Category Archives: Corporations

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!)

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)

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!)

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)

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.


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?


Hostile BBC Interview of a Saudi Loyalist Shows Prime Journalistic Duty: Scrutiny of One’s Own Side

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

bbc1The ongoing atrocities by Saudi Arabia and its “coalition partners” in Yemen reflect powerfully — and horribly — on both the U.S. and U.K. That’s true not only because those two countries in general are among the closest allies of the Saudi regime, but also because they are specifically lavishing Saudi despots with the very arms and intelligence being used to kill large numbers of Yemeni civilians.

The American and British governments have long been overflowing with loyalists to the Saudi regime (recall how President Obama literally terminated a state visit to India [where he ironically spent his time “lecturing India on religious tolerance and women’s rights”] in order to fly to Riyadh to pay homage to the Saudi King upon his death, along with top officials from both parties).

One of those many Saudi regime loyalists, conservative British MP Daniel Kawczynski, appeared on BBC’s Newsnight program on Friday night and was mercilessly grilled by host James O’Brien about support for the Saudi war in Yemen by both the British government and the country’s private-sector weapons manufacturers.

The BBC deserves all sorts of criticisms, but this interview was a master class in how journalists should interview politicians and others who wield power. The whole interview is well worth watching, as O’Brien repeatedly demands that Kawczynski address the war crimes being committed by the Saudi regime he supports. But I want to focus on one point in particular.


Corbyn’s victory gives us a glimpse behind the mask of his opponents

Kevin McKenna writes for The National:

The favoured tactic of the right in this country has always been to label any left-wing views that cause them discomfort as “extremist”. The prefix “hard” is applied to ideas of the left which they fear could cause any ripples in their world of pre-arranged privilege and social management. Their entire political strategy rests on ensuring that the rest of us look the other way as they ensure that real power will always be deployed from within their tiny, privileged elite.

Once, they were bred like battery hens and taken early from their families to spend what was left of their childhoods at places such as Eton and Harrow, learning how to wield power. Sentimental attachments to mummy and daddy could never be allowed to come before serving the state and their appointed place in it: at the top. They were scattered to the far ends of the British Empire to administer British control and to ensure that the fuzzy-wuzzies didn’t get too truculent about being ruthlessly robbed and exploited by the British East India Company.

When the sun began to set on that empire they retreated to their fortresses at home to ensure that they could hold on to control of the UK at least. They deploy The British Armed Forces like their own personal private army by deluding them into thinking they are serving the Queen and their country. And they rely on the right-wing press to be their nightwatchmen, ever-ready to defame and besmirch any who might rise up from the masses and attempt to tell the truth.

Occasionally, useful idiots like Tony Blair arrive to peddle some state-sponsored radicalism and soften up us, the idiot punters, for another stretch of reactionary Conservatism.


Corbyn’s Threat of Democracy

Mark Curtis, author several books including of Web of Deceit, writes:

Corbyn attack video released by the ConservativesIt is delightful to see Labour voters defy the establishment by finally electing a leader on the centre ground of British thinking. Opinion polls suggest that Jeremy Corbyn’s policies of nationalising the railways, energy companies and Royal Mail, along with opposition to the Iraq war and British intervention in the Middle East are all supported by a majority of the public.

These views stand in marked contrast to the neo-liberal, military policies of the Conservative and ‘mainstream’ Labour parties at home and abroad. These extreme positions, which are contributing to unprecedented domestic inequality, the draining of wealth from the world’s poorest countries and terrible military interventions (and not least the rise of Islamic State), have amazingly been allowed to be presented as the centre ground or ‘liberal democratic’ – an astonishing propaganda achievement for policy planners.

The threat of popular democracy is something I’ve tried to document in all my books because it comes through crystal clear in the government planning record, visible in declassified files, thousands of which I’ve looked at in my research. The threat that policies made by and for the elite could be derailed by popular opposition has long been regarded by British planners as a serious threat; in the Cold War, more serious, for example, than the Soviet threat, which was anyway rarely taken seriously in private after the early 1950s .

During the Vietnam War, Harold Wilson was terrified that public opposition would stop his ongoing private support for the US bombing campaign – something which the mainstream media still refuses to acknowledge. In various wars in the Middle East over the decades, the files are full of examples of how planners have had to resort to propaganda to counter public concerns. What elites have feared, especially during controversial policies such as military interventions, is that public opposition will become so great that they might actually have to change policy.


Hillary Clinton Goes to Militaristic, Hawkish Think Tank, Gives Militaristic, Hawkish Speech

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

Leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton this morning delivered a foreign policy speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington. By itself, the choice of the venue was revealing.

Brookings served as Ground Zero for centrist think tank advocacy of the Iraq War, which Clinton (along with potential rival Joe Biden) notoriously and vehemently advocated. Brookings’ two leading “scholar”-stars — Kenneth Pollack and Michael O’Hanlon — spent all of 2002 and 2003 insisting that invading Iraq was wise and just, and spent the years after that assuring Americans that the “victorious” war and subsequent occupation were going really well (in April 2003, O’Hanlon debated with himself over whether the strategy that led to the “victory” in his beloved war should be deemed “brilliant” or just extremely “clever,” while in June 2003, Pollack assured New York Times readers that Saddam’s WMD would be found).

Since then, O’Hanlon in particular has advocated for increased military force in more countries than one can count. That’s not surprising: Brookings is funded in part by one of the Democratic Party’s favorite billionaires, Haim Saban, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Israel and once said of himself: “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel.” Pollack advocated for the attack on Iraq while he was “Director of Research of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy.” Saban became the Democratic Party’s largest fundraiser — even paying $7 million for the new DNC building — and is now a very substantial funder of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. In exchange, she’s written a personal letter to him publicly “expressing her strong and unequivocal support for Israel in the face of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement.”

So the hawkish Brookings is the prism through which Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy worldview can be best understood. The think tank is filled with former advisers to both Bill and Hillary Clinton, and would certainly provide numerous top-level foreign policy officials in any Hillary Clinton administration. As she put it today at the start: “There are a lot of long-time friends and colleagues who perch here at Brookings.” And she proceeded to deliver exactly the speech one would expect, reminding everyone of just how militaristic and hawkish she is.


Tequila, Painted Pearls, and Prada: How the CIA Helped Produce ‘Zero Dark Thirty’

Jason Leopold and Ky Henderson report for VICE News:

On April 21, 2011, Mark Boal called the CIA to tell them he was going to Afghanistan.

The previous year, the screenwriter had been at a dinner when CIA director Leon Panetta asked Boal to alert the agency if he ever traveled to the country. At the time, Boal was working on a movie called Tora Bora, about the CIA’s failure to capture Osama bin Laden in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The title referred to the region in eastern Afghanistan where the US felt it had let bin Laden slip through its fingers during a battle in December 2001.

But less than two weeks after Boal made the call, a team of Navy SEALs raided the al Qaeda leader’s compound in Pakistan and killed him. Boal would not be going to Afghanistan after all.

Instead, he stopped writing the script for Tora Bora and began writing a different screenplay about what one lawmaker called “the most classified mission in history” — the killing of bin Laden. That movie, which Boal would work on with director Kathryn Bigelow, would become the 2012 Oscar-winning film Zero Dark Thirty. And the CIA would play a huge role in the creation of the script.


The Wikileaks Files: Two Recent Interviews With Julian Assange

9781781688748-max_221The first interview is conducted by Paul Mason, who normally provides good material for Channel 4 News but here transforms into a typical establishment hack. The second interview is conducted by the host of RT’s Going Underground Afshin Rattansi and is more sympathetic to Assange. Both interviews offer an interesting contrast. Issues covered include extradition, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, the Arab Spring, the Islamic State, attempts to overthrow the Syrian government, U.S. foreign policy, the “special relationship” between Britain and America, the role of “free markets” and the new book The Wikileaks Files.

Drowned Syrian boy photo: Social media at its most hollow and hypocritical?

Max Fisher writes for Vox:

Migrants disembark from a bus near Athens, Greece (Dan Kitwood/Getty)Looking at the same photo that everyone is looking at this week, of a young Syrian refugee boy whose body had washed up on a Turkish beach, and reading about the boy’s brief and difficult life, I found myself torn between two conflicting reactions. On the one hand, I was saddened by the needless death of this young child, and outraged by the many factors that contributed to it: the Syrian war, European hostility to migration, and the world’s callous indifference to the ever-worsening refugee crisis. Those factors are important, so the photograph’s ability to call the world’s attention to them makes it a powerful journalistic tool.

But I am also uncomfortable with the way those images have been converted into just another piece of viral currency. There is a line between compassion and voyeurism. And as that photo was shared and retweeted over and over again, converted into listicles and social-friendly packages, it felt more and more like the latter.

I am reminded of a 2012 article by the novelist Teju Cole, “The White-Savior Industrial Complex,” responding to what was the social media caring experience of that moment, a web video called “Kony 2012” that asked the world to combat Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony by “making him go viral.”

Cole wrote about the cycle of internet outrage and compassion that, often, ends up doing little more than providing entertainment and validation for Western audiences. Those audiences, rather than being compelled to ask themselves whether they had a hand in the faraway tragedy they are sharing to Facebook, get to pat themselves on the back for being part of the solution.

But social media voyeurism is no solution. It doesn’t help that child, or others like him. It just exploits his tragic death as a source of maudlin but oh-so-shareable emotional thrills.


Political Cartoonist Fired by LA Times After Criticising LAPD: Interview with Ted Rall

Lee Camp talks to Ted Rall, an award-winning nationally-syndicated political cartoonist who was recently fired by the Los Angeles Times after criticising Los Angeles Police Department. Rall is the author of a number books including Snowden and Billionaires & Ballot Bandits with Greg Palast. (Redacted Tonight)

Nothing captures Western hypocrisy on refugees like these British tabloid front pages

Max Fisher writes for Vox:

 British tabloids, which have been scaremongering about refugees for years, telling Britons to fear and resist any immigration and helping to drive the UK’s shameful anti-refugee policies, discovered their compassion for refugees on Wednesday when a small child’s body washed up on a Turkish shore.

The child was a Syrian refugee who, like many hundreds of other refugees, had died during the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean. A photo of the young boy went viral, and the same British tabloids that are overtly hostile to living refugees decided that this one was worth caring about, and have plastered their covers with his image.

Some British outlets are even running the image alongside sanctimonious headlines, decrying the loss of the life that is a direct and foreseeable result of the very anti-refugee policies they spent years clamoring for. The Sun, which is famous for anti-refugee headlines such as “Halt the Asylum Tide Now” and “Draw a Red Line on Immigration or Else” is running the dead child’s photo on its Thursday cover with the headline “Mr. Cameron, Summer Is Over … Now Deal With the Biggest Crisis Facing Europe Since WW2.”

The Daily Mail, just in July, ran an anti-refugee front page with the headline “The Swarm in Our Streets.” Today, suddenly, it cares about refugees, and will join the Sun (and, seemingly, much of the British press) in splashing the image of the dead child across its front page with the headline “Tiny victim of a human catastrophe.”


Iraq: The battle for your hearts and minds in Fallujah

Former U.S. Marine and Iraq War veteran Ross Caputi writes for Insurge Intelligence:

On 13th August 2015, the Iraqi government bombed the Fallujah Maternity and Neonatal Hospital, killing 31 people, including 23 women and children.

This incident was widely reported in the Western media; though the coverage was perhaps cursory and even dismissive by labeling it an “IS-held” hospital. Nevertheless, information about this atrocity was available to the Western world, as is information about the many similar atrocities committed by the Iraqi government since the start of their war against the Sunni uprising and the Islamic State in December 2013.

This was in fact the 40th time that the Iraqi government has bombed a hospital in Fallujah, and in Fallujah alone over 4,000 civilians have been killed and 5,200 wounded in the last 20 months of government attack.

The United States has also been complicit in these killings; first by shipping weapons to the Iraqi government to facilitate their internal repression of Sunnis, and then by reinitiating a campaign of airstrikes in the Sunni majority provinces of Iraq in August 2014.

According to Airwars, a nonprofit group monitoring US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State, “publicly-available evidence” alone shows that civilian casualties in Iraq and Syria from these airstrikes are significantly higher than what the US and its partners have claimed.

Though certainly not a trending topic, information on these killings is readily available to those who look for it. Yet despite easy access to these reports, the public’s reaction has never surpassed bland disapproval.

It is easy to chastise the American public for their indifference. But there is reason to believe that the American public doesn’t fully understand why Iraqis are dying in the staggering numbers that they are, who to blame for them, or what they could do to stop the bloodshed.

None of this is accidental. The public’s reaction to civilian casualties has been carefully crafted by the best thinkers in “strategic communications” — or in common parlance, “propaganda” — within the US military and government.


Will the U.S. Stop “Cozying Up” to Egyptian Regime After Jailing of Journalists? Interview with Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Kenneth Roth

Democracy Now! talks to Sharif Abdel Kouddous from Cairo, and  Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, after Egypt sentences Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste to three years in jail for “spreading false news” that purportedly harmed Egypt following the 2013 military coup. According to Roth: “The U.S. should stop cozying up to General — now President — Sisi. He is presiding over the worst crackdown in modern Egypt history.” (Democracy Now!)

Bush, ‘Brownie’, FEMA and Katrina: Interview with Russ Baker

Thom Hartmann interviews Russ Baker, editor of WhoWhatWhy and the author of Family of Secrets, on his five part investigative series on the corruption that led to FEMA’s disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans ten years ago. (The Big Picture)

The Soft Logic of Soft Targets

Stephen M. Walt writes for Foreign Policy:

The recent “lone wolf” attack on a French train — thankfully foiled by three alert and courageous American passengers — has sparked new concerns about terrorist assaults on so-called “soft targets.” These are places where people congregate and are potentially vulnerable, but are not subject to airport-style security procedures. The Islamic State has called upon sympathizers to conduct such attacks wherever they might be, and European governments are now pondering additional measures to protect trains and railway stations. And on Aug. 22, just one day after the thwarted attack, the New York Times brought it all home by warning: “Train Attack in Europe Puts Focus on Vulnerability of U.S. Rail.”

As I’ve suggested before, it’s time to “chill out” in the face of this latest supposedly grave danger. It is obviously not a good thing that these (and other) attacks have taken place, and counterterrorism officials should continue to take reasonable precautions against future occurrences. But hyping the threat and turning ourselves inside-out to prevent any and all attacks will squander resources and play into our adversaries’ hands.

For starters, the danger of terrorist attacks on “soft targets” is dwarfed by other hazards that we accept with aplomb every day. Highway accidents, household mishaps — and in the United States, ordinary homicide — are all far more serious dangers than the risk from terrorism. To take but one example, over the past 12 months Islamic State sympathizers have killed about 600 people outside Iraq and Syria. In that same period, more than 15,000 peoplewere murdered in the United States alone. Both phenomena are disturbing, but which is the greater danger?


Emerging Markets Offer Growth Opportunities For Western Defense Firms

Andrew Clevenger reports for Defense News:

[…] The shift in defense spending creates opportunities for Western defense contractors as demand for sophisticated weapons will likely outpace emerging countries’ abilities to produce them domestically. As a white paper published by Avascent in March noted, the US has a leading position in these markets, but political friction between the US and its allies leaves an opening for competition from European, Israeli, Russian and Chinese defense companies.

While mature markets in Western Europe and Northeast Asia continue to offer major competitive opportunities over the next 10 years, “many opportunities will be found in fast-growing emerging markets which have less well-developed industrial capacity to fulfill the requirements of rapidly expanding militaries,” the Avascent white paper states. “A growing share of revenues for most Western defense suppliers will come from these emerging markets.”

For example, 95 percent of defense contracts in Gulf Corporation Council countries between 2010 and 2014 went to foreign companies, with the lion’s share going to the US (73 percent) and Western Europe (24 percent). In the coming decade, 64 percent of GCC contracts are up for grabs, according to Avascent projections.

Similarly, the US (41 percent) and Western Europe (31 percent) were the largest defense suppliers for Southeast Asia between 2010 and 2014, but 63 percent of contracts for the coming decade are uncommitted.


Human rights groups face global crackdown ‘not seen in a generation’

Harriet Sherwood reports for The Guardian:

[…] The causes of increasing restrictions are complex, say organisations that monitor civil society activity, but broadly fall into three categories.

First is the shift in political power away from the west, the main source of funding for domestic civil society groups and the base for most big international NGOs. At the end of the cold war, the US and other western countries stepped in to assist newly democratising countries and burgeoning grassroots organisations.

But, more recently, many governments in the developing and post-communist world have pushed back against what they see as western interference. “This is the end of the post-cold war period in which [the west] felt that liberal democracy and western concepts of human rights were spreading around the world, to a period in which there’s a relativisation of political values and the questioning of a common narrative,” says Carothers.

Second, governments have woken up to the power of civil society – particularly after pro-democracy uprisings in former communist states and the revolutionary wave that swept through the Middle East.

“In most countries where leaders don’t allow a lot of pluralism or democracy, they’ve learned to tame opposition political parties,” Carothers says. “But the deepest fear of repressive governments is that they wake up in the morning, open the shutters of the presidential palace, and look out to find 100,000 citizens in the square saying ‘enough!’. That’s scary and uncontrollable,” particularly, Carothers adds, when coupled with technological skill in harnessing the power of social media to organise and spread messages.

The third cause of the NGO crackdown is the proliferation of counter-terrorism measures – often promoted by the west – that sweep civil society organisations into their embrace, either inadvertently or deliberately. Legitimate measures to curb funding of and money-laundering by terrorist organisations often have a debilitating effect on NGOs.


Snowden Documents Reveal AT&T’s “Extreme Willingness to Help” NSA Domestic Spy Program

Neocons to Americans: Trust Us Again

Robert Parry writes for Consortium News:

President George W. Bush pauses for applause during his State of the Union Address on Jan. 28, 2003, when he made a fraudulent case for invading Iraq. Seated behind him are Vice President Dick Cheney and House Speaker Dennis Hastert. (White House photo)America’s neocons insist that their only mistake was falling for some false intelligence about Iraq’s WMD and that they shouldn’t be stripped of their powerful positions of influence for just one little boo-boo. That’s the point of view taken by Washington Post editorial page editor Fred Hiatt as he whines about the unfairness of applying “a single-interest litmus test,” i.e., the Iraq War debacle, to judge him and his fellow war boosters.

After noting that many other important people were on the same pro-war bandwagon with him, Hiatt criticizes President Barack Obama for citing the Iraq War as an argument not to listen to many of the same neocons who now are trying to sabotage the Iran nuclear agreement. Hiatt thinks it’s the height of unfairness for Obama or anyone else to suggest that people who want to kill the Iran deal — and thus keep alive the option to bomb-bomb-bomb Iran — “are lusting for another war.”

Hiatt also faults Obama for not issuing a serious war threat to Iran, a missing ultimatum that explains why the nuclear agreement falls “so far short.” Hiatt adds: “war is not always avoidable, and the judicious use of force early in a crisis, or even the threat of force, can sometimes forestall worse bloodshed later.”

But it should be noted that the neocons – and Hiatt in particular – did not simply make one mistake when they joined President George W. Bush’s rush to war in 2002-03. They continued with their warmongering in Iraq for years, often bashing the handful of brave souls in Official Washington who dared challenge the neocons’ pro-war enthusiasm. Hiatt and his fellow “opinion leaders” were, in effect, the enforcers of the Iraq War “group think” – and they have never sought to make amends for that bullying.


When Roger Stone met

Mark Ames writes for Pando:

During my research, I came across a story about how, in 1973, the GOP infiltrated and bought off California’s socialist Peace and Freedom Party, using one of the co-founders of the popular Bay Area libertarian website, It’s too fascinating a story not to share.

The Peace and Freedom Party was founded in the Bay Area in 1968, at the height of leftist radicalism and the antiwar movement, nominating Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver as the party’s candidate for president.

Nixon’s CREEP campaign operatives, including young Roger Stone, specialized in manipulating anti-establishment politics in order to help Nixon (and later, Reagan, Bush, and who knows who else). As I wrote about in my Roger Stone-Donald Trump article, the Nixon people in 1971 laid out a campaign strategy centered on exploiting and manipulating anti-establishment politics in order to destroy their real competition in the Democratic Party.