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Gitmo Troops Get a Car Show While Inmates Sweat in 12-Foot Boxes

Guantánamo Bay's reputation as the dark heart of America's war on terror tends to overshadow its more banal role as a naval base -- filled with troops, their families and, to a lesser extent, their pretty, pretty cars.

Late last month, the base organized a car show for its residents to show off their wheels while enjoying the temperate Caribbean climate. "From POV to Command, we want you! Get that auto shinned up and ready for show. Categories to include: GTMO Specials, Classics, Motorcycles, Cars, Trucks, and last but not least Command Vehicles," Gitmo's Morale, Readiness, and Welfare organization announced.

According to the account of the event that ran in the Wire, the base newsletter, engines roared, "gargantuan bass sound systems" rumbled, and polished chrome tail pipes gleamed. (In some other corner of the base, Gitmo's roughly 160 detainees continued their indefinite incarceration. Could they hear the rumbling of the bass?)

As far as car shows go, Gitmo's was a standard affair. Event-goers voted for best in show in each category, and a 2001 Mustang Cobra entered by Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Andrew Morrell was a particlar crowd favorite. "It's American muscle, that's it," Andrews told the Wire.

In 2012, the Navy Ball Committee at Gitmo staged a similar event to raise money for their annual birthday ball. Entries included: "a Datsun 240Z, a Mercedes-Benz E350, an Infiniti G35S, a Toyota Celica, a Mazda RX-8, and several of the ever-present Ford Mustangs." In the end, the Infiniti G35S was awarded best in show. Attendees also competed in a Humvee-pulling contest and, for a small fee, got to smash an abandoned truck with a sledgehammer.

The Navy covers the cost of shipping personal vehicles to troops permanently stationed overseas. Gitmo has about 1,500 personally owned vehicles, and new ones arrive by barge every two weeks. Unfortunately for many of the car show contendors, vehicles older than 1999, the Navy warns, "will encounter difficulties if maintenance is required." Because, while Guantánamo may have a world class prison library, it suffers from a real dearth of German auto repair shops.

For Gitmo residents who'd rather not spend their Saturday walking around a car parking lot, the island offers other pastimes. For example, the local theater is screening "The Fifth Estate." But be warned: The Wire's reviewer gave it just two out of five "banana rats." The base also has a ceramics shop and a go-kart track. Sure beats reading quietly in soundproof, steel-plated cells.

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State Media Praises China's Failing Corruption Grade; Hilarity Ensues

Say what you will about China's state-run media -- they are enthusiastic cheerleaders. On Dec. 2 Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-graft organization, published its 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, which scored China at 40 out of 100 points, and ranked it 80th out of the 177 countries and territories surveyed. Yet what caught the attention of China's Global Times, a Communist Party mouthpiece, was the country's progress: Although China's ranking remained unchanged from 2012, its 2013 grade has risen by a single point on a 100-point scale.

The Global Times gleefully covered the news in a widely reposted Dec. 4 article entitled "Transparency International: China's Transparency Index Improves for Three Continuous Years." Transparency International has warned against comparisons with pre-2012 data, in part because the organization has changed its methodology. But this did not stop the Global Times from arguing China's improved grade "shows that the international community continues to think more and more highly of China's anti-corruption efforts." (Corruption remains endemic in China, and President Xi Jinping's months-long effort to curtail it have thus far fallen short.)

Not all commenters were such positive thinkers. Some could not believe that China had earned even a paltry score of 40: One user of Weibo, China's Twitter, suspected "grade inflation," while another argued that "China should be second-to-last, just ahead of North Korea." Concerns about the report's reliability aside, many felt that China's showing did not merit the praise served up by the Global Times. Whether the grade is "40 or 39," lamented one commenter, "You still have to retake that test." Prominent liberal paper Beijing News counseled caution to anyone lauding China's progress: "Don't start celebrating just because our score is up," the paper advised in a Weibo post. "We're still a long ways away from actual ‘transparency.'"

The dueling interpretations of Transparency International's findings show that even in China's highly censored media sphere, counter-narratives to the Communist Party line persist. The Global Times' nationalist bent has already earned it the nickname "Global Turd" from netizens weary of the paper's penchant for falsehoods. For example, in June 2012 it drew online mockery for arguing (unconvincingly) that China was already "a kind of democracy."  

This time, efforts to spin China's corruption problem led some readers to take refuge in dark humor. "That's our strength," one Internet user wrote of China's still-failing marks. "We have so much room to improve."

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