly created in an industry is very generous. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania attributed seven additional jobs to each one created in the oil and gas industry.

Depending on how broadly you define the state’s oil and gas industry, between 5,400 and 31,000 people were employed in Pennsylvania before many of the rigs started pulling out in 2012 to head west. Certainly, jobs in other sectors were also created, but a generous estimate would be 30,000 to 60,000 rather than the hundreds of thousands claimed by industry promoters.

The MSSRC report demonstrates that only a tiny portion (under 1%) of jobs in many of these 30 industries could be related to shale development activities, and further, that Pennsylvania employment in these industries overall changed little before, during, and after the shale boom.

The real winner: Texas

Beyond the exaggerated numbers, a geographic blindness obscures our view of fracking jobs. Where do the workers extracting gas in Pennsylvania or Ohio live and spend their money? Where are the best jobs located? While the fracking industry may support the national economy as a whole, some places are winners and others are losers.

In Ohio, where extraction continues because its shale holds both natural gas and other valuable “wet gas” hydrocarbons, a series of investigative reports by The Columbus Dispatch showed that at least a third of the workforce in drilling areas are transient workers. In the four Ohio counties with the most shale permits, the number of local people employed actually decreased between 2007 and 2013.

This tells us that the production sites aren’t necessarily the places that get the economic boost. The most skilled workers on drilling crews are from Texas and Oklahoma and they return home to spend their earnings. Northern Pennsylvania drilling crews spent much of their money in the Southern Tier of New York.

My own research on the geography of shale jobs shows that Texas has derived the lion’s share of the benefits from US fracking. Texas has consistently had around half the jobs in the oil and gas industry (currently 47%). During the 2007-2012 shale boom, Pennsylvania gained 15,114 jobs in the drilling, extraction and support industries, but Texas gained 64,515 – over four times as many jobs. Texas not only has much of the skilled drilling workforce, but the majority of the industry’s managers, scientists and experts, who staff the global firms headquartered in Houston. Still, even in Texas, energy-related jobs constitute only 2.5% of the state’s now more diversified employment.

What does this tell us about New York’s decision on fracking? Andrew Cuomo may have decided that the state would do better providing finance capital to the oil and gas industry from Wall Street rather than taking on high-risk, low-reward fracking production.

Susan Christopherson is Professor, Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University


Ned Rightor, an independent researcher, contributed to this article.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Sam Seder: “Shale Boom & Bust: The Myth of US Oil Independence (w/ Dan Dicker)”

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Netanyahu & Boehner: How Israel went from being a Democratic to a Republican Project Thu, 29 Jan 2015 06:48:41 +0000 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —

The audacity of Speaker of the House John Boehner colluding with the prime minister of a foreign country to undermine a sitting president is, I think, still not entirely appreciated. And the whole point of the plot with Binyamin Netanyahu is to stop a sitting president from successfully making an opening to a former enemy, reducing the likelihood of war.

Just think what the equivalent would have been.

It would be as though Rep. Joseph William Martin, Jr., the Speaker of the House after WW II, had managed to swing a visit to Congress in 1947 from Mustafa Barzani, the Kurdish leader, to stop Harry Truman from promulgating his Truman Doctrine and including Turkey in the aid package that became the Marshall Plan.

Or, it would be as though Rep. John William McCormack, Speaker of the House in 1971, had without Nixon’s knowledge invited Spanish leader Francisco Franco to address Congress and warn against any deal with Communist China.

I think we know how Truman (a hothead) and Nixon (a sociopath) would have responded to that kind of, well, treason. And frankly I don’t think a Speaker would have dared try to treat a white president that way.

That Netanyahu gleefully joined in this naked power play for the Republican Party, moreover, signals a turning point in the partisan valence of Israel itself.

In a 2-party system, the parties are enormous big-tent conglomerations of groups. But at a certain point in the 20th century, the Democratic Party picked up as constituents, in addition to Southern Baptist rural whites, the urban working and middle classes, including religious minorities (Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Jews were very disproportionately urban, while rural areas were largely Protestant). Among the Democrats, of course, were some wealthy traitors to their own class like FDR himself, who despite their privilege stood up for urban workers (even if they were not personally enthusiastic about Catholics and Jews). Those few middle class African Americans who could vote in mid-century tended to be Republicans, but most were excluded from the political system.

The narrative of the Democratic Party under the New Deal and after was government-backed uplift and opportunity for minorities and workers. That message resonated with the “Exodus” narrative of Israel as the creation of persecuted people reduced to the most straitened circumstances, who by forming a socialist state created the first modern industrial Middle Eastern nation– which perhaps even had the potential to modernize the feudal emirates and principalities still battening upon the oppressed Arab workers and peasants.

In contrast, the Republican Party was led by wealthy and established WASPs, who allied with upper middle class neighborhoods and some Midwestern farmers. Its message, even in the 1930s and 1940s, was that private business, if only untaxed and unregulated, could create a dynamic economy and a tide that would lift all boats. That discourse was completely unaffected by its utter failure in the Great Depression. The GOP was hostile to the kind of big government FDR championed and that the Israelis constructed in the late 40s and 1950s, and had vanishingly few Jewish or Catholic constituents.

A Republican like Eisenhower was as eager in the 1950s to have good relations with Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt as with Israel, and reacted harshly to Israel’s war of aggression, in conjunction with Britain and France, on Egypt in 1956. Eisenhower had few domestic Jewish constituents and did not care that they were disappointed when he made David Ben Gurion relinquish the Sinai Peninsula back to its lawful owner, Egypt, in 1957. He appears to have been afraid that Israel’s aggressive expansionism would drive Egypt into the arms of the Soviet Union, and with it much of the Arab world. Socialist Jews running about interfering in US Cold War aims did not exactly produce fanboy sentiments in the Presbyterian, Methodist and Lutheran businessmen and military officers at the top of the Republican Party.

In contrast, the Democratic Johnson administration was, in 1967, virtually a cheering section for Israel in that war, in which Israel also fired the first shot.

But from the late 1970s, the Israeli right wing began winning national elections. Some of it, as with the Likud Party, resembled Franco’s Spanish fascists, having a similar origin in the far right wing mass movements of the 1930s in Europe. It reached out to the Mizrahis or Jews from the Middle East who had fled or been expelled after the rise of Israel made them (quite unfairly) controversial at home. Then in the 1990s, a million immigrants came to Israel from the former Soviet Union and East Bloc, only about half of them actually what you might call Jewish. The definition of Neoconservatives, most of them wanted nothing to do with socialism or the Labor Party.

The old Central European Labor Party elite and its socialist institutions such as the Histadrut workers’ union, declined rapidly in influence. A new class of billionaires emerged, and workers began having difficulty paying rent. Class divisions increased. To deflect any backlash from downwardly mobile workers, the Right pushed the colonization of the Palestinian West Bank (socialism has always been acceptable to the European Right if deployed by imperial viceroys in the service of colonialism abroad). There, essentially subsidized housing on stolen Palestinian property kept living expenses bearable and had the further advantage of creating a new constituency that would vote for right wing pro-colonization governments.

Israel’s narrative today is much more like the grand Republican one than like that of New Deal Democrats. It is a land of capitalists and IPOs, of a handful of billionaires who buy Netanyahu his elections and increasingly poorly paid workers (who are still better off than the Palestinian underclass). A few years ago I went to a conference in Israel and they kindly put us up in a kibbutz. We got to see the communal dining halls and the exhortations to community. But the kibbutz was being sold off as vacation homes.

Republican ideology is latently about hierarchy. Older white wealthy Protestant males were at the top of the hierarchy, followed by younger white wealthy Protestant males and then by white wealthy Protestant females. More recently wealthy Jews and Mormons have been granted honorary “Protestant” status in the party, just as the Apartheid Afrikaners decided to proclaim Japanese as “white” for business purposes. For an African-American to be president deeply violates this unstated hierarchy, which is why they treat President Obama with such lack of respect; disrespecting someone in public in primate societies is a way of putting them in their place and restoring power hierarchies. Keeping African-Americans and poor Latinos from voting is not only a partisan strategy (they don’t vote Republican on the whole) but it also underlines the hierarchy, which assumes whiteness and property as connoting ‘real’ Americans. Famously, some of the white working class is attached to the Republican elite because they are told that thereby they become better than workers of the lower (as they think of it when not in public) races.

African-Americans are deployed in much Republican discourse just as Palestinians are deployed in right wing Israeli discourse, and racism functions the same way in making the Israeli working class unwilling to ally with Palestinian workers nowadays (Zachary Lockman showed that such alliances were common in the 1930s).

So for Israel to function as a Republican Trojan Horse in the debate on the Hill about Iran negotiations is an announcement that the old big-government socialist Israel of the Ashkenazi survivors of Nazism is over. Israel has about 1 million such Ashkenazis. But it has nearly 3 million Mizrahim, eastern Jews not steeped in Labor socialism. And it has a million recently arrived Eastern Europeans who were mauled by Soviet excesses and were pushed to the right, just as Hungarians have been.

The 1960s now look like the heyday of the congruence of the Democratic Great Society and the Israeli Labor Socialism of Levi Eshkol, both of them anti-Soviet but both of them standing against unregulated capitalism and in favor of using government to help people lift themselves up.

That American Jews are the religious group most enthusiastic about the Democratic Party and President Obama, yet also something like 63 percent of them are strong supporters of Israel, can only create a mammoth case of what psychologists call cognitive dissonance (mental stress from holding contradictory ideals simultaneously).

Now, with the long dominance of the Israeli Right and the attenuation of Labor and Meretz, Israel is a Republican project, and being deployed in American politics primarily for Republican purposes.

Related video:

CNN: “White House furious over Netanyahu and Boehner meeting”

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Network Climate Coverage: The Good, the Bad and the (Mostly) Ugly Thu, 29 Jan 2015 05:24:45 +0000 MediaMatters4America | –

Climate Coverage In 2014: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

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