Floyd J. McKay / Guest columnist, "Blackwater: bulging bicepts fueled by ideological purity," from Seattle Times
BLACKWATER, the secretive private army now emerging into public view, is a perfect hinge linking two key elements of the Republican political base: America's war machine and a muscular form of fundamentalist Christianity.
Military contractors such as Halliburton and Blackwater are the brainchild of Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. A major goal of Cheney when he was secretary of defense in the first Bush administration was to privatize as much military work as possible, ostensibly to make it more efficient. He commissioned a study by Halliburton, which predictably liked the idea and wound up as America's largest military contractor. Cheney was hired as Halliburton's chief officer, awaiting the return of a Republican administration.
When that occurred, Cheney and Rumsfeld enthusiastically promoted privatization, and went so far as to include private contractors in the "Total Force" of the American military, standing never before given to contractors. When Rumsfeld left the Pentagon in 2006, there were nearly as many private contractors in Iraq (100,000) as American troops (130,000). Contractors provided food, fuel, housing and, in the case of Blackwater, heavily armed soldiers with a license to kill and an aggressive attitude.
Blackwater operated basically without oversight since proconsul Paul Bremer gave it a no-bid $27.7 million security contract in 2003, with immunity from Iraqi law. In 2004, four of its soldiers were ambushed in Fallujah and their bodies desecrated, bringing retaliation that killed hundreds of Iraqis, leveled the city and fueled the insurgency. A month ago, Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians, in an incident that has drawn the attention of Congress and the FBI.
Blackwater soldiers, often with Navy SEAL or Army Special Operations backgrounds, are paid from $500 to $1,500 a day, far more than regular-duty troops. Their image is straight from central casting: young men, tanned biceps bulging from black T-shirts, wearing wraparound sunglasses and brandishing automatic weapons. For young veterans who loved military action but couldn't afford to stay in, Blackwater offered big money and plenty of opportunities to order people around. Blackwater's aggressive guards became the image of American cultural insensitivity, sometimes erasing the best efforts of our uniformed soldiers.
Blackwater is the private empire of billionaire Erik Prince, a major Republican fundraiser and bankroller of several fundamentalist Christian organizations. His private army employs some 2,300 active gunners and boasts a register of 21,000 ready to serve on call. He has the largest privately held arsenal in the country and the expertise and firepower to bring down a small country.
In 2006, Prince expanded internationally, forming a new subsidiary in Barbados, outside American taxes and regulation, to train foreign forces, often funded by American military aid. Elite Blackwater soldiers have conducted secretive "black jobs" for the CIA or other spy agencies.
Despite its financial success, Blackwater is under fire from two sides: Democratic critics who want accountability and families of the four men killed in Fallujah in 2004. The families have sued, alleging negligence.
Blackwater's lawyers assert it cannot be sued because it is part of the "Total Force." But, while Congress demands that it be subject to American military codes and international treaties, Blackwater takes the opposite view — it is not military, it's a civilian contractor. Big money has gone into D.C. lawyers, lobbyists and public-relations spinners to sell this apparent contradiction.
There have always been mercenaries, and a case can be made for limited use of contractors, but the Bush administration has erased the line between a national military and a private war machine. Iraq is our first outsourced war, siphoning billions of taxpayer dollars into the private war machine.
Military contractors have become an integral part of the American military, allowing the White House to understate troop numbers and avoid a military draft. Unpopular wars for oil or ideology can be waged without calling on middle-class families to send their children; mercenaries will fill the jobs if volunteers don't come forth.
In Prince, the Republicans' radical Christian base is wed to the war-machine base, the one providing votes and manpower, the other providing campaign funds.
The resulting combination is one of rigid ideology and eagerness to solve any problem with overwhelming force. The Bush administration convinced itself its views on Iraq were right, pushing aside contrary evidence, then failed to think beyond "shock and awe," with resultant horrors.
In a world of nuance and gray areas, ideological purity and bulging biceps will cause as many problems as they solve. Blackwater seems to epitomize a dark side of our psyche that should be troubling to all Americans.
Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages.
Editor's Note: During the Iran/Contra investigations in the Reagan administration, Oliver North boasted that he and then CIA Director (and close friend of Reagan) William Casey envisioned creating "a stand alone, off the shelf entity" which they called "the enterprise" which could be used in so-called "special ops" projects around the world. They key is that such an entity would be below the radar screen of congressional oversight and accountability.
This creation of a privatized army is exactly what Blackwater and the other 180 outsourced secondary contractors in Iraq represent. So the dark vision of Reagan era crypto-fascists like North et al has become actionable in the Bush II era. If Congress doesn't put the fork in this type of mercenary military then the Congress will forever lose control of its ability to hold the commander-in-chief responsible in national security policy.
We on the home front may not be safe from these "bulging biceps fueled by ideological purity" and big paychecks. What's to stop Blackwater neo-fascist goons from becoming a new generation of Pinkerton police used to supplement local cops on the beat in the midst of civil unrest like we saw in Seattle during the WTO summit several years ago? Or imagine another 9/11ish attack - will they be a part of the first responders?
Mussolini had his Brown Shirts, Bush has his Black shirts!
Floyd J. McKay / Guest columnist, "Blackwater: bulging bicepts fueled by ideological purity," from Seattle Times
George W likes to claim that global terrorists are out to attack America because “They hate our freedoms.” But we’re learning that it’s really the Bushites themselves who hate America’s freedoms.
Retired Army Col. Ann Wright and one of America’s leading peace activists, Medea Benjamin, have recently felt the bullying hate of the Bush regime. Both women have been very vigorous practitioners of our freedom to speak out and assemble in opposition to government policies, using these freedoms to protest the war in Iraq. They’ve put themselves on the line and been willing to undergo several arrests for their nonviolent civil disobedience.
This is as American as the 4th of July. Yet Wright, Benjamin, and civil libertarians everywhere were stunned to learn last August that Bush’s FBI has suddenly turned this misdemeanor into a weapon of political intimidation, using it to bar the two women from traveling to Canada… and perhaps to other nations.
When they tried to visit Canada, Wright and Benjamin were detained by Canadian customs officials and told that their names were on an FBI no-entry list. Even though this list is meant to stop fugitives, potential terrorists, and violent felons – not peaceful protesters – they were told that they would have to apply for “criminal rehabilitation” and pay a fine if they ever wanted to enter Canada.
Unintimidated, the women have since tried to re-enter, this time at the invitation of five members of parliament to come speak to that assembly. Yet, Canada’s officials have bowed to the Bushites, honoring the FBI’s no-entry list, rather than respecting their own parliament. The FBI refuses to say why non-violent protesters are on a terrorist list.
Chillingly, the U.S. media have ignored this story, but you can learn more about this blatant assault on our freedoms by going to www.codepinkalert.org.
For other links about this story go to:
“US Peace Activist, Retired Col. Ann Wright, Detained at Ottawa Airport,” www.commondreams.org, October 25, 2007
“US peace activist detained at Ottawa airport en route to meet MPs,” cnews.canoe.ca, October 25, 2007
“U.S. peace activist refused entry for second time,” www.thestar.com, October 25, 2007
“US peace activist barred again from entering Canada,” www.iht.com, October 25, 2007
“Protesting the Bush Agenda in Canada,” www.codepinkalert.org, October 4, 2007
“Barred from Canada,” Press Release, October 22, 2007
“Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People,” www.whitehouse.gov, September 20, 200
Music feeds the soul. Growing up in a home where music more than books dominated the scene, it was easy to get the bug. By the time RAD was six he begged his parents to give him piano lessons. That resulted in 12 years of lessons, recitals and a youth of listening to music live, on the radio and eventually on TV.
While learning classical piano music and hearing hymns in our local UCC or Presbyterian church, on Beacon Hill in Seattle or Roseburg, respectively, the real musical love of my life, then and now is jazz - of all kinds from Benny Goodman to Thelonious Monk, from Frank Sinatra to The Divine Sarah.
Thankfully, Portland is a hot bed of live jazz music and via our local public radio station, KMHD - 89.1 FM one is treated to a 24/7 dosage of the best of the best. Also, Pacific University, my home for 33 years, has a wonderful tradition of a college jazz band which has two concerts each year which brings in local professionals to play with our students.
NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday, November 11, 2007 interviewed Charmaine Clamor. After hearing the interview and clips from her latest album I plan to get her CD to add to my collection which ranges from Tony Bennett to Count Basie, from Shirely Horn to Gene Harris.
The interview (below) underscores the universality of jazz, our nation's cross-cultural multi-racial gift to the world which as an "export" has probably broken down more "iron curtains" and "cultural revolutions" than our military interventionism, geo-political machinations or cultural imperialism combined.
NPR: Charmaine Clamor is a jazz vocalist who grew up listening to Ella Fitzgerald on the radio, which shouldn't be surprising.
What may be surprising is that Clamor grew up in the Philippines — as a 3-year-old, she sang to passengers on the bus in Manila. Clamor is now a star in her homeland and she's attracting attention in the United States.
Her second CD, Flippin' Out, introduces a hybrid sound, which she calls "jazzipino." Clamor spoke with Liane Hansen about her distinct sound and offered her definition.
"Jazzipino is the new musical genre that results from melding traditional Filipino melodies, languages and instruments with the soul and swing of American jazz," she says.
As a child, Clamor was exposed to Western classical and jazz, as well as traditional Filipino music. She was especially influenced by the kundiman, the Filipino love-song style.
On Flippin' Out, she sings a particularly beloved kundiman called "Dahil Sa'Yo." Clamor's rendition — sung in Tagalog — has something of an ideological edge to it, though. She says that the tune used to be a favorite of the loathed Marcos dictatorship.
"So when I redid this song, I'm hoping if we swing it enough, Liane, that we could rob it from the old ghost of the Marcoses and bring it back to the people where it belongs," Clamor says.
It isn't the only song Clamor flips for her own purposes. She begins the album with an interpolation of Richard Rogers' standard "My Funny Valentine," which she retitles "My Funny Brown Pinay." Pinay is a term for a Filipino woman.
"Since our country was conquered by the Spanish for many, many years, the Filipinos, the native ones, lost pride in their indigenous beauty," Clamor says. "And 'My Funny Brown Pinay' celebrates the unique attributes of an indigenous Filipino woman: someone who has flat nose, black hair, dark skin, brown skin. And this is what I'm trying to communicate to my Pinay sisters."
It is a cause Clamor relates to personally. "When I was growing up in the Philippines, I remember using every type of cream, every type of papaya soap — because we believed that papaya soap lightens the skin — and I used it to hopefully wake up the next day and be fair-skinned," she says.
Her music isn't all political, however. Clamor closes the album with one of her childhood favorites, "Be My Love," rendered partially in Tagalog and dedicated to her mother.
"Whenever I hear Mario Lanza or 'Be My Love' being sung, it just reminds me of my mother and my father, my beautiful childhood when I was growing up in the Philippines," Clamor says.
PS: If you are interested in hearing clips of Clamor go to NPR.org/music
By Jim Hightower, Commentary, November 9, 2007
Once again, let’s take a peek [Lifestyle theme] into the “Lifestyles of the Rich … and Cranky.”
You think you’ve got it tough trying to find affordable housing or trying to figure out how you can pay for a two-bedroom apartment instead of the one-bedroom you’re now in? Well you don’t know the meaning of troubles, bucko, until you’ve walked a mile in the Guccis of those poor rich people who are dealing in the luxury housing market.
Yes, the general housing market has cooled down all across America, but stop thinking about yourself. The high-end housing market is booming, and it's a struggle for folks there to get what they want. Take the case of a couple in Manhattan who recently found a sweet little duplex off Park Avenue. It was only $6 million, so of course they jumped on it. Indeed, they tacked an extra half-million dollars onto the asking price in order to fend off competing buyers.
Buying it, however, was the least of their troubles. Naturally, they had to tear out the existing walls and flooring and renovate the space to suit their taste… as well as to suit their social ambitions. And, darling, luxury renovation is not for the meek.
The lady of the house had to quit her banking job so she could devote full time to coordinating the restoration. There was a small army of some 50 architects, specialty decorators, expediters, staircase builders, audiovisual installers, and whatnot who were called in to make the place “just so.”
Coping with luxury housing is harder than you riff-raff can imagine. I mean when you’re having kitchen cabinets built for you in Italy and purchasing a custom-made, wrap-around $30,000 couch – well, sweetheart, you’re going to have some headaches.
So, please, don’t tell us your tacky little stories of subprime mortgage woes, and don’t bore us with sadsack tales about your hunt for middle-class housing. Show a little love for those at the top, who’re struggling so mightily to make do in the Gilded Age.
RAD: Right on Jimbo! Let's show the beleaguered rich some TLC... To increase their "pain" how about hitting 'em with a realestate transfer tax? Pain is in - increase th dosage...