Putting A Disturbingly Low Price On Life
September 24, 2021
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“Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.” ― Ernest Hemingway
Putting A Disturbingly Low Price On Life
(Peter Byrne – PA Images via Getty Images)
There has been renewed focus on civilian deaths in Afghanistan following the U.S. military’s admission that an August 29 drone strike, intended for ISIS-K fighters, instead killed 10 civilians, including seven children. According to data collected by Action on Armed Violence (AOAV), a London-based charity conducting research and advocacy on the incidence and impact of global armed violence, UK forces are linked to the deaths of nearly 300 Afghan civilians.
Through a series of Freedom of Information requests, AOVA was able to obtain Ministry of Defense compensation logs revealing a total of £688,000 was paid out by the UK military for incidents involving 289 deaths, among them 86 children, between 2006 and 2014. The average amount paid was £2,380. One of the most serious incidents listed in the logs is the award of £4,233.60 to a family following the deaths of four children, who were mistakenly shot and killed in December 2009.
Some payments were less than a few hundred pounds. In February 2008, one family received £104.17 for a confirmed fatality and property damage in Helmand province. Another family was paid £586.42 for the death of their 10-year-old son in December 2009. The author of the research said reading the files was difficult: “The banality of the language means hundreds of tragic deaths, including dozens of children, read more like an inventory.”
AOAV estimates 20,390 civilians were killed or injured by international and Afghan forces during the two-decade-long conflict. This is just one-third of the number killed by the Taliban and other insurgents. 453 British soldiers died in combat operations between 2001 and October 2014. During the entire 20-year engagement from 2001 to 2021, 2,455 U.S. service members lost their lives, including the 13 killed by ISIS-K in the Kabul airport attack August 26, 2021; 20,740 American military personnel were injured. (BBC, Guardian, National Army Museum, The Conversation)
Blocked Up In Beirut
- A huge explosion at Beirut’s port on August 4, 2020 killed 218 people and injured 7,000 more. It was caused by the ignition of hundreds of metric tons of combustible ammonium nitrate, unloaded at the port in 2014 under suspicious circumstances, and stored improperly in a warehouse for over six years.
- Prior to the accident, customs officials sent several urgent letters alerting authorities to the danger posed by the chemicals, but successive elected officials failed to act. Following the blast, the Lebanese government promised a thorough investigation. The first judge tapped to investigate was stonewalled by the speaker of parliament and subsequently removed. His predecessor has now been threatened by a high-ranking Hezbollah official.
- A recent report by Human Rights Watch provides stunning details of what has happened during the investigation process. “In the year since the blast … a range of procedural and systemic flaws in the domestic investigation have rendered it incapable of credibly delivering justice. These flaws include a lack of judicial independence, immunity for high-level political officials, lack of respect for fair trial standards, and due process violations.” (CNN, ICT, HRW)
Coming Down With Pegasus
- The investigative website Mediapart reports that traces of Pegasus spyware were found on the mobile phones of at least five current French cabinet members. Pegasus is the hacking software — military-grade spyware — developed, marketed, and licensed to governments around the world by the Israeli company NSO Group, with the capability to infect billions of phones running either iOS or Android operating systems.
- The Pegasus Project is a global consortium of media partners assembled to investigate the extent and impact of the spyware. Although marketed to track terrorists and criminals, the spyware was found to have been used in attempted and successful hacks of 37 smartphones belonging to journalists, human rights activists, business executives and the two women closest to murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
- Two months ago, phone numbers of top French officials including president Emmanuel Macron and most of his 20 cabinet members, and 13 other heads of state and governments appeared in a leaked database at the heart of the investigative project. (Guardian, WaPo)
Additional World News
- Wild boar on streets of Rome are being used against me, says mayor (Guardian)
- Taliban Founder Says Executions And Amputations Will Resume (NPR)
- Merkel Campaigns for Laschet Days Before German Elections (NYT, $)
- Experts say China’s low-level cyberwar is becoming severe threat (Guardian)
- France’s Power Is Questioned After Failed Submarine Deal (NYT, $)
- The European Union Wants A Universal Charger For Cell Phones And Other Devices (NPR)
Scuffles On A Plane
(NurPhoto via Getty Images)
- A House subcommittee held a hearing Thursday to consider the surge in violence on U.S. airlines. Aviation experts and airline employees testified about the escalation in harassing and violent behavior in recent months, much of it related to conflicts over mask-wearing.
- Flight attendants reported having to endure racial epithets, kicking, biting and spitting from passengers. In August, a belligerent 22-year-old man on a Frontier Airlines flight from Philadelphia to Miami was caught on video being duct-taped to his seat after acting aggressively and grabbing two flight attendants’ breasts. Upon landing he was arrested and charged with three counts of battery.
- A month earlier, a woman was restrained with tape and “flex cuffs” during an American Airlines flight from Dallas-Ft. Worth to Charlotte after physically assaulting and biting a flight attendant and trying to open the plane’s doors. FAA data shows investigations of passengers’ behavior have hit record levels, up from 146 in 2019, to 183 in 2020, to 789 so far this year. (Guardian, YouTube, USA Today)
Done With Diplomacy
- Ambassador Daniel Foote has resigned his position as Special Envoy for Haiti. Foote, a career foreign service member, said in his resignation letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he “will not be associated with the United States’ inhumane, counterproductive decision to deport thousands of Haitian refugees” from the U.S.-Mexico border back to a country controlled by armed gangs.
- Furthermore, he stated, “Our policy approach to Haiti remains deeply flawed and my recommendations have been ignored and dismissed….” Foote called Haiti a “collapsed state… unable to provide security or basic services,” and the “forced infusion of thousands of returned migrants lacking food, shelter and money” simply fuels further desperation and crime.
- White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday that Foote “never once” raised concerns about migration during his tenure before his departure. “I would note that Special Envoy Foote had ample opportunity to raise concerns about migration during his tenure. He never once did so.” (WaPo, CNN)
Additional USA News
- NYC Food Delivery Workers Would See Better Pay Under New Bills (NYT, $)
- House committee on Capitol attack subpoenas Trump’s ex-chief of staff and other top aides (Guardian)
- In Push to Tax the Rich, White House Spotlights Billionaires’ Tax Rates (NYT, $)
- Biden Administration Seeks A Contractor For A Migrant Facility At Guantanamo (NPR)
- House passes $1B for Israel’s Iron Dome after progressive dustup (Politico)
- A CDC Panel Backs Booster Shots For Older Adults, A Step Toward Making Them Available (NPR)
- When a classic car owner in the U.S. needs a spare part for his 1950s Ford or Chevy, he has to go hunting online or at the salvage yard, assuming he has the mechanical know-how to do the repairs himself. Of course, with his ’57 Bel Air convertible priced in the high five figures, he’s not driving it very hard anyway.
- Not so in Cuba. Those pictures of ancient American cars motoring along the highways and byways around Havana are not photoshopped. Cubans keep countless old American cars humming along out of frugal necessity. Trade embargos prevent both U.S. cars and their parts from making it to the island, and only the wealthiest Cubans can afford the foreign cars that are available, new or used. “I know people who have every single replacement part available in their garage in case their car breaks down,” said a professor in Georgia with expertise in Cuban affairs.
- Could that ever happen with our internal-combustion engine cars in America? President Biden says he’d like to see electric vehicles account for 50% of all new U.S. car sales by 2030. (Right now that number’s about 2%.) There’s a big push on to build charging stations for all those electric cars that are going to need them. But charging stations won’t be everywhere, and are especially likely to be quite sparse in small towns.
- A lot has to happen before electric vehicles really take over. They need to become more affordable. Battery range needs to increase sharply. Charging stations need to be as commonplace as gas stations. So it’s not too far-fetched to imagine that in a couple of decades rural America’s roads might start resembling Cuba’s, with lots of well-kept but long discontinued gas-powered pickups cruising by. Experts predict older cars running on gasoline engines will still be in circulation long after they ordinarily would have been traded in for another fuel-burning model. An executive analyst for Cox Automotive says “We think there will be a Cuba, especially in the rural areas of the U.S. The average vehicle on American roads is getting older, not younger…people are hanging on to vehicles a lot longer.” Just imagine that day, when colonies of well-preserved F-150s go rumbling around in the country in search of an actual filling station, while their electric counterparts are rejuvenated by an abundant supply of urban extension cords. (NYT)
- What we do and don’t know about kindness (BBC)
- What a Fungus Reveals About the Space Program (NYT, $)
- How multilevel marketing (MLM) took advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic (Vox)
- One Woman’s Mission to Rewrite Nazi History on Wikipedia (Wired)
- How do influencers make money? And how much? She’ll tell you (LA Times)
- A guide to every privacy setting you should change now (WaPo, $)
- What would a healthy social media platform even look like? (Vox)
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