The Radically Changing Story of the U.S. Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

When news first broke of the U.S. airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the response from the U.S. military was predictable and familiar. It was all just a big, terrible mistake, its official statement suggested: an airstrike it carried out in Kunduz “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Oops: our bad. Fog of war, errant bombs, and all that.

This obfuscation tactic is the standard one the U.S. and Israel both use whenever they blow up civilian structures and slaughter large numbers of innocent people with airstrikes. Citizens of both countries are well-trained – like some tough, war-weary, cigar-chomping general – to reflexively spout the phrase “collateral damage,” which lets them forget about the whole thing and sleep soundly, telling themselves that these sorts of innocent little mistakes are inevitable even among the noblest and most well-intentioned war-fighters, such as their own governments. The phrase itself is beautifully technocratic: it requires no awareness of how many lives get extinguished, let alone acceptance of culpability. Just invoke that phrase and throw enough doubt on what happened in the first 48 hours and the media will quickly lose interest.

But there’s something significantly different about this incident that has caused this “mistake” claim to fail. Usually, the only voices protesting or challenging the claims of the U.S. military are the foreign, non-western victims who live in the cities and villages where the bombs fall. Those are easily ignored, or dismissed as either ignorant or dishonest. Those voices barely find their way into U.S. news stories, and when they do, they are stream-rolled by the official and/or anonymous claims of the U.S. military, which are typically treated by U.S. media outlets as unassailable authority.


White House: Bombing Afghan Hospital ‘Not a War Crime’

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

A weekend US attack on a hospital full of civilians outside the Afghan city of Kunduz has sparked international condemnation, with the aid group that was operating the facility, Doctors Without Borders, urging an immediate independent investigation with the presumption that a war crime had been committed.

That’s unlikely to happen, however, as the White House insists bombing the hospital wasn’t “a war crime,” and Gen. Campbell dancing around the issue, claiming simultaneously that the attack was intention, and the result of an Afghan government request, but that the civilian deaths were “accidental.”

Huge civilian tolls in US attacks in Afghanistan have been a common occurrence throughout the 14-year occupation, and legal experts say it’s very unlikely that the International Criminal Court will look to step in on the incident, believing it would be too “politically sensitive” for the US.


This is not a new cold war but something more dangerous

Historian Robert Service writes for the Financial Times:

[…] All-out struggle between Russia and America on a cold war scale is not on the cards. What we do have, however, is a situation that is bad — and could easily worsen.

It is optimistic to expect Mr Putin to change course. For now, he gains esteem at home when bullying the neighbours. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have genuine cause for concern. In the longer term, experience suggests Mr Putin will prove a poor geostrategic thinker. He has already damaged Russian economic interests, which surely lie in securing western assistance to build up the country’s ability to cope with competition from China.

Mr Putin’s frequent diplomatic overtures for a Syrian settlement deserve serious examination. But he shows no sign of disengaging from Ukraine; and, having loosed the dogs of nationalism, he would find it hard to put them back in the kennel, even if he wanted to. This makes for a less predictable global situation than the finely tuned balance of power that prevailed during the cold war.

In some ways we now live in even more dangerous times. Sparks on distant borders can have unplanned and explosive consequences.


September Playlist

Industrial farming is one of the worst crimes in history

Yuval Noah Harari reports for The Guardian:

Pig carcasses hanging in an abattoir[…] The fate of animals in such industrial installations has become one of the most pressing ethical issues of our time, certainly in terms of the numbers involved. These days, most big animals live on industrial farms. We imagine that our planet is populated by lions, elephants, whales and penguins. That may be true of the National Geographic channel, Disney movies and children’s fairytales, but it is no longer true of the real world. The world contains 40,000 lions but, by way of contrast, there are around 1 billion domesticated pigs; 500,000 elephants and 1.5 billion domesticated cows; 50 million penguins and 20 billion chickens.

In 2009, there were 1.6 billion wild birds in Europe, counting all species together. That same year, the European meat and egg industry raised 1.9 billion chickens. Altogether, the domesticated animals of the world weigh about 700m tonnes, compared with 300m tonnes for humans, and fewer than 100m tonnes for large wild animals.

This is why the fate of farm animals is not an ethical side issue. It concerns the majority of Earth’s large creatures: tens of billions of sentient beings, each with a complex world of sensations and emotions, but which live and die on an industrial production line. Forty years ago, the moral philosopher Peter Singer published his canonical book Animal Liberation, which has done much to change people’s minds on this issue. Singer claimed that industrial farming is responsible for more pain and misery than all the wars of history put together.

The scientific study of animals has played a dismal role in this tragedy. The scientific community has used its growing knowledge of animals mainly to manipulate their lives more efficiently in the service of human industry. Yet this same knowledge has demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that farm animals are sentient beings, with intricate social relations and sophisticated psychological patterns. They may not be as intelligent as us, but they certainly know pain, fear and loneliness. They too can suffer, and they too can be happy.


Flawed methodology and assumptions behind claim that business is losing Brussels lobby wars

Corporate Observatory Europe writes:

Spare a thought for big business lobbyists in Brussels. According to a blog on the website of the London School of Economics, they are supposedly “less successful than citizen groups at lobbying EU legislators”. If only. The authors of the blog (academics Andreas Dür, Patrick Bernhagen and David Marshall) make this claim off the back of their analysis of 70 European Commission proposals introduced between 2008 and 2010, which they say show business actors to be less able to achieve their desired outcomes in EU legislative decisions. Let’s examine the main assumptions, methodology, and findings from the blog to try to explain how they could have gotten Brussels’ lobbying power picture so backward.

Essentially, the blog’s conclusions can be explained by the questionable method that was used to determine lobby ‘success’. On the basis of interviews with 95 Commission staff (see page 13 of the longer underlying research article), the researchers determined a long term lobby objective for business groups and citizens groups, as well as “initial” European Commission and European Parliament positions on a scale of 0 – 100. To use computer geek slang, this seems like a case of GIGO (garbage in garbage out): “if you input the wrong data, the results will also be wrong.” The figures that the researchers used to make their elaborate calculations of lobbying success are just a numerical expression of value judgements of a group of officials who had particular responsibilities for the relevant legislative proposal. Not exactly a neutral, unbiased group! On top of this, the scale of 0 – 100 to measure lobby positions and outcomes is insufficient. Many legislative proposals have hundreds of amendments and there can be wins and losses on different elements of a proposal. Real assessments of success cannot be so one-dimensional.


Journalism is Not a Crime: Freed Al Jazeera Reporter Peter Greste Seeks Pardon from Egypt

“Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi granted pardons to 100 people on Wednesday, including two jailed journalists from Al Jazeera, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed. The two were initially arrested along with Australian journalist Peter Greste as part of a crackdown on Al Jazeera following the ouster of democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi in 2013 and served more than a year in prison. In a statement, Amnesty International said: “While these pardons come as a great relief, it is ludicrous that some of these people were even behind bars in the first place.” Fahmy, Mohamed and Greste were initially sentenced to between seven and 10 years in prison for terrorism charges including “spreading false news” in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, deemed a “terrorist group” by the Egyptian government. While Fahmy and Mohamed have been pardoned, no pardon has been issued yet for Peter Greste, who has traveled to New York to lobby for a presidential pardon while el-Sisi is attending the United Nations General Assembly.” (Democracy Now!)

John Oliver on David Cameron and #Piggate

Is GM Too Big to Jail? Interview with Rena Steinzor, Laura Christian and Ralph Nader

‘Under the terms of the Justice Department’s $900 million settlement, no GM executives will be prosecuted for covering up the faulty ignition switch linked to at least 124 deaths. The deal is the latest in a string of deferred prosecution agreements between the Obama administration and corporations accused of criminal activity. We speak to longtime consumer advocate Ralph Nader, “Why Not Jail?” author Rena Steinzor and Laura Christian, the mother of a GM crash victim.’ (Democracy Now!)

If this scandal goes beyond Volkswagen (VW), the wheels will come off an entire industry

The Guardian writes:

Cartoon by David Simonds showing VW executives driving a collapsing BeetleEveryone does it. These are the words that have often sparked history’s great corporate scandals. Companies or industries become detached from reality, and illegal or improper practices become seen as normal. It eventually ends in disaster.

This was the case for traders and Libor, and now it could be the case for the automotive industry.

At present, only Volkswagen has admitted using a “defeat device” to rig emissions tests on diesel engines. Other leading carmakers, such as BMW and Daimler, the owner of Mercedes-Benz, have fiercely denied manipulating data. However, the slide in the shares of all carmakers last week suggests that many people aren’t so sure.

Whether other carmakers are dragged into the scandal or not, the events of the last week will have a profound impact on the automotive world.


Price Gouging In Health Care Is The Rule, Not the Exception: Interview with Jean Ross

Jean Ross is the co-president of National Nurses United. In this interview she discusses the institutional context behind the recent overnight price hike of the drug Daraprim from . (The Real News)

B61-12: The Most Dangerous Nuclear Weapon in America’s Arsenal

Zachary Zeck reports for The National Interest:

The United States maintains an extensive nuclear arsenal. According to the Federation of Atomic Scientists, in April of this year the United States maintained an arsenal of over 7,200 nuclear bombs. Of those, more than 2,000 were deployed (1,900 strategic nuclear weapons and 180 non-strategic weapons).

America also maintains a plethora of delivery options for its nuclear bombs. As part of its nuclear triad, it maintains some 94 nuclear-capable bombers (B-2s and B-52s), over 400 Minuteman III ICBMs and 12 Ohio-class ballistic missile nuclear submarines. The latter are equipped with modern Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which are drastic improvements over their land-based competitors.

Indeed, as Keir Lieber and Daryl Press have noted, “In 1985, a single U.S. ICBM warhead had less than a 60 percent chance of destroying a typical silo… Today, a multiple-warhead attack on a single silo using a Trident II missile would have a roughly 99 percent chance of destroying it.”

Yet the most dangerous nuclear bomb in America’s arsenal may be the new B61-12.


Inside Exxon’s Great Climate Cover-Up: Interview with Neela Banerjee and Ed Garvey

A new report by InsideClimate News reveals how oil giant ExxonMobil’s own research confirmed the role of fossil fuels in global warming decades ago. By 1977, Exxon’s own senior experts had begun to warn the burning of fossil fuels could pose a threat to humanity. At first, Exxon launched an ambitious research program, outfitting a supertanker with instruments to study carbon dioxide in the air and ocean. But toward the end of the 1980s, Exxon changed course and shifted to the forefront of climate change denial. Since the 1990s, it has spent millions of dollars funding efforts to reject the science its own experts knew of decades ago.” (Democracy Now!)

Pope Decries “Shameful and Culpable Silence” on Arms Sales “Drenched in Innocent Blood”

Dan Froomkin reports for The Intercept:

Pope Francis on Thursday gently scolded Congress on a variety of issues, from immigration to foreign policy, but on one unexpected topic — the weapons sales that fuel armed conflicts around the world — he couldn’t have been much more blunt.

He was speaking about his determination “to minimize and, in the long term, to end the many armed conflicts throughout our world,” when he said this:

Here we have to ask ourselves: Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.

Those were fighting words, especially given where he spoke them. The U.S. is by far the largest arms supplier in the world, with domestic manufacturers selling more than $23.7 billion in weapons in 2014 to nearly 100 different countries. During the Obama administration, weapons sales have surged to record levels, in large part due to huge shipments to Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia.


The Empire Files: Enter the World’s Biggest Prison

The American Empire holds more prisoners than any other country on earth, both in total numbers and per capita. In this episode of The Empire Files, Abby Martin explores the dark reality of the U.S. prison system: the conditions, who is held in them, and the roots of mass incarceration. (The Empire Files)

“Snowden Treaty” proposed to curtail mass surveillance and protect whistleblowers

Glynn Moody reports for Ars Technica:

A “Snowden Treaty” designed to counter mass surveillance and protect whistleblowers around the world has been proposed by Edward Snowden, and three of the people most closely associated with his leaks: the documentary film-maker Laura Poitras; David Miranda, who was detained at Heathrow airport, and is the Brazilian coordinator of the campaign to give asylum to Snowden in Brazil; and his partner, the journalist Glenn Greenwald. The “International Treaty on the Right to Privacy, Protection Against Improper Surveillance and Protection of Whistleblowers,” to give it its full title, was launched yesterday in New York by Miranda, with Snowden and Greenwald speaking via video.

The treaty’s proponents say that Snowden’s leaks, and the treatment he received as a whistleblower, have “revealed the need for greater rights protections for citizens globally.” In order to achieve that, they write: “We are campaigning for governments to sign up to the Snowden Treaty, a proposed treaty that would curtail mass surveillance and protect the rights of whistleblowers.”


Profiled: From Radio to Porn, British Spies Track Web Users’ Online Identities

Ryan Gallagher reports for The Intercept:

There was a simple aim at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.”

Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs.

The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.

The revelations about the scope of the British agency’s surveillance are contained in documents obtained by The Intercept from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. Previous reports based on the leaked files have exposed how GCHQ taps into Internet cables to monitor communications on a vast scale, but many details about what happens to the data after it has been vacuumed up have remained unclear.


Swiss Open Criminal Proceedings Against FIFA’s Sepp Blatter

Sam Borden reports for The New York Times:

Swiss investigators on Friday announced that they had opened criminal proceedings against the embattled FIFA president Sepp Blatter on “suspicion of criminal mismanagement and misappropriation.”

The case involves a contract Blatter is said to have signed that assigned valuable World Cup television rights to the control of an indicted former FIFA official, Jack Warner, according to a news release from the office of the Swiss attorney general. The new charges accuse Blatter of violating his fiduciary duty to FIFA in his role as president by signing the contract in 2005, which it called “unfavorable to FIFA.”

The Swiss authorities also said that Blatter is suspected of making a “disloyal payment” of two millions Swiss francs — just over $2 million — to the UEFA president Michel Platini. Swiss prosecutors interrogated Blatter after an executive committee meeting in Zurich on Friday, and said they also also searched his office and seized data.

Platini, another member of the executive committee and the leading candidate to replace Blatter as FIFA president, also was asked to provide information.


Noam Chomsky on Power and Ideology

This past Saturday, Noam Chomsky spoke in front of a sold-out audience of close to 1,000 people at The New School’s John L. Tishman Auditorium in New York City. In a speech titled “On Power and Ideology,” Chomsky discussed George Orwell, the suppression of ideas, the persistence of U.S. exceptionalism, Republican efforts to torpedo the Iran nuclear deal, and the normalization of U.S.-Cuba relations. (Democracy Now!)

The Elaborate Charade to Obfuscate Who Writes Pop Music

Nathaniel Rich writes for The Atlantic:

The biggest pop star in America today is a man named Karl Martin Sandberg. The lead singer of an obscure ’80s glam-metal band, Sandberg grew up in a remote suburb of Stockholm and is now 44. Sandberg is the George Lucas, the LeBron James, the Serena Williams of American pop. He is responsible for more hits than Phil Spector, Michael Jackson, or the Beatles.

After Sandberg come the bald Norwegians, Mikkel Eriksen and Tor Hermansen, 43 and 44; Lukasz Gottwald, 42, a Sandberg protégé and collaborator who spent a decade languishing in Saturday Night Live’s house band; and another Sandberg collaborator named Esther Dean, 33, a former nurse’s aide from Oklahoma who was discovered in the audience of a Gap Band concert, singing along to “Oops Upside Your Head.” They use pseudonyms professionally, but most Americans wouldn’t recognize those, either: Max Martin, Stargate, Dr. Luke, and Ester Dean.

Most Americans will recognize their songs, however. As I write this, at the height of summer, the No. 1 position on the Billboard pop chart is occupied by a Max Martin creation, “Bad Blood” (performed by Taylor Swift featuring Kendrick Lamar). No. 3, “Hey Mama” (David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj), is an Ester Dean production; No. 5, “Worth It” (Fifth Harmony featuring Kid Ink), was written by Stargate; No. 7, “Can’t Feel My Face” (The Weeknd), is Martin again; No. 16, “The Night Is Still Young” (Minaj), is Dr. Luke and Ester Dean. And so on. If you flip on the radio, odds are that you will hear one of their songs. If you are reading this in an airport, a mall, a doctor’s office, or a hotel lobby, you are likely listening to one of their songs right now. This is not an aberration. The same would have been true at any time in the past decade. Before writing most of Taylor Swift’s newest album, Max Martin wrote No. 1 hits for Britney Spears, ’NSync, Pink, Kelly Clarkson, Maroon 5, and Katy Perry.


The Song Machine

Blood on the Catwalk: Interview with Andrew Morgan

Afshin Rattansi talks to Andrew Morgan, director of documentary The True Cost. They discuss the human and environmental impacts of the fashion industry, from sweatshop labour to polluted waters and the death and destruction that comes with the clothes we wear. (Going Underground)

Study: Most People Think Native Ads Are Real Articles

Brendan James reports for International Business Times:

ContentlyThe great hope for the future of online advertising — whether you call it sponsored content, branded content, native advertising or “branded voices” — faces a simple and daunting problem: How do you fool people into reading native ads without making people feel fooled? Despite the labels and bylines on native ads, most readers still think they are actual articles, a study by the content marketing firm Contently indicated. And those readers are not happy when they realize they’ve been duped.

In a 10-minute online survey, Contently presented 509 consumers with native ads — advertising dressed up as editorial content — from BuzzFeed, the New York Times, the Atlantic, Forbes, the Onion and the Wall Street Journal. Respondents thought every ad was an article with the exception of the posts by the Atlantic and the Onion.

“On nearly every publication we tested, consumers tend to identify native advertising as an article, not an advertisement,” the study said. Perhaps most surprisingly, an actual article from Fortune was less likely to be idenitified as a piece of editorial content than native ads from the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and BuzzFeed.


Obama’s Nobel peace prize didn’t have the desired effect, former Nobel official reveals

Adam Taylor reports for The Washington Post:

When Barack Obama was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, even the fresh-faced president appeared a little shocked. “To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize,” Obama said at the time.

Now, a former director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute has acknowledged that, in hindsight, he’s not so sure if giving the prize to Obama was a good move either.

In a new memoir titled “Secretary of Peace: 25 years with the Nobel Prize,” Geir Lundestad, the non-voting Director of the Nobel Institute until 2014, writes that he has developed doubts about the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s decision to grant Obama the Nobel Peace Prize over the past six years. While the prize was designed to encourage the new president, it may have not have worked out as intended.

“In retrospect, we could say that the argument of giving Obama a helping hand was only partially correct,” Lundestad writes, according to VG newspaper. Lundestad explains that it became impossible for Obama to live up to the high expectations placed upon him. “Many of Obama’s supporters believed it was a mistake,” he writes. “As such, it did not achieve what the committee had hoped for.”


The Coup in Burkina Faso: Interview with Dr. Gnaka Lagoke

Gnaka Lagoke is a specialist in African political affairs, development and pan-Africanism and he is also the founder of the the revival of the Pan-African Forum. Lagoke states that the coup is about the new election rules that exclude former members of the Compaoré government from standing for the election next month. This interview was recorded on 18 September 2015. (The Real News)

Burkina Faso: Generation Sankara

Syriza Re-election Victory Sidelines Popular Unity Party: Interview with Aris George-Baldur Spourdalakis and Leo Panitch

Winners and Losers at DSEI 2015: Interview with Andrew Smith of Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT)

Afshin Rattansi talks to Andrew Smith, media coordinator at the Campaign Against the Arms Trade, about the recent Defence and Security Equipment International (DSEI) arms exhibition recently held in London. (Going Underground)

Is the Ukraine Situation More Dangerous than the Middle East? Interview with Stephen Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen is Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and Politics at NYU and Princeton, and he is a contributing editor to The Nation. He is also the author of a number of books including Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War. On top of this he is a founding board member of The Committee for East-West Accord. This interview with the Thom Hartmann Show was recorded two weeks ago. You can find more interviews and articles by Professor Cohen here. (Thom Hartmann Show)

Ian Hislop reveals secret of Private Eye sales success: ‘We invest in journalism’

William Turvill writes for Press Gazette:

Ian Hislop has just returned from a two-week holiday to find – as is customary at Private Eye – himself featuring as a lookalike in his magazine’s letter pages.

On this occasion, his staff – led by deputy Francis Wheen – have tracked down an image of Hislop as a schoolboy with a blond mop-top, and compared him with the frontman of Britpop band The Charlatans.

Shortly before he went away on holiday, ABC figures showed that the Eye has recorded its highest average fortnightly circulation since 1986 – the year Hislop succeeded the magazine’s co-founder Richard Ingrams as editor. With an average circulation of 228,264, it has the highest sale of any current affairs magazine in the UK.

Hislop says he was “incredibly pleased… and somewhat surprised” by the performance.

How has it been achieved?


US Intelligence Is More Privatized Than Ever Before

Tim Shorrock writes for The Nation:

Almost 14 years to the day after the 9/11 terrorist attacks drove intelligence spending into the stratosphere, two of the largest business associations in the spying industry held a “summit” meeting to discuss the current state of national security. Two realities were immediately apparent.

First, US intelligence is more privatized than ever before, with for-profit corporations operating as an equal partner with the surveillance state at nearly every level. The situation was neatly summarized by James Clapper, the director of the Office of National Intelligence (ODNI) in his keynote address.

“If you can’t get a job in the IC, then sign on with one of our contractors,” he told the crowd of 500 people, 75 percent of whom came from the private sector. “Industry is absolutely crucial to our continued viability and success.” It was the first time in my memory I had heard a high-ranking official be so blatant about the stunning degree of contracting in US intelligence that I first exposed in 2007.

In an interesting twist, the former Air Force general even urged the 16 agencies he oversees to expand the revolving door as an incentive for a younger generation of people who “desire mobility” along with their government jobs “We must facilitate their ability to join the community, go to industry, get refreshed technologically, and then come back,” Clapper said. As most people in the room knew, this was the exact path he followed before jumping from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) to take his job as President Obama’s intelligence chief.