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J.A. Hobson on Capitalism and Imperialism

One of the crimes for which Jeremy Corbyn was pilloried as an anti-Semite was that he had written a foreword for an edition of J.A. Hobson’s book, Imperialism. First published in 1903, Hobson’s book has become one of the classic critiques of imperialism. Hobson considered that the motive force behind imperialist expansion and overseas conquest was capitalism and the continual need to find new markets. The book influenced Lenin’s own analysis of imperialism, Imperialism: The Highest Form of Capitalism. Fifty years after the book was published it was praised by the great British historian A.J.P. Taylor, who said that ‘No survey of the international history of the twentieth century can be complete without the name of J.A. Hobson’ because he was the first to identify imperialism’s economic motives. Hobson has been accused of anti-Semitism.

Imperialism and the Anti-Semitism Smears against Corbyn

I think it’s because he believed that Jewish financiers were behind the Anglo-South Africa or ‘Boer’ Wars. I think the real force was the British desire to expand into the African interior,  retain the Afrikaners as imperial subjects and acquire the riches of the southern African diamond fields as well as Cecil Rhodes own megalomaniac personal ambitions. However, when the various witch-hunters were howling about how anti-Semitic Corbyn was for endorsing the book, others pointed out that it was a very well-respected text admired and used by entirely reputable historians. Yes, it was a bit anti-Semitic. A very small bit – there was only one anti-Semitic sentence in it. It was another case of the witch-hunters grasping at whatever they could, no matter how small, to smear a genuinely anti-racist politician.

Financial Capitalism, Imperialism and the Decline of Ancient Rome

There’s an extract from Hobson’s Imperialism in The Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century Protest, edited by Brian MacArthur (London: Penguin 1988). This is a collection various writings protesting against a wide variety of issues ranging from indictments of the poverty of Edwardian England, to various wars, including Vietnam, Civil Rights and anti-Racism, as well as feminism, gay rights, the power of television and the threat of nuclear war. Yes, there’s an extract from Hitler’s Mein Kampf, but there’s also a piece by the American Zionist rabbi, Stephen S. Wise, against the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany as well as other condemnations of Nazis and their horrific rule. The book very definitely does not endorse Fascism or the Communism of Stalin, Pol Pot and the other monsters.

The extract included in the book does identify financial capitalism and militarism as the force behind Roman imperialism, which led to the enslavement of Rome’s enemies abroad and the emergence of an immensely wealthy aristocracy, while impoverishing ordinary Romans at the other end of the social hierarchy, and compares it to the comparable development of the British imperialism of his own time. The extract runs

The spirit of imperialism poisons the springs of democracy in the mind and character of the people. As our free self-governing colonies have furnished hope, encouragement and leadership to the popular aspirations in Great Britain, not merely by practical successes in the arts of popular government, but by the wafting of a spirit of freedom and equality, so our despotically ruled dependencies have ever served to damage the character of our people by feeding the habits of snobbish subservience, the admiration of wealth and rank, the corrupt survivals of the inequalities of feudalism. This process began with the advent of the East Indian nabob and the West Indian planter into English society and politics, bring back with his plunders of the slave trade and the gains of corrupt and extortionate officialism the acts of vulgar ostentation, domineering demeanour and corrupting largesse to dazzle and degrade the life of our people. Cobden, writing in 1860 of our Indian Empire, put this pithy question: ‘Is it not just possible that we may become corrupted at home by the reaction of arbitrary political maxims in the East upon our domestic politics, just as Greece and Rome were demoralized by their contact with Asia?’

The rise of a money-loaning aristocracy in Rome, composed of keen, unscrupulous men from many nations, who filled the high offices of state with their creatures, political ‘bosses’ or military adventurers, who had come to the front as usurers, publicans or chiefs of police in the provinces, was the most distinctive feature of later imperial Rome. This class was continually recruited from returned officials and colonial millionaires. The large incomes drawn in private official plunder, public tribute, usury and official incomes from the provinces had the following reactions upon Italy. Italians were no longer wanted for working the land or for manufactures, or even for military service. ‘The later campaigns on the Rhine and the Danube,’ it is pointed out, ‘were really slave-hunts on a gigantic scale.’

The Italian farmers, at first drawn from rural into military life, soon found themselves permanently ousted from agriculture by the serf labour of the latifundia, and they and their families were sucked into the dregs of town life, to be subsisted as a pauper population upon public charity. A mercenary colonial army came more and more displace the home forces. The parasitic city life, with its lowered vitality and the growing infrequency of marriage, to which Gibbon draws attention, rapidly impaired the physique of the native population of Italy, and Rome subsisted more and more upon immigration of raw vigour from Gaul and Germany. The necessity of maintaining powerful mercenary armies to hold the provinces heightened continually the peril, already manifest in the last years of the Republic, arising from the political ambitions of great pro-consuls conspiring with a moneyed interest at Rome against the Commonwealth. As time went on, this moneyed oligarchy became an hereditary aristocracy, and withdrew from military and civil service, relying more and more upon hired foreigners: themselves sapped by luxury and idleness and tainting by mixed servitude and licence the Roman populace, they so enfeebled the state as to destroy the physical and moral vitality required to hold in check and under government the vast repository of forces in the exploited Empire. The direct cause of Rome’s decay and fall is expressed politically by the term ‘over-centralization’, which conveys in brief the real essence of imperialism as distinguished from national growth on the one hand and colonialism upon the other. Parasitism practised through taxation and usury, involved a constantly increasing centralization of the instruments of government, and a growing strain upon this government as the prey became more impoverished by the drain and showed signs of restiveness. ‘The evolution of this centralized society was as logical as every other work of nature. When force reached the stage where it expressed itself exclusively through money the governing class ceased to be chosen because they were valiant or eloquent, artistic, learned or devout, and were selected solely because they had the faculty of acquiring and keeping wealth. As long as the weak retained enough vitality to produce something which could be absorbed, this oligarchy was invariable; and, for very many years after the native peasantry of Gaul and Italy had perished from the land, new blood, injected from more tenacious races, kept the dying civilization alive. The weakness of the moneyed class lay in this very power, for they not only killed the producer, but in the strength of their acquisitiveness they failed to propagate themselves.’

This is the largest, planest instance history presents of the social parasite process by which a moneyed interest within the state, usurping the reins of government, makes for imperial expansion in order to fasten economic suckers into foreign bodies so as to drain them of their wealth in order to support domestic luxury. The new imperialism differs in no vital point from this old example. The element of political tribute is now absent, or quite subsidiary, and the crudest forms of slavery have disappeared: some elements of more genuine and disinterested government serve to qualify and and mask the distinctively parasitic nature of the later sort. But nature is not mocked: the laws which, operative throughout nature, doom the parasite to atrophy, decay, and final extinction, are not evaded by nations any more than by individual organisms. The greater complexity of the modern process, the endeavour to escape the parasitic reaction by rendering some real but quite unequal and inadequate services to ‘the host’, may retard but cannot finally avert the natural consequences of living upon others. The claim that an imperial state forcibly subjugating other peoples and their lands does so for the purpose of rendering services to the conquered equal to those which she exacts is notoriously false: she neither intends equivalent services nor is capable of rendering them, and the pretence that such benefits to the governed form a leading motive or result of imperialism implies a degree of moral or intellectual obliquity so grave as itself to form a new peril for any nation fostering so false a notion of the nature of its conduct. ‘Let the motive be in the deed, not in the event,’ says a Persian proverb…

Imperialism is a depraved choice of national life, imposed by self-seeking interests which appeal to the lusts of quantitative acquisitiveness and of forceful domination surviving in a nation from early centuries of animal struggle for existence. Its adoption as a policy implies a deliberate renunciation of that cultivation of the higher inner qualities which for a nation as for its individual constitutes the ascendancy of reason over brute impulse. It is the besetting sin of all successful state, and its penalty is unalterable in the order of nature.

(Pp. 15-18).

Financial Capitalism Operating to Exploit Former Colonies and Undermine Domestic Economy

While the British Empire has gone the way of Rome’s, the same forces are still operating today. The Iraq invasion was really to enable western multinationals to seize Iraq’s state industries, and for the American and Saudi oil industry to seize its oil reserves. They weren’t about bringing it democracy or freeing its citizens. Although our former African colonies are now free, they are still plundered through highly unfair trade agreements. At home manufacturing industry has declined because Thatcherite economics favours the financial sector. And the immensely rich now hoard their wealth in offshore tax havens or invest it abroad, rather than in domestic industry. Thus denying British industry investment and making millions of domestic workers unemployed. There’s a further parallel in that in the later Roman Empire, the senatorial aristocracy retreated to their estates rather than pay tax, and so the tax burden increasingly fell on the ordinary Roman citizen. This is the same as the way the Tories have given vast tax cuts to the rich, which have ensured that the tax burden must also be increasingly borne by the poor.

Conservatives have also drawn parallels between the fall of the Roman Empire and today’s west. This has mostly been about non-White immigration, which they have compared to the barbarian invasions. But as Hobson’s Imperialism showed, capitalism and imperialism were connected and together responsible for Rome’s decline and fall. 

But strangely they don’t talk about that!

 

 

Anti-Semitism Witch-Hunters Targeting Prospective Labour Politico for Something She Hasn’t Yet Done

As Asa Winstanley, another anti-racism activist falsely expelled from the Labour Party for anti-Semitism remarks, this is beyond thoughtcrime. It’s pre-crime. Mike in his article about Keir Starmer reprimanding the respected Black women MPs Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy also mentions that the witch-hunters are demanding he censure their next target, Salma Yaqoob. Yaqoob is a prospective Labour candidate for mayor of the West Midlands, and a patron of the Stop the War Coalition. She is also due to appear in an online discussion from the Coalition about the new Labour leadership’s position on anti-war issues and Palestine on the 8th of this month, May 2020, alongside Paul Kelemen, the author of The British Left and Zionism: A History of a Divorce, and Tony Greenstein, ‘Jewish socialist and anti-war campaigner’. And it is his appearance on the panel that has sent the witch-hunters into a fearful bate, as Molesworth would sa. 

Greenstein is very definitely a Jewish socialist and anti-war campaigner. He a fierce, bitter opponent of Fascism and racism. This means that he also criticises Zionism for Israel’s ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, and the movement’s own crimes against Jews. He has pointed out again and again that throughout their history Zionists and the Israeli state have supported Fascists against Jews and other ethnic minorities when it has served their purpose. Israel sought out an alliance with another White Supremacist state, apartheid South Africa. In the 1970s and ’80 they also allied with Fascist regimes in South and Central America, including Guatemala during its dictatorship’s genocidal civil war with the Mayan Indians, and the neo-Nazi regime in Argentina, which targeted Jews for torture, massacre and murder. At the same time, the Board of Deputies of British Jews attacked the Anti-Nazi League in this country, forbidding Jews from joining it or allowing it to hold meetings in synagogues, because the founder was an anti-Zionist. Some left-wing Jews, who defied the ban and joined it nonetheless, like David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group, say that there were rumours that the Board opposed it for different, racist reasons: they didn’t want Jews joining the Black and Asian fight against racism.

Yaqoob’s appearance was picked up by Ian Austin, the former Labour MP complaining of anti-Semitism while the real reason was that Jeremy Corbyn had returned it to its socialist ideals. He has complained to Starmer and demanded Yaqoob’s suspension. Hence Asa Winstanley tweeted

This racist fanatic wants a prominent Muslim woman expelled from Labour for a future event with the “wrong” kind of Jewish person.

This is beyond Thought Crime, it’s Pre-Crime.

Jackie Walker, another Jewish anti-racism activist smeared as an anti-Semite and expelled from the Party, also commented: It’s open season on black women.

Kerry-Ann Mendoza, the mighty head of The Canary said

Corbyn’s Labour:

For the many, not the few.

Starmer’s Labour:

For us, not you.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2020/05/02/keir-starmer-has-turned-labour-into-the-party-of-hypocrisy-and-racism/

During the smear campaign a few years ago, the Board, Campaign for Anti-Semitism, Jewish Leadership Council and the other pro-Israel groups and their supporters waved placards at their protests bearing the slogan ‘Labour Party – For the many, not the Jew’. It was a play on Corbyn’s slogan ‘Labour – for the many, not the few’. According to Tony Greenstein, it was made up by British literary author, Howard Jacobson, when he was living in New York. It was supposed to show how anti-Semitic the Labour Party is. But the witch-hunters themselves have particularly targeted Jewish critics of Israel and pro-Palestinian activists. These entirely decent, self-respecting men and women have been viciously smeared as ‘self-hating’. The Board and the other pro-Israel organisations have also misrepresented themselves as standing for Britain’s Jewish community as a whole. They don’t. Board doesn’t represent Orthodox, Haredi nor secular Jews. It really only represents the United Synagogue. I find it very significant that when the I ran an article from a Jewish journalist denouncing Labour as anti-Semitic apart from their own columnist, Simon Kelner, that journo was always described as a member of the United Synagogue. As a Zionist organisation, the Board also doesn’t represent anti-Zionist Jews. The Board and the other organisations attacking Labour and Corbyn were also incensed when the Labour leader attended a Passover Seder with Jewdas, a left-wing Jewish group. This was another anti-Semitic affront to the Jewish community. They were the wrong kind of Jew! Which is itself a noxious, anti-Semitic gesture.

In fact the Board and the other witch-hunters targeting of Jews means that you could reasonably invert their slogan so it reads ‘Board of Deputies – For Israel, not the Jew’. 

It was Tony Blair’s administration that launched the invasion of Iraq, against which the Stop the War Coalition protested, and the Blairites shared the same goals as the Neocons. After George Dubya left office, and was replaced as President by Barack Obama, it was Blair and Sarkozy in France who really wanted an attack on Libya and the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafy. The result has been the destruction of one of Africa’s most prosperous states, which had a strong welfare system and was relatively secular. It has now been replaced in some areas by a hard-line Islamist theocracy, which has returned to slavery with Black migrants now being openly sold in markets. Before the appearance of Coronavirus plunged the world into lockdown, the American right seemed also to be preparing and agitating for a war with Iran. The Neocons also want that country’s regime overthrown because of its militant opposition to Israel, accompanied by frankly genocidal rhetoric, and its defiance of American hegemony in the Middle East. They and their Saudi allies also covet its oil reserves, which they also wish to seize, just like they did Iraq’s.

And there’s also a streak of islamophobia in the witch-hunters a mile wide. People have turned up at pro-Israel and anti-Palestine protests wearing Kach T-shirts. This is a far-right organisation banned in Israel for terrorism. They also wear T-shirts and wave placards for its successor, the Jewish Defence League, which is also banned. One of the witch-hunters turned up next to one anti-Palestinian demo two years or so ago next to Paul Besser, the intelligence officer of the infamous islamophobic group, Britain First. These pro-Israel demonstrators also include open supporters of Tommy Robinson, the founder of the English Defence League and Pegida UK. One of the Board’s members even appeared with him in a video for Rebel Media, a far-right Canadian internet broadcaster.

It therefore very much seems to me that Austin and the other witch-hunters, by making this complaint against Yaqoob, are desperately trying to keep debate and criticism in the Labour party of Israel and its genocide of the Palestinians very firmly closed. They are also seeking to keep Blair’s Neocon agenda alive in Labour. And they are terrified of Muslims and Muslim influence in the Labour Party. There have been polls showing that 85 per cent of British Muslims support Labour. Muslims are one of the largest ethnic minorities in contemporary Britain. The Radio Times a few years ago covered a radio programme about Jewish comedy and literary festivals that were being held up and down the country. These festivals were open to the wider British population. According to the Radio Times, they were partly being held in order to encourage the broader population to support the Jewish community at a time when that community felt its respect was slipping away and being replaced by concern for other ethnic groups.

Now I’ve got absolutely no objection to such festivals, whether by Jews or any other religious or ethnic group. And with the Far Right on the rise in Europe, Jews do need the support and solidarity of non-Jewish anti-racism activists. But Austin’s complaint about Yaqoob, a Muslim patron of the Stop the War Coalition, suggests that the general insecurity felt by part of the Jewish population is shared by the Israel lobby. And they’re scared of competition from Britain’s Muslims for our sympathies.

The witch-hunter’s targeting of Salma Yaqoob is therefore about preserving the Neocon project and protecting Israel from criticism by silencing genuine anti-racism activists, particularly Jews and Muslims. It’s yet another example of the racism of the Blairite Right.

Can We All Be Like Texas?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 28/04/2020 - 12:28am in

Last week, oil prices went negative. There is nowhere to store the oil being pumped out of the ground because demand, due to the coronavirus, has collapsed. There is less flying, less driving and fewer factories operating. So oil producers and their financial backers have been paying folks to take their oil. There are jokes going around that if you had a big storage tank in your basement, you could get paid to take some oil and sell it at a huge profit when, and if, the price goes up again.

West Texas is oil country. But there is something else going on in West Texas: it is a world capital of wind energy. Last year, Texas got more of its energy from wind — 23.4 percent — than any other U.S. state. In fact, if Texas were a country (which some might argue it is) it would rank fifth in the world in wind power generation, just behind Germany and India. 

Wind in oil country may seem like a contradiction, but to Texans it makes perfect sense.

Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

How Texas became wind country

Texas uses a LOT of energy. Since 1960, it has consumed more energy annually than any other state — a hundred times more than Vermont, and 40 percent more than California, which has far more people. More than half of this energy usage is industrial — a lot of it goes to manufacturing and agriculture, and some into energy production itself — and folks sure like their air-con down there

This insatiable appetite for energy has given Texas an incentive to look for new power sources. Over the past two decades, it’s found one on its western range, where gale-force winds sweep the plains. Twenty years ago, most of this wind was going to waste — Texas had less wind power than California, Minnesota, or even little Iowa. But in the early 2000s, wind turbines began sprouting all over the state, propelled in part by tax incentives that made wind a profitable enterprise.

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Then, in 2007, the state approved a $7 billion investment in transmission lines from West Texas. Someone was thinking ahead — the new lines cleared up transmission congestion that was holding back the potential of wind power. With the transmission lines in place, large amounts of wind-generated electricity could be sold to the big cities — Dallas, Houston, Austin — in the eastern half of the state.

Texas WindCredit: There are plenty of jokes about how hot and windy it is in West Texas. “In West Texas it’s so hot they’ve installed fans.” Credit: Daxis / Flickr

All this focus on wind may seem surprising — we all know West Texas is oil country, and that the entire state often leans to the right politically. What’s encouraging is that, in this respect, Texans are behaving like conservatives are supposed to: they are ignoring ideological and partisan dogma and instead doing what makes economic sense. Wind has been forecast to be cheaper than oil in the long run — once the transmission lines and windmills are up, the costs, in theory, drop way down.

The risk of this purely economic approach is that, should wind power become less profitable, Texas could return to fossil fuels, which are dirt cheap right now because demand has crashed. (All the fracking over the past decade has reduced oil prices, too.) Texas cities like Georgetown, whose Republican mayor, Dale Ross, famously did the math in 2011 and began shifting the town to 100 percent sustainable energy, could quickly abandon those plans if oil proves to be cheaper than wind, as it is at the moment. 

There’s a great Butch Hancock song by The Flatlanders, a West Texas band, called “The Wind’s Dominion.” 

 

When Ross laid his plans, forecasts said the price of fossil fuels would continue to rise, and that wind and solar coming from West Texas would level off in cost. “A no-brainer,” Ross was quoted as saying. But the forecasters didn’t account for the big drop in fossil fuel prices, so Georgetown began to have trouble selling its excess wind energy, and eventually went into debt. Voters were pissed off, and climate deniers and green skeptics cheered, “Told ya so!” But I suspect the story is not over yet. 

Wind is keeping up

Not too many years ago, many experts believed that getting the share of wind power usage above 20 percent in Texas would be difficult. But by 2017, the state was already up to 18 percent. 

Wind ERCOTCredit: ERCOT

The plummet in oil and gas prices is giving non-fossil fuels a run for their money. But as more transmission lines and turbines are installed, wind keeps getting cheaper, too. In the past decade, the price of wind energy has fallen by nearly 70 percent, making it the cheapest form of energy in many parts of the U.S. This demand has led to a wind-farm building boom — in 2016, wind power surpassed 82,000 megawatts in the U.S., making it the country’s number one source of renewable energy. Wind has proven itself competitive.

That means places that aren’t politically progressive will keep adopting it for economic reasons. Eastern Oregon is deeply conservative, but it has lots of wind, and the economies of many of its small towns have been revived by wind power. The same is true in Wyoming, where the biggest wind farm in the U.S. is being built by a conservative oil tycoon. Saving the climate isn’t the incentive in these places — profitability is.

In a recent national poll, 59 percent of respondents said they’d support a government investment of $1.5 trillion in wind and solar. It seems to me that if we live in some semblance of a democracy then politicians should support these wishes. 

Wind is never going to work everywhere — some places just aren’t very windy — but investment in turbines and transmission lines in windy zones around the world can at least take a good percentage of the load off fossil fuels. Wind is also, realistically, never going to cover all our current energy needs. But if other states can be inspired by the Texas example, as we can see they are, then that 23 percent can happen nationwide.

The post Can We All Be Like Texas? appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

On The Causes And Consequences Of The Oil Price Crash

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/04/2020 - 8:05am in

Tags 

oil, trade


Image by Yuan2003

So, we had a crash of oil prices, where some futures contracts were actually negative, which means that sellers had to pay people to take oil off their hands.

Obviously oil use has dropped during the Covid-19 crisis, and before that prices had already decreased in an attempt by non-US producers to reduce prices low enough to crush US shale production.

Oil is a real thing: it takes up storage. Storage space is running out, and it’s not clear when demand will recover, so oil that is to be delivered now-ish is an expense: you have to pay to store it. Thus the negative prices.

There was a bounce Wednesday, ostensibly on Trump saying he had ordered the US Navy to blow up Iranian boats if they continued to hassle other ships. (If they do this in the Gulf and it goes to shooting, Iran will win the beginning confrontation. They have a lot of missiles.)

One could equally say this is a dead-dog bounce.

At any rate, even double digit prices are below most people’s production costs for oil, and they are above the price every major government that relies on oil needs to balance their books. This means Saudi Arabia, the four gulf oil states, Iraq, Iran, Russia and so on. Ironically, Iran, having been under sanctions already, will be in better shape than most of the others.

It is also, obviously, low enough to make US (and Canadian) Shale oil production completely uneconomical: generally that needs at least $60/barrel, and much of it needs more.

So we have countries and companies with bleeding treasuries. The US has the ability to print money, presumably it will do so to keep Shale oil around in Zombie form. Countries which cannot print money and have other countries accept it could be in trouble. This depends mostly on how long this goes on. A couple months, even three or four, uncomfortable, but no big deal.

If this crisis bubles on for a year and a half of shutdowns, partial relaxations, then more shutdowns, we’re into some very dangerous territory. I’m not sure the House of Saud, for example, can survive that scenario (couldn’t happen to nicer, etc…)

There has been a very long relationship where the most important commodity in the world was oil, and the producers sold it in dollars, so America and the swing producers all benefited. Obama and Trump more or less broke the deal with the promotion of Shale oil, and China has increasingly been insisting on buying oil in Yuan, but the relationship had stumbled on, even though it meant enabling countries like Russia which the US has been treating as enemies.

Trump wanted to force Europeans to buy more American oil, and less Russian oil: this was a major part of his economic plan, such as it were. Trump likes to find a place where he’s more powerful, and push that as hard as possible, and sanctions against Russia and Iran and Venezuela were and are a place where he has unilateral power that no one else was entirely able to get around (though China has somewhat.) The EU has proven unwilling to stand up to the US in the case of sanctions.

Right now there’s no particular reason to think this can’t continue. The US can still print infinite dollars, because foreigners will still accept them, even though the US is no longer the most important manufacturing state. So the US can bail our shale oil. Oil producers, who do not have hegemonic currencies do not infinite rope.

This changes only if important producers of things the US needs stop being willing to sell them to the US in US dollars. China and the EU could (but I very much doubt will) cut America’s throat if they ever chose to act together. Perhaps China could even do it alone. The problem, of course, is that there would be a lot of collateral damage to them. US oil is expensive, but the US can produce it. China and the EU need to import it. If they want to make such a change, they have to secure strong guarantees of supplies from other nations.

This is theoretically possible, but the problem is simple: those nations would then fall under (even more) US military threat. Bombs are very good at ending oil exports: and neither the US nor China is willing to go to war over this. Perhaps China could move troops and nukes into the vulnerable countries, but that would trigger a new cold war, and the Chinese don’t want that, at least not yet: they’re working on their own trade area, a competitor to the US led one (which the US is abandoning anyway, as it shits on the WTO it created), but it is not ready yet. (The Belt and Road Initiative is their name for this restructuring of trade.)

The current collapse of oil prices is unexpected: while a pandemic has always been possible, knowing when it would happen was not.  What it has done is simply reveal current production costs and dynamics. Saudi Arabia has been moving towards vast danger because of its over-reliance on oil for ages, this simply means the consequences may hit sooner. Oil consumer nations have been maneuvering to reduce their dependence on imported oil in general, and unreliable oil in particular, but were not ready to make big moves yet. Almost everyone has been chafing under the petrodollar and under the current world payment’s system, which the US has abused with its constant sanctions, but no one has created a viable alternative and been willing to take the hits necessary to move off the dollar and the US/eu payments system (EU in lower case deliberately.)

Most oil producing nations, including the US and Canada, are generally bad actors on the international stage: ranging from moderately bad to invading oil producing nations regularly and sanctioning other ones constantly; or to being the world’s premier supporters of fundamentalist religion and terrorists.

So don’t cry too much for oil producing nations, nor even for their customers, who have enabled them greatly. But beware that the game is changing, that Covid-19 has highlighted existing issues and that if it continues long enough it could precipitate changes which many actors have long desired, but because they have been unwilling to bear the costs and risks, have not yet happened.

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As US Shale Oil Plunges, Trump Admin Takes Aim at Venezuela

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/04/2020 - 11:30pm in

WASHINGTON DC (The Last American Vagabond) — IPresident Trump recently praised a deal reached largely by Saudi Arabia and Russia, two of the top oil producers in the world who together dominate the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), saying that the agreed upon production cuts would “save hundreds of thousands of energy jobs in the United States.”

Despite the president’s rosy tone, most analysts have called the agreement – which presumably will freeze the Saudi-Russian oil price war that broke out last month – “too little too late” and have noted that a slew of bankruptcies from the U.S. shale oil industry are inevitabledespite the actions that have been taken. Even the Federal Reserve has stated that around 40% of domestic shale companies now face bankruptcy in just a few months if the price of oil remains under $30, a figure it is unlikely to pass for some time due to slumping demand caused by global lockdowns, among other factors that have emerged as the current coronavirus (Covid-19) crisis has played out. Trump has since fielded the possibility of imposing tariffs on oil imports to drive up oil prices and favor the domestic consumption of U.S. shale oil, but it remains to be seen if that policy will materialize.

Michael Hudson, President of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET), a former Wall Street financial analyst and Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, told The Last American Vagabond that, not only are numerous shale oil companies set to go out of business, but the entire shale oil industry in the U.S. “can’t be saved.”

“We have peak shale oil,” Hudson stated, “It was always an awful idea … It’s an over indebted sector and is one of the first to go.” Hudson further asserted that the U.S. government’s “nurturing” of the shale oil sector in recent years was chiefly aimed at targeting Russia’s oil industry by driving down global oil prices, calling it an unsuccessful “anti-Russian cold war campaign” that has since backfired. He added that Trump’s recent overtures with respect to the shale oil industry are likely aimed at “making an excuse to give huge loans to the shale oil producers, as if it’s to keep them in business, and then they [the oil companies] are just going to pay the loans to themselves and go out of business. It’s a cover story for a huge corporate giveaway before this sector falls and goes bankrupt.”

Thus, the imminent reckoning for shale oil in the U.S. is unlikely to be stopped, despite the new production cuts and Trump’s efforts last month to set aside billions for the purchase of shale oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR), a move critics labeled as a bail-out for domestic “Big Oil” producers. In addition, the fate of U.S. shale oil is compounded by the possibility that the production cuts will not hold and that the oil price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia could flare up again at any time. Previous yet recent OPEC-brokered deals of a similar nature have ended in this way, and it is very possible – if not likely – that it will happen again.

With oil extremely cheap at the moment, some of the issues raised by shale oil bankruptcies are not necessarily of immediate concern while demand remains low. Yet, if enough U.S. domestic oil producers go bankrupt, once current lockdowns are relaxed and oil demand creeps back up to relatively normal levels, there will be less domestic oil available, despite the SPR. As a result, the U.S. will again have to look more to other countries in order to make up the difference. Though the media thus far has explored the economic effects of this eventuality, less attention – if any – has been given to how it will impact U.S. foreign policy.

For years, President Trump has publicly claimed on several occasions that U.S. foreign policy objectives in the Middle East were no longer guided by oil due to the U.S. having obtained “energy independence,” “independence” that relies heavily on U.S. shale oil production. However, critics – including Michael Hudson – have long charged that this claim of energy independence is a “deliberate falsification.” Such claims are also supported by the fact that U.S. foreign policy in IraqSyria and elsewhere has remained linked to oil in key ways during this period of so-called “domestic energy independence” under Trump. Yet, the bankruptcies of 40% (or perhaps more) of U.S. shale oil producers would likely greatly increase the role oil plays in guiding U.S. foreign policy.

While there are many reasons as to why oil has long been a key factor in U.S. foreign policy (with the petrodollar ranking chief among them), another often overlooked reason is the U.S. military’s heavy reliance on oil. Indeed, the U.S. military is the largest institutional purchaser and consumer of oil in the world and, therefore, securing a reliable, stable and –ideally – geographically nearby source of oil has long been deemed a critical, strategic objective by the Pentagon.

The Pentagon has said as much on numerous occasions, stating recently that “… longer operating distances, remote and austere geography, and anti-access/area denial threats [areas or nations unfriendly to the U.S.] are challenging the Department’s ability to assure the delivery of fuel. As the ability to deliver energy is placed at risk, so too is the Department’s ability to deploy and sustain forces around the globe.”

In other words, long distances from fuel sources as well as fuel sources located in or near areas/nations that are hostile to the U.S. directly threaten U.S. empire and its global military presence. In addition, control and influence over global oil flows has long been a key component of military strategy, as noted in the “Wolfowitz Doctrine.”

It is also worth noting that the economic calamity that threatens the domestic oil industry is not the only reliable, stable and geographically close oil supply to be hit by the crisis. For instance, Argentina’s shale oil industry in the “Vaca Muerta” area also faces ruin, an endeavor that had largely been “kick-started” by Exxon Mobil after that company had been ejected from Venezuela and also includes considerable investments from another U.S. oil giant, Chevron – a company ordered by the Trump administration to stop doing business in Venezuela by April 22.

 

US returns attention to Venezuela amid domestic oil collapse

Venezuela, the country with the world’s largest proven oil reserves, has also made a seemingly odd reappearance on the Trump administration’s list of priorities during the current coronavirus crisis. On March 26, the Department of Justice, led by Attorney General William Barr, announced narco-terrorism and other criminal charges against top Venezuelan officials, including the country’s president Nicolás Maduro, alleging that these officials are involved in the trafficking of cocaine to the United States. The charges were odd for a few reasons, one of the main ones being that the U.S. government’s own data shows that Colombia, not Venezuela, is the source of the vast majority of cocaine that ends up in the U.S.

Then, on March 31, former CIA director and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a plan entitled “Democratic Framework for Venezuela,” where he demanded that Maduro resign and the “opposition” figure Juan Guaidó also relinquish his claim to the Venezuelan presidency, a claim to power that the U.S. had previously backed. Pompeo’s plan calls for the formation of a council that would be led by an “interim president” (a title the U.S. had previously reserved for Guaidó) and that the council would be formed by members of Venezuela’s largest four political parties, including that led by Maduro. Unsurprisingly, Maduro’s government rejected the plan.

The criminal charges against Maduro and Pompeo’s “democratic” plan were quickly followed with much more troubling news. Announced at a press conference on April 1, President Trump, alongside top government officials, announced that U.S. Southern Command would begin a new “counter-narcotics effort” targeting Venezuela that would include the deployment of Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft, helicopters and more. The official justification of this large deployment is to surveil, disrupt and seize shipments allegedly containing “drugs” that are leaving Venezuela. “We must not let narco-terrorists exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives,” Trump said at the time. It was also announced that other countries would be joining the U.S. in what amounts to both a military build-up and a de facto blockade of Venezuelan exports, including its oil.

Soon after the announcement regarding this new build-up and de facto naval blockade of Venezuela, U.S. media accused President Trump of using these announcements to deflect criticism about his administration’s handling of the federal response to the coronavirus crisis. One report in Newsweek revealed that these initiatives with respect to Venezuela had been planned several months ago and were set to be announced this May. That report also alleged, citing senior Pentagon officials, that the administration had decided to announce the planned crackdowns on Venezuela sooner in order to “redirect attention.”

However, there may be another reason that these initiatives targeting Venezuela were sped up: the carnage in shale oil markets in the U.S. as well as Argentina and the implications of that for U.S. access – particularly the military’s access – to oil supplies once lockdowns and their associated economic effects begin to lessen.

Michael Hudson told The Last American Vagabond that the U.S. pivot towards Venezuela was “absolutely” related to the carnage in global oil markets and particularly the U.S. oil industry. He further argued that the U.S. was seeking to reimpose a debt-for-oil system that it had enjoyed under pre-Chavista governments in Venezuela: “Under U.S.-backed dictators, Venezuela provided the collateral [for its debt] with all of its oil reserves… [Now,] America wants to give IMF [International Monetary Fund] loans to Venezuela and [oversee] the collateralization of Venezuela’s foreign debt with its oil reserves and then foreclose. [They want to] find an excuse to do to Venezuela what it did to Argentina, to grab Venezuela’s oil reserves as collateral by … preventing Venezuela from paying its foreign debt, [thus] forcing it to default on its foreign debt.”

This certainly seems to be a big part of the equation, as the U.S.-backed Juan Guaidó has long promoted IMF loans and personally sought sizable loans from that organization to finance his “interim government,” which controls essentially nothing in Venezuela. More recently, the IMF rejected Venezuela’s request for a loan to help it combat the coronavirus crisis, but the IMF has reportedly offered to give the country such a loan were Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, to step down and cede authority to a U.S.-backed “emergency government.”

Yet, there is much more to be concerned about than the IMF and the U.S.’ interest in imposing a debt-for-oil scheme on Venezuela. As Hudson told The Last American Vagabond, one very notable “great threat” is the parallel between the recent U.S. policy and military moves towards Venezuela and the moves that were made by the George H.W. Bush administration just prior to the 1989 invasion of Panama. “America would like to grab Venezuela’s oil and it wouldn’t be the first time,” said Hudson.

 

Regime change in the time of coronavirus

Though recent mainstream media reports claimed that the sudden reappearance of Venezuela on the White House’s agenda was merely political theater, subsequent events suggest something else. This past Saturday, U.S. envoy for Venezuela – war criminal and Project for a New American Century neo-con Elliott Abrams – stated that, if Venezuela’s Maduro did not agree to the Pompeo plan for a new “transition government,” a transition in Venezuelan governance would still occur, but would be more “dangerous and abrupt.” Abrams’ comments failed to generate much buzz in the media, as the April 1 press conference and announcement had done, despite the fact that Abrams was essentially starting that “dangerous and abrupt” action would be taken to force Maduro from power.

There is also the added mystery of an incident that took place right before the announcement of the large deployment of U.S. military assets to target “narco-terrorism.” On the last day of March, a Venezuelan coast guard ship asked a Portuguese cruise ship, the “RCGS Resolute,” that was in Venezuelan territorial waters to accompany it to port. Instead, the cruise ship rammed the Venezuelan vessel, sinking it. Maduro subsequently claimed that the cruise ship “was being used to transport mercenaries,” noting that Dutch authorities in Curacao, where the “RCGS Resolute” is currently docked, had been instructed to not inspect the ship. The company that owns the cruise ship, however, asserts that it is carrying no passengers and disputes Venezuela’s account of why the coast guard vessel was sunk.

In addition to this disconcerting event, there is the fact that the U.S.’ recently announced military build-up is the largest in the region since the U.S. invasion of Panama, which took place in 1989 during the George H.W. Bush administration. Disturbingly, the same Attorney General that greenlit the invasion of Panama once again serves in that same role in today’s administration, William Barr. At the time of the Panama invasion, it was Barr who created the legal justification for the war, arguing that the U.S. had the “legal authority” to arrest Panama’s then-dictator Manuel Noriega on drug charges, despite him not residing in the U.S. To think that Barr would not do so again is naive, especially considering that Trump had previously pushed to invade Venezuela, citing the invasion of Panama as an example of successful “gunboat diplomacy,” and has long talked about “taking the oil” of foreign countries and, in places like Syria, has used military force to do just that.

Though the 1989 invasion of Panama was dressed up in the typical rhetoric of restoring “democracy” and promoting “human rights,” it was actually waged with the intention to utterly destroy Panama’s military. Why would the U.S. want to destroy Panama’s capacity for self-defense? The answer lies in the treaty that then existed between Panama and the U.S. over the Panama canal, whereby control over the canal would eventually be returned to the Panamanians.

The only “loophole” for the U.S. to retain control of the canal, per that treaty, was if Panama became incapable of defending it. Notably, the gradual turnover of control of the canal was set to begin just ten days after the Bush administration’s invasion of Panama ended. Not long after the invasion, in 1991, the U.S. passed a law that ensured an indefinite U.S. military presence in the canal zone due to the fact that Panama (thanks to the U.S. invasion) could no longer defend that territory.

There are other notable points regarding the invasion of Panama that are seemingly relevant today as well. For instance, media’s effort to manufacture public consent for the invasion was largely centered around pointing out Manuel Noriega’s involvement in narco-trafficking and Panama’s lack of democracy under his rule. Of course, this rhetoric has obvious similarities to current rhetoric involving Venezuela.

However, this media campaign, in Noriega’s case, failed to note that the Noriega’s role in drug smuggling was largely on the behalf of U.S. interests and that Noriega had closely collaborated with then-President, George H.W. Bush, when he had served as CIA director. In addition, Noriega was well known at the time to have been on the CIA payroll for years. Such reports also overlooked the fact that the CIA had recently been caught driving the trafficking of drugs and weapons between Central America and the U.S. as part of the Iran Contra scandal. If these reports had pointed this out, it would have made Noriega’s involvement in these matters, including his supporting role in Iran Contra, appear negligible by comparison.

Similarly, today, efforts to link Venezuelan leadership to the drug trade fail to note that the U.S.-backed Juan Guaidó took selfies with a narco-paramilitary organization just a few months ago and that Colombian leadership and its military, the U.S.’ biggest regional supporter of its Venezuela regime change agenda, both share direct ties to drug cartels.

It is also worth pointing out that, not only did the U.S. military hide the actual civilian death toll and cover up the war crimes committed during the invasion, they tested out new experimental weapons on the Panamanian people, which CounterPunch noted was “a kind of dress rehearsal for the Persian Gulf War the following year.” As many readers of this article are likely aware, the Trump administration has been making strong overtures about regime change, and potentially war, in Iran alongside their push for regime change in Venezuela. Were a similar invasion to occur in Venezuela, it seems likely that this pattern would repeat and would be treated as an experimental battlefield for a subsequent war in Iran.

The current confluence of factors suggests that such a Panama-style invasion of Venezuela is not only a possibility, but increasingly likely. Indeed, as previously mentioned, the U.S. has ordered the few U.S. companies that have been given waivers to avoid sanctions for their operations in Venezuela (namely Chevron) to terminate their dealings in the country by April 22 – next Wednesday. In addition, soon after that date, Venezuela’s oil sector is set to resume two joint oil ventures, one of which involves two European oil companies and another that involves Russia’ Rosneft, which the U.S. sanctioned in February for doing business with Venezuela’s state oil company. Those projects are due to re-initiate in May and July, respectively. The U.S. is openly opposed to these projects going forward and has threatened sanctions (and further sanctions in Rosneft’s case) against the companies involved.

Taken in combination with Elliott Abrams’ recent statements, the massive U.S. military build-up and the collapse of U.S. oil markets, such events seem to be pointing in the direction of an invasion being more likely than not. There is also the added layer of the U.S. facing a new “Great Depression” and these major economic downturns are often followed by the U.S. entering a major war. On the other hand, there is also the fact that most of the U.S. population is on lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis, making domestic resistance against such an invasion unlikely to manifest in any significant way. If Americans aren’t careful and don’t quickly begin to pay attention, the country could soon sleepwalk into another devastating and deadly “war for oil.”

Feautre photo | A man walks past a mural featuring oil pumps and wells in Caracas, Venezuela, Jan. 3, 2020. Matias Delacroix | AP

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News contributing journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post As US Shale Oil Plunges, Trump Admin Takes Aim at Venezuela appeared first on MintPress News.

Has Saudi Arabia Shot Itself in the Foot With Its Oil Price War?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/03/2020 - 1:10am in

Faced with an escalating crisis brought on by the global outbreak of COVID-19, Saudi Arabia made a conscious decision to increase oil production in order to avert a potential oil-price collapse. The move sent an already faltering global economy into a tailspin.  

The trouble began at the beginning of March, after Russia rejected an ultimatum from Saudi Arabia to cut oil production in light of falling prices. The Saudi response was to effectively flood the oil market with an additional 2.6 million barrels a day at a dramatically discounted price.

History has taught us that the Saudi response has been a common experience. Between 1981 and 1985, the Kingdom cut oil production drastically in light of rising supply from the North Sea, Siberia and Mexico. When the move amounted to little benefit, Saudi Arabia slashed their prices and increased production. It did the same in November 2014 after asking Russia to cut oil production, leading to yet another depression in the oil industry. At the time, Saudi Arabia’s deputy economic minister said “if we don’t take any reform measures, and if the global economy stays the same, then we’re doomed to bankruptcy in three to four years.” The statement was a telling indication that the Saudi leadership was well aware of the devastating consequences of such a strategy.

Oil markets have faced rising and falling prices since the start of 2020. In fact, days after the new year began, oil prices dipped sharply and then rose after the United States assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, bringing the world to the brink of a major war. This was always going to be short-lived however, in light of the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.

“Price action in the oil market is testament to some of the challenges we face,” economist Cameron Bagrie told MintPress News via email. 

The oil industry is obviously facing a demand shock and is in trend decline. But the responses are testament to that old adage: where push comes to shove it’s ‘every man (or woman) for themselves.’”

Bagrie added:

We need group interest as opposed to self-interest around the globe in response to rising economic and health challenges.”

 

Saudi chickens are coming home to roost

Initially, the Saudi sentiment appeared to be to “allow this thing to go on for a while to bring structural change to the industry,” according to one Saudi source. That sentiment, however,  may not continue in the long run.

The impact of coronavirus has destroyed the demand for oil. A consumer-based economy is doomed to struggle when there are no more consumers. As domestic and international flights across the globe grind to a halt and as many countries impose lockdowns and self-isolation procedures, both personal and commercial demand for oil has dissipated.

Saudi Arabia announced this week that it would reduce government expenditures by $13.2 billion USD, or close to five percent of its budget spending for 2020. According to the state-run Saudi Press Agency (SPA), the Minister of Finance and Acting Minister of Economy and Planning took the measures “in light of the noticeable development in the public finance management, and existence of the appropriate flexibility to take measures in the face of emergency shocks with a high level of efficiency.”

The real reason for this move though (as stated by the Saudi government itself) was to take measures to “reduce the impact of low prices of oil” with additional precautions to be taken to deal with the expected drop in prices.

According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia was already well aware of this pending situation. Before the OPEC+ talks fell through, Saudi Arabia asked government agencies to propose a 20 to 30 percent cut in their budgets due to the decline in oil prices, anticipating that talks with Russia were always going to be problematic.

Economists are expecting Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit to grow significantly from 4.7 percent of its GDP in 2019 to well into the double-digits. As it stands, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has said Riyadh needs oil at $80 a barrel in order to balance its current 2020 budget. Flitch Ratings goes one step further and assesses that the Kingdom will need oil prices at $91 a barrel, assuming everything else runs as normal. As of writing, Brent crude oil is barely at $30 a barrel.

In order to cope, the Saudi government announced it will put a stop to major projects and investments and the Saudi wealth fund will diminish at an astonishing rate. One must bear in mind that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) had only recently unveiled his Vision 2030 plan, a symbolic move to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil. It is difficult to see how this vision would be realized at the current rate, given the plan relies on enormous government spending.

Further, Aramco, the Saudi national oil company that recently went public for the first time in its history, is unlikely to convince investors to bank on Saudi oil. The Saudi kingdom may have no choice but to pick up the slack, and to do so as soon as possible.

On the other hand, analysts are far more confident that Russia can weather the storm to a greater extent than Saudi Arabia can. By all accounts, Russia is in a stronger financial and political leadership position than its Saudi counterpart. According to Oil Price, Russia’s budget breakeven price is $40 USD and can produce over 11 million barrels per day without facing many repercussions. 

 

The impact on US-Saudi relations

The United States has just recently become the largest oil producer in the world. Saudi Arabia’s decision to tinker so heavily with global oil markets is therefore sure to hurt U.S.-based oil companies. As the Financial Times explained, “the Russian-Saudi crude war threatens America’s growing shale industry, hurts debt-burdened US oil majors and exacerbates the pressure on collapsing stock markets.” Despite this, the Trump administration is unusually silent about this particular topic. Given how outspoken Donald Trump can be, and given his pledge to put “America first”, his turning a blind eye to what Saudi Arabia is doing to global oil markets is noticeable, to say the least.

One reason for this inaction may be that while U.S. companies will suffer, the U.S. strategy of deterring nations from forming meaningful alliances with adversarial nations, such as Russia, will always take precedence over anything else. What this current Saudi-Russia oil spat appears to confirm is that the in-roads Saudi-Russian relations were making over the last three years have been brought to a complete standstill. As one senior Washington-based legal source said, “we were concerned anyway that the Saudis were becoming too dependent on Russia because of the OPEC-plus deals and were listening too much to its [Russia’s advice].”

In 2018, when the world demanded answers from the Saudi leadership over the killing of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, Russian President Vladimir Putin smiled as he high-fived MBS before taking a seat next to him. The two countries appeared to be set to start a new era of Saudi-Russian relations which would center around maintaining the stability of oil prices, as well as defense and arms sales. The damage done by this recent feud may be enough to undo prospective developments between the two nations, solidified when Putin’s spokesperson said that the Russian president has “no plans” to speak to MBS or his father anytime soon.

The other factor to bear in mind is that the Saudi strategy is to absolve itself of any fault and lay the blame squarely at Russia’s feet. As a Saudi source close to the royal court said, “the beauty of this is you can blame it on the Russians.” As the corporate media and the Trump administration are far too hesitant to irk Saudi Arabia too much, the belief that the Saudis can place the burden on Russia may end up being a valid one.

That being said, thirteen Republican senators did send a letter in mid-March urging MBS to reverse his decision, stating “the added impact of unsettled global energy markets is an unwelcome development.” The senators also questioned the notion that the Saudi Kingdom “is a force for stability in the global markets.” 

 

NOPEC: the US could use to intervene if it wanted to

The U.S. has open to it a ‘No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act’ (NOPEC) bill, which, if passed, could render it illegal to artificially cap oil and gas production, or to set prices, something Saudi Arabia has routinely done in recent history. The law would also pave the way for Saudi Arabia to be sued in U.S. courts.

In the past, Donald Trump vetoed the bill, presumably under Saudi pressure. As such, there are no real indications that Trump’s sentiment on this issue is set to change anytime soon. However, Trump may not make it through to the end of 2020 without being unseated, and the incoming president may have other plans for the U.S.-Saudi relationship.

Saudi Arabia, Russia and the United States will not escape this price war unscathed. However, the real victims of these tit-for-tat games of chicken are nations like Iran, who have seen at least a quarter of its oil rigs idled and the never-ending decline of its currency.

This may very well be another reason we can expect the United States not to intervene, given the situation may help Washington to achieve its long-standing goal of crippling the Iranian economy in a bid to implement regime change in Tehran.

In the meantime, the U.S. is continuing to edge closer toward a war with Iran in Iraq, with multiple attacks taking place even throughout this month. If that war happens, the least of anyone’s worries will be cheaper oil prices.

Feature photo | A Saudi trader talks to others in front of a screen displaying Saudi stock market values at the Arab National Bank in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Dec. 12, 2019. Amr Nabil | AP

Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand-based legal and political analyst who focuses on US foreign policy in the Middle East, Asia and Pacific region. He is fully qualified as a lawyer in two international jurisdictions.

The post Has Saudi Arabia Shot Itself in the Foot With Its Oil Price War? appeared first on MintPress News.

Podcast: Vanessa Beeley Unpacks the Idlib Crisis and the Fight for Syria’s Oil, Gas and Water

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 18/03/2020 - 5:24am in

Welcome to MintCast, the official weekly MintPress News podcast hosted by Mnar Muhawesh and Whitney Webb. MintCast is an interview podcast featuring dissenting voices, independent researchers and journalists who the establishment would rather silence.

In this episode, we are joined by journalist Vanessa Beeley, who is covering the conflict in Syria from Damascus for MintPress News. Beeley is well-known in independent media for her expertise on the Syrian conflict and particularly the covert involvement of Western powers in the crisis through humanitarian front groups. More recently, she has been covering the conflict in Syria’s Idlib province, where groups directly linked to al Qaeda are fighting to maintain control of the province with the direct backing of Turkey while the Syrian military seeks to reclaim its territory.

Recent developments in the conflict have seen Russia and Turkey negotiate a ceasefire of sorts after Syria and Turkey nearly went to war over Turkey’s backing of militants in Idlib as the Syrian military, backed by Russia, pushed forward. Despite the ceasefire, Turkey continues to lobby NATO, the EU, and the U.S. to support their efforts to halt the Syrian advance into Idlib, with limited success.

Turkish President Recep Erdogan is so desperate for EU support for his military incursion in northern Syria that the Turkish state is effectively weaponizing refugees as leverage to induce European states to adopt Turkey’s position in Syria. This has resulted in millions of Syrian and Afghan refugees flooding Europe after Turkey opened its border with the EU. 

It was in 2011 that Turkey initially opened its borders to Idlib, where the current crisis was born. This set the stage for the rise of al Qaeda and ISIS in Syria. The terror groups viciously took control of this northern region which became ground zero in the fight for the geopolitical interests of Turkey, Western-backed armed groups linked to al Qaeda, and the Syrian military, which was trying to retake control of Syria’s most resource-rich region. That fight for oil, gas and major water reservoirs has left civilians scrambling for survival. 

The crisis has led to the creation of a parallel state with the support of Turkey, Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Western nations including France, Britain and the United States, who poured millions of dollars and countless weapons into the hands of these terror groups in a desperate bid to overthrow the Syrian government.  

In what was being described for years in Western media as a bastion of democracy and revolution to justify support for these so-called “moderates,”Idlib became the largest safe haven for al Qaeda. 

Vanessa Beeley joins MintCast to help us unpack the crisis in Idlib, the geopolitical agendas at play and how civilians are scrambling for survival amid a fight over Syria’s resources.

This program is 100 percent listener supported! You can join the hundreds of financial sponsors who make this show possible by becoming a member on our Patreon page. 

Subscribe to this podcast on iTunesSpotify and SoundCloud. Please leave us a review and share this segment.

Feature photo | Graphic by Claudio Cabrera

Mnar Muhawesh is founder, CEO and editor in chief of MintPress News, and is also a regular speaker on responsible journalism, sexism, neoconservativism within the media and journalism start-ups. 

Whitney Webb is a MintPress News journalist based in Chile. She has contributed to several independent media outlets including Global Research, EcoWatch, the Ron Paul Institute and 21st Century Wire, among others. She has made several radio and television appearances and is the 2019 winner of the Serena Shim Award for Uncompromised Integrity in Journalism.

The post Podcast: Vanessa Beeley Unpacks the Idlib Crisis and the Fight for Syria’s Oil, Gas and Water appeared first on MintPress News.

Julia Hartley-Brewer Sneers as Greta Thunberg Visits Bristol

Yesterday, Norwegian schoolgirl eco-warrior and global phenomenon Greta Thunberg visited my hometown, the fair city of Bristol. She was due to speak at College Green by City Hall in Bristol, before leading a march through town to the Tobacco Factory. This was exactly what it’s called, but the tobacco industry has just about vanished from Bristol, and it is now a theatre. Many of the city’s schools gave their pupils the day off so that they could join her. Her visit was naturally the main focus of the local news yesterday. Thousands went to see her, and it was a real family event. Parents and grandparents also went, and took their children and grandchildren. The teenage organisers, who had invited her, were interviewed. They were intelligent and articulate. One of them, a young man, was given the opportunity by the local TV crew to appear again promoting another, different, but equally important issue. The lad had said that he wished there was the same kind of crowds and interest for combating knife crime. He’s absolutely right, as this is a plague claiming and wrecking young people’s lives up and down the country. So the crew told him to wait a moment while they found someone he could talk to about this. With luck this should lead to positive developments so that in a few months’ time or however long, he should be back with us organising a mass campaign against that issue.

Thunberg’s visit was an historic occasion for the city. The people going enjoyed it, and it will doubtless have delighted Mayor Marvin and the other members of the council, who are trying to turn Bristol into one of the world’s leading Green cities. I didn’t go, as I still have this stinking cold, though I didn’t really feel like attending anyway. But I’m glad for the people, who did.

One person, who definitely didn’t approve of Thunberg’s visit was TalkRadio right-wing mouthpiece and howling snob, Julia Hartley-Brewer. According to Zelo Street, Hartley-Dooda got very sneering about the whole affair on Twitter. First she retweeted Mike Graham, another right-wing TalkRadio entity calling Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall a ‘plank’, because he was in Bristol with his sister and family to support the demo. Dooda herself then issue the following Tweet explaining why she wouldn’t let her daughter go on the march:

“If my child wanted to join a school #ClimateStrike I’d expect her to: 1. Know enough to pass a test on climate change facts 2. Agree to give up fashion, all lifts home & all holiday flights 3. Even if she did both 1 & 2, I still wouldn’t let her bunk off school”.

She had to sneer at the Beeb’s coverage of pro-Brexit demonstrations, stating

“‘At least 30,000 people.’ Or, if it was the same size crowd at a pro-Brexit rally in a BBC report, ‘hundreds of people’”.

She then sneered at the people, who did attend, with this tweet

“There’s something about the people attending this #climatestrike by #BristolYS4C with #Greta that I can’t quite put my finger on… Gosh, now what *is* it? I wonder if [Jon Snow] or a BBC reporter could help out?” This was followed by “Nope, I still can’t work out what it is. It’s on the tip of my tongue but…”

This was accompanied by photos of the crowd. If she’s trying to imply that they were somewhat lacking in charisma or shoddily dressed or whatever, she’s seriously missed the mark. They don’t look like anything to me except severely normal people with their hoods and anoraks on getting soaked.

She then retweeted a piece by someone called Ben Pile, who completely denies the existence of global warming and who had attacked George Monbiot:  “George invents victims of climate change in Bangladesh and Ethiopia … Both countries have in fact boomed over the last two decades”.

She then followed this by retweeting Darren Grimes, who was in turn responding to Guido Fawkes and their endorsement of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which, you will not be surprised, also denies the existence of global warming. Grimes was moaning that, thanks to environmental concerns, Britain couldn’t build an additional airport even though with contribute less than 1% to global emissions.

The Sage of Crewe concludes of her rather mean-spirited behaviour

‘But seriously, this is a sad show of inconsiderate selfishness by someone who is regularly given a platform by major broadcasters. Just because Ms Hartley Dooda wants to carry on with her long-haul jollies doesn’t invalidate the scale of the climate crisis. And the only reason she seems concerned about the Coronavirus is because that, too, could prevent her jetting off to embark on another exhibition of conspicuous consumption.

Julia Hartley Dooda cares. But only about Herself Personally Now.’

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/02/julia-hartley-dooda-spooked-by-teenager.html

In fact, the event seems to have been positively received by very many teachers and educationalists. Many of the group that organised it, a group of youth climate strike activists, came from Chew Valley school. Chew Valley is the name of one of the neighbouring villages outside the city. The school said that they had been given time off for the pupils to go. One of the girls involved, a 17-year old, was given an honorary doctorate by Bristol University for her work researching birds and working for their preservation. Another teacher, who was going with his pupils, said that they were incorporating the visit into the curriculum. This apparently covers the environment and ecology. Thunberg’s visit was also important to the citizenship part of the curriculum as well, because it is an example of the right to protest.

But as a right-wing Murdoch hack, Dooda doesn’t believe in global warming or cares about the environment, because doing so gets in the way of those all-important corporate profits. It’s an attitude obviously shared by Grimes and the Paul Staines’ collective. Pile pointing to Bangladesh and Ethiopia experiencing significant economic growth is, as Zelo Streets points out, a piece of misdirection. Climate change doesn’t necessarily prevent it. But it does mean a deterioration in the environment and living conditions for those countries hit by it. Bangladesh may well be experiencing a boom at the same time it’s threatened by rising sea levels.

As for organisations like the Global Warming Policy Foundation, they are very definitely in the minority. The vast majority of scientists believe that global warming is an established fact. Groups like the Foundation, on the other hand, tend to be the pet scientists set up and funded by big business in order to protect themselves and their profits. The Koch brothers set up a number of fake ‘astroturf’ right-wing grassroots organisations and research groups denying climate change, in order to protect their companies in the fossil fuel industry.  I dare say the GWPF is a similar organisation, whose findings should be taken with the same scepticism given to the pronouncements of the various medical research groups funded by the tobacco industry, which told everyone that there was no link between ciggies and cancer.

And just looking through one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham a few weeks ago, I came across an academic book about environmental decline and the effects of global warming. The information supporting its existence is out there, if Hartley-Brewer cares to look.

But she won’t. Because that might show her that unrestrained capitalism isn’t completely good and benign, and that she herself might have to change her behaviour to save the planet. Like stop jetting around to exclusive, exotic resorts to show how much wealthier she is than the rest of us.

Everybody in Bristol seems to have had a great time yesterday, despite Dooda’s determination to sneer at it all. I hope the world pays attention to them, than hacks like her. Which will not only annoy Dooda herself, but her master, Murdoch. And that, like fighting climate change, is itself a noble goal.

Flooding: Private Eye Cover Shows How Nothing Has Changed Under Tories

Here’s a piece of de ja vue, courtesy of Private Eye’s issue for 10th-23rd January 2014. It shows former Prime Minister, David Cameron, surveying one of the areas then hit by disastrous flooding. Dodgy Dave has to bear some responsibility for the disastrous, as it was his government that cut funding for the flood defences.

Well, it’s six years later, we’ve got a Tory government that’s promising to increase funding to the public infrastructure, and Tweezer declared that ‘austerity was over’. But there has been no increase in public spending, or at least, none I’ve been aware of. And the country’s now hit by disastrous floods.

Which shows that almost nothing has changed.

Except one thing:

David Cameron at least visited some of the areas that had been hit, like the Somerset Levels, and pledged more funding – funding that should never have been cut anyway.

Boris Johnson, however, is nowhere to be seen. He’s retreated to Chevening, a 115 room mansion in Kent. He’s probably hiding from having to answer awkward questions about why he thought it would be a good idea to hire Andrew Sabisky, a racist, misogynist eugenics nut. Or if he holds the same vile views.

It also shows his own, cynical attitude to public welfare. Johnson hasn’t called any emergency meetings. He did before he was elected, but that was when he needed people’s votes. Now he has them, and is in No. 10, although obviously not physically, he just doesn’t care. But he has sent his deputy official spokesman – not his official spokesman, mind – to reassure us that he is receiving briefing updates and that the flooding is terrible for people affected.

How very reassuring!

Mike in his article points out that one reason Johnson may be dodging this issue is because it raises awkward questions about climate change and global warming. But Donald Trump and the Republic Party don’t believe in it, and are passing laws to gut their Environmental Protection Agency and prevent anyone in it from publishing any research showing that it exists. Because the Republicans and Trump are also heavily funded by the fossil fuel lobby, particularly the Koch brothers. And so they pretend that it doesn’t exist.

But Johnson needs Trump’s trade deal, which will do precious little for the country except hand over British industries and utilities, including a privatised NHS, to the Americans. But it will make Johnson and the Tories backing it rich, so Johnson wants to dodge the issue as well.

Meaning that as Britain starts sinking into the sea and primordial ooze, Johnson is holed up in his mansion hoping that it will all go away.

While Britain sinks, Boris Johnson hides

 

Book on the Bloody Reality of the British Empire

John Newsinger, The Blood Never Dried: A People’s History of the British Empire (London: Bookmarks Publications 2006).

John Newsinger is the senior lecturer in Bath Spa University College’s school of History and Cultural Studies. He’s also a long-time contributor to the conspiracy/ parapolitics magazine Lobster. The book was written nearly a decade and a half ago as a rejoinder to the type of history the Tories would like taught in schools again, and which you see endless recited by the right-wing voices on the web, like ‘the Britisher’, that the British Empire was fundamentally a force for good, spreading peace, prosperity and sound government around the world. The book’s blurb runs

George Bush’s “war on terror” has inspired a forest of books about US imperialism. But what about Britain’s role in the world? The Blood Never Dried challenges the chorus of claims that British Empire was a kinder, gentler force in the world.

George Orwell once wrote that imperialism consists of the policeman and soldier holding the “native” down while the businessman goes through his pockets. But the violence of the empire has also been met by the struggle for freedom, from slaves in Jamaica to the war for independence in Kenya.

John Newsinger sets out to uncover this neglected history of repression and resistance at the heart of the British Empire. He also looks at why the declining British Empire has looked to an alliance with US imperialism. To the boast that “the sun never set on the British Empire”, the Chartist Ernest Jones replied, “And the blood never dried”. 

One of the new imperialists to whom Newsinger takes particular exception is the right-wing historian Niall Ferguson. Newsinger begins the book’s introduction by criticising Ferguson’s 2003 book, Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World, and its successor, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire. Newsinger views these books as a celebration of imperialism as a duty that the powerful nations owe to their weaker brethren. One of the problem with these apologists for imperialism, he states, is their reluctance to acknowledge the extent that the empires they laud rested on the use of force and the perpetration of atrocities. Ferguson part an idyllic childhood, or part of it, in newly independent Kenya. But nowhere does he mention that the peace and security he enjoyed were created through the brutal suppression of the Mau Mau. He states that imperialism has two dimensions – one with the other, competing imperial powers, which have driven imperial expansion, two World Wars and a Cold War, and cost countless lives. And another with the peoples who are conquered and subjugated. It is this second relationship he is determined to explore. He sums up that relationship in the quote from Orwell’s Burmese Days.

Newsinger goes on to state that

It is the contention here that imperial occupation inevitably involved the use of violence and that, far from this being a glorious affair, it involved considerable brutality against people who were often virtually defenceless.

The 1964 film Zulu is a particular example of the type of imperial history that has been taught for too long. It celebrates the victory of a small group of British soldiers at Rourke’s Drift, but does not mention the mass slaughter of hundreds of Zulus afterwards. This was the reality of imperial warfare, of which Bush’s doctrine of ‘shock and awe’ is just a continuation. He makes the point that during the 19th and 20th centuries the British attacked, shelled and bombed city after city, leaving hundreds of casualties. These bombardments are no longer remembered, a fate exemplified by the Indonesian city of Surabaya, which we shelled in 1945. He contrasts this amnesia with what would have happened instead if it had been British cities attacked and destroyed.

He makes it clear that he is also concerned to celebrate and ‘glorify’ resistance to empire, from the slaves in the Caribbean, Indian rebels in the 1850s, the Irish republicans of the First World War, the Palestinian peasants fighting the British and the Zionist settlers in the 1930s, the Mau Mau in the 1950s and the Iraqi resistance today. He also describes how radicals and socialists in Britain protested in solidarity with these resistance movements. The Stop the War Coalition stands in this honourable tradition, and points to the comment, quoted in the above blurb, by the Chartist and Socialist Ernest Jones in the 1850s. Newsinger states ‘Anti-imperialists today stand in the tradition of Ernest Jones and William Morris, another socialist and fierce critic of the empire – a tradition to be proud of.’

As for the supporters of imperialism, they have to be asked how they would react if other countries had done to us what we did to them, such as Britain’s conduct during the Opium War? He writes

The British Empire, it is argued here, is indefensible, except on the premise that the conquered peoples were somehow lesser being than the British. What British people would regard as crimes if done to them, are somehow justified by supporters of the empire when done to others, indeed were actually done for their own good. This attitude is at the very best implicitly racist, and, of course, often explicitly so.

He also attacks the Labour party for its complicity in imperialism. There have been many individual anti-imperialist members of the Labour party, and although Blair dumped just about everything the Labour party stood for domestically, they were very much in the party’s tradition in their support for imperialism and the Iraq invasion. The Labour party’s supposed anti-imperialist tradition is, he states, a myth invented for the consumption of its members.

He also makes it clear that the book is also concerned with exploring Britain’s subordination to American imperialism. While he has very harsh words for Blair, describing his style as a combination of sincerity and dishonesty, the cabinet as ‘supine’ and Labour MPs as the most contemptible in the party’s history, this subordination isn’t actually his. It is institutional and systemic, and has been practised by both Tory and Labour governments despite early concerns by the British to maintain some kind of parity with the Americans. He then goes on to say that by opposing our own government, we are participating in the global fight against American imperialism. And the struggle against imperialism will go on as long as it and capitalism are with us.

This is controversial stuff. When Labour announced that they wanted to include the British empire in the school history curriculum, Sargon of Gasbag, the man who wrecked UKIP, produced a video attacking it. He claimed that Labour wanted to teach British children to hate themselves. The photo used as the book’s cover is also somewhat controversial, because it’s of a group of demonstrators surrounding the shot where Bernard McGuigan died. McGuigan was one of the 14 peaceful protesters shot dead by British soldiers in Derry/London Derry in Bloody Sunday in 1972. But no matter how controversial some might find it, it is a necessary corrective to the glorification of empire most Brits have been subjected to since childhood, and which the Tories and their corporate backers would like us to return.

The book has the following contents:

The Jamaican Rebellion and the Overthrow of Slavery, with individual sections on the sugar empire, years of revolution, overthrow of slavery, abolition and the Morant Bay rebellion of 1865.

The Irish Famine, the great hunger, evictions, John Mitchel and the famine, 1848 in Ireland, and Irish republicanism.

The Opium Wars, the trade in opium, the First Opium War, the Taiping rebellion and its suppression, the Second Opium War, and the Third Opium War.

The Great Indian Rebellion, 1857-58, the conquest of India, company rule, the rebellion, war and repression. The war at home, and the rebellion’s aftermath.

The Invasion of Egypt, 1882, Khedive Ismail and the bankers, demand for Egyptian self-rule, the Liberal response, the vast numbers of Egyptians killed, the Mahdi’s rebellion in the Sudan, and the reconquest of Egypt.

The Post-War Crisis, 1916-26, the Irish rebellion, 1919 Egyptian revolt, military rule in India, War in Iraq, and the 1925 Chinese revolution.

The Palestine Revolt, Zionism and imperialism, the British Mandate, the road to revolt, the great revolt, and the defeat and aftermath.

Quit India, India and the Labour Party, towards ‘Quit India’, the demand for the British to leave, the final judgement on British rule in India and the end of British rule.

The Suez Invasion: Losing the Middle East, Iranian oil, Egypt and the canal zone, Nasser and the road to war, collusion and invasion, aftermath, the Iraqi endgame.

Crushing the Mau Mau in Kenya, pacification, the Mau Mau revolt, war, repression, independence, the other rebellion: Southern Rhodesia.

Malaya and the Far East, the First Vietnam War, Indonesia 1945-6 – a forgotten intervention, the reoccupation of Malaya, the emergency and confrontation.

Britain and the American Empire, Labour and the American alliance, from Suez to Vietnam, British Gaullism, New Labour, and the Iraq invasion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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