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Mister Spock Has Died

By: cmaukonen Friday February 27, 2015 10:51 am

Leonard Nimoy, Spock of ‘Star Trek,’ Dies at 83.

Leonard Nimoy, the sonorous, gaunt-faced actor who won a worshipful global following as Mr. Spock, the resolutely logical human-alien first officer of the Starship Enterprise in the television and movie juggernaut “Star Trek,” died on Friday morning at his home in the Bel Air section of Los Angeles. He was 83.

His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed his death, saying the cause was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Mr. Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year, attributing it to years of smoking, a habit he had given up three decades earlier. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week.

He will be sorely missed. His acting as well as his logic was impeccable.

Live long and prosper.

 

Skipping the Speech for All the Wrong Reasons

By: David Swanson Friday February 27, 2015 7:38 am

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to hear that Congress members will skip Netanyahu’s speech no matter what reason they offer. Here are some of them:

It’s too close to Netanyahu’s election. (That doesn’t persuade me. If we had fair, open, publicly funded, un-gerrymandered, verifiably counted elections, then “politics” wouldn’t be a dirty word and we would want politicians to show themselves doing things to try to please us before, during, and after elections. I want them acting that way now, even with our broken system. I don’t want the U.S. interfering in Israeli elections, but allowing a speech is hardly the same as backing coups in Ukraine and Venezuela or giving Israel billions of dollars worth of weapons every year.)

The Speaker didn’t ask the President. (This is likely the big reason that Democrats are promising to skip the speech. I’m actually amazed more of them haven’t made that promise. Netanyahu seemed to me to miss the extent to which the United States has become a term-limited monarchy. Congress typically wants to pass the buck on wars to the President. The President typically controls one of the two parties quite tightly. But do I actually care that Congress didn’t consult the President? Hell no! Imagine if, during the run-up to the 2003 attack on Iraq, Congress had offered a joint-session microphone to El Baradei or Sarkozy or Putin or, indeed, Hussein to denounce all the bogus claims about WMDs in Iraq? Would you have been outraged by the impoliteness toward President Bush or delighted that a million people might not get killed for no damn reason?)

These kinds of reasons do have a practical weakness: they lead to calls for postponing the speech, rather than canceling it. Some other reasons have more serious flaws.

The speech damages bipartisan U.S. support for Israel. (Really? A slim minority of the President’s party skips the speech for a laundry list of lame excuses and suddenly the United States is going to stop providing all the free weapons and vetoing every attempt at legal accountability for the crimes of the Israeli government? And that would be a bad thing if it actually happened?)

The speech hurts the critical effort of negotiations to keep Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. (This is the worst of the bad reasons. It pushes the false idea that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and threatening to use it. It plays right into Netanyahu’s fantasies of poor helpless nuclear Israel the victim of Iranian aggression. In reality, Iran has not attacked another nation in modern history. If only Israel or the United States could say as much!)

As I said, I’m glad anyone’s skipping the speech for any reason. But I find it deeply disturbing that an enormously important and deeply moral reason to skip the speech is obvious and known to every member of Congress, and while most are acting against it, those acting in accordance with it refuse to articulate it. The reason is this: Netanyahu is coming to spread war propaganda. He told Congress lies about Iraq in 2002 and pushed for a U.S. war. He has been lying, according to leaks this week of his own spies’ information and according to the understanding of the U.S. “intelligence” services, about Iran. It is illegal to spread war propaganda under the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, to which Israel is a party. Congress is struggling to keep up with the wars President Obama is continuing, launching, and risking. Here’s one war Obama seems not to want, and Congress is bringing in a foreign leader with a record of war lies to give them their marching orders. Meanwhile, an agency of that same foreign government, AIPAC, is holding its big lobby meeting in Washington.

Now, it is true that nuclear energy facilities create dangerous targets. Those drones flying around French nuclear plants scare the hell out of me. And it is true that nuclear energy places its possessor a short step away from nuclear weaponry. Which is why the U.S. should stop spreading nuclear energy to countries that have no need of it, and why the U.S. should never have given nuclear bomb plans to Iran or sentenced Jeffrey Sterling to prison for allegedly revealing that act. But you can’t accomplish good by using horrific mass murder to avoid horrific mass murder — and that’s what Israeli-U.S. aggression toward Iran means. Stirring up a new cold war with Russia in Syria and Ukraine is dangerous enough without throwing Iran into the mix. But even a war that confined itself to Iran would be horrifying.

Imagine if we had one Congress member who would say, “I’m skipping the speech because I’m opposed to killing Iranians.” I know we have lots of constituents who like to think that their progressive Congress member secretly thinks that. But I’ll believe it when I hear it said.

 

Boston Bombing News: Opening Statements Scheduled for Wednesday

By: lauraw Friday February 27, 2015 6:56 am

In the Tsarnaev trial, they have reached the target number of 70 jurors, which will be whittled down to 18 on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 3rd and 4th. There will be a final pre-trial hearing on Monday.

When the trial began on January 5, Judge O’Toole had the delusion that a pool of impartial jurors could be chosen in a week or so. Clearly, that didn’t happen. Now it is estimated that the trial may continue until June.

pbszebra has shared with us Milton Valencia’s breakdown of the jurors who were interviewed. By his accounting:
36 potential jurors said they were open to the question of innocence or guilt.
41 said they thought Dzhokhar was guilty, but claimed they could be open to having their minds changed.
52 were sure he was guilty.
50 were labeled as “no determination.”
52 were not asked their opinion on guilt or innocence.
Will the final jury be drawn from the open-minded 36?

I’m quite skeptical about those who come in with preconceptions of guilt, but claim they can put their prejudices aside.

One article last week focused on a woman who said she was haunted by the Blue Runner Photo, but insists she is open to having her mind changed. Really? That photo proves absolutely nothing. In fact it may actually prove that Agent Genck’s account of Dzhokhar’s actions at the Forum is incorrect. And yet this woman, like so many others, actually believes she has seen a picture of The Bomber intentionally targeting Martin Richard. It’s a distracting magic trick worthy of David Copperfield.

In addition to the difficulties of finding impartial jurors, the beginning of the trial was further delayed by the 100+ inches of snow which descended on Boston. This virtually apocalyptic weather led Missie B. to joke that God was sending a message to Judge O’T, proclaiming “Let my Dzhokhar go – to D.C.”!

Chances of that happening seem slim, of course, but the defense keeps trying. On February 19th, the Appellate court held a second Change of Venue hearing. They have not yet announced a decision. In their previous vote, CofV was voted down 2-1, with Justice Toruella as the minority opinion.

In addition to these efforts, the defense continues to chalk up other grounds for appeal. On Thursday the 26th they filed a motion protesting the unfair distribution of the jury pool (not enough minorities). The motion also questions a last-minute re-ordering of juror numbers, which seemed designed to bump African-American prospects down to the end of the voir dire cycle.

Meanwhile, the poisonous propaganda campaign continues. The other day, the Boston Globe published “A Friend No More: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Took Part of Their Souls.” It featured a crowd picture of a bunch of young people, and interviews with former high school acquaintances or friends of DT who say that they misjudged his gentle nature and are now cursing him. (Surely one would expect real, close friends to take the same trouble that we strangers have taken, to actually investigate the facts of this case.)

On Monday of this week, the voir dire was cancelled without explanation, leading many to speculate that a plea deal was in the works. One lawyer unconnected to the case suggested that to forestall the defense taking the Change of Venue issue all the way to the Supreme Court, the prosecution had decided to take the death penalty off the table and offer a deal. And the Boston Bar Association weighed in to urge a deal.

Rumors and speculations about a plea deal have been rampant from the start. However, it still has not happened. As of now, this case is going to trial.

Tweets from the voir dire sessions, also conveyed by pbszebra, give interesting insight into Dzhokhar’s state of mind. Observers say that he carefully keeps a stone-face while judge and jurors are in the room, but when they are not watching, he is frequently seen to laugh and joke with his lawyers. The other day, for instance, he pretended to throw a stack of post-it notes at Judy Clarke, who played along with the game.

What’s this about? How can the most hated man in America, who seems virtually assured of a conviction and a possible death penalty, be so cheerful?

Through his pre-bombing communications, we have come to know Dzhokhar as a person with a playful sense of humor and irony (very much at odds with the pompous phrases in the alleged boat note). Perhaps he simply has an amazingly resilent nature?

Perhaps he knows that the prosecution case is weak and will inevitably collapse like a house of cards?

Or perhaps he is simply relieved that his long-imposed silence is finally coming to an end?

I understand that in cases like this, the defendant is rarely put on the stand. However, guilt proponents believe he will insist on testifying to state his “terrorist manifesto.”

I find myself hoping that he will testify to explain the many mysteries and inconsistencies in the official story. Although that probably will not happen, his lawyers will speak for him. I look forward to this.

Patricia Arquette, Harriet Christian, and opportunities to listen

By: danps Friday February 27, 2015 4:55 am

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

As someone who hits for the privilege cycle (white, male and heterosexual) I have had many opportunities over the years to realize I’ve inadvertently offended someone. It’s always a bit of a shock – I thought I was being complimentary/helpful/sensitive! – but I think I’ve learned at least one useful lesson from these experiences: The best response is usually to shut up and listen.

That’s a tough thing to do, because the overwhelming impulse it to justify the offense, to let those offended know that none was intended, that my motive really was good and pure, and so on. Following that impulse is usually the best way to make a bad situation worse, though. The offended individuals usually aren’t much interested in hearing a strained rationalization (exasperated women call it mansplaining); usually they are more interested in being heard.

So when Patricia Arquette’s comments on Oscar night (“it’s time for all the women in America, and the men who love women and all the gay people and people of color we’ve all fought for to fight for us now”) went over like a lead balloon among people of color, I really hoped those who initially applauded her comments would take a step back and reconsider. After all, white feminists have at times sidelined people of color. Prejudiced language periodically rears its ugly head to the present day, with examples both famous (Geraldine Ferraro) and infamous (Harriet Christian).

Christian’s language is particularly revealing. In the same short clip she disparages Barack Obama as an “inadequate black male” she also says: “it’s equality for all of us, it’s about time we all stood up for it.” She claims to be for equality for everyone, but that sentiment sure seems to rest comfortably with a pretty virulent racism. Perhaps people of color could be forgiven for picking up echoes of the former when hearing declarations of the latter.

Because here’s the thing. If you claim to be welcoming of everyone and interested in justice for all, it’s fair to look at how people are responding. In Arquette’s case, people of color had an extremely negative response. I had an extended discussion about that with Libby Spencer on Twitter, and the starting point was Libby’s belief that criticizing Arquette’s comments amounted to an attack on Arquette.

I thought of it much differently: if Arquette was making a call for solidarity with people of color, and they reacted negatively, then maybe that represented an excellent opportunity to shut up and listen to them – not to explain why they are misunderstanding her. Maybe they weren’t feeling an ally vibe because Arquette was not being a good ally. Maybe she wasn’t calling for mutual aid by demanding it of others. (Mutual aid is something one offers, not claims.)

Nicole Sandler went further, by turns wallowing in self-pity (“I feel as if I’m supposed to apologize for being born white, but even that wouldn’t satisfy the people who are excoriating me today…I’m apparently everything that’s wrong with the evil white woman”), belittling critics (who are “projecting their insecurities”) and essentially declaring America post-racial (“I am denying that I benefit from White Privilege”).

But cutting through the rhetorical clutter, her thesis still has that blind spot: “I always thought the issues we feminists fought for were inclusive of ALL women.” If that’s the case then why hasn’t a proportionate demographic slice of all women flocked to it? Why are there still such clear racial fault lines on the subject? It’s silly, almost trivial, to say one is welcoming of all people. Hell, even Rush Limbaugh says that. The proof is in the pudding.

Similarly, saying that Arquette was “using the phrase ALL WOMEN over and over again” doesn’t mean the message resonated with all women. The fact that so many women of color reacted negatively suggests that the burden is more on Arquette (and her defenders) to understand why that is – rather than on others to “reach out for clarification.” It’s not as though her words were cleverly edited or truncated. Everyone heard exactly what she said, fully in context.

Solidarity is a tough thing. It isn’t enough to say you’re inclusive, it’s also important to look around and see who’s actually included. Who’s drawn to it and who stays away. Arquette’s comments were tone deaf at best, and at worst were part of a long tradition of “wait your turn” activism that has an undertone of racial animus. Those repelled by her words may not have misunderstood her, and may in fact have understood her all too well. The unwillingness to reach out for clarification on that is the real missed opportunity.

Forcing Change in Big Media’s Pro-war Bias

By: spocko Thursday February 26, 2015 9:51 pm

Yesterday I posted some positive steps to get anti-war and anti-torture voices into the media.

Today I want to suggest some other steps and some leverage methods to force the issue.

I discussed them and the research that led to them on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd. Feb, 26, 2015.

Today Digby wrote about Chris Hayes and Laura Ingram pointing out how the networks push war. Now, what to do to change it?

Following Lee Fang’s Nation article on retired generals pushing bombing without being identified. I dug into the process for getting those guests to get on the air.   I spoke to news producers, show bookers, guests, corporate media execs, FCC and FTC lawyers. I spoke to corporate CFOs, institutional investors, hedge fund managers and media trackers.

After I understood the process, I asked, “Who or what has the power to change things?”

Some of the most insightful comments came from a pundit guest and a major network lawyer.

The news and Sunday morning show producers are both lazy and afraid.” -Pundit guest

I asked for clarification. “They are afraid of getting fired for booking a ‘bad’ guest.” How ‘bad’ is defined can vary from “Makes the host look bad, makes regular guests look bad, to is inarticulate on the camera.”

I understand the fear, so then I asked, “Say we had new, proven ‘good’ guests, but with a different perspective, what would it take to get them on? A memo from the head of the news division? A call from a big advertiser? A letter from corporate lawyers that guests now have to meet certain FCC and FTC regulations? The top media CEO mandating it? A cash transaction? A conversation with a major shareholder over golf? A twitter storm from the public?”

The pundit had fascinating answers, but these questions were asked before the Brian Williams firing. The firing gave me some data that I didn’t have before.

To me that story was about NBCUniversal trying to protect a certain brand image that they want the NBC News division to have. They then took actions showing the price they were willing to pay to maintain it.

Following the firing Williams dropped from 23rd to 825th on the trustworthy scale.  How much could that drop cost a network? One New York Times story had a chart showing that a 30 second spot on Williams show generating $47,000 in revenue.

NBC made the decision to distance the man from the brand. The brand promise now explicitly includes the anchors having a “responsibility to the truth.”

This brand value of NBC News is clearly measured in dollars.

If NBCUniversal did not believe that this aspect of their news brand and their hosts’ trustworthiness was important, they would have kept Williams on.

Of course the Williams firing leads some groups to go after O’Reilly and FOX for lying, That’s great, but O’Reilly and Fox News weren’t built on integrity.They are playing a different game. Fox’s “Fair And Balanced” is a catch phrase not an actual practice.  The people to focus on are ABC, CBS and CNN.

Now is the time to remind them that they don’t want their anchors and news brand to become a punch line like Williams.

Want a specific step? If you have prepared ‘good’ guests with an anti-war perspective, tweet to the networks. “Booking only pro-war voices  means your news isn’t being truthful.  #don’tbelikeBrianWilliams book[anti-war person]“

Networks respond to social media pressure.  I know that recently Code Pink tried to get on to peace activists on ABC.  It hasn’t worked yet, but it’s a start as a model.

Hearing just from that group isn’t enough nor is it the networks only pressure. It might not even be in their top 10.

 What other pressures matter?   

For this question I spoke to a former network lawyer. She describing the process for making a decision on a conflict between two big companies and their ads. She said the boss gathered everyone together and asked two questions.

“What are the other networks doing? How big is the ad buy?”         Former network lawyer

This struck me for two reasons. First is understanding any action happens in context with the peers. Peer pressure happens in the big leagues too. Secondly the financial question. People often trot out the line, “It’s all about the money” which signals the ends the discussion.

I’d like people to look at “the ad buy” in another way.

The networks are selling a war. They are giving tremendous value to the companies that benefit from war. Network shareholders could be saying,  Networks should be better compensated for that value.  By not charging for that value they are leaving money on the table and aren’t serving shareholders.

The first ISIS/Sryian bombing was estimated to cost taxpayers around 870 million. The first week around one billion. Weapons manufactures had a good quarter following that week and reported it in their earnings. 

Who does an anti-war message or anti-torture message give value to?

If only a war message is seen as valuable, of course networks won’t go any other route.

So instead of asking for an anti-war message or trying to force them to run one, let’s hold them to their shareholder’s mandate.

The news networks have a responsibility to make money for shareholders, the truth is subservient to that.

If your constituency are the companies making money selling this war, you don’t have a duty to tell both sides.

The networks already have on weapons salesmen without identifying their employers.  Why should the General Dynamics spokesperson get the Sunday guest spot to push drones? How much is it worth to the Blackwater spokesperson to get the spot instead to push “boots on the ground?” Perhaps network shareholders could deman they auction spots off to the highest bidder. 

Does this seem absurd? It is only if people continue to look at the network news division as a public trust. Maybe they still are.  Will they fight the idea that they are only pro-war for the money? Now is the time to push ‘em and find out. 

War correspondent: Why a war zone in America is THE place to go

By: Jane Stillwater Thursday February 26, 2015 9:43 pm

Back in the day, I was always trying to fly off to report on international combat hot-spots like Iraq and Afghanistan — always hoping that if the American people back home read my horror-stories of war, they too would somehow become war-resisters and that my stories of brutal, grim and unjustified death in far-away places might even help escalate a strong anti-war movement here at home, one that would finally stop the heartless killing of women and children by American tanks, rockets and drones.  But now?  Now I’m thinking that I should be doing something even more important than traveling to combat zones far away — that I, like some modern-day Jonah, should actually be going down into the belly of the American beast itself instead.

Plus it’s always cheaper to go to North Carolina or Washington DC or St Louis than to fly off to Syria, Gaza, Haiti or Ukraine.

The main question that I would be asking in these particular American war zones, however, would be, “What makes America tick?”

What has made us become the most dreaded and hated country in the world — a country that has more weapons and more money to spend on weapons than any other country anywhere, ever?  What gives us the right to call ourselves “patriotic” and “brave” and “democratic” when, in reality, it is America that has killed, maimed, tortured and mutilated millions of people all over the world — and trampled any survivors’ chances and their children’s chances of ever ever having a decent life again.

Why do Americans support dictators in Ukraine, Palestine, Honduras, Congo, etc. with such enthusiastic glee?  And also why do Americans applaud so loudly when elections here at home are stolen and our infrastructure and school systems die and “Christianity” becomes just another excuse to kill, rape, torture and maim God’s children both at home and abroad?  http://www.globalresearch.ca/iraqi-army-downs-two-british-planes-carrying-weapons-for-isil-terrorists/5433089

And what makes Americans bitch and complain so much about what ISIS is doing in Iraq and Syria — when what Americans have done there in the past and are doing there right now is so much much much worse?  ISIS fanatics behead hundreds of people.  American troops level whole cities and leave them contaminated with radioactive detritus that will kill children and other living things there for the next 500 years.

Why do Americans fight so hard against trying to end climate change?  Why are Americans so set against preventing nuclear holocausts both at home and abroad?  Why do Americans cheer and get all teary-eyed and proud when our cops turn into robo-cops and spray peaceful protesters with tear gas?  And then actually buy tickets to go see women tortured?  http://womensenews.org/story/media-stories/150219/fifty-shades-grey-eroticizes-torture

“What makes Americans tick?”  I need to know what is going on right here in America before I can possibly understand what the freak is going on in all those American-financed war zones throughout the rest of the world.

So here’s my plan.  I’m going to go out and see America first.  Ukraine and Gaza and Baghdad will just have to wait — while I, like Jonah, go deep into the belly of the American beast instead.

Despite all the nightmares I have seen in the last decades, I continue to be an idealist and to dream of a better world, a world that Buddha, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohammad would be proud of.  Most Americans, however, apparently dream of cruelty, torture, injustice and ruling the world vicariously.

We are the protagonists of our own dreams.

Americans (and all other human beings too for that matter) need to finally learn that it is far better to die with love in our hearts than to live with hatred in our eyes, fear in our guts and evil in our souls.

PS:  A Manhattan jury just awarded a $218.5 million verdict against the Palestinian Authority for damages done to Israelis with American citizenship by Palestinian suicide bombers.  Do you know what this means?  A new precedence has just been set.  A new Pandora’s box has just been opened.

From now on, relatives of Americans killed in any foreign country, not just Israel, can also use American courts to get recompense for damages done by acts of “terrorism” on American citizens abroad!  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/24/nyregion/damages-awarded-in-terror-case-against-palestinian-groups.html?_r=0

For instance, if any Chilean-Americans were killed in the CIA coup against Allende in Chile, their relatives can now sue Henry Kissinger in American courts — but of course they will have to stand in line behind the relatives of any Cambodian-Americans killed by him.

And what about the bunches and groups of Palestinian-Americans, Yemeni-Americans, Iraqi-Americans, Syrian-Americans, Ukrainian-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans, Somali-Americans, Haitian-Americans, etc. who have been killed by American tanks, rockets and drones?

America?  You can no longer pretend to not know what you are doing.  See ya in court!

PPS:  On March 11, 2015, I’ll be going off to Portland, Oregon, to attend a convention — and can start my exploration of American war (and peace) zones there.  http://www.leftcoastcrime.org/2015/

Did Berkeley Just Save Us From Drones or Target Us With Drones?

By: David Swanson Thursday February 26, 2015 1:32 pm

Cities and states across the United States have been taking various actions against drones, while the federal government rolls ahead with project fill the skies.

Robert L. Meola has been working for years now to get Berkeley to catch up with other localities and claim its usual spot at the forefront of movements to pass good resolutions on major issues. Now Berkeley has acted and Meola says “This is NOT what I/we asked for.”

Here’s what they asked for:

Establishing a Two Year Moratorium on Drones in Berkeley
From: Peace and Justice Commission
Recommendation: Adopt a Resolution adopting a two year moratorium on drones in Berkeley.
Financial Implications: Unknown

And what they got:

Action: 11 speakers. M/S/C (Bates/Maio) to: 1) adopt a one-year moratorium on the use of unmanned aircraft systems, or “drones” by the Berkeley Police Department, 2) ask the Council to develop a policy for police use of drones, and 3) to authorize the use of drones by the Berkeley Fire Department for disaster response purposes. Vote: Ayes – Maio, Moore, Anderson, Arreguin, Capitelli, Wengraf, Bates; Noes – Droste; Abstain – Worthington.

Meola responds:

“They adopted a ONE year moratorium on POLICE use of drones. The police have not been interested in getting a drone, according to the last official word from the chief. But they AUTHORIZED use by the Fire Department, who also has not asked to have a drone. And if they get one, will it ONLY be used by the Fire Dept. for disaster response purposes??–Maybe. And they say they will develop a policy for Police USE of drones. How nice of them. We have asked for NO DRONES, NO POLICE USE OF DRONES, and their moratorium entails coming up with a policy for POLICE USE OF DRONES while they still haven’t tackled the issues around a comprehensive drone policy for Berkeley. I spoke. Others spoke. The ACLU spoke. The Mayor is slick. He started out saying two years and ended up with one. They had a whole list of exceptions that got exchanged for this crappy policy.

“So, if no one is paying attention to the details, the propaganda sounds good: BERKELEY PASSES ONE YEAR MORATORIUM ON DRONES Wow! Groovy! Better maybe not to have done anything! Kriss Worthington abstained because this doesn’t sound better than doing nothing once you read the details of what they actually passed.

“They ignored all the good stuff in our recommendation re not using info obtained by a drone in state and federal criminal investigations without a valid warrant based on probable cause. They ignored asking the state to establish a two year moratorium.

“My time would be better spent organizing for Nonviolent Anarchist Revolution, don’t you think? Instead I am asking for them to make a law! And this is the result! HELP!

“No faith n the system, not even in Berkeley.

“LONG LIVE ANARCHY!”

Hey, Berkeley, your people sure seem to love you. I’ve received several emails today from random people in Berkeley on the theme of how useless your Police Review Commission is. And I live nowhere near Berkeley and hadn’t inquired.

Wouldn’t keeping killer spy robots out of the skies have been an easy way to do something positive?

Michael Schwartz: Israel, Gaza, and Energy Wars in the Middle East

By: Tom Engelhardt Thursday February 26, 2015 8:08 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Talk of an oil glut and a potential further price drop seems to be growing. The cost of a barrel of crude now sits at just under $60, only a little more than half what it was at its most recent peak in June 2014. Meanwhile, under a barrel of woes, economies like China’s have slowed and in the process demand for oil has sagged globally. And yet, despite the cancellation of some future plans for exploration and drilling for extreme (and so extremely expensive) forms of fossil fuels, startling numbers of barrels of crude are still pouring onto troubled waters.  For this, a thanks should go to the prodigious efforts of “Saudi America” (all that energetic hydraulic fracking, among other things), while the actual Saudis, the original ones, are still pumping away.  We could, in other words, have arrived not at “peak oil” but at “peak oil demand” for at least a significant period of time to come.  At Bloomberg View, columnist A. Gary Shilling has even suggested that the price of crude could ultimately simply collapse under the weight of all that production and a global economic slowdown, settling in at $10-$20 a barrel (a level last seen in the 1990s).

And here’s the saddest part of this story: no matter what happens, the great game over energy and the resource conflicts and wars that go with it show little sign of slowing down.  One thing is guaranteed: no matter how low the price falls, the scramble for sources of oil and the demand for yet more of them won’t stop.  Even in this country, as the price of oil has dropped, the push for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to bring expensive-to-extract and especially carbon-dirty Canadian “tar sands” to market on the U.S. Gulf Coast has only grown more fervent, while the Obama administration has just opened the country’s southern Atlantic coastal waters to future exploration and drilling.  In the oil heartlands of the planet, Iraq and Kurdistan typically continue to fight over who will get the (reduced) revenues from the oil fields around the city of Kirkuk to stanch various financial crises.  In the meantime, other oil disputes only heat up.

Among them is one that has gotten remarkably little attention even as it has grown more intense and swept up ever more countries.  This is the quarter-century-old struggle over natural gas deposits off the coast of Gaza as well as elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean.  That never-ending conflict provides a remarkable and grim lens through which to view so many recent aspects of Israeli-Palestinian relations, and long-time TomDispatch regular Michael Schwartz offers a panoramic look at it here for the first time.

By the way, following the news that 2014 set a global heat record, those of us freezing on the East Coast of the U.S. this winter might be surprised to learn that the first month of 2015 proved to be the second hottest January on record.  And when you’re on such a record-setting pace, why stop struggling to extract yet more fossil fuels? Tom

The Great Game in the Holy Land
How Gazan Natural Gas Became the Epicenter of An International Power Struggle
By Michael Schwartz

Guess what? Almost all the current wars, uprisings, and other conflicts in the Middle East are connected by a single thread, which is also a threat: these conflicts are part of an increasingly frenzied competition to find, extract, and market fossil fuels whose future consumption is guaranteed to lead to a set of cataclysmic environmental crises.

Amid the many fossil-fueled conflicts in the region, one of them, packed with threats, large and small, has been largely overlooked, and Israel is at its epicenter. Its origins can be traced back to the early 1990s when Israeli and Palestinian leaders began sparring over rumored natural gas deposits in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Gaza. In the ensuing decades, it has grown into a many-fronted conflict involving several armies and three navies. In the process, it has already inflicted mindboggling misery on tens of thousands of Palestinians, and it threatens to add future layers of misery to the lives of people in Syria, Lebanon, and Cyprus. Eventually, it might even immiserate Israelis.

Resource wars are, of course, nothing new. Virtually the entire history of Western colonialism and post-World War II globalization has been animated by the effort to find and market the raw materials needed to build or maintain industrial capitalism. This includes Israel’s expansion into, and appropriation of, Palestinian lands. But fossil fuels only moved to center stage in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in the 1990s, and that initially circumscribed conflict only spread to include Syria, Lebanon, Cyprus, Turkey, and Russia after 2010.

The Poisonous History of Gazan Natural Gas

Back in 1993, when Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) signed the Oslo Accords that were supposed to end the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and create a sovereign state, nobody was thinking much about Gaza’s coastline. As a result, Israel agreed that the newly created PA would fully control its territorial waters, even though the Israeli navy was still patrolling the area. Rumored natural gas deposits there mattered little to anyone, because prices were then so low and supplies so plentiful. No wonder that the Palestinians took their time recruiting British Gas (BG) — a major player in the global natural gas sweepstakes — to find out what was actually there. Only in 2000 did the two parties even sign a modest contract to develop those by-then confirmed fields.

BG promised to finance and manage their development, bear all the costs, and operate the resulting facilities in exchange for 90% of the revenues, an exploitative but typical “profit-sharing” agreement. With an already functioning natural gas industry, Egypt agreed to be the on-shore hub and transit point for the gas. The Palestinians were to receive 10% of the revenues (estimated at about a billion dollars in total) and were guaranteed access to enough gas to meet their needs.

Had this process moved a little faster, the contract might have been implemented as written. In 2000, however, with a rapidly expanding economy, meager fossil fuels, and terrible relations with its oil-rich neighbors, Israel found itself facing a chronic energy shortage. Instead of attempting to answer its problem with an aggressive but feasible effort to develop renewable sources of energy, Prime Minister Ehud Barak initiated the era of Eastern Mediterranean fossil fuel conflicts. He brought Israel’s naval control of Gazan coastal waters to bear and nixed the deal with BG. Instead, he demanded that Israel, not Egypt, receive the Gaza gas and that it also control all the revenues destined for the Palestinians — to prevent the money from being used to “fund terror.”

With this, the Oslo Accords were officially doomed. By declaring Palestinian control over gas revenues unacceptable, the Israeli government committed itself to not accepting even the most limited kind of Palestinian budgetary autonomy, let alone full sovereignty. Since no Palestinian government or organization would agree to this, a future filled with armed conflict was assured.

The Israeli veto led to the intervention of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sought to broker an agreement that would satisfy both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. The result: a 2007 proposal that would have delivered the gas to Israel, not Egypt, at below-market prices, with the same 10% cut of the revenues eventually reaching the PA. However, those funds were first to be delivered to the Federal Reserve Bank in New York for future distribution, which was meant to guarantee that they would not be used for attacks on Israel.

This arrangement still did not satisfy the Israelis, who pointed to the recent victory of the militant Hamas party in Gaza elections as a deal-breaker. Though Hamas had agreed to let the Federal Reserve supervise all spending, the Israeli government, now led by Ehud Olmert, insisted that no “royalties be paid to the Palestinians.” Instead, the Israelis would deliver the equivalent of those funds “in goods and services.”

This offer the Palestinian government refused. Soon after, Olmert imposed a draconian blockade on Gaza, which Israel’s defense minister termed a form of “‘economic warfare’ that would generate a political crisis, leading to a popular uprising against Hamas.” With Egyptian cooperation, Israel then seized control of all commerce in and out of Gaza, severely limiting even food imports and eliminating its fishing industry. As Olmert advisor Dov Weisglass summed up this agenda, the Israeli government was putting the Palestinians “on a diet” (which, according to the Red Cross, soon produced “chronic malnutrition,” especially among Gazan children).

When the Palestinians still refused to accept Israel’s terms, the Olmert government decided to unilaterally extract the gas, something that, they believed, could only occur once Hamas had been displaced or disarmed. As former Israel Defense Forces commander and current Foreign Minister Moshe Ya’alon explained, “Hamas… has confirmed its capability to bomb Israel’s strategic gas and electricity installations… It is clear that, without an overall military operation to uproot Hamas control of Gaza, no drilling work can take place without the consent of the radical Islamic movement.”

Following this logic, Operation Cast Lead was launched in the winter of 2008. According to Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai, it was intended to subject Gaza to a “shoah” (the Hebrew word for holocaust or disaster). Yoav Galant, the commanding general of the Operation, said that it was designed to “send Gaza decades into the past.” As Israeli parliamentarian Tzachi Hanegbi explained, the specific military goal was “to topple the Hamas terror regime and take over all the areas from which rockets are fired on Israel.”

Operation Cast Lead did indeed “send Gaza decades into the past.” Amnesty International reported that the 22-day offensive killed 1,400 Palestinians, “including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians, and large areas of Gaza had been razed to the ground, leaving many thousands homeless and the already dire economy in ruins.” The only problem: Operation Cast Lead did not achieve its goal of “transferring the sovereignty of the gas fields to Israel.”

More Sources of Gas Equal More Resource Wars

In 2009, the newly elected government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inherited the stalemate around Gaza’s gas deposits and an Israeli energy crisis that only grew more severe when the Arab Spring in Egypt interrupted and then obliterated 40% of the country’s gas supplies. Rising energy prices soon contributed to the largest protests involving Jewish Israelis in decades.

As it happened, however, the Netanyahu regime also inherited a potentially permanent solution to the problem. An immense field of recoverable natural gas was discovered in the Levantine Basin, a mainly offshore formation under the eastern Mediterranean. Israeli officials immediately asserted that “most” of the newly confirmed gas reserves lay “within Israeli territory.” In doing so, they ignored contrary claims by Lebanon, Syria, Cyprus, and the Palestinians.

In some other world, this immense gas field might have been effectively exploited by the five claimants jointly, and a production plan might even have been put in place to ameliorate the environmental impact of releasing a future 130 trillion cubic feet of gas into the planet’s atmosphere. However, as Pierre Terzian, editor of the oil industry journal Petrostrategies, observed, “All the elements of danger are there… This is a region where resorting to violent action is not something unusual.”

In the three years that followed the discovery, Terzian’s warning seemed ever more prescient. Lebanon became the first hot spot. In early 2011, the Israeli government announced the unilateral development of two fields, about 10% of that Levantine Basin gas, which lay in disputed offshore waters near the Israeli-Lebanese border. Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran Bassil immediately threatened a military confrontation, asserting that his country would “not allow Israel or any company working for Israeli interests to take any amount of our gas that is falling in our zone.” Hezbollah, the most aggressive political faction in Lebanon, promised rocket attacks if “a single meter” of natural gas was extracted from the disputed fields.

Israel’s Resource Minister accepted the challenge, asserting that “[t]hese areas are within the economic waters of Israel… We will not hesitate to use our force and strength to protect not only the rule of law but the international maritime law.”

Oil industry journalist Terzian offered this analysis of the realities of the confrontation:

“In practical terms… nobody is going to invest with Lebanon in disputed waters. There are no Lebanese companies there capable of carrying out the drilling, and there is no military force that could protect them. But on the other side, things are different. You have Israeli companies that have the ability to operate in offshore areas, and they could take the risk under the protection of the Israeli military.”

Sure enough, Israel continued its exploration and drilling in the two disputed fields, deploying drones to guard the facilities. Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government invested major resources in preparing for possible future military confrontations in the area. For one thing, with lavish U.S. funding, it developed the “Iron Dome” anti-missile defense system designed in part to intercept Hezbollah and Hamas rockets aimed at Israeli energy facilities. It also expanded the Israeli navy, focusing on its ability to deter or repel threats to offshore energy facilities. Finally, starting in 2011 it launched airstrikes in Syria designed, according to U.S. officials, “to prevent any transfer of advanced… antiaircraft, surface-to-surface and shore-to-ship missiles” to Hezbollah.

Nonetheless, Hezbollah continued to stockpile rockets capable of demolishing Israeli facilities. And in 2013, Lebanon made a move of its own. It began negotiating with Russia. The goal was to get that country’s gas firms to develop Lebanese offshore claims, while the formidable Russian navy would lend a hand with the “long-running territorial dispute with Israel.”

By the beginning of 2015, a state of mutual deterrence appeared to be setting in. Although Israel had succeeded in bringing online the smaller of the two fields it set out to develop, drilling in the larger one was indefinitely stalled “in light of the security situation.” U.S. contractor Noble Energy, hired by the Israelis, was unwilling to invest the necessary $6 billion dollars in facilities that would be vulnerable to Hezbollah attack, and potentially in the gun sights of the Russian navy. On the Lebanese side, despite an increased Russian naval presence in the region, no work had begun.

Meanwhile, in Syria, where violence was rife and the country in a state of armed collapse, another kind of stalemate went into effect. The regime of Bashar al-Assad, facing a ferocious threat from various groups of jihadists, survived in part by negotiating massive military support from Russia in exchange for a 25-year contract to develop Syria’s claims to that Levantine gas field. Included in the deal was a major expansion of the Russian naval base at the port city of Tartus, ensuring a far larger Russian naval presence in the Levantine Basin.

While the presence of the Russians apparently deterred the Israelis from attempting to develop any Syrian-claimed gas deposits, there was no Russian presence in Syria proper. So Israel contracted with the U.S.-based Genie Energy Corporation to locate and develop oil fields in the Golan Heights, Syrian territory occupied by the Israelis since 1967. Facing a potential violation of international law, the Netanyahu government invoked, as the basis for its acts, an Israeli court ruling that the exploitation of natural resources in occupied territories was legal. At the same time, to prepare for the inevitable battle with whichever faction or factions emerged triumphant from the Syrian civil war, it began shoring up the Israeli military presence in the Golan Heights.

And then there was Cyprus, the only Levantine claimant not at war with Israel. Greek Cypriots had long been in chronic conflict with Turkish Cypriots, so it was hardly surprising that the Levantine natural gas discovery triggered three years of deadlocked negotiations on the island over what to do. In 2014, the Greek Cypriots signed an exploration contract with Noble Energy, Israel’s chief contractor. The Turkish Cypriots trumped this move by signing a contract with Turkey to explore all Cypriot claims “as far as Egyptian waters.” Emulating Israel and Russia, the Turkish government promptly moved three navy vessels into the area to physically block any intervention by other claimants.

As a result, four years of maneuvering around the newly discovered Levantine Basin deposits have produced little energy, but brought new and powerful claimants into the mix, launched a significant military build-up in the region, and heightened tensions immeasurably.

Gaza Again — and Again

Remember the Iron Dome system, developed in part to stop Hezbollah rockets aimed at Israel’s northern gas fields? Over time, it was put in place near the border with Gaza to stop Hamas rockets, and was tested during Operation Returning Echo, the fourth Israeli military attempt to bring Hamas to heel and eliminate any Palestinian “capability to bomb Israel’s strategic gas and electricity installations.”

Launched in March 2012, it replicated on a reduced scale the devastation of Operation Cast Lead, while the Iron Dome achieved a 90% “kill rate” against Hamas rockets. Even this, however, while a useful adjunct to the vast shelter system built to protect Israeli civilians, was not enough to ensure the protection of the country’s exposed oil facilities. Even one direct hit there could damage or demolish such fragile and flammable structures.

The failure of Operation Returning Echo to settle anything triggered another round of negotiations, which once again stalled over the Palestinian rejection of Israel’s demand to control all fuel and revenues destined for Gaza and the West Bank. The new Palestinian Unity government then followed the lead of the Lebanese, Syrians, and Turkish Cypriots, and in late 2013 signed an “exploration concession” with Gazprom, the huge Russian natural gas company. As with Lebanon and Syria, the Russian Navy loomed as a potential deterrent to Israeli interference.

Meanwhile, in 2013, a new round of energy blackouts caused “chaos” across Israel, triggering a draconian 47% increase in electricity prices. In response, the Netanyahu government considered a proposal to begin extracting domestic shale oil, but the potential contamination of water resources caused a backlash movement that frustrated this effort. In a country filled with start-up high-tech firms, the exploitation of renewable energy sources was still not being given serious attention. Instead, the government once again turned to Gaza.

With Gazprom’s move to develop the Palestinian-claimed gas deposits on the horizon, the Israelis launched their fifth military effort to force Palestinian acquiescence, Operation Protective Edge. It had two major hydrocarbon-related goals: to deter Palestinian-Russian plans and to finally eliminate the Gazan rocket systems. The first goal was apparently met when Gazprom postponed (perhaps permanently) its development deal. The second, however, failed when the two-pronged land and air attack — despite unprecedented devastation in Gaza — failed to destroy Hamas’s rocket stockpiles or its tunnel-based assembly system; nor did the Iron Dome achieve the sort of near-perfect interception rate needed to protect proposed energy installations.

There Is No Denouement

After 25 years and five failed Israeli military efforts, Gaza’s natural gas is still underwater and, after four years, the same can be said for almost all of the Levantine gas. But things are not the same. In energy terms, Israel is ever more desperate, even as it has been building up its military, including its navy, in significant ways. The other claimants have, in turn, found larger and more powerful partners to help reinforce their economic and military claims. All of this undoubtedly means that the first quarter-century of crisis over eastern Mediterranean natural gas has been nothing but prelude. Ahead lies the possibility of bigger gas wars with the devastation they are likely to bring.

Michael Schwartz, an emeritus distinguished teaching professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, is a TomDispatch regular and the author of the award-winning books Radical Protest and Social Structure and The Power Structure of American Business (with Beth Mintz). His TomDispatch book, War Without End, focused on how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq. His email address is Michael.Schwartz@stonybrook.edu.

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Copyright 2015 Michael Schwartz