Hidden Stories

 

By Bernard Levy

 

            The following are a few of the “Hidden Stories.”  We define “hidden stories” as news that:  1) never receives coverage in mainstream media (MSM); 2) gets published, but insignificantly, e.g., in a newswire that’s easily overlooked by a reader or placed in an out-of-the-way page, perhaps next to a large ad for vacuum cleaners; 3) is reported reasonably well once and then never or rarely seen again.

 

            Most are important stories containing information that affect our pocketbooks and lives, e.g., government incompetence and corruption that cost taxpayers money.  We’ll cover some in depth as time and resources permit.  We hope you enjoy this feature.  If you do, please let us know.

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There are so many hidden stories that it’s taken us some time to select this week’s list.  Although the Taliban-led violence in Afghanistan has received reasonable press, hidden stories have not been sufficiently aired.  Most recently covered is the serious threat to the democratic process and rule in Afghanistan.  The Taliban is playing the game of Hamas and Hezbollah, namely gaining control by military intimidation while, at the same time, assisting the Afghans in their daily lives. 

 

We previously covered Afghanistan’s record opium crop which has been fueling the Taliban’s efforts, but have not covered Pakistan’s complicity in this Taliban resurgence.  You remember Pakistan, the country that professes to fight terrorists and terrorism while it allows Taliban and al Qaeda terrorist activities to take place in Pakistan areas adjacent to Afghanistan.  The violence continues with increasing U.S. and British military casualties.  Yes, we once appeared to have defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan, but they are roaring back with a vengeance.  What happened in Afghanistan to allow the Taliban comeback, and why is the Afghanistan democracy in such a precarious state?  Of course, we can suggest answers; the U.N. never had a strong enough peacekeeping force in Afghanistan, and Afghanistan’s government has allowed the opium trade to thrive.  How do you kill the number one cash crop in a nation without providing another viable means of support for its people?  This is where intelligently and effectively directed resources from the U.S. and other nations would have greatly assisted Afghanistan’s budding democracy, which now may never come to full bloom.

 

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Also hidden in MSM news coverage is the total cost of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  This amount has been almost cavalierly reported.  A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service was recently published; it was partially based upon an update from the White House Office of Management and Budget.  This update noted that war costs, including increased security at military bases, will total $110 billion dollars for fiscal 2007 which began October 1, 2006.  The CRS report concluded that total cost could reach $549 billion dollars at the end of this year for Iraq, Afghanistan and increased security measures at military bases.  Shouldn’t we know, with reasonable accuracy, and detail, how much we’re paying for our involvements and shouldn’t Congress be concerned?

 

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            An article written by Rebecca Santana, Associated Press Writer, published September 15, 2006, on the website Find Law.com, noted that “Iraqi security forces will dig trenches around Baghdad and set up checkpoints along all roads leading into the city to try to reduce some of the violence plaguing the capital, the Interior Ministry said Friday.”  Son of a ditch, this is exciting news!  Yes, I can see the benefit of ditches stopping roadside bombers as well as missile-used vehicles from blowing up convoys and civilians and the military.  However, won’t the ditches impede travel and commerce, and how many lives will be lost digging those ditches?

 

The article further explains that “the security plan knows as Operation Together Forward, began June 15th and is being implemented in three phases,” which “will leave only 28 inlets to Baghdad, while all other inlets will be blocked.”  There’s much more to the article, but maybe a defense similar to the WWI Maginot Line, once wrongfully thought to be the ultimate defense in France against Nazi German, could be effective in Iraq.  Let’s follow this one closely.

 

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A recent article by Griff Witte, L.A. Times, Washington Post Service Reporter, published in the <I>Oregonian</I> on September 29, 2006, brought to light that “The contractor – Parsons Corp – that botched construction of a $75 million dollar police academy in Baghdad so badly that human waste dripped from the ceiling has produced shoddy work on 13 out of 14 projects reviewed by federal auditors, the top official monitoring Iraq’s reconstruction told Congress on Thursday.”  “Yes, there’s going to be a lot of hang-wringing on this deal, but, once again, our Inane Asylum<sup>™</sup>  – Congress – has done its usual undersight job of its oversight duties.  The article noted that the Special Inspector General for Iraq reconstruction is going to “review all of Parsons’ work in Iraq, which totals about one billion dollars.”  Will Parsons be barred from finishing their present contracts as well as receiving future contracts?  Oh, come on, Bernie, get real; probably not!

 

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Finally, a recent small newspaper blurb noted the U.S. Department of Energy now estimates that “the cost to construct the large waste treatment plant at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation rose to 12.2 billion dollars.”  For those who many not know, Hanford is a designated site to clean up radioactive waste, converting millions of gallons of this waste into glass-like logs for permanent disposal in a nuclear waste repository.  The original construction cost in 2000 was estimated at 4.3 billion.  This new estimate does not include any amount to be paid to Bechtel National, the contractor employed to build the plant. 

 

What’s wrong with this picture?  In six or seven years, the cost has risen almost 300 percent.  In addition to the projected completion date being extended from 2011 to 2019, there are so many issues raised by this news that we must again consider how clean a nuclear power energy source is.  Yes, it appears to be very environmentally sound while the nuclear materials are in use.  However, once they became waste materials, golly, their radioactive life goes on, and on and on.  The cost to deactivate and store such items is just one of many other issues to consider and examine.