First the small point. I keep my television off for many good reasons, rarely turning it to C-SPAN when something really neat is happening like Congress passing Healthcare Reform, but if you need even more reasons to hate your digital set, especially in an election year, you have to look no further than Carly Florina. She is running for the Senate in California and if you haven’t already heard her name you’d surely recognize her campaign from their crazy ridiculous Demon Sheep TV ad. It’s a retarded ad to begin with, but even more so the people behind its production, Fred Davis III of Strategic Perception Inc., understand that in today’s viral video-obsessed internet world the more bizarre and weird the videos you produce are, the more people will talk about how their weird and bizarre your videos are and the person(s) attached to that video, thereby getting people to talk about the person the ad campaign is promoting.
What’s that mean for the American TV watching audience? For one it means you’ll probably be talking to your friends a lot this summer and fall about all the utterly stupid, nightmare inducing, repugnant, fact-less, commercial hallucinations you were seeing on television every day until you decided to put a shotgun to the screen so you could end the madness. Already the Florina campaign has a new epic 10-minute spot where they depict Senator Barbara Boxer’s head as a floating doom zeppelin of bitch coasting through the cities and green valleys of California (presumably where the Demon Sheep graze) to find her next meal in the form of a newborn Republican baby. Maybe this weird political campaign Florina is running is just a product of us wacky Californians and the chemicals in our drinking water, but what if every candidate with as much money as Florina talked to Fred Davis III and asked to get an equally batshit retarded TV campaign going? This balloon ad will not be the weirdest part of a political campaign we see this year, mark my words.
But on to my second and much graver point. With the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Committee it was established that corporations can use as much money as they please to fund political campaigns and candidates for elected office. When a business incorporates and becomes a “corporation” they become legally recognized as a “business entity” instead of a company owned by a bunch of people. This incorporation protects the individuals who run the company if someone happens to sue them, the lawsuit is instead directed to this incorporated “person” and the money derived from the lawsuit comes out of the “pockets” of the corporate “person”, the income and revenue of the business not the business owners.
This idea of corporate personhood has now been stretched so far that under the Citizens United ruling the “corporation” is now basically considered to have all the same rights as an average living breathing American citizen, including the right to throw their money around in any direction they choose, and as much money as they choose. In short this means that big business will now be directly influencing politicians and their campaigns to an even more exponential degree than they were before. Rulings like this will make damn sure that Carly Florina, an ex-CEO from a variety of big tech companies, will definitely have the funds to keep making her epic multi-million dollar feature-length campaign ads. A victory for political theater!
Some Republican for State Representative, sponsored by KDR Development Inc. I can’t find the website for KDR, I don’t know what kind of business they are in, but according to this article on The Economist the president of KDR had run against incumbent Chuck Hopson in a previous election. The ad doesn’t even say “vote for this guy we support him”. It simply says “vote for one of these Republicans over this guy in office cause the guy who runs the company who bought this ad lost out to him in a previous election”. I can only imagine how much more fun this ad game will get.
On a related note, through their interpretation of the Supreme Court ruling, the corporation Murray-Hill Inc. has decided that due to their new found corporate personhood their choosing to back the living, breathing, political figure known as Murray-Hill Inc. Murray-Hill Inc. is running for office in Maryland and part of me really hopes that Murray-Hill Inc. will win the race and be able to enact all that political legislation that Murray-Hill Inc. has worked so hard to get across during his (its?) political career. And just so you know, Murray-Hill Inc. is running for exactly the same reasons you might expect Murray-Hill Inc. to run for public office. Let the mockery that is our brave new corporate-funded political world commence!
At a recent press conference in Islamabad, a Pakistani reporter raised this issue to a noticeably frazzled Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. “What is actually terrorism in U.S. eyes?” the reporter asked. “Is it the killing of innocent people in, let’s say, drone attacks? Or is it the killing of innocent people in different parts of Pakistan, like the bomb blast in Peshawar two days ago? Which one is terrorism, do you think?”
An international law expert from Georgetown University has recently made the same point as the journalist:
In our current armed conflicts, there are two U.S. drone offensives. One is conducted by our armed forces, the other by the CIA. Every day, CIA agents and CIA contractors arm and pilot armed unmanned drones over combat zones in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including Pakistani tribal areas, to search out and kill Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. In terms of international armed conflict, those CIA agents are, unlike their military counterparts but like the fighters they target, unlawful combatants. No less than their insurgent targets, they are fighters without uniforms or insignia, directly participating in hostilities, employing armed force contrary to the laws and customs of war. Even if they are sitting in Langley, the CIA pilots are civilians violating the requirement of distinction, a core concept of armed conflict, as they directly participate in hostilities.
He also makes a point at the end that’s extremely important:
And while the prosecution of CIA personnel is certainly not suggested, one wonders whether CIA civilians who are associated with armed drones appreciate their position in the law of armed conflict. Their superiors surely do.
The big reason for the expanded use of drones and the continued use of mercenaries is the political cover they provide. Doing it through the CIA is a great way to escape congressional oversight (if congress actually intended to exercise it very seriously–as Scott Horton put it in the interview, it’s been “a complete joke”). It would have been nice for them to at least rubber stamp the war in Pakistan rather than just adding a few lines into the annual DoD appropriations bill.
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It will almost certainly be referred off to the darkest corner of some committee just like the 2007 version, but I can hope and watch the shameless lobbying in the meantime.
From the press release:
Two congressional lawmakers have announced legislation that would effectively remove military contractors from war zones.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) introduced the “Stop Outsourcing Security Act” on Tuesday. If passed, the act would force the United States to phase out its controversial use of private security contractors in war zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The legislation would restore the responsibility of the American military to train troops and police, guard convoys, repair weapons, administer military prisons, and perform military intelligence,” the lawmakers’ offices said.
“The bill also would require that all diplomatic security be undertaken by US government personnel,” they added.
Yes, all of those things are currently done by private contractors. The ban on private guards for diplomats is crucial as well because that’s where a lot of the money has been for armed contractors and Blackwater’s first important gig was actually keeping Paul Bremer alive in Iraq.
According to a report published last month, “As of September 2009, there were almost 22,000 armed private security contractors in
Iraq and Afghanistan.” and that “Many analysts and government officials believe that DOD would be unable to execute its mission without PSCs.” While I wouldn’t be surprised that they believe that, it was not only possible but the way it was done up until the mid 90′s and the last 15 years or so have been far from the most impressive in US military history. It’s more likely that the mission needs to be adjusted.
More from the congressional research service report:
In Iraq there are reportedly more than 50 PSCs employing more than 30,000 armed employees working for a variety of government and private sector clients. In Afghanistan, there are currently 52 PSCs licensed to operate in Afghanistan with some 25,000 registered security contractors. PSCs operating in Afghanistan are limited to 500 employees and can only exceed 500 with permission from the Cabinet. Because of the legal restrictions placed on security companies in Afghanistan, a number of PSCs are operating without a license or are exceeding the legal limit, including security contractors working for NATO and the U.S. Government. Many analysts believe that regulations governing PSCs are only enforced in Kabul; outside Kabul there is no government reach at present and local governors, chiefs of police, and politicians run their own illegal PSCs. Estimates of the total number of security contractors in Afghanistan, including those that are not licensed, are as high as 70,000. The majority of these PSCs do not work for the U.S. government.
Pretty scary stuff. I’m anxiously awaiting the reactions from the industry, so I’ll update this post when they get released.
While this kind of plunder is routine in California, the birthplace of corporate personhood, things are getting pretty absurd recently with a full scale attack on our lives being waged on multiple fronts.
PG&E is attempting to put an initiative on the ballot to amend the constitution to protect their monopoly:
SAN FRANCISCO — Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is funding a June ballot initiative that would amend California’s constitution to make it much harder for cities and counties to offer residents another choice for buying their power.
The investor-owned utility, which has about 15 million customers in northern and central California, has already spent $6.5 million on Proposition 16, according to state campaign records. The company is the sole source of the initiative’s funding.
The initiative would require a two-thirds, or super-majority, vote before local governments could create a new form of public power called “community choice aggregation,” or CCA. These public power entities, made possible by state legislation passed in 2002 after the state’s energy crisis, allow cities or counties to buy energy on the wholesale market to sell to residents.
The “state’s energy crisis” being a reference to Enron. Their argument is the standard against more direct forms of democracy with a revealing little twist:
PG&E says a constitutional amendment is needed to protect taxpayers and ratepayers from possible losses incurred by inexperienced local governments entering the risky power wholesaling business.
The reference to increased costs for ratepayers seems to be a tacit admission that they’ll raise rates on the captive consumer base that stays with them–skipping the initiative and passing on $6.5 million in savings would be unthinkable–to make up for the ones they lose. Nevertheless, it’s related to us as being the potential result of reckless city councils interfering with a benevolent private monopoly with remarkable ease.
Blue Cross raising its rates by approximately 34% was so bad that it made national news and seems to have temporarily backfired on them:
The parent company of Anthem Blue Cross has canceled a meeting next week with investors to review its 2010 financial outlook so that executives can prepare for a congressional hearing into its large rate hikes for individual policyholders in California.
A subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has called WellPoint Inc. Chief Executive Angela F. Braly to testify Feb. 24 about premium increases of as much as 39% for many of Anthem’s 800,000 individual policyholders in California.
The canceled meeting understandably pissed off their investors a bit, causing their shares to drop by 2.3% today, though they’re still up from a few months ago due to the assurance they have from Congress that no real reform will take place:
In response, they’ve apparently decided to seek more vulnerable prey whose pleas for help are less likely to be heard:
Patients who are covered by Anthem Blue Cross may have trouble finding a physical or occupational therapist who will accept their insurance. A growing number of therapists are rejecting new contracts with Anthem that pay them half of their normal rate. Anthem has offered the new lower-rate contracts to physical, occupational, and speech therapists. The insurer says it’s cutting the reimbursement rate to help control rising health care costs.
Anthem has offered the new lower-rate contracts to physical, occupational, and speech therapists. The insurer says it’s cutting the reimbursement rate to help control rising health care costs.
Senator Feinstein has decided to try and put a brutal end to the ongoing battle to preserve profits for both Central Valley farmers and California’s little known water robber-barons. For a detailed explanation, check out this article by Yasha Levine at exiled, but it basically works like this: Stewart Resnick, the politically connected owner of the massive Roll International Corporation, essentially “Enron-ized” a huge share of California’s water:
The story of how the state’s largest water bank — jump-started with $74 million in taxpayer money — ended up as an integral piece of the private empire of Stewart Resnick begins with a lawsuit, or at least the threat of it.
A seven-year drought ending in the early 1990s pitted Southern California water contractors, such as the Metropolitan Water District, against agricultural contractors, such as the Kern County Water Agency. Each region made its case to the state, telling why it deserved to receive the water guaranteed by long-standing contracts. In the drought’s worst years, urban users got 30% of the draw, while Kern farmers received less than 5%.
In 1994, agricultural and urban interests threatened to sue the state for nondelivery. The main parties gathered in a closed-door meeting in Monterey to hash out a settlement. Public interest groups, environmentalists and smaller water contractors — locked out of the meeting — cried foul.
When it was over, the very flow of California water had been redirected.
With the new direction being straight into Resnick’s private control. This was working out (for him) quite nicely until this year. The recession and lower than average rainfall have motivated California agribusiness to fight to retain their share of corporate welfare. Enter Senator Feinstein to play the role of King Solomon in her own very special way:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein ignited a firestorm among fellow California Democrats on Thursday as word spread of her proposal to divert Northern California water to Central Valley farmers.
Feinstein wants to attach the proposal as an amendment to a fast-tracked Senate jobs bill. She is pitching the plan as a jobs measure to address the economic calamity in the Central Valley. It would increase farm water allocations from 10 percent last year to 40 percent this year and next, an amount that farmers say is the bare minimum they need.
Where “farmers” is meant to be understood as agribusiness.
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The Iraqis have been working on this for years (and lied to about it) but it looks like they’ve finally pulled it off. Iraq’s interior minister expelled 250 of their employees from the country yesterday:
Making the announcement on Thursday, Jawad Bolani, the interior minister, said: “We have sent an order to 250 former Blackwater employees, who today are working with other security companies in Iraq, to leave the country in seven days and we have confiscated their residence permits.
“All of those concerned were notified four days ago and so they have three days to leave. This decision was made in connection with the crime that took place at Nisur Square.”
Separately, more charges of prostitution and fraud are being reported by the Washington Post :
In court records unsealed this week, a husband and wife who worked for Blackwater said they have firsthand knowledge of the company falsifying invoices, double-billing federal agencies and improperly charging the government for personal expenses…
In their suit, the Davises assert that Blackwater officials kept a Filipino prostitute on the company payroll for a State Department contract in Afghanistan, and billed the government for her time working for male Blackwater employees in Kabul. The prostitute’s salary was categorized as part of the company’s “Morale Welfare Recreation” expenses, they alleged.
If you’ll recall, not that long ago a big fuss was being made over alleged prostitution and fraud and canceling contracts with another organization:
Multiple bills were produced with many co-sponsors, with one eventually being passed and quickly ruled unconstitutional by a federal court. Legislation to simply restrict companies running wild with mercenaries has not been given nearly as much attention. In 2007, Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky introduced a bill to do just that, titled the Stop Outsourcing Security Act . It was promptly sent to die in committee.