We band of shareholders

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Shareholder world:

One of the more important pieces I’ve seen recently — Anthony Bianco’s and Stephanie Anderson Forest’s Outsourcing War — appeared in Business Week magazine. It focuses on the relatively new phenomenon of the private military company, or PMC, and especially on the best known of them Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, which with its former CEO as Vice-president is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bush administration â„¢ — or do I mean the opposite?

As the Business Week piece points out, Brown & Root is a company filled with ex-mlitary types because the revolving door between the Pentagon and the PMCs is now spinning a mile a minute. Otherwise how do you hang on to all those luscious contacts that get you all those lucrative contracts? (Military Professional Resources Inc., an Alexandria, Virginia PMC, boasts of having “more generals per square foot than the Pentagon.”)

Brown & Root’s real claim to fame is that it’s a major part of the support system that makes our imperial basing policy in the “arc of instability” possible:

“[T]he company is by far the biggest services contractor in Iraq, with more than 2,500 employees in Central Asia and the Middle East as a whole L. Paul Bremer III and the 1,000-person Office of Reconstruction & Humanitarian Assistance depend on the company for food and shelter, as do at least 100,000 of the U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.

“At the same time, KBR is in line to earn tens of millions of dollars more to maintain the archipelago of U.S. military bases that now arcs from the Balkans south to the Horn of Africa and east to Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.All in all, no corporation has played as central a role in America’s global anti-terrorism campaign — or profited as handsomely from it

“The company maintains the two biggest bases in Afghanistan and Camp Stronghold Freedom in Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Operation Iraqi Freedom has sent $1 billion more KBR’s way to date, and new work orders still are being issued at the rate of a half-dozen per month.”

One of the more important pieces I’ve seen recently — Anthony Bianco’s and Stephanie Anderson Forest’s Outsourcing War — appeared in Business Week magazine. It focuses on the relatively new phenomenon of the private military company, or PMC, and especially on the best known of them Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR), a subsidiary of Halliburton, which with its former CEO as Vice-president is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Bush administration ™ — or do I mean the opposite?

“At the same time, KBR is in line to earn tens of millions of dollars more to maintain the archipelago of U.S. military bases that now arcs from the Balkans south to the Horn of Africa and east to Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan.All in all, no corporation has played as central a role in America’s global anti-terrorism campaign — or profited as handsomely from it

“The company maintains the two biggest bases in Afghanistan and Camp Stronghold Freedom in Uzbekistan. Meanwhile, Operation Iraqi Freedom has sent $1 billion more KBR’s way to date, and new work orders still are being issued at the rate of a half-dozen per month.”

I suppose it’s hardly worth mentioning that “Camp Stronghold Freedom” is located in a country that is anything but a stronghold of freedom — not to speak of the fact that from Afghanistan to Guantanamo, KBR seems to be deeply involved in building and maintaining our developing mini-gulag, our Bermuda Triangle of injustice, into which we disappear our foes (or those who get swept up in our foe-net anyway).

And this is just the basic info. You should read the full article to grasp what it means for the Pentagon to “privatize,” to essentially outsource war. One thing the military has found out about PMCs to its horror is that when the going gets tough, the shareholders and nonmilitary workers don’t necessarily get going. And so, though KBR has lost perhaps two employees to ambushes in Iraq, a number of PMCs seem not even to have turned up with hot meals, mail, and logistics in the security poor areas of Iraq, leaving our troops distinctly dry if not high. As it turns out, in a privatized world, such companies are responsible — if at all — mainly to their shareholders.

I find it frustrating when I look at mainstream media coverage — and who else has the funds and resources to cover such a story — how little attention is paid to the bases being dropped like so much spoor across this region in the wake of every war we’ve fought there since 1990. For instance, we learned from the New York Times at war’s end last April that (Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, Pentagon Expects Long-Term Access to Four Key Bases in Iraq):

“American military officials, in interviews this week, spoke of maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.”

Such permanent basing was clearly long part of American planning (such as it was) for a postwar Iraq — otherwise plans to create an Iraqi army of only 40,000 lightly armed troops with no air force make no sense whatsoever. This administration’s concept has always been to “protect” Iraq ourselves. Evidently one of these bases was being built next to the biggest extant ziggurat in Mesopotamia. And yet as far as I can tell nothing of significance has been written about any of them in the last four and a half months, even though discussing American policy in Iraq without them is clearly ridiculous. It’s like discussing the baseball playoffs without mentioning the Yankees.

If you want to catch just a glimpse of one small spinning door in Washington, check out an amusing Washington Post piece by Peter Carlson on the kind of partying our “democratic” allies in the looting of Iraq are doing. It begins (At a Kuwaiti Feast, a Lot To Chew Over):

“There was no booze in the ballroom of the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown last night because the Kuwaitis don’t drink alcohol. But there was plenty of food — tabbouleh and hummus, huge trays of beef shawarma, tuna and salmon sushi, and silver bowls piled high with shrimp as big as bananas. And a roasted lamb that looked like a lamb, complete with cute little legs, the front ones tied around its cute little head.

“Out in the middle of the ballroom stood the guest of honor, a man who had spent the morning meeting with President Bush — His Highness Sheik Sabah Ahmad Jaber Sabah, the prime minister of Kuwait.

Prime minister? Isn’t Kuwait ruled by a hereditary monarch called the emir? Did we somehow miss the news about a hard-fought election for prime minister of Kuwait?”

You can be your own PMC:

Privatization, it turns out, isn’t just a military mega-trend. It’s infiltrated other parts of military life as well. According to Tara Copp and Jessica Wehrman of the Scripps Howard News Service (Troops dig into own pockets to pay for gear):

“Last Christmas, Mike Corcoran sent his mother an unusual Christmas list: He wanted night-vision goggles, a global positioning system and a short-wave radio. Corcoran, then a Marine sergeant in Afghanistan, wanted the goggles so he could see on patrols. They cost about $2,000 each.

“According to an Army internal report released earlier this summer, many ground troops like Corcoran decided to dip into their own pockets to get the equipment they needed to fight in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

“‘There were a lot of reports of that prior to the war, people would go out and buy their own gear,’ said Patrick Garrett, a defense analyst with ‘The Army ran out of desert camo boots, and a lot of soldiers were being issued regular black combat boots. Soldiers decided that wasn’t for them, so they paid for new boots with their own money.’

“And there is one item many soldiers purchased. ‘Another cool thing to bring with you is an American flag,’ Corcoran said. ‘Just in case you plan on conquering anything.'”

But better hold off on that flag because it turns out you might need a little change at the other end of the line. Sandra Jontz of the military paper Stars and Stripes reports on a law that’s been on the books since 1981, the age of Reagan (Congressman: Wounded troops shouldn’t be billed for hospital meals):

“Talk about adding insult to injury, said one U.S. Congressman. Troops wounded in combat in the nation’s war on terrorism are being handed more than just discharge papers when they leave military hospitals — some also are getting a bill. At a daily rate of $8.10, hospitalized troops, including those wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, are being charged for their meals. ‘Some things don’t meet the common-sense test, and this is one of them,’ said a soldier injured in Iraq in June, and who has received two meal bills, one for $24.30 from the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and a second for more than $300 from the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.”

Our outsourced world:

Privatizing the occupation: In a devolving situation in which one “option” facing the Israeli cabinet, according to a cabinet minister, is to “kill” Yasir Arafat, Ha’aretz’s Meron Benvenisti recently wrote a blistering column on how effectively Ariel Sharon has privatized the occupation of Palestinian lands by forcing the Palestinians to rely almost totally on aid from the international community (International community supports a deluxe occupation):

“[This aid created] a safety net, enabling Israel to impose a deluxe occupation in the West Bank – total military domination with no responsibility for running the life of the occupied population, and no price tag attached. Had Israel been required to fulfill its commitment as an occupying power, it would have had to pay NIS 5-6 billion a year just to maintain basic services for a population of more than three million people. But it created an international precedent — an occupation fully financed by the international community.

“President Bush should be envious of Ariel Sharon for his cunning in setting up the deluxe occupation regime. In Iraq, the Americans are trying to get the UN and the states of Europe, which objected to the war, to partake in the burden of the occupation, but they are raising all kinds of demands and conditions.

“The government of Israel is totally opposed to ‘internationalizing the conflict’ and to posting international observers in the territories, but it has no objection at all to internationalizing the financing of the occupation.”

On the other hand, perhaps we actually led the way on this one. After all, Father Bush managed to fight a no-pay war in 1991. Unlike his son, he not only managed to cobble together an actual “coalition” for Gulf War I, but convinced the most wealthy among them, especially the Saudis and the Japanese, to pay almost all the costs of a successful war American-style.

Outsourcing the environment: As Howard Zinn says (see below), we are, in a sense, living in an occupied country ourselves and, as in Iraq, the occupation administrators are intent on turning any aspect of the governmental safety net still in place back to the “shareholders.” Here, for instance, are two rather typical, even ordinary paragraphs on the shredding of environmental protections from a recent piece in the Los Angeles Times on the Bush administration’s attempts to dismantle California’s leading-edge environmental regulations (Gary Polakovic, US, State Clash Over Environment):

“Other defenders of the administration, however, contend that California lawmakers have overstepped their authority in efforts to regulate such matters as automobile fuel efficiency that should be left to the federal government. Since President Bush took office, the administration has joined with the auto industry in a successful lawsuit to weaken California’s mandate to build nonpolluting electric cars.

“Under Bush, the Environmental Protection Agency has called for eliminating a key measurement used to determine whether smog levels have reached unacceptable levels. The practical effect, the state’s air quality regulators say, would be many more years of unhealthy air. The administration has consistently challenged California’s right to have a say in regulating drilling in federal waters three or more miles off the coast.”

In fact, when it comes to privatizing the environment, the main way the Bush people have done this is through what might be called a cunning kind of “in-sourcing.” They have turned every part of the government in any way connected to our environmental well-being back to the shareholders. Mother Jones on-line has recently had an impressive set of pieces on the Bush assault on the environment, including Behind the Curtain, which lays out that cast of “shareholders” graphically indeed.

Take Mark Rey, Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, Department of Agriculture, who was previously “one of the nation’s foremost timber lobbyists. Rey spent twenty years working for timber industry organizations such as the National Forest Products Association, the American Paper Institute, and the American Forest Resources Alliance. He also served as a Vice President of the American Forest and Paper Association, a leading advocate of logging in national forests.”

Or James L. Connaughton, Chairman, Council on Environmental Quality:

Then: Connaughton lobbied on behalf of power companies and major electricity users; he also represented companies fighting Superfund cleanup rules. He co-authored a 1993 law journal article, “Defending Charges of Environmental Crime — The Growth Industry of the ’90s.”

Now: As the president’s senior environmental adviser, Connaughton has helped develop the White House’s positions on climate change (ignore), Superfund (shrink), and air-quality rules (relax).”

It’s a woefully long, if still partial list, but you get the idea. If you think about it, global warming is, for them, but another privatization scam, part of the effort to outsource the planet itself, right down to its weather.

What hasn’t been privatized — the power to punish and control: The in-gathering of the power to survey and control our lives continues. David G. Savage and Richard B. Schmitt also in the Los Angeles Times (Administration Calls for Unprecedented Subpoena Powers) write of just one small, recent aspect of this campaign:

“The president said Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft should have the legal authority to order any person who might have information that is ‘relevant … in any investigation’ related to terrorism to submit in secret to being questioned and to turn over ‘any books, papers, documents or electronic data’ that the government seeks.

“Unlike in ordinary criminal investigations, Ashcroft would not need the approval of a grand jury or a judge to order witnesses to appear for questioning. ‘The attendance of witnesses and the production of records may be required from any place in any state or in any territory or other place subject to the jurisdiction of the United States at any designated place of hearing,’ the administration’s bill says.”

Finally, on another note: On a day when another American has been killed in Iraq and more wounded and the police chief of Khaldiya was shot down in the street by armed assassins, I’d like to direct you to Anthony Shadid’s latest in the Washington Post. Remarkably, he was in Khaldiya just last week interviewing the police (Iraq’s Security Weakened by Fear):

“On the sidelines throughout the clash Thursday were Khaldiya’s police, who are supposed to be the allies of the U.S.-led occupation in restoring order to Iraq. Not only was it not their fight, several said this week, but the guerrillas fighting U.S. soldiers had their blessing.

“‘In my heart, deep inside, we are with them against the occupation,’ said Lt. Ahmed Khalaf Hamed, an officer with the 100-man force trained, equipped and financed by U.S. authorities. ‘This is my country, and I encourage them’

“By their own account, Khaldiya’s finest are a besieged and embittered force — uneasy about their American patrons, despised by their community and demoralized about their work For six weeks, this farming city on a sun-baked plain 45 miles west of Baghdad has emerged as one of the rare locales in Iraq where attacks on U.S. forces and the support the attackers appear to enjoy resemble a guerrilla war in the fullest sense of the term.”

These are, of course, the men on whom Don Rumsfeld and others in the administration are relying on to carry the weight of their dreams and to relieve our troops of the weight of their nightmares.

And here is the Independent‘s Robert Fisk on today’s deaths (Powell draws a veil over killings as he tours Iraq):

“Killings are now like heartbeats in Iraq. Among the first yesterday was an American soldier from the US 1st Armoured Division, whose Baghdad patrol was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade at ten past one in the morning. In the coffin statistics of the American occupation, he was the 76th US soldier to die ‘in action’ since President Bush declared major combat operations at an end. As usual, the occupation authorities here announced his fate.

“Then came the turn of Sami Hassan Saref, who was killed west of the town of Baqubah 20 minutes later when US troops were raiding his home. Apparently – this is according to a neighbour, Ahmed Karim – Mr Saref thought the Americans were thieves, seized a rifle to defend his home and was shot. The Americans, according to Mr Karim, took the wounded 35-year-old man to hospital where he died. As usual, the occupation authorities – who never report the killing of the Iraqis whose country they occupy – did not announce his fate.”

I include below a splendid piece by historian Howard Zinn from the upcoming Progressive magazine, which seemed to fit today’s dispatch well. It begins in occupied Iraq but ends up considering what it’s like to wake up each morning in our own “occupied” country. Despite its trenchant analysis of our plight, it also offers a modicum of hope for us all. The acidic Eric Margolis in his most recent column in the Toronto Sun then suggests how “private” are the present pursuits of “Bush and his handlers.” They are not, he writes, “protecting Americans by pursuing the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, they are protecting their own political skins,” and he discusses the “rebranding” (a perfect word, given this administration) of the occupation of Iraq as a war against terrorism. Finally, I include an exceedingly thoughtful essay by Samuel Hazo (pointed out to me by a reader) from the Pittsburgh Post-gazette, on the difference between the acts and dreams of our war-loving administration (and its admirers) and actual heroism under fire. Tom

An Occupied Country
By Howard Zinn
The Progressive
October, 2003

It has become clear, very quickly, that Iraq is not a liberated country, but an occupied country. We became familiar with the term “occupied country” during World War II. We talked of German-occupied France, German-occupied Europe. And after the war we spoke of Soviet-occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Eastern Europe. It was the Nazis, the Soviets, who occupied other countries.

Now we are the occupiers. True, we liberated Iraq from Saddam Hussein, but not from us. Just as in 1898 we liberated Cuba from Spain, but not from us. Spanish tyranny was overthrown, but the United States established a military base in Cuba, as we are doing in Iraq. U.S. corporations moved in to Cuba, just as Bechtel and Halliburton and the oil corporations are moving into Iraq. The United States was deciding what kind of constitution Cuba would have, just as our government is now forming a constitution for Iraq. Not a liberation, an occupation.

Howard Zinn, the author of “A People’s History of the United States,” is a columnist for The Progressive.

To read more Zinn click here

The crusade against ‘terrorism’
By Eric Margolis, Contributing Foreign Editor
The Toronto Sun
September 14, 2003

NEW YORK — “If at first you don’t succeed, lie and lie again” seems to be the watchword of the floundering Bush administration.

First, it was the ultimate evils, bin Laden and Mullah Omar. When they couldn’t be found, evil forces “that hate our freedoms.” Then Saddam’s nuclear weapons, anthrax, mustard, and nerve gas, “drones of death,” mobile germ labs, and links to al-Qaida, etc.

Now, in the latest change of sales pitch, the president insists his war on terrorism equals Iraq.

According to Bushthink, any Iraqi opposing U.S. occupying forces is a “terrorist.” Ergo, growing Iraqi nationalist resistance will inevitably mean Bush’s signature “war on terrorism” will be a growth industry.

Like the gigantic Enron swindle, it’s a huge bubble, inflated by false claims and calculated deception.

To read more Margolis click here

A matter of death and life
By Samuel Hazo
Pittsburgh Post-gazette
September 13, 2003

Ranked high among the 15 specific “hates” of the Irish monk Cadoc were writers in love with war. If Cadoc were alive today as we all suffer the Chinese water torture of awaiting the next announcement of a military death in Iraq, he would notice that the traditional war-lover has evolved into the war-accepter or the war-rationalizer. These are ideologues who accept the view that warfare is the natural condition of man. They therefore feel justified in advance to find ways to make war and its consequences more or less palatable for the public, having already accepted its inevitability.

It is indicative of the malaise of some of these writers that they have begun to argue that we lose more people to traffic deaths daily than we are presently losing in Iraq since President Bush presciently declared major combat “over.” If we can live with the former, they say, we should be able to live with the latter, so why the fuss?

Samuel Hazo is director of the International Poetry Forum and McAnulty Distingushed Professor Emeritus at Duquesne University.

To read more Hazo click here