Four at Four

This is an OPEN THREAD. Here are four stories in the news at 4 o’clock to get you started. An egg cannot break a stone.

  1. John Solomon and Juliet Eilperin report for the Washington Post that Bush’s EPA is pursuing fewer polluters and probes and prosecutions have declined sharply. “The Environmental Protection Agency’s pursuit of criminal cases against polluters has dropped off sharply during the Bush administration, with the number of prosecutions, new investigations and total convictions all down by more than a third, according to Justice Department and EPA data. ¶ The number of civil lawsuits filed against defendants who refuse to settle environmental cases was down nearly 70 percent between fiscal years 2002 and 2006, compared with a four-year period in the late 1990s, according to those same statistics. ¶ Critics of the agency say its flagging efforts have emboldened polluters to flout U.S. environmental laws, threatening progress in cleaning the air, protecting wildlife, eliminating hazardous materials, and countless other endeavors overseen by the EPA.” What did people expect when they voted for Bush?

  2. Okay, it is Sunday, so I’m putting in some lighter fare. If you’re looking for the Blackwater summary, it’s below the fold. First from The Observer, the BBC is set to screen lost film charting Bob Dylan’s performances at 1960s Newport Folk Festivals. “Music history will be made as reclaimed footage of Bob Dylan’s fabled performances at the Newport Folk Festivals in America is broadcast. ¶ The filmed sequences from the three key years 1963, 1964 and 1965 have been released from a Dylan film archive for the first time and will demonstrate the bodyshock delivered by the young singer’s arrival on the folk music scene. The footage also shows the extraordinary change that took place in his performance style. On 14 October, BBC4 viewers will at last be able to witness the power of his quiet initial appearance in front of an eager crowd and to contrast it with the confidence of the rock star who takes to the same stage with an electric guitar in hand in 1965.”

  3. The New York Times has a fascinating look at what positive things technology can achieve in A Painting Comes Home (or at Least a Facsimile). “Can — and should — technology right a historical wrong? That’s a question Italians have been asking since a facsimile of Veronese’s 16th-century ‘Wedding at Cana’ was installed on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore a few weeks ago. ¶ At the heart of the debate is the digital re-creation of this vast 1563 painting, which Napoleon’s forces removed from the refectory in the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore 210 years ago and took back to France as war booty. ¶ The facsimile, by the Madrid enterprise Factum Arte, is a stunningly accurate replica of the 732-square-foot canvas. Details are reproduced down to the most minute topography, including the raised seams rejoining the panels that Napoleon’s troops cut the painting into when they transported it to France in 1797. (The original hangs in the Louvre Museum in Paris.)”

  4. The Los Angeles Times brings the tale of the ‘lost’ Siqueiros mural. Argentina has pledged to restore a ‘secret’ work by the famed Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, “in which his revolutionary zeal gives way to ‘an obsessive and desperate love'” Siqueiros met the poet Blanca Luz Brum in Uraguay.

    “I don’t believe that other human beings, man and woman, have loved each other with so much force, so much pureness and magnitude,” Blanca Luz Brum, whose given name means “white light,” later wrote of her early days with Siqueiros.

    After four tumultuous years of la vie bohème in Mexico, Los Angeles and South America against the backdrop of the political and artistic upheaval of the 1930s, jealousy and mistrust would devour their grand passion. But Siqueiros left behind a startling homage to Brum: a kaleidoscopic mural showcasing multiple voluptuous incarnations of her body with Betty Boop eyes.

    This vibrant paean to passion has endured decades of assorted indignities — defaced with acid, smeared with whitewash, sealed away from view and eventually divided up and deposited in metal containers. Now, almost three-quarters of a century later, Argentine authorities vow that the singular work will be brought out of storage, reassembled, restored and displayed publicly for the first time…

    Siqueiros painted the mural in the basement poker room of the mansion of a shady publishing tycoon who reigned in the political and cultural hothouse of 1930s Buenos Aires…

An extensive summary of Blackwater news and op-eds is below the fold…

  1. Here is today’s Blackwater news and opinion pieces, plus a few stories I had missed from earlier in the week.

    • The Los Angeles Times has an editorial on ‘Blackwater and the business of war‘. “The dream of managing the government more like a business is central to some of the Bush administration’s most disastrous mistakes. It was at the heart of the decision to browbeat the generals into agreeing to invade Iraq with a “light footprint,” which allowed the insurgency to flourish. Contempt for the bureaucratic process doomed serious postwar planning — after all, governmental decision-making is political, collaborative and agonizingly slow, and the result is almost always a compromise that may avoid disaster but stifles innovation. To run the occupation of Iraq, President Bush chose a man who promised to make decisions like a CEO, which is why L. Paul Bremer III made the fatal mistake of disbanding the Iraqi army without consulting the cumbersome Washington bureaucracy. And corporate thinking about efficiency led to vastly expanding the outsourcing of functions traditionally performed by the military. The biggest beneficiary has been Blackwater USA, a private security firm with powerful political and personnel ties to an administration that has awarded it more than $1 billion in contracts since 2002. ¶ A handful of prescient Democratic lawmakers trying to review the scope and nature of security outsourcing were ignored until Sept. 16, when Blackwater personnel killed at least 11 Iraqis… ¶ But Congress should also debate the overarching issue: Which military and security functions should be outsourced in the first place? And which pose the potential to harm the national interest if delegated to the private sector? ¶ The Blackwater debacle suggests that at the very least, outsourcing the protection of U.S. diplomats operating in war zones — a national security imperative — is a bad idea. Mercenary firms must be outlawed and disassembled. They are a huge threat to our democracy.

    • The German magazine, Spiegel, ran a story on September 19 titled the ‘Whores of War’ Under Fire. Among other things, the story has a few interesting quotes including: “Then came Sept. 11, 2001. Shortly after the terrorist attacks, [Blackwater CEO Erik] Prince told the conservative news [Republican propaganda] channel Fox News, ‘I’ve been operating in the training business now for four years and was starting to get a little cynical on how seriously people took security.’ He added that ‘the phone is ringing off the hook now.'” Plus this — “‘It’s a very murky area,’ complains Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the Democratic Party who has long been fighting in the US Congress for the regulation of private security firms — so far unsuccessfully. ‘Under what law are these individuals operating, and do the Iraqis have the authority to prosecute people for the crimes they’re accused of committing?'”

    • The Boston Globe has an op-ed by Janine Wedel called ‘The shadow army‘. “If there is a quagmire in Iraq, it was created more than a decade ago when the United States instituted a flawed system governing the use of contractors to perform governmental functions. Now, despite Iraqi fury at Blackwater USA, some of whose employees are accused of fatally shooting Iraqis, Washington is so reliant on the firm that it dare not order it from the field… ¶ All too often this private army has been unmanageable and unaccountable, its interests dangerously divergent from those of the US and the Iraqi governments. The troubles exposed by the Blackwater debacle provide a glimpse into a much larger, systemic problem that pervades military, intelligence, and homeland security efforts alike. ¶ The Bush administration came into office bent on privatizing as many government functions as possible and threw billions into the mix in its Iraq venture. It was changes in the contracting system, instituted during the Clinton administration, though, that transformed the contracting rules and undercut oversight, transparency, and competition… ¶ The Iraq war has exposed the dangers of contracting out vital state functions to private actors. Such massive privatization renders government more susceptible to the influence of unelected private players with their own interests – players who are far removed from the oversight of government and the scrutiny of voters. ¶ Inherently governmental functions, such as the direction of military and intelligence operations, ought not to be privatized. It is vital to reverse Clinton-era procurement ‘reforms’ and to restore effective government oversight – and Bush-era extensions of them. Otherwise, the public can be more easily mislead, and America’s interests, along with its moral standing, will be repeatedly undercut by a shadow army.” It is good to be reminded that it was the Clinton administration that set us out on the path to using mercenaries.

    • Jeremy Scahill has an article in the October 15, 2007 issue of The Nation titled ‘Making a Killing‘. The piece is an excellent overview of Blackwater’s connections and the September 16 massacre. Here’s an excerpt:

      But getting rid of Blackwater would not prove to be so easy. Four days after being grounded, Blackwater was back on Iraqi streets. After all, Blackwater is not just any security company in Iraq; it is the leading mercenary company of the US occupation. It first took on this role in the summer of 2003, after receiving a $27 million no-bid contract to provide security for Ambassador Paul Bremer, the original head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Since then, it has kept every subsequent US Ambassador, from John Negroponte to Ryan Crocker, alive. It protects Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visits the country, as well as Congressional delegations. Since its original Iraq contract, Blackwater has won more than $700 million in “diplomatic security” contracts through the State Department alone.

      The company’s domestic political clout has been key to its success. It is owned by Erik Prince, a reclusive right-wing evangelical Christian who has served as a major bankroller of the campaigns of George W. Bush and his allies. Among the company’s senior executives are former CIA official J. Cofer Black, who once oversaw the extraordinary-rendition program and led the post-9/11 hunt for Osama bin Laden (and who currently serves as GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s top counterterrorism adviser), and Joseph Schmitz, the Pentagon Inspector General under Donald Rumsfeld.

      So embedded is Blackwater in the US apparatus in Iraq that the incident in Nisour Square has sparked a crisis for the occupation that is both practical and political. Now that Blackwater’s name is known (and hated) throughout Iraq, the bodyguards themselves are likely to become targets of resistance attacks, perhaps even more so than the officials they are tasked with keeping alive. This will make their work much more difficult. But beyond such security issues are more substantive political ones, as Blackwater’s continued presence on Iraqi streets days after Maliki called for its expulsion serves as a potent symbol of the utter lack of Iraqi sovereignty.

    • In Back in Iraq: The ‘Whores of War’, “America’s hired guns in Iraq have been called ‘the coalition of the billing’, but Blackwater mercenaries are accused of more than just taking the money. Investigations Editor Neil Mackay examines the links between the security firm and the US political elite.” The article begins, “Even for Blackwater, it was an atrocity too far.” And then references Jeremy Scahill’s book, Blackwater: The Rise Of The World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. “Scahill went on to call Prince a ‘neo-crusader, a Christian supremacist, who has been given hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts this is a man who espouses Christian supremacy, and he has been allowed to create a private army to defend Christendom around the world. He refers to Blackwater as the FedEx of the Pentagon. He says if you really want a package to get somewhere, do you go with the postal service or do you go with FedEx? This is how these people view themselves.'” “At least 22 Blackwater mercs have died in Iraq. To date more than 428 contractors working for more than two dozen firms have died there. ¶ In January this year, five Blackwater mercs died when one of the firm’s helicopters (Blackwater has a private fleet of 20 planes and helicopter gunships) was shot down in Baghdad. It later emerged that four of the five crew were found with execution-style bullet wounds to the head. On April 21, 2005, seven Blackwater mercs died in two separate attacks in Baghdad and Ramadi. ¶ The Fallujah murders turned Blackwater into a kind of patriotic poster boy, with the war lobby portraying its mercs as heroes fighting for America in the face of bloodthirsty killers. By the end of 2004, Blackwater had grown by 600%… ¶ Blackwater has also hired at least 60 Chilean commandos trained under the Pinochet regime. The irony for the US army is that many of its best soldiers leave to join organisations like Blackwater where the pay is as high as $1000 a day. This then puts more pressure on the government to use private contractors due to military staff shortages… ¶ US officials went into overdrive in a bid to persuade the Iraqis not to throw Blackwater out. With 30,000 mercs working for 28 firms contracted by the US government in Iraq, the Blackwater incident could have wide-reaching ramifications.Get rid of Blackwater, the Bush administration will be forced to decide to reinstate the draft or leave Iraq.

    • On Friday in The New York Times, Paul Krugman had an op-ed, ‘Hired Gun Fetish‘. “As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, ‘the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.’ ¶ And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They’re heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but they’re private employees who don’t answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly… ¶ Which raises the question, why are Blackwater and other mercenary outfits still playing such a big role in Iraq? ¶ Don’t tell me that they are irreplaceable. The Iraq war has now gone on for four and a half years — longer than American participation in World War II. There has been plenty of time for the Bush administration to find a way to do without mercenaries, if it wanted to.”

    • News from The New York Times that the State Department has started a third review of mercenaries in Iraq. “The State Department has begun three separate reviews related to its use of private contractors for diplomatic security in Iraq… ¶ Patrick Kennedy, the State Department’s director of management policy, is leaving for Iraq this weekend to lead a team to conduct a broad review of the use of private security contractors, he said on Friday… ¶ The Kennedy review is in addition to a joint American-Iraqi investigation of the Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad involving Blackwater security personnel guarding a diplomatic convoy, which left at least eight Iraqis dead. The Iraqi Ministry of Defense and the American Embassy are handling that inquiry. ¶ Another investigation of the Sept. 16 episode is under way by the regional security officer in the American Embassy in Baghdad, to determine exactly what happened. Mr. Kennedy said the regional security officer, through the State Department’s Diplomatic Security service, had the ability to make a criminal referral to the Justice Department if the investigation found evidence of criminal wrongdoing by Blackwater contractors.” The U.S. Justice Department is also investigating “the killing last December of an Iraqi guard for an Iraqi vice president by a Blackwater contractor who was drunk. After the killing, Blackwater flew the contractor out of Iraq”.

    • The Washington Post reports that Five witnesses to the massacre at Nisoor Square insist Iraqis didn’t fire on Blackwater. “The eyewitnesses and a senior Iraqi police official close to an investigation of the incident contradicted initial accounts provided by [Blackwater] and the State Department…. ¶ ‘The Iraqi security forces had the right to shoot at them when they saw the [Blackwater] convoy shooting at the people, but they did not shoot at the convoy,’ said Ahmed Ali Jassim, 19, a maintenance worker who saw the incident. ‘When they see Iraqis getting shot like that, their blood would be boiling. But no one crossed the limits.'” … ¶ Eyewitnesses also disputed the Blackwater guards’ account that civilians were firing from a red bus. Hussam Abdul Rahman, 25, another traffic policeman who was near the bus, said passengers were kicking out the windows in a desperate attempt to escape the firing… ¶ The senior Iraqi police official also rejected Blackwater’s account of being ambushed by gunmen. Nisoor Square, he said, sits in front of the National Police headquarters. There were checkpoints, Iraqi army and police, nearby in nearly every direction, making it hard for gunmen to take positions to ambush the convoy. ¶ The police guards in the square, he added, would not shoot without orders. The square is a common route for dozens of heavily armored U.S. military and embassy convoys. Anyone planning an attack would use heavy weapons such as rocket-propelled grenades — not guns, the official said. ‘To attack body-armored vehicles with bullets? No one can believe this,’ the police official said.”

    • Finally, from a discussion with author Naomi Wolf gave to the readers of the Washington Post on Thursday about her new book, The End of America, this brief synopsis of the danger Blackwater poses to the United States.

      I have a whole chapter called “Develop A Paramilitary Force” which centers on Blackwater. You are so right about this threat. No one can take over a democracy, no matter how badly it is weakened, without a paramilitary force that bypasses the people’s representatives and I am sorry to say no democracy can resist the pressure on it of a would-be despot that has developed such a paramilitary force. Again, Mussolini was the innovator with his black-shirted Arditi and Hitler as so often picked this up by deploying his brown-shirted SA. If you want another historical parallel, you should look at how these leaders directed groups of angry young men to intimidate people counting the vote in southern Italy and in Austria. Blackwater is in superficial trouble right now for shooting civilians in Iraq. What most Americans don’t know is that Blackwater is already here at home – Homeland Security gave them a massive contract to patrol the streets of New Orleans after Katrina – and Jeremy Scahill reports that unnamed contractors did fire in the direction of civilians there. Blackwater’s business model calls for more and more deployment here at home – in the event of a natural disaster or in the case of a “public emergency.” Scarily, the President now has the power to decide what a “public emergency” is all by himself. This is exactly what the Founders were terrified of because they knew how abusive a standing army was to the colonists; King George’s men went through their possessions and raped colonial women. This is why the Founders swore that Congress should regulate military activity and why they made the National Guard answerable to the people. Blackwater’s close ties to the White House strip all of us of 2nd Amendment protections and endanger us all in a very personal way.

Thanks for reading. So, what else is happening?

5 comments

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  1. phillies are up 6-1 over the nats…

    mets are behind florida 8-1 in the top of the 9th

    breaking: 73rd virgin is biting her nails….

  2. the huge ration of shit they deserve.

    Oh and….Go Giants!

    Oh yeah……never mind.

    • Night Owl on September 30, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    Young K. Bae, a maverick one-man rocket research institution in Tustin, believes he has hit on a propulsion technology that could revolutionize space travel, finally overcoming the limits of chemical rockets, which are slow and dangerous and need vast amounts of fuel.

    The 51-year-old physicist calls it the photonic laser thruster.

    “This overcomes the physical barriers of current rocket technology,” he says, pointing to a tiny laser encased in glass at the Bae Institute. “This is the tip of the iceberg.”

    Hurling ships into space with light beams has been the stuff of science fiction novels for decades, but Bae says he has proved that it really is just science. He says a laser beam bouncing off two mirrors facing each other was able to exert force on one of the mirrors, albeit ever so slight.

    The discovery came in December, but Bae waited months to reveal the experiment to verify that the measuring devices were accurate and that the results could be repeated.

    link

    In other news, Miss Moneypenny dies at age 80.

    • Turkana on September 30, 2007 at 11:17 pm

    is a magnificent painting- and there’s an interesting story behind it.

    veronese’s passionate exuberance often got him in trouble with the church. this painting was originally a “last supper”- note jesus, in the center; but the church was outraged by the playfulness, the sexiness, the musicians, the dogs, etc.- this was a somber event! they ordered veronese to change it, so he simply renamed it.

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