Category Archives: fracking (shale & coal seam gas)

‘No Fracking Way’, 30–31 Jan 2016: join this weekend’s nationwide protests against “unconventional gas”

Official facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/events/481532218695758

Locally: Sheffield and the surrounding areas

When the UK government granted licences to begin oil and gas exploration in 27 new locations last August, most of the sites were in the north of England:

Large swathes of South Yorkshire and North Derbyshire are being opened up to fracking companies for exploration.

Areas being explored in the region are to the east of Sheffield – stretching from Killamarsh and Dinnington up past Rotherham towards Bolton-upon-Dearne.

A total of 27 new licences, mostly in the North of England, have been awarded to companies to explore for oil and gas as the Government looks to push forward with a shale industry in the UK.

And a further 132 areas – many in the region to the west and south of Sheffield – will also be awarded subject to further environmental assessments.1 

If the final go-ahead is now given, my home city Sheffield, the 5th largest city in Britain with a population of more than half a million (1.5 million in the metropolitan district) 2, will soon be encircled by many hundreds of rigs each injecting multiple millions of gallons of water laced with poisonous chemicals that will potentially leach into the groundwater:

The sheer volume of water brought to and from the fracking site means a glut of tanker trucks through your town. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation estimates each well, per frack, will require 2.4 to 7.8 million gallons of water. This translates into roughly 400 to 600 tanker truckloads of liquids to the well, and 200 to 300 tanker truckloads of liquid waste from the well. […]

Further, the one-well model is not an accurate representation of fracking operations, which can consist of 20 wells per “pad” and dozens of pads. Overall, 38,400 to 172,800 tanker truck trips are possible over a well pad life. [from FAQs on “Gasland” website] 3

Given the widely accepted precautionary principle, the very serious and undeniable hazard of long-term contamination of water supplies ought to serve as sufficient reason to ban this dangerous industry. Additionally, however, fracking is known to be responsible for the release of airborne pollutants and has been a direct cause of earthquakes. It is unconscionable for our government to risk irreversible environmental damage and to endanger human life in this way.

Local action:

NO FRACKING WAY – South Yorkshire Day of Action

A series of events to raise awareness about fracking will be held across South Yorkshire on Saturday 30 January, in Barnsley, Wath-upon-Dearne, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham.

Frack Free Dearne Valley
Saturday 30 January, 10am-12Noon
Wath-upon-Dearne (near the Market)

No Fracking in Barnsley
Saturday 30 January, 11am
May Day Green, Barnsley (near Thorntons)

No Fracking in Barnsley
Sunday 31 January
Tweetathon
Join us on Twitter using the hashtag #NoFrackingWay in support of fracking awareness events taking place around the country.

https://nofrackingbarnsley.wordpress.com/2016/01/23/south-yorkshire-events-no-fracking-way/ 

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Nationally:

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Among those companies which have won the 27 licences is Cuadrilla, which is appealing against two refused applications to frack for shale gas in Lancashire.

It has secured a licence for a new area between Barnsley and Doncaster and another for an area between York and Bridlington. 4

The pale green areas show the 27 blocks where new licences have been awarded [Credit: Oil and Gas Authority]

Soon afterwards, in mid-December, parliament voted to permit fracking beneath our national parks. Seizing this opportunity, the government quickly sold off a further 93 onshore licences:

The 93 licences to explore 159 blocks of land could pave the way for more controversial hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking.

Large parts of North East and the North West of England have been opened up for exploration.

There are also licence blocks in the Midlands, the South of England and Wales.

Around 75% of the exploration licences relate to shale oil and gas, which typically requires fracking.

The Oil & Gas Authority said a total of 95 applications for licences were received from 47 companies, covering 295 Ordnance Survey Blocks

Among the biggest winners were Ineos, with 21 licences, Cuadrilla, IGas and Southwestern Energy. 5

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For more information:

Links to find more info about ‘No Fracking Way’ protests across the country:

https://www.facebook.com/events/481532218695758/ 
http://frack-off.org.uk/local-group-specific-pages/local-groups-news/ 

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1 From an article entitled “Campaigners and companies ready for battle over South Yorkshire ‘fracking blitz’” written by Chris Burn, published in the Sheffield Star on August 19, 2015. http://www.thestar.co.uk/news/campaigners-and-companies-ready-for-battle-over-south-yorkshire-fracking-blitz-1-7416446

2 The population of the City of Sheffield is a little more than 500,000, but the metropolitan population of South Yorkshire exceeds 1,500,000. It is the 5th largest city by population after London 7.2 million, Birmingham 1 million, Leeds 700,000 and Glasgow 560,000. http://www.ukcities.co.uk/populations/ 

3 From Fracking FAQs published by Gaslandthe movie.com

http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking/faq/water-used

4 From an article entitled “27 more sites could face fracking as oil and gas licenses awarded” published by ITV news on August 18, 2015. http://www.itv.com/news/2015-08-18/27-more-sites-could-face-fracking-as-oil-and-gas-licenses-awarded/ 

5 From an article entitled “New licences for UK shale gas exploration” published by BBC news on December 17, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-35121390

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the frack stops here (again)! join the rally in Preston on Tues 23rd June

Back in January, Lancashire County Council’s planning officers recommended that Cuadrilla’s plans for two of the largest fracking tests ever contemplated in the UK (at Rosecare Wood and Little Plumpton) should be refused. This was a very significant decision, but further action is still needed to resist Cuadrilla.

Lancashire County Council’s Recommendation report can be downloaded here (please note the report takes a long time to download).

The fight resumes in a week on Tuesday 23rd, when Lancashire County Council will be deciding on whether or not to give Cuadrilla final approval. If permission is granted then each site will eventually have four horizontal wells, producing tens of millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic waste, and opening the door to thousands more wells to be drilled across Lancashire (and the rest of the country). So if Cuadrilla can be stopped in Lancashire, this will represent a major campaign victory — as well as an enormous boost for anti-fracking groups across the country (and beyond).

Frack Free Lancashire are calling on concerned people from across the country to gather outside County Hall, Preston, and join what will hopefully be the biggest anti-fracking rally so far seen in the UK.

Details of the event along with useful links are listed below:

Event: The Frack Stops Here 2!

Location: County Hall, Preston, Lancashire

Dates: Tues 23rd — Fri 26th June 2015 Time: 9-5pm

+ Google Map

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/833975066650397/

COACHES FROM ACROSS THE UK!

Book your seat now:

Nottingham – FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1399444333702271/
Manchester – Book: reclaimthepowermcr@gmail.com (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/900388780028117/)
Wrexham/Chester/Ellesmere Port – Book: frackfreedee@homtmail.com (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/702718396506976/)
Brighton/Lewes/Balcombe – Book: southeast@frackstop.org.uk (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/437564719757195/)
London – Book: london@frackstop.org.uk (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/425209194325124/)
Guildford – Book: frackfreesurrey@gmail.com
Portsmouth – Book: portsmouth@frackstop.org.uk
Doncaster/Misson/Sheffield – Book: jay_ffsy@live.com (FB Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/481312245355114/)

Contact coaches@frackstop.org.uk if you can organise transport from your region.

If You Can’t Attend!

If you can’t make it don’t worry – this is a nation-wide day of solidarity and resistance – do something where you live and send MESSAGES OF SOLIDARITY!:

Send photos of your message to solidarity@frackstop.org.uk

Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/833975066650397/
Read all about these two planning applications here: http://frack-off.org.uk/new-lancashire-threat-cuadrillas-fracking-plans/
Know Your Rights: http://greenandblackcross.org/legal/keyadvice
More about Threat to North West: http://frack-off.org.uk/fracking-threat-in-the-north-west/
New UK fracking licenses confirmed: http://frack-off.org.uk/new-uk-fracking-licenses-conf

Please try and wear YELLOW!

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, fracking (shale & coal seam gas)

the fracking hell of new world energy – “unconventional gas” from America to Australia

I felt like I could see it. A horizontal well bore drilled down into the earth, snaking underneath The Congress, shooting money up through the chamber at such high pressure that it blew the top off of our democracy: another layer of contamination due to fracking. Not the water, not the air, but our government. All those toxic dollars, all those contaminants, all of that influence, outsizing the citizen’s voice in our democratic republic.

The words are from Josh Fox, narrating the end of his remarkable investigative follow-up film Gasland Part II 1, in which he reveals some more of the dirty tricks used by this grotesque industry to fake, cover up and deny responsibility for earthquakes and widespread pollution of both air and aquifers. Methods of manipulation that very often involve the pitting of communities against themselves using psyops techniques that are literally taken from army manuals designed for subjugating enemy insurgents.

But fracking is so filthy that no amount of public relations or concealment by the legislative bullying, nor the extensive use of non disclosure agreements, can ever keep the lid solidly on the truth. The explosive tap water, the bubbling streams, the sick livestock, the nosebleeds, the rashes, the neurological disorders; when it was eventually proven beyond all doubt that fracking was the direct source of the contamination ruining people’s lives and livelihoods, the industry in America simply pulled harder on the levers of powers and the regulatory agencies stepped to one side once again. And of course, it’s not only the American system that’s contaminated by fracking – Josh Fox again:

So I still don’t know what’s gonna happen around here. The saying goes that environmentalists only ever get temporary victories, but the losses are always permanent. There’s no such thing as anyone’s backyard anymore. This wasn’t about me getting drilled or anyone getting drilled in any one place, the plan is for shale gas to be the new world energy. If they get their way, we’re in for fifty years of shale gas running the world. You start to get dizzy. I felt like I could close my eyes and open them anywhere in the world. 2

The image above (also from the official Gasland website) shows the continents of our world blotched red to highlight seams of shale deposits, and show how this uninhabitable gasland might become truly global in its full extent if we do permit this abominable industry to spread. As Josh Fox says, plans are already in place to turn shale gas extraction into “the new world energy”:

A full version of Gasland II is embedded above. You can also click here to watch at Vimeo.

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Around the time Gasland Part II was released nearly two years ago, I had written to its co-producer Deborah Wallace (I couldn’t find an email address for Josh Fox) to pose the following important question:

I first watched Gasland more than a year ago and it shocked me no end. At that time almost no one in Britain had even heard of fracking. Now it’s here and, as I say, I’m worried. The question I would like to know the answer to is actually a rather simple one. In general how long does it take for the effects of fracking to reach the surface and begin affecting animals and humans? The reason I ask this is because I have a feeling that the industry (in collaboration with the government) is trying to give the go-ahead for fracking in a truly accelerated way. To get as much gas out of the ground as possible before people actually begin to see the extraordinary amount of damage that has been done to our countryside and to the well-being of the population. It seems to me that the race is on here. So to get back to my main question then, could you tell me (to the best of your knowledge) when we can first expect the effects to be felt? Should we anticipate seeing obvious environmental/health problems within a few months, a few years, or does to generally take decades of fracking before the scale of devastation becomes obvious at the surface? 3

To her great credit Deborah Wallace replied 4, although she was reluctant to give a specific answer to my inquiry, saying only: “your question is difficult to answer since there are several ways that wells can fail so we couldn’t give you any specific time frames.” And recommending that I read through the FAQs on the Gasland website (in truth these do not supply an answer to my specific question either).

But now, thanks to a newly released documentary constructed around personal experiences of those living amidst the coal seam gasfields of Australia, a far better estimate can be put on just how much breathing space we realistically have until irreversible damage is done (in the event that the unconventional gas industry gets its foothold in Britain) – and the answer is not long at all. No sooner than the wells are drilled, the clock is loudly ticking…

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At the midpoint in Gasland II, Josh Fox took a flight to Queensland in Australia. There he interviewed local farmers who showed him effects of contamination he was uncomfortably familiar with from his earlier visits to Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and his home state of Pennsylvania. Rivers bubbling with methane, poisoned aquifers, and, most dramatically, water hoses that you can ignite. But what Gasland II fails to make clear is that unlike America, none of the drilling in Queensland began later than 1996, which means that all of the pollution is less than two decades old, most having leaked from wells drilled during the last few years.

In Voices from the Gasfields (embedded below) rancher, John Jenkyns, another who had originally welcomed the arrival of the industry, tells us that things were okay for about the first eighteen months. It was not long after this honeymoon period, however, before his rainwater became so contaminated that not only did it kill his plants, but it stripped paint from the car.

A neighbouring farmer, Brian Monk, also describes the “brown dome” that he often sees hanging over the gasfields. It is from this toxic cloud, he says, that the pollutants rain down. Heavy metals and high levels of radioactivity now found not only in water from the boreholes but in the rainwater too. “If you can’t trust rainwater,” he asks, “then what are you meant to trust?” Adding: “That’s why you’ve got to stop it before it starts.”

So what happened to the environmental regulators in Queensland? Well, that’s where the story becomes the most familiar one of all. Wherever fracking goes – both regular shale and coal seam gas – lack of regulation is sure to follow it, causing contamination, as Josh Fox puts it, not only of the water and the air, but of our governments too. From America to Canada (where environmental regulations were supposed to be some of the strictest in the world) and to Australia, the most painful lesson is simply this: that fracking can never be regulated because all “unconventional gas” extraction is an inherently backward technology and unavoidably polluting. Due to their ignorance people in all these countries as well as others in less affluent corners of the world are now suffering dreadfully, but in Britain we have absolutely no excuse for being likewise deceived.

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1

Gasland Part II follows on three years [after Gasland], to continue documenting how the stakes have been raised on all sides in one of the most devastating environmental issues rapidly spreading the globe. This sequel further enriches the argument that the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is a lie, where in fact fracked wells inevitably leak over time, and vent exuberantly more potent greenhouse gasses such as methane in cumulative effect, not to mention the continued string of cases of severe water contamination across the United States and even cases as far away as Australia. Gasland Part II follows deeper into these happenings, revealing yet more of an entrenched corporate collusion in the pursuit of exploiting dwindling ‘natural resources’…

gaslandthemovie.com/

2 These extracts are taken from the very end of the documentary, after Josh Fox tries to exercise his First Amendment right to film hearings at The Congress, but is arrested instead. He begins this poetic stream of consciousness conclusion with the following remarks:

When I was in the police station, my arresting officer hit me up for a part in my next movie, as he was leading me over to the fingerprint machine. When they pressed my fingers down on the glass, and I saw the images up on the screen: the ridges, the circles, and my fingertips; I realised they looked just like the inside of a tree. Maybe there’s something deep in our DNA that doesn’t want to get cut down. Maybe there’s something linked – at least, that’s what I feel. The tree doesn’t move until you cut it down, and I’m certainly not moving. We can’t all just move. Certainly not when there’s another way out.

3

Sent: Friday, 28 June 2013, 13:34
Subject: fracking in the UK – an urgent matter

Hi Deborah,

I am a resident of Sheffield in the UK which is set become the centre of region an enormous shale gas extraction – the government pressing ahead at breakneck speed whilst telling us all (courtesy of the BBC mostly) how wonderful it is that we have such large reserves under our feet waiting to be tapped. Obviously there are many people in Britain such as myself who are deeply concerned by these rapid developments.

I first watched Gasland more than a year ago and it shocked me no end. At that time almost no one in Britain had even heard of fracking. Now it’s here and, as I say, I’m worried. The question I would like to know the answer to is actually a rather simple one. In general how long does it take for the effects of fracking to reach the surface and begin affecting animals and humans? The reason I ask this is because I have a feeling that the industry (in collaboration with the government) is trying to give the go-ahead for fracking in a truly accelerated way. To get as much gas out of the ground as possible before people actually begin to see the extraordinary amount of damage that has been done to our countryside and to the well-being of the population. It seems to me that the race is on here. So to get back to my main question then, could you tell me (to the best of your knowledge) when we can first expect the effects to be felt? Should we anticipate seeing obvious environmental/health problems within a few months, a few years, or does to generally take decades of fracking before the scale of devastation becomes obvious at the surface?

I couldn’t find Josh Fox’s email contact details and so I sent this to you with the hope that you can either answer my question directly or pass it on to Josh – I’m sure you’re all very busy but I can’t think who else to ask. My best wishes with your continuing campaign and thanks to Josh and the rest of your team for getting the word out on this terrible industry. And I look forward to seeing Gasland 2 when it is released.

All the best,

James Boswell

4

Date: Saturday, 7 September 2013, 13:22

Subject: RE: fracking in the UK

Hi James,

Thank you so much for your letter, and apologies for our delayed reply. We have been inundated by responses to the film and this has affected our ability to respond to folks in a timely manner, we hope you’ll understand. I’m sorry you had to write twice and that it took us so long to respond.

Unfortunately, your question is difficult to answer since there are several ways that wells can fail so we couldn’t give you any specific time frames. You might want to check out our FAQ section on the website, I think you’ll find lots of answers to questions there.

Best,

Deborah

Deborah Wallace

www.gaslandthemovie.com

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Filed under Australia, did you see?, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), USA

the frack stops here! join the rally in Preston on Weds 28th

If you watched Channel 4 News earlier, then you will be aware that Lancashire County Council’s planning officers today recommended that Cuadrilla’s plans for two of the largest fracking tests ever contemplated in the UK (at Rosecare Wood and Little Plumpton) should be refused. This was a very significant decision, but further action is still needed to resist Cuadrilla.

Lancashire County Council’s Recommendation report can be downloaded here (please note the report takes a long time to download).

The fight resumes next Wednesday 28th, when Lancashire County Council will be deciding on whether or not to give Cuadrilla final approval. If permission is granted then each site will eventually have four horizontal wells, producing tens of millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic waste, and opening the door to thousands more wells to be drilled across Lancashire (and the rest of the country). So if Cuadrilla can be stopped in Lancashire, this will represent a major campaign victory — as well as an enormous boost for anti-fracking groups across the country (and beyond).

In light of the release of today’s report, the local protection group, Residents Action on Fylde Fracking (RAFF), issued the following statement:

“We are absolutely delighted of course. It feels like a huge victory. But we are very pragmatic about it. We are still planning our mass demonstration next week.

“Noise and traffic are very relevant objections but our feeling is that the main objections should have been public health. Cuadrilla are not going to go away. They are going to throw everything at it. So the fight goes on.”

“Already Cuadrilla, their associated companies and some of the media are talking about the lights going out and the UK’s need to import gas. This is scaremongering. The people of Lancashire are sending a challenge to the energy sector to forget about fossil fuels and to look to the future by finding solutions in renewable and sustainable energy sources”

Frack Free Lancashire are calling on concerned people from across the country to gather outside County Hall, Preston, and join what will hopefully be the biggest anti-fracking rally so far seen in the UK. Details of the event along with useful links are listed below:

Event: The Frack Stops Here!

Location: County Hall, Preston, Lancashire

Dates: Weds 28th & Thurs 29th January 2015 Time: 9-5pm

Facebook: www.facebook.com/events/1524388561165172

Contact coaches@frackstop.org.uk if you want to help organise transport from your region.

Please try and wear YELLOW!

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never let a good Ukrainian crisis go to waste…

On Thursday [April 17th] Democracy Now! welcomed back Stephen Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at New York University and Princeton University, to discuss the deepening crisis in Ukraine. Cohen, a specialist on Russia and the Soviet Union, is the author of numerous books on the subject including his latest Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. He was asked “Are we seeing the beginning of a new Cold War?” and “what exactly is happening right now in Ukraine?” Cohen’s response began as follows:

Those are big questions. We are not at the beginning of the Cold War, a new one; we are well into it—which alerts us to the fact, just watching what you showed up there, that hot war is imaginable now, for the first time in my lifetime, my adult lifetime, since the Cuban missile crisis, hot war with Russia. It’s unlikely, but it’s conceivable. And if it’s conceivable, something has to be done about it.

You did two things on your introduction which were very important. Almost alone among American media, you actually allowed Putin to speak for himself. He’s being filtered through the interpretation of the mass media here, allegedly, what he said, and it’s not representative. The second thing is, let us look just what’s happening at this moment, or at least yesterday. The political head of NATO just announced a major escalation of NATO forces in Europe. He did a Churchillian riff: “We will increase our power in the air, in the sea, on the land.” Meanwhile, as negotiations today begin in Geneva, we’re demanding that Russians de-escalate. And yet, we, NATO, are escalating as these negotiations begin.

So, if you were to say what is going on in Ukraine today—and, unfortunately, the focus is entirely on eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western media—in eastern Ukraine. We don’t have any Western—any Western media in western Ukraine, the other half of the country. We’re not clear what’s going on there. But clearly, things are getting worse and worse. Each side has a story that totally conflicts with the other side’s story. There seems to be no middle ground. And if there’s no middle ground in the public discourse, in the Russian media or the American media, it’s not clear what middle ground they can find in these negotiations, though personally, I think—and people will say, “Oh, Cohen’s a Putin apologist”—but it seemed to me that the proposals the Russians made a month ago for resolving the conflict are at least a good starting point. But it’s not clear the United States is going to accept them.

I will come back to some of Cohen’s further points in a moment, but first I’d like to just try to understand why, as Cohen points out, there is such a lack of media coverage across Ukraine and in particular in the western half of the country.

Below is a video (I can’t find a still frame) recorded in mid-March featuring a statement by Vitali Klitschko as he warned of an impending catastrophe in Crimea should it vote to join Russia in the recent referendum. Klitschko has since been sidelined, of course, but what strikes me as odd is that he was standing in front of a board much like the kind of sponsorship boards we see behind interviews of Premier League footballers. Similar except that the ex-sportsman here was backed by just one logo. You can see that it reads “Ukraine Crisis Media Center”:

Now if you type “Ukraine Crisis Media Center” into the Google image search you will find many other Ukrainian political figures giving statements in front of that same logo board. So just who are the “Ukraine Crisis Media Center”?

Well, they have a website and you can search for details there, but in fact you will find very few and none at all about their own sponsors. Instead, what you will read is this:

Ukrainian Crisis Media Center is launched to provide the international community with objective information about events in Ukraine and threats to national security, particularly in the military, political, economic, energy and humanitarian spheres. During this crisis period, the Center on a 24/7 basis will provide support to all the media who cover events in Ukraine.

Having failed to find further information on their website, I decided to email the organisation [on Thursday April 3rd] and asked the following:

I cannot find any information on your site about where financial support for the media center comes from. Without information on who is backing the venture how can we be sure that your coverage is wholly impartial?

I have not received a reply.

In the meantime, I also searched the web for insight from other places – and came across a glowing report published in Kyiv Post which began as follows:

Much like the EuroMaidan Revolution itself, the Ukraine Crisis Media Center sprang to life with speed, spontaneity, creativity, competence – and a strong sense of mission.

Although the center has been open only since March 4, its third floor headquarters in the Hotel Ukraine on 4 Institutska St. is already a required daily stop for dozens of Ukrainian and foreign journalists.

Continuing:

The group came together at Razumkov Center in Kyiv on March 2.

Nataliya Popovych, the president of Kyiv’s PRP Group, an affiliate of the global Webber Shandwick company, is among the founders.

Popovych said that the Kremlin is fast on its feet in spreading lies about Ukraine, whose government is often slow to respond to allegations and counter untruths.

Well, here’s one of the details I was searching for – so who is Nataliya Popovych?

Nataliya started career in Leo Burnett, one of the leading advertising agencies in the world, and continued in Romyr & Associates, Canadian government and public relations firm. After getting Master degree and probation in USA, Nataliya has become a head of PRP Ukraine, a Weber Shandwick Affiliate Company in Ukraine, and in a year became the President of PRP Group, Weber Shandwick partner on CIS markets.

And PRP? You probably won’t be surprised to learn that they are a PR company:

PRP is more than an integrated solutions agency. It is a creative concept. It is a strategy. It is the management of reputations in a new era. It is the ability to communicate and create goodwill. It is integrated solutions which engage audiences into the lives of companies and brands.

That’s taken from their current LinkedIn profile and the profile of Nataliya Popovych is from PR Congress.

But back to the article in the Kyiv Post:

She [Nataliya Popovych] considers Ukrainians to be loving, peaceful and tolerant people and, while she didn’t consider herself a follower of iconic and controversial nationalist hero Stepan Bandera (1909-1959), she is now “proud to be called a Banderite.”1

And for those who don’t know who Stepan Bandera was, then here are a few extracts taken from a detailed and rather generous biography written by Professor of History at Yale University, Timothy Snyder, and published by The New York Review of Books around the time Viktor Yushchenko (President after the “Orange Revolution”) was voted out of office in 2010:

The incoming Ukrainian president will have to turn some attention to history, because the outgoing one has just made a hero of a long-dead Ukrainian fascist. By conferring the highest state honor of “Hero of Ukraine” upon Stepan Bandera (1909-1959) on January 22, Viktor Yushchenko provoked protests from the chief rabbi of Ukraine, the president of Poland, and many of his own citizens. It is no wonder. Bandera aimed to make of Ukraine a one-party fascist dictatorship without national minorities. During World War II, his followers killed many Poles and Jews. Why would President Yushchenko, the leader of the democratic Orange Revolution, wish to rehabilitate such a figure? Bandera, who spent years in Polish and Nazi confinement, and died at the hands of the Soviet KGB, is for some Ukrainians a symbol of the struggle for independence during the twentieth century. […]

Consistent as the rehabilitation of Bandera might be with the ideological competition of the mid-twentieth century, it makes little ethical sense today. Yushchenko, who praised the recent Kiev court verdict condemning Stalin for genocide, regards as a hero a man whose political program called for ethnic purity and whose followers took part in the ethnic cleansing of Poles and, in some cases, in the Holocaust. Bandera opposed Stalin, but that does not mean that the two men were entirely different. In their struggle for Ukraine, we see the triumph of the principle, common to fascists and communists, that political transformation sanctifies violence. It was precisely this legacy that east European revolutionaries seemed to have overcome in the past thirty years, from the Solidarity movement in Poland of 1980 through the Ukrainian presidential elections of 2005. It was then, during the Orange Revolution, that peaceful demonstrations for free and fair elections brought Yushchenko the presidency. In embracing Bandera as he leaves office, Yushchenko has cast a shadow over his own political legacy.2

All of which helps to explain something else that has been puzzling me… why every other story about what’s happening in Ukraine is entitled “Ukraine Crisis: something or other” – the reason being that “Ukraine Crisis” is more or less the brand name that Nataliya Popovych and other “Ukrainian nationalists” have adopted — a list of the founders of the “Ukraine Crisis Media Center” is available at the end of the same Kyiv Post article.3

So what is this new political brand promoting?

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The “war on terror” is dead, long live the new cold war!

Returning to Stephen Cohen, here is what he had to say about the rise of this new cold war:

As a historian, I would say that this conflict began 300 years ago, but we can’t do that. As a contemporary observer, it certainly began in November 2013 when the European Union issued an ultimatum, really, to the then-president, elected president, of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, that “Sign an agreement with us, but you can’t have one with Russia, too.” In my mind, that precipitated this crisis, because why give a country that has been profoundly divided for centuries, and certainly in recent decades, an ultimatum—an elected president: “Choose, and divide your country further”? So when we say today Putin initiated this chaos, this danger of war, this confrontation, the answer is, no, that narrative is wrong from the beginning. It was triggered by the European Union’s unwise ultimatum.

Now flash forward to just one month ago, about the time I was with you before. Remember that the European foreign ministers—three of them, I think—went to Kiev and negotiated with Yanukovych, who was still the president, an agreement. Now, the Russians were present at the negotiation, but they didn’t sign it. But they signed off on it. They said, “OK.” What did that agreement call for? Yanukovych would remain president until December—not May, when elections are now scheduled, but December of this year. Then there would be a presidential election. He could run in them, or not. Meanwhile, there would be a kind of government of national accord trying to pull the government together. And, importantly, Russia would chip in, in trying to save the Ukrainian economy. But there would also be parliamentary elections. That made a lot of sense. And it lasted six hours.

The next day, the street, which was now a mob—let’s—it was no longer peaceful protesters as it had been in November. It now becomes something else, controlled by very ultra-nationalist forces; overthrew Yanukovych, who fled to Russia; burned up the agreement. So who initiated the next stage of the crisis? It wasn’t Russia. They wanted that agreement of February, a month ago, to hold. And they’re still saying, “Why don’t we go back to it?” You can’t go back to it, though there is a report this morning that Yanukovych, who is in exile in Russia, may fly to eastern Ukraine today or tomorrow, which will be a whole new dimension.

But the point of it is, is that Putin didn’t want—and this is reality, this is not pro-Putin or pro-Washington, this is just a fact—Putin did not want this crisis. He didn’t initiate it. But with Putin, once you get something like that, you get Mr. Pushback. And that’s what you’re now seeing. And the reality is, as even the Americans admit, he holds all the good options. We have none. That’s not good policymaking, is it?

Click here to read a full transcript or watch the latest interview with Stephen Cohen on the Democracy Now! website.

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The United States spent over a decade hunting down Osama Bin Laden at financial a cost running into multiple trillions and a human cost of more than a million lives, yet since his demise the jihadist cause that Bin Laden once spearheaded is stronger than ever. Forces of al-Qaeda and other near identical jihadist factions now hold control of a large region of Iraq and Syria that exceeds the area of Britain, whilst other Islamist gangs run amok throughout Libya. Thus, after a decade of dirty wars executed by means of “shock and awe” air strikes, the perpetual overhead threat of drones and the knock at the door that ends with secret rendition to faraway torture sites, the “war on terror” has been lost. “Terror” reigns supreme as the victor: terror from all sides that is.

But then, it is hard to imagine any foreign policy that could have manufactured and spread terrorism more effectively than the policies enacted during this decade-long “war on terror”. Blowback? Up to a point. But, we must not forget that all of the many al-Qaeda factions that have gained so much territory could never have done so without our help. Whether indirectly, with the establishment of the power vacuum in Iraq, or more purposefully, with Nato bombers opening the way for the Islamist insurgency in Libya. But mostly, the gains of al-Qaeda are thanks to the very generous funding of one of America and Britain’s closest allies, that bastion of freedom and democracy, Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Bin Laden, and the nation known to have the closest ties to those accused of the 9/11 attacks. Attacks that provided the very springboard from which the “war on terror” was launched all those years ago. These are the facts and none can be refuted, so make of them what you will – if it was a plot for a film it would seem ludicrously far-fetched.

Of course, the “war on terror” lost a great deal of its public appeal with the bludgeoning of Iraq, and so under Obama we’ve had “humanitarian interventions”. But this new gloss has also flaked away, with the majority of people in the West absolutely sick of war. That said, the wars go on regardless – wreaking havoc but still satisfying the insatiable thirst for blood demanded by our military-industrial-financial complex.

None of these wars have had anything to do with stamping out terrorism or, surely more laughably, the West’s desire to bring “freedom and democracy”. The United States’ covert backing of al-Qaeda is nothing new and neither is the West’s more brazen support of al-Qaeda’s primary sponsor Saudi Arabia? If the wars were about either terrorism or “freedom and democracy”, then the Saudi regime would surely have topped the charts of “the axis of evil”.

In truth, the game never changed. And sadly it is a game (at least to those currently holding power) – as Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of America’s leading geopolitical strategists, makes clear not least with the title of his notorious book on Eurasian geostrategy, “The Grand Chessboard”. In it he wrote:

In brief, for the United States, Eurasian geostrategy involves the purposeful management of geostrategically dynamic states and the careful handling of geopolitically catalytic states, in keeping with the twin interests of America in the short-term: preservation of its unique global power and in the long-run transformation of it into increasingly institutionalized global cooperation. To put it in a terminology that hearkens back to the more brutal age of ancient empires, the three grand imperatives of imperial geostrategy are to prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and to keep the barbarians from coming together.4

This neo-imperialist game is much the same as the older imperialist game, in which only the strategies have been updated. It is about control of territory, of energy resources, of financial systems, and it has (and always did) amount to a series of proxy wars against the competing interests of competing powers. Traditionally Russia have been the great adversary, but now there is China too. So the Cold War that officially concluded with the fall of the Berlin Wall in October 1989… ended only in name. With the Ukrainian crisis (or should that be “Ukraine Crisis”) the chill that remained has become considerably icier. Treacherously so. But our military-industrial-financial complex needs perpetual war just to keep the racket going, or, when that ceases to be an option (as it now has), to maintain the illusion of an imminent threat against us. Bin Laden is dead, so a new Cold War is just the ticket. On top of which, as Brzezinski also explained in his book:

“Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire.”

Here’s Stephen Cohen again:

The real debate going on in NATO—the real debate, because this is a distraction—is what Rasmussen said in your earlier clip—he’s the political head of NATO—that we’re building up, as we talk, our forces in eastern Europe. Now, understand what’s going on here. When we took in—”we” meaning the United States and NATO—all these countries in eastern Europe into NATO, we did not—we agreed with the Russians we would not put forward military installations there. We built some infrastructure—air strips, there’s some barracks, stuff like that. But we didn’t station troops that could march toward Russia there. Now what NATO is saying, it is time to do that. Now, Russia already felt encircled by NATO member states on its borders. The Baltics are on its borders. If we move the forces, NATO forces, including American troops, to—toward Russia’s borders, where will we be then? I mean, it’s obviously going to militarize the situation, and therefore raise the danger of war.

And I think it’s important to emphasize, though I regret saying this, Russia will not back off. This is existential. Too much has happened. Putin—and it’s not just Putin. We seem to think Putin runs the whole of the universe. He has a political class. That political class has opinions. Public support is running overwhelmingly in favor of Russian policy. Putin will compromise at these negotiations, but he will not back off if confronted militarily. He will not.

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A trade war opens the way for new trade deals

The new cold war isn’t only a military escalation, it also potentially marks the beginning of a new trade war. But due to reliance on Russia imports (especially when it comes to energy) EU sanctions on Russia will be difficult, and so one way forward could involve loosening trade restrictions between the EU and the US.

The following passages are taken from a press release by the European Council following the recent EU-US Summit in Brussels. It begins:

Recent events in Ukraine have confirmed that strong cooperation between the European Union and the United States on peace and security is of critical importance.

Continuing under the next heading “Economy and global challenges” as follows:

Reinforcing economic growth and job creation remains central on both sides of the Atlantic. The EU and the United States have taken important steps to stabilise financial conditions and overcome the crisis. The EU remains committed to building a deep and genuine economic and monetary union, including a banking union. […]

The EU and US leaders renewed their commitment to a strong Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). this should go beyond a free trade agreement and reaffirm Europe and the United States’ shared values of democracy, individual freedom, the rule of law and human rights, and a common commitment to open societies and economies. [bold highlights maintained from original source]

And what is TTIP? Here are additional notes at the end of the same press release:

The EU and US have decided to take their economic relationship to a higher level by agreeing to launch negotiations on a comprehensive trade and investment agreement. It aims to remove trade barriers in a wide range of economic sectors to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US.

In fact, I have already touched on the subject of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) as well as its sister treaty the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) . Both of these “free-trade agreements” appear to have alternative and conflicting names and acronyms and in the case of TTIP it is also known as the Transatlantic Free Trade Area, abbreviated as TAFTA, which is how it appeared in that earlier post. Why trade agreements need to have multiple names becomes more apparent when you realise what this commitment to “freeing up regulations” will mean. Here are a few extracts from a detailed analysis published by Der Spiegel International and entitled “Corporation Carte Blanche: Will US-EU Trade Become Too Free?”:

Lori Wallach had but 10 minutes to speak when she stepped up to podium inside Room 405 at George Washington University, located not too far away from the White House. Her audience was made up of delegates currently negotiating the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement between the United States and the European Union.

They had already spent hours listening to presentations by every possible lobbying group — duty bound to hear myriad opinions. But when Wallach, a trade expert for the consumer protection group Public Citizen, took the stage, people suddenly started paying attention. The 49-year-old Harvard lawyer, after all, is a key figure in international trade debates.

“The planned deal will transfer power from elected governments and civil society to private corporations,” she said, warning that the project presents a threat of entirely new dimensions. [bold emphasis added]

How will TTIP help to transfer even more power out of democratic control and into the hands of the major corporations? Well, let us count the ways:

After the third round of negotiations, an unusually broad alliance of anti-globalization groups, NGOs, environmental and consumer protection groups, civil rights groups and organized labor is joining forces to campaign against TTIP.

These critics have numerous concerns about the treaty – including their collective fear that the convergence of standards will destroy important gains made over the years in health and nutrition policy, environmental protection and employee rights. They argue the treaty will make it easier for corporations to turn profits at the public’s expense in areas like water supply, health or education. It would also clear the path for controversial technologies like fracking or for undesired food products like growth hormone-treated meat to make their way to Europe. Broadly worded copyrights would also restrict access to culture, education and science. They also believe it could open the door to comprehensive surveillance.5

Click here to read the full article in Der Spiegel.

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Fracking for freedom (and digging for victory)

I have already highlighted at the end of an earlier and rather more extended post how energy giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil have been getting ready to move their operations to Ukraine with the intention of exploring both conventional and “unconventional” resources (otherwise known as “fracking”). On Saturday’s Keiser Report, Max Keiser spoke to freelance journalist JP Sottile of Newsvandal.com, who also occasionally writes for the Guardian, about not only how Big Oil, but also Big Agra, have their eyes fixed on Ukraine. Sottile names the people and corporations hoping to take advantage of Ukraine’s exceptional fertile lands. Here are some excerpts of what he had to say [from about 13 mins in]:

“One of the bones of contention with Russia, Europe, and its transit point Ukraine, is Russia’s domination of the natural gas market in Europe. So I thought it was very interesting when the deal was announced that Chevron was involved in developing shale gas in Ukraine. Now that would have been with the previous government of Yanukovych – and I believe that that led to a lot of the pressure coming out of Moscow for Yanukovych to reject the economic deal between Ukraine and Europe, and that then of course led to a cascading number of events, which led to the deposing of Yanukovych and the ‘crisis in Ukraine’ as it is now called.”

Beyond the oil and gas, Sottile has also looked closely into the interests of agricultural giants Cargill and Monsanto, who are keen to exploit Ukraine’s riches closer to the surface:

US-Ukraine Business Council is an investor in the US-Ukraine Foundation where Ms [Victoria] Nuland was speaking on December 13th [about how the US had already spent $5 billion helping Ukraine realise its “European aspirations”] and also on December 13th, that was the day that Cargill invested in a Black Sea port to help open the Russian market to its agriculture. Well, Cargill is also heavily invested in Ukraine in a company called Ukrlandfarming. The just bought a two hundred thousand dollar stake in Ukrlandfarming. In fact they bought that stake – or it was announced – on the very day, January 12th of this year, that fifty thousand Ukrainians flooded Kiev to protest the government of Yanukovych.

They are all connected through Freedom House – a guy there who worked with Ms Nuland, who is Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, she had a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, a guy named David Kramer. David Kramer serves on – he’s actually head of Freedom House – Freedom House is one of the organisations that the United States uses to stoke democracy movements around the world. It is actually responsible, along with the National Endowment for Democracy, for funding many of the opposition forces there in Ukraine. And David Kramer also serves on the US-Ukraine Business Council. If you go the US-Ukraine Business Council – which is a very interesting organisation – on the executive board of the US-Ukraine Business Council you’ll find Cargill, Monsanto, John Deere, CNH International (which is a farming equipment and tractor-making company), Eli Lilly and DuPont Pioneer – DuPont Pioneer being the genetically modified organisms and agricultural wing of DuPont. And they all serve together under the guidance of a guy named Morgan Williams. Morgan Williams is CEO and President of US-Ukraine Business Council, and he has been a fixer for Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, [and] other big agricultural companies in Ukraine for the last fifteen to twenty years.

There is an expression from my part of the world that goes: “where there’s muck, there’s brass”. Well, as Sottile’s investigations reveal, there’s loads of muck in Ukraine and not just in oil and gas deposits. Perhaps, as he suspects, the bigger prize is the land itself. Either way, the vultures are already circling. Except that they are more predatory than the much maligned vulture. Rather than waiting for a crisis to happen they have been directly involved in fomenting one, and now, as their “Ukraine Crisis” escalates, they won’t be planning to let it to go to waste.

Click here to read more about this in JP Sottile’s article entitled “Ukraine, Chevron, Condi Rice and Shale Gas… join the dots” published by The Ecologist magazine on March 18th.

1 From an article entitled “Crisis Media Center springs into action” written by Brian Bonner, published by Kyiv Post on March 14, 2014. https://www.kyivpost.com/guide/about-kyiv/crisis-media-center-springs-into-action-339299.html 

2 From an article entitled “A Fascist Hero in Democratic Kiev” written by Timothy Snyder, published by The New York Review of Books on February 24, 2010. http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2010/feb/24/a-fascist-hero-in-democratic-kiev/

3Founders of Ukraine Crisis Media Center include:

Valeriy Chaly, Razumkov Centre, deputy foreign minister of Ukraine (2009-2010)
Ivanna Klympush-Tsyntsadze, Yalta European Strategy, director
Nataliya Popovych, PRP, president
Natalia Olbert-Sinko, PRP in Ukraine, executive director
Yaryna Klyuchkovska, independent communications consultant
Gennadiy Kurochka, CFC, founder and managing partner
Vasyl Myroshnychenko, CFC, partner
Alina Frolova, R.A.M. 360, CEO
Volodymyr Degtyaryov, NewsFront PR agency, director
Ivetta Delikatnaya, AGL, director of development
Maxim Savanevskyi, PlusOne DA, managing partner
Andriy Zagorodskiy, Newsplot, director

From the same article entitled “Crisis Media Center springs into action” written by Brian Bonner, published by Kyiv Post on March 14, 2014. https://www.kyivpost.com/guide/about-kyiv/crisis-media-center-springs-into-action-339299.html 

4 Extract from The Grand Chessboard, Chapter 2 “The Eurasian Chessboard”, p. 40, written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, published in 1997. It is available at http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Zbigniew_Brzezinski 

5 From an article entitled “Corporation Carte Blanche: Will US-EU Trade Become Too Free?” written by Michaela Schiessl, published by Der Spiegel International on January 23, 2014. http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/criticism-grows-over-investor-protections-in-transatlantic-trade-deal-a-945107.html

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Max Keiser, neo-liberalism, Ukraine

The New Great Game: “Pax Americana” from Syria to Uzbekistan to the Ukraine

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Recent historical background

Embedded above is one of the most frequently cited (at least by alternative news outlets) political interviews of the past decade. Broadcast by Democracy Now! on March 2nd, 2007, it features Gen. Wesley Clark discussing US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The reason for its notoriety being the statement Clark makes during the opening three minutes, when he informs the world of how he learned about Pentagon plans to “take out seven countries in five years”:

About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs and just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me and he said, “Sir, you’ve gotta come in and talk to me a second.”

I said, “Well, you’re too busy.”

He said “No, we’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September.

I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq – why?”

He said, “I don’t know…” [audience laughs] He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.”

So I said, “Well did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?”

He said, “No, no, there’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan, and I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?”

He said, “Oh, it’s worse than that. He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper, and he said, “I just got this down from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense’s office today” and he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years. Starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off, Iran.”

Wesley Clark’s testimony is important because it is revealing, at the same time though, I find his professed surprise at the revelations coming from “upstairs” more than a little hard to believe. After all, both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, men who Clark says he had only just seen on the day in question (and ones he presumably met with on a quite regular basis), are both Signatories to Statement of Principles of the now notorious Project for the New American Century (PNAC) neo-con think tank. A statement of intent had been signed by them and other notables, including Dick Cheney, more than four years prior to the 9/11 attacks on June 3rd 1997. It begins:

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

Unfortunately, the complete founding PNAC statement is hard to track down, but then we can no doubt judge the group’s geostrategic ambitions better from a few of its less public documents. For instance, a PNAC letter to President George W. Bush advocating “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” It was received on September 20th, 2001 – so again at precisely the time when Clark was being privately briefed by that unnamed general at the Pentagon. This letter from PNAC co-founder William Kristol “& others” read:

We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Click here to find the complete letter to Bush.

But most damning of all the PNAC documents is its notorious ninety-page report entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. Released almost precisely one year prior to the 9/11 attacks, it calls for “a global Pax Americana” – which might be translated as ‘America uber alles’; for the betterment of all obviously – and looks forward to “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” In part five of this report, entitled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”, we discover their blueprint for “full spectrum dominance”. The details of “Transforming U.S. Conventional Forces” requiring (amongst other things):

The proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will make it much easier to project military power around the globe. Munitions themselves will become increasingly accurate, while new methods of attack – electronic, “nonlethal,” biological – will be more widely available. […]

Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and “combat” likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, “cyber-space,” and perhaps the world of microbes. Air warfare may no longer be fought by pilots manning tactical fighter aircraft sweeping the skies of opposing fighters, but a regime dominated by long-range, stealthy unmanned craft. On land, the clash of massive, combined-arms armored forces may be replaced by the dashes of much lighter, stealthier and information-intensive forces, augmented by fleets of robots, some small enough to fit in soldiers’ pockets. Control of the sea could be largely determined not by fleets of surface combatants and aircraft carriers, but from land- and space-based systems, forcing navies to maneuver and fight underwater. Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems – combatants and noncombatants – will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

Click here to read the full PNAC document Rebuilding America’s Defenses.

The document reads like the wet dream of Dr Strangelove, but then the PNAC crowd (now officially disbanded) were all lunatics, of course. Like Strangelove, they were fascist madmen who suddenly had the ear of the US President. As a consequence, much of this brave new world of warfare was quickly established under Bush; the Obama administration then adhering to a similar doctrine. Expansionist wars by means of such high tech armaments as the “long-range, stealthy unmanned craft” as described by PNAC back in 2000, becoming so unexceptional that the public got into the habit of forgetting all about them.

Likewise, Obama has continued to press ahead with the same neo-con agenda of destabilisation which Wesley Clark warned about in 2007. The only really significant difference has been the rhetoric. Regime change in Libya justified as humanitarian from the get-go, as has been the ongoing campaign for the overthrow of Assad in Syria. But then, the White House can hardly be expected to publicly announce that it is covertly supporting al-Qaeda factions to those ends.

Almost six months has now passed since just such an unlikely shift in policy was on the verge of actually taking shape – it would take the crossing of Obama’s “red line”, but the US was very much poised to take up arms on the side of al-Qaeda (not that the White House were about to explain matters in such honest terms – the air strikes would only be aiding the good rebels). By then, US warships had been moved to the Eastern Mediterranean and were already on heightened alert. With the atrocity at Ghouta, John Kerry especially, was keen to seize on the opportunity, saying “We know a senior Syrian official discussed the attack and was afraid they’d be discovered”, before announcing to the world:

“This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this matters to us. It matter[s] to us and who we are. It matters to leadership and our credibility in the world. It matters if nothing is done – if the world speaks out in condemnation, and nothing happens.”1

But Kerry was lying about the intelligence, and, as Seymour Hersh has since explained at length, the US couldn’t possibly have known that either Assad had given the go-ahead, or even that those within the Syrian army had launched any attack, with or without his express permission. And more recent evidence further challenges those US allegations that had brought us so close to a major international conflagration:

[But] The authors of a report released Wednesday said that their study of the rocket’s design, its likely payload and its possible trajectories show that it would have been impossible for the rocket to have been fired from inside areas controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.2

This was the verdict of a report entitled “Possible Implications of Faulty U.S. Technical Intelligence” produced by a team of security and arms experts who met last month in Washington, as reported by McClatchy in mid January.

Click here to read the full article.

Refusing to be sidetracked by a few inconvenient details, like Kerry, Obama was eager to respond. Responding, that is, in the only way US administrations appear able to respond these days – with every problem jutting up like a nail that is in need of a good hammering down. The aerial bombing of Damascus would doubtless have started within days except that something completely unexpected then occurred – British MPs voting down the government. Following which, we saw another extraordinarily rapid change of circumstances as Russia persuaded the Syrian regime to entirely surrender its chemical weapons arsenal. A deal brokered by Sergei Lavrov meant that Kerry and Obama could at least save face. Thus the tensions between Russia and the West, which had been on the verge of snapping, eased a little. There was one less arsenal of WMDs in the world, and though a horrible civil war continued, at least the people of Syrian wouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of “shock and awe” we saw first over Baghdad and more latterly Tripoli and at Sirte.

With the removal of Syria’s WMDs, Obama salvaged a little dignity, but his veil of being the peacemaker, already wearing thin, had suddenly been ripped off altogether. Here is what John Pilger wrote last September, less than a month after the gas attack on Ghouta:

Under the “weak” Obama, militarism has risen perhaps as never before. With not a single tank on the White House lawn, a military coup has taken place in Washington. In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes. As the constitution is replaced by an emerging police state, those who destroyed Iraq with shock and awe, piled up the rubble in Afghanistan and reduced Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare, are ascendant across the US administration. Behind their beribboned facade, more former US soldiers are killing themselves than are dying on battlefields. Last year 6,500 veterans took their own lives. Put out more flags.

The historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism”: “For goose-steppers substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.” Every Tuesday the “humanitarian” Obama personally oversees a worldwide terror network of drones that “bugsplat” people, their rescuers and mourners. In the west’s comfort zones, the first black leader of the land of slavery still feels good, as if his very existence represents a social advance, regardless of his trail of blood. This obeisance to a symbol has all but destroyed the US anti-war movement – Obama’s singular achievement.3

Click here to read the full article at John Pilger’s own website.

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Syria

The civil war in Syria is three years old. Millions have been displaced, thousands are dying each week, and there appears little end in sight to the bloody stalemate. It is, as we are frequently reminded, a humanitarian crisis. During the first round of the Geneva II summit, John Kerry said:

Now, lost in the daily reports of violence is the fact that this revolution did not begin as an armed resistance. This started peacefully. It was started by schoolboys in Daraa who are armed only with graffiti cans, citizens who were peacefully and legitimately calling for change. And they were met almost immediately with violence. When their parents came out to protest the arrest of the children, 120 people died. That was the beginning.

And tragically, the Assad regime answered peaceful demonstration after peaceful demonstration with ever-increasing force. In the three years since then, this conflict has now left more than 130,000 dead, and it’s hard to count accurately. We all know that. The fact is that these people have been killed by guns, by tanks, by artillery, by gas, by barrel bombs, by Scud missiles.

They’ve been killed by weapons almost exclusively of the magnitude not possessed by the opposition. Starvation has been used as a weapon of war. And most recently, we have seen horrific reports of systematic torture and execution of thousands of prisoners. This is an appalling assault, not only on human lives, but on human dignity and on every standard by which the international community tries to organize itself, recognizing the horrors of the humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded, the destabilization of neighboring countries, and the endless exile of refugees.4

In short, Bashar Assad and the incumbent Syrian regime are solely responsible, Kerry says, whether directly or indirectly, for every death and all of the horror of the past three years. But how can this be true when a civil war is raging that involves at least three opposing sides? So Kerry’s version of events plays down the many atrocities carried out by a plethora ‘al-Qaeda affiliated’ factions. War crimes such as forced ‘suicide bombings’, throwing people from buildings, and very possibly including gas attacks like the one at Ras al-Ayn in the northern province of al-Hasakah that appear to have been launched by “rebel forces”.5 This is what Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote last December in the opening paragraph of an article entitled “Whose sarin?”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.6

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full report.

Roaming across Syria there are gangs of fundamentalists who proudly upload footage of their own bloodlust including public beheadings and acts of cannibalism. But Kerry has nothing of note to say about this either. Not even when those same factions are known to be fighting against and murdering one another. Is the Syrian government also responsible when one arm of al-Qaeda is killing the other?

Nor does Kerry make any comment about al-Qaeda’s immediate backers at home in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, nor level some of the blame at Turkey who have been providing assistance by allowing many of these Jihadists to slip across into Syria in the first place. Instead, he blames Assad and the Syrian government for the very acts of terrorism they are fighting against, saying:

So just as there could be no place for the perpetrator of this violence, there could also be no place for the thousands of violent extremists who spread their hateful ideology and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people. And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake: It is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place, there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.

Kerry’s concern is entirely one-dimensional. He wants regime change. And he stresses this demand without any evident concern for what will very likely fill the power vacuum left behind. A catastrophe of the kind that followed in the wake of other instances of regime change, such as in Iraq (after the fall of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein) and Libya (with dictator Gaddafi ousted). Like Bush and the rest of the neo-con ramble, he also shows a casual disregard for international law which was set up, in part, to protect the sovereign right of nations. Immediate decapitation, Kerry says, is the only permissible solution:

Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way – no way possible in the imagination – that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.

Mark Twain famously remarked that “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes” and the recent history of US-backed regime change shows just how regular and tight the pattern of rhyming has now become. The governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all dictatorships, of course, and all had extremely poor human rights records, but regime change did not bring salvation in the form of freedom and democracy, it instead unleashed perpetual war.

Syria is yet another dictatorship with its own extremely poor human rights record. Not that this comes as news to Washington. Back when Assad had been in favour, his government, just like Gaddafi’s, had usefully provided facilities for the torture of America’s own prisoners under the secret programme of “extraordinary rendition”:

Iran’s proxy Syria did torture on behalf of the United States. The most famous case involves Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen snatched in 2002 by the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport before the CIA sent him to Syria under the mistaken impression he was a terrorist. In Syrian custody, Arar was “imprisoned for more than ten months in a tiny grave-like cell, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks by the Syrian government,” [chief Open Society Foundation investigator, Amrit] Singh writes.

But it wasn’t just Arar. At least seven others were rendered to Syria. Among their destinations: a prison in west Damascus called the Palestine Branch, which features an area called “the Grave,” comprised of “individual cells that were roughly the size of coffins.” Syrian intelligence reportedly uses something called a “German Chair” to “stretch the spine.”7

America’s “black sites” are still open and the “extraordinary rendition” flights continued under Obama and, so far as we know, continue today. As for appeals to human rights, these reassurances are only for a public increasingly unwilling to go to war. In the ranks of the policymakers the discussion has been more strictly along these lines:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.8

Taken from an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations back in August 2012.

*

Uzbekistan

To put all of this into a bigger perspective, I think it is helpful to go back again to the story of Craig Murray. Today, Craig Murray is recognised as one of the foremost political bloggers and is a well-known human rights activist in Britain. A decade ago, however, he was battling against serious illness and also on the verge of being sacked as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. The story of how he came to finally lose his job in October 2004 is long on details but can be summed up in just a few paragraphs.

Murray was, by his own account “a reluctant whistleblower”. At first he tried to alert his superiors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by sending confidential diplomatic telegrams (Americans call these ‘cables’) advising them that the Uzbek regime was involved in the widespread use of (what he later described as) “the most horrible forms of torture imaginable” against its opponents and including the torture of children in front of their parents.9

In the first telegram sent on 16th September 2002, Murray had written:

President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Murray was also keen to bring to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the dangers of trusting Uzbek “intelligence”, which he knew to be wholly unreliable. But, a month later, to his surprise, there was still no reply or even any acknowledgment from the FCO. Murray then decided to deliver a speech to a human rights conference hosted by US-based NGO Freedom House in Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan) in which he asserted that “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy”. To support this claim, he drew attention to the boiling to death of Muzafar Avazov, which he said was “not an isolated incident” (The horrific method of Avazov’s murder had been independently verified by a leading pathologist who examined the photographic evidence).

He then sent a second telegram on March 18th 2003, in which he repeated his earlier concerns:

Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov’s vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

Again, Murray says that he received no written reply. In the third and most damning of these telegrams which is dated July 4th, Murray wrote:

In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture. […]

The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

“The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.” While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

Click here to read full versions of Craig Murray’s leaked diplomatic telegrams to FCO.

Murray says he was worried by the reliance of both the CIA and MI6 on Uzbek “intelligence”. He would later argue that both agencies were not only complicit in receiving confessions based on torture, but, in consequence, had been willingly misled when it came to assessing real levels of al-Qaeda terrorism in the country. He says that it came as a tremendous shock when he slowly realised that neither the civil service nor senior British politicians such as then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had any interest in these documented allegations against the Karimov regime, and so it was only in the last resort that he had decided to publicly release the cables onto the internet.

On the basis of largely cooked-up accusations of inappropriate personal behaviour, Murray was then summarily dismissed. But, a little less than five years later, on April 28th 2009, Murray was at last allowed to present evidence of UK complicity in torture before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. He wrote on his blog:

As I prepare for my evidence session before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on 28 April, I was looking back for the evidence I gave to the European Parliament on extraordinary rendition. Unfortunately it seems that no transcript was made of the committee questioning me (unless anyone who knows the system there better than I can come up with one) but rather a kind of precis made of my evidence as a “working document”.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/comparl/tempcom/tdip/working_docs/pe374341_en.pdf

It also helpfully published the supporting documentation I gave.

What still surprises me is that, after I gave my evidence, I was mobbed by media, gave numerous television interviews, and was headline news all over Europe. Except in the UK where there was no mention of it at all. I was pondering this over the weekend as I read a very large number of commentary pieces, in every serious newspaper, on the apparent complicity in torture and what enquiries into it may find.

I have been answering the question of the moment – was there a policy of torture – for the last five years, with eye-witness testimony backed up with documentary proof. Yet I appear not to exist to the media. Will my testimony to the JCHR also be simply ignored?

Click here to read Murray’s full post from March 31st 2009.

Now, fast-forward to just two years ago when on March 12th 2012, Murray posted another short article with embedded videos showing a speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” given to the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. Murray writing that:

It proved useful in forcing me to pull together an overview of my current thoughts on events of the last year or so.

Intrigued, I tried to play the videos, but instead this notice popped up: “this video has been removed by the user”. Naturally, my intrigue was piqued a little more.

Two days on, and Craig Murray has posted yet another short article entitled “Beyond Irony”. It reads as follows:

The videos of both my speech and my interview at the Berlin Freedom of Expression Forum have been taken down. This is not an accident. All the other speeches and all the other interviews are still there. Both series have been renumbered to hide the fact that something has been removed.

Given that my talk was about censorship and exclusion of whistleblowers, and the lack of genuine freedom in western societies to explain an alternative policy narrative, it is hard for words adequately to describe the apparent behaviour here. The full title of the event was “Censorship and Freedom in Traditional and New Media: The Revolution of Media as a Tool of Freedom of Expression”.

I have written to the organisers to ask what is happening. It is conceivable there is an innocent explanation, though the removal from different places of both the speech and the interview seems hard to explain. Once I hear back from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I will let you know. I do not intend to let this lie.

The video then reappeared and it is available here (and also embedded below). If you’re looking for an inside perspective on how diplomacy actually works in ‘the real world’ then you’d be hard pressed to find much better. I can’t help noticing, however, that one part of the presentation has been snipped. Has Murray’s full statement been censored? Here is the video as it now appears:

There are a number of statements in Murray’s presentation that remain very pertinent to the situation we find almost two years later, and so in efforts to highlight these points, I have made my own transcript of the relevant parts. Clarification of his own reasons for becoming a whistleblower are available in a footnote10 and below you can read selected passages that convey his frustration at the abysmal cynicism of western realpolitik:

Western governments actually don’t really care about this human rights stuff. They pretend they care about the human rights stuff because there’s a constituency at home that cares about the human rights stuff. If you have somebody like me who tries to take them at their word in promoting human rights in a country of which they have other interests, that person becomes a threat to the state and has to be removed, as a threat in any way.

Bahrain: we have this extraordinary situation where western support for the Arab Spring evaporates when it comes to Bahrain and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. I had a friend in a diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York. You may recall that the Americans were pretending in public to be against the bombing of Libya right up until the last moment – a lot of propaganda was put out saying the American military were against it that they were not prepared – all the time that propaganda was put out they were moving military assets into place to do it. I had a friend in New York who phoned me before either the UNSCR 19791973, while those resolutions were under discussion at the United Nations, and before the invasion of [Libya]… This friend of mine at the United Nations phoned me and he said that the Americans are cutting a deal whereby they will okay the Saudis to invade Bahrain in exchange for an Arab League call for Nato to go into Libya. That’s how cynical realpolitik is. [from 25:30 mins]

Western policy is driven by very hard financial interests. The interests of a very elite bunch of people, who control a great deal, and indirectly control the media narrative that surrounds the explanation the public is given as to why these wars [and] these attacks on human rights happen. To go back to that intelligence in Uzbekistan, there has to be a reason why you’re supporting the Uzbek dictatorship with a lot of money and training for their armed forces. This is one of the worst dictatorships in the world. How do you justify giving that dictatorship support? Well, you justify it as part of a war on terror and that you are backing them against al-Qaeda. Except that there is no al-Qaeda in Uzbekistan. There’s virtually no al-Qaeda presence in Central Asia – there’s certainly none in Uzbekistan. [from 31:55 mins]

I’m afraid to say that in both the United States and the United Kingdom, the analysis of intelligence – which is something that I have spent quite a lot of my career doing (and which I feel I was very good) – had ceased to be a genuine intellectual exercise in determining the facts, and had become instead, a process of providing lies to government. That government wanted to publish. Making the world as it was. The government wanted to support Karimov for reasons of oil and gas and the war in Afghanistan. There needed to be a reason for supporting him, therefore, there needed to be al-Qaeda activity in Central Asia, where it did not in fact exist. And the media is complicit in this building of lies. [from 38:30 mins]

A decade has passed since Murray blew the whistle on Karimov, yet he remains both President of Uzbekistan and an American ally. His record in office during the intervening period speaks volumes. In May 2005, his authorities blocked all the exits from Babur Square, kettling the crowd before snipers and police opened fire on thousands of protesters. It is estimated that between 400–500 people were killed in cold blood. Ikrom Yakubov, a former major in the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB), said that Karimov had personally ordered massacres. He also accused the Karimov regime of “pursuing a policy of ‘false flag’ terrorism by orchestrating attacks and then blaming them on Islamist militants in an effort to demonize the opposition and win foreign support”, as well as “engineering a plane crash in 2004 that killed United Nations official Richard Conroy.”11

Nevertheless, in September 2011 Obama phoned Karimov to congratulate him on Uzbekistan’s twenty years of independence (Karimov is the nation’s first and only president) “and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.”12

Click here to read the full article about Ikrom Yakubov on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website.

*

Back to Syria

On the eve of the Geneva II talks, a report (which Kerry alluded to) was released establishing “compelling evidence of the systematic murder of some 11,000 detainees through starvation, beatings and torture, including the gouging of eyes and electrocution – and all that in just one part of Syria, with the strong suspicion that more such killing will have taken place elsewhere.” Here is part of Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of the evidence published writing for the Guardian on the same day [Jan 21st]:

The source of this evidence is hard to fault: a former photographer for the Syrian regime who has since defected [a source known only by the codename Caesar]. The report’s authors, who interviewed the source for three days, have no obvious axe to grind and are eminently credible: they served as prosecutors at the criminal tribunals on Sierra Leone [&] the former Yugoslavia. Those facts will surely offset any misgivings over the report’s origins: it was commissioned and funded by the government of Qatar, a player in the Syrian conflict on the anti-government side. The evidence is too overwhelming, and the reputations of those who have assessed it too strong, for this report to be dismissed as Qatari propaganda (though some will try).13

Others, however, were more questioning. Here, for instance, is veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk writing in The Independent also on Jan 21st:

The pictures are horrific, the torture details revolting, the numbers terrifying. And the integrity of the three former prosecutors who have effectively accused the Syrian government of war crimes, are without blemish. Shrivelled, blood-spattered corpses provide unstoppable evidence of regime cruelty – just as the videotapes of Syrian rebel executions tell us what kind of Syria may soon exist if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds. […]

But we should be asking a lot more questions than we have been asking about this portrait gallery of pain, unleashed only hours before an international conference in Switzerland in which we in the West – but perhaps not Qatar – hope to end the civil war in Syria.

How long, for example, have the Qatari authorities been in possession of this terrible eye-witness material? A couple of weeks, just enough time to rustle up the lawyers for the prosecution? Or a couple of months? Or six months? And, more to the point, why now? For it would be difficult to imagine a better way for Qatar – whose royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad – to destroy his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government, than by releasing these snapshots of terror just before the Swiss talks.

Fisk’s article is subtitled “One is reminded of Nazi Germany”, but not for reasons that are immediately apparent. He continues:

Indeed, one is reminded – in terms of political purpose rather than historical parallel, of course — of Nazi Germany’s disclosure of the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet secret police in 1940 at Katyn, in that part of Russia newly occupied by German troops. The Nazis claimed the Soviets were responsible – in the hope that this would divide Stalin’s alliance with America and Britain. The Allies denounced the Nazis for the massacre – although it was indeed committed by the Soviets. Does Qatar now hope to divide Syria’s alliance with Russia and Iran with similar evidence of Syrian government mass murder?14

Such a strategy is unlikely to work, of course, since Iran and Russia have their own interests to defend – I will touch on this later. But Fisk is concerned not only by the involvement of Qatar as backers of the report, he is also worried about the role of solicitors Carter Ruck “– may their name be praised”. He was not alone. Here is Craig Murray writing again on his own blog:

I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime. It is a very unpleasant regime indeed. The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.

But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure. What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace. The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.

The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor. He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting. He is acting as a barrister in private practice. Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers. He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.

If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting. That is his job. He probably regards that as not reprehensible. What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights. I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it. He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”. He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.

The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report? How much did it pay the other experts? Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview? In short how much are you being paid to say this?”

Click here to read Craig Murray’s complete article.

*

George Soros and the “colour revolutions”

Little more than a decade ago there were a series of “colour revolutions” within the former Soviet Union and across its former Eastern Bloc satellites. The ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ in 2000 had already led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia, and soon afterwards the Rose Revolution of Georgia (Nov 2003), would force the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze, whilst the less remembered Tulip Revolution (also sometimes called the “Pink Revolution” of Spring 2005) led to the downfall of President Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. Then, in Belarus, the following Spring (March 2006), President Alexander Lukashenko clung on to power after the failed Jeans Revolution – denim jeans having been adopted as a symbol of freedom (the reason for this, if not already apparent, will become so after the next paragraph).

During the same period we also witnessed what became perhaps the best-known of all these post-Soviet era uprisings, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which started with allegations of vote rigging in the second round of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. A peaceful campaign of strikes and civil disobedience followed helping to force a reelection.

At the time of the Orange Revolution, Ian Traynor reported in the Guardian as follows:

With their websites and stickers, their pranks and slogans aimed at banishing widespread fear of a corrupt regime, the democracy guerrillas of the Ukrainian Pora youth movement have already notched up a famous victory – whatever the outcome of the dangerous stand-off in Kiev.

Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again.

The outcome in fact was that leader of the opposition Viktor Yushchenko was declared President, defeating the man who now holds the office Viktor Yanukovych. But what is striking about the Guardian article is not only how candid Traynor is when it comes who was really backing the Ukrainian protests but his discovery that all of the “colour revolutions” had been similarly orchestrated:

But while the gains of the orange-bedecked “chestnut revolution” are Ukraine’s, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

And who more precisely was behind it all? Ian Traynor’s article even provides a list of credits:

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute.15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev”.

*

Ukraine

On January 30th, Democracy Now! featured a debate about the latest “Euromaidan” uprising in Ukraine, posing the question: “Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?” To answer this question they invited two guests: Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian citizen and University College London researcher. Here is a sample of what Cohen and Shekhovtsov had to say to each other:

Anton Shekhovtsov: I wrote the piece to highlight a very dangerous trend, in my opinion, is that many people in the West buy into Russian propaganda which is saying that Euromaidan is infiltrated by the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. And this is completely untrue. There is a far-right element in the Euromaidan protests, but it is a minor element. And Euromaidan protest is basically a multicultural, democratic movement which is trying to build a new Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine. And sometimes, by the name “far right,” there goes Ukrainian nationalism, and Ukrainian nationalism has—its main thrust is building of a truly independent Ukraine, a Ukraine which would be a national democratic state and not a colony of Russia, as Ukrainian nationalists think Ukraine is.

Stephen Cohen: Well, it’s not what Anton said. Where to begin? Can we begin at the beginning? What’s happening in Ukraine, what’s been unfolding since November in the streets, is probably the single most important international story underway today. It may impact for a very long time the geopolitics of Europe, Russia, American-Russian relations, and a lot more. At the same time, media coverage of this story, particularly in the United States, has been exceedingly misleading, very close to what Anton just told you. I would characterize Anton’s characterization, to be as polite as I can, as half-true. But a half-truth is an untruth.

The realities are, there is no “the Ukraine.” All this talk about Ukraine is on the front line of democracy—there are at least two Ukraines. One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. This is not my notion. This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure.

Who precipitated this crisis? It was the European Union, in this sense. It gave the Ukrainian government, which, by the way, is a democratically elected government—if you overthrow this government, just like they overthrew Morsi in Egypt, you’re dealing a serious blow to democracy. So if the crowd manages to essentially carry out a coup d’état from the streets, that’s what democracy is not about. But here’s what the European Union did back in November. It told the government of Ukraine, “If you want to sign an economic relationship with us, you cannot sign one with Russia.” Why not? Putin has said, “Why don’t the three of us have an arrangement? We’ll help Ukraine. The West will help Ukraine.” The chancellor of Germany, Merkel, at first thought that was a good idea, but she backed down for various political reasons. So, essentially, Ukraine was given an ultimatum: sign the EU economic agreement or else.

Now, what was that agreement? It would have been an economic catastrophe for Ukraine. I’m not talking about the intellectuals or the people who are well placed, about ordinary Ukrainians. The Ukrainian economy is on the brink of a meltdown. It needed billions of dollars. What did the European Union offer them? The same austerity policies that are ravaging Europe, and nothing more—$600 million. It needed billions and billions.

There’s one other thing. If you read the protocols of the European offer to Ukraine, which has been interpreted in the West as just about civilizational change, escaping Russia, economics, democracy, there is a big clause on military cooperation. In effect, by signing this, Ukraine would have had to abide by NATO’s military policies. What would that mean? That would mean drawing a new Cold War line, which used to be in Berlin, right through the heart of Slavic civilization, on Russia’s borders. So that’s where we’re at to now.

One other point: These right-wing people, whom Anton thinks are not significant, all reports—and I don’t know when he was in Ukraine, maybe it was long ago and things have gone—but the reports that are coming out of Ukraine are the following. One, the moderates—that’s the former heavyweight champion boxer, Vitali Klitschko, and others—have lost control of the street. They’ve asked the people who have been attacking the police with Molotov cocktails, and to vacate the buildings they’ve occupied, to stop. And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway.

What is the face of these people, this right wing? A, they hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine. A priest who represents part of the political movement in western Ukraine—Putin quoted this, but it doesn’t make it false. It doesn’t make it false; it’s been verified. A western Ukrainian priest said, “We, Ukraine, will not be governed by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” So, these people have now come to the fore.

Anton Shekhovtsov: Yes. So, this is basically what I said, as I called as a distortion in the Western media. I don’t know if Professor Cohen have been in Ukraine. I’ve been to Ukraine just a few days ago. I haven’t seen that the right-wingers have taken control of the streets. The streets are controlled by Euromaidan, which is ideologically very different. There is a right-wing element, but this is the element which is only a minor component of Euromaidan. And if you remember the Solidarity movement in the ’80s in Poland, it also comprised some right-wing elements, but in the end they built a democratic national—national democratic Poland.

As for the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites in western Ukraine, there are some, but at the same time, if you talk to them, if you interview them, and if you read their demands, you will not find any discrimination laws among their demands. What they demand is the national democratic state, independent from Russia. Even if they say that they are against the European Union, they at the same time support the pro-European protests. And this is partly what Euromaidan is about.

And then, again, there are many false reports about the beatings of representatives of national minorities in Ukraine. And mostly these reports are all false. They are being spread by Russian-backed propagandists, like Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the pro-Eurasian, pro-Russian party, Ukrainski Vybir, Ukrainian Choice. So, these people, they’re trying to distort the image of Euromaidan and picture it as something very violent, as something very right-wing, although the right-wing element, as I said, is a minor element at Euromaidan.

Stephen Cohen: Well, that’s Anton’s position. I mean, Anton represents—at least his description of the situation—the mainstream American media political view of what’s going on in Ukraine. And when I say “mainstream,” I mean it extends from the right wing in America to MSNBC, to the so-called liberals and progressives, to Bill Maher, who did this on his show the other night. There’s no alternative voice in America, except what I’m trying to say to you today. It’s wrong—it’s wrong factually, it’s wrong in terms of policy—for [John] McCain to go, as he’s done in other countries. He once said, “We’re all Georgians.” Now he’s saying, “We’re all Ukrainians.” If he understands the situation in Ukraine—and he may not—then he’s being reckless.

But a true understanding of Ukraine begins with the fact that there are at least two Ukraines, two legitimate Ukraines, culturally, politically, ethnically, economically, culturally. This isn’t Putin’s fault. This isn’t Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine’s fault. It’s either God’s fault, or it’s history’s fault. This is what came down through the centuries. The situation has been explosive since the end of the Soviet Union 22 years ago. When Western politicians go there, they’re playing with fire, metaphorically, and now they have real fire. […]

I think that the vilification of Putin in this country, demonization, is the worst press coverage by the American media of Russia that I’ve seen in my 40 years of studying Russia and contributing to the media. It’s simply almost insane. This idea that he’s a thug and that explains everything, passes for analysis in America today.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”

Ukraine is, as Stephen Cohen says, a very divided nation. The western half, which is Ukrainian speaking, looks towards Europe; the Eastern half speaks Russian and prefers to keep its distance from the West. The opposition has been mostly portrayed as pro-EU (even when much of the sentiment is actually anti-Russia) and thus pro-democracy, which is a deliberate and calculated over-simplification.

Unfortunately for the people of Ukraine, the location of their homeland is key to winning what Arthur Conolly, an intelligence officer and captain of the British East India Company’s Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry, once called “The Great Game”, and what Zbigniew Brzezinski nearly two centuries later alluded to as “The Grand Chessboard”. Brzezinski helpfully subtitling his 1998 book of the same name, “American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives”. In other words, the very same neo-con “Pax Americana” but by another name, with Brzezinski’s preferred approach more cloak-and-dagger than the full frontal assault of the PNAC crazies.

The major strategy of this updated quest for global hegemony (“The New Great Game” as some have called it), is again little different than during the days of Arthur Conolly: to seize control of Eurasia. And just as ‘the game’ itself hasn’t significantly altered in two centuries nor have the main competitors changed much either. Back in Conolly’s time, it was Britain in one corner against Russia in the other; nowadays America sits in for the UK.

In this pursuit of global dominion, the Ukraine is a vital stronghold. Firstly, it is located approximately at the hub of the Eurasian landmass. But additionally, Ukraine currently provides Russia with access to the Black Sea; the principal base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet being at Sevastopol – likewise, in Syria, the Russian fleet has its naval base at Tartus ensuring access to the Eastern Mediterranean. So capturing Ukraine weakens Russia militarily too, and would help in another way, therefore, to edge the world closer to Brzezinski’s stated goal of “American primacy”.

It is not by chance that Sevastopol, the second largest port in Ukraine, is located on one of the most well-known peninsulas in the world; that of the Crimea. A tongue of land jutting into the Black Sea and, like the rock of Gibraltar, of huge strategic importance. And no accident that the Crimea shares its name with an even more famous war. A war against the Russians between the years 1853–56 that is remembered, in part, for the real humanitarian courage of nurses like Florence Nightingale, but mostly because of gung-ho military campaigns such as the Battle of Balaclava (October 25th 1854) which featured that suicidally reckless charge of the Light Brigade. Old-time military madmen commanding the six hundred to ride “into the valley of Death.”16

Conolly didn’t live to hear about the shambolic pawn sacrifice at Balaklava; part of a failed attempt to capture the port and fortress of Sevastopol, which was already Russia’s principal naval base on the Black Sea. Identified as a British agent, he had been executed a decade before – beheaded in a square in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. So Conolly was himself a victim of the Great Game, just as were more innocent and forgotten thousands, losing their lives in campaign after campaign, of which the Crimean War was one brief episode. And the scars of this centuries long face-off between empires have never healed, instead the wounds are routinely reopened. Indeed, that earlier age of imperialism never ended but has skilfully reinvented itself: the significant difference between old imperialism and more swanky neo-imperialism being one of image. In the modern world running up your flag above a defeated territory is no way to win respect or curry favour whether at home or abroad.

Incidentally, Brzezinski was one of the attendees at the recent 50th Munich Security Conference (January 31st –February 2nd). Other guests included John McCain, James Clapper, Henry Kissinger, the godfather of the neo-cons, and Tony Blair (what rogues gallery would be complete without him). One of the newcomers to this annual meeting was Vitali Klitschko, another was Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Here is a report about what they were discussing:

The government has gone against what Ukrainians want, Klitschko said before the Munich Security Conference, adding: “There is no victory without a fight [and] we are going to fight.”

The former world boxing champion turned opposition politician also said government threats would not intimidate his side, which has Western backing. “Democratic powers won’t let themselves be frightened,” he said.

Klitschko called for a return to the country’s 2004 constitution, which would sharply curtail the president’s power, while also demanding the government release critics and hold elections as soon as possible.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk also addressed the conference on Saturday, accusing the Ukraine government of preparing for a state of emergency by readying its military. “A military intervention is an option for this government,” Yatsenyuk said.

Also at the gathering was John Kerry. This is what Kerry had to say about the Ukrainian protests:

Earlier on Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed Western backing for the Ukrainian opposition.

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” he said. “The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine.”

So does this mean that the US are banking on Klitschko becoming President of the Ukraine? Or would they prefer Yatsenyuk? Well, they say that a week is a long time in geopolitics…

In a leaked conversation posted on YouTube, the state department official Victoria Nuland revealed the White House’s frustrations at Europe‘s hesitant policy towards pro-democracy protests in Ukraine, which erupted late last year. Nuland was talking to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

So begins an article in Friday’s [Feb 7th] Guardian, which continues:

In the tapes, Nuland and Pyatt discuss the upheavals in Ukraine, and Yanukovych’s offer last month to make the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitali Klitschko deputy prime minister. Both men turned the offer down.

Nuland, who in December went to Independence Square in Kiev in a sign of support for the demonstrators, adds that she has also been told that the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, is about to appoint a former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to Ukraine.

“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU,” she says, in an apparent reference to differences over their policies.

“We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

In the phone call, Nuland suggests that Klitschko, the former world champion boxer, is not yet suited to take a major government role, in contrast to Yatsenyuk.

“I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government,” she apparently said.

“I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, he’s got the governing experience,” she adds.17 [bold emphasis added]

Which is how it really works (behind closed doors). Those in Washington busily trying to reorder the world into their own version of what they will then sell to us as a “Pax Americana”. Under the new imperialism, the duty falling on state department officials like Victoria Nuland to carry the white man’s burden. Making the big decisions on who should be appointed to govern the overseas dependencies.

*

And back once more to Syria

All of the post-9/11 wars have brought chaos and greater despair, but sadly this repeated failure provides little disincentive to the movers and shakers: those like Brzezinski and Kissinger (with Soros generally somewhere in the background), and a little lower in the pecking order, those like McCain and Kerry. Because their constant objective is really only to expand the American empire, or if that cannot be achieved, then to undermine the position of their main rivals – historically, Russia has always been the major opposing power, and remains so today, so Russian interests are a primary target.

The wars in any case satisfy two more immediate objectives, which are racketeering and piracy. Racketeering, since there are huge profits from insider deals on armaments and military accessories – again, nothing new in this, as Gen. Smedley Butler eloquently detailed in his 1935 pamphlet “War is a Racket”; and piracy, since the goal of each new adventure is to seize resources – first and foremost the energy resources, but happy to grab whatever other valuable assets and resources are available too.

In Syria, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Libya already, the gravest danger is that another war without end between sects and gangs has been unleashed. Warlords stealing territories and then battling against neighbouring warlords. The country torn to shreds by factional infighting. And the unspeakable truth is that the neo-imperialist agenda is more often helped by such schisms. Divide and conquer always the preferred way to rule, and failed states are the end product of our ongoing wars, in part, because failed states are so much riper for plundering.

In his last Geneva II speech, Kerry went straight for the emotional jugular. The civil war is terrible, Assad is to blame, he must go and then everything will be better again. But if and when Assad is run to ground and the fanatics of al-Qaeda are victorious, they will never sit down peacefully with the pro-democracy moderates. These “rebels” didn’t join the fight just for a share in Syria’s democratic future. They came on a holy mission of transforming Syria into one emirate of a greater caliphate ruled under hardline Sharia law. And Syria is now overrun by Jihadists, which means, unless Kerry is truly a fool, that he perfectly well understands the probable outcome of what he unflinchingly demands. Instead, real diplomacy with concessions made by all sides (al-Qaeda excluded) is the only hope left for Syria. As Geneva II begins a second round of talks, this hope rests with Kerry consenting to a more flexible and conciliatory way ahead.

*

Additional: Back to Ukraine

Flanked by street-sized poster adverts for Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Victoria Nuland spoke late last year [Dec 13th] to the “US-Ukraine Foundation” calling on the Ukraine to accept what she described as the “necessary” IMF reforms:

“The reforms that the IMF insists on are necessary for the long term economic health of the country. A new deal with the IMF would also send a positive signal to private markets, and would increase foreign direct investment that is so urgently needed in Ukraine. Signing the Association Agreement with the EU would also put the Ukraine on a path to strengthening the sort of stable and predictable business environment that investors require. There is no other path that would bring Ukraine back to long term political stability and economic growth.” [from 5 mins]

In other words, welcome to the EU club – and get in line behind Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy for a strong dose of IMF shock therapy.

Nuland also proudly announced that the United States had spent “over five billion dollars to assist” the country:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as the promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over five billion dollars to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine. [from 7:30 mins]

Not that the US have been alone in lavishing their money on Ukraine. The Chinese have also been investing heavily since the financial crisis began, buying into everything from agriculture to railways, and of course, back in mid-December, the Russians were busy brokering their own bailout deal:

Russia lavished Ukraine with a bailout package worth at least $20 billion Tuesday [Dec 17th], trumping the West in a Cold War-tinged struggle that keeps the former Soviet republic in Moscow’s orbit.

Announced after talks in the Kremlin between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday, the deal gives Ukraine loans and cheaper natural-gas supplies.

It appears to be substantially larger and the terms less restrictive than the aid the West had been offering to entice Ukraine to sign the EU’s trade-and-political accord. Russian officials said the first $3 billion in credits could be released within days.

“Ukraine’s trade with Russia makes it impossible for us to act in any other way,” Mr. Yanukovych said, referring to the deep economic links between the two countries. “There is no alternative to this.”

Hardly surprisingly, the pro-EU (and anti-Russia) protesters disagreed. The same Wall Street Journal article reminding us:

Those demonstrators—and Ukraine’s opposition—were livid at the news of the deal with Moscow on Tuesday.

“He has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian,” an opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, told crowds on Kiev’s Independence Square.

Possibly true, however, the alternative is to give up independence to the IMF and the EU (which along with close associates the ECB make up the rightly hated Troika). Giving up sovereignty to “the Troika” will mean the imposition of savage “austerity measures”.

Here’s what John McCain said in a speech at the Atlantic Council just a week after Nuland on December 19th:

“Fifth, if Ukraine’s political crisis persists or deepens, which is a real possibility, we must support creative Ukrainian efforts to resolve it. Senator Murphy and I heard a few such ideas last weekend – from holding early elections, as the opposition is now demanding, to the institution of a technocratic government with a mandate to make the difficult reforms required for Ukraine’s long-term economic health and sustainable development.” [my bold highlight added]

The people of Italy and Greece are already rather familiar with “the institution of a technocratic government”, both nations having suffered under the appointments of Goldman Sachs usurpers Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos respectively. McCain is recommending that the opposition in Ukraine should be prepared to opt for similar conditions of economic dictatorship and their own hefty dose of shock therapy. Is this what revolution in Ukraine might bring?

Click here to read McCain’s full statement.

Returning Victoria Nuland’s presentation at the “US-Ukraine Foundation”, and how do those apparent sponsors Chevron and Exxon Mobil fit into the bigger picture?

This is from Reuters on November 5th:

Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with U.S. Chevron (CVX.N) on Tuesday [Nov 5th], another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia. [my bold highlight]

Ukraine Energy Minister Eduart Stavytsky, who signed the deal with Chevron executive Derek Magness, set it in the context of a high price Ukraine pays Russia for its gas.

“This is one more step towards achieving full energy independence for the state. This will bring cheaper gas prices and the sort of just prices which exist (elsewhere) in the world,” he said.

Yes, Chevron are in it for the frack… and as for Exxon Mobil, they get ample rewards too. Another article from Bloomberg on the same day reporting that:

Ukraine announced natural gas deals with Chevron Corp (CVX) and Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM) in a push to cut costs by two-thirds and reduce its dependence on Russia.

The Ukrainian government signed a production-sharing agreement with Chevron for extraction of shale gas in the Oleske field, Energy Minister Eduard Stavytskyi said today at a press conference in Kiev. Another production-sharing agreement with an Exxon-led group for exploring the Skifska field in the Black Sea may follow by the end of the month, he said.

Victoria Nuland speaks of building “democratic skills and institutions” and promoting “civic participation and good governance”, but this contest over Ukraine really has nothing at all to do with freedom and democracy – and those large corporate adverts say it all. This is actually about money and fossil fuels. It’s the geostrategic interests, stupid!

*

1 From an article entitled “Syria Ghouta Gas Attack: Assad a Thug and Murderer, Says US Secretary of State John Kerry” written by Gianluca Mezzofiore, published by International Business Times on August 30, 2013. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-assad-thug-murderer-john-kerry-502675

2 From an article entitled “New analysis of rocket used in Syria chemical attack undercuts U.S. claims” written by Matthew Schofield, published by McClatchy on January 15, 2014. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214656/new-analysis-of-rocket-used-in.html

3 From an article entitled “The silent military coup that took over Washington: This time it’s Syria, last time it was Iraq. Obama chose to accept the entire Pentagon of the Bush era: its wars and its war crimes” written by John Pilger, published in the Guardian on September 10, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/10/silent-military-coup-took-over-washington

4 From a transcript of John Kerry’s statement at Geneva II conference on January 22, 2014. Published by the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-john-kerrys-remarks-at-geneva-ii-conference-on-syria-on-jan-22/2014/01/22/f2ec3a56-83b8-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html

6 From an article entitled “Whose Sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published by the London Review of Books on December 19, 2013. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

7 From an article entitled “More Than 50 Countries Helped the CIA Outsource Torture” written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on February 5, 2013. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/54-countries-rendition/

8 From an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Ed Husain, published by the Council on Foreign Relations on August 6, 2012. http://www.cfr.org/syria/al-qaedas-specter-syria/p28782

9 The quote taken from Craig Murray’s testimony given to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on April 28, 2009. His remarks are made 6:15 mins into the video embedded below:

Murray has also provided more detailed accounts of the kinds of torture involved, including the torture of children in front of their parents, on other occasions. For instance, you can hear his account from in the speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” on freedom of expression given at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin in March 2012 and already embedded above [from approx 34–36 mins].

10

“I am a reluctant whistleblower, as you’ll see from those telegrams going around [copies had been passed out to the audience]. I was attempting internally, using classification in secret, to stop the policy of obtaining intelligence from torture. And I did think that I would be able to stop it. I had no idea that government ministers throughout the civilised so-called world had decided that we should use torture as an instrument of policy. I thought that this must be something the security services were doing without the knowledge of politicians and that I would be able to stop it. That’s why I sent those telegrams. In fact, sadly, the West had moved to a policy of advocating torture.” [from 23:50 mins]

11 From an article entitled “Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seeks Asylum” written by Jeffrey Donovan, published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on September 1, 2008. http://www.rferl.org/content/Former_Uzbek_Spy_Seeks_Asylum/1195372.html

12 According to a White House press release dated September 28, 2011 which reads:

“President Obama spoke with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan earlier today by phone. President Obama congratulated President Karimov on Uzbekistan’s 20 years of independence, and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.  The President and President Karimov discussed their shared desire to develop a multi-dimensional relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan, including by strengthening the contacts between American and Uzbek civil societies and private sector.  President Obama expressed our view that a more prosperous and secure Uzbekistan benefits both countries, and that advancing democracy supports that goal.  The two presidents also discussed their shared interests in supporting a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan and discussed the efforts we are undertaking together to further that goal.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/28/readout-president-s-call-president-karimov-uzbekistan

13 From an article entitled “Can evidence of mass killings in Syria end the inertia? Only with Putin’s help” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on January 21, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/21/evidence-mass-murder-syria-end-inertia-putin?CMP=twt_gu&commentpage=1

14 From an article entitled “Syria report: One is reminded of Nazi Germany” written by Robert Fisk, published by The Independent on January 21, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-report-one-is-reminded-of-nazi-germany-9075743.html?origin=internalSearch

15 From an article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

16 As then- poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously commemorated the incident in a narrative poem of the same title.

17 From an article entitled “Angela Merkel: Victoria Nuland’s remarks on EU are unacceptable” written by Ed Pilkington, Luke Harding “and agencies”, published in the Guardian on February 7, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/07/angela-merkel-victoria-nuland-eu-unacceptable

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Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, austerity measures, Bahrain, Craig Murray, drones, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Iran, John Pilger, Qatar, Russia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Ukraine, USA, Uzbekistan

first ‘flaregate’ – now police beat up disabled man at Barton Moss protest: solidarity march on Sunday 26th

Police are conducting searches at an anti-fracking protest camp after a flare was allegedly fired at a police helicopter.

So begins a report in The Independent from a fortnight ago. It continues:

A flare was aimed directly at the approach path of the aircraft as it came into land at Barton airfield in Eccles, Greater Manchester, police said.

The aircrew said it appeared to come from the nearby campsite in Barton Moss Road at about 12.15am on Saturday. […]

Chief Superintendent Mark Roberts, of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), said: “This was an unbelievably stupid act of criminality which was extremely dangerous, not only for the police helicopter, but all other aircraft that use the nearby Barton airfields and the wider public.

“Had this flare caused an emergency situation it would not only have been catastrophic for the aircraft and its crew but potentially for numerous homes near the airfield, the M62 motorway and a children’s residential facility.1

These are, of course, extremely serious allegations. To fire a flare at an aircraft is indeed an “unbelievably stupid act of criminality” and has to be promptly investigated and prosecuted. So it was little surprise that soon after the alleged incident the Greater Manchester Police were issued a warrant by a local court to systematically search the anti-fracking camp. But they found nothing. In response, the protesters themselves called for an inquiry:

“The only violence that we have seen has been conducted by Greater Manchester Police. This is just an excuse to search our through our property and gather evidence.”

Rachel Thompson, from Frack Free Greater Manchester, added: “We refute this claim. Greater Manchester Police have refused to show any evidence of this alleged incident. The behaviour of Greater Manchester Police has been outrageous throughout this whole campaign. In our eyes this is just another aggressive tactic aimed at isolating the camp from the community and to put them in a bad light.

“‘We have asked for a meeting with the Police Commissioner, Tony Lloyd, to discuss the disgusting behaviour of his officers and have been refused. This matter is now with our lawyers but we wish to make it clear that we stand by Barton Moss Community Protection Camp and we call for an inquiry into this alleged incident.”

Click here to read the full report in The Independent.

By Monday 6th this story was mainstream, but by the 7th it is all but lost. Two weeks later, and the story has faded away altogether – try a google search yourself, I can find nothing new.

Now there are only really three possibilities: i) that one or more genuine protesters at the camp really did fire a flare at a police helicopter; ii) that a flare was fired by an agent provocateur; or iii) that the entire story is a police fabrication concocted with intent to tar the image of the Barton Moss camp and the anti-fracking protest movement more widely.

Given the total absence of physical evidence, whether in the form of surveillance footage (for instance from the helicopter itself), or materials subsequently recovered during the search of the camp, we must give credence to this third possibility. That yet another police force is involved in a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. But then, given the comparative seriousness of these latest allegations, the potential ramifications of ‘flaregate’ must far outweigh the more publicised story of ‘plebgate‘. Surely, therefore, a fully independent inquiry – as demanded by the protest organisers themselves – ought be set up to establish the truth or otherwise of these police allegations.

But irrespective of the truth or falsehood of the alleged flare incident, and also putting aside the invasive search of the camp that resulted, protesters at the camp report being routinely subjected to many forms of police harassment and intimidation. For instance, on Wednesday 8th, the day after Manchester magistrates removed all bail conditions that had initially been imposed on protesters arrested by the Greater Manchester Police, GMP officers nevertheless took the decision to rearrest protester Colin Gong on the grounds that he was breaching those same revoked bail conditions. Here is footage both of Colin Gong’s wrongful arrest and also the officers’ shamefaced volte-face:

However, the most savage instance of police intimidation occurred yesterday [January 20th] when a disabled legal observer, Sean O’Donnell, who was filming and reporting a crime to a senior chief inspector was, apparently without provocation, violently accosted by members of GMP TAU (Tactical Aid Unit), who allegedly kicked his legs (one false) from under him while threatening to arrest and detain him for “obstruction”. The footage he recorded is extremely incriminating and very shocking:

If the video is taken down for any reason, the same footage is available at http://bambuser.com/v/4284486.

Sean O’Donnell, who is known as Kris, was later reported to be vomiting and was only taken to hospital at the custody sergeant’s insistence – the arresting officers having wanted to put him in a cell. It’s reported that he had requested medical assistance at the site but was told none was available.

There is also a report of the same incident in today’s Guardian which reads:

O’Donnell claims he vomited before being put in a police van and taken to Swinton police station, with officers ignoring his pleas for a paramedic to attend.

He said the custody sergeant agreed to call an ambulance when he got to the station, and he was taken to Salford’s royal hospital.

After a CT scan and X-ray under police guard he was released back to the police station after receiving treatment, and was later charged.

Simon Pook, a lawyer from Robert Lizar solicitors, representing O’Donell and 35 other arrested protesters from the site, said police refused to let him visit his client in his hospital bed.

The lawyer said he lodged a formal complaint with GMP after an officer allegedly pushed him in the chest at the hospital and told him to “fuck off”.

According to the same article, lawyer, Simon Pook, will “lodge a legal argument in Manchester magistrates court on behalf of the protesters” on January 27th.

*

Update & Correction:

On Wednesday [Jan 22nd], Sean ‘Kris’ O’Donnell was interviewed about Monday night’s incident by Ian Crane on the internet news show “Fracking Nightmare”. It transpires that contrary to earlier statements Kris O’Donnell does not have a prosthetic limb but that he does suffer from severe disability in one leg.

In an extended 45 minute interview, Kris O’Donnell confirms that his legs were kicked from under him and that he then remembers his head being forced into the ground. He says that he immediately lost consciousness but then woke up vomiting. He says that he was then taken away and refused medical assistance in spite of making ten requests. He claims that he was then forced into a tiny cell and locked up sitting in his own vomit for “upwards of one hour”.

Kris O’Donnell further alleges that he had “fully intended refusing any bail conditions and going to court the next morning” adding that he was “not once cautioned at the point of arrest – the only caution I ever received was [during] the final five minutes at the police station”. He also says that “the police refused to allow me to be interviewed under the standard conditions of a recorded interview with my lawyer present”. He has now been formally charged with obstructing the highway and resisting arrest. In the interview, he also questions why the government is allowing the use of heavy-handed police teams like TAU (Tactical Aid Unit) against peaceful protesters. You can watch the interview 25 mins in:

 

On January 20th Greater Manchester Police released the following statement:

“Greater Manchester Police is aware of the footage relating to yesterday’s arrest and this has now been passed to GMP’s Professional Standards Branch. Officers are also looking into allegations that a lorry attending the site had an unlawful number plate. Enquiries are ongoing.”

*

The protest at Barton Moss against IGas gas fracking exploration is set to continue until April when the drilling is expected to halt (at least temporarily). This coming weekend [Sunday 26th] will be marked by another “Solidarity Sunday”. The last solidarity march two weeks earlier on January 12th attracted in the region of five hundred to a thousand people:

There is a coach courtesy of “Frack Free South Yorkshire” leaving from Sheffield train station (outside the Sheffield Tap pub) at 10:30 am. The details for booking a seat and other pick-up points from Doncaster to Sheffield as well as drop-off times for the return journey are listed at the very end of the article.

The main assembly point for the demonstration will again be at the Salford City Reds’ Stadium car park, Stadium Way, Eccles, M30 7EY with the march setting off at 1.00pm. On the following map, the location of the stadium is marked:

Arriving from the East, you need to take the south side of the M60 Manchester ring road. Come off at Junction 11. It’s then the first exit after you go over the huge Manchester Ship Canal bridge. You’ll see the Reds Stadium on your left as you go over the bridge. Go left on the roundabout, sign posted A57 Irlam. As you leave the built up area keep an eye out for a sign that says “Demo Parking next left”. It’s left at the traffic lights (just in case someone nicks the sign). There will also be stewards to direct you. Here is higher resolution map of the final stages of the route:

You will find a map of the protest site along with details for travel (by bus and rail) and for contacting the protest organisers here.

A gallery of photos of the protest so far is also available on the Guardian website [from Monday 13th].

*

Frack Free South Yorkshire have arranged a coach for our region. Just a £3 contribution is needed and any extra given will go towards funds for your local group. Details of the trip are below.

Date: Sunday 26th January

Coach – 49 seats with Browns Coaches Ltd

Pick up times

09.00 Doncaster (Ward Brothers (Furnishers) Limited, 29-40 Waterdale, Doncaster, DN1 3EZ)

09.30 Maltby (Queens Hotel, Tickhill Road, Maltby, S667NQ)

10.00 Rotherham (Parkgate Shopping, Stadium Way, Rotherham, S60 1TG)

10.30 Sheffield (Train Station – outside the Sheffield Tap pub – to the far left of the train station)

12.00 Eccles, Stadium Way, Manchester (Coach drop-off + meeting place for start of rally – 12min walk to the site)

17.00 COACH DEPARTS: Eccles, Stadium Way, Manchester

Approximate drop-off times

18.30 Sheffield (Train Station – outside the Sheffield Tap pub – to the far left of the train station)

19.00 Rotherham (Parkgate Shopping, Stadium Way, Rotherham, S60 1TG)

19.30 Maltby (Queens Hotel, Tickhill Road, Maltby, S667NQ)

20.00 Doncaster (Ward Brothers (Furnishers) Limited, 29-40 Waterdale, Doncaster, DN1 3EZ)

If you wish to go please email us at (jay_ffsy@live.com) with the following details

1) Name

2) Pick up point

3) Mobile number (optional)

Things to bring

Banner/signage representing your community and the extreme energy development you’re resisting
Warm/waterproof clothes
Food & water
Plus Anything from the camp’s wish-list: http://northerngasgala.org.uk/whattobring/(PLEASE NOTE: the items will have to fit in the coach luggage space & nothing flammable.

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Further update:

On Sunday, an estimated thousand protesters arrived on about fifteen coaches from all across the country. It was the first nationwide anti-fracking gathering of its kind. There were also a number of TV companies who covered the event including ITN and a team from France 24.

One of those interviewed was Vanessa Vine whose live debate with Conservative MP Peter Lilley was broadcast on Channel 4 news and can be watched here.

For further coverage of Sunday’s Barton Moss solidarity demonstration, including interviews with other protesters, I also recommend the latest offering (episode 13) of the internet news show “Fracking Nightmare”:

*

1 From an article entitled “Anti-fracking protesters claim police using incident involving flare ‘aimed at aircraft’ as an excuse to search through the camp”, published in The Independent on January 6, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/antifracking-protesters-claim-police-using-incident-involving-flare-aimed-at-aircraft-as-an-excuse-to-search-through-camp-9041763.html

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Filed under Britain, campaigns & events, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), police state

fracking is just one symptom of our diseased democracies: how do we find a cure?

Of all the many troubles we face, from the huge repercussions of giving free rein to a criminal and insolvent financial services ‘industry’, to the rapid installment of a super-Orwellian grid for mass surveillance thanks to the NSA and GCHQ (and it’s hard to draw a clear division between the two agencies since evidently they share so much of our data and metadata), there is one that fills me with a more imminent sense of foreboding. That singular issue, fracking, my personal bugbear (at least for the present), somehow encapsulating everything that is so diabolically wrong with our democracies.

A branch-line of arguably the most ruthless and disreputable of all corporate sectors – takes some doing, but the hydrocarbon industry would at the very least be nominated for such an award, and that’s to say nothing of fracking pioneers Halliburton – first puts out its totally ludicrous lie that fracking has never caused any significant damage either to the environment or to human health. Notwithstanding such scandalous denials, the spokesmen of this same industry then lie again in efforts to allay our fears, making contradictory assertions that fracking in the UK will be completely, absolutely, and categorically different to more lax fracking practices carried out in other places. Perhaps even more flabbergasting, however, is that anyone outside of the industry gives credence to any of these corporate refutations and guarantees, yet predictably, it seems, some do… which amply illustrates the efficacy of a deviously clever and exceedingly well-funded public relations campaign.

Nevertheless, as trial drilling began in Britain, protesters gathered in huge numbers – just as anti-fracking protesters have gathered in huge numbers throughout the world. They came out to remind our contemptible Con-Dem government that this is not simply an environmental issue (as vitally important as this is), but that without proper consultation with local communities, any permission granted to frack under our neighbourhoods means yet another stab into the heart of (what we laughably still call) our democracy.

So back in early July, shortly after government plans for widespread fracking in Britain had been revealed, I decided to contact local constituency Labour MP Paul Blomfield in order to express my alarm. At the time I didn’t know if Blomfield felt similarly concerned about fracking nor the Labour Party’s official position. But I dashed off a quick email as follows:

Dear Paul,

The most pressing environmental issue facing this area of the world right now is fracking. Please stand up and challenge these plans to begin destroying our beautiful countryside and poisoning the precious ground water.

Best wishes,

James Boswell

Not the best email I’ve ever written, and after a month without reply I imagined it had found its contents emptied into Paul Blomfield’s recycle bin. But no, come mid August [14th] and to my surprise, Blomfield had put together an extended reply that was waiting in my own inbox:

Dear James

Thank you for your e-mail concerning fracking.

It must be a top priority to decarbonise our power supply as a matter of urgency if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. This is why the Labour party has said this will be in our manifesto at the General Election. Indeed I challenged David Cameron on a decarbonisation target for the power sector at Prime Minister’s Questions in February and pressed the issue with the Energy Secretary Ed Davey in June. I feel strongly about these issues, am a member of Sheffield Renewables and recently, working with Green Alliance UK, organised a city-wide conference on the potential of community energy schemes.

However I would not completely rule out any role for shale gas within the UK’s energy mix, if it is accompanied by an expansion of renewable energy capacity and investment in carbon capture and storage. But it makes no sense at all for the Government to announce tax breaks and industry incentives before we know how much shale gas is actually recoverable, or before anyone even has a licence to extract it. This money should instead have been used to kick-start a major national retrofit scheme, which would reduce carbon emissions and bills and create thousands green-collar jobs. The UK has among the best renewable resources / technology in the world and we should be seizing this great opportunity, including research in to carbon capture and storage.

Finally, it is vital that we fully address the wider environmental concerns associated with fracking. It is therefore crucial that Parliament is able to properly scrutinise the Government’s proposals and to ensure that key environmental safeguards are met and that there is robust regulation and comprehensive monitoring in place.

The Labour Party has consistently called for a new regulatory regime for fracking, recognising that the current system is outdated and unworkable. We haven’t jumped on the “dash-for-gas” bandwagon and have instead set out six conditions that need to be met before fracking should be allowed:

1. Mandated disclosure of chemicals used in fracking and assessment by regulator of their potential environmental impact and only non-hazardous chemicals to be used in fracking mix.

2. Must be a full assessment of the well integrity to ensure casing and borehole not susceptible to leaking; this must meet current industry standards for other types of drilling.

3. Micro-seismic monitoring of the area prior to any drilling to determine what the potential impact would be on local area.

4. Full assessment of impact of water use on local community, including assessment of how much of the water will be reused or recycled.

5. An assessment of groundwater methane levels prior to fracking.

6. There should be at least a full year’s monitoring of all of the above before any drilling can proceed.

Labour’s Shadow Minister for energy has set out more on our position here: http://centrallobby.politicshome.com/latestnews/article-detail/newsarticle/tom-greatrex-osborne-should-listen-to-obama-on-shale/

Thank you once again for writing to me and sharing your views.

Best wishes,

Paul

Grateful for receiving a genuine response, I was also dismayed. Apparently the Labour Party too – our only major party not in government! – also has big plans for natural gas fracking. Picking between the lines I read “The Labour Party has consistently called for a new regulatory regime for fracking” with Blomfield’s personal position being “I would not completely rule out any role for shale gas within the UK’s energy mix”. In other words, we’ll do fracking too although we’ll be careful to avoid any of that nasty old Tory fracking. New Labour – new fracking! I suppose I shouldn’t have expected anything different, but it was depressing nonetheless. I wrote back forthwith:

Dear Paul,

I am grateful to you for replying to my letter but feel that I must disagree with you on a number of important points. To keep this simple, I will try to respond with reference to the points as enumerated.

1. I fail to see how fracking can be done at all without the use of hazardous chemicals. Can you provide examples of fracking carried out anywhere else in the world that uses an environmentally benign mixture of chemicals?

When selling the scheme in Poland the industry also claimed that only non-hazardous chemicals would be used but this turned out to be an outright and deliberate lie.

2. Well casings fail time and time again, I forget the exact percentage but any claim that well casings can be made absolutely secure from leaking is simply another industry lie.

4. Fracking requires enormous quantities of fresh water which will put an immediate strain on our reserves in areas where it is carried out. Much of this water never returns to the surface, which is surely worrying enough, the rest is then polluted not only with the chemicals added but also with any heavy metals and radioactive isotopes dissolved from the shale. Since this contaminated water is costly to dispose of the industry has been caught many times simply spreading it on roads or fields or wherever else happens to be convenient.

5. An assessment of methane levels prior to fracking is better than nothing but it only serves to help in the case of claims for compensation after the damage is done and when people discover their property has become uninhabitable. This has again happened over and over again but the industry regularly uses bribes, threats and non-disclosure agreements to cover up the fact.

6. One year’s monitoring is nothing. Why the big rush? If fracking offers such a potential boon then surely any government should first convince a concerned public by having a proper public debate on the issue.

Additionally, I cannot understand how dislodging large amounts of methane from shale can in anyway help to decarbonise the country. Methane itself is a far more effective greenhouse gas than CO2 and when it is burned again it simply produces CO2.

I am a physicist by training and in truth I am dismayed by the complete lack of imagination and investment when it comes to finding and developing alternative sources of energy. At the beginning of the twenty-first century surely we must find better and cleaner solutions for securing our long term energy needs. We live on a small island surrounded by ocean, so whatever happened to plans for wave and tidal power for instance? Fracking is a short-sighted, short term solution that pollutes land and water and endangers human populations. It is being promoted by the same people who brought us Deep Water Horizon (quite literally in the case of Lord Browne who is the man behind Cuadrilla) and yet for some reason we are now being asked to trust them.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to the case of Jessica Ernst who is a Canadian environmental scientist in the process of suing the energy company Encana for the damage done by fracking in Alberta. She points out that although Canada has the highest environmental standards and tightest regulations in the world, when it came to fracking the industry managed to run roughshod over all of that. Here is a link where you can access the relevant documents: http://www.ernstversusencana.ca/

Thanks again for replying to my previous letter. Hopefully, I have now more clearly outlined my objections to plans for widespread fracking of our beautiful island. I look forward to hearing from you.

James

Three months (to the day) have since passed and I am yet to receive any further reply from Paul Blomfield.

More recently I came across yet another documentary investigating environmental and health issues associated with fracking, this time focussing attention on the rush for gas in Britain and, in particular, plans for extensive drilling throughout the Mendips as well as the immediate effects of the test drilling already carried out in Lancashire.

The Truth Behind the Dash For Gas takes a detailed look at the contamination of land and drinking water, seismic effects, as well as other less immediately toxic or hazardous strains that fracking puts on local communities. It starts out, however, by simply making the more straightforward assertion that the UK government has been deeply infiltrated by industry insiders. As evidence for this, it offers a summarised breakdown of appointments to government courtesy of Lord Browne of Cuadrilla (formerly of BP), who had himself been appointed as the government’s “lead non-executive director” in 2010:

He will be the government’s “lead non-executive director”, working with cabinet ministers to appoint people to improve efficiency in each department.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude said Lord Browne’s experience would be of “real benefit”.

The appointment comes as Whitehall is being asked to make spending cuts averaging 25% over five years.

Lord Browne will sit on the Cabinet Office board, chaired by Mr Maude. This will look to take on non-executive directors for all government departments.1

Click here to read the full BBC news report.

Another article published more recently in July of this year by The Independent going on to point out that:

There are more than 60 “non-executives” (Neds) who sit across Whitehall departments, largely drawn from Britain’s most impressive corporate talent. Their job is to help ministries be run in a more business-like manner, and Lord Browne is the overall lead for this group.

Lord Browne sits within the Cabinet Office. The Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude’s constituency includes Balcombe in West Sussex, another area where Cuadrilla is drilling. On his website, Mr Maude acknowledges that fracking “understandably rang alarm bells” after the tremors in Lancashire, but argues that “shale gas could help significantly by contributing both to improving our security and independence and to keeping prices down”.

Mr Laidlaw has been the lead non-executive at the Department for Transport. Centrica, which owns British Gas, recently bought a one-quarter stake in Cuadrilla’s most promising licence, which is the one in Lancashire.

Baroness Hogg sits in the Treasury, but she is also a non-executive director at BG Group, which has extensive shale gas interests in the US.2

Incidentally, you can find a list of these non-executive directors in Whitehall departments here.

So if it wasn’t bad enough that our politicians are quite openly bought off by lobbyists, the appointments of non-executive directors means that corporations are now also granted an unelected but direct foothold throughout government. As the bloated corporatocracy becomes ever more bloated, our remaining elected representatives presumably wondering who they more profitably serve. They say they work for us, but aside from the website theyworkforyou.com where’s the evidence? Returning to the issue at hand, are the electorate jumping up and down and demanding to be fracked? I certainly don’t hear them. The corporate ‘Neds’ on the other hand…!

George Monbiot expounds the same point in his latest Guardian article entitled “It’s business that really rules us now” and captioned “Lobbying is the least of it: corporate interests have captured the entire democratic process.” His article begins:

It’s the reason for the collapse of democratic choice. It’s the source of our growing disillusionment with politics. It’s the great unmentionable. Corporate power. The media will scarcely whisper its name. It is howlingly absent from parliamentary debates. Until we name it and confront it, politics is a waste of time.

The political role of business corporations is generally interpreted as that of lobbyists, seeking to influence government policy. In reality they belong on the inside. They are part of the nexus of power that creates policy. They face no significant resistance, from either government or opposition, as their interests have now been woven into the fabric of all three main political parties in Britain.

After supplying a range of pertinent examples, Monbiot continues:

The role of the self-hating state is to deliver itself to big business. In doing so it creates a tollbooth economy: a system of corporate turnpikes, operated by companies with effective monopolies.

It’s hardly surprising that the lobbying bill – now stalled by the House of Lords – offered almost no checks on the power of corporate lobbyists, while hog-tying the charities who criticise them. But it’s not just that ministers are not discouraged from hobnobbing with corporate executives: they are now obliged to do so.

Thanks to an initiative by Lord Green, large companies have ministerial “buddies”, who have to meet them when the companies request it. There were 698 of these meetings during the first 18 months of the scheme, called by corporations these ministers are supposed be regulating. Lord Green, by the way, is currently a government trade minister. Before that he was chairman of HSBC, presiding over the bank while it laundered vast amounts of money stashed by Mexican drugs barons. Ministers, lobbyists – can you tell them apart?3

Click here to read the complete article published in the Guardian.

But unfortunately, it’s even worse than that. The corporatocracy already transcending national boundaries and thanks to behind closed-doors “free trade agreements”, quickly reaching a point where corporations will not merely be embedded with governments but enjoying equal status with nation states:

The United States and European Union (EU) are in closed-door negotiations to establish a Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) that would elevate individual corporations to equal status with nation states. Seriously.

The pact is slated to include a foreign investor privileges scheme that would empower foreign corporations to bypass domestic laws and courts and demand taxpayer compensation for government actions or policies to safeguard clean air, safe food and stable banks.

This “investor-state” enforcement system would grant foreign firms the power to drag the U.S. and EU governments before extrajudicial tribunals — comprised of three private attorneys — that would be authorized to order unlimited taxpayer compensation for domestic health, financial, environmental and other public interest policies the corporations claim undermine their “expected future profits.” And, there would be no outside appeal.4

So writes Lori Wallach , someone who has testified on NAFTA, WTO, and other globalisation issues before thirty U.S. congressional committees and is currently Director of Public Citizen‘s Global Trade Watch.

Click here to read Lori Wallach’s complete article on Huffington Post.

Around the time that negotiations started on this US-EU free trade deal back in July, claims that it would lead to “an economic bonanza” also came under close scrutiny in the Guardian. Dean Baker, who is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (not to be confused with the unrelated Centre for Economic Policy Research in the UK) , pointing out that:

As growth policy, this trade deal doesn’t pass the laugh test, but that doesn’t mean that it may not be very important to a number of special interests and, for this reason, bad news for most of the public. Since conventional barriers to trade between the US and EU are already very low, the focus of the deal will be on non-conventional barriers, meaning various regulatory practices.

Each industry group has a list of regulations that it finds troublesome, which it has been unable to eliminate or weaken at the national or sub-national level. An EU-US trade agreement provides these industry groups with an opportunity to do an end-run around such regulation.

For example, several countries in Europe and many state and county governments in the United States impose restrictions that make fracking difficult or impossible. In their dream agreement, the oil and gas industries will have a set of minimal restrictions on fracking. The deal will then define anything more stringent as a restraint on trade subject to penalties.

Yes, it’s a deal that once again helps to open the way to that old devil called fracking, but not just fracking… it will loosen regulations for big agra, big pharma, and the financial services ‘industry’. It may even permit tightening of controls that limit the freedom of the internet and without any need for bills like PIPA and SOPA to be passed into law:

There are likely to be similar effects on food regulation. Europe has far more restrictions on genetically modified foods and crops than the United States. Since it is not possible, given current European politics, for the industry to get these restrictions eliminated, it will be looking to include provisions in a trade deal that define limits on genetically modified foods and crops as trade barriers.

Millions of people took part in the efforts last year to defeat Sopa and Pipa, two bills that would require individuals and internet intermediaries to proactively work to stop the transmission of unauthorized reproductions of copyrighted material. The entertainment industry would very much like to include comparable provisions in a trade agreement, so that it can avoid having to have another fight over this issue in Congress.

The financial industry will also be at the table trying to include language that limits the ability of governments to impose regulations. It is likely that it will try to include wording that would make it impossible to enforce a financial transactions tax like the one now being considered by the European Union. Although the industry may not be able to sway enough votes in European parliaments to prevent them from supporting a tax, they can use an EU-US trade deal to make that fact irrelevant.5

Click here to read Dean Baker’s complete Guardian article

Monbiot says “I don’t blame people for giving up on politics” by which he means, I suppose, giving up on our current party political system. However, there are myriad alternative ways in which people remain very actively engaged in politics, and arguably, there have been few times in history when more people have been politically engaged (or perhaps I better mean enraged!) than during recent years.

With our governments already captured by special interests, it is just two years since many hundreds of thousands took to the streets to camp out in protest. Los Indignados leading the way, followed by Occupy Wall Street and then the wider Occupy movement. Those millions failed, but since their dissent was representative of even greater numbers who stayed at home, their valiant stand remains as a political marker. And since Occupy packed up their tents and retreated, the numbers of disaffected have only continued to rise, even if our cries of distress and anger are that much harder to hear. Irrefutably there is indeed a burgeoning interest in politics and a growing desire for a new political direction.

In the long run, protests will only get any movement so far, in any case, and so serious engagement with the democratic remnants of the extant political system is actually the only practical and realistic way forward. Credible and detailed programmes for real change, a basic requirement. Our new policies in turn requiring electable representatives to carry them forward. To take our democracies back we simply have to make use of the ballot box.

In the shorter term, however, protests do indeed help to bring about important, if generally, more local victories. And for once, the documentary I have featured above actually ends on a positive note. Since in spite of the Australian government’s keenness to give fracking the go-ahead, public hostility and the resulting anti-fracking campaign known as Lock the Gate has quickly gathered momentum to become an immense obstacle to further drilling. The campaigners driving the industry away from region after region, and real grassroots democracy for once beating back corporate greed.

The lesson, if we needed it, is that direct action really works – so (and certainly when it comes to fracking) why not follow Australia’s fine example? Meanwhile, letters to your MP cost nothing, and at the very least may help to sow a few seeds of doubt in the minds of our supposed representatives. To reap fuller rewards, however, we need first to retake ownership of territory other than the immediate landscape outside our doors, as vital as that is. We must aim instead to recapture the political heartland itself. Occupying not the streets outside Whitehall, but the corridors of power within. Following this, we may finally be able to start the lengthy treatment needed to cure the main disease, which is corporatocracy – the worst of its symptoms, such as fracking, will then, in turn, abate.

*

Update:

Yesterday [Nov 13th] wikileaks released a 95-page draft of a chapter relating to a different behind closed doors ‘free trade’ agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The agreement, which is being negotiated between the United States and twelve Pacific Rim nations, could also have wide-reaching implications for internet freedom, civil liberties, publishing rights and medicine accessibility with changes to laws on intellectual property rights, product safety and environmental regulations. Today’s Democracy Now! hosted a debate between Bill Watson, who is an analyst at the Cato Institute, and Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch:

 

Here is a brief overview of the debate:

LORI WALLACH: Well, free trade is a pretty theory, but as yesterday’s WikiLeaks showed, the TPP has very little to do with free trade. So, only five of the 29 chapters of the agreement even have to do with trade at all. What’s in that intellectual property chapter? What the Cato Institute would call rent seeking—governments being lobbied by special interests to set up special rules that give them monopolies to charge higher prices. What does that mean for you and me? In that agreement, we now can see the United States is pushing for longer monopoly patents for medicines that would increase the prices here. They’re looking for patenting things like surgical procedures, making even higher medical costs. They’re looking to patent life forms and seeds. And with respect to copyright, the U.S. positions are actually even undermining U.S. law. So, for Internet freedom, if you didn’t like SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, the domestic law that Congress and amazing citizen activism killed last year when it was attempted to be pushed here domestically, huge chunks of SOPA are pushed through the backdoor of this intellectual property chapter.

Now, what the heck is that doing in a free trade agreement? I would imagine the Cato Institute is also wondering: Are Adam Smith and David Ricardo, the free trade philosophers, rolling in their graves? Because that is protectionism. This is patent monopolies. This is copyright extensions. This is actually exactly what Bill just talked about, which is powerful special interests—Big Pharma, Disney and the other big-content guys—undermining us as consumers—our access to the Internet, our access to affordable medicine—and they’re using their power to put that into an agreement that they’ve got misbranded as “free trade.”

BILL WATSON: This is a rare occasion where I do agree with Lori Wallach. I agree that what’s going on in the IP chapter is a special-interest free-for-all, a grab bag, that U.S. companies are pushing to get what they want in these agreements. And the problem, really, with that is that intellectual property is not a trade issue, and it shouldn’t be in the agreement. Originally, adding intellectual property into the agreement was a way to bring on more political support, to be able to bring in U.S. companies to counter other U.S. companies that would oppose the agreement. At this point, I think we’ve gotten to where the intellectual property chapters are so expansive that what you’re seeing is a domestic constituency, people concerned about copyright and patent reform, who are opposing the TPP, not because of anything having to do with trade, but just because it’s going to reform U.S. copyright and patent laws. […]

You know, I’m certainly glad that WikiLeaks published this report. Personally, I like to be able to read it. It’s very interesting. I wish that they would publish the rest of it, to show us the rest of the draft text. I don’t think that it would be, at this point, particularly harmful to the agreement to let us know something about the countries’ negotiating positions.

But I really—I really disagree that the TPP negotiations are especially secret. There’s a lot that goes on in Congress that the public doesn’t know about. When Congress writes a law, we don’t know in advance what it’s going to be before it gets proposed. So, they’re still trying to figure out what the contents of the agreement will be. They don’t know yet; they’re working on it.

LORI WALLACH: Well, first of all, this is extraordinarily secret. I’ve followed these negotiations since 1991 with NAFTA. And during NAFTA, any member of Congress could see any text. In fact, the whole agreement between negotiating rounds was put in the Capitol, accessible for them to look at. In 2001, the Bush administration published the entire Free Trade Area of the Americas text, when it was even in an earlier stage than TPP is right now, on government websites. They’ve even excluded members of Congress from observing the negotiations. I mean, this is extraordinary. […]

I mean, these agreements, once they’re implemented, you can’t change a comma unless all the other countries agree. It locks into place, super-glues, cements into place one vision of law that, as we’ve seen, has very little to do with trade. It’s about domestic food safety. Do we have to import food that doesn’t meet U.S. safety standards? It’s about setting up international tribunals—can’t imagine the Cato Institute likes that, global governance and all—where U.S. government could be sued and our Treasury raided by foreign corporations, who are rent seeking, compensation for not having to meet our own laws that our domestic companies have to meet. […]

The bottom line of all of this is we need a new procedure to replace fast track that gives the public the role and Congress the role to make sure what will be binding, permanent, global laws do not undermine either our democratic process of making policies at home—that we need—or that lock us into retrograde policies that the current 600 corporate trade advisers are writing to impose on us. So, we need a new way to make trade agreements to get different kinds of agreements. And the bottom line with TPP, as this WikiLeak just showed, it’s very dangerous. It’s not about trade. You’ve got to find out about it. And you’ve got to make sure your member of Congress maintains their constitutional authority. Democracy is messy. But I, myself, more trust the American public, the press and this Congress rather than 600 corporate advisers. We need to make sure what’s in that trade agreement suits us, and you all are going to be the difference in doing that.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the debate on the Democracy Now! website.

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1 From an article entitled “Ex-BP boss Lord Browne to lead Whitehall reform” published by BBC news on June 30, 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10467532

2 From an article entitled “Revealed: Fracking industry bosses at heart of coalition” published by The Independent on July 14, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/revealed-fracking-industry-bosses-at-heart-of-coalition-8707589.html

3 From an article entitled “It’s business that really rules us now” written by George Monbiot, published in the Guardian on November 11, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/11/business-rules-lobbying-corporate-interests

4 From an article entitled “’Trade’ Deal Would elevate Corporations to Equal Status With Nation States” written by Lori Wallach (Director, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch) published by Huffington Post on October 22, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-wallach/trade-deal-would-elevate_b_4143626.html

5 From an article entitled “The US-EU trade deal: don’t buy the hype” written by Dean Baker, published in the Guardian on July 15, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jul/15/us-trade-deal-with-europe-hype

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everything you always wanted to know about fracking (but were too afraid to ask)

Jessica Ernst, M.Sc. is a 55 year old Canadian environmental scientist with 30 years oil and gas industry experience. She is currently suing the Alberta government, Alberta energy regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), and EnCana for negligence and unlawful activities related to hydraulic fracturing. Click here to read more about the lawsuit.

Ernst’s statement of claim alleges that EnCana broke multiple provincial laws and regulations and contaminated a shallow aquifer that supplied drinking water to the Rosebud community with natural gas and toxic industry-related chemicals.

In March of this year, she gave a series of presentations (uploaded on youtube) about the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing, or “Fracking” across Ireland and the United Kingdom, which included talks in Lancashire (where test drilling began in Britain) and also Balcombe, Sussex. In these presentations she outlined her own case and explained more generally why she believes no healthy society should ever permit hydraulic fracturing.

In 2010, she was awarded the “Woman of Courage” award by UNANIMA International, a UN Economic and Social Council accredited NGO, for her efforts to hold companies accountable for environmental harm done by “fracking”.

I have embedded below a presentation she gave in America in 2012:

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The industry claims that “with a history of 60 years, after nearly a million wells drilled, there are no documented cases that hydraulic fracturing has lead to the contamination of water”. A statement which involves not one lie, but two.

Unearthed: The Fracking Facade is a short documentary film that sets the record straight by explaining how the hydraulic fracturing process has changed (with current practices having little more than a decade-long history) and how the industry has covered up its poor record of polluting by means of intimidation, plausible deniability and the widespread use of non-disclosure agreements, which force victims to remain silent in return for guarantees of support either in the form of clean water deliveries, relocation, or financial compensation:

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notes from a small island… about to be fracked

Saying that the British constantly talk (most often complaining) about the weather is a cliché but then clichés are often clichés because they happen to be true. And this one is true principally because Britain is a peculiarly weathery place. Rarely extreme (in spite of the frequent and increasingly stern Met Office warnings of “flood alerts” and whopping “level 3 heatwaves”) and yet by virtue of being geographically perched in a temperate maritime climatic zone, cursed by weather that is highly unpredictable and uncommonly capricious. Sunny one minute, “tipping it down” the next – we run the gamut of weather from icy to baking (sometimes in the space of twenty-four hours) and always with insufficient lorry-loads of grit or hopelessly inadequate access to air conditioning. Unpreparedness for regular seasonal changes being almost a matter of national pride.

So cast your mind back to last spring… or perhaps you don’t remember it because it never properly happened. Instead, we simply skipped spring and launched ourselves barechested into a scorching summer. Nevertheless, as April approached the news was that Britain was quickly getting herself into a bit of a weather-related pickle. Another overheated drought of sorts…

This year an unseasonably cold March has seen a spike in gas demand – with forecasters predicting this weekend could be the coldest in March for half a century.

Temperatures could drop to -3C in parts of the country, and the Met Office has already issued several severe weather warnings.

“Severe weather warnings” were a hazard we might negotiate, but then there was far worse news riding on the back of our especially dreary couple of months of inclemency:

A study by Reuters claimed that if the current cold snap continues as forecast, Britain could run out of gas by April 8. 1

This absolutely gobsmacking claim that Britain had “the equivalent of less than two days’ consumption remaining” (as the same Yahoo News story reported) being echoed right across the news media. And yet as April skated into May and then May sledged into June somehow the lights stayed on and the hot water kept on flowing. But just what might have happened if the sun had never got his hat on, would Britain have eventually run out of gas altogether? I mean just how unprepared can any nation be…?

The subtext of these stark messages was also clear. That what our nation so very urgently requires (aside from a hefty dose of sunlight for our pallid hides) is a reliable and ‘alternative’ supply of energy. Preferably – especially given the precise nature of our deficit – huge gas reserves directly beneath our feet.

Thankfully BBC news were ready to present us with just such a viable and almost immediate rescue package:

“Gas, we cook with it, we heat our homes, we use it to drive turbines to make electricity. The thing is we don’t have huge amounts of it. In fact we’re a net importer of gas.

What if we were standing on a new supply of UK gas? We’d want to take a look wouldn’t we? That’s what fracking is…”

So begins a characteristically upbeat and rather nannying BBC report delivered by Giles Dilnot on March 25th – and so right on cue to save the day.

Dilnot’s ‘report’ for the Daily Politics show was then closely followed by a debate (of sorts) between Cuadrilla Resources chief executive Francis Egan praising the wonders of shale gas that his company is so determined to get its grubby mitts on, whilst opposed and supposedly balanced by environmental campaigner Tony Juniper who says he objects to plans for a future powered by shale gas principally on the grounds of climate change. A discussion (available on the same link above) that was as consistently sidetracked and irritatingly one-dimensional as it was brief, and at every turn hindered by misdirected questions from mediator Andrew Neil, very likely addled on Blue Nun. Inevitably, therefore, all of the most salient points were skipped past or overlooked entirely; points which I will return to later (even if I’ve hammered those same points nearly to death in previous posts).

Come late April, however, and the BBC was in any case reporting more cautiously on the prospects of our shale gas energy renaissance:

Shale gas in the UK could help secure domestic energy supplies but may not bring down prices, MPs report. […]

The MPs say the UK’s shale gas developers will face technological uncertainties with different geology.

And public opinion may also be more sceptical, they add.

The UK is a more densely populated landscape, and shale gas operations will be closer to settlements as a consequence.

Interestingly, those same MPs felt that any undue concerns of the general public might be overcome by recourse to “cash sweeteners” offered to the local communities most affected (“cash sweeteners” being a form of inducement that MPs seem to know a lot about these days). Unfortunately, of course, even such direct forms of bribery only get you so far (since not everyone is as venal as most of our parliamentarians), added to which, there were a few other awkward hurdles that needed jumping:

The MPs believe operators will have to overcome potentially tighter regulations.

What is more, the extent of recoverable resources in the UK is also unknown, so the report concludes that it is too soon to say whether shale gas will achieve US-style levels of success. 2

Incidentally, “US-style levels of success” is another thing I will need to come back to later, and even if it again leads me to issues I’ve already hammered long and hard on many previous occasions…

Meanwhile, as May defrosted into June, and as the British public waited and waited for the sun to come out more fully attired… lo, another (minor) miracle!

UK firm IGas says there may be up to 170 trillion cubic feet (4,810 cubic km) of gas in the areas it is licensed to explore in northern England. […]

The company’s licences cover an area of 300 sq miles across Cheshire.

It had previously said it had about nine trillion cubic feet of shale gas. It now estimates that the volume of “gas initially in place” could range from 15.1 trillion cubic feet to 172.3 trillion cubic feet, the higher figure being nearly 20 times higher than the previous estimate.

The UK’s annual gas consumption is currently about 3 trillion cubic feet. […]

“Our estimates for our area alone could mean that the UK would not have to import gas for a period of 10 to 15 years”. 3

Yes, little more than a month had passed, and suddenly (as if completely out of the blue) it turned out that Britain has nearly limitless bags of lovely gas just waiting patiently to be defracked – potentially trillions and trillions of billowing cubic feet of the stuff. Enough gas for every man jack amongst us. Enough gas to power all our homes and factories, enough to keep the telly on and Andrew Neil tepid, enough even to satisfy that most gassy of gas-expelling institutions, our houses of parliament.

The same BBC article also provided us with a handy map showing the considerable swathes of black shale deposits running though the country like thick veins of fat coursing across a rasher of streaky bacon. And in the midst of these, those areas where onshore licences are now being granted. Areas which happen to surround my own beloved city of Sheffield like, like, like…

… like day-old bruises… or like the mottled skin of a plague victim. Since this is how such a map appears if you are inclined to turn your nose up at the prospect of poisoned land and contaminated water supplies the colour of crude oil, reeking of turps and fizzing with methane…

Yes this, unfortunately (and to finally return to those other issues), is precisely what those “US-style levels of success” have actually meant for countless farmers and other residents penned in by the hundreds of thousands of drilling rigs so tightly arrayed across the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin and far beyond to distant horizons. And soon, with dubious credit going to President Obama and his unrestrained assent for the thorough-going expansion of the fracking industry, there will be quite literally millions of similar rigs operating day and night from coast to coast across the whole of the United States. All this fracking bringing to the folks who happen to live in the ever-encroaching vicinities of the drilling, not so much a blessing, as a most terrible blight:

My daughter looks up. Her rash is all over her face. She has a nosebleed. Bob has a nosebleed, burning throat, burning eyes. I had a rash. It covered my scalp. It went through my entire body, literally to the bottoms of my feet. My throat would start swelling. I started gasping for air. I started stuttering. I started stumbling. My face drew up on my left side like I had Bell palsy.

Here is part of the testimony of just one of many such victims speaking out on Josh Fox’s recently released Gasland Part II. Lisa Parr of Wise County, Texas, explaining how her family’s health deteriorated after shale gas drilling began around their home. [The documentary has since been released on Vimeo – it is embedded at the end of this article.]

And whilst the ordinary victims struggled on to make themselves heard, and besides the anticipated silence maintained by the greater part of the US corporate media, the fracking industry has nevertheless felt obliged to fight dirtier than ever before. Resorting to quite staggering and altogether outlandish strategies for reversing the battle they had been losing over hearts and minds:

Well, this is audio that was recorded by a blogger named Texas Sharon, working for Earthworks, who was at an oil and gas industry conference where they were discussing all the bad PR that they were getting and how to counter it. And what they go on to do is explain how they’re using former PSYOPs officers, psychological operations officers, who were newly coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan, to write local laws, to develop techniques to divide local landowners. That’s Matt Pitzarella from Range Resources talking about that. Chesapeake then goes on to talk about people who are fighting the gas industry, like landowners, like you just saw, Jeremiah Gee, as insurgents. And one of the PR spokespeople for Anadarko, another huge petroleum company, says that what they should actually do is download the counterinsurgency manual, which is a 300-odd-page book about, you know, how to deal with an insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are terms of war, and it was very, very shocking to see that.

Those are the words of Josh Fox speaking on Democracy Now! [July 12th], addressing a question about his own discovery of industry’s use of military PSYOPs tactics. It’s a PR approach, he explains, that combines bogus science with more familiar methods of advertising:

But it goes hand in hand with a strategy that’s very overt in the media, which is to buy—you can’t turn on the TV, except for perhaps this show, where you’re not going to see ads from the natural gas industry. And we’re seeing also editorials and these kinds of things on blog posts seeded to do things to try to discredit the very clear science, and in most cases the science that the industry themselves did. This is following the tobacco industry’s playbook. The tobacco industry for decades sponsored bogus science, went out to try to create doubt in the media as to whether or not the cigarettes were harmful to people. And that strategy was developed by a PR firm called Hill & Knowlton. The America’s Natural Gas Alliance hired the same PR firm in 2009, and we’re seeing that same kind of strategy of creating doubt and of creating a false debate in the media over whether or not this drilling contaminates water.

Click here to read a full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

Not that any of this is what the guys at Cuadrilla Resources have in mind for us apparently. Fracking in Britain will be entirely different the chief executive of Cuadrilla, Francis Egan, told Andrew Neil, offering his solemn pledge as a certain guarantee that our groundwater will very definitely never be contaminated, whilst insisting that in the eccentrically British variety of fracking only “one single chemical” is ever pumped into the ground.

It is worth noting, however, that when it came to fracking in Poland (which happens to be the European frontier for shale gas extraction), residents were also given clear reassurance from industry officials that the fluids injected into the earth would only include such harmless food additives as salt and lemon juice… lemon juice!!! Yes, sadly I’m not joking – it seems that these industry guys will tell the public absolutely anything just so long as it helps them to get their way. Indeed you can see these claims for yourself if you decide to watch an alternative investigative documentary made by Polish-American filmmaker Lech Kowalski and entitled Drill Baby Drill (the reason for the title becoming quickly apparent). A trailer for the film is available here:

Drill Baby Drill Trailer 1 by Lech Kowalski from revolt cinema on Vimeo.

And if our own rush to fracking truly represents such an unmitigated good for the people of Britain then precisely what’s all this about…

Local communities are set to lose control over key environmental decisions affecting whether fracking can go ahead within their midst, it is claimed.

Campaigners opposing the industrial-scale exploitation of shale gas reserves in the British countryside said the Government has removed key democratic controls in its dash to bring unconventional energy resources on stream.

Under planning guidelines published last week, councils will no longer be able to investigate issues such as seismic activity, flaring and venting as well as the potential impact on ground water supplies before granting planning permission for new wells.

Which is taken from an article published in Monday’s Independent. A report that goes on to add:

Whilst campaigners argue that there are still many environmental and economic questions yet to be answered over the impact of fracking, the Government is determined to go press ahead. Last week Chancellor George Osborne, whose own Tatton constituency is home to major reserves, announced that onshore shale gas producers will pay a 30 per cent tax rate compared to 62 per cent paid by on North Sea oil operations. 4

Special exemptions and deregulation plus the bonus of tax incentives all serving to underline how extremely keen our government now is to give fracking the go-ahead; bending over backwards to get the acres of rigs set up as soon as is humanly possible. And why such a mad dash in the first place? Is it really that our national gas stocks are set to run out next March (all over again)…?

Undoubtedly this is what they would have us believe. Though crying wolf over shortages appears to be merely the latest corporate-government ruse, and a trick that played rather well over in Poland, with many Poles easily blinded by offers of energy independence from their overbearing neighbour Russia and so quite happy to be fracked all over (and, as Lech Kowalski’s documentary reveals, in Poland tests alone were enough to contaminate some local water supplies).

But then this great urgency to get cracking with the fracking suits both the industry and governments for another reason of course, with speed being of the utmost essence whenever anyone is attempting to sell a pig in a poke. On top of which, when it comes to the instigation and operation of every kind of a filthy scheme, the schemers are certainly best advised to make significant and, if possible, irreversible headway before the real filth behind their scheme comes to major public attention… bankers being the real trailblazers when it comes to “pulling a fast one” on an unsuspecting public.

And the damage caused by fracking, as with the damage caused by smoking, is damage in the making and thus very conveniently delayed. So fast-forward some five to ten years and in the aftermath of this proposed policy of furious and widespread fracking, and with a vast proportion of our countryside potentially unfit for human habitation, the environmental devastation having become almost as inescapable as it is undeniable, well the industry will no doubt turn to their teams of lawyers to help them fight against every claim made for damages. They’ll be alright Jack just as the tobacco industry is quite alright: very much alive and well (unlike some of its most unlucky customers) and still highly profitable – just ask Ken Clarke.

With Britain already fracked to the eyeballs, there will be plenty of other as then less benighted corners of the world being made ready for a jolly good fracking (even if, rather curiously, Bulgaria is one place unlikely to join us in the queue – plucky little Bulgaria, eighteen months ago, becoming only the second European country after France to ban exploratory drilling for shale gas 5).

For those who prefer to trust the executives of the oil companies and the well-paid teams who work on public relations and advertising, I’m not quite sure what more can be said. Do please take a little time to read my earlier (informative and more restrained) posts on the subject. But far more importantly, watch Josh Fox’s excellent original Gasland documentary and his still finer Gasland II. Following which, and supposing that you still wish to see fracking drills burrowing under your neighbourhood like so many parasitic ticks, then I have to presume that you dismiss the many expert contributors as unreliable witnesses whilst disregarding the testimony of so many victims as deluded idiots or out and out liars. The gloopy water being just a theatrical prop and the incendiary taps clever special effects.

On the other hand, for those like myself who feel frankly outraged by the cavalier manner in which our government is behaving, so to eager to sell off our precious land and mineral rights to these nefarious energy giants, then my advice is simple – stop talking so much about the weather and begin talk about fracking instead.

We need to reclaim our land before its too late and if that means being a nimby* then here’s to it! Because when it comes to opposing fracking, which although a widespread menace is necessarily carried out on an extremely local scale, our best hope seems to be that nimbys of the world (and according to another cliché the British are exemplary nimbys) can somehow unite. I’m very much a fracking nimby – and please don’t take this the wrong way, but I’m hoping that you’re a fracking nimby too!

* nimby: not in my backyard (generally a pejorative and used to refer to persons or groups that oppose the introduction into their neighborhood of a new development they consider objectionable)

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Additional:

Gasland Part II was released on HBO on July 8th. It was premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last Sunday [July 21st]:

The film argues that the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is a myth and that fracked wells inevitably leak over time, contaminating water and air, hurting families, and endangering the earth’s climate with the potent greenhouse gas, methane. In addition the film looks at how the powerful oil and gas industries are in Fox’s words “contaminating our democracy”.

You can watch the official trailer below:

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Update:

For anyone who missed it – here’s Lord Howell, Tory gasbag and father-in-law of Chancellor George Osborne, outlining to his ‘noble Lords’ how fracking might better be restricted, at least for the more immediate term, to “large and uninhabited desolate areas” of the North East.

Lord Howell of Guildford (which, incidentally, happens to be far away from the desolate North) arguing that:

“there’s plenty of room for fracking, well away from anybody’s residence, where it could be conducted without any kind of threat to the rural environment…”

And after all, the North doesn’t actually have rural environment in any case, but only back-to-back terraces, factories, chip shops, men with flat caps and whippets and all sorts of other frightful nastiness…

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Here is a full version of Gasland Part II from Vimeo:

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1 From an article entitled “As experts say ‘the lights could go out in Britain’, what has caused UK’s looming gas crisis?” written by Chris Parsons, published on Yahoo News on March 22, 2013. http://uk.news.yahoo.com/britain-gas-shortage–lights-going-out-energy-supplies-march-cold-snap-160212133.html#aadBz8x

2 From an article entitled “UK shale gas bonanza ‘not assured’” written by Roger Harrabin, published by BBC news on April 26, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-22300050

3 From an article entitled “UK shale gas reserves may be ‘bigger than first thought’” written by John Moylan, published by BBC news on June 3, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22748915

4 From an article entitled “Fracking controls ‘removed in dash for unconventional energy resources” written by Jonathan Brown, published in The Independent on July 22, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/fracking-controls-removed-in-dash-for-unconventional-energy-resources-8726869.html

5 “Bulgaria has become the second European country after France to ban exploratory drilling for shale gas using the extraction method called “fracking”.

“Bulgarian MPs voted overwhelmingly for a ban on Wednesday, following big street protests by environmentalists.”

From a BBC news report entitled “Bulgaria bans shale gas drilling with ‘fracking method’” published on January 19, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16626580

 

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