(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
What was Steve Burns, a staff member of Wis. Network for Peace and Justice, doing on an anti-shopping spree in Madison Friday?
Well, it was Iraq Moratorium day, and Burns decided his action this month would be to call shoppers' attention to a little-known connection between a Wisconsin company and deaths of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Burns learned that Wisconsin's National Presto Industries, known to the public for making Salad Shooters and Fry Daddies, has a dark side that it doesn't advertise.
The Eau Claire-based company produced artillery fuses during World War II, artillery shells in the 1950s, and during the Vietnam war, from 1966 to 1975, manufactured more than two million eight-inch howitzer shells and more than 92 million 105mm artillery shells.
These days, it's 40mm cannon rounds. An article by Nick Furse in Tomgram lays it out:
In 2001, National Presto decided to get back into the arms game. Months before 9/11, the company's chairman Melvin Cohen expressed fears that a future war might mean ruin for the company's kitchen appliance business. As a result, Presto purchased munitions manufacturer Amtec. In the years since, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Presto has also "made other complementary acquisitions in the defense industry."
These have included Amron, a manufacturer of medium caliber ammunition (20-40mm) cartridge cases and Spectra Technologies, which is "engaged in the manufacture, distribution, and delivery of munitions and ordnance-related products for the DOD and DOD prime contractors." Such types of ammunition are extremely versatile and are fired from ground vehicles, naval ships, and various types of aircraft — both helicopters and fixed-wing models…
In 2005, Presto's Amtec was awarded a five-year deal by the Pentagon for its 40mm family of ammunition rounds. By the end of last year, it had already received $454 million and was expecting the sum to top out, at contract's end, above $550 million.
Just as 105mm shells of the sort produced by Presto were a nightmare for the people of Vietnam, so too has 40mm ammunition spelled doom for civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the BBC reported on a typical joint U.S./U.K. attack on a home in Iraq in which insurgents had taken shelter. After exchanging ground fire, coalition forces called in an airstrike. According to the BBC, "The aircraft fired 40mm cannon rounds at the two houses, finally dropping a bomb on one of them. It collapsed. The other house was set on fire. The two insurgents in the house were buried but so were a number of women and children."
Similarly, in August, news reports tell us, U.S. troops called in an airstrike by an AC-130 — which packs 40mm cannons — that helped kill approximately 90 civilians in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan, according to investigations by the Afghan government and the United Nations.
As in the past, war time has been a boom-time for Presto. In 2000, before the start of the Global War on Terror, National Presto's annual sales clocked in at $116.6 million. In 2007, they totaled $420.7 million, with more than 50% of that coming from arms manufacturing.
Earlier this year, Presto nabbed another 40mm ammunition contract (a $97.5 million supplemental award) set to be delivered in 2009 and 2010. According to official DoD figures, from 2001 through 2008 National Presto received more than $531 million, while Amtec has taken home another $171 million-plus.
Their combined grand total, while hardly putting Presto in the top tier of Pentagon weapons contractors, is still a relatively staggering $702.8 million — not bad for a company known for slicing and dicing vegetables.
Burns and Judy Miner, another WNPJ staffer, visited stores selling Presto products and followed these directions, using a flyer available here: 1) pick up box to admire Presto “Fry Daddy” or “Salad Shooter”, 2) replace box on shelf, with flyer discreetly tucked underneath, 3) repeat. For the whole report on Presto's involvement in producing 40mm cannon rounds, see Burns's story here. That's Burns pictured with the flyers he designed.
Pickings were slim at Walgreen's, their first stop, as you'll see in this video, but he did find one Presto product and took appropriate action. Big box stores are probably better targets.
You’ll find more reports of Iraq Moratorium actions here.