U.S. Government is run with museum-piece hardware and software — matching Congressional ideology

The government is squandering its technology budget maintaining museum-ready computer systems in critical areas from nuclear weapons to Social Security. They’re still using floppy disks at the Pentagon.

In a report released Wednesday, nonpartisan congressional investigators found that about three-fourths of the $80 billion budget goes to keep aging technology running, and the increasing cost is shortchanging modernization.

The White House has been pushing to replace workhorse systems that date back more than 50 years in some cases. But the government is expected to spend $7 billion less on modernization in 2017 than in 2010, said the Government Accountability Office…

Although lawmakers of both parties say they are frustrated, it’s unclear whether Congress will act. Part of the problem is finding money to invest in a transition to new systems at agencies across the government.

Part of the solution is removing Know Nothing-Conservatives from Congress.

Among the vintage computing platforms highlighted in the report:

— The Defense Department’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System, which is used to send and receive emergency action messages to U.S. nuclear forces. The system is running on a 1970s IBM computing platform, and still uses 8-inch floppy disks to store data. “Replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete,” GAO said. The Pentagon told GAO it is initiating a full replacement and the floppy disks should be gone by the end of next year. The entire upgrade will take longer.

— Treasury’s individual and business master files, the authoritative data sources for taxpayer information. The systems are about 56 years old and use an outdated computer language that is difficult to write and maintain. Treasury plans to replace the systems but has no firm dates.

It goes on and on from there. RTFA. Contact your Congress-critter. Ask ’em if they’ve gotten off their rusty dusty to modernize government technology. No papier-mâché excuses accepted.

The ‘Flying Bum’ is almost ready

Flying Bum
Click to enlargeHybrid Air Vehicles

The world’s largest airship, nicknamed the ‘Flying Bum’, is almost ready for its test flight next month.

The 300ft-long (93 metres) ship was originally developed as part of a US Army project but was scrapped by military bosses…It is now being converted to provide business and leisure flights in a hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire.

The vessel was filled with 1.3 million cubic feet of helium – enough to fill 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools – in a test run last October…Yet despite its impressive size and design, which is hoped to reinvigorate interest in using airships, the vehicle is attracting more attention for its appearance.

The October tests caused a stir on Twitter, with many spotting the airship’s rather unfortunate resemblance to a human bottom

The craft has already been tested with a successful hover test, with the hull being filled with helium and floated outside the aircraft hanger in November, but this will be the first test once the engines are successfully attached…If successful, an aircraft based on this prototype will go into production.

I love airships. Being an old fart, I remember the sight of some pretty big navy dirigibles overhead during WW2. Truly impressive.

Israeli politicians attack dissident soldiers who expose crimes against Palestinians

Yehuda Shaul was an infantryman in the Israeli army in Hebron during the second intifada. But in recent weeks, he and his group of veterans have been vilified by right-wing organizations and mainstream politicians in a public campaign against Israeli groups critical of their country’s occupation of Palestinian territories.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon forbade serving Israeli military personnel from cooperating or meeting with representatives of Shaul’s group, Breaking the Silence (BTS). Education Minister Naftali Bennet issued a similar order to all public schools. And right-wing advocacy group Im Tirzu published a report accusing most Israeli human rights groups of being “foreign agents” because of the funding they receive from friendly states. That report was accompanied by a video and an advertising campaign accusing specific human rights activists of “defending terrorists” and “representing foreign interests.” Those named all received death threats after the ads.

A poll conducted by Channel 10 this weekend found that 53 percent of Jewish Israelis surveyed said they support outlawing BTS, with only 22 opposing such a move. Politicians of the right are not the only ones calling for action against Israeli human rights organizations. On Sunday, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, dedicated an entire press conference to attacking BTS, which he said has “crossed the line between [legitimate] criticism and subversion against the state of Israel…”

The silence that BTS has set out to break, according to Shaul, is Israeli society’s lack of awareness of the actions taken in its name by conscript soldiers serving in the West Bank and Gaza. The group has attempted to change that by collecting and disseminating firsthand accounts from soldiers about the actions taken by their units in the occupation…

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has worked to disrupt BTS’ activities abroad. Israel’s embassy in Germany managed to force cancellation of a scheduled exhibition by the group in Cologne; Israel failed to prevent a similar event in Switzerland…

BTS follows a long-standing tradition, dating back to the aftermath of Israel’s war of independence and the Palestinian Nakba, of Israeli military personnel publicizing accounts of their actions in uniform that have challenged official narratives. That testimony has always produced backlash, but an across-the-board attempt to silence them would traditionally have been deemed contrary to Israel’s democratic traditions.

Those democratic traditions disappeared alongside assumption of apartheid policies, racist and bigoted characterization of any Palestinian resistance to Israel’s colonial policies.

RTFA for details of the harassment of dissident Israeli soldiers. This may not be a surprise to some; but, regardless, it’s worth bringing the truth of “democratic” Israel’s undemocratic policies against Israelis as well as Palestinians into the light.

Colorado coppers charge mom for burning a Confederate flag

toasty confederate flag

It was an hour before midnight on July 22 when a cop knocked on the door of local Black Lives Matter activist Patricia Cameron. She was asleep at home with her 8-year-old son. The officer called out her name and asked her to come outside. Cameron wasn’t dressed, so the cop told her to put on some clothes— he had something for her to sign…

“I was petrified,” she says when she found a uniformed cop at her door at 11:00 at night. The name of Sandra Bland, a young black woman who was found dead July 13, hanging from a trash bag noose in a Texas jail cell days after a traffic stop, flashed through her mind. In the hallway of Cameron’s apartment building, the officer told her he was there to serve her with something, and handed her what looked like a ticket. He asked her to sign it, saying it had to do with an incident on July 4. The document was an arrest summons accusing her of fourth degree arson.

Two weeks prior, the single mom, local political activist and EMT had organized an Independence Day public burning of a Confederate flag in a local park as a form of peaceful protest. Online, photos had been spreading of accused killer Dylan Roof posing with Confederate flags before police say he carried out his attack on nine black parishioners in a Charleston, SC church. In announcing her plans days before the event, Cameron told a local alt-weekly reporter the demonstration was “simply us getting together and reiterating the fact that black lives in fact matter.” She’d alerted the local police department about what she’d planned to do, tagging them in a post on Facebook, though a police spokesperson says the department never saw it. The police chief had also gotten an anonymous e-mail about the event…

Not many people showed up on the day Cameron and a handful of others held their flag burning under a park pavilion that doesn’t allow barbecuing. There, she squirted lighter fluid on a large Confederate flag, someone else lit it, and a third man held the pole as the flag burned on a charcoal grill. With an American flag bandana covering her nose and mouth, Cameron clapped as others waved signs reading “Black Lives Matter” and “Who is burning black churches?” The local paper dispatched a summer intern to the scene. A video went up on YouTube. Some local TV stations carried the news.

Now, nearly three weeks later, an officer was standing in Cameron’s hallway asking her to sign an arrest summons that accused her of arson. She was not formally arrested and taken to jail. “I was confused,” she says about how it all went down, especially so late at night— and so long after the very public incident…

As for why it took nearly 20 days for the cops to contact Cameron, Police spokeswoman Odette Saglimbeni said the police had conducted a “pretty extensive investigation” after seeing video of the flag burning…Trying to identify all the people involved also took time, she said…

Under state law, fourth degree arson in Colorado is when “a person who knowingly or recklessly starts or maintains a fire or causes an explosion, on his own property or that of another, and by so doing places another in danger of death or serious bodily injury or places any building or occupied structure of another in danger of damage.”

The charge can be a felony or a misdemeanor; Cameron was charged with the latter.

I haven’t had to visit the Colorado Springs area since I got off the road. Otherwise, I can’t think of any reason to go there other than for the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Local politics are pretty much under the thumb of the US military, local Republicans and headquarters staff for various rightwing fundamentalist Christian groups. I don’t know which has the biggest militia, nowadays.

The arson charge is about as phony as they get; but – you already know that. All it reminded me of was the police chief back in the New England factory town where I grew up threatening to have me arrested for “contributing to littering” when I leafletted the church he attended – inviting parishioners to join the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963.

I suggested he call the city attorney first. Looks like Manitou Springs coppers ain’t that bright.

Why should Americans care about protests – and murder – in Mexico?

Click to enlarge

Christy Thornton is earning a doctorate in Latin American history at New York University and is a board member of the North American Congress on Latin America.

In early October, I attended a rally outside the Mexican consulate in New York City to protest the disappearance of a group of students taken by police in the state of Guerrero two weeks earlier. On a busy midtown Manhattan street, a dozen people gathered to call attention to the missing students and demand their return. A passerby, puzzled by the commotion, stopped a protester to ask what they were shouting about. When he was told what had happened, he asked incredulously, “But they were Mexican students? Killed in Mexico? Why should we care here?”

Indeed, why should ordinary Americans care about the rampant corruption, extrajudicial violence and culture of impunity that has overtaken Mexico in the eight years since then-President Felipe Calderón declared war on the drug cartels? Why should they care about 100,000 dead and at least 20,000 disappeared, some of whose remains are being uncovered in a quickly metastasizing map of mass graves? Why should they care about the 43 teachers in training, rounded up by police and turned over to a gang of killers who, it is alleged, burned their bodies and dumped what remained in a local river? Why should they care about the surging protests, the tens of thousands marching in the streets of Mexico’s cities and towns, calling for the renunciation of President Enrique Peña Nieto and declaring “Fue el estado” (It was the state)?

Here’s why Americans should care: We are collectively funding this war. Our tax dollars, in the form of security aid, provide the equipment, weapons and training to state security forces responsible for an ever-lengthening rap sheet of human rights abuses. U.S. drug habits, in the form of an insatiable market for narcotics, marijuana and amphetamines, provide the liquid cash that has proved so corrosive when it has come into contact with every level of the Mexican state.

This is our war, on our drugs. We have created the Mexico from which we now distance ourselves — but we can’t afford to turn our backs any longer.

Since 2007, the U.S. government has spent roughly $3 billion on security aid to Mexico, through the George W. Bush–era Mérida Initiative, which was extended indefinitely by President Barack Obama, and through counternarcotics programs run by the Defense and Justice departments. Those funds served to militarize the war on drugs and contributed to the extraordinary increase in violence under Calderón…

The aid provided by the U.S. government pales compared with the estimated $30 billion a year that the sale of drugs in the United States sends to Mexico. And it is that money that is coursing through Mexico’s political veins, infecting everyone from small town mayors and state governors to federal security officials, rotting the Mexican state from within and leaving the protesters without recourse. Small wonder that many in Mexico have taken up the slogan that brought down the Argentine government in 2001: Que se vayan todos (Throw them all out).

The U.S. government’s response to the demands of the Mexican people for respect, answers and justice has been tellingly quiet. No word from Obama or Secretary of State John Kerry. So far, we have only the pleas of a State Department spokeswoman for “all parties to remain calm.” This statement was triggered by fears that the protests will turn violent, an outrageous worry, given the scale and brutality of state violence that provoked them.

The White House continues the great American tradition of deciding for the rest of the world whose violence counts and whose doesn’t. If people rise up to strike out against corruption that has nothing to do with the management of official America’s response. As usual, money talks. Policy set in motion decades ago by some of the most useless politicians in our history – are accepted as holy writ.

Thanks, Mike

This smartphone will self-destruct in 3… 2…1…

“What do you mean…sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander?”

Boeing has unveiled a smartphone that appears to come straight from a James Bond spy movie…In addition to encrypting calls, any attempt to open the casing of the Boeing Black Smartphone deletes all data and renders the device inoperable.

The secure phone marks an extension of the communications arm of the Chicago-based aerospace and defense contractor, which is best known for jetliners and fighter planes…

Boeing’s tamper-proof phone is aimed at government agencies and contractors who need to keep communication and data secure, according to Boeing and filings with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission…

Due to the phone’s security features, Boeing is releasing few details about the wireless network operators or manufacturer it is working with, and has not provided a price or date by which the phone might be widely available, but said it has begun offering the phone to potential customers.

Boeing’s website says the phone can be configured to connect with biometric sensors or satellites. Other attachments can extend battery life or use solar power…

“We saw a need for our customers in a certain market space” that Boeing could meet with its technology expertise, she said.

That’s a polite way of saying – “we already deal with the creepiest paranoids in the United States government. This is one more way we can rake in more taxpayer dollars.”

GOP candidate says spousal rape shouldn’t be a crime


After taking a drubbing in last year’s state elections, Virginia Republicans are debating whether their party has come to be defined by its extremists. But in a congressional district in Northern Virginia, one of the state’s main instigators of culture warfare, state Sen. Richard H. “Dick” Black, is running in the Republican primary to replace longtime GOP moderate Rep. Frank Wolf, who is retiring. And he’s guaranteed to ignite wedge-issue passion. Exhibit A: As a state legislator, Black opposed making spousal rape a crime, citing the impossibility of convicting a husband accused of raping his wife “when they’re living together, sleeping in the same bed, she’s in a nightie, and so forth.”

Black has referred to emergency contraception, which does not cause abortions, as “baby pesticide.” Black also fought to block a statue of Abraham Lincoln at a former Confederate site in Richmond. He wasn’t sure, he explained at the time, that statues of Lincoln belonged in Virginia. He has argued that abortion is a worse evil than slavery…

Black entered politics in the late 1990s after retiring as a military prosecutor. He spoke frequently to media outlets about sexual assault in the military, and called military rape “as predictable as human nature.” “Think of yourself at 25,” Black told a newspaper in 1996. “Wouldn’t you love to have a group of 19-year-old girls under your control, day in, day out?”

One more illustration of what the term “conservative” has come to mean in today’s Republican Party. Brutality and bigotry in the War on Women accepted as an ideological standard.

Why are US nuclear bombs still based in the Netherlands?

Some 22 US nuclear weapons are stored on Dutch territory, says former Dutch Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers…Mr Lubbers, a centre-right prime minister from 1982-94, said they were stored underground in strong-rooms at the Volkel air base in Brabant.

He made the revelation in a documentary for National Geographic – saying: “I would never have thought those silly things would still be there in 2013.”

The presence of nuclear weapons on Dutch soil has long been rumoured…However, Mr Lubbers is believed to be the most senior person to confirm their existence.

“I think they are an absolutely pointless part of a tradition in military thinking,” Mr Lubbers said.

The Telegraaf newspaper quoted experts as saying the weapons held at Volkel were B61 bombs that were developed in the US in the 1960s. At 50 kilotons, they are four times the strength of atom bombs used on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima or Nagasaki at the end of World War II…

The “poorly kept secret” of the existence of nuclear weapons in concrete vaults emerged in 2010 in the classified US documents published by Wikileaks, reported NRC Handelsblad newspaper.

It was mentioned in a report on a conversation involving US Ambassador to Berlin Philip Murphy, US diplomat Phil Gordon and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s national security adviser, Christoph Heusgen.

In November 2010, then-Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal declined to give any explanation to the Dutch parliament.

A spokesman for the Royal Dutch Air Force was quoted by Dutch broadcaster NOS on Monday as saying these issues “are never spoken of“…”[Mr Lubbers], as former prime minister, knows that well,” he added.

Just as American liberals or conservatives fall right in line with every wish of the Pentagon and our military-industrial complex, governments around the world click their heels and listen to Uncle Sugar. It’s easier than thinking for yourself. Less trouble than cutting the umbilical cord to American death machines – and the dollars that flow into government treasuries and, sometimes, Swiss bank accounts.

Just as Obama uses the same excuses as George W Bush, governments of convenient coalitions – Center-Left, Center-Right, patriotic, independent politicians in other nations pay close attention to the people who own the United States – and never get out of line. Transparency is a cool word that still depends upon who owns the house and the windows.

Malnutrition causes 3.1 million deaths among children

Malnutrition is the underlying cause of death for at least 3.1 million children, accounting for 45% of all deaths among children under the age of five and stunting growth among a further 165 million, according to a set of reports released ahead of a nutrition summit in London.

The shocking figures, published in the Lancet on Thursday, emerged as world leaders prepare to meet on Saturday to pledge extra money for nutrition, ahead of the G8 summit of industrialised countries on 17 June…

Aid for basic nutrition came to $418 million in 2011, only 0.4% of total official development assistance. Similarly, nutrition has been a low government priority in Africa.

Saturday’s nutrition summit, co-hosted by the UK, Brazil and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), is expected to see financial pledges from rich governments and declarations of commitments from poor countries.

Aid campaigners, who see the summit as the biggest opportunity in a decade to secure financial and political commitments on nutrition, expect pledges that will take the overall figure for nutrition to between $600m and $800m a year. Enough Food For Everyone IF, a coalition of more than 200 NGOs and faith groups, which is holding a rally in Hyde Park on Saturday to coincide with the summit, is calling for $1bn a year by 2015.

Even if the summit comes up with more money, it will fall far short of the $9.6bn a year the Lancet says is needed to reduce the number of deaths from malnutrition among under-fives by 1 million. The money would be targeted at 34 countries with high malnutrition rates, supporting interventions identified in the 2008 Lancet series as cost-effective. These include exclusive breastfeeding and appropriate, healthy foods for infants; providing mothers and children with sufficient vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A and zinc supplements, iodised salt, and other micronutrient powders and fortified foods; and the prevention and treatment of cases of acute, severe malnutrition…

Brazil has been one of the success stories in reducing malnutrition. Daniel Silva Balaban, a director at the UN World Food Programme who was involved in Brazil’s nutrition policy, emphasised that hunger and malnutrition was a political problem, not an economic one.

Balaban pointed out that the success of a school feeding programme key to Brazil’s success in tackling malnutrition involved not just the ministry of education but also the co-operation of the education, health, social development and finance ministries.

It also helps if you’e not one of the nations whose military assumes a much higher priority than ordinary citizens – or their children.

Gaza athletes banned from Bethlehem marathon

Israeli military authorities have not issued travel documents to 21 men and one woman who had hoped to compete in this Sunday’s race in Bethlehem, despite an official request from the head of the Palestine Olympic Committee, Jabril Rajoub.

It means the athletes will have missed the chance to run in two marathons within weeks after the United Nations’s relief agency, UNWRA, last month cancelled its race in Gaza – scheduled for April 11 – in protest at a decision by the territory’s Hamas rulers banning women runners.

The controversy has opened the military to accusations of hypocrisy from critics who point out that the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) posted a blog on its website criticising Hamas’ decision as a denial of human freedom…

Among the would-be Gaza runners are Sanaa Abu-Bahit, 29, a woman who has entered the 5km part of the race, and Nader Al-Masri, who represented Palestine in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

I wouldn’t expect anything less than hypocrisy, allegiance to Israel’s apartheid ideology.