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Pentagon successfully keeps extent of military spending secret from the American public

weapons1The Pentagon’s War on Accountability: Slush Funds, Smoke and Mirrors, and Funny Money Equal Weapons Systems Galore By William D. Hartung, Tom Dispatch, Reader Supported News, 24 May 16  “……..Now you see it, now you don’t. Think of it as the Department of Defense’s version of the street con game, three-card monte, or maybe simply as the Pentagon shuffle.  In any case, the Pentagon’s budget is as close to a work of art as you’re likely to find in the U.S. government — if, that is, by work of art you mean scam.

The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.  And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total.  As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

The more that’s spent on “defense,” however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used.  As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting.

It’s not just that its books don’t add up, however.  The DoD is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year — from using the separate “war budget” as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret.  Add in dozens of other secret projects hidden in the department’s budget and the Pentagon’s poorly documented military aid programs, and it’s clear that the DoD believes it has something to hide.

Don’t for a moment imagine that the Pentagon’s growing list of secret programs and evasive budgetary maneuvers is accidental or simply a matter of sloppy bookkeeping.  Much of it is remarkably purposeful.  By keeping us in the dark about how it spends our money, the Pentagon has made it virtually impossible for anyone to hold it accountable for just about anything.  An entrenched bureaucracy is determined not to provide information that might be used to bring its sprawling budget — and so the institution itself — under control. That’s why budgetary deception has become such a standard operating procedure at the Department of Defense.

The audit problem is a case in point. The Pentagon along with all other major federal agencies was first required to make its books auditable in the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.  More than 25 years later, there is no evidence to suggest that the Pentagon will ever be able to pass an audit.  In fact, the one limited instance in which success seemed to be within reach — an audit of a portion of the books of a single service, the Marine Corps — turned out, upon closer inspection, to be a case study in bureaucratic resistance.

In April 2014, when it appeared that the Corps had come back with a clean audit, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was so elated that he held a special ceremony in the “Hall of Heroes” at the Pentagon. “It might seem a bit unusual to be in the Hall of Heroes to honor a bookkeeping accomplishment,” he acknowledged, “but damn, this is an accomplishment.”

In March 2015, however, that “accomplishment” vanished into thin air.  The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which had overseen the work of Grant Thornton, the private firm that conducted the audit, denied that it had been successful (allegedly in response to “new information”).  In fact, in late 2013, as Reuters reported, auditors at the OIG had argued for months against green-lighting Grant Thornton’s work, believing that it was full of obvious holes.  They were, however, overruled by the deputy inspector general for auditing, who had what Reuters described as a “longstanding professional relationship” with the Grant Thornton executive supervising the audit.

The Pentagon and the firm deny that there was any conflict of interest, but the bottom line is clear enough: there was far more interest in promoting the idea that the Marine Corps could pass an audit than in seeing it actually do so, even if inconvenient facts had to be swept under the rug. This sort of behavior is hardly surprising once you consider all the benefits from an undisturbed status quo that accrue to Pentagon bureaucrats and cash-hungry contractors.

Without a reliable paper trail, there is no systematic way to track waste, fraud, and abuse in Pentagon contracting, or even to figure out how many contractors the Pentagon employs, though a conservative estimate puts the number at well over 600,000.  The result is easy money with minimal accountability………http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/37052-the-pentagons-war-on-accountability-slush-funds-smoke-and-mirrors-and-funny-money-equal-weapons-systems-galore

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May 27, 2016 Posted by | Reference, secrets,lies and civil liberties, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Australia got UN to remove climate topics from climate change report!

flag-Australiasee-no-evilAustralia scrubbed from UN climate change report after government intervention http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/27/australia-scrubbed-from-un-climate-change-report-after-government-intervention#comment-75076075

Exclusive: All mentions of Australia were removed from the final version of a Unesco report on climate change and world heritage sites after the Australian government objected on the grounds it could impact on tourism

Revealed: Guardian Australia has obtained the Unesco report Australia didn’t want the world to see. Read it now  Guardian, , 27 May 16 

Every reference to Australia was scrubbed from the final version of a major UN report on climate change after the Australian government intervened, objecting that the information could harm tourism.

Guardian Australia can reveal the report “World Heritage and Tourism in a Changing Climate”, which Unesco jointly published with the United Nations environment program and the Union of Concerned Scientists on Friday, initially had a key chapter on the Great Barrier Reef, as well as small sections on Kakadu and the Tasmanian forests.

But when the Australian Department of Environment saw a draft of the report, it objected, and every mention of Australia was removed by Unesco. Will Steffen, one of the scientific reviewers of the axed section on the reef, said Australia’s move was reminiscent of “the old Soviet Union”.

No sections about any other country were removed from the report. The removals left Australia as the only inhabited continent on the planet with no mentions.

Explaining the decision to object to the report, a spokesperson for the environment department told Guardian Australia: “Recent experience in Australia had shown that negative commentary about the status of world heritage properties impacted on tourism.”

coral bleachingAs a result of climate change combined with weather phenomena, the Great Barrier Reef is in the midst of the worst crisis in recorded history. Unusually warm water has caused 93% of the reefs along the 2,300km site to experience bleaching. In the northern most pristine part, scientists think half the coral might have died.

The omission was “frankly astounding,” Steffen said. Steffen is an emeritus professor at the Australian National University and head of Australia’s Climate Council. He was previously executive director of the International Geosphere Biosphere Programme, where he worked with 50 countries on global change science.

“I’ve spent a lot of my career working internationally,” Steffen said. “And it’s very rare that I would see something like this happening. Perhaps in the old Soviet Union you would see this sort of thing happening, where governments would quash information because they didn’t like it. But not in western democracies. I haven’t seen it happen before.”

The news comes less than a year after the Australian governmentsuccessfully lobbied Unesco to not list the Great Barrier Reef in its list of “World Heritage Sites in Danger”.

The removals occurred in early 2016, during a period when there was significant pressure on the Australian government in relation to both climate change and world heritage sites.

At the time, news of the government’s science research agency CSIRO sacking 100 climate scientists due to government budget cuts had just emerged; parts of the Tasmanian world heritage forests were on fire for the first time in recorded history; and a global coral bleaching event was beginning to hit the Great Barrier Reef – another event driven by global warming.

The environment department spokesperson told Guardian Australia: “The department was concerned that the framing of the report confused two issues – the world heritage status of the sites and risks arising from climate change and tourism.” Continue reading

May 27, 2016 Posted by | AUSTRALIA, climate change | Leave a comment

United Arab Emirates setting a solar power trend in the Gulf

sunCould UAE solar push lead a trend for the Gulf? BY SAKET S. DUBAI (Thomson Reuters Foundation), 23 May 16  – As the Gulf states take steps to expand their use of clean energy, a bold plan by the United Arab Emirates to boost its use of renewable electricity from less than 1 percent to 24 percent in the next five years could be a game-changer for the region, experts say.

Much of the world is moving away from oil for its electricity generation, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that globally the fossil fuel has dropped from a 25 percent share to 3.6 percent over the last four decades…….

dropping oil prices and growing concerns about climate change have exposed the downsides of relying on oil. As the Gulf’s demand for power continues to rise, the UAE is leading the way in shifting to greener energy resources.

“The implications of unmitigated climate change for the UAE make its cities unbearably hot, water even more scarce and the region more unstable,” Rachel Kyte, the CEO of the United Nations’ Sustainable Energy for All initiative, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Action alone and collectively to live in balance with the planet is fundamental for UAE’s future prosperity,” she said.

SOLAR GIANT?

At the Middle East and North Africa Renewable Energy Conference in Kuwait last month, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – pledged to mobilize $100 billion into renewable energy projects over the next 20 years.

One of the projects in the UAE’s renewables push is the $13.6 billion Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai, which aims to become the biggest solar power plant in the Middle East.

It is expected to generate 5 gigawatts of electricity – enough to power 1.5 million homes – by 2030.

Dubai also plans to install around 100 electric car charging stations as part of its Green Charger Initiative.

By 2050, Dubai wants to reduce its carbon emissions by 6.5 million tons every year, with the aim of becoming the city with the world’s lowest carbon footprint, according to the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has said it wants to add another 9.5 GW of renewable energy capacity to its current capacity of 80 GW by 2030, And Oman’s power sector regulator, the Authority for Electricity Regulation Oman, has announced it will expand rooftop soar installations across residential homes, industrial and commercial buildings.

In Qatar, French energy giant Total SA has announced a joint venture worth $500 million with state-run petroleum, electricity and water companies to develop a solar-power project with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts (MW).

And with a 70 MW solar project due to be operational by 2017, Kuwait plans to meet 15 percent of its energy needs with renewables by 2030, according to the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research…..

The region already has some of the infrastructure it needs to become a major clean-power hub. The Gulf Cooperation Council countries are linked by a 1,200-km electrical grid, built to help provide backup power in case of a blackout in one part of the system.

Expanded to other countries, that electricity highway could be the backbone of future power trading, experts say.

“The Gulf has an exportable resource in solar energy that could eventually be on a comparable level to oil and gas,” said Jonathan Walters, a former director at the World Bank……..(Reporting by Saket S.; editing by Jumana Farouky and Laurie Goering  http://www.reuters.com/article/us-emirates-solar-electricity-idUSKCN0YE1SJ

May 27, 2016 Posted by | renewable, United Arab Emirates | Leave a comment

Pentagon’s “small” giant military footprint in Africa

The Pentagon’s War on Accountability: Slush Funds, Smoke and Mirrors, and Funny Money Equal Weapons Systems Galore By William D. Hartung, Tom Dispatch, Reader Supported News, 24 May 16 Colonel Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), recently made a startling disclosure to Voice of America (VOA)AFRICOM, he said, is currently mulling over 11 possible locations for its second base on the continent.  If, however, there was a frontrunner among them Cheadle wasn’t about to disclose it.  All he would say was that Nigeria isn’t one of the countries in contention.

Writing for VOA, Carla Babb filled in the rest of the picture in terms of U.S. military activities in Africa.  “The United States currently has one military base in the east African nation of Djibouti,” she observed. “U.S. forces are also on the ground in Somalia to assist the regional fight against al-Shabab and in Cameroon to help with the multinational effort against Nigeria-based Boko Haram.”

A day later, Babb’s story disappeared.  Instead, there was a new article in which she noted that “Cheadle had initially said the U.S. was looking at 11 locations for a second base, but later told VOA he misunderstood the question.”  Babb reiterated that the U.S. had only the lone military base in Djibouti and stated that “[o]ne of the possible new cooperative security locations is in Cameroon, but Cheadle did not identify other locations due to ‘host nation sensitivities.’”

U.S. troops have, indeed, been based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti since 2002.  In that time, the base has grown from 88 acres to about 600 acres and has seen more than $600 million in construction and upgrades already awarded or allocated.  It’s also true that U.S. troops, as Babb notes, are operating in Somalia — from at least two bases — and the U.S. has indeed set up a base in Cameroon.  As such, the “second” U.S. base in Africa, wherever it’s eventually located, will actually be more like the fifth U.S. base on the continent.  That is, of course, if you don’t count Chabelley Airfield, a hush-hush drone base the U.S. operates elsewhere in Djibouti, or the U.S. staging areas, cooperative security locations, forward operating locations, and other outposts in Burkina FasoCentral African RepublicChad,EthiopiaGabonGhanaKenyaMaliNigerSenegalthe SeychellesSomaliaSouth Sudan, and Uganda, among other locales.  When I counted late last year, in fact, I came up with 60 such sites in 34 countries.  And just recently, Missy Ryan of the Washington Post added to that number when she disclosed that “American Special Operations troops have been stationed at two outposts in eastern and western Libya since late 2015.”

To be fair, the U.S. doesn’t call any of these bases “bases” — except when officials forget to keep up the fiction.  For example, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 included a $50 million request for the construction of an “airfield and base camp at Agadez, Niger.”  But give Cheadle credit for pushing a fiction that persists despite ample evidence to the contrary.

It isn’t hard, of course, to understand why U.S. Africa Command has set up a sprawling network of off-the-books bases or why it peddles misinformation about its gigantic “small” footprint in Africa.  It’s undoubtedly for the same reason that they stonewall me on even basic information about their operations.  The Department of Defense, from tooth to tail, likes to operate in the dark.

Today, TomDispatch regular Bill Hartung reveals another kind of Pentagon effort to obscure and obfuscate involving another kind of highly creative accounting: think slush funds, secret programs, dodgy bookkeeping, and the type of financial malfeasance that could only be carried out by an institution that is, by its very nature, too big to fail (inside the Beltway if not on the battlefield).

Rejecting both accurate accounting and actual accountability — from the halls of the Pentagon to austere camps in Africa — the Defense Department has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to keeping Americans in the dark about the activities being carried out with their dollars and in their name.  Luckily, Hartung is willing to shine a bright light on the Pentagon’s shady practices……..-Nick Turse, TomDispatch http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/37052-the-pentagons-war-on-accountability-slush-funds-smoke-and-mirrors-and-funny-money-equal-weapons-systems-galore

May 27, 2016 Posted by | AFRICA, USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Chicago’s electricity costs to be twice as much as for others in the grid

Chicago to pay twice as much for electricity reliability as others in grid http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20160525/NEWS11/160529907/chicagoans-to-pay-double-for-reliability-than-others-in-its-power-grid By  Chicagoans will pay more than twice as much to keep their lights on during high-demand periods as the rest of the regional power grid they’re part of.

Beginning in mid-2019, the Chicago region will pay about $9 per megawatt-hour in extra “capacity” charges to ensure power plants deliver when they’re most needed. The charges are set per a power-generator auction conducted by PJM Interconnection, which oversees the power grid from Chicago east to the Mid-Atlantic states.

Results of the auction were unveiled May 24. PJM conducts the bidding three years in advance. The prices will take effect in June 2019 and be embedded in the energy costs all commercial and residential customers pay.

The results are good news for Exelon, which has campaigned for higher revenues both through the PJM auction and also from the state of Illinois for its five Illinois nuclear plants in the PJM.

But the company’s bidding behavior will limit the revenue windfall it might have received. Its Quad Cities plant bid too high to get any revenue at all, and only a portion of the capacity at its Byron plant qualified.

If all of Byron had cleared the auction, Exelon would have received $653 million in revenue beginning in mid-2019. As it is, the company will see about $513 million, according to calculations based on a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

That’s still higher than the $495 million it will get in the year beginning this coming June 1. And that’s with all the plants—Quad Cities and all of Byron included—getting paid.

Exelon says it will close Quad Cities as soon as mid-2018 without passage of a state law hiking electricity rates statewide to make that money-losing facility profitable. Had it cleared, Quad Cities would have received more than $100 million.

As it is, that’s money Chicago-area ratepayers will have to replace if the bill Exelon is pushing in Springfield passes. Exelon’s legislation demands a surcharge on electric bills sufficient to pay Quad Cities and the downstate Clinton nuke (which isn’t in PJM and isn’t eligible for the auction) $42 per megawatt-hour. The $9 Quad Cities isn’t getting because it didn’t qualify would have to be made up through the surcharge under the bill.

Of course, had Quad Cities qualified under the auction, Exelon would have been committed to keep it open until mid-2020. As of now, Exelon can close it as early as mid-2018.

In a statement, Exelon CEO Chris Crane said the high PJM-set prices aren’t enough to save Quad Cities.

“The capacity market alone can’t preserve zero-carbon emitting nuclear plants that are facing the lowest wholesale energy prices in 15 years,” Crane said.

Critics decried the outcome of the auction.

“There is a surplus of nuclear and coal in Northern Illinois,” said Howard Learner, executive director of Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center. “Electricity demand is dropping. . . . There’s no reason revenues in the ComEd region should be twice as high as the rest of the region.”

A PJM spokeswoman said the price for ComEd was so much higher than the rest of PJM, which includes all or part of 12 other states and Washington, D.C., because of “transmission constraints inhibiting the ability to import cheaper power.”

Transmission is tighter than it used to be to move power generated to the west into Illinois, she said. And coal-plant retirements also are playing a part.

The fact that Quad Cities didn’t qualify for the PJM payments, though, also means that the 1,871-megawatt plant isn’t needed to meet Chicago-area electricity demand even during the hottest summer days. So, while Exelon has made the argument that reliability would suffer with the plant’s closure, PJM believes there’s enough capacity without Quad Cities to keep the lights on and provide a substantial cushion above that.

PJM last year overhauled its capacity market to boost prices consumers pay to power generators that promise to deliver even during the most extreme weather events like the polar vortex two years ago that crippled some plants.

Power generators face steeper penalties if they don’t produce under the new system, and consumers pay them more for the ironclad promise.

Exelon is pushing hard in Springfield for wide-ranging energy legislation, including the rescue package for the two money-losing nukes. The company has said it will move to close the plants, putting at risk about 1,500 high-paying jobs in parts of the state that aren’t flourishing economically.

Exelon had issued a May 31 deadline for Springfield action, but observers believe if anything happens at all, it won’t be until summer or early fall.

May 27, 2016 Posted by | business and costs, USA | Leave a comment

USA’s Nuclear Weapons System Technology is Outdated

Report: U.S. Nuclear System Relies On Outdated Technology Such As Floppy Disks  NPR, May 26, 2016 MERRIT KENNEDY The U.S. nuclear weapons system still runs on a 1970s-era computing system that uses 8-inch floppy disks, according to a newly released report from the Government Accountability Office.

That’s right. It relies on memory storage that hasn’t been commonly used since the 1980s and a computing system that looks like this: [photo] Beyond the nuclear program, much of the technology used by the federal government is woefully outmoded, the report says. About 75 percent of the government’s information technology budget goes toward operations and maintenance, rather than development, modernization and enhancement.

“Clearly, there are billions wasted,” GAO information technology expert David Powner said at a congressional hearing Wednesday, The Associated Press reports.

The GAO report found that the Pentagon’s Strategic Automated Command and Control System — which “coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircrafts” — runs on an IBM Series/1 Computer, first introduced in 1976.

The system’s primary function is to “send and receive emergency action messages to nuclear forces,” the report adds, but “replacement parts for the system are difficult to find because they are now obsolete.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson told The Two-Way via email:

“This system remains in use because, in short, it still works.

“However, to address obsolescence concerns, the floppy drives are scheduled to be replaced with Secure Digital devices by the end of 2017. Modernization across the entire Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3) enterprise remains ongoing.”

The report also found that the Treasury Department uses 1950s-era assembly language code (which it says is “a low-level computer code that is difficult to write and maintain”) on the individual master file (“the authoritative data source for individual taxpayers where accounts are updated, taxes are assessed, and refunds are generated.”) The report adds that the department has no firm plans to modernize the system……..http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/26/479588478/report-u-s-nuclear-system-relies-on-outdated-technology-such-as-floppy-disks

May 27, 2016 Posted by | USA, weapons and war | Leave a comment

1MDB Unit Bought by China Nuclear Firm Was Distressed, Auditor Says

1MDB Unit Bought by China Nuclear Firm Was Distressed, Auditor Says China General Nuclear Power bought Edra Global Energy from debt-laden 1MDB last year, WSJ,  By YANTOULTRA NGUI May 26, 2016

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia—An audit of a key energy group sold by troubled state investment fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd. to a Chinese state-owned nuclear-power company flagged deep uncertainty over the company’s viability.

Notes from auditor Deloitte in the 140-page financial accounts of Edra Global Energy Bhd. for the year ended March 31, 2015, said the audit found “an existence of a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the group’s and company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

The auditor’s notes, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, are part of the most detailed account of Edra’s finances at the time that China General Nuclear Power Corp.purchased the firm for 9.83 billion ringgit ($2.4 billion) last November as the fund, known as 1MDB, was struggling to meet its debt obligations……..http://www.wsj.com/articles/1mdb-unit-bought-by-china-nuclear-firm-was-distressed-auditor-says-1464251503

May 27, 2016 Posted by | business and costs, China, Malaysia | Leave a comment