Quick accountability update

TWI reports,

A brief detour from my Guantanamo coverage, as a State Department official, speaking only on background, confirmed something else I’ve been working on. The private security company formerly known as Blackwater and now known as Xe Services, will be allowed to bid on the next generation of the State Department’s lucrative Worldwide Protective Services Contract.

This is after Nisour Square, a civil lawsuit settlement in January,  tax evasion, shooting Afghan civilians from the roof of a moving car with (smuggled) AK-47s signed out to “Eric Cartman” for a paramilitary training program (which resulted in federal indictment), and using a shell company to evade suspicion for a contract.  This is by no means a comprehensive list, but it’s more than enough to know that it’s time to stop paying them to do this.

This is separate from the other shady stuff with the CIA/JSOC which isn’t really subject to oversight (another problem altogether).  This contract is the one they were winning year after year to “guard” government officials on diplomatic trips.  Getting this this contract means that every time that Barack Obama, or Hillary Clinton, or Alan Grayson for that matter go on a diplomatic visit, they’re relying on Blackwater for protection and/or killing people for fun.

CWC Liveblogging!

I caught this Wired post just in time to see that there’s another “what are we doing with all these mercenaries” hearings that pretty much nobody watches. It’s on C-Span 2 right now, so I’m going to see how long I can stand it.

“Inherently governmental functions” is a kind of ambiguous category that means “things you don’t contract out.”  The military official has proposed a five year time frame to assess these things that contractors are doing that they should not be.  Off to a good start.

~28,000 positions with contractors overseeing the contracts of other contractors.  About half of those we’re just going to wait five years on.

CACI is providing contracting oversight officials.  They have a shady history.

107,000 contractors in Afghanistan right now.

One of the commissioners actually works for a contractor.  Watch him debating Jeremy Scahill here and here.

I got a relevant question on SA: “how did mercenaries become legal” Answer here.

The LOGCAP contract is fundamentally insane.  POGO:  More Misbehavior by KBR Suspected on LOGCAP III Contract

Contractor seriously states above contract was “97-99% competitive” whatever that means.

Reassessing the political realities

From a debate between Glenn Greenwald and Chuck Todd:

GG: Let me ask you about that, then. If a president can find, as a president always will be able to find, some low-level functionary in the Justice Department — a John Yoo — to write a memo authorizing whatever it is the president wants to do, and to say that it’s legal, then you think the president ought to be immune from prosecution whenever he breaks the law, as long as he has a permission slip from the Justice Department?  I mean, that’s the argument that’s being made.  Don’t you think that’s extremely dangerous?

CT: That could be dangerous, but let me tell you this: Is it healthy for our reputation around the world – and this I think is that we have TO do what other countries do more often than not, so-called democracies that struggle with their democracy, and sit there and always PUT the previous administration on trial – you don’t think that we start having retributions on this going forward?

Look, I am no way excusing torture. I’m not excusing torture, and I bristle at the attack when it comes on this specific issue.  But I think the political reality in this, and, I understand where you’re coming from, you’re just saying, just because something’s politically tough doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.  That’s, I don’t disagree with you from 30,000 feet.  And that is an idealistic view of this thing.  Then you have the realistic view of how this town works, and what would happen, and is it good for our reputation around the world if we’re essentially putting on trial the previous administration? We would look at another country doing that, and say, geez, boy, this is–

GG: So what do you think happens – I think what has destroyed our reputation is announcing to the world that we tolerate torture, and telling the world we don’t —

CT: We have elections, we also had an election where this was an issue. A new president, who came in there, and has said, we’re not going to torture, we’re going to do this, and we’re going to do this–

GG: What do you think should happen when presidents–

CT: Is that not enough? Isn’t that enough?

This conception of “democracy” by someone in a high position in the media is as revealing as it is typical.  Elections are not just a necessary condition for democracy, they’re sufficient.  Elections are democracy.  Gore Vidal has been calling attention to this state of affairs for decades:

In 1972, I begin: “According to the polls, our second principal concern today is the breakdown of law and order.” (What, I wonder, was the first? Let’s hope it was the pointless, seven-year–at that point–war in Southeast Asia.) I noted that to those die-hard conservatives, “law and order” is usually a code phrase meaning “get the blacks.” While, to what anorexic, vacant-eyed blonde women on TV now describe as the “liberal elite,” we were pushing the careful–that is, slow–elimination of poverty. Anything more substantive would have been regarded as communism, put forward by dupes. But then, I say very mildly, we have only one political party in the United States, the Property Party, with two right wings, Republican and Democrat. Since I tended to speak to conservative audiences in such civilized places as Medford, Oregon; Parkersburg,West Virginia; and Longview, Washington, there are, predictably, a few gasps at this rejection of so much received opinion. There are also quite a few nods from interested citizens who find it difficult at election time to tell the parties apart. Was it in pristine Medford that I actually saw the nodding Ralph Nader whom I was, to his horror, to run for President that year in Esquire? Inspired by the nods, I start to geld the lily, as the late Sam Goldwyn used to say. The Republicans are often more doctrinaire than the Democrats, who are willing to make small–very small–adjustments where the poor and black are concerned while giving aid and comfort to the anti-imperialists. Yes, I was already characterizing our crazed adventure in Vietnam as imperial, instead of yet another proof of our irrepressible, invincible altruism, ever eager to bring light to those who dwell in darkness.

As a side note, that little adventure had been started by JFK, LBJ simply escalated it.  Nixon, the last to arrive at the party, escalated it even further before finally bringing it to a close.  The whole affair, just like Afghanistan and Iraq today, were extremely bipartisan affairs.  The notion that has been put forward that the Democratic party was opposed to the Iraq invasion in particular is extremely dishonest.

Which brings me back to Chuck Todd: “Is it healthy for our reputation around the world – and this I think is that we have TO do what other countries do more often than not, so-called democracies that struggle with their democracy, and sit there and always PUT the previous administration on trial – you don’t think that we start having retributions on this going forward?”   The examples of “retributions” that come to mind are the trials of the former members Central and South American junta regimes for things like forced disappearances, which are condemned by many “so-called democracies” but for which the United States offers bipartisan support:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration will continue the Bush administration’s practice of sending terrorism suspects to third countries for detention and interrogation, but pledges to closely monitor their treatment to ensure that they are not tortured, administration officials said Monday.

Human rights advocates condemned the decision, saying that continuing the practice, known as rendition, would still allow the transfer of prisoners to countries with a history of torture. They said that promises from other countries of humane treatment, called “diplomatic assurances,” were no protection against abuse.

“It is extremely disappointing that the Obama administration is continuing the Bush administration practice of relying on diplomatic assurances, which have been proven completely ineffective in preventing torture,” said Amrit Singh, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, who tracked rendition cases under President George W. Bush.

His insistence that he was “not excusing torture” is ironic because his indignation when confronted with the possibility that it would be the consequence of his actions was certainly genuine.  Mark Danner, one of the few reputable mainstream journalists to take this issue seriously, wrote a brilliant essay on those consequences:

Scandal is our growth industry. Revelation of wrongdoing leads not to definitive investigation, punishment, and expiation but to more scandal. Permanent scandal. Frozen scandal. The weapons of mass destruction that turned out not to exist. The torture of detainees who remain forever detained. The firing of prosecutors which is forever investigated. These and other frozen scandals metastasize, ramify, self-replicate, clogging the cable news shows and the blogosphere and the bookstores. The titillating story that never ends, the pundit gabfest that never ceases, the gift that never stops giving: what is indestructible, irresolvable, unexpiatable is too valuable not to be made into a source of profit. Scandal, unpurged and unresolved, transcends political reality to become commercial fact.

But the “political reality” is that the arcana imperii, those critically important state secrets, have been stripped away and their purpose has been laid bare for all to see.  The issue here isn’t ambiguity, it’s clarity where those who continually insist that their status is justified by their responsibility and integrity are afraid to look.

Jason Leopold reports,

Now, in a sworn declaration obtained exclusively by Truthout, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell during George W. Bush’s first term in office, said he would be willing to state, under penalty of perjury, what top Bush officials knew and when they knew it.

He claims that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others knew the “vast majority” of prisoners captured in the so-called War on Terror were innocent and the administration refused to set them free once those facts were established because of the political repercussions that would have ensued.

“By late August 2002, I found that of the initial 742 detainees that had arrived at Guantánamo, the majority of them had never seen a US soldier in the process of their initial detention and their captivity had not been subjected to any meaningful review,” Wilkerson’s declaration says. “Secretary Powell was also trying to bring pressure to bear regarding a number of specific detentions because children as young as 12 and 13 and elderly as old as 92 or 93 had been shipped to Guantánamo. By that time, I also understood that the deliberate choice to send detainees to Guantánamo was an attempt to place them outside the jurisdiction of the US legal system.”

He added that it became “more and more clear many of the men were innocent, or at a minimum their guilt was impossible to determine let alone prove in any court of law, civilian or military.”

For Cheney and Rumsfeld, and “others,” Wilkerson said, “the primary issue was to gain more intelligence as quickly as possible, both on Al Qaeda and its current and future plans and operations but increasingly also, in 2002-2003, on contacts between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s intelligence and secret police forces in Iraq.”

“Their view was that innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader war on terror and the capture of the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks, or other acts of terrorism,” Wilkerson added. “Moreover, their detention was deemed acceptable if it led to a more complete and satisfactory intelligence picture with regard to Iraq, thus justifying the Administration’s plans for war with that country.”

Documents have been released over the past year that showed how in 2002 several high-value detainees were tortured and forced to make statements that linked Iraq to al-Qaeda and 9/11, which the Bush administration cited as intelligence to support its invasion of the country in March 2003. But the confessions were utterly false.

The military's very bad transparency and accountability

Now that WikiLeaks has gotten a lot of publicity, I have an excellent opportunity to showcase how horrifying some of the activities considered by whoever exactly it is that does them to be “national security” that protects our freedoms. I must stress the whoever because if you have a reason to ask, you won’t find out; It’s a matter of national security.

The most immediately relevant example is a 32-page report [PDF] on how to destroy WikiLeaks that was subsequently leaked to WikiLeaks, a “security” breach that obviously constitutes a threat to national security itself.  I’ll post some excerpts to show the logic that goes into protecting our freedoms.

The first example pretty much speaks for itself.


The next concerns a report on an incident that violated the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).  The nation’s protectors went on to clarify that, due to an executive order and an amendment inserted into the Senate resolution approving the CWC which,  “[S]tated United States‘
interpretation of how RCAs [Riot Control Agents–the chemical in question] might be used for specific defensive purposes.”


In a similar vein,  after blocking a provision that would have bombed aerial bombardment of civilians from being inserted into the Geneva Conventions, former British Prime Minister Lloyd George remarked that he was reserving Britain’s “right to bomb niggers.”  Many in the Pentagon must be very grateful at the moment for his pioneering work.

The document goes on to ask if the activities performed by WikiLikeaks is “Free Speech or Illegal Speech?”  It might be useful to recall the recent 5-4 Supreme Court decision about what’s considered free speech for this last excerpt.


I feel safer with the random guys on the internet from Iceland.

We're almost at a flat tax anyways…

“How Progressive is the U.S. Federal tax system? A Historical and International Perspective” Emmanuel Saez and  Thomas Piketty, Journal of Economic Perspectives , 21(1), 3-24, Winter 2007

“Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States”, updated August 2009

With the estate tax currently suspended, the tax burden is currently shifted even further downward.  Online tax revolts aside for a moment, Carly Fiorina, the candidate challenging Boxer for the Senate, is also proposing to eliminate it permanently:

The plan also includes the elimination of the estate tax. “I think we should abolish the estate tax. The estate tax hits small businesses particularly hard. It hits agriculture particularly hard,” Fiorina said. “I keep stressing small businesses and family-owned businesses because they create two-thirds of new jobs in this country, they employ half the people. When you have a family-owned business that estate tax weighs heavily.”

“Small businesses”

March 8 (Bloomberg) — Lobbyists for small businesses, construction companies, manufacturers and other trade groups are racing the clock to convince Congress to reinstate the federal estate tax they’ve fought for years to abolish.

The National Federation of Independent Business and more than 40 business organizations wrote Senate and House leaders last week asking for quick action on a proposed 35 percent levy on inheritances worth more than $10 million per couple. The Associated General Contractors of America is urging members to contact lawmakers about the plan.

The groups have changed positions in a bid to head off higher taxes on the horizon: Unless Congress acts, current law would raise the tax next year to 55 percent on estates after they exceed $2 million per couple, from nothing this year.

“Clearly, we can’t live with what’s going to come in 2011,” said Chris Walters, an estate-tax lobbyist in Washington for NFIB, the trade group for small businesses.

And the wingnuts conflicted about social security and medicare are one thing, but this is something else entirely:

FROG JUMP, TENN. — But for one important detail, Stephen Fincher could be a perfect “tea party” candidate: a gospel-singing cotton farmer from this tiny hamlet in western Tennessee, seeking to right the listing ship of Washington with a commitment to lower taxes and smaller government.

The detail? Fincher accepts roughly $200,000 in farm subsidies each year.

With all of the screaming about “socialism” coming from these quarters, I suggest we at least show it to them.  A plan devised by two Swedish economists named Gosta Rehn and Rudolf Meidner would be a good start:

Rudolf Meidner’s share levy, unlike so many modern taxes, was extraordinarily difficult to evade. On the other hand it was not at all punitive. Unlike traditional corporate taxation, it did not subtract from the cash-flow or resources which the enterprise needed for investment. It diluted shareholder wealth without weakening the corporation as a productive concern. According to the original plan every company with more than fifty employees was obliged to issue new shares every year equivalent to 20 per cent of its profits. The newly issued shares — which could not be sold — were to be given to the network of ‘wage earner funds’, representing workplaces and local authorities. The latter would hold the shares, and reinvest the income they yielded from dividends, in order to finance future social expenditure. As the wage earner funds grew they would be able to play an increasing part in directing policy in the corporations which they owned.

Ideal messengers

WikiLeaks recently obtained and published a leaked CIA report (pdf) on influencing European populations to maintain support for the war in Afghanistan that includes such gems as:

Afghan women could serve as ideal messengers in humanizing the ISAF role in combating the Taliban because of women’s ability to speak personally and credibly about their experiences under the Taliban, their aspirations for the future, and their fears of a Taliban victory. Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission.

What makes this even more awful than it is on its face is that conditions have not improved for women under the occupation.  Indeed, the Karzai government is currently looking at bringing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar into the government.  RAWA, an Afghan feminist organization that predates the 1979 Soviet invasion/Islamist insurgency offers this description of his past:

Hekmatyar’s fighters killed tens of thousands by deliberately shelling Kabul. They kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed countless civilians in ways so gruesome that many Afghans, especially Kabul residents, flinch at the mention of Hekmatyar’s name to this day. (An Afghan refugee once described to me Hezb-i-Islami fighters entertaining themselves by pouring hot oil on a freshly decapitated body to make it flail involuntarily.) When Hekmatyar was done with Afghanistan’s capital city, it looked like Hiroshima, and it will still be recovering decades from now.

He does, however, have a friendly past with U.S. and Pakistani intelligence services.