Monthly Archives: February 2004

Privatizing the Military

A Dutch journalist named Peter Speetjens writes in the Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper, that private military forces are a much bigger segment of the world’s armies than ever before, and he estimates that as many as 10% of the US forces in Iraq are civilians.

According to Peter Singer, author of the book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, there are some 90 companies worldwide offering military services and expertise to an overall security market worth upward of $100 billion. The reasons for this spectacular expansion are, on the one hand, the post-Cold War trimming of national armies (as a consequence of which there are some 7 million fewer soldiers under arms today than in 1989); and on the other, the fact that the world seems far less of a safe place, particularly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.The post-Cold War gap between supply and demand has been quickly filled by private military companies, most of which are based in the US, England, South Africa, Russia and the Ukraine, where laid-off soldiers are abundant. The firms operate anywhere in the world to secure people and assets. Yet by far their most lucrative market today is Iraq. According to Singer, 10 percent of US soldiers in Iraq are civilians, which is ten times more than during the Gulf war of 1991. This makes the invasion of Iraq, and its aftermath, the most privatized conflict in the last 250 years.

One’s initial reaction is liable to be, “Well, they’re probably just providing support services, running mess halls, washing uniforms, transporting real soldiers from one place to another, that sort of thing.” But one would be wrong.

Apart from offering military support services, thousands of civilians, most of whom have a military past, operate Predator spy planes, maintain B-2 Stealth bombers, de-mine, destroy enemy ammunition and, last but not least, protect individuals and companies active in the reconstruction of Iraq.

In the last job of which they have actually seen combat. Eight of these private soldiers have been killed in military actions since the start of the Occupation. Viceroy Paul Bremer, in fact, is not protected by Army troops or Marines “but by a contingent of Ghurkas and former SAS commandos working for the British firm Global Risk International.”

This trend is growing, and Speetjens thinks the reasons are simple enough: advocates claim it’s cheaper to outsource the kinds of tasks they take on. Whether it is or not is debatable.

Dyncorp, an American company founded by former Los Angeles police officers, won a contract worth $50 million to train the Iraqi police force. The company needs 1,500 former policemen to do the job and offers an average tax-free salary of $150,000 a year. Likewise, the British-American firm Armorgroup recently paid an ex-Special Forces soldier $150,000 a year to protect a senior member of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Compare this to the average salary of a regular American or British soldier.

Mercs used to crawl around on the fringes of military society. Now, under Bush/Cheney/Halliburton, they are moving centerstage. This is a troubling development on many fronts, not the least of which is the growing identification of these corporate armies with corporate rather than public goals.

The links between private military companies that benefit from insecurity, instability and warfare, and a political establishment tightly linked to the corporate world, can be disturbing. Take KBR: In 1992, former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney commissioned the firm to research (at a cost of $3.9 million) the privatization of US Army logistics. KBR concluded that privatization would be much cheaper than allowing the armed forces to carry the task out themselves. Subsequently, Cheney granted the firm a contract to implement its own recommendations, mainly in overseas US operations.As KBR followed the US Army around the world, Cheney became chief executive of Halliburton in 1995, remaining in the post until he became the US vice-president in 2000, when he was paid a bonus of $35 million. Cheney was one of the main advocates of war in Iraq and the fact that both KBR and Halliburton have profited hugely from its aftermath raises serious questions about the possible conflicts of interest involved.

As one surveys the close links between private military companies, the corporate world and political establishments, the image that comes to mind is not so much that of an individual gun-for-hire like Denard, but that of the British East India Company and its Dutch equivalent in Indonesia, both of which controlled large armies. Jan Coen, the former governing general of the Dutch colonial empire, put it succinctly: “There’s no trade without war; no war without trade.”

Explains a lot, don’t it?

Step 1: Cheney commissions a firm to “research” military privatization.

Step 2: The firm (surprise! surprise!) concludes that privatization would be cheaper.

Step 3: Cheney hires said subsidiary to carry out its own recommendations and promptly becomes CEO of the parent company, keeping all the money nicely in-house.

Step 4: As Veep, Cheney vigorously supports a war that will keep that subsidiary very busy.

Step 5: Cheney sees to it that that subsidiary is awarded fat contracts in a no-bid process that totally eliminates the possibility that said subsidiary will face competition.

Neat, huh? A closed loop that begins–and ends–with Cheney and his (sort of) ex-company. Given the total lack of legitimate rationale for the Iraq War, isn’t it at least possible that between the oil, the reconstruction contracts, and the “security” business, Bush/Cheney and Co took us into this thing because it was good for their bottom lines? It wouldn’t be the first time. The British East India Company was finally dissolved because of its willing use of force in backing company interests that were in direct conflict with the interests of the British govt. Corporations have their own agendas, and democracy isn’t even on the list. Do we really want them brandishing their own private armies?

(Thanks to Major Barbara for the link)

Aristide’s Outa There

The Associated Press reports that Aristide has resigned and left the country.

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide resigned and fled the country Sunday, bowing to pressure from a bloody rebellion at home and governments abroad. Gunfire rang out through the capital and black smoke billowed from the city center.Supreme Court Justice Boniface Alexandre declared three hours later he was taking charge of the country under the constitution. He urged calm after more than three weeks of violence.

“The task will not be an easy one,” Alexandre, who is in his 60s, said at a news conference. “Haiti is in crisis. … It needs all its sons and daughters. No one should take justice into their own hands.”

Well, the Bush Admin said they preferred the thugs and murderers who fomented the rebellion to the freely-elected Aristide, and now they’ve got what they wanted. These are the same people who made Haiti a living hell of murder squads and torture chambers the last time Aristide got booted. Here’s the NYT on the personalities involved:

They are “the new Haitian army,” said one of their commanders, Remissainthe Ravix. They are also “thugs,” said Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.They are men like Louis-Jodel Chamblain and Jean-Pierre Baptiste — two leaders of Fraph, the Haitian Front for Advancement and Progress. Fraph was an instrument of terror wielded by the military junta that overthrew Haiti’s embattled president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 1991. It killed thousands over the next three years.

Mr. Chamblain, a former Haitian Army officer, was sentenced in absentia to life in prison for the 1993 murder of Antoine Izméry, an important Aristide supporter. Before the trial, he fled to the neighboring Dominican Republic, returning to Haiti in recent months to seek power.

Mr. Baptiste, also known as Jean Tatoune, was serving a life sentence for murder, in connection with a 1994 massacre of Aristide supporters, when he was freed in a jailbreak in August.

“Fraph is back,” President Aristide said….

Although the question of American intervention is being bruited about the halls of power in DC, including State, Junior has so far given every indication that he has no intention of interfering. He ignored the crisis as it was building over the last couple of months, and the only public statement from his Administration was a suggestion that Aristide stepping down “would be the best hope for democracy” in Haiti. Exactly how turning the country over to the same death squads that killed thousands and all but destroyed the country’s economy and govt structure qualifies as Haiti’s “best hope for democracy” remains unexplained. I think it’s just something they say, like an advertising slogan. “New and Improved” when it isn’t either. I don’t know how else to explain it.

In any case, we once again have a full-blown humanitarian crisis bubbling on our doorstep thanks to BA inaction. What, you might ask, does Bush have against Aristide? In Thursday’s debate, Kerry suggested it was theological differences.

KERRY: Here’s what I’m telling you. Here’s what I’m telling you. This administration set up an equation. They have a theological and a ideological hatred for Aristide. They always have.And they approach this so that the insurgents were given — empowered by this administration, because they said to the insurgents, “If you…


“… Until you reach an agreement with Aristide and the government about sharing power, we’re not going to provide aid and assistance.”

So we empowered them to simply veto any agreement, which is what they’re still doing with respect to a power-sharing in another government.

Jeanne at Body and Soul finds the reference to theology intriguing.

The Bush administration obviously has no love for a leftist government in Haiti, but is Kerry onto something in suggesting that a liberation theology priest is threatening to Bush’s concept of faith, which, we are constantly reminded, is a central part of who he is? I never thought of it that way before, but it rings true.

Indeed. Aristide’s theology preaches tolerance and expansion of the soul; Bush’s fundamentalism is aimed in exactly the opposite direction–intolerance of non-believers and a soul restricted to Biblical literalism on pain of eternal damnation. It’s a thought.

Jeanne goes on to note a rather remakable statement by Republican Sen Mike DeWine of Ohio to the effect that the trouble is all Aristide’s fault for fighting back when he was attacked.

‘If Aristide’s gangs fight, you’re going to have a bloodbath, with innocents killed in the crossfire, and it’s going to be live on CNN,” said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, Friday at a forum on Haiti.DeWine, who has made 14 trips to Haiti, called for the quick intervention of a military force with U.S. participation to stop spiraling violence.

Jeanne replies:

Do I have this right? The “bloodbath” will be the result of people loyal to the elected government fighting back. Therefore we nee a “quick intervention,” not, presumably, to protect the elected government, but to prevent it from fighting back?So when thugs attack you, you’re supposed to give up? You’re supposed to say, fine, you be charge now?

If you’re on the wrong side of the Bushian theological divide, the answer appears to be “Yes.”

Quotes of the Day

It’s not the voting that’s democracy, it’s the counting–Tom Stoppard

Is this the right room for an argument?–Michael Palin

There are only two styles of portrait painting; the serious and the smirk.–Charles Dickens

[T]hat’s just the nature of democracy. Sometimes pure politics enters into the rhetoric.–George W Bush

Its amazing. You look like a normal person but actually you are the angel of death.–Sally Albright

Saturday Blog-Browsing

***Phaedrus at No Fear of Freedom links to a Juan Cole post on the agreement between the US and GB’s electronic spooks to spy on each others’ citizens without bothering about pesky annoyances like warrants.

What bothers me about these kinds of revelations is the reaction of the public. It seems like it’s, “Eh. Well. Doesn’t surprise me. Ain’t no BFD.” I got a feelin’ that if we found out there’re little cameras and microphones hidden in our TVs, the reaction would be the same. No BFD. I got a nasty suspection that most people know we don’t live in a democracy and that, too, ain’t no BFD ta them.We’re living in Orwell’s 1984 and nobody cares!

***Benedict Spinoza at Benedict@Large links to an interesting–and po’d–Progressive piece calling for Alan Greenspan’s resignation.

On Medicare, Greenspan at least recognizes a real problem with costs skyrocketing, but his paymaster Bush refuses to let anybody do anything to lower costs. In fact, Bush’s Medicare “reform” plan prohibits the federal government from bargaining with the drug companies to lower costs, and it prohibits people or states from importing drugs from Canada. If Greenspan were truly concerned about Medicare’s costs, he would have opposed this inflationary gift to the drug companies.By contrast, on Social Security, Greenspan continues to hype a threat that is almost nonexistent. Like many economists, journalists, and pundits (Tim Russert high among them), Greenspan claims that the baby boom generation is going to bankrupt Social Security.

Not true.

The Social Security Trust Fund’s own report says it will be able to meet all its obligations through the year 2042, as Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research has noted. “Most of the baby boomers will be dead by then,” he says.

I know I will. I would be 94 in 2042 and my prospects aren’t that good.

***Matt Yglesias tries to understand Bush’s “approach to social security reform”: “[It] appears to involve equal parts dishonesty and ineptitude. It’s a bit hard to tell, though, even reading the memos, what this is all about.” He’s catching on.

***Ruy Teixeira at Donkey Rising writes an excellent post warning Democrats not to make the mistake of thinking that opposition to the No Child Left Behind Act means they should throw it out. The problem, he says, is not with the concept but with the BA’s refusal to provide the funds necessary to implement it successfully.

In light of this reception, which has been duplicated in numerous states around the country, Democrats may be tempted to run hard against NCLB and say, implicitly or explicitly, that it needs to be gotten rid of. A review of public opinion data on NCLB suggests they should resist that temptation.Public opinion on public education has consistently shown that the public has a two point program for education reform: more accountability and more resources.


[T]here is little evidence that the public rejects the law itself or wants to do away with it. General descriptions of the law, particularly its goals and broad emphasis on accountability, continue to elicit strong public support. But it seems fair to say that the public would be supportive of changes that would make NCLB more flexible and better-funded. That’s the sweet spot for Democrats in criticizing NCLB–not opposing the act, but seeking to reform it in line with the public’s twin commitments to effective accountability and more funding.

***Eric Brunner at Wampum notes that a series he wrote on the Iranian elections could get him thrown in jail for “trading with the enemy” according to new rulings from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

It is simply amazing to think about, for those of us who came up on Soviet mathematical and scientific publications and Soviet and Chinese military and political publications, collected, translated, summarized, digested, glossed, … that the manuscript for a volumn of 17th century Persian poetry in Farsi, with an American English translation, can not be lawfully edited for publication within the confines of the United States.

***Finally, for those of you with marginally metaphysical leanings, George Popham over at a relatively new blog called Skookumchuck Notebook writes an interesting half-serious/half-not criticism of Buddhism.

Most people think of Buddhism in a partly digested way: be nice, sit quietly, look picturesque, and be very very cool…But, Buddhism can be just as contradictory and bizarre as any other tradition east or west. I have been following a sub-thread of Buddhist studies in my grad work, and in the course of slogging through some of the high Indian and Tibetan logical debates over Buddhist doctrine I’ve found a lot of the same absurdities you find every other religion. It seems that no matter how good the original insights are, there is always some joker who comes along and turns the whole thing into something else, misses the point completely and charges ahead with some other program.

I think we all know how that feels.

Hastert Agrees to 9/11 Report Extension

Did I or did I not say this was a day for Good News? And the hits just keep on comin’.

WASHINGTON (CNN) — After intense pressure from lawmakers and family members of victims, House Speaker Dennis Hastert reversed his position Friday and said he would not oppose granting a 60-day extension to the commission investigating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.In a letter to commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, Hastert said the commission could wait until July 26 to hand in its report — 60 days after the original May 27 deadline.

Are you wondering why the switch? I can say it in two words: Karl Rove.

But the White House said it supported the extension. Spokesman Scott McClellan dismissed as “silly” the suggestions by some Democrats that the administration was secretly backing Hastert’s earlier position.A senior administration official said the White House welcomed Hastert’s decision, and added that in the past week Bush spoke with Hastert about supporting the extension. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card also called Hastert this week to reiterate the administration’s position.

Conversations continued into Friday between top aides to Bush and aides to the speaker. One official familiar with the conversations said that by midday Friday “it was pretty clear” the debate over the extension “was not a winner” for the speaker or the White House.

Karl is adjusting to the reality shown in the polls of the last few weeks. After throwing up every obstacle he could think of to hinder the Commission’s investigation, Junior was about to get egged like an omelet for using Hastert to kill the request. So Karl, a devoted student of both Sun-Tzu and Stonewall Jackson, decided to beat a strategic retreat, figuring the publication of the Report would do less damage overall than the perception that Bush had deliberately stalled it because he was afraid of what it would say.

It must have been a tough call. A lot of what the report could contain (scroll down to “What Really Happened on 9/11?”) is very…unflattering to Bush. If Commission RINO’s (Republicans In Name Only–Rush’s designation for moderates) like Kean and Hamilton decide to write as honest a report as, say, David Kay’s, Bush could be in real trouble right about the time he’s accepting the party’s nomination (either from a stage plunked down at Ground Zero or from the bowels of Dick Cheney’s bunker surrounded by the 8th Army and the 3rd Regiment Field Artillery Band, depending on how things go). Rove must have figured that the RINO’s would be unlikely to risk the Wrath of Kharl by doing something that would embarass the Prez–a pretty safe bet, actually, if not a sure thing.

Still, Karl Rove isn’t famous for backing down, and the fact that he’s had to retreat is a good indication of just how bad he thinks the polls are. And that can only be Good News for us.

More Good News

And the good news just doesn’t stop today.
About effin’ time, I’d say.
–Perle Messda, Acclimated Poet of the Minnesota School for Regional Cookery, Specialty: Lemon Angels. “We do lutefisk!”John McKay over at archy links to a story about a student revolt at a Montana high school. What are they rebelling against, you ask? A new rule that forbids the wearing of t-shirts with the word “Britney” on them? the removal of pizza from the school lunch menu? a new requirement that seniors actually attend at least one class a day? Nope. They don’t want the school board to force them to learn creationism in their biology classes.

After the Darby School Board Tuesday made another move in the process of adopting an objective origins policy, students came out to express their opposition.About one-third of the high school’s 170 students Wednesday walked out of school 15 minutes before the bell rang and assembled between U.S. 93 and school property in protest of the school board’s decisions to question evolution.

Carrying signs criticizing the newly adopted policy, students walked the sidewalk and drew honks and yells from passers-by hoping school officials and trustees would take heed.

“Students really care what’s going on in the school,” said senior Aaron Lebowitz, who organized the protest. “(The school board) has been on their own track and haven’t really listened to us.”

Well, I’ll be damned.

What I particularly love is the new creationist label for justifying the injection of religion into science: the “objective origins policy.” That’s a good one, ay? They’re overturning scientific principles in order to be “objective.” As long as they’re being honest about it. The kids, however saw right through that bare-faced ploy and aren’t having any.

“Over the past few weeks, students have discussed the issue at length and formed opinions about intelligent design,” Lebowitz said.One sign read, “Creationism in a cheap tuxedo.” And others called on people to go to church for creationism.

Lebowitz walked down the row of students asking individuals why they were there. Students strongly voiced concern about creationism being in science class and encouraged people to vote in the upcoming school board election.

Currently, students touch on evolution in life science class in seventh grade and then again in 10th-grade biology.

“But evolution is not shoved down our throats,” he said. “I was pretty disturbed by the ignorance of our community about what we’re really being taught.”

Lebowitz carried a sign that read, “Strike against preaching pseudo science.”

Good for them. I have to admit that as a sometime teacher I have made my fair share–alright, more than fair–of disparaging comments concerning the knowledge-level of your average adolescent. Mentioning Afghanistan and being asked if that’s some kind of candy bar will do that to you. But for a third–a third!–of the entire student body to stage a walk-out over a threat to the quality of their education is, well, John says it best:

As long as the public schools can turn out kids like this, the school system is doing just fine. Don’t believe the far right propaganda about our schools being failures that need to be replaced by voucher supported private (religious) schools. And as long as we have kids like Aaron Lebowitz and his cohort, civilization isn’t doomed quite yet.


Anti-Gay Religious Right Gets Knuckle Sandwich

Something’s happening out there that is as direct a slap-in-the-face to faux-Christian moralism as any legitimate human being could wish. Not only aren’t the masses rising up to denounce the godless blasphemy of gay marriage, they’re sending it flowers.

San Francisco’s florists have been overwhelmed by orders from people as far away as Australia who are paying for flowers to be delivered randomly to the gay and lesbian couples getting married at City Hall.The requests from same-sex marriage supporters have come from some surprising places — Minneapolis, Atlanta, Kalamazoo, Mich. Even Hong Kong.

“It has just exploded, skyrocketed, spread like wildfire,” said Thim Phan, owner of Flowers By the Bay. “We’ve been bombarded with phone calls, and we knew we couldn’t handle it alone, so I’ve been calling other florists in San Francisco like, ‘Please guys, help!”‘

Phan said he has processed nearly 200 orders from almost every state since the city began allowing the gay marriages.

Right-wing Christian zealots, stand down if you know what’s good for you. You have made your bed and the people are saying they want no part of it. Love, they are saying, is so rare a commodity in these days of hate and intolerance that we will support it even if we don’t care for the way it’s expressed and wouldn’t personally choose that option for ourselves. Love is precious however it comes, and we’re going to prove it to you.

Join the parade.


I wish I had a button you could push but there isn’t one so you’ll have to take the responsibility for doing this on yourself. Good Luck and God Bless You.

(Via the San Francisco Chronicle by way of Mark Morford)