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Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s return to Lebanon: A moment of truth

By James M. Dorsey / Mid-East Soccer.

The proof will be in the pudding when Prime Minister Saad Hariri returns home in the coming days to a country in which friend and foe have rallied around him and he clarifies whether he intends to follow through on his controversial decision to resign.

Few in Lebanon and beyond believe that Mr. Hariri, a dual Lebanese-Saudi citizen whose family company in the kingdom declared bankruptcy earlier this year in one of the first casualties of Saudi Arabia’s fiscal crisis, voluntarily stepped down on November 4 while on a visit to Riyadh.

Mr. Hariri’s subsequent interview on his own Lebanese television station did little to erase suspicion that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman forced him to resign in an opening bid to counter Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shiite militia that constitutes one of Lebanon’s most formidable political forces. Mr. Hariri warned that Saudi Arabia and its allies could ride roughshod on Lebanon’s economy by imposing sanctions and expelling hundreds of thousands of Lebanese employed in the kingdom.

The fact that Mr. Hariri announced that he would leave his wife and children in the kingdom when he returns to Beirut will reinforce suspicion of Saudi arm twisting should he, once back in the Lebanese capital, move forward with his resignation.

Further calling into question Mr. Hariri’s independence, were reports that Khalid al-Tuwaijri, the head of late King Abdullah’s court, who was among scores of princes, officials and businessmen arrested earlier this month on corruption charges in a sweeping purge, had illicitly paid the Hariri family company $9 billion.

Rumours that Prince Mohammed’s leverage over Mr. Hariri involves the prime minister potentially been sucked into the crown prince’s power grab, executed under the mum of an anti-corruption campaign, were reinforced by the fact that the fate of one of Mr. Hariri’s closest Saudi business associates, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Fahd, remains unclear.

A son of late King Fahd, whose immediate relatives were one target group in this month’s selective of purge of members of the ruling family, senior officials and prominent businessmen, Prince Abdul Aziz was first reported to have been put under house arrest during a crackdown in September when scores of Islamic scholars, judges and activists were arrested. It remains unclear whether he is still under house arrest or has been transferred to Riyadh’s gilded prison in the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Lebanon’s foremost Sunni politician, Mr. Hariri was widely credited with keeping the government. in which Hezbollah is represented, together, and ensuring that the country remained on the side lines of the Syrian war despite Hezbollah fighting alongside Syrian government forces and more than a million Syrian refugees spilling into the country.

Mr. Hariri announced his resignation a day after meeting in Beirut with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior advisor to Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Hariri’s office said the prime minister had urged Iran to halt its support of the Houthis as a first step towards ending the war in Yemen. Mr. Hariri denied Mr. Velayati’s assertion that the prime minister had offered to mediate between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

In his resignation speech on Saudi television, Mr. Hariri uncharacteristically dropped his effort to maintain a modicum of unity in Lebanon by echoing Saudi allegations that Iran and its surrogate, Hezbollah, were attempting sow unrest and instability in the Arab world.

Mr. Hariri may well have been caught in a Catch-22 with Saudi Arabia and more hard-line Lebanese Sunnis demanding that he take a firmer stand towards Hezbollah and the militia and other Shiite groups insisting that Lebanon normalize relations with the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Lebanon minimized contact with Mr. Al-Assad as part of its effort to disassociate itself from the conflict in Syria.

Reporting from the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, one of the country’s poorest urban centres that is home to both Sunnis and Shiites, journalist Sunniva Rose described how some hard liners, supporters of former justice minister Ashraf Rifi, who resigned earlier this year in protest against Hezbollah’s domination of politics, were putting up posters with portraits of Mr. Rifi and Prince Mohammed.

The risks for the Lebanese is that they will pay the price for Saudi efforts to counter Iranian influence in the Middle East that is being fought on their backs. Saudi Arabia exploited Mr. Hariri’s resignation with Gulf affairs minister Thamer al-Sabhan declaring two days later that the Lebanese government would “be dealt with as a government declaring war on Saudi Arabia” because of Hezbollah.

Mr. Al-Sabhan warned that “there are those who will stop (Hezbollah) and make it return to the caves of South Lebanon”, the heartland of Lebanon’s Shia community. “Lebanese must all know these risks and work to fix matters before they reach the point of no return,” Mr. Al-Sabhan went on to say.

Prince Mohammed, in a gesture, towards Lebanese Christians and an effort to project the kingdom’s transition to what he described as an undefined form of moderate Islam, received Lebanon’s Maronite Christian Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai this week. The patriarch met separately with Mr. Hariri.

Sporting a big cross on his chest in a country that bans expressions of non-Muslim religions, Patriarch Al Rai’s visit constituted a rare occasion on which the kingdom welcomed a non-Muslim religious dignitary. He was the first Lebanese public figure to visit Saudi Arabia since Mr. Hariri’s resignation.

Lebanon’s political elite, including the prime minister’s Future Movement and Hezbollah, beyond rallying around Mr. Hariri, has called for calm and sought to ensure that the political crisis does not destabilize the country further, or even worse, constitute a prelude to its descent into renewed sectarian strife.

The elite as well as many ordinary Lebanese fear that their country has become the latest pawn in a Saudi-Iranian proxy war that has primarily been at the expense of others. Saudi efforts to counter Iran’s expanding influence in the Middle sparked the kingdom’s ill-fated military intervention in Yemen with devastating humanitarian consequences. Iranian and Saudi intervention in Syria alongside many others aggravated the bloodshed in a brutal six-year long civil war.

Mr. Hariri’s risky resignation constitutes a Saudi-inspired bid to deprive Iranian influence of the legitimacy conveyed upon it by being part of the Lebanese government.

Speaking in Paris, Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil insisted that “Lebanon would like for its decisions to be taken freely. Lebanon creates its internal and foreign policy with the will of its people and its leaders who are elected by the people…. Once Hariri is back in Lebanon he can take any decision he sees as right and possible.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and co-host of the New Books in Middle Eastern Studies podcast. James is the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title as well as Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africa

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Is Peak Permian Only 3 Years Away?

By Tsvetana Paraskova / Oilprice.com

The world's hottest shale basin, the Permian, is leading the second U.S. wave of tight oil production growth and will continue to do so for years to come, all analysts say.

However, signs have started to emerge that the relentless intensification of drilling leads to diminishing returns, Simon Flowers, Chairman and Chief Analyst at Wood Mackenzie, said in an article this week. Pumping twice as much sand as usual into Permian wells and drilling longer laterals doesn't deliver commensurate volumes of oil, Flowers notes.

"Drilling costs rise exponentially with depth, and there's a suspicion that longer wells are hitting a cost efficiency ceiling," WoodMac's chief analyst writes.

Moreover, after the early production-exuberance stage, drillers are now much more focused on delivering profits and higher profit margins. They now favor quality over quantity, and value over volumes.

"Might the Permian be reaching the limits of well size and design? Maybe—as Star Trek's Scotty might observe of an underwhelming high intensity completion ‘you cannae change the laws of physics, Jim'," Flowers says. But WoodMac suggests that drillers could ‘change the laws of physics' and that these signs of setbacks may actually be growing pains.

The energy consultancy's Director of L48 Research, Rob Clarke, argues that there are two basic and very sound reasons that the fading lateral drilling and proppant metrics might be just growing pains. One is much more advanced proppant placement, and the other is the oil majors' move into the Permian, set to change things.

"Now, pinpoint frac technology can place the proppant exactly where it's wanted. Science is also being applied to identify the most effective proppant grain size and shape as well as drill bit design and fluid chemistry, all with the aim of boosting EUR," according to WoodMac.

In addition, ExxonMobil significantly boosted its Permian position earlier this year, and Exxon has "global expertise in extra-long laterals—including a 39,000 footer in Russia," WoodMac says.

ExxonMobil has already drilled a 12,500-foot well in the Permian and "will no doubt ramp up longer still to test the diminishing returns theory," Clarke noted.

Now the next challenge will be to deliver an effective completion of such a long well.

"The application of the Majors' capital and industrial approach will test whether the thousands of wells to be drilled in the future enable the Permian to deliver on the bold growth targets," WoodMac said.

Two months ago, Wood Mackenzie warned that as drillers are set to continuously develop the hottest U.S. shale play, they may soon start to test the region's geological limits. And if E&P companies can't overcome the geological constraints with tech breakthroughs, Permian production could peak in 2021, putting more than 1.5 million bpd of future production in question, and potentially significantly influencing oil prices.

Apart from geological constraints, other factors that could affect Permian growth are increasing service costs and potentially persistently low oil prices.

While oil service margins have increased for oil field service providers such Schlumberger and Halliburton, oil producers, on the other hand, face cost pressure, and "higher well costs may force additional discussion on capital discipline going into 2018, which could be a good thing for the overall supply and demand balance," BTU Analytics said earlier this month.

At the end of September, Moody's warned that even if average drilling and completion costs have declined significantly in the past two years, "drillers will be hard pressed to further reduce drill-bit finding and development costs, since drilling efficiencies may be offset by higher service costs." North American oil producers will need WTI at over $50 a barrel in order to achieve "meaningful capital efficiency", Moody's said.

Pioneer Natural Resources, for example, continues to believe in the Permian, but it thinks that the U.S. shale patch is heading toward hitting the ceiling of efficiency gains from larger frackings.

"In the U.S., we are essentially using a sledgehammer approach. We are using larger volumes or sand and fluids and pumping at higher rates," Pioneer's CEO Tim Dove said at the Oil & Money conference in London, as quoted by Platts.

"At some point you reach a peak on logistics, limits on sand, water volumes... that's where we are getting to, [although] we're not quite there as an industry," Dove noted.

Still, the expertise of the majors, as well as science and tech breakthroughs in proppant use, may help the Permian outgrow its growing pains faster than expected.

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Canada’s Pro-Israel Lobby Uses Fake News and Specious Assumptions to ‘Demonize and Delegitimize’ the BDS Movement

By Dimitri Lascaris / dimitrilascaris.org.

On November 8, 2017, the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) reported that Dr. David Kattenburg had commenced an application for judicial review in the Federal Court of Canada.

In his application, Dr. Kattenburg impugns a decision by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to allow the importation and sale of wines produced in Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements.

In his original complaint to the CFIA, Dr. Kattenburg correctly noted that wines produced in Israel’s illegal settlements are labelled as “Product of Israel” even though they are produced in Occupied Palestinian Territory, and that no state – not even the state of Israel – claims that the West Bank forms part of Israel’s sovereign territory.

CJN’s article also reported that Avi Benlolo of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) purports to be “confident” that the Federal Court of Canada will dismiss Dr. Kattenburg’s application for judicial review. In explaining his confidence, Benlolo offered to the CJN no analysis whatsoever of the Canada Israel Free Trade Agreement (CIFTA) even though the CFIA explicitly based its decision on CIFTA.

Rather, according to Benlolo, Dr. Kattenburg’s application is “one more attempt to promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, which has been recognized by provincial and federal governments as anti-Semitic.”

Whatever Dr. Kattenburg’s view of the BDS movement may be, Dr. Kattenburg has never argued that the CFIA has the authority to impose a boycott of settlement wines. On the contrary, his position before the CFIA and in his application for judicial review has consistently been that, for these wines to be sold to Canadian consumers, their true country of origin must be disclosed, and that Canadians are entitled to have accurate information when deciding whether to purchase these wines. This is a proposition with which we should all be able to agree – including Avi Benlolo.

Even more misleading is Benlolo’s claim that the BDS movement “has been recognized by provincial and federal governments as anti-Semitic.”

On February 22, 2016, Canada’s Parliament adopted a resolution rejecting the BDS movement. Although the resolution was supported by the leadership of the Liberals and Conservatives, the resolution received no support from three of the five parties having representation in Parliament – namely, the NDP, the Green Party of Canada and the Bloc Québécois. In addition, three Liberal MPs distinguished themselves by voting against this unconscionable resolution. For the record, those principled Liberal MPS were Nick Whalen of St. John’s East, Larry Bagnell of Yukon and René Arseneault of Madawaska—Restigouche.

Despite Benlolo’s claim that the federal government has “recognized” the BDS movement as anti-Semitic, Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution contains no reference at all to anti-Semitism. The resolution simply declares that:

given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement, both here at home and abroad.

The only way to construe this resolution as a “recognition” that BDS is anti-Semitic is to assume that the State of Israel is synonymous with the Jewish people, and that those who ‘demonize and delegitimize’ the State of Israel are necessarily demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish people.

But that assumption is patently false. One need look no further than the comments of Dr. Kattenburg himself to appreciate the falsity of Benlolo’s unstated assumption. As explained by Dr. Kattenburg:

I am the child of Holocaust survivors and I grew up being taught that justice is everything, that the rule of law counted for more than anything else in the world. I don’t feel that 250 members of my family died in Sobibor and Auschwitz concentration camps so that some self-professed ‘Jewish state’ can deny 4 million people their fundamental rights in the name of Judaism. And I don’t believe the State of Israel represents me or represents Judaism.

Moreover, when it comes to disavowing Israel’s misconduct, Dr. Kattenburg is no outlier in Canada’s Jewish community. In an EKOS poll conducted in early 2017, 51% of respondents who declared their ethnicity to be Jewish agreed that it would be “reasonable” for the Canadian government to impose sanctions on Israel in order to ensure its compliance with international law, while 82% of such respondents agreed that the Palestinian call for a boycott was “reasonable”.

Avi Benlolo’s claim that provincial governments have recognized the BDS movement as anti-Semitic is equally disingenuous.

In 2016, Mr. Benlolo and two MPPs, one Conservative and the other Liberal, drafted a bill entitled the “Standing Up Against Anti-Semitism in Ontario Act”. Their bill would have called on the province to stop doing business with companies that support BDS. It also described the BDS movement as “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of Israel globally…”

On May 19, 2016, however, Benlolo’s bill was decisively defeated in the Ontario legislature, by a vote of 39-18.

At the time, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne was on a trade mission to Israel. The timing of the vote thus seemed calculated to bring maximum pressure on Premier Wynne to support the measure, but the tactic failed. Although she was then travelling in Israel, Ms. Wynne declared that she opposed the BDS movement, but added that freedom of speech is “something that all Canadians value and we must vigorously defend.”

Six months later, Conservative MPP Gila Martow introduced a less aggressive and non-binding motion in Ontario’s legislature. Her motion passed with the support of Liberal and Conservative MPPs, but was opposed by NDP lawmakers. The motion called on Ontario’s legislature to stand “firmly against any position or movement that promotes or encourages any form of hatred, hostility, prejudice, racism and intolerance in any way; recognizes the longstanding, vibrant and mutually beneficial political, economic and cultural ties between Ontario and Israel, built on a foundation of shared liberal democratic values; endorses the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Anti-Semitism; and rejects the differential treatment of Israel, including the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

Thus, like Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution, Ms. Martow’s motion did not describe the BDS movement as anti-Semitic.

It is nonetheless true that Parliament and the Ontario legislature have now adopted resolutions condemning the BDS movement. Avi Benlolo and other advocates for Israel never tire of pointing this out to the media. By constantly invoking these anti-BDS resolutions, Israel’s advocates are clearly implying that Canadians should be guided by the moral judgment of the Conservatives and Liberals who supported these resolutions. That unspoken premise cannot be reconciled, however, with Canada’s inglorious foreign policy record.

A few examples will suffice to make the point abundantly clear.

Exhibit 1: Both Liberal and Conservative governments supported arms sales to Saudi Arabia, arguably the worst human rights violator on the planet. According to Amnesty International’s 2016/2017 report on Saudi Arabia:

The [Saudi] authorities severely curtailed the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, detaining and imprisoning critics, human rights defenders and minority rights activists on vaguely worded charges. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees remained common, particularly during interrogation, and courts continued to accept torture-tainted “confessions” to convict defendants in unfair trials. Women faced discrimination in both law and practice and were inadequately protected against sexual and other violence. The authorities continued to arrest, detain and deport irregular migrants. Courts imposed many death sentences, including for non-violent crimes and against juvenile offenders; scores of executions were carried out. Coalition forces led by Saudi Arabia committed serious violations of international law, including war crimes, in Yemen.

Even worse, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has continued to allow arms to flow to the Saudi autocracy despite mounting evidence that those arms are being used to oppress Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority.

Exhibit 2: Both Liberal and Conservative governments have supported the dictatorship of Egyptian strong-man Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Virtually from the time that Sisi assumed power, reputable human rights organizations have meticulously documented his regime’s astonishing savagery.

In August 2014, U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a 188-page report detailing “the systematic and widespread killing of at least 1,150 demonstrators by Egyptian security forces in July and August 2013.” According to HRW’s Executive Director, “This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.”

Less than six months after the issuance of HRW’s shocking report, Stephen Harper’s Conservative government declared its “strong support” for Sisi, claiming — with a straight face — that Sisi’s regime was pursuing a “transition to democracy and the inclusion of human rights and the rule of law.” Harper’s government also announced a $2 million contribution to Egypt’s counterterrorism and border security efforts, as well as increased police collaboration between Canada and Egypt.

At around the same time, Harper’s grinning Foreign Minister John Baird posed for the cameras at Davos while shaking hands with the Egyptian mass murderer:

Baird-Sisi

Less than two years later, by which time Justin Trudeau had replaced Harper, Canadians learned just how Egypt’s “transition to democracy” was unfolding. In September 2017, HRW again accused Sisi’s regime of crimes against humanity, but this time for operating a torture “assembly line.” According to HRW, the Sisi regime’s torture techniques include electric shocks, beatings, “excruciating” stress positions that consist of treating detainees like “a chicken on a rotisserie spit”, rape and threats to torture family members of detainees.

How has the Trudeau government responded to Sisi’s well-documented barbarism? Within weeks of the Liberals’ 2015 electoral victory, Trudeau’s Defence Minister Harjit Sajan travelled to Egypt to discuss military cooperation with his Egyptian counterpart. Although Trudeau’s government is less inclined than Harper’s to publicize its cooperation with Sisi’s regime, the Egyptian press dutifully reported that Egypt’s Defence Minister “stressed on [sic] the deep and friendly relations between both countries and expressed hopes for increased cooperation in different fields.”

Exhibit 3: To grasp the extent to which Liberal and Conservative governments have exhibited contempt for human rights, one need look no further than their dealings with the State of Israel itself.

In the 2015 election campaign, Harper proclaimed that “we recognize, unequivocally, the right of Israel to be a Jewish state.” Trudeau responded by assuring Canadians that “all three of us support Israel and any Canadian government will.”

Yet neither Harper nor Trudeau has deigned to address the vexing question of how a state that privileges one ethnicity over another could possibly constitute a democracy. Nor have the Liberals or Conservatives ever explained why they refuse to contemplate any sanction on Israel despite the Canadian government’s long-standing acknowledgement – which enjoys near universal support — that Israel’s settlements in the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, and notwithstanding Israel’s torture of Palestinian children, collective punishment, extrajudicial assassination, and its imposition of an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.

The Canadian government’s record of support for egregious human rights abusers is prodigious and is by no means limited to the cases of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel.

The Conservative and Liberal Parties have thus forfeited any claim to be the moral conscience of our nation. Their human rights pronouncements are bereft of credibility and carry no weight.

Indeed, were it not for the countless victims of the heinous regimes Canada’s Liberals and Conservatives have coddled, Avi Benlolo’s suggestion that Canadians should care about Parliament’s anti-BDS resolution would be comical.

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A Just Transition From Climate Change and Unemployment

By Joseph Mathunjwa / Socialist Project.

The global economy is facing numerous structural challenges. With the looming fourth economic revolution characterized by even more technological development and mechanization, the future of productive labour is bleak. Most unskilled and semi-skilled workers are likely to lose their jobs. Even some skilled workers are not spared from this emerging catastrophe, as numerous job categories – such as brick-layers – are increasingly becoming redundant.

South African miners

This points to the urgent need for planning, for conscious investment in job-rich, growth opportunities that enable economies to build productive capacity in labour intensive sectors. One way of achieving this is to strengthen wage led growth, which, in turn, stimulates aggregate demand through enlarged household incomes. Without a dramatic increase in the wages of mine workers, farm workers and all employed people in our country, we will never be able to deal with South Africa’s most urgent problems: inequality, mass unemployment and poverty.

Since unemployment is the greatest determinant of poverty and income inequality, we can expect these, too, to worsen. Already, in 2015, 30.4 million people, that is, 55.5 per cent of the population live on less than R441 per month, or less than R15 per day. The fact that 10% of South Africa’s population earn around 60% of all income, points to South Africa’s widening inequality. Even more alarming is that the richest 10% of the population own at least 90–95% of all assets.

With these terrible statistics in mind, it becomes redundant to repeat what we have been saying as a trade union for a long time, namely, South Africa urgently requires the redistribution of wealth.

Wage-Led Development?

When the millions of working people in our country can afford what the few take for granted – a television set, a washing machine, dining room table, etc – we create the conditions for developing the economies of scale that can sustain local industries from the intense competition coming from a globalized economy. In this way, we will be able to make in-roads into the almost 10 million people who are out of work, out of income and out of dignity.

The importance of the climate jobs work the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) has been leading is that it identifies where the jobs can be created. As AIDC’s latest research – One Million Climate Jobs, subtitled Moving South Africa forward on a low-carbon, wage-led and sustainable path – makes clear, there are potentially hundreds of thousands of jobs in championing low carbon development, as the complimentary strategy to a wage-led development path.

The AIDC’s solidarity with AMCU (the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) is greatly appreciated. It is a solidarity based on a shared approach and conviction of the urgent need to confront the numerous challenges facing our economy, the people whose needs the economy is supposed to meet and the sustainability of human life on a planet heating to unsustainable levels.

Global Warming and Union's Role

However, AMCU is a trade union representing mine workers and construction workers. These workers are embedded in the very industrial processes that are at the centre of contributing to global warming and other environmental problems. It is inescapable that, if we are going to move decisively to a low carbon less polluting economy, it is going to be at the cost of coal mining, coal fired energy plants, coal to liquid gas, etc. Unless jobs are offered to our members in clean industries, they would never voluntarily agree to the shutting down of mining and energy industries. It would be like asking them to commit suicide.

We are, of course, aware that doing nothing about global warming also represents a long road to destruction. However, as you must be aware, many of our members would prefer to take the long road, based on the illusion that we can postpone the inevitable.

Yet AMCU cannot be expected to bear the costs of dealing with the climate crisis. This is why we need a just transition to a wage-led, low carbon economy; a negotiated transition that is the outcome of careful planning by government, business and labour; a transition that guarantees affected workers a decent, alternative job and wage. It is only on this basis that you can reasonably expect any worker to be won to the fight against global warming and of doing something to halt the climate crisis.

Since many of our members have a close relationship to the land, many have first-hand experience of the impact of climate change. The recent drought we have experienced in the northern parts of the country has exposed many workers to the reality of climate change. We must use this as a basis to deepen the consciousness of workers on the nature and scale of the climate crisis we are facing and will face in even more extreme forms in the future.

Regrettably, there are still no discussions between government and labour on mitigating the climate crisis and negotiating a just transition to a sustainable climate and less unequal society.

Indeed, the current actions of government – or should I say non-action of government with respect to the impact of the economic crisis – where thousands of mine workers are losing their jobs, sets a very bad precedent for managing such a just transition. The government is not even mitigating the economic crisis, as far as workers are concerned. Many companies are embarking on retrenchment processes and additional thousands of workers face job losses.

Hence, as AMCU, we need to link with other trade unions and social movements to force government to deal with the current economic and climate crises. In the first instance, we need to fight for a moratorium on retrenchments. To this end, we have applied to NEDLAC for a Section 77 notice to undertake mass action. We await the certificate for protected protest action in order to elevate this issue and expose the threats that it poses for our economy.

One Million Climate Jobs

Recently, the corrupt bosses of Eskom tried to manipulate the trade unions to support nuclear and coal fired energy by announcing the closure of five coal fired power plants. This was a cynical manoeuvre to use the fear of job losses to keep alive plans for the expansion of coal and nuclear energy, as opportunities for further looting. The renewable energy industry was blamed for the resulting job losses in coal fired energy. Heavy propaganda is being directed at trade unions to get them to endorse nuclear energy, in the belief that this will create jobs.

Government's Role

We will not allow ourselves to be manipulated into supporting the looting ambitions of the predatory elite. We believe South Africa has great potential to build a significant renewable energy industry, as indicated in AIDC’s Million Climate Jobs research.

We need to pressure government urgently to implement just transition strategies. A state-driven renewable energy programme, prioritizing job creation in manufacturing all the inputs and infrastructure for wind and solar plants, is required. Government must incentivize investment in the manufacturing of renewable energy inputs, such as wind masts, solar cells, not to mention solar water geysers

We must demand that government invests in creating jobs in areas that also meet the immediate needs of our people. One such need is housing. The Reconstruction and Development Programme proposed that government invests 5 per cent of GDP in a massive housing programme. If government were to build houses instead of outsourcing them to profiteers (so-called developers) we could strengthen the resilience of working people in dealing with the deepening climate crisis. How much better if those houses are built in an energy efficient, environmental and climate conscious way. Not only would they be built with solar water geysers but could have embedded solar panels providing most of the electricity needs of the household and then some. This could lay the basis for energy co-operatives that could sell surplus energy to local government.

As AIDC has indicated, there are many things that can and should be done to deal with both the economic and climate crises. In this regard, I would be amiss if I did not mention the importance of forcing mining companies to invest in rehabilitating the environmental damage they have created and left everyone else to fix. This long-neglected rehabilitation could create many decent jobs and help absorb miners currently being thrown out of work. Rehabilitation would restore the quality of our soil, water and air, which by themselves are important interventions to address the climate crisis.

Comrades, we are facing a deepening political crisis. Unless we address this and get rid of the gangsters who run our country, we will not be able to do anything to address the climate crisis. As AMCU, we are prepared to collaborate with all progressive forces in undertaking these urgent life and death tasks together.

We look forward to further collaboration with AIDC and all involved in the Million Climate Jobs Campaign. •

This is an edited version of the speech delivered at the formal launch of the research report: One Million Climate Jobs, in Cape Town on 1 November 2017.

Joseph Mathunjwa is the President of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU). He was expelled from the National Union of Mineworkers in 1999. Three thousand workers, at the Douglas Colliery where he worked, went on a 10-day underground strike in solidarity with him. AMCU was formed, shortly afterward, when these workers resigned from NUM.

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Four Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in the Last Week Alone That Are False

By Glenn Greenwald / The Intercept.
Photo: Joe Raedle/AP

There is ample talk, particularly of late, about the threats posed by social media to democracy and political discourse. Yet one of the primary ways that democracy is degraded by platforms such as Facebook and Twitter is, for obvious reasons, typically ignored in such discussions: the way they are used by American journalists to endorse factually false claims that quickly spread and become viral, entrenched into narratives, and thus, can never be adequately corrected.

The design of Twitter, where many political journalists spend their time, is in large part responsible for this damage. Its space constraints mean that tweeted headlines or tiny summaries of reporting are often assumed to be true with no critical analysis of their accuracy and are easily spread. Claims from journalists that people want to believe are shared like wildfire, while less popular subsequent corrections or nuanced debunking are easily ignored. Whatever one’s views are on the actual impact of Twitter Russian bots, surely the propensity of journalistic falsehoods to spread far and wide is at least as significant.

Just in the last week alone, there have been four major factually false claims that have gone viral because journalists on Twitter endorsed and spread them: three about the controversy involving Donna Brazile and the Democratic National Committee, and one about documents and emails published by WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. It’s well worth examining them, both to document what the actual truth is, as well as to understand how often and easily this online journalistic misleading occurs.

Viral Falsehood #1

The Clinton/DNC agreement cited by Brazile only applied to the general election, not the primary.

On Wednesday, Politico published a blockbuster accusation from Brazile’s new book: that the DNC had “rigged” the 2016 primary election for Hillary Clinton through an agreement that gave Clinton control over key aspects of the DNC, a claim that Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., endorsed on CNN. The Clinton camp refused to comment publicly but instead contacted their favorite reporters to publish their response as news.

The following day, NBC published an article by Alex Seitz-Wald that recited and endorsed the Clinton camp’s primary defense: Brazile was wrong because the agreement in question (a copy of which they provided to Seitz-Wald) applied “only to preparations for the general election” and had nothing to do with the primary season. That defense, if true, would be fatal to Brazile’s claims, and so DNC-loyal journalists all over Twitter instantly declared it to be true, thus pronouncing Brazile’s accusation to have been fully debunked. This post documents how quickly this claim was endorsed on Twitter by journalists and Democratic operatives, and how far and wide it therefore spread.

The problem with this claim is that it is blatantly and obviously false. All one has to do to know this is read the agreement. Unlike the journalists spreading this DNC defense, Campaign Legal Center’s Brendan Fischer bothered to read it, and immediately saw and documented how obviously false this claim is:

The NBC article that was originally used to spread this claim now includes what amounts to a serious walk-back, if not outright retraction, of the DNC’s principal defense:

DNC and Clinton allies pointed to the fact that the agreement contained self-justifying lawyer language claiming that it is “focused exclusively on preparations for the General,” but, as Fischer noted, that passage “is contradicted by the rest of the agreement.” This would be like creating a contract to explicitly bribe an elected official (“A will pay Politician B to vote YES on Bill X”), then adding a throwaway paragraph with a legalistic disclaimer that “nothing in this agreement is intended to constitute a bribe,” and then have journalists cite that paragraph to proclaim that no bribe happened even though the agreement on its face explicitly says the opposite.

The Clinton/DNC agreement explicitly vested the Clinton campaign with control over key matters during the primary season: the exact opposite of what journalists on Twitter caused hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to believe. Nonetheless, DNC-loyal commentators continue to cite headlines and tweets citing the legalistic language to convince huge numbers of people that the truth is the exact opposite of what it actually is:

Viral Falsehood #2

Sanders signed the same agreement with the DNC that Clinton did.

To make the Clinton/DNC agreement appear benign and normal, the claim was quickly and widely circulated that Bernie Sanders had also signed the same agreement with the DNC as Clinton had. This, too, was false — in the most fundamental way possible.

Simply put, the agreement Sanders signed with the DNC — which the Sanders camp appears to have provided ABC News in order to debunk the claim — did not contain any of the provisions vesting control over the DNC that made the Clinton agreement cited by Brazile so controversial. As ABC News put it (emphasis added):

A joint fundraising agreement between the Bernie Sanders campaign and the Democratic National Committee — obtained Friday by ABC News and signed at the start of the primary campaign for the 2016 presidential election — does not include any language about coordinating on strategic decisions over hiring or budget, unlike a fundraising memo between the Hillary Clinton team and the DNC.

It’s possible that had Sanders wanted to invoke his funding arrangement with the DNC, and then signed a second agreement, it might have included similar control provisions. But it’s also possible that it would not have. We’ll never know, because it never happened. What we actually know for certain — what exists in reality — is that Sanders never signed any agreement with the DNC that contained the control provisions that were given in 2015 to the Clinton campaign. In other words, the provisions cited by Brazile in her “rigging” allegation did not exist in any contract signed with the DNC by the Sanders campaign.

Needless to say, a tiny fraction of those who were exposed to the original falsehood (Sanders signed the same agreement as Clinton) ended up seeing this fundamental reversal, because the journalists who promoted the original falsehood felt no compunction, as usual, to provide the less pleasing correction.

Viral Falsehood #3

Brazile stupidly thought she could unilaterally remove Clinton as the nominee.

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an article reporting on various claims made in Brazile’s new book. The headline, which was widely tweeted, made it seem as though Brazile delusionally believed she had a power which, obviously, she did not in fact possess: “Donna Brazile: I considered replacing Clinton with Biden as 2016 Democratic nominee.” The article said Brazile considered exercising this power after Clinton’s fainting spell made her worry that Clinton was physically debilitated, and her campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure.”

Brazile — as a result of her stinging criticisms and accusations of Clinton, Obama, and the DNC — is currently Public Enemy No. 1 among Democrats in the media. So they seized on this headline to pretend that she claimed the power to unilaterally remove Clinton on a whim and then used this claim to mercilessly vilify her — the chair of Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, last year’s interim head of the DNC, and a long-time Democratic Party operative — as a deluded, insane, dishonest, profiteering, ignorant fabulist who lacks all credibility.

But the entire attack on Brazile was false. She did not claim, at least according to the Post article being cited, that she had the power to unilaterally remove Clinton. The original Post article, buried deep down in the article, well after the headline, made clear that she was referencing a complicated process in the DNC charter that allowed for removal of a nominee who had become incapacitated.

The Post then amended its story to reflect that she made no such absurd claim in her book, but rather noted that “the DNC charter empowered her to initiate replacement of the nominee” and that “if a nominee became disabled, she explains, the party chair would oversee a complicated process of filling the vacancy that would include a meeting of the full DNC.” The Post then added this note to the top of the article:

Journalists on Twitter spent hours yesterday mocking, maligning, and attacking the reputation of Brazile for a claim that she simply never made — all because a tweeted headline, which they never bothered to read past or evaluate, made them think they were justified in doing so in order to malign someone who has, quickly and bizarrely, become one of the Democrats’ primary enemies.

Viral Falsehood #4

Evidence has emerged proving that the content of WikiLeaks documents and emails was doctored.

Last year, from the time WikiLeaks began publishing emails and documents from the DNC and John Podesta’s email inbox, Clinton officials and their media supporters have constantly insinuated, and sometimes outright stated, that the WikiLeaks documents were frauds because they had been altered. What was most notable about this accusation was how easily it would have been proven had it really been true. All anyone had to do was show the actual, original email that they sent or received, and then compare it to the altered WikiLeaks version, and that would have been proof that the WikiLeaks archive was unreliable.

But that never happened. Never once did any of the dozens of Democratic Party operatives who sent or received the emails published by WikiLeaks point to a single specific case of an alteration — something that, obviously, they would have eagerly done had they been able to. As Politico noted last year (emphasis added):

Clinton’s team hasn’t challenged the accuracy of even the most salacious emails released in the past four days, including those featuring aides making snarky references to Catholicism or a Bill Clinton protégé describing Chelsea Clinton as a “spoiled brat.” And numerous digital forensic firms told POLITICO that they haven’t seen any proof of tampering in the emails they’ve examined — adding that only the hacked Democrats themselves could offer that kind of conclusive evidence.

Similarly, when PolitiFact tried last year to fact-check the Clinton campaign’s claims that the documents were doctored, they noted: “The Clinton campaign, however, has yet to produce any evidence that any specific emails in the latest leak were fraudulent.”

Nonetheless, the desire to believe this persisted. And this week, Associated Press published a report that countless journalists seized upon to claim that proof finally had emerged that the WikiLeaks documents had been altered. The claim in the AP report is incredibly simple and limited. It does not involve any claim that WikiLeaks altered any documents, or that any of the emails it published were frauds; rather, the claim is that Guccifer, on one of the documents that he published, placed a “confidential” watermark that did not appear on another version:

The first document Guccifer 2.0 published on June 15 came not from the DNC as advertised but from Podesta’s inbox, according to a former DNC official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The official said the word “CONFIDENTIAL” was not in the original document .

Guccifer 2.0 had airbrushed it to catch reporters’ attention.

There are so many reasons to question whether this actually happened. To begin with, the fact that one version of the document is without a “confidential” watermark doesn’t mean no version has one; it’s common to add watermarks of that sort for different purposes and different recipients. Moreover, AP’s only basis is an anonymous source claiming the document had been altered, along with the version that lacks the watermark. This is very far from proof that Guccifer “airbrushed it to catch reporters’ attention.”

But let’s assume for the sake of argument that Guccifer did, in fact, add a “confidential” watermark to this document to entice journalists to view the document as more appetizing. This does not remotely justify the claim that any of the documents and emails published by WikiLeaks were materially altered and were thus unreliable.

First, Guccifer adding a watermark to a document he circulated does not mean that any of the emails published by WikiLeaks in its archive was altered. It’s long been known that Guccifer altered the documents’ metadata to hide its path, but nobody ever tried to cite that as proof that anything published by WikiLeaks was fraudulent (indeed, PolitiFact cited Guccifer’s alteration of metadata when concluding there was no evidence that the WikiLeaks documents themselves had been altered).

Second, this has no bearing on the content of the emails or documents themselves published by WikiLeaks, which, to date, nobody has demonstrated have been altered in the slightest. Third, if it were the case that any of the emails or documents published by WikiLeaks were fraudulent, it would still be incredibly easy to prove: All anyone would have to do is produce the original and show how the WikiLeaks version was altered. Why — a full year after WikiLeaks began publishing these documents — has nobody done this, despite the overwhelming incentive that exists to expose this?

In sum, evidence that the content of any of the WikiLeaks emails was altered is nonexistent, while there is overwhelming reason to believe none has been (beginning with the fact that, as easy it would be to do so, no proof has been provided after all this time). Nonetheless, as a result of journalists’ conduct on Twitter this week, the false claim that emails and documents in the WikiLeaks archive were proven to be altered is now viral and will remain fixed in people’s belief system forever:

There’s no way to prove the negative, that no emails or documents published by WikiLeaks were altered. But one should demand actual evidence before affirming this claim. And despite the ease of providing that proof, and the long period of time that has elapsed, none has been provided. But, unsurprisingly, that did not stop the claim that it had been proven from going viral this week on Twitter — all based on the tenuous claim that Guccifer added a “confidential” watermark to one of the documents he circulated.

It can certainly be menacing for Russian bots to disseminate divisive messaging on Twitter. But it’s at least equally menacing if journalists with the loudest claim to authoritative credibility are using that platform constantly to entrench falsehoods in the public’s mind.

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