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The false promise of fracking and local jobs

January 29th, 2015 No comments

By Susan Christopherson | (The Conversation)

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

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

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

Not a recession buster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FedEx drivers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real winner: Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________________________________________________________

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

The Conversation

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

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

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

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Netanyahu & Boehner: How Israel went from being a Democratic to a Republican Project

January 29th, 2015 No comments

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) —

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

Just think what the equivalent would have been.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related video:

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

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Network Climate Coverage: The Good, the Bad and the (Mostly) Ugly

January 29th, 2015 No comments
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A Historical "What If?": Could the Alexandretta Landing in 1915 Have Worked While Gallipoli Failed?

January 29th, 2015 No comments

Last night I explained how the idea of a British landing at Alexandretta in 1915 ultimately faded due to French objections, limited resources, and Winston Churchill’s focus on the Gallipoli venture, despite some strong strategic arguments for the Alexandretta operation as a means of cutting Turkish communications with the Arab provinces. Today I want to talk about a far more speculative question: could it have worked? Or at any rate, could it have worked better than the alternative chosen, the Gallipoli campaign?

I’m sure the ghosts of the dead at Gallipoli would nt hesitate to say that anything would have worked better than Gallipoli. The real question is could it have succeeded?

Now alternative or counterfactual history is fun. What if Lee won at Gettysburg? If JFK hadn’t been assassinated? If Genghiz khan had lived longer and the Mongols hadn’t retreated from Europe?

It’s also futile because history is contingent on so many factors that can’t be controlled (what if the ‘Protestant Wind” hadn’t blown during the fight with the Spanish Armada?), outright accidents (young King Ghazi of Iraq dying in a car crash), improbable chances (if Franz Ferdinand’s driver in Sarajevo hadn’t turned down the wrung street and tried to reverse in front of the cafe where Gavrilo Princip was having lunch after assuming his plot had failed)?

And one most relevant to our discussion here: if the little Turkish minelayer Nusret had not laid a line of 26 mines that the British and French flotilla failed to detect on March 8, 1915,, leading to the failure of the naval effort to run the Dardanelles on March 18 and the sinking of three capital ships and the crippling of a fourth, even the doomed Gallipoli plan might have worked. But the Navy decided not to try again until the infantry landings, by which time, a month later, the Ottomans were fully ready and Mustafa Kemal in command of part of the front.

Academic historians often won’t admit it, but books like the What If? series and the sci-fi/alternate history series of Harry Turtledove (trained as a Byzantine historian with a UCLA Ph.D., by the way) seem to have a following, and I suspect alternate scenarios are a private guilty pleasure for many historians who won’t admit it.  It is for me.

For reasons we saw yesterday, Alexandretta was abandoned.Given the disastrous bleed-out of Gallipoli, military historians have been tempted to wonder; could Alexandretta have worked instead of Gallipoli? As we saw, a combination of Winston Churchill’s determination and France’s opposition made it impossible, and there was insufficient manpower to do both. But if circumstances had been different, and all those resources diverted to Alexandretta, might it have worked?

Of course, we will never know, The British could have found themselves iun another Gallipoli. But there are some big differences in the battlefields. At Gallipoli, the Ottomans were defending their own capital, and they enjoyed internal lines of communication; they could easily move reinforcements between Anatolia and European Turkey. They had good roads and railroads.

Now consider Alexandretta. As we’ve learned previously, the only rail line to Alexandretta ran directly along the coast; n bad weather it could wash out, and long stretches of it were exposed to offshore naval guns, and Britain monopolized the sea. Only rough mountain roads could bring you to an inland rail line at Aleppo, and that was not yet connected to Anatolian rail lines because the Baghdad Railway had not yet tunneled through the Taurus and Amanus ranges.

If you didn’t read it at the time, I’d urge you to read my lengthy excerpt from Djemal Pasha’s memoirs about his difficulties in reaching Aleppo when going out to take command of the Fourth Army in Damascus. And he was one of the ruling triumvirate and the new overlord of Syria. If even Djemal faced such obstacles, imagine the difficulty of reinforcing Alexandretta by land. There would be no easy internal lines like the Ottomans enjoyed at Gallipoli.

Britain, on the other hand, enjoyed easier logistics at a time when Brittania still ruled the waves.

A successful landing and occupation of Alexandretta might even have provoked the Arab Revolt a year early, though perhaps led by Syrian Arab nationalists rather then Sharif Hussein of Mecca. If an advance inland to Aleppo had been possible (a much bigger challenge) rail supplies to Palestine and the Hejaz could have been cut much to the north of where they were later cut. Allenby’s Palestine campaign might have come sooner.

It’s fun to game out and speculate, but of course it could also have been a disaster on the scale of Gallipoli or Kut for the British.


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Remembering January 28, 2011: The Army Steps In

January 29th, 2015 No comments

Four years ago today, still in the early days of the Egyptian Revolution, the Egyptian Army moved in to separate protesters and the Central Security Forces. In one of my posts on that day, I commented:

Who won today’s running confrontations? Clearly, the demonstrators believe they did. Clearly too, the police and Central Security Forces lost. The Army had to enter Cairo for the first time since 1986, and downtown for the first time since 1977. Exactly what the current dynamic is isn’t clear, because no one knows if the Army will be used against the demonstrators. It apparently did little to protect the NDP headquarters, taking up positions at the Foreign Ministry and the Radio/TV building, both close by. Mubarak’s decision to hang tough means we need to watch a bit more.

I spelled out a number of possible scenarios, none of which played out exactly, except that the Army intervention did portend the officer corps pushing Mubarak to leave.  In those heady days demonstrators welcomed the Army, swarmed around the APCs, and came up with the slogan, “The Army and People are One Hand.”

The next day, January 29, this dramatic video was made, showing three Army APCs moving to put themselves between the demonstrators and the police:

January 28 in retrospect was a critical turning point in the Revolution: The Army, led by what was soon to emerge as the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, was taking control of the situation. In the end it would be the Army, not the protesters, that determined when Mubarak had to leave.

Later the enthusiasm among the protesters for the Army would sour, of course.
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On Journalistic Nonsense about Yemen

January 28th, 2015 No comments

Here is an excellent piece by Bilal Ahmed taking the major media outlets to task for their profound ignorance of Yemen.

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New Saudi King to Obama: Lower-price Oil Policy won’t Change

January 28th, 2015 No comments

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) –

President Obama cut short his India trip to head off to Riyadh in the wake of the death last Thursday of King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia. Some 30 members of the Washington elite came along, of both parties, including Sen. John McCain and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. This love fest underlined the close relations between Saudi Arabia and the United States, which are nearly as important for US Middle East policy as Washington’s special relationship to Israel.

Saudi Arabia gets special treatment from the US, with its arbitrary, absolute monarchy and extensive human rights abuses never being openly condemned by the US government. Iran, which for all the extensive faults of its theocratic government, is substantially freer than Saudi Arabia, is constantly hectored about its authoritarianism and attempt to export a radical form of Islam. But Saudi Arabia is held harmless in D.C. simply by never being brought up in this context. When asked by Fareed Zakaria about this issue of Saudi human rights, Obama took refuge in the close security cooperation between the two countries. He also maintained that the US does pressure Riyadh behind the scenes. But the US routinely complains about invidious policies pursued by European allies out in the open. That Saudi Arabia is treated with kid gloves only has one explanation: It pumps over 10 percent of the petroleum produced daily in the world.

One issue they discussed was the plummeting of oil prices, which is badly hurting North Dakota, where expensive hydraulically fractured petroleum may not be viable at $50 a barrel or less. US oil companies sent stock prices down in the US today by declining to buy new equipment from companies like Caterpillar, which took a hit. Saudi Arabia could put at least some upward pressure on prices by simply pumping a bit less petroleum daily.

But King Salman refused to change the current policy, of allowing the price of petroleum to fall dramatically rather than giving up Saudi oil market share. Saudi Arabia can just cut back on its infrastructure projects and spend less, and it anyway has an enormous surplus of some $750 bn in foreign currency reserves and another equally large sum available for foreign investments. The Saudis may lose $100 billion this year from budget shortfalls, but that sum can be cut if the low prices last (they will probably be with us for at least 3 years).

Obama and Salman also talked about the collapse of Yemen, about Daesh (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria, and about US talks with Iran over its nuclear energy program. CCTV reports, below, that the US is playing down the links of the Zaidi Shiite Houthi movement in Yemen with Iran, while the Saudis see the Houthis as in Iran’s back pocket. As usual in Riyadh, the substance of the rest of what they said to one another could only be speculated on.

But one thing is clear: the Washington-Riyadh political alliance is extremely powerful.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

CCTV: “Obama honors late Saudi King Abdullah; meets with King Salman”

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Women Empowered by Solar Energy in Bangladesh

January 28th, 2015 No comments

World Bank | —

“Bangladesh has become the world’s fastest growing market for solar home systems, thanks in part to IDA – the World Bank’s fund for the poorest. Solar energy is not only replacing expensive fuels, it also has become a tool of social change, empowering girls and women.”

World Bank from 18 months ago: “Women Empowered by Solar Energy in Bangladesh”

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Israel ‘systematically mistreats’ Palestinian children in custody

January 28th, 2015 No comments

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an News Agency) — Some 700 Palestinian children per year are arrested and face “ill-treatment” by Israeli forces, according to a new report by a children’s rights group.

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(MaanImages/file)

In the report, Child Rights International Network said that “during 2014, an average of 197 children were held in military detention every month, 13 per cent of whom are under the age of 16.”

“Arrested children are commonly taken into custody by heavily armed soldiers, blindfolded with their wrists tied behind their backs before being transported to an interrogation centre,” the CRIN report said.

“Children questioned about their experience frequently report verbal and physical abuse during the arrest.”

According to research conducted by Defense for Children International — Palestine cited by the report, some 56 percent of children report having experienced “coercive” interrogation techniques during their time in Israeli custody.

Some 42 percent say they signed documents in Hebrew, despite the fact that most Palestinian children do not speak or understand the language.

Additionally, 22 percent of detained children say they underwent up to 24 hours of solitary confinement, in violation of international standards.

“This detention is a clear violation of children’s rights under several international human rights treaties to which Israel is a party,” the CRIN report said.

“The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Torture has called for a complete ban on solitary confinement for juveniles, warning that it ‘can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment when used as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely or for prolonged periods, for persons with mental disabilities or juveniles.’”

The report said that while it is technically possible to file a complaint about the way a child is treated in Israeli detention, “complaints are almost universally dismissed,” and there are “very few examples of soldiers being punished for ill-treatment.”

14-year-old girl imprisoned for 2 months

The report highlighted a case in which a 14-year-old girl from Ramallah was arrested on Dec. 31 and held for 22 days in Israel before being issued a sentence.

She was charged with throwing stones, blocking the road, and possessing a knife, “sentenced to two months in prison, and fined $1,528 by an Israeli military court.”

Her father believes she was coerced into confessing, saying: “She seemed to be very sick and scared.”

“The plight of this one girl put a face on a system that routinely runs roughshod over children’s rights,” CRIN said. “But behind this story there is a broader issue.”

The report recommended reforms while noting that countless other recommendations by human rights groups regarding the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli custody have gone unheeded by Israeli authorities.

Ultimately, CRIN concluded, children will never be treated well under an Israeli military justice system.

“Regardless of the precise formulation of military rule, it can never protect children in the same way as a developed civilian juvenile justice system which places the best interests of the child at the centre of its work.”

Via Ma’an News Network

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January 1915; The Alexandretta Landing Idea Fades Away

January 28th, 2015 No comments

In December, as part of my discussion of the 100th anniversary of the Great War in the Middle East, I discussed the strategic origins of the concept of a British landing and occupation of Alexandretta (?skenderun), and we also discussed HMS Doris’ raid on Alexandretta and other ports on the Syrian coast. The idea of such a lending had originated even before the war, and both Lord Kitchener at the War Office in London and General Sir John Maxwell, the British Commander in Egypt, were enthusiastic supporters. Young 2nd Lieutenant T.E. Lawrence of the intelligence section, who knew Alexandretta from his prewar adventures in Syria, became a strong advocate and sometimes claimed to have originated the idea, though it was discussed for months before his assignment to Cairo.

Yet by late January, 1915, the Alexandretta scenario had virtually evaporated, due to a combination of factors: a shortage of resources, objections by France, and most of all, First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.

As we have seen in our previous posts on the war in both Egypt and Mesopotamia, British forces in the Middle East (except for one Territorial Division from home,, the 42nd East Lancashires), all the British troops in the Middle East were colonials from the Indian Army (both British and Indian units), and the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (the ANZACs. These were the forces Britain had in the theater and their first responsibility was protection of the Suez Canal.

But the idea that the Canal could best be defended not merely by a passive defense but by a forward defense behind Ottoman lines appealed to planners. But there were two competing options. While Kitchener at the War Office and Maxwell in Egypt were keen for the Alexandretta plan, Churchill at the Admiralty was totally focused on the idea of running the Dardanelles and taking Constantinople.

Both projects had their advocates and, if Britain were not also bogged down against Germany on the Western Front, might have been possible. (Though, of course, the Ottomans would nver have gone to war with Britain and Russia without their German and Austrian allies.)

By January 1915, the planning for the Dardanelles venture, what became the Gallipoli campaign, was under way. though the Army preferred Alexandretta, it could not be done without the Royal Navy, and the Admiralty was laser-focused (in those pre-laser days) on the Dardanelles. Alexandretta would have to be done with whatever else could be spared, if anything.

We’ve previously looked at the strategic arguments for the Alexandretta landings, but by December the problem was emerging of where to find the troops. By January, the Turkish advance toward the Suez Canal was getting under way, and that was Britain’s lifeline to India.

On January r, Milne Cheatham, Acting British High Commissioner in Egypt until Sir henry McMahon’s arrival a few days later, strongly urged the Alexandretta plan. But in London, while the idea had much appeal, there was debate about how many troops would be needed: somewhere between 21,000 and 50,000 seemed to be the prevailing view.

But the Indian and ANZAC troops were still being trained; many would be needed for defense of the Canal and the Dardanelles. Where would the troops come from? Kitchener wired Maxwell in Egypt asking if ANZAC Commander General Birdwood could spare 5,000 of his Australians for the operation. (For more on Gen. “Birdy” Birdwood, see my earlier post here.) Birdwood candidly said he thought far more troops were needed, but was ordered to proceed. with planning anyway.

But if the military planners were enthusiastic, the diplomats had another issue. France had long seen itself as the outside protector of the Maronite Christians in Lebanon and had a longstanding stated interest in Syria and the Levant generally. France appears to have let its British allies know that it was not enthusiastic about British troops landing in an area it saw as a future sphere of influence if the Ottoman Empire disintegrated. In January it was agreed that a French Military Mission would be dispatched to Cairo; its arrival in February was the death knell for any real chances of Alexandretta happening.

The idea did not die completely, though, and would crop up again in 1916 and 1918. The French and the Admiralty ultimately killed it. Churchill wanted every available resource for his pet project of Gallipoli, and France wanted no English forces ashore in Syria.

Military history buffs and fans of alternative history scenarios still wonder if it might have worked. I’ll address that question tomorrow


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