Category Archives: Year Awards

“Are You Serious?” Awards 2013

2013 “Are You Serious?” Awards

Dispatches From The Edge

Dec. 19, 2013

Every year Dispatches From The edge gives awards to news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of “Are you serious?” Here are the awards for 2013.

Creative Solutions Award to the Third Battalion of the 41st U.S. Infantry Division for its innovative solution on how to halt sporadic attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan’s Zhare District: it blew up a hill that the insurgents used as cover.

This tactic could potentially be a major job creator because there are lots of hills in Afghanistan. And after the U.S. Army blows them all up, it can take on those really big things: mountains.

Runner up in this category is Col. Thomas W. Collins, for his inventive solution on how to explain a sharp rise in Taliban attacks in 2013. The U.S. military published a detailed bar graphs indicating insurgent attacks had declined by 7 percent, but, when the figure was challenged by the media, the Army switched to the mushroom strategy*: “We’re just not giving out statistics anymore,” Col. Collins told the Associated Press.

Independent sources indicate that attacks were up 40 percent over last year, with the battlegrounds shifting from the south of Afghanistan to the east and north.

*Mushrooms are kept in the dark and fed manure.

The White Man’s Burden Award goes to retired U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and an expert on counterinsurgency warfare. McChrystal told the Associated Press that the Afghans don’t really want the U.S. to withdraw, because they are “Like a teenager, you really don’t want your parents hanging around you, but…you like to know if things go bad, they’re going to help.” The General went on to say the U.S. needed to stay because “We have an emotional responsibility” to the Afghans.

The “Don’t Bring Me No Bad News” Award was split between Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Greek state television network ERT’s reporting of the widespread opposition to the current austerity policies of the center-right Samaras government apparently annoyed the Prime Minister. Samaras dismissed all of ERT’s 2,700 employees and closed down the station (the fired workers are occupying ERT’s headquarters and continue to broadcast programming). When the government restarted broadcasts a month later, it led with a 1960’s comedy, followed by documentary about a Greek surrealist poet.

Turkish PM Erdogan pressured Turkey’s 24-hour television news stations not to cover the massive June demonstrations that paralyzed much of Istanbul and, instead, to broadcast a panel of medical experts talking about schizophrenia and a documentary about penguins. There are no penguins in Turkey, although the schizophrenia program may have been an appropriate subject matter for the Prime Minister .

The Bad Hair Award to the Dublin city government for spending $6.8 million to promote a Redhead Convention in the village of Crosshaven on Ireland’s southeast coast.

Ireland is currently in a major depression triggered by a banker-instigated housing bubble. The International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission—the so-called “troika”—bailed out the banks and instituted a massive austerity program on Ireland. The cost of the bailout is approximately $13,750 for every Irish citizen.

The salaries of government workers were cut 20 percent, and 35,000 public employees were laid off. Pensions, unemployment and welfare benefits were slashed and new taxes imposed. Unemployment is at almost 13 percent—28 percent for young people. A survey found that 67 percent of families with young children are unable to afford basic necessities, and are in arrears on their rent, utility bills, and mortgages. Some 20 percent of Ireland’s children live in houses where both parents are out of work—the highest in Europe—and in a population of 4.6 million people, more than 200,000 have emigrated, about 87,000 a year.

Alan Hayes, the convention’s “king of the redheads,” told the Financial Times that the “Festival of ginger-loving madness” would draw Irish from all over the world. It is estimated that the Irish diaspora makes up about 100 million people.

“Ireland has one of the highest populations of redheads in the world and we will celebrate by getting together as many as possible,” says Hayes. The competitions will include the best red hair, eyebrows, and the “most freckles per square inch.”

The Jackal Award goes to the government of France for leveraging its opposition to a settlement between Iran and the U.S. over Teheran’s nuclear program as a way to break into the lucrative Middle East arms market. France’s spoiler role was praised by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan and Morocco.

“France could gain financially from the GCC’s frustrations over recent U.S. policy in the Middle East,” the global security analyst group Stratfor notes. “Significant defense contracts worth tens of billions of dollars are up for grabs in the Gulf region, ranging from aircraft to warships to missile systems. France is predominantly competing with Britain and the United States for the contracts and is seeking to position itself as a key ally of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates as it looks to strengthen its defense and industrial ties with the region.”

The French arms company Thales is negotiating to upgrade Saudi Arabia’s short-range missile systems for $3.34 billion and working on a $2.72 billion deal to modernize the kingdom’s air defense system. Paris is also negotiating an $8 billion contract to supply the Emirates with 60 Rafale fighter-bombers and trying to sell 72 Rafales to Qatar. France is smarting over the recent collapse of a $4 billion deal to sell Rafale aircraft to Brazil, and a big sale in the Gulf would more than make up for the loss.

Israel—which also praised the French stance vis-à-vis Iran and the U.S.—invited French President Francois Hollande to be the “guest of honor” at last month’s “France-Israel Innovation Day” in Tel Aviv. Israel’s aeronautics industry had more than $6 billion in sales from 2009 to 1010, and Israel is the fourth largest weapons exporter in the world. France would like to sell its commercial Airbus to Tel Aviv, as well as get in on Israel’s expanding drone industry.

C’est la vie.

The Confused Priorities Award to the Associated Press for its March 5 story titled “Little Reaction In Oil Market to Chavez Death” on the demise of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The authors noted that Venezuela has the second-largest oil reserves after Saudi Arabia, but that the leftist former paratrooper had squandered that wealth:

“Chavez invested Venezuela’s oil wealth into social programs including state-run food markets, cash benefits for poor families, free health clinics and education programs. But those gains were meager compared with the spectacular construction projects that oil riches spurred in glittering Middle Eastern cities, including the world’s tallest building in Dubai and plans for branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim Museums in Abu Dhabi.”

When Chavez won the presidency in 2001, some 70 percent of the population was considered “poor,” in spite of $30 billion in yearly oil revenues. Two percent of the population owned 60 percent of the land, and the gap between rich and poor was one of the worst in Latin America.

According to the Gini Coefficient that measures wealth, Venezuela now has the lowest rate of inequality in Latin America. Poverty has been reduced to 21 percent, and “extreme poverty” from 40 percent to 7.3 percent. Illiteracy has been virtually eliminated, and infant mortality has dropped from 25 per 1,000 to 13 per 1,000, the same as it is for Black Americans. Health clinics increased 169.6 percent, and five million Venezuelans receive free food.

But on the other hand they could have had a copy of the Victory of Samothrace or the Mona Lisa.

The Pinocchio Award to the five countries that violated international law by forcing Bolivian President Evo Morales’ plane down and then lying about it.

Morales had been meeting with Russian officials in Moscow when U.S. intelligence services became convinced the leftist president was going to spirit National Security Agency whistle blower Edward Snowden back to Bolivia. When Morales’ plane left Russia, the U.S. leaned on France, Italy, Spain and Portugal to close their airspace and deny the plane refueling rights. Morales was forced to turn back and land in Austria, where his aircraft sat for 13 hours.

When Morales protested, the French said they didn’t know Morales was on the plane, the Portuguese claimed its international airport couldn’t fuel the aircraft, the Spanish said his flyover permit had expired, and the Italians denied they ever closed their airspace. The U.S. initially said it had nothing to do with the incident, but that excuse collapsed once Spain finally admitted it had received an American request to close its airspace to Morales’s plane.

The Organization of American States, the Union of South American Nations, and UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon all protested the actions by the five nations as a violation of international law and international commercial airlines treaties.

An angry Morales said, “The Europeans and the Americans think that we are living in an era of empires and colonies. They are wrong. We are a free people…they can no longer do this.”

The Frank Norris Award to the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office, the intelligence agency in charge of spy satellites, for its new logo: a giant, frowning octopus, its arms encircling the world, sporting the slogan “Nothing is beyond our reach.” Norris wrote a famous turn of the 20th century novel called “The Octopus” about the struggle between farmers in California and the railroads that dominated the state’s politics.

The Broad Side of the Barn Award to the Obama administration for spending an extra $1 billion to expand the $34 billion U.S. anti-ballistic missile system (ABM) in spite of the fact that the thing can’t hit, well, the broad side of a barn. The last test of the ABM was in July, when, according to the Pentagon, “An intercept was not achieved.” No surprise there. The ABM hasn’t hit a target since 2008.

The $1 billion will be used to add 14 interceptors to the 30 already deployed in Alaska and California.

Runner up in this category was Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the maker of “Iron Dome,” the Israeli ABM system designed to intercept short-range rockets. According to Rafael officials, Iron Dome was 80 percent effective in intercepting Qassem and Grad rockets fired by Palestinians from Gaza during last November’s Operation Pillar of Defense.

But an independent analysis of Iron Dome’s effectiveness discovered that the 80 percent figure was mostly hype. Tesla Laboratories, a U.S. defense company, found that the interception success rate was between 30 and 40 percent, and Ted Postal—the Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor who successfully debunked the accuracy claims for Patriot missiles fired during the 1991 Gulf War—says Iron Dome has a “kill rate” of between five and 10 percent.

But a lack of success seems to be a sure fire way to open the cash spigots.

The U.S., which contributed more than $200 million to build Iron Dome, will spend an additional $680 million through 2015. The U.S. will also throw $173 million into Israel’s high altitude Arrow 2 and Arrow 3 interceptors, part of which are made by Boeing.

ABMs tend to be destabilizing, because the easiest way to defeat them is to overwhelm them with missiles, thus spurring an arms race. They also give their owners a false sense of security. And while they don’t work, they do cost a lot, which is bad news for taxpayers and good news for Boeing—also, the prime contractor for the U.S. ABM system—and Toys R Us. Yes, Toys R Us makes the guidance fins on the Iron Dome rocket.

 

The Golden Lemon Award once again goes to Lockheed Martin (with a tip of the hat to sub-contractors Northrop Grumman, BAE, L-3 Communications, United Technologies Corp., and Honeywell) for “shoddy” work on the F-35 stealth fighter, the most expensive weapons system in U.S. History. The plane—already 10 years behind schedule and 100 percent over budget—has vacuumed up $395.7 billion, and will eventually cost $1.5 trillion.

A Pentagon study, according to Agence France Presse, “cited 363 problems in the design and manufacture of the costly Joint Strike Fighter, the hi-tech warplane that is supposed to serve as the backbone of the future American fleet.”

The plane has difficulty performing at night or in bad weather, and is plagued with a faulty oxygen supply system, fuselage cracks and unexplained “hot spots.” Its software is also a problem, in part because it is largely untested. “Without adequate product evaluation of mission system software,” the Pentagon found, “Lockheed Martin cannot ensure aircraft safety requirements are met.”

In the meantime, extended unemployment benefits have been cut from the federal budget. The cost? About $25 billion, or 25 F-35Cs that don’t work.

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2012 “Are You Serious?” Awards

2012: “Are You Serious?” Awards

Dispatches From the Edge

Dec. 30, 2012

 

Every year Dispatches From The edge gives awards to news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of “Are you serious?” Here are the awards for 2012.

Dr. Strangelove Award to Lord John Gilbert, former UK defense minister in Tony Blair’s government, for a “solution” to stopping terrorist infiltration from Pakistan to Afghanistan: Nuke ‘em.   Baron Gilbert proposes using Enhanced Radiation Reduced Blasts—informally known as “neutron bombs”—to seal off the border. According to Gilbert, “If we told them [terrorists] that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there.”

The border between the two countries is a little over 1,600 miles of some of the most daunting terrain on the planet. And since the British arbitrarily imposed it on Afghanistan in 1896, most the people who live adjacent to it, including the Kabul government, don’t recognize it.

Baron Gilbert went on to gild the lily: “I am absolutely delighted that nuclear weapons were invented when they were and I am delighted that, with our help, it was the Americans who invented them.” The residents of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were decidedly less enthusiastic.

Runner up in this category is the Sandia National Laboratories and Northrop Grumman for researching the use of nuclear powered drones that would allow un-piloted aircraft to stay aloft for months at a time.  Nuclear-powered drones, like the Reaper and the Predator, would not only be able to fly longer and further, the aircrafts could carry a greater number of weapons.

This comes at a time when the Obama administration has approved the use of drones in the U.S. by states and private companies. “It’s a pretty terrifying prospect,” Chris Coles of Drone Wars UK told The Guardian. “Drones are much less safe than other aircraft and tend to crash a lot.” Iran recently claimed to have brought down a U.S.  Scan Eagle drone and to have fired on a Predator. Last year Iran successfully captured a CIA-operated Sentinel drone.

Pandora’s Box Award goes to the U.S. and Israel for unleashing cyber war on the world by attacking Iran’s nuclear industry. The Stuxnet virus—designed by both countries—successfully damaged Iran’s uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, and the newly discovered Flame virus has apparently been siphoning data from Iranian computers for years.

But the “malware” got out of Iran—what do these people not understand about the word “virus”? —and, in the case of Stuxnet, infected 50,000 computers around the world. Two other related malware are called Mini-Flame and Gauss.

Iran retaliated this past summer, unleashing a virus called “Shamoon” to crash 30,000 computers in Saudi Arabia’s oil industry. Saudi Arabia provides 10 percent of the world’s oil needs.

A Russian anti-virus specialist recently told computer expert Misha Glenny that cyber weapons “are a very bad idea,” and his message was: “Stop doing this before it is too late.”

The Golden Lemon Award has three winners this year, the F-35 “Lightning” fighter, the F-22 “Raptor” fighter, and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The F-35 and F-22 are repeat winners from last year’s awards (it is not easy to cost a lot of money and not work, year after year, so special kudos to the aircraft’s manufacturers Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman).

At $395.7 billion, the F-35 is now the most expensive weapons system in U.S. history, and the costs are still rising. It has constant problems with its engine,  “unexplained” hot spots on the fuselage, and software that doesn’t function properly. Because the cost of the plane has risen 70 percent since 2001, some of our allies are beginning to back away from previous commitments to purchase the aircraft. Canadians had some sticker shock when it turned out that the price tag for buying and operating the F-35 would be $45.8 billion. Steep price rises (and mechanical problems) have forced Britain, Italy, the Netherlands and Australia to re-think buying the plane as well. If that happens, the price of the F-35 will rise even higher, since Lockheed Martin was counting on U.S. allies to buy at least 700 F-35s as a way to lower per-unit costs. The U.S. is scheduled to purchase 2,457 F-35s at $107 million apiece (not counting weapons). The plane coast $35,200 per hour to fly.

The F-22—at $143 million a pop—has a major problem: the pilots can’t breathe. When your traveling 1500 MPH at 50,000 plus feet, that’s a problem, as Capt. Jeff Haney found out in November 2010 over the Alaskan tundra. The Air Force had to wait until the spring thaw to recover his body. Since then scores of pilots have reported suffering from hypoxia and two of them recently refused to fly the aircraft. The breathing problems did not stop U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from deploying two-dozen F-22s to Japan, although the planes are restricted to lower altitudes and have to stay no more than an hour and a half from land. That will require the pilots to fly to Alaska, and then hop across the Pacific via the Aleutian Islands to get to Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

The cost of operating an F-22 is $128,389 a flying hour. In comparison, the average income for a minimum wage worker in the U.S. is $15,080 a year, the medium yearly wage is $26,364, and average yearly household income is $46,326. Dispatches suggests paddling the planes to Japan and raising the minimum wage.

The LCS is a very fancy, shallow water warship with lots of bells and whistles (at $700 million apiece it ought to have a few of those) with one little problem: “It is not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment,” according to one Pentagon weapon’s tester. Since combat is generally “hostile” that does restrict what the ship can do. And given that cracks and leaks in the hulls are showing up, it might not be prudent to put them in the water. So while it may not work as a traditional ship—floating, that is—according to the LCS’s major booster in the Congress, U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner (R-Ala) “It’s going to scare hell out of folks.”

Particularly the ones who serve on it.

The LCS was originally designed to fight Iranian attack boats, but the feeling now is that it would lose in such encounters. But all is not lost. According to Joseph Rella, president of Austal USA, the company in Alabama that builds the LCS, “If I was a pirate in a little boat, I’d be scared to death.” Dispatches suggests that rubber “wolf man” masks would accomplish the same thing for considerably less money.

The Golden Sow’s Ear Award to U.S. Rep. Harold Rogers (R-Ky) for successfully lobbying the Pentagon to buy an oil drip pan for the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter for $17,000 a throw. The manufacturer, Phoenix Products, is a major contributor to Rogers’ campaigns. A similar product made by VX Aerospace costs $2,500 apiece. But Phoenix does have a strong streak of patriotism: The oil drip pans are discounted from the $19,000 retail price.

The Misplaced Priorities Award to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party for shelling out $28 million to celebrate the bicentennial of the War of 1812—including $6.3 million in television ads—while cutting $5.2 billion from the national budget and eliminating 19,200 federal jobs. The cuts have fallen particularly hard on national parks and historic sites.

Canada was not Canada in 1812, and the war was between the U.S. and the British Empire. Canada did not become a country until 1867.

The Queen of Hearts Award also goes to Harper and his Conservatives for “streamlining” the process of approving new oil and gas pipelines and limiting public comment. “Limiting” includes threats to revoke the charitable status of environmental groups that protest the pipelines and unleashing Canada’s homeland security department, Public Safety Canada (PSC), on opponents. The PSC considers environmentalists potential terrorists and lumps them in the same category as racist organizations. Dispatches suggests that Harper and Co. study the works of Lewis Carroll on how to sentence first, try later. Saves time and money.

The Chernobyl Award to the Japanese construction company BuildUp, hired by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to clean up the Fukushima nuclear plant that melted down in the aftermath of last year’s tsunami. A government report found that TEPCO did not issue radiation detectors to most of its workers even though it had hundreds of dosimeters on hand. BuildUp admitted that it had workers put lead plates over the detectors to avoid violating safety thresh holds.

Teruso Sagara of BuildUp said the company only had their employees’ best interests in mind and thought that “we could bring peace of mind to the workers if we could somehow delay their dosimeters’ alarms going off.”

The report also cited the government for refusing to use computer projections on fallout from the crippled plant. In one case, two communities were directed into the middle of the radioactive plume.

The Chicken Little Award to the British government and the International Olympic Committee for approaching the 2012 London Olympics in much the same way the allies did the beaches at Normandy in 1944.  The government deployed 13,500 ground troops, 20,000 private guards, plus the Royal Navy’s largest warship, along with armed helicopters, armored personnel carriers and Starstreak and Rapier anti-aircraft missiles.

According to Linden Empson, Dispatches intrepid reporter on the scene, the announcement that surface-to-air missiles were going to installed on six housing projects in the city were “delivered via a pizza company.” She suggested that was both “terrifying and hysterically funny.” One resident of Fred Wigg Tower told the New York Times that the leaflets “looked like one of those things where you get free pizza though the post, but this was like free missiles.”

The local residents were not amused and sued to stop the deployment. “Is the government seriously suggesting the answer to potential airborne threat is to detonate it over the city?” a former Royal Artillery officer wrote in a letter to The Guardian. The court eventually ruled against the residents.

The cost of all this security is close to $900 million at a time when the Conservative-Liberal government is slashing social welfare programs, education, and health care.

The Selective Reporting Award to the Los Angeles Times for reporting that the Assad regime was using cluster bombs, which “have been banned by most nations.” The newspaper pointed out that more than 100 countries had signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but that Syria did not.

Quite true. What went unmentioned was that neither did the U.S., Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and Israel. According to the Cluster Munitions Coalition, the weapons “caused more civilian casualties in Iraq in 2003 and Kosovo in 1999 than any other weapon system.” The U.S. also used clusters in Afghanistan. American cluster weapons still take a steady toll of people in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. All of those cluster weapons were made in the USA.

The most egregious use of clusters in the last decade was by Israel, which spread four million submunitions in Lebanon during its 2006 invasion of that country. According to the UN, one million of those “duds” remain unexploded.

But the U.S. also uses the weapon on many occasions. In 2009, President Obama ordered a cluster strike in Yemen that ended up killing 44 people, including 14 women and 21 children. And the White House, according to The Independent, “is taking the leading role “to torpedo the global ban on clusters.” The administration argues that clusters manufactured after 1980 have less than a 1 percent failure rate, but anti-cluster activists say that is not the case. The widely used BLU-97, for instance, has a failure rate of 30 percent.

According to Handicap International, 98 percent of the casualties inflicted by clusters are civilians, 27 percent of those children.

 

 

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2011 Dispatches News Awards

2011 Dispatches News Awards

Dispatches From The Edge

Conn Hallinan

Jan 1 2012

Every year Dispatches From The Edge gives awards to news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of “Are you serious?” Here are the awards for the year 2011.

The Golden Lemon Award to Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms company, whose F-22 Raptor fighter has some “performance” problems: the pilots can’t breathe.

The U.S. Air Force was forced to “stand down” its fleet of 160+ F-22s—at $150 million apiece, the single most expensive fighter in the world—when pilots began experiencing “hypoxia-like symptoms” from a lack of oxygen.  But the company got right on it, according to Lockheed Martin vice president Jeff Babione, who said he was “proud to be a part” of the team that got the radar-evading aircraft back into the air—for five weeks. When pilots continued to have problems, the F-22 fleet was grounded again.

According to the Air Force, no one can figure out why oxygen is not getting to the pilots, but that pilots “would undergo physiological tests.” To see if the pilots can go without air?

Runner-up in this category is Lockheed Martins’ F-35, at $385 billion the most expensive weapon system in U.S. history. The cost of an individual F-35 has jumped from $69 million to $113 million a plane, and while this is cheaper than the F-22, the U.S. plans to eventually purchase more than 16 times the number of F-35s than F-22s. It seems the F-35 fighter has “cracks” and “hot spots” that, according to the director of the program, Vice Adm. David Venlet, are “hard to get at.”

Dispatches suggests that the Air Force issue ice packs and super glue to pilots.

 

The P.T. Barnum Award to Dennis Montgomery, a computer programmer who scammed the U.S. government for more than $20 million. Montgomery claimed he had software that could spot terrorist conspiracies hidden in broadcasts by the Qatar-based Arabic news network, Al-Jazeera. He said his program could also detect hostile submarines and identify terrorists in Predator drone videos.

The Bush administration took his claims so seriously that in December 2003 it turned back flights from Britain, France and Mexico because the software had “discovered” the planes flight information embedded in an Al Jazeera’s crawl bar. The White House, fearing the planes would be used to attack targets in the U.S., actually talked about shooting the planes down.

The CIA eventually concluded the software was a fabrication, but rather than rebuking those in charge during the hoax—Donald Kerr and George Tenet—both men got promotions. The spy agency also didn’t bother to tell anyone in the military, so in 2009 the U.S. Air Force bought the bogus software for $3 million.

 

C. Northcote Parkinson Award to the U.S. Defense Department for upholding the British sociologist’s dictum that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Parkinson—a social scientist with a wicked sense of humor—was hired after World War II to examine the future of the Royal Navy. He concluded that, given the military’s deep love of fancy gold lace, as well as its addiction to bureaucracy, eventually there would be more admirals than ships. Needless to say, that is exactly what happened.

But it is not just the Brits who yearn for the golden epaulets. According to the Project On Government Oversight (POGO), the U.S. military is adding brass to its ranks at a record pace. While the enlisted ranks have grown by 2 percent from 2001 to 2011, three and four star generals and flag rank admirals have increased 24 percent, one and two star generals and admirals by 12 percent, and lower ranking officers by 9.5 percent.

Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made an attempt to cut the ranks of the top brass, but as soon as Leon Panetta took over the post, he reversed the cuts and added six more generals. In fact, at the same time as the Pentagon was cutting the enlisted ranks by 10,000 in anticipation of an end to the Iraq War, it added 2,500 officers.

According to POGO, “Today’s military is the most top-heavy force in U.S. history.” Between 2012 and 2021, POGO estimates that the six new generals Panetta appointed will cost taxpayers $14 million.

However, there may be a silver lining here. Generals and admirals don’t fight, that’s the job of enlisted men. At this rate the U.S. will run out of privates and the business of war will be left to generals and admirals. If that comes to pass, Dispatches predicts an outbreak of pacifism.

 

The Confused Priorities Award is a three-way tie between British Prime Minister David Cameron, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and former Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Bertie Ahern.

In the midst of a savage austerity program, with massive cutbacks in social spending, Cameron’s Conservative-Liberal government will spend up to $40 billion on a new generation of missile-firing submarines. While British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said the submarine was necessary to maintain the country’s nuclear deterrence, critics say the program is really a boondoggle for BAE Systems, the United Kingdom-based arms company that will make the new weapon system.

Canada’s Harper got into the winner’s circle by spending over $100 million on summit meetings and pork barrel projects for Conservative cabinet member Tony Clement. The summit expenditures included $13,711 for “glow sticks,” $62 million for accommodations, and $4.3 million for a temporary fence to keep Canadians away from the lake where the Group of 8 meeting took place. Half of the summit money was used to build an office building in Fraser’s district, as well as develop airports and communities that the cabinet member could take credit for. In the meantime, Harper slashed spending for health care and education, and cut $200 million from environmental protection and monitoring.

Ahern, Taoiseach of the Irish Dail from 1997 to 2008, oversaw the bank speculation and real estate bubble that destroyed Ireland’s economy in 2008. Ahern claimed that no one told him that the financial situation was so dire, although an investigation by independent analyst Rob Wright found that the Fianna Fail government had repeatedly been warned that a crash was coming. Asked what his greatest regret was, Ahern replied that it was his failure to build a stadium to match those in Arab states. “I think unfortunately when I see little countries like Qatar and Kuwait…talking about their 10 stadiums and we never succeeded in getting one national stadium. That’s an achievement I tried hard to do but I didn’t get.”

 

The White Elephant Award to the Greek Army for considering taking 400 free M1A1 Abrams tanks from the U.S. “This is a free offer,” said Greek army spokesman Yiannis Sifakis.

Well, sort of free.

The Abrams, the U.S.’s main battle tank, is a 67.6-ton behemoth that burns 10 gallons of gas just to start, and gets 1.6 gallons to the mile. The tanks will also cost $11 million to transport to Greece.

In the meantime, the Greek Socialist government has laid off tens of thousands of workers, cut wages, slashed health care, increased sales taxes, and advanced the retirement age. Massive demonstration and general strikes have convulsed major cities, and the country is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Maybe the army is thinking that if German banks try to repossess the country, those 400 Abrams tanks might come in handy (if Greece can afford to gas to run them)?

 

The Dr. Frankenstein Award to former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright for her sponsorship of Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a man accused of murdering Serb prisoners during the 1999 Yugoslav War and selling their body parts.

Reporting on the scandal in CounterPunch, reporter Diana Johnstone, author of “Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions,” cites a report by Swiss Senator Dick Marty implicating former Kosovo Liberation Army commander Thaci of running “safe houses” during the war where Serb prisoners were tortured and killed.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, a human rights organization with 47 member states, sponsored the Marty investigation.

“An undetermined but apparently small number of prisoners were transferred in vans and trucks to an operating site near Tirana international airport [Albania], from which fresh organs could be flown rapidly to recipients” the Marty Report says. “Captives were killed, usually by a gunshot to the head, before being operated on to remove one of more of their organs.” Kidneys seem to have been the major harvest.

Thaci has also been linked to the heroin trade and prostitution.

Albert and her aide, the late Richard Holbrooke, pushed Thaci into the leadership of Kosovo during the Rambouillet negotiations leading up to the war. According to Johnson, far more prominent leaders of the Kosovo delegation to those talks were pushed aside, and Thaci—known in law enforcement circles as “The Snake—became the face of Albanians secession movement.

Asked about the Marty Report, U.S. State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley said the Americans would continue to work with Thaci because “any individual anywhere on the earth is innocent until proven otherwise.” Of course, it also helps that Thaci approved the construction of a massive U.S. base in Kosovo, Camp Bondsteel, giving the U.S. its first military foothold in the Balkans.

 

The Surreal Award to the U.S. Justice Department for finally agreeing that lawyers defending prisoners at Guantanamo can view classified files that were prominently displayed on the WikiLeaks website. The Department ruled that lawyers may access the documents, but cannot “download, save, print, or disseminate” the material, a ruling that attorney David Remes said was “still surreal.”

 

The Grinch Award to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for complaining that Colombia’s minimum wage was too high, and driving up the cost of labor. The minimum wage is $1.80 an hour and, for full time workers, brings in around $300 a month.

 

The Historical Re-write Award to Jean-Francois Cope, general secretary of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative Union for Popular Movement and the man behind the “Burka Ban.”  Cope organized a recent conference on secularization that, according to French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, led to “a stigmatization of Muslims.”

Cope defended the conference as “controversial but necessary,” adding that “the values of France are like the Three Musketeers: liberty, equality, fraternity.”  Except that the Alexander Dumas novel was set in 1625, and the Musketeers were fighting for Louis XIII and the Catholic Church. “Liberty, equality, fraternity” was the slogan of the 1789 French Revolution, and was not highly thought of in the Feudal court of Bourbons.

The creative Language Award to the Obama administration for its denial that the American bombing of Libya constituted a war. It was, according to the White House, a “time-limited, scope-limited military action.”

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Dispatches Annual Awards

2010 Dispatches From the Edge Awards

Dec. 28, 2010

Each year the column Dispatches From The Edge awards news stories and newsmakers that fall under the category of “Are you serious?” Here are 2010’s winners.

The Harry Potter Award to the British technology company ATSC Ltd for its invention of a “wand” that, according to the company, detects explosives, drugs, and human remains for up to six miles by air and three fifths of a mile by land. The ADE 651 sells for $16,000 a unit.

The only problem is that it doesn’t work, which users might have figured out by reading the manual: the device has no batteries or internal parts. It is powered by “static electricity” generated by the holder walking in place. A wand-like antenna then points to the drugs, bodies, or explosives.

This past January ATSC Ltd was charged with fraud and banned by the British government. One ATSC source told the New York Times, “Everyone at ATSC knew that there was nothing inside the ADE 651,” and that the units cost only $250 to make.

But the wand was widely used in Iraq. Ammar Tuma, a member of the Iraqi parliament’s Security and Defense Committee bitterly attacked the company for causing “grave and massive losses of the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, by the hundreds and the thousands, from attacks we thought we were immune to because we have this device.” The Iraqi Ministry of the Interior purchased 800 ADE 651s at a cost of $85 million.

The managing director of ATSC, Jim McCormack, staunchly defended the wand, which he claims the company has sold to 20 countries. He did admit, “one of the problems is that the machine looks primitive,” and said the company was turning out an upgraded model “that has flashing lights.”

Runner-up for this award was the British firm, Global Technology Ltd, which sold $10 million worth of very similar wand—the GT 200—to Mexico. The unit retails for $20,000 apiece. In one demonstration the GT 200 detected drugs in a Volkswagen sedan. After thoroughly searching the car, authorities turned up a bottle of Tylenol (suggesting that one should switch to Advil). Human Rights Watch says it is “troubled” by the use of the wand, which is widely used in Thailand and Mexico. “If people are actually being arrested and charged solely on the basis of its readings, that would be outrageous,” the group said in a press release.

A Mexican interior official defended the GT-200, however, claiming that it “works with molecules.” Hard to argue with science.

The Golden Lemon Award goes to the Conservative government of Canada for shelling out $8.5 billion to buy 65 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters. According to Defense Minister Peter MacKay, “This multi-role stealth fighter will help the Canadian forces defend the sovereignty of Canadian airspace.” Exactly whom that airspace is being defended from is not clear.

The contract also includes a $6.6 billion maintenance agreement, which is a good thing because the F-35 has a number of “problems.” For instance, its engine shoots out sparks, and no one can figure out why. It is generally thought a bad idea for an engine to do that. There are several different types of F-35, and the vertical lift version of the aircraft doesn’t work very well. It seems the fan that cools the engine, doesn’t, and the panels that open for the vertical thrust, don’t. Also switches, valves and power systems are considered “unreliable.”

The F-35 is looking more and more like the old F-105 Thunderchief, a fighter-bomber used extensively at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Pilots nicknamed it the “Thud” (the sound the plane made when it hit the ground after failing to clear a runway, a rather common occurrence).  One pilot said it had all the agility of a “flying brick,” thus its other nickname: the “lead sled.”

The U.S. is spending $382 billion to buy 2,457 F-35s, although the price tag keeps going up as more and more “problems” develop. Maintenance and spare parts for the aircraft will run several hundred billion extra.

One normally thinks of Canadians as sensible, but the country’s Conservative government is apparently as thickheaded as our own. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently had a summit meeting on the arctic and didn’t invite the Inuit (whom most Americans call Eskimos).

Well, the F-35 may not fly very well, but it works just fine for Lockheed Martin: second quarter profits saw a jump from $727 million to $731 million over last year, and revenues rose to $11.44 billion, 3 percent over last year.

The Panjandrum Award to the U.S. military in Afghanistan.  For those unfamiliar with the “Great Panjandrum,” it was an enormous rocket propelled explosive wheel developed by Great Britain for breaching the Atlantic Wall that Nazi Germany had built on the French coast to defend against amphibious invasions.  Tested on a Devon beach, it roared ashore, turned smartly to port, and thundered into a bevy of admirals and generals, scattering them hither and yon. Thus “Panjandrum” became a metaphor for really silly military ideas.

And there is not a whole lot sillier idea than the one to deploy M1-Abrams tanks in southern Afghanistan.  The M1 is a 68-ton behemoth, powered by a jet engine (miles per gallon is not its strong point).  Since Afghanistan has virtually no roads and a good deal of the terrain is vertical—at least the part where the insurgents are ensconced—how the M1 is going to get around is not obvious.

However, one U.S. Marine officer told the Washington Post, “The tanks bring awe, shock and firepower. It’s pretty significant.” Right. Show the Wogs a tank and they will be begging for mercy.

Except the Taliban are quite familiar with tanks. The initial Soviet invasion included 1,800 of them, many of them T-72s. The T-72 is admittedly smaller than the Abrams—41 1/2 tons vs. 68 tons—but the former actually packed a bigger gun. The M1 sports a 120mm gun, the T-72 a 125 mm gun. T-72 carcasses are scattered all over Afghanistan, and the Taliban even managed to capture some of them.

Tanks are effective against stationary targets and other tanks. The Taliban don’t have tanks, and they don’t stick around when one shows up. But shocked and awed by their appearance? Don’t these people read history? Try “The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan,” by Lester Grau.

The George Orwell Award to the U.S. Defense Department for dropping the name of “Psychological Operations”—“Psyops” for short—because the “term can sound ominous.” Instead Psyops will now be known as Military Information Support Operation, or MISO, which sounds like a Japanese soup.

Some military contractors, however, apparently didn’t get the memo about using names and acronyms that sound “ominous.”  Northrop Grumman just successfully tested a radar system that will be attached to Predator and Reaper armed drones to allow the killer robots to “detect individuals walking over a wide area” and track vehicles, watercraft, people, and animals, as well as “stationary targets of interest.” Given that the drones pack Hellfire missiles and 500 lb bombs, you really don’t want to be “interesting” when they are around.

The news system is called the “Vehicle and Dismount Exploitation Radar” or “Vader” for short. Sound of heavy breathing is not included in the basic package.

The Rudyard Kipling Award to the Pentagon and its program to train officers for extended service in Afghanistan. For those unclear on this award, a few lines from Kipling’s poem, “Arithmetic on the Frontier” about Britain’s unsuccessful effort to subdue Afghanistan, and how one adds up the cost of occupation:

“A scrimmage in a Border Station–

A canter down some dark defile—

Two thousands pounds of education

Drop to a ten-rupee jezail*—

It appears some officers read Kipling. In spite of a high profile push by the Defense Department to recruit officers to serve in Afghanistan, the program  is less than half filled, according to Pentagon officials.

*A jezail is a cheap, muzzle-loading rifle that took a heavy toll on British troops during their 19th century invasions of Afghanistan.

The Barn Door Award to the Department of Defense (yes, yes they do win a lot, but then they excel at winning awards) for telling employees and contractors not to read Wiki Leak documents online, because they are “classified.”  Just close your eyes?

The Air Force went one step further and barred personnel from using computers where the documents were on line, thus underlining conventional wisdom in Washington: the Army is slow, the Marines are dumb, the Navy lies, and the Air Force is evil.

The Mary Wollingstonecraft Shelly Award (the author of Frankenstein) goes to the University of California at Berkeley, MIT, and Cornell University for using Defense Department money to turn the beetle, Mecynorrhina torquata, into a cyborg. The beetle is fitted with an electronic backpack attached to the animal’s wing muscles, allowing scientists to control the beetle’s flight path.

The idea is to use the little beastie (actually, as beetles go, kind of a big beastie) to crawl or fly into areas where the “enemy” is. Once the “enemy” is identified, the military can target the area with bombs, rockets or artillery. This is a tad rough on the beetles.

According to researchers Michael Maharbiz and Hirotake Sato, the long-term goal is to “introduce synthetic interfaces and control loops” into other animals. “Working out the details in insects first will help us avoid mistakes and false starts in higher organisms, such as rats, mice, and ultimately people. And it allows us to postpone many of the deeper ethical questions about free will, among other things, that would become more pressing if this work took place on vertebrates.”

The Michele Bachmann Award to Australian legislator Bob Katter for sounding the alarm about a serious threat facing his constituents: “We have terrible problems with deadly flying foxes. They are going to kill more people than the Taipan snake in Australia.”

The flying fox is the world’s largest bat, also called the “fruit bat.” It has broad, flat molars and feeds on soft fruit, from which it extracts juice. By all accounts they are gentle and intelligent and don’t attack humans. The Taipan snake, which can grow up to 12 feet, is considered the most venomous land snake in the world. However, the animal is shy and rarely bites people.

It is comforting to know that there are other legislators in the world just as whacko as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn), who recently suggested that legislators “slit their wrists in a blood pact” to block health reform and said that people had to be “armed and dangerous” to block efforts to mitigate global warming.

You can read more of Conn Hallinan’s writings at dispatchesfromtheedgeblog.wordpress.com

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Stories From The Year That Was 2009

Stories From The Year That Was 2009

Dispatches

Berkeley Daily Planet

Feb. 4, 2010

News tends to vanish from our radar screens when the attention of the media moves elsewhere. But the stories go on. In the coming year Dispatches will revisit some subjects it has covered. Here are four.

“Shadow Wars” (6/4/09) examined an October 2008 incident when several U.S. helicopters crossed the Syrian border to attack a supposed al-Qaeda operative, Abu Ghadiya, near the town of al-Sukariya. The column concluded that the raid was a case of botched intelligence that resulted in the deaths of seven innocent civilians.

In October 2009, investigative reporter Reese Erlich and actor/writer Peter Coyote journeyed to Syria to report the story for Vanity Fair. They interviewed local witnesses and the doctor who treated the wounded survivors.

According to the reporters, U.S. officials claimed—anonymously—that the raid was a success, although they never produced proof the Ghadiya had been killed.

Bob Baer, a CIA field officer in the Middle East for more than two decades, told Erlich and Coyote that the U.S. claims were “total bullshit;” he suspects the raid was a result of bad intelligence. “Where’s the body? Where are the documents or the cell phone? If they brought back an al-Qaeda body, why don’t they have something? There’s no conceivable way they would have killed him and not shown it.”

Possibly because he was already dead. According to Erlich and Coyote, al-Qaeda in Iraq “announced the death of Ghadiya in 2006” from a rocket attack on the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border. Apparently jihadist web sites published his obituary at the time.

So was it botched intelligence, or something more sinister?

According to the reporters, some Syrians are convinced the raid was a set-up by the Bush Administration to derail any attempt to improve U.S.-Syria relations.

“The neocons and their headmaster, Vice President [Dick] Cheney, wanted to create problems so that a rapprochement between the [Obama] administration and Syria will be made more difficult,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Fayssal Mekdad told the reporters.

The authors speculate that may be a reason Syria did not respond more forcefully to what was a clear act of war.

The story may have disappeared, were it not for the survivors. According to Dr. Ayers al-Fara—who autopsied the dead and treated the wounded—the woman survivor is still in very bad shape. When he saw her last Oct. 26, he said, “She was hallucinating. She kept saying, ‘’Go, go, go, go,’ these four words over and over in English.” The doctor speculated that they were what the soldiers were shouting in the 15-minute raid.

For a full read of this excellent story, go to: http://www.vanityfair.com/politicsw/features/2009/10’al-sukariya-200910)

In “The U.S. Connection in Honduras,”(8/12/09) about the June 23 coup in that country, Dispatches reported on some seamy connections between the U.S. and Honduran business and political interests, and suggested that the Nov. 29 election that brought conservative Porfirio Lobo to power was deeply compromised.

The Obama administration bought the Honduran Electoral Tribunal’s figure of a 61 percent turnout, six points higher than the 2004 vote that elected Manuel Zelaya president.

In fact, turnout wasn’t close to that. According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal the actual turnout was 50 percent, five points less than the 2004 election. Laura Carlsen, director of the Americas Program for the Center for International Policy—who was in Tegucigalpa during the voting—said the 61 percent figure was a “bald-faced lie.” Based on registration and voter turnout, the actual figure was 49.2 percent.

And according to Amnesty International, the “crisis in Honduras did not end with the election.”

In the weeks following the vote, the Honduran police and military launched a wave of terror to silence the hundreds of thousands of people who protested the coup. In These Times reporter Jeremy Kryt says “More than 3000 people have been detained, and hundreds more have been beaten, with many requiring hospitalization for their wounds. At least 28 members of the resistance have been killed by the military, police, or political assassins during the last five months.”

According to Human Rights Watch, gay, lesbian and transgendered people have been especially targeted. Some seven have been murdered since the coup. Journalists sympathetic to Zelaya have also been singled out.

The coup-sponsored election has only been recognized by the U.S., Panama, Columbia, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and, oddly enough, Canada.

Canadian Junior Foreign Minister Peter Kent praised the Nov. 29 vote and said, “We are encouraged by reports from civil society organizations that there was a strong turnout for the elections, that they appear to have been run freely and fairly and that there was no major violence.”

Canada was conspicuously silent about the coup government’s attacks on demonstrators.

Honduras is Canada’s top aid recipient in Central America, and the Ottawa government has a program to train Honduran soldiers and police. The Canadians also export $89 million worth of goods to Honduras, and import $151.5 million in return, mostly in bananas.

And gold. Canadian mining corporations, including Yamana Gold, Breakwater Resources, and Goldcorp invest in Honduras, and lobbied against a Zelaya-sponsored law that would have restricted mining and banned its widespread use of cyanide. Environmentalist Carlos Amador told Upsidedown World reporter Dawn Paley that he now expects the proposal to be defeated.

One activist compared the repression to the death squad days of the 1980s when Honduras served as the Reagan administration’s base for its war on the Sandinista government in Nicaragua

However, according to human rights activists, the coup has sparked a powerful opposition force. “Of course they [the military and the elites] didn’t mean to do it,” says resistance leader Juan Barahona, “But through their own greed, the putschists have awakened an even greater resistance.”

Japan’s New Course” (11/12/09) predicted that the victory by the Democratic Party (DP) in the last election could alter the traditional relationship between Japan and the U.S., and that a flash point would be a fight over the building of a new U.S. military base on the island of Okinawa. The DP won, and change is in the air.

First, the new government canceled a naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean that supported U.S. ships bound for Iraq and Afghanistan. Then Tokyo announced that it was suspending any new monies for an anti-missile system it is building in conjunction with the U.S.

And when the residents of Nago, Okinawa elected a mayor who opposed the base, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced that his government would renegotiate the 2006 base agreement “from scratch.”

Nago residents were reacting in part to what Japanese media called “bullying” by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who have insisted the 2006 pact is binding.

Japan currently hosts 50,000 U.S. troops, the vast majority of them on the island of Okinawa.

Okinawa is part of a U.S. strategy to challenge Chinese presence in the western Pacific. Besides the new base in Okinawa, the U.S. is turning the islands of Guam and Tinian into virtual Gibraltars, with numerous bases and ports. The buildup will cost some $12 billion, with Japan footing slightly more than half the bill.

This small island strategy became necessary when Australia, Thailand, the Philippines, South Korea and Singapore refused to allow any permanent U.S. bases.

Guam residents are unhappy about the new bases, fearing land confiscations and the destruction of forest areas. “They want to run over our land,” Henry Simpson, general manager of the Guam Racing Federation, told The Japan Times.

The Tokyo government says the U.S.-Japan Security Pact is still the “cornerstone” of Japanese foreign policy, but with upper house elections coming up this summer, the DP can’t afford to ignore the Okinawa vote. The island voted heavily for the DP in the general elections.

Now that China is Japan’s number one trading partner, Tokyo is also edging away from the more confrontational U.S. strategy. “From the Chinese side, the debate about Okinawa and what to do with bases in the framework of the security pact has been looked at very favorably, that Japan is not simply following old contracts,” Marin Schulz, a research fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute in Tokyo told the Washington Post.

We Deeply Regret” (10/15/09) focused on a controversial Sept. 4 NATO air strike in Afghanistan that killed up to 142 people. A German army commander called for the attack.

Then German Defense Minister Franz Joseph Jung defended the attack by citing intelligence showing that German soldiers had been in danger. When it turned out he had no such evidence, he was forced to resign. German army Chief of Staff Gen. Wolfgang Schneiderman and a senior official at the Defense Ministry, Peter Wichert, also resigned.

But the story has not gone away.

On Nov. 6, new German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg called the attack “militarily appropriate,” based on what he said was his reading of a classified NATO investigation on the incident. On Dec. 3 he suddenly reversed course and said the attack was “militarily inappropriate.” Change of heart? Not exactly. Guttenberg just realized that the “classified” report was going public

After studying the report, Der Spiegel noted acidly, “Just how Guttenberg, after studying this report, could have arrived at the conclusion that the attack was ‘militarily appropriate’ will have to remain his secret.”

According to the newspaper, the attack on Sept. 4 “was the result of a combination of ineptness and deliberate misinformation, without which the air strike would never have occurred.”

Now the Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party are asking uncomfortable questions of Guttenberg. Will the new defense minister get entangled in his own web of deception? Stay tuned.

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Annual Dispatches Awards 2009

Annual Dispatches Awards 2009

Daily Planet

Jan. 7, 2010

The Golden Poodle Award to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for his decision to join in the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and lying about it. Blair told Parliament in July 2002 that prior to the November 2002 United Nations resolution to disarm Iraq, his government made no preparations for invading Iraq. But according to leaked government documents, plans to attack Baghdad had begun in February 2002.

“Tony Blair consistently denied to Parliament and the public that the U.K. government was preparing for war in Iraq, yet these documents show that planning began back as far as 2002,” said Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party. The revelation, he said, shows that Blair took Britain into “an illegal and disastrous war on false pretenses.”

War critics have long charged that Blair had secretly reached an agreement with U.S. President George Bush to go along with the invasion, but the Prime Minster always denied it. The current Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has formed a panel to investigate the run up to the war, but the panel has no powers, and Brown only reluctantly allowed it to have public hearings.

According to the documents, the planning was in the best traditions of the British Army: soldiers were issued five rounds of ammunition apiece, had the wrong armor, and radios that didn’t work in hot climates. The Army also sent along a container of snow skis.

On A Clear Day You Can’t See Anything Award to U.S. General John Craddock and Gretchen Peters, author of “Seeds of Terror: How Heroin is bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”

According to the German magazine, Der Spiegel, Gen. Craddock, NATO’s senior military commander, proposed that all drug traffickers in Afghanistan be shot, regardless of whether it could be proven they were involved with the Taliban, because drugs are a major source of funding for the insurgency.

Such a policy would violate international law, as well as alter NATO’s Afghan mission.

Peters says the U.S. should use air power to attack drug convoys and locations where drugs are processed or refined. The attacks would strangle “the Taliban’s opium profits, which the United Nations calculates to be worth $400 million a year.”

The “$400 million” figure, says Peters, comes from the “UN,” but according to a new report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, the Taliban get about $125 million each year from the opium trade. The CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency say the figure is closer to $70 million.

The UN estimates that Afghan opium generates about $3.4 billion a year, of which 4 percent goes to the Taliban, and 21 percent to the farmers. So who gets the 75 percent that’s left over? Not Al-Qaeda, which the report states “does not appear to have a direct role in the Afghan opiates trade.”

The bulk, according to Julien Mercille, a lecturer at University College, Dublin, “is captured by government officials, the police, local and regional power brokers and traffickers,” including President Hamid Karzai’s brother Ahmed Wali Karzai and General Nazri Mahmad, a northern warlord who provides protection for German troops.

The report admits that drugs have a “minimal impact on the insurgency’s strategic threat,” and most the Taliban’s funding comes from “private donors” all over the world.

To blame ‘corruption’ and ‘criminals’ for the state of affairs is to ignore the direct and predictable effects of U.S. policies, which have simply followed a historical pattern of toleration and empowerment of local drugs lords in pursuit of broader foreign policy goals,” Mercille writes.

The U.S. was tied to the heroin trade in Laos during the Southeast Asian war and to cocaine smuggling during the war against Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

But it is not just our guys who benefit from the trade, so does international banking. According to the UN report, 90 to 95 percent of opium sales over the past seven years—$400 to $500 billion—were laundered through western banks. In fact it appears that some of that money was essential in keeping those banks from going bankrupt during the recent credit melt down.

The report also identifies China, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Germany and France as the main suppliers of the precursor chemicals that turn opium into heroin. The UN says most of the heroin is shipped through Turkey to the rest of Europe, where the trade is valued at $20 billion a year.

So, were it to follow the logic of Gen, Craddock and Gretchen Peters, Dispatches would suggest a campaign of air strikes on Turkey, the seizure and execution of leading international banking officials, and a blockade of China, Russia, South Korea, France and Germany.

The Lion King Award to the consulting company CH2M Hill and the Department of Energy for zeroing in on one of the most dangerous threats to the environment: radioactive rabbit turds.

It appears the bunnies have been digging up the Hanford nuclear reservation in south-central Washington state and absorbing radioactive strontium and cesium left over from the production of plutonium. Using helicopters, CH2M Hill has been skimming the desert terrain to locate the droppings. Later, workers will scoop them up and seal them in barrels.

The nearby Colombia River has radioactive fish, and similar leaks are occurring at the Lawrence Livermore Nuclear Laboratory in California and the Savannah River nuclear site in South Carolina. The cleanup of nuclear production sites will cost over $260 billion and take decades to complete.

At the Savannah site, hunters are allowed to shoot deer, but then have to bring them to the site to be monitored. “If they find something that was above the limit they take out that part of the carcass and allow the guy to go on his merry way with the rest of it,” Robert Alvarez, a former Energy Department official, told the New York Times.

A number of other animals besides rabbits are radioactive at Hanford. According to CH2M Hill spokeswoman Dee Millikin, mice and badgers are also involved, as are the coyotes that eat the smaller animals. “It’s basically a circle of life situation,” she says.

Golden Swine Award to the Lockheed Martin Corporation, the U.S. Air Force, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world, makes the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

According to a lawsuit by engineer Darrol Olsen, the company secretly added extra coating—600 pounds of it—to the F-22 in order to pass the Air Force’s “stealth” test. Lockheed Martin found that the original stealth coating rubbed off when it was exposed to fuel, oil or water. Adding the extra coats allowed it to pass the “stealth” test, but the because the coating was brittle, it broke off, making the fighter a “bulls eye target.” The extra weight also compromised the aircraft’s speed and maneuverability.

The F-22 costs $140 million apiece, and, while the Obama Administration has cancelled the program, some 183 aircraft will still be produced.

Lockheed Martin’s $300 billion F-35 contract will be the most expensive weapons system ever built. But there is a little problem with the fighter’s Pratt & Whitney engine: it shoots out lots of sparks and no one seems to know why. Most aeronautical engineers will tell you that it is not a good idea for a jet engine to shoot out lots of sparks.

So Congress decided that General Electric and Rolls Royce should build a back up engine just in case the Pratt & Whitney one didn’t work and the country ended up with 2,500 really expensive lawn ornaments.

The Obama administration is trying to cancel the Pratt & Whitney engine because it will cost at least $3 billion just to finish developing the thing. But Congress wants the backup and added $560 million to next year’s budget to finish developing it.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Defense Secretary Robert Gates put the U.S. Air Force in charge of awarding a $35 billion contract for a new generation of in-air refueling tankers. Given that the Air Force totally botched two previous air tanker contracts, it was a touching act of faith.

Previous efforts were derailed when the Boeing Corporation filed corruption charges against the Air Force, Northrop Douglass and the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) for giving the latter two companies the inside track and rigging the bidding.

Boeing is rallying its congressional supporters from Washington State, while Alabama is lobbying for Northrop Grumman and EADS.

The air tanker contract will eventually rise to $100 billion or more.

So hit the add key on your calculator ; between all three weapons systems, the costs are likely to reach $500 billion or more. That would buy a lot of health care.

And, finally, DARPA, which is testing the relationship between roadside bombs and brain damage by blowing up pigs. Several hundred pigs have been dressed in body armor, strapped into armored personal carriers and Humvees, and subjected to explosions.

According to DARPA, the experiments show that the body armor protects the pigs’ lungs and doesn’t increase brain damage by diverting the explosive force toward the head. Pigs without body armor died within 24 to 48 hours, while those wearing it “survived significantly higher blasts” said DARPA spokeswoman Jan Walker. More than 200 pigs have been used.

While Walker said the pigs were treated “humanely at all times,” Martin Stephens of the Humane Society of America said the tests raised “red flags,” and said the “relevance of this is highly questionable. People are not pigs.”

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Dispatch Awards For The Year That Was 2008

Dispatch Awards For The Year That Was 2008

Dispatches From The Edge

Who’s On First Award? to U.S. intelligence for its analysis of al-Qaeda. According to CIA Director Michael Hayden, the organization is growing stronger and preparing to launch attacks in Africa, Europe and the Arabian Peninsula. He said there was a “bleed out” from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with al-Qaeda operatives spreading into North Africa, which they could use as a springboard for attacks on Europe.

A week later, Matthew Burrows, who heads up the long-range analysis section of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), said “The appeal of terrorism is waning” and al-Qaeda is on the decline, having alienated supporters with indiscriminate killings. According to Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World,” a report by the ONI, “Al-Qaeda has not achieved broad support in the Islamic world. Its harsh pan-Islamist ideology and policies appear only to a tiny minority of Muslims.”

Enabling Paranoia Award to the U.S. Congress for its resolute stand against terrorism. In 2003, Congress identified 160 sites in the country that might be potential targets for terrorist attacks. In 2004 that list had grown to 1,849. In 2005 the number was 28,360. In 2006 there were 77,769. By February 2008, the potential number of sites had grown to 300,000, including the Illinois Apple and Pork Festival. Being a “designated site” entitles local authorities to apply for Home Land Security money for equipment and police.

Lapdog Award to Canada’s Conservative government for first listing the U.S. as a country which uses torture—along with Israel, Afghanistan, China, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Syria—and then reversing themselves and apologizing when Washington protested.

Shortly thereafter, a secret Canadian government report found that Canadian Omar Khadr, who is been held at Guantanamo Bay since he was 16-years old, had been tortured. The torture included extended periods of sleep deprivation. When the evidence was presented to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he dismissed it, saying, “Canada has sought assurances that Mr. Khadr…will be treated humanely.”

One of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney, said Harper’s comment “defies belief.” The detainee’s American military lawyer said that the report “shows the assurances the Canadian government has been offering all these years were false. It’s shameful that the Canadian government is continuing to allow this to go on.”

A Purple Heart Award to Jeff Black, director of Idaho Peace Officer Standards and Training Academy for coming up with a slogan for graduates: “Don’t suffer from PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], go out and cause it.” PTSD, along with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), is the signature wound soldiers returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from. Estimates are that 40 percent of the veterans of both wars suffer from PTSD and MTBI.

The symptoms of both are very similar, and include anti-social behavior, aggression, sleeplessness, impotence, depression, and heightened incidences of suicide.

The U.S. military recently decided not to award Purple Hearts to PSTD and MTBI sufferers.

History Get Me A Rewrite Award to former President George W. Bush for his comment comparing the demand for a withdrawal from Iraq to similar demands to end the Vietnam War:

One unmistakable legacy of Vietnam is that the price of American withdrawal was paid by millions of innocent citizens whose agonies would add to our vocabulary new terms like ‘boat people,’ ‘re-education camps,’ and ‘killing fields.”

During the war the U.S. dropped more bombs on Southeast Asia than the allies had dropped in World War II, killed some three million people, maimed millions more, and added such words to our vocabulary as “free fire zone” and “strategic hamlet.” The “killing fields” were a direct result of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia and the CIA engineered overthrow of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and his replacement with military dictator, Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge in turn overthrew Lon Nol and murdered of two million Cambodians. An intervention by the Vietnamese ended the genocide and drove the Khmer Rouge from power.

Lt. William Calley Award to DynCorp, a mercenary organization hired by the U.S. to provide security in Iraq. A Dyn Corp soldier, who was a former U.S. Army vet and prison guard, told the New Yorker, “The real problem in this war on terror is you guys, the press. Ties our hands. The only way to fight this is to give them back the same medicine, like Operation Phoenix, in Vietnam. My Lai—what Calley did there was probably just orders.”

Operation Phoenix—which My Lai was part of—executed between 50,000 and 70,000 “Viet Cong supporters” in Vietnam. The My Lai massacre of Mar. 16, 1968 was led by Lt. William Calley. There is no agreement on the number who died at My Lai, but it was over 500, mainly women and children.

The “Beam Me Up Scotty” Award to the Pentagon for trying to create a hologram for the children of parents deployed in war zones. The kids will “boot” up their parents on a home computer and, according to the Pentagon, “The child should be able to have a simulated conversation with a parent about generic, every day topics.” The child “may get a response from saying ‘I love you,’ or “I miss you,’ or “Good night.’”

According to Navy Commander Russell Shilling, the psychologist overseeing the program, “The children don’t quite understand Mommy and Daddy being deployed” and “That kind of interaction…is very important.”

The parent would record comments before they were deployed and then artificial intelligence software that runs the hologram would respond to a child’s question or comment.

So if Jimmy or Jane says “Mommy come home,” does the program answer “Be all you can be?” or maybe bust the kid for undermining morale?

Ass-Backward Award to Lockheed Martin, the largest arms company in the world, for building the littoral combat ship “Freedom” before it completed all the designs. The ship—at $600 million plus—was first welded together and then designed, delaying construction and increasing costs. “It’s not good to be building while you’re designing,” said Vice. Adm. Paul E. Sullivan, who supervises ship building for the Navy.

Creative Accounting Award to the Pentagon, which is on track to spend $110 billion on missile defense by 2013 (the system has already cost $150 billion since it was launched in 1983) without any idea of what it will end up with. The accounting methodology is called “spiral development,” which, in the words of a Pentagon directive means, “end-state requirements are not known at program initiation.” In essence, “spiral development” means there are no set dates, no costs ceilings, no designated outcome and no way to determine if an outcome is achieved.

SNAFU Award to the U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Floyd Carpenter, who headed the investigation of the Feb. 23 crash of the $1.5 billion B-2 Stealth bomber, “Spirit of Kansas,” on the island of Guam. According to the investigation, moisture in the plane’s sensors made the B-2’s computer cause the plane to climb too sharply, causing it to stall and crash.

Carpenter said, “The aircraft actually performed as it was designed. In other words all systems were functioning normally.”

Except, perhaps, the part about crashing.

Great Moments in Journalism Award to FOX News for its coverage of the massacre of 90 Afghan civilians—including 60 children and 15 women—at the village of Azizabad by U.S. fighter bombers. The U.S. military initially denied the story and said the dead were “insurgents.” A Pentagon spokesperson said an “independent journalist” embedded with the U.S. troops that called in the air strike “corroborated” their story.

The “independent journalist”: Oliver North, working for Fox News. North was at the center of the Iran-Contra Conspiracy to overthrow the Sandinista government of Nicaragua and shredded files to keep them from government investigators.

Man’s Best Friend Award to the Blackwater security firm, which supplies mercenaries for the U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan. The company—several members of whom were recently indicted for killing up to 17 civilians in Iraq—is being investigated for shipping assault weapons and silencers hidden in large sacks of dog food into Iraq.

Certain weapons, including silencers, are banned for use by security firms because they are considered incompatible with the job of guarding diplomats.

The only reason you need a silencer is if you want to assassinate someone,” former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou told ABC.

The United Nations has accused the U.S. of running “death squads” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and of assassinating people opposed to U.S. policies in both countries.

Unclear On The Concept Award to U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, ranking Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, who attacked the Inspector General’s Office for its investigation of a Pentagon program to put retired military officers on TV and radio as “force multipliers” for the Bush Administration’s message on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and terrorism.

Hunter said the retired officers were a “great asset” for the country and completely independent. “The idea that somehow Don Rumsfeld got these people in a room and told them what to say, if you believe that you don’t believe in the independence of these generals. None of them are used to having people tell them what to do.”

The most common phrase heard in the military? “Yes, sir.”

Word Smithing Award to Navy Commander Pauline Storum who defended the conditions at Guantanamo Bay prison and challenged the charge that the camp uses solitary confinement. Storum said the camp has “single-occupancy cells.”

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