Thursday, October 23, 2014

Blackwater gets U.S. justice for 2007 Iraq killings

Sedulous readers will recall my opposition to private military contractors, (aka mercenaries), or at least our increasing reliance on them to do jobs the U.S. Military used to do for itself, such as security, logistics and even intelligence.

Why? Because in Iraq and Afghanistan, they haven't been subject to local law, military discipline or the chain of command. They are almost a law unto themselves. 

I also argue they're bad for morale, what with their fat paychecks while our troops' families back home depend on food stamps to survive. And strategically, it's dangerous for our military to lose capabilities it once had and become dependent on outside contractors. 

We do know why the explosive growth in mercenaries though, since 2001: 

  1) They don't count as "troops" that we should care about when generals or politicians talk about U.S. forces overseas; 

  2) None of us has to mourn them when they die or hang a yellow ribbon to keep them safe; 

  3) They are a great way for Republicans to hand out government cheese and re-collect it in the form of campaign contributions (Blackwater alone has collected more than $1 billion in U.S. Government contracts, many of them non-compete); and

  4) There isn't a single government service that Republicans don't want to privatize or outsource, as the eight year of Dubya-Cheney's regime proved.

U.S. mercenaries caused tragedy in September 2007, when a group of Americans from Blackwater, LLC opened fire at a crowded Baghdad intersection and killed 17 innocent Iraqi civilians and seriously wounded 20 others. I posted about it then, writing:

When Blackwater's highly-paid mercenaries indiscriminately shoot and kill innocent Iraqis, the Iraqi people don't know it was mercenaries who did it, they think it was U.S. soldiers. Mercenaries in Iraq are harming the mission of our real troops by turning the Iraqis against America.

Blackwater is a deadly menace, and yet another blight on America's image as our real soldiers try to win hearts and minds in Iraq. 

Or as I've said before in more sanguine terms, it's hard to "win hearts and minds" when you're shooting them in the head and chest. This has always been the fundamental contradiction of America's occupations, er, counter-insurgency efforts  in Afghanistan and Iraq. We call these places "wars" but we also "liberated" their people who we're trying to help while fighting them. 

Even now I hear hot-air pundits like Limbaugh and Hannity say we "lost" Iraq after gaining territory here or there, as if it was a conventional fight to take and hold ground from the Nazis. 

Anyhow... finally justice has been done for some of the Blackwater killers, in the U.S.: Three were found guilty of manslaughter and one of first-degree murder.

And as for Blackwater, well... like many PMCs, they change their name as often as most people change jobs. It went from Blackwater Worldwide to Xe Services, LLC to Academi, LLC and most recently, through a merger with a rival, to Constellis Holdings. Check out Blackwater's detailed but murky history here, including other U.S. federal charges against Blackwater, and its cozy connections with Republicans and even the Family Research Council

I'll leave you with this this beaut [emphasis mine]:

[T]he State Department's chief investigator [of Blackwater] reported being threatened by a Blackwater official in Iraq in August 2007. The investigator said project manager Daniel Carroll told him "that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq."

With such an attitude, it's not surprising that a few weeks later Blackwater killed and wounded all those Iraqis. Good thing somebody could and did do something about it!

By Dan Roberts 
October 22, 2014 | Guardian

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Navy Rear Admiral: DoD preparing for climate change

Republicans can call global warming science "political" all they want, but the U.S. Military cannot afford to be so blithe about the real effects of real climate change. Hence they are getting prepared.  

Gee, if only the party that says it most adores our nation's military would take note!

Voter-ID laws are a good ole fashioned poll tax

Rank-and-filed Republicans can never be convinced that there has never been an incidence of group voter fraud, much less an incidence that swayed an election. (Republican leaders know it's a sham to give them an excuse to suppress voting.)

So my conservative friends, just read this parallel in Hong Kong that Beinart found. It blew me away, because this Leung guy is speaking aloud what Republican leaders are saying behind closed doors:

If Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters succeed in booting C.Y. Leung from power, the city’s unelected chief executive should consider coming to the United States. He might fit in well in the Republican Party.

In an interview Monday with The New York Times and other foreign newspapers, Leung explained that Beijing cannot permit the direct election of Hong Kong’s leaders because doing so would empower “the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month.” Leung instead defended the current plan to have a committee of roughly 1,200 eminent citizens vet potential contenders because doing so, in the Times’ words, “would insulate candidates from popular pressure to create a welfare state, and would allow the city government to follow more business-friendly policies.”

And for those who say getting a new photo-ID just to vote (not for any other use by the voter) isn't a poll tax, consider this:

Acquiring that free ID requires showing another form of identification—and those cost money. In the states with voter-ID laws, notes a report by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School, “Birth certificates can cost between $8 and $25. Marriage licenses, required for married women whose birth certificates include a maiden name, can cost between $8 and $20. By comparison, the notorious poll tax—outlawed during the civil rights era—cost $10.64 in current dollars.”

It's not like poll taxes are OK if they are "affordable" by somebody else's standards. No. Poll taxes are forbidden, period. 

By Peter Beinart
October 22, 2014 | The Atlantic

Monday, October 20, 2014

Putin using Ukraine to make dictatorship at home (Politico)

This analysis is chilling, sobering reading. The special insights of Poland, thanks to its unique interactions with the Kremlin, are not something you read about often in the Western press. Definitely check this one out!

UPDATE (10.22.2014): Now the speaker of the Polish Parliament Radek Sikorski is backing off his statements to Politico and saying his recollection of Putin's words to Polish PM Donald Tusk about partitioning Ukraine were wrong, and that the meeting that he falsely recalled in Moscow didn't even take place. 

Methinks Sikorski is now remorseful for his candor and wants to take back the truth.

By Ben Judah
October 19, 2014 | Politico

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why Germany trains it workers better (Atlantic)

I've been saying this and talking about Germany's apprenticeships for years.

However, Jacoby cautions us that we can't hope to simply transplant Germany's system in the U.S. Why?

First, because we don't have the same system of strict academic tracking that Germany does from a young age. (Although there are second and third chances in Germany to get more or different education).

Second, because we don't have a state-funded system of vocational and higher education that Germany does. It all costs money, folks.

And third, because U.S. corporations don't have the same long-term view of developing "talent" (which, in the U.S., is supposed to come from nowhere). In Germany they know it costs time and money and yet they see the ultimate competitive value in it. Not so here.

Read on!

By Tamar Jacoby
October 16, 2014 | The Atlantic