Kelly McParland: Good news, the Americans hate the F-35 too
April 30, 2012
The U.S. hates the F-35, too. Doesn’t that make you feel better?
Still uncertain whether the F-35 is a good idea?
Good news: Foreign Policy magazine may solve the dilemma for you. The Washington-based magazine demonstrates that Canadian opponents aren’t alone in thinking the “fifth generation fighter” (which sounds significant but really only means there were four earlier ones, kind of like owning a “fifth generation Oldsmobile”) is a disaster waiting to happen. In “The Jet that Ate the Pentagon” it pretty much dismembers the argument for the plane, largely on the basis that it will be insanely expensive (even more insanely than the costs known at present, and which the federal government sought valiantly to disguise by letting Defence Minister Peter MacKay be in charge). And besides the expense, it says, the planes don’t work very well, and aren’t likely to.
Here’s a taste of the snowballing expense:
Overall, the program’s cost has grown75 percent from its original 2001 estimate of $226.5 billion — and that was for a larger buy of 2,866 aircraft.
Hundreds of F-35s will be built before 2019, when initial testing is complete. The additional cost to engineer modifications to fix the inevitable deficiencies that will be uncovered is unknown, but it is sure to exceed the $534 million already known from tests so far. The total program unit cost for each individual F-35, now at $161 million, is only a temporary plateau. Expect yet another increase in early 2013, when a new round of budget restrictions is sure to hit the Pentagon, and the F-35 will take more hits in the form of reducing the numbers to be bought, thereby increasing the unit cost of each plane.
A final note on expense: The F-35 will actually cost multiples of the $395.7 billion cited above. That is the current estimate only to acquire it, not the full life-cycle cost to operate it. The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion — making for a grand total of $1.5 trillion, or more than the annual GDP of Spain.
And that’s only so far. It’s based on predictions the F-35 will be 42% more expensive to operate than the F-16. But the F-22, a less complicated “fifth generation” aircraft proved to be 300% more expensive. Besides, says the magazine, thanks to layer on layer of additional requirements added by the Clinton administration in the early days of planning and design, the F-35 has become a cumbersome “flying piano” that has little chance of ever achieving the impossible standards set for it.
The bottom line: The F-35 is not the wonder its advocates claim. It is a gigantic performance disappointment, and in some respects a step backward. The problems, integral to the design, cannot be fixed without starting from a clean sheet of paper.
Even if nothing else goes wrong, the F-35 would account for 38% of Pentagon procurement for defense programs, according to Foreign Policy, and this at a time the Pentagon faces serious cuts to bring U.S. budget spending back to something resembling sanity.
See, doesn’t that make you feel better? The Americans hate it too.
John Ivison: Canadians need the straight goods on F-35. First and foremost: Does it really handle like a ‘flying piano’?
April 30, 2012
Potentially as damaging as the cost over-runs are the claims made by critics like military analyst Winslow Wheeler that the F-35 is a “virtual flying piano” that lacks agility and is grounded far too often for maintenance.
The day the Auditor-General’s damning report on the F-35 fighter jets landed, the Harper government attempted to contain the damage by announcing the creation of a new “F-35 Secretariat” to oversee the process to replace Canada’s aging CF-18 fleet.
The government committed itself to “continue evaluating options” on the CF-18 replacement, but the very name of the new office suggested, in reality, Canadians could have any jet they wanted, as long as it looked like the F-35.
But it is the F-35 Secretariat no longer.
Marc Garneau, the Liberal MP, asked in Question Period if the change of name to the “New Fighter Aircraft Secretariat” was indicative of a shift in policy. He didn’t get much of an answer but government sources confirmed the name has indeed been changed, to avoid giving the impression that the outcome is pre-determined. Asked if that meant a competition for a new jet is likely, the senior Conservative said: “We haven’t closed that door.”
On first blush, it looks very much as if the government is preparing to back away from the F-35. The whole saga has taken a political toll on the Tories, as the costs for the 30-year life-cycle of the jets appear to be close to double the $16-billion they have claimed.
The F-35 took another hit this week with a scathing article – “The Jet that Ate the Pentagon” — in the highly regarded Foreign Policy magazine. It suggested the plane is “simply unaffordable, behind schedule” and a huge disappointment in terms of performance. “The F-35 is an unaffordable mediocrity, and the program will not be fixed by any combination of hardware tweaks or cost-control projects. There is only one thing to do with the F-35: Junk it. America’s air force deserves a much better aircraft and the taxpayers deserve a much cheaper one,” wrote Winslow Wheeler, a veteran military analyst.
The new special relationship: Why HAS Cameron held EIGHT conversations with Tony Blair (of all people) on how to run the country?
29 May, 2012
By Tim Shipman, Deputy Political Editor
David Cameron has developed a ‘special relationship’ with Tony Blair, holding at least eight conversations with him on how to run the country.
Mr Blair visited Mr Cameron’s official country residence of Chequers last July – a meeting that has previously never been disclosed by Downing Street.
The pair have also had at least seven phone conversations since Mr Cameron took the keys to No10, a rate of around once every three months.
Mr Cameron and Mr Blair had a phone chat as recently as February this year.
They also spoke in January and have another call scheduled for September according to Downing Street sources.
Officials have previously admitted Mr Blair has briefed Mr Cameron in his capacity as a Middle East envoy.
But the full extent of their conversations has never before been revealed.
Well-placed sources admit their discussions stray far beyond foreign affairs and into how the Government should reform public services and the civil service. They have also discussed the euro crisis and the economy.
Mr Blair has also been advising Mr Cameron on how to cope with the rigours of the job as he undergoes the most testing time of his premiership.
‘They have a lot to talk about,’ said a senior source.
‘It is quite a special relationship between one Prime Minister and another. Who else knows what you’re going through?
‘They ostensibly talk about the Middle East but when you’ve got him on the phone it is natural to talk politics.’
Mr Blair has also had discussions on public service reform with senior ministers and it is understood he has held talks with Mr Cameron’s recently departed policy guru Steve Hilton.
A spokesman for Mr Blair said: ‘Of course, from time to time he speaks to the PM, particularly in his role as Quartet Representative, as he does with many world leaders.
‘But he does not routinely advise the PM on domestic or other policy.’
Labour peer Lord Adonis, who helped pioneer Mr Blair’s academy schools programme, which Education Secretary Michael Gove has dramatically expanded, was in No10 for talks with Mr Cameron on Monday.
That meeting was also previously kept quiet by No10.
Senior Tory sources say the Prime Minister has not ruled out offering a job to Lord Adonis, who is supposed to be running Labour’s own industrial policy review.
Mr Cameron’s policy unit has also been consulting Matthew Taylor and Geoff Mulgan, two former heads of Mr Blair’s Downing Street policy unit.
Details of the extensive web of contacts are likely to enrage partisans on both Tory and Labour benches.
Tory backbenchers are already concerned Mr Cameron spends as much time listening to the Liberal Democrats as he does Conservative backbenchers.
Mr Cameron gained notoriety with his own party by dubbing himself the ‘heir to Blair’ during the 2005 leadership contest.
The disclosure he is advising Mr Cameron will send many into orbit.
Mr Blair has let it be known he wants to play a larger role in domestic politics.
May 06, 2014: Saudi Shopping Spree: A Hardened, Networked National Guard
by Defense Industry Daily staff
April 23/14: TOW me. Raytheon announces:
by Defense Industry Daily staff
Feb 14/14: LAVs. The Canadian government announces a huge contract, and lets slip that it’s from Saudi Arabia in the footnotes.
by Defense Industry Daily staff
“An international customer signed an agreement with the U.S. Government for a foreign military sale (FMS) of tube-launched, optically tracked, wireless-guided (TOW) missiles to be supplied by Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN) in a deal valued at approximately $750 million.
Raytheon plans to deliver nearly 14,000 TOW missiles to the customer over a three-year period beginning in 2015. A resulting order is expected to be executed by the U.S. government with Raytheon in the coming weeks.”
Do they mention the customer? No, they don’t. Are there any other customers with pending orders for “nearly 14,000 TOW missiles” (q.v. Dec 5/13)? No, there aren’t. Keeping the one secret while advertising the other is irrational. Then again, anyone who was willing to give DID $750 million would be allowed to be be irrational, too. Sources: Raytheon, “International customer signs agreement with USG valued at $750 million for Raytheon’s TOW missiles”.
U.S. To Sell More Than 15,000 Missiles To Saudi Arabia In Spite of Recent Terror Attack on Allies
December 8, 2013
by Kevin Lake | News
Saudi Arabia; the lone Middle Eastern nation with whom no one can even begin to explain where the U.S. really stands. Are they friend or foe?
The U.S. Government claims they are our friends, even though 15 out of 19 of the hijackers on 9-11 were from Saudi Arabia, and the terrorists who just killed more than 50 civilians a few days ago in Yemen, a country that is an alleged ally to the U.S., were from Saudi Arabia. Now that just doesn’t sound very friendly, does it?
But the powers that be say they (Saudi Arabia) are our friends. So ignore all the unpleasant facts and call them thus.
Now, with that out of the way, our ‘friends’ the Saudis have just put in an order to buy nearly 16,000 TOW missiles from American defense company Raytheon. This would be a plus for Raytheon share holders, as the transaction would represent nearly 5% of the company’s total annual sales, but who exactly will be on the receiving end of all of those TOW missiles?
TOW missiles are specifically designed to destroy tanks. However, all of the other countries that make up the Middle East combine have nowhere near 16,000 tanks. Iran has less than 2,000, Israel has 4,000 and most of Iraq’s tanks have long ago been destroyed.
Some feel the Saudis are going to work the TOW missiles into Syria to help overthrow the government there, so in essence, the deal, should it go through, is little more than a back door way of the U.S. aiding terrorists, the Al Qaeda fighters in Syria that U.S. President Barack Hussein Obama has labeled “rebels” in the hopes that the masses would see them as the good guys, not the terrorists that they are. At least by arming them through an arms deal such as this one, a U.S. corporation and its share holders will profit from so doing. (Hm- and that’s never happened before, right?)
The U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has notified Congress of the pending sale, and Congress has 15 days to approve the transaction. Should they not respond, it is considered an approval and the sale will take place.
Hm. Bet it’s not hard to figure out what Congress is going to do. The hard part is finding out who those missiles will be fired upon.
Assad Troops Recapture Ancient Christian Town of Maaloula
April 14, 2014
By Gianluca Mezzofiore
Syrian troops loyal to president Bashar al-Assad have recaptured the ancient Christian town of Maaloula, according to military sources and state TV.
The military action follows seizure of the rebel-held Syrian border town of Rankous, in the strategically located Qalamoun region, which deprives the opposition their last major base in the area and cuts off a former supply line for weapons and fighters from neighbouring Lebanon.
Maaloula had earlier been overran by Islamist fighters, some belonging to the al-Qaida linked Al Nusra front, who also took 13 nuns captive from their convent. They were freed in a prisoner swap deal brokered by Qatar and Lebanon.
The picturesque town, just 5km from the main road connecting capital Damascus to the major flashpoint city of Homs, has changed hands at least four times in the past months.
State news agency SANA said that “units from the army and the armed forces” have restored “security and stability” in the town of Maaloula.
The recapture of Maaloula and the strategic road from Damascus to Homs will enable safe passage for hundreds of tonnes of chemical agents due to be taken out of the country and destroyed.
The military victory seems to confirm Assad’s recent statement that the Syrian civil war was at a “turning point” in his favour after three years of bitter battles that has left more than 150,000 people dead.
“This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army’s achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the (attacks) targeting the country,” state news agency SANA quoted the president as saying.
“The state is trying to restore security and stability in the main areas that the terrorists have struck,” said Assad, adding, “We will go after their positions and sleeper cells later.”
Assad troops are backed by Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon.
Maaloula is a historic town that attracted both Christian and Muslim pilgrims before the conflict.
Some of the residents of the town still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus Christ, and the monastery of Mar Thecla is internationally-renowned for its alleged miracle cures.
Press TV has conducted an interview with William Beeman, author and radio host, San Jose, about the OSCE mission heading to Ukraine in order to de-escalate eastern tensions.
The following is an approximate transcript of the interview.
Press TV: Where is the situation in eastern Ukraine heading? How much do you think the Geneva deal could deescalate the situation there?
Beeman: I don’t think that the Geneva group, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), is actually not going to be able to do very much because they’re going into eastern Ukraine in an area that’s absolutely opposed to Europe and the European Union.
The people in eastern Ukraine want very much to reunite with Russia; they don’t feel that the Ukrainian-Russian border is a real border and that really their ethnicity trumps any kind of formal state organization.
Obviously we all hope that they’ll be able to calm things down or that they’ll do something to calm things down, but my fear is that the OSCE is likely to actually cause more violence and inflame the situation even worse.
Without cooperation from Moscow this situation is not going to get better.
If we had for instance the OSCE operating in conjunction with representatives from the Russian government that might have some effect, but the OSCE operating unilaterally is not going to work very well.
Press TV: How much would the row between the US and Russia over the crisis in Ukraine have an impact on other issues that include the two powers such as the Iranian nuclear talks?
Beeman: Well, the United States and Russia are in a very tense situation over the Ukraine. But I’ve got to tell you that I am completely unclear in my own mind about what sort of interest the United States has in Ukraine other than simply trying to assure that Ukraine will develop closer ties to Europe rather than to Russia.
… so the US has a very weak stand with regard to the Ukrainian situation.
Until the Ukrainian people are able to actually express their own desires in this regard I don’t think anything much is going to happen.
The people in western Ukraine don’t seem to be willing to mount any kind of a military defense or anything that would actually prohibit the eastern Ukrainians from moving closer and closer toward Russia.
Press TV: Correct me if I’m wrong, what you’re saying is Ukraine is not worth the US going to war with Russia?
Beeman: I would absolutely say that and I think most American people would also agree that the United States… I don’t even know how we would pursue such a conflict logistically. It doesn’t make any sense at all.
I suppose that the United States could come across the border from an eastern European state, but the people of the United States have no appetite for external conflicts at this point and this is something that is either going to be handled diplomatically or it’s not going to be handled at all.
The hand of the United States in this situation is very weak.
ELLWOOD CITY — Members of Ellwood City Chapter 212 Order of the Eastern Star met in the Masonic Hall Jan.16. Cathy Ketterer, worthy matron, conducted the meeting. Sally Harley gave the secretary’s report, and Joan Evans gave the treasurer’s report. Various committee reports were given.
James Meehan, representative to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Oakland, gave a report on things donated by the chapter. He and his wife, Charmaine, will deliver the items to the hospital.
Darlene Patterson, a chapter representative for charity, made a Valentine-themed table runner, and it was won by Sandy Myers. The proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the Heart Association.
Sally Harley announced the tea to honor 50-year members will be at the Masonic hall on April 5.
A donation was made to Rainbow Assembly 1 in New Castle. This month was designated as Youth Project Month.
It was announced the Masonic Lodge will have a Flea Market on Feb. 22 at the Masonic Hall. It will feature crafts and baked goods, and food will be available. Orders for subs can be made by calling Ross Conrad. There is a charge for tables. More information can be obtained by calling Ross Conrad at 724-824-2222.
Joan Evans announced the past matrons of the Ellwood chapter will meet at the Wolverine Restaurant for a luncheon on Feb. 15. Hostesses will be Evans, Helen Bowers, Nancy Horton and Leann Ringle. Evans also announced the that Ellwood chapter will host a group called the 3’ms on March 11.
The charter was draped in memory of Vivienne Magee, a 50-year member of the chapter who passed away recently
Joan Evans, Sally Harley, Bonnie Thompson and Shirley Boariu were recognized for their February birthdays and received a gift from the Worthy matron.
Door prizes were won by Jean Hogue and Helen Bowers. Refreshments and supper were served before the meeting.
In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.＊ Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.
Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.
For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdoğan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’
The joint chiefs also knew that the Obama administration’s public claims that only the Syrian army had access to sarin were wrong. The American and British intelligence communities had been aware since the spring of 2013 that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons. On 20 June analysts for the US Defense Intelligence Agency issued a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd, which stated that al-Nusra maintained a sarin production cell: its programme, the paper said, was ‘the most advanced sarin plot since al-Qaida’s pre-9/11 effort’. (According to a Defense Department consultant, US intelligence has long known that al-Qaida experimented with chemical weapons, and has a video of one of its gas experiments with dogs.) The DIA paper went on: ‘Previous IC [intelligence community] focus had been almost entirely on Syrian CW [chemical weapons] stockpiles; now we see ANF attempting to make its own CW … Al-Nusrah Front’s relative freedom of operation within Syria leads us to assess the group’s CW aspirations will be difficult to disrupt in the future.’ The paper drew on classified intelligence from numerous agencies: ‘Turkey and Saudi-based chemical facilitators,’ it said, ‘were attempting to obtain sarin precursors in bulk, tens of kilograms, likely for the anticipated large scale production effort in Syria.’ (Asked about the DIA paper, a spokesperson for the director of national intelligence said: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’)
Last May, more than ten members of the al-Nusra Front were arrested in southern Turkey with what local police told the press were two kilograms of sarin. In a 130-page indictment the group was accused of attempting to purchase fuses, piping for the construction of mortars, and chemical precursors for sarin. Five of those arrested were freed after a brief detention. The others, including the ringleader, Haytham Qassab, for whom the prosecutor requested a prison sentence of 25 years, were released pending trial. In the meantime the Turkish press has been rife with speculation that the Erdoğan administration has been covering up the extent of its involvement with the rebels. In a news conference last summer, Aydin Sezgin, Turkey’s ambassador to Moscow, dismissed the arrests and claimed to reporters that the recovered ‘sarin’ was merely ‘anti-freeze’.
The DIA paper took the arrests as evidence that al-Nusra was expanding its access to chemical weapons. It said Qassab had ‘self-identified’ as a member of al-Nusra, and that he was directly connected to Abd-al-Ghani, the ‘ANF emir for military manufacturing’. Qassab and his associate Khalid Ousta worked with Halit Unalkaya, an employee of a Turkish firm called Zirve Export, who provided ‘price quotes for bulk quantities of sarin precursors’. Abd-al-Ghani’s plan was for two associates to ‘perfect a process for making sarin, then go to Syria to train others to begin large scale production at an unidentified lab in Syria’. The DIA paper said that one of his operatives had purchased a precursor on the ‘Baghdad chemical market’, which ‘has supported at least seven CW efforts since 2004’.
A series of chemical weapon attacks in March and April 2013 was investigated over the next few months by a special UN mission to Syria. A person with close knowledge of the UN’s activity in Syria told me that there was evidence linking the Syrian opposition to the first gas attack, on 19 March in Khan Al-Assal, a village near Aleppo. In its final report in December, the mission said that at least 19 civilians and one Syrian soldier were among the fatalities, along with scores of injured. It had no mandate to assign responsibility for the attack, but the person with knowledge of the UN’s activities said: ‘Investigators interviewed the people who were there, including the doctors who treated the victims. It was clear that the rebels used the gas. It did not come out in public because no one wanted to know.’
In the months before the attacks began, a former senior Defense Department official told me, the DIA was circulating a daily classified report known as SYRUP on all intelligence related to the Syrian conflict, including material on chemical weapons. But in the spring, distribution of the part of the report concerning chemical weapons was severely curtailed on the orders of Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff. ‘Something was in there that triggered a shit fit by McDonough,’ the former Defense Department official said. ‘One day it was a huge deal, and then, after the March and April sarin attacks’ – he snapped his fingers – ‘it’s no longer there.’ The decision to restrict distribution was made as the joint chiefs ordered intensive contingency planning for a possible ground invasion of Syria whose primary objective would be the elimination of chemical weapons.
The former intelligence official said that many in the US national security establishment had long been troubled by the president’s red line: ‘The joint chiefs asked the White House, “What does red line mean? How does that translate into military orders? Troops on the ground? Massive strike? Limited strike?” They tasked military intelligence to study how we could carry out the threat. They learned nothing more about the president’s reasoning.’
In the aftermath of the 21 August attack Obama ordered the Pentagon to draw up targets for bombing. Early in the process, the former intelligence official said, ‘the White House rejected 35 target sets provided by the joint chiefs of staff as being insufficiently “painful” to the Assad regime.’ The original targets included only military sites and nothing by way of civilian infrastructure. Under White House pressure, the US attack plan evolved into ‘a monster strike’: two wings of B-52 bombers were shifted to airbases close to Syria, and navy submarines and ships equipped with Tomahawk missiles were deployed. ‘Every day the target list was getting longer,’ the former intelligence official told me. ‘The Pentagon planners said we can’t use only Tomahawks to strike at Syria’s missile sites because their warheads are buried too far below ground, so the two B-52 air wings with two-thousand pound bombs were assigned to the mission. Then we’ll need standby search-and-rescue teams to recover downed pilots and drones for target selection. It became huge.’ The new target list was meant to ‘completely eradicate any military capabilities Assad had’, the former intelligence official said. The core targets included electric power grids, oil and gas depots, all known logistic and weapons depots, all known command and control facilities, and all known military and intelligence buildings.
Britain and France were both to play a part. On 29 August, the day Parliament voted against Cameron’s bid to join the intervention, the Guardian reported that he had already ordered six RAF Typhoon fighter jets to be deployed to Cyprus, and had volunteered a submarine capable of launching Tomahawk missiles. The French air force – a crucial player in the 2011 strikes on Libya – was deeply committed, according to an account in Le Nouvel Observateur; François Hollande had ordered several Rafale fighter-bombers to join the American assault. Their targets were reported to be in western Syria.
By the last days of August the president had given the Joint Chiefs a fixed deadline for the launch. ‘H hour was to begin no later than Monday morning [2 September], a massive assault to neutralise Assad,’ the former intelligence official said. So it was a surprise to many when during a speech in the White House Rose Garden on 31 August Obama said that the attack would be put on hold, and he would turn to Congress and put it to a vote.
At this stage, Obama’s premise – that only the Syrian army was capable of deploying sarin – was unravelling. Within a few days of the 21 August attack, the former intelligence official told me, Russian military intelligence operatives had recovered samples of the chemical agent from Ghouta. They analysed it and passed it on to British military intelligence; this was the material sent to Porton Down. (A spokesperson for Porton Down said: ‘Many of the samples analysed in the UK tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.’ MI6 said that it doesn’t comment on intelligence matters.)
The former intelligence official said the Russian who delivered the sample to the UK was ‘a good source – someone with access, knowledge and a record of being trustworthy’. After the first reported uses of chemical weapons in Syria last year, American and allied intelligence agencies ‘made an effort to find the answer as to what if anything, was used – and its source’, the former intelligence official said. ‘We use data exchanged as part of the Chemical Weapons Convention. The DIA’s baseline consisted of knowing the composition of each batch of Soviet-manufactured chemical weapons. But we didn’t know which batches the Assad government currently had in its arsenal. Within days of the Damascus incident we asked a source in the Syrian government to give us a list of the batches the government currently had. This is why we could confirm the difference so quickly.’
The Sochi Olympic Games are over and many in the west are gnashing their teeth because they weren’t an utter failure. How very annoying – how absolutely infuriating – for all the anti-Russian pundits in the US and Britain that there wasn’t a major disaster, a really juicy foul up, a majestically spectacular catastrophe that would have shown to their lip-smacking enjoyment that Russia is a terrible place run by a bungling dictator.
It is, in fact, a country that is trying to do better and whose political leader is pragmatic, dedicated and decisive. Eat your hearts out, Britain and America.
Many western media headlines and commentaries were disgracefully insulting about the Sochi Games, despite televised scenes indicating their outstanding success. I have to admit I find all this Olympics stuff mega-boring, but the world at large enjoyed the sight of athletes skating, skiing, sliding and slithering at enormous speeds, and who am I to disagree with such pleasure? But I do disagree with ultra-nationalistic disparagement of another country’s efforts and achievements.
Seventy years ago George Orwell wrote that “sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will” and as with so many of his statements he’s been proved absolutely correct. He observed that “international sporting contests lead to orgies of hatred”, and the recent icy jamboree at Sochi has been no exception. Orwell could barely believe that nations could “work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe – at any rate for short periods – that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.” But, alas they do, in spades and grades. And the media are right behind them. The newspapers and TV stations don’t run or jump: they drum and pump. The beat the drums of national pride and pump the emotions of the impressionable masses.
Western nations’ attitudes to the vexing fact that Russia won most medals were intriguing. For example it was reported that “Russia’s athletes topped the Sochi medals table with a record 13 golds and 33 total, though even this was marred with allegations of cheating and unfair judging.” They just had to inject that note of nastiness – ‘they won, but they didn’t really deserve to’ was the refrain.
And print reporting of the closing ceremonies was woefully tiny and dismissive, although television stations had no option but to present the marvellous spectacle without critical comment – because there was nothing to criticise. A typical British newspaper report wrote it off as an “opulent show of ballet, circus performances and classical music.” But of course it was much more than that: it was magnificent and staggeringly outstanding, as anyone who saw it would have to agree.
Even Fox News had to concede that there were no problems, but the Washington Post chose to carry the headline, “Costly, Political, Successful”, over a shamefully downbeat report. One comment was that “Russia’s leader had reason to be pleased as the Olympics dubbed the “Putin Games” ended.” Just who was it who titled the Games “the Putin Games”?
This was the crux of the entire anti-Sochi campaign by the west, led by the US and Britain. They couldn’t bear the thought that Putin’s Russia can actually organise something. And the Post came clean about one underlying reason for rubbishing Russia when it reported that “Sochi competed for attention with violence in Ukraine, Russia’s neighbour and considered a vital sphere of influence by the Kremlin.”
The vicious inter-factional conflict in Ukraine was a very handy cudgel with which to beat the dreaded Russians, and it was flailed with relentless fervour. Were we to believe what has been, and continues to be, written in commentaries in the western media we would be convinced that the entire Ukrainian shambles is Russia’s fault.
There is no longer mention – not a whisper – about the dark meddling of the United States, whose Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland not only insulted the European Union in a telephone call to the US ambassador in Ukraine, which was intercepted and publicised by Russia, but made it clear that the US was dabbling with gusto and arrogance in the internal affairs of a country concerning which it has no direct national interests of any sort.
America’s concern is that Ukraine has a border with Russia, and Washington regards any country bordering Russia as a prime target to be encouraged to renounce ties with its geographical neighbour and move to military alliance with the US-dominated North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which ceased to be relevant after the Soviet Union collapsed and is desperately seeking another role.
Alas, the Cold War didn’t die with the end of communism in Russia. Of course the new Russia hoped that it had expired, and prepared to expand ties with the west, but when it did so – with potential economic success and with much benefit to countries of the European Union and in the wider world – its efforts were considered by Washington as threatening US influence. Moscow’s desire to establish a customs union with its neighbours, the former states of the Soviet Union, in order to maintain economic stability and expand cooperation was similarly regarded. What is important to America is establishment of military bases surrounding Russia.
The democratically elected leader of Ukraine was toppled by a bloody revolution which was endorsed by the US and the EU. There is no doubt that Yanukovych was a corrupt man, but elsewhere in the world there are many such horrible elected leaders who need not fear western support for their opponents. They, however, are not associated with Russia, a country that the west wishes to place under economic and political stress.
The new interim government of Ukraine has been selected by the ‘Maidan Council’, consisting of the protest groups and militants who overthrew Ukraine’s elected president and are without exception anti-Russian. Little wonder, as the Washington Post recorded with relish, that “Sochi competed for attention with violence in Ukraine.” But let’s see what the headlines are when the unwelcome success of Sochi is buried by the west, and Ukraine staggers into chaos.
The writer is a South Asian affairs analyst. Website: www.beecluff.com
Ukraine fiasco marks end of the EU’s imperial dream
The EU, dedicated to eliminating national identity, has finally run up against the rock of a national interest that will not give way
22 Mar 2014
By Christopher Booker
Normally when a country’s people give a referendum vote that the EU doesn’t like, they are just told to vote again to put it right. In the case of Crimea, however, where 96 per cent of the people voted to return to Russia, the EU was in no position to ask them to think again. Even if they did, considering that Crimea, where the tsars, Tolstoy and Chekhov used to spend their summers, has been part of Russia for most of the past 230 years, that 60 per cent of its people are ethnic Russians and that 82 per cent speak Russian at home, they would be unlikely to change their minds.
The hard fact is that, whatever we think of President Putin, this episode has been the most salutary fiasco the “European project” has ever brought upon itself in 60 years. It has always been driven by two paramount principles: one, that it can assume ever more power over the nations that belong to it; the other, that it can suck ever more of them into its embrace (echoed in David Cameron’s boast last year of how he saw the EU one day stretching “from the Atlantic to the Urals”). But with Ukraine, their fantasy of an ever-expanding empire has hit the buffers.
For years the EU has been wooing Ukraine with that “Association Agreement” as the next step towards making it a full member. But by pushing its “soft power” right up to the Russian border, this strange organisation dedicated to eliminating national identity has finally run up against the rock of a national interest that will not give way.
And to what a pitiful state this has reduced our own supposed “leaders” in the West. They haven’t a clue what to do. They blether about how Russia is “isolated”, and of those pathetic little “targeted” sanctions.
Chancellor Merkel talks wildly of how the G8, of which Russia is currently president, “no longer exists”. President Hollande calls on Britain to act against all those Russian oligarchs who have put £27 billion into London, when the UK knows it has £46 billion invested in Russia.
The EU’s leaders can scarcely afford to be too aggressive when it imports from Russia 30 per cent of its natural gas. They prattle instead about having to replace it with imports from the US, which, thanks to fracking, has now replaced Russia as the world’s biggest gas producer. But the US is only now building facilities to export some of it, and its preferred customer will not be Europe but Japan, desperate to make up for closing its nuclear power stations. Squawking around like chickens panicked by a fox, the EU’s politicians suddenly say, too late, that to end our dependence on Russia, we must get on with fracking for shale gas ourselves.
So the Ukrainians are trapped between a rock and a place that turns out to be too soft to help them, On Friday, when their acting prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, came to Brussels to sign that Association Agreement, the EU was so embarrassed that the ceremony had to take place behind closed doors, away from the eyes of the media. The poor man was not even allowed a microphone, but had to shout out his wish still to see Ukraine as an EU member.
The EU knows it is powerless to prevent Mr Putin in due course absorbing Ukraine’s Russian-speaking industrial heartland, leaving the EU to look after what remains of that bankrupt country, like a dismembered corpse. But there is no sign that those impotent nonentities who pose as our leaders have yet realised that their ambition to take over Ukraine must now rank alongside the euro as the two leading examples of how their collective act of make-believe is finally hitting the brick wall of reality.
Why Met Office gaffes are worse than a joke
We are, of course, only too familiar with the way the computer models relied on by our global-warming-besotted Met Office have so consistently in recent years got their seasonal weather forecasts 180 degrees wrong: how its “ barbecue summer” of 2009 was a washout; how its October 2010 forecast that December would be warmer than average preceded the coldest December ever; how its March 2012 prediction that we were in for a dry April was immediately followed by the wettest April on record; and so forth.
What makes this much more than a joke, however, is that the other branches of government are obliged to believe these predictions and to shape their response accordingly. I recently described how the Met Office’s forecast last November – that we were in for a drier than average winter – prompted the Environment Agency to allow flooding of a key part of the Somerset Levels, in the interests of keeping enough water for birds. When this was followed by the wettest January on record, the already flooded area owned by Natural England blocked the draining of so much land further east that disaster was inevitable.
Fortunately, it is reported that Somerset’s floodwater, last month covering 65 square miles, has now dropped by six feet. And it may be little consolation that forecasting gaffes long predate those of our Met Office. A splendid reader has sent me a CD full of weather-related items from 19th-century editions of Gardener’s Magazine. One, in 1879, recalled how, that spring, “a meteorologist of long experience” had predicted in the Times that the summer would be so abnormally dry that “the drought of 1879” would be a wonder to behold. As shown by the Met Office’s England and Wales data back to 1766, the months between June and August that year promptly saw the heaviest summer rainfall in all the past 250 years. But at least we didn’t then have a government obliged to base its policies on what the “experts” foretold.
I must thank the reader who queried my own gaffe in claiming on March 9 that this had been only “the 16th wettest winter” since 1766. Having looked more carefully at the data, what I should have said was that January was only the fifteenth wettest month in that time (and last winter only the fifth wettest three-month period). My apologies.
Former ‘Today’ Weatherman Willard Scott Marries at Age 80
April 02, 2014
Former Today show weatherman Willard Scott, 80, has married his longtime girlfriend, Paris Keena.
Today anchor Matt Lauer announced that Scott and Keena tied the knot in Fort Myers, Florida on Tuesday after being together for the past 11 years.
The two first met in 1977, when Paris and Scott worked for NBC’s Washington affiliate and they stayed in touch on and off over the years before reconnecting for good. As for any honeymoon plans, Paris told Today, “Our whole life has been a honeymoon.”
Scott — who has been a part of the Today show family for more than 30 years — turned over the daily weather duties to Al Roker in 1996. But he continues to appear on the show a few times a week via remote to keep up his tradition of sending happy birthday wishes to centenarians.
“Late Show” host David Letterman announced his plans to retire “sometime next year,” he said Thursday.
The 66-year-old comedian, who began his late-night career in 1982 when he became the NBC “Late Night” franchise’s first host, made the announcement during a taping of Thursday night’s show.
“I just want to reiterate my thanks for the support from the network, all of the people who have worked here, all of the people in the theater, all the people on the staff, everybody at home, thank you very much,” Letterman said. “What this means now, is that Paul and I can be married.”
Letterman was referring to Paul Shaffer, who has been the bandleader for both of his shows since 1982.
In a statement, CBS Corporation President and CEO Leslie Moonves thanked Letterman for his contributions to the network.
“For 21 years, David Letterman has graced our network’s air in late night with wit, gravitas and brilliance unique in the history of our medium,” Moonves said. “During that time, Dave has given television audiences thousands of hours of comedic entertainment, the sharpest interviews in late night, and brilliant moments of candor and perspective around national events.”
Letterman informed his audience that his departure will be “at least a year or so” from now when his current contract expires.
Letterman has the longest tenure of any late-night talk show host in U.S. television history, nearing 32 years.
Published on Oct 1, 2013
Charlie Rose sits down to speak with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore for their first joint interview in years. The conversation took place during a CGI Conversation at the 2013 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting in New York City.
(Cutsign Gesture @ 00:16 on lower jacket in this clip)
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