Arthur Rothstein Installation of a 30,000 kilowatt generator at Cherokee Dam Jun 1942
There are presidential elections in Turkey today, and current prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks set to win. Which means the US will have a definitely uncomfortable bedfellow in the Eastern Europe/Middle East region (the borders between the two are not terribly clear) in the coming years.
Erdogan has recently become a very loud opponent of Israel – and all the world’s Jews – , and US relationships with him had already been cooling way before this latest foray into ‘international diplomacy’.
Turkey is a secular state, and as such an indispensable buffer zone between religious spheres. But Erdogan knows he needs the votes of the muslim population in his country, which makes up about 98% of the total 76 million. And now the US will need him, and Turkey as a whole, perhaps more than ever. Obama may have some sucking up to do.
Like Erdogan, his neighbor, Syria’s President Assad, has been an unwanted ally. Last year, accusations of poison gas used in his fight against Al Queda linked rebels backfired on Washington, which managed to save face – but only sort of – when Obama asked Vladimir Putin to convince Assad to give up his chemical weapons. Which he did.
Over the past while, out of the boondoggle US invasion of Iraq, a new group has risen, the Islamist State (IS) – formerly ISIS. Much of their weaponry consists of US arms seized from the Iraqi army.
President Obama last week ordered targeted airstrikes on their positions near the Kurdish city of Erbil, which has a US Embassy, and is not far from the giant Mosul dam.
Today, the president prepared Americans for the fact that this may be a long term operation. Weeks, months. Where have we heard similar things before?
One good look at this WSJ map (click to enlarge) of hotspots in Iraq would seem to make it clear that airstrikes in just one place may indeed not do much of anything.
And besides, Iraq was never a country, only a western invention. The Islamist State are Sunni, then there’s the Shi’ite, and the Kurds the IS are presently fighting, and who also happen to have millions of people just across the border in Turkey. Nice mix, right?
The Islamist State’s main adversary so far – besides the Iraqi army – has been Assad. Now, they have started to threaten Turkey as well. Erdogan earlier this year decided to close the Ataturk dam on the Euphrates River (of Fertile Crescent fame), cutting off the water supply to northern Syria (which includes Islamist State base camp city Raqqa) and, further downstream, large parts of Iraq. Here’s the flow of the 1700 mile-long Euphrates:
And here are the parts of Syria and Iraq presently assumed to be under IS control (the blanks spots are mostly inhospitable terrain, mountains, deserts):
It’s obvious why the Euphrates water is important to the IS. And why they seized control over the Mosul dam (a spot, by the way, that the US cannot risk bombing).
Water is at least as precious in the Middle East as it is in the southwestern US these days.
In a video series made by VICE (see below), an IS member says Erdogan should open the dam or they will conquer Istanbul and do it for him.
Blocking people’s access to water as a warfare tool is something international law frowns upon for obvious reasons. And Erdogan isn’t even at war with the Islamist State. Yet.
Will the US be able to stay out of the war if the IS decide to expand northward, over the Turkish border? It’s certainly not going to be easy.
Meanwhile, America’s main allies are an Israel basher and a butcher with the blood of thousands upon thousands of his own people on his hands. With wrong friends like that …
There is one man in the world without whose – absolutely indispensable – assistance nothing the US come up with, will work.
He’s already helped Obama out of a very tight spot once, and he could do it again. He carries a lot of clout in the region, probably more than anyone else in the world. And knows it better than anyone else.
But that man has in record time gone from one of America’s allies, and an almost-friend of Obama, to the number one public enemy.
Obama, and Washington as a whole, may yet come to regret alienating Vladimir V. Putin the way they have.
There is no way this did not cross Obama’s mind just before he ordered the airstrikes.
Here are the videos from VICE (first 2 released in a series of 5):
The Islamic State, a hardline Sunni jihadist group that formerly had ties to al Qaeda, has conquered large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Previously known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the group has announced their intention to reestablish the caliphate and declared their leader, the shadowy Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the caliph.
Flush with cash and US weapons seized during recent advances in Iraq, the Islamic State’s expansion shows no sign of slowing down. In the first week of August alone, Islamic State fighters have taken over new areas in northern Iraq, encroaching on Kurdish territory and sending Christians and other minorities fleeing as reports of massacres emerged.
Elsewhere in territory it has held for some time, the Islamic State has gone about consolidating power and setting up a government dictated by Sharia law. While the world may not recognize the Islamic State, in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the group is already in the process of building a functioning regime.
VICE News reporter Medyan Dairieh spent three weeks embedded with the Islamic State, gaining unprecedented access to the group in Iraq and Syria as the first and only journalist to document its inner workings. In part one, Dairieh heads to the frontline in Raqqa, where Islamic State fighters are laying siege to the Syrian Army’s division 17 base.
The Spread of the Caliphate: The Islamic State (Part 1)
Grooming Children for Jihad: The Islamic State (Part 2)
• Obama Signals Lengthy US Role in Iraq (WSJ)
President Barack Obama signaled the likelihood of an enduring U.S. military involvement in Iraq, but said airstrikes and other aid would only help contain the threat from Sunni extremists until the country’s leaders form a new government to confront the crisis. The latest offensive by the militant group Islamic State over the past week brought the fighters to within 25 miles of the capital of the semiautonomous Kurdish region, Erbil. The U.S. conducted three rounds of airstrikes on Friday aimed at halting further moves toward the city, where American military advisers and diplomats are stationed. The group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has captured large swaths of Iraqi territory since June. The insurgents tried to advance farther northward on Saturday, but then retreated. The Islamic State is accused of attempting to perpetrate a genocide against the Yazidi religious minority. On Saturday, the U.S. launched four airstrikes designed to defend Yazidis who were coming under attack from the Islamic extremists.
Since President Obama authorized U.S. intervention on Thursday night, U.S. forces have airdropped three deliveries of food and water to tens of thousands of Yazidis trapped on a northern mountainside by the rapid advance of the militants. The American president has pledged a strictly limited military involvement and insisted U.S. combat troops won’t return to fight in Iraq. But he refused Saturday to set an end-date for the new military operations—the first since American troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011. “I don’t think we’re going to solve this problem in weeks,” Mr. Obama said in his first remarks to reporters since airstrikes were launched. “I think this is going to take some time” for Iraqi forces to mount an effective offensive against Islamic State. Instead, the White House is pressing Iraqi leaders to form a more inclusive new government that can unite the country’s disparate groups and more effectively counter the militants. Iraqi politicians are meeting this weekend against a constitutional deadline for forming a new government.
But it’s the last thing they want.
• World War on Russia’s Mind When US Duels Over Ukraine (Bloomberg)
While some of Glazyev’s proposals have been rebuffed by the government, such as his list of 15 countermeasures against countries that penalize Russia and calls for the central bank to lower interest rates, his denunciation of outside meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs in January and a defense of then-President Viktor Yanukovych highlighted the turn taken by Kremlin during the crisis, which culminated in the seizure of Crimea in March. Putin, who’s repeatedly denied any involvement in the pro-Russian insurrection raging in eastern Ukraine, said last month that “ultimatums” made by the U.S. and the EU are aiming to destabilize his country. He also accused the U.S. and its allies of exploiting the crash of Malaysian Air Flight 17 to force him to renounce support for people of Russian heritage in Ukraine. These arguments resonate with Glazyev, who said the U.S. is trying to grow stronger at the expense of others, thwarting integration across Eurasia and checking China’s clout.
In May, Putin signed a treaty with his counterparts from Kazakhstan and Belarus to create a trading bloc of more than 170 million people. Kyrgyzstan and Armenia are seeking to join by the end of the year. The union, effective from the start of 2015, is intended to yield a free flow of goods, capital and workers, and will level tariff and non-tariff regulations. Putin has sought to lure Ukraine and its more than 40 million people into the alliance to build a trading bloc to rival the EU. Yanukovych pursued closer ties with the customs union and pulled out of an association agreement with the EU before his ouster in February. His successor, President Petro Poroshenko, signed the free-trade accord with the 28-nation bloc in June. Russia can’t go it alone against the U.S. and must create an “anti-war coalition” to check the “aggressor,” Glazyev said. “The point of a series of regional wars organized by the Americans, especially today’s catastrophe in Ukraine, centers on the U.S. securing control over all of north Eurasia” to bolster “its position against China,” Glazyev said.
“That’s how the U.S. military and oligarchs are trying to maintain leadership in the global competition with China.” The effort will backfire, said Glazyev, who spoke before a round of retaliatory steps announced by Russia yesterday banning food and agricultural products for one year from the U.S., the EU, Norway, Canada and Australia. The U.S.-led “economic war” against Russia will ricochet, leaving the EU to pay the steepest costs in the conflict, he said. The trading bloc stands to lose about 1 trillion euros ($1.3 trillion), an estimate he says includes the possible bankruptcy of several European banks and companies toppled after the cutoff in financial and economic ties. An energy crisis in Europe will bring a sharp spike in prices and a loss of competitiveness for European producers. Meanwhile, Turkish, Chinese and east Asian nations will fill the void left by the departure of their European rivals from the Russian market.
Can’t have some petty sanctions stand in the way of oil and the survival of Exxon.
• Putin Praises Exxon Alliance as Arctic Drilling Starts (Bloomberg)
President Vladimir Putin lauded Russia’s “old and reliable partner” Exxon Mobil as he gave the command for the U.S. energy company and ally OAO Rosneft to begin drilling a $700 million Arctic Ocean oil well. Putin, Rosneft Chief Executive officer Igor Sechin and Exxon’s Russia head Glenn Waller, undeterred by the crisis in U.S.-Russian relations, together welcomed the start of the country’s northernmost well. It’s the first step in a quest for new energy resources to help maintain oil production near a post-Soviet high of more than 10 million barrels a day.
“Despite current political difficulties, pragmatism and common sense prevails,” Putin said at the Black Sea resort of Sochi as he gave the command via video to commence drilling today. “Nowadays, commercial success is defined by an efficient international cooperation. Businesses, including the largest domestic and foreign companies, understand this perfectly.” The European Union imposed a third round of sanctions last month, restricting the export of equipment used for offshore oil production to Russia after its relations with Europe and the U.S. deteriorated to the lowest point since the Cold War over the conflict in Ukraine. That hasn’t stopped Exxon, the world’s largest energy company, because the contract to hire the rig was signed before the measures were announced. The U.S. also separately sanctioned Russian energy companies Rosneft and OAO Novatek.
Greece gets hit hard by the sanctions on Russia. And they’re long-time friends.
• ‘EU And Russia Are Entering An Open Trade And Economic War’ (RT)
Russia and the EU have to look for a basis for a new dialogue of non-confrontation as they should be strategic partners working for consolidation of peace and normal economic life, Kostas Isyhos from Greece’s left-wing SYRIZA party told RT.
RT: Why is your party calling to have the sanctions dropped?
Kostas Isyhos: First of all, because Greece is going through the 5th year of constant recession. The memorandum policy which has been followed with austerity programs in the last five years has created great problems for the Greek economy and especially for Greek exports. Russia has been a strategic partner for Greece in many farming and food exports products, and we believe that the sanctions that have been followed by counter-sanctions, we have been critical to this process because it is fueling the crisis, it is not deescalating the crisis, and the confrontation due to the Ukrainian crisis. So we are very much critical and in disagreement with the Greek government’s policies in following these sanctions.
RT: Is the government likely to follow your demands?
KI: We are an opposition party, we are the first party in the last European elections as far as percentage is concerned, we are very large political force, we are trying to introduce strong arguments as far as convincing the Greek government, that has to stop following these sanctions that have been imposed by Washington and Brussels. This is going to hurt the Greek people, Southern European countries and the Russian consumers of course. This is not the situation of defueling the crisis or de-escalating the crisis. It is an open trade and economic war in the first stages, and we are very much worried because of the geopolitical, geographic and economic situation of Greece at this moment.
RT: Greece is still in the EU’s bailout program. Can the country afford losing a key trade partner?
KI: We cannot. We should stand for expanding strategic issues as far as trade is concerned with Russian energy, food exports, tourism industry, etc. Instead we are seeing a decrease in economic relations on both sides and this is going to hurt Greece a lot, not only in the short-term but also in the medium-term and in a long-term perspective. We believe that we need partners to increase our exports in the next years, and this is a situation that is going to hurt us a lot.
• Something’s Got To Give In Italy: Better It Be Draghi’s Cheap Loans (Observer)
European Central bank boss Mario Draghi came to London last month to criticise his fellow Italians. In an unusually candid speech to an audience that included Bank of England governor Mark Carney, he lambasted his fellow countrymen for wanting Brussels to become a “transfer union”, in which debts were pooled. It was, he argued, a brazen attempt by Rome to offload its enormous public sector liabilities on its more solvent neighbours. Draghi is one of many senior European policymakers who believe that southern European governments are lazy and corrupted by easy credit. It’s a view he shares with Germany’s finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble – Brussels’ paymaster. Without making a direct reference to Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi’s administration, Draghi said austerity and reform forced nations to grow up and realise they must work for a living and stop relying on loans to pay the bills. He and Schäuble want Renzi to stick to plan A.
Making a broader point, he said the stability of the eurozone depended “not on having more flexibility” but on enforcing the existing fiscal rules. “To unwind the consolidation that has been achieved, and in doing so, divest the rules of credibility, would be self-defeating for all countries,” he said. The speech came only a few months after Renzi’s elevation to the premiership and his pitch to Brussels for greater flexibility. Renzi wants the commission to give him longer to institute reforms while he attempts to balance the books. Then, last Thursday, Draghi told journalists at his monthly press conference that eurozone interest rates would be staying low for a long time to help the eurozone recover. Appearing doveish and conciliatory, he added that he was prepared to make credit cheaper still with a version of quantitative easing (QE) but, switching to a more hawkish tone, he added that the time for flooding the banking system with cash, Bank of England-style, had yet to arrive.
He is wrong. Italy, France and the Netherlands are already in trouble. They need cheap loans to ameliorate the worst effects of difficult reforms. The Renzi administration is dealing with an economy in recession for a third time. The government’s finances are getting weaker. One firm of analysts said last week that only with higher growth and higher inflation could Italy escape its death spiral. The magic of inflation, for debtors, is that it devalues the debt and makes it easier to service.
You make a few people better off, and pretend that’s your whole economy. Sounds familiar …
• Why A Little Economic Growth Won’t See An End To The Pain In Spain (Observer)
Just streets away from Madrid’s only three-Michelin-starred restaurant, peeling buildings in the city’s Tetuán neighbourhood have been plastered with posters featuring the faces of five women. Placed at eye level, each a few yards apart, the women’s portraits are accompanied by descriptions of their situation. “I’m one of the 23,000 people in Tetuán who has to decide between eating or paying the bills,” reads one poster. “My daughters and grandchildren barely get by on my €600-a-month pension,” reads another. The Invisibles of Tetuán campaign was dreamed up by local activists after city officials disagreed with them over the need for a community food bank. In a neighbourhood characterised by gleaming skyscrapers, in which conversation is now dominated by talk of Spain’s recovery, few imagine that there are local families still at risk of eviction, says organiser Carmen Clemente. As the portrait of a middle-aged woman named Martha reminds passersby, there are 5,000 such families.
“We wanted to show what was actually happening on the ground. The unemployed are still unemployed. Families are still worried about having their water turned off.” When the group launched its campaign, in May, news of it was buried among the headlines trumpeting good economic news for Spain. The country’s GDP had grown at 0.4% in the first quarter of 2014, the highest rate in six years, according to the National Statistics Institute. In the second quarter it accelerated to 0.6%, making Spain one of the strongest performers in the eurozone. It was a relief for the many who have been watching the eurozone’s fourth-largest economy closely. Spain had created more than 190,000 jobs over the previous 12 months, its first annual increase in employment in six years, and the biggest drop in jobless numbers since 2006. The sky-high unemployment rate was beginning to ease, from 26% to 24.5%.
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy could barely contain his excitement. “I have been waiting a long time – since I took office, to be precise – to give you news like this,” he said. “The labour market has made a 180-degree turn.” The Spanish government accordingly raised its forecast for this year’s economic growth from 0.7% to 1.2%. For 2015, it was forecasting 1.8%. It was backed by the International Monetary Fund, which noted in its annual report on the Spanish economy that “Spain has turned the corner”. For those worried that the relief might be shortlived, the report added: “We expect the recovery to continue over the medium term.” But just as Spain was becoming more confident in its recovery, official data from Italy on Tuesday showed that the Italian economy had contracted in the second quarter of 2014, putting it officially back in recession for a third time. As analysts noted, the news undermined the note of optimism in Spain’s recovery.
• Private Equity Has Plenty Of Willing Suckers… I Mean, Investors (Observer)
“It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a zero-sum game: somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another.” So said Gordon Gekko, the anti-hero in Oliver Stone’s 1987 film Wall Street, as he perfectly described the financial world’s attitude to acquiring more and more money. It will probably be worth recalling that approach this week as we sit through two sets of results from firms just floated by Gekko’s branch of finance, private equity. On the real Wall Street, we get second-quarter numbers from King Digital Entertainment, the UK computer games group flogged to American investors earlier this year. The shares have lost 15% since.
On the same day we also get numbers from the takeaway food website Just Eat, sold to pension funds by venture capital in April, but now 17% cheaper. There are plenty of similar tales about private equity’s class of 2014 – all of which seemed to find obedient fund managers to buy the shares, despite all the warnings about being suckered in at the top of the market. Still, those pension fund managers criticised for sacrificing our hard-earned can consult Gekko for a decent riposte: the money has not been lost, they can argue, simply transferred to an alternative perception.
“Merkel now stands as one with the USA, but they already know that, as apparently Washington reads her email most days before she does.”
• The Logic Of Modern Diplomacy, aka Sanctions 101 (RT)
When you perceive an external threat, send a clear sign: i.e. withdraw bank accounts and deliver new warships. Specializing in business, startups and generally encouraging economic growth, perhaps naively, I always thought the essence of diplomacy was to keep talking. Apparently the modern vogue is to get your nation’s side of the story in first and then defend the hype. Thus global geopolitics now resembles the speculative drama which is Jay Z’s and Beyonce’s marriage. Meanwhile, in a remarkable new development on the world stage which has left even my ‘flabber’ firmly in the ‘gasted’ camp, various European politicians (‘leader’ remains far too grandiose a term) have united for new sanctions. Like many EU deals, this involves the French and Germans doing nothing much other than ululating while the British bear the cost. The straw man hyper-mediocrity masquerading as British Prime Minister David Cameron thus ‘chillaxed’ his way through another month while engineering Britain as the biggest loser.
Ultimately, the end agreement, even by the usually challenging form of labyrinthine multinational compromises by which modern sanctions are born, is, frankly, bizarre. Or perhaps I am just being cynical. Britain bears the brunt here by refusing various banking and financial facilities to specific Russian entities and individuals. This seems to run contrary to even my patchy understanding of game theory. If you perceive somebody to be a threat to you, why supply them with bright shiny new French warships? Will a British banker withdrawing a checkbook from an irate oligarch in London instantly placate anybody perceived as prone to aggression? Perhaps this is why the Nazis failed at the siege of Stalingrad. They cut off gas, water and food from the freezing city. They ought to have just threatened to close a few savings accounts and the besieged Russians would have given up hope immediately…or at least that appears to be EU sanctions ‘logic’ 101. I am not entirely convinced, to put it mildly.
Of course gas is an interesting issue, Chancellor Merkel and friends intend to use rather a lot of it this winter supplied, from…well have a guess! Now if Russia is such a threat, why not just stop buying its gas? Of course that won’t work in the modern Europe, as actually it would hurt Germany’s economy, so hence Merkel gets somebody else to take the pain. In this case, the citizens of Britain. If that’s partnership then perhaps ‘European solidarity’ has been redefined by Brussels (much like bankruptcy)? Merkel now stands as one with the USA, but they already know that, as apparently Washington reads her email most days before she does.
Not everyone’s view, but it’s still well made.
• Organized Community Defense Is America’s Last Hope (AltMarket)
I believe that the idea that self defense is a morally unacceptable option for dissenting groups is an obnoxiously false one, promoted by the establishment itself and sold to easily brainwashed dupes to steer the public away from the only method that could in fact do harm to the elitist power structure. The holier-than-thou attitude of the pacifists is encouraged as the system plays to their exaggerated sense of righteousness. Good people want to remain seen as good people, and even though deep down most of them understand that fighting back against aggression is not wrong, the peer pressure of the sunshine patriots often convinces them to keep their mouths shut, or otherwise they might “hurt the cause.” I say that without self defense and the possibility of action, there is no cause.
As I write this, I am working during a brief trip to Alaska. I was invited by Stewart Rhodes, the head of Oath Keepers, to check out the logistical progress of a project he has launched in an effort to counter the apathy and inability of the American populace today to present a meaningful defense against a host of threats the public faces in these increasingly chaotic times. The very real dangers of economic instability, poverty, civil unrest, open borders, viral pandemic, and Federal corruption are all factors that led to the creation of the Oath Keepers CPT (Community Preparedness Team) program. The CPT program is a State-by-State program designed to reestablish the concept of localized community preparedness and self defense measures in case of regional or national crisis, including localized security, medical, food and water supply, as well as engineering and communications: everything a neighborhood, a town, a county, or state would need to rebuild in the advent of unexpected (or expected) catastrophe.
The CPT mission is to train groups of people within as many communities as possible to a pinnacle of preparedness knowledge, and then send them out to train other citizens in other towns and counties, replicating their knowledge across the nation as they go until eventually every person has the ability to become self reliant and unafraid. The establishment would have you wait for help in the wake of a disaster, begging a bureaucracy like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for aid that you may never receive, when you could be helping yourself and your neighbors without any need for Federal involvement. The establishment would also rather have you unorganized and helpless in the event that they choose to overstep their Constitutional mandate and deny you your inborn liberties.
Thought it was really really bad? It’s much worse.
• Japan Prepares Mass Dump Of Radioactive Water Into Pacific (Zero Hedge)
A few days ago, with over a three year delay, Japan finally admitted what was clear to most from day one: the consequences of the Fukushima disaster have been far, far worse than officials had reported, and not only is the containment effort out of control, but that more nuclear fuel had melted at the Fukushima nuclear reactor than previously reported, suggesting that neither TEPCO nor the government have had any success in mitigating what is now the worst – and ongoing – nuclear disaster in history. So now, perhaps to celebrate its truth-telling ways, TEPCO has announced that it is planning to release thousands of tons of radioactive groundwater from the Fukushima disaster site into the ocean. Actually scratch that: officially the water dumped into the Pacific will be “decontaminated”, because TEPCO has that rare habit of “telling the truth.” It will also do so only after getting permission from local fishermen, who apparently have a choice: whether to catch five-eyed tuna after giving TEPCO “yes” for an answer, or merely catching five-eyed tuna, period.
As NHK confirms, TEPCO “is seeking approval from fishermen to discharge decontaminated ground water into the ocean.” The spin: dumping “decontaminated” water into the ocean is an improvement because Fukushima is already leaking some 200 tons of contaminated ground water per day into the ocean. So why not slap a “treated” sticker on the water and just dump it all. It’s not as if the idiotic plan lifted straight from Game of Thrones, which Japan came up with last year to encase Fukushima in a frozen sarcophagus had any chance of working. So now it is straight to what anyone with a functioning frontal lobe said would happen anyway: thousands if not millions of tons of radioactive water will enter the Pacific anyway. Only this time TEPCO is at least pretending to care about the truth and/or the environment. More from NHK:
Highly radioactive water at the plant is seeping into the earth and mixing with ground water. Experts estimate around 200 tons of contaminated ground water are leaking into the ocean each day. Engineers with Tokyo Electric Power Company are building an iron barrier along a coastal embankment in a bid to contain the problem. TEPCO officials say they plan to pump the water and remove radioactive substances using a decontamination system they are building. They say the barrier and the decontamination system will be in place in September. But they have limited capacity in storage tanks at the plant, and want to discharge the decontaminated water into the ocean.
In other words, to avoid dumping radioactive water into the Pacific, Japan has to… dump radioactive water into the Pacific. Brilliant.
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