Thursday, September 3, 2009

Our Private Army

Unknown to many Americans is the fact that the United States maintains both the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan largely on the backs of "private contractors." These individuals, civilians working for private firms which have contracted with the government, have increasingly replaced soldiers in many positions vital for a military effort.

Some of these individuals, such as those employed by Halliburton and its subsidiary KBR, work primarily in support positions, feeding troops, building quarters, etc. Others, such as Blackwater, now re-branded as Xe, and Wackenhut, serve functions related to security.

Wackenhut, the largest private correctional corporation in the U.S., was recently awarded a $180 million contract to guard the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan. This is the same company whose employees have been recently been seen dancing naked, engaging in simulated (and not so simulated) homoerotic acts, guzzling alcohol and generally behaving in a manner that would have gotten soldiers a court martial. Now they are guarding the embassy. Didn't Marines used to do that?

Blackwater, as previously noted on this blog and elsewhere, is the subject of an investigation that alleges murder, gun smuggling, and witness intimidation among the many charges. Their specialty in Iraq has been security. Again, didn't the Marines used to do that?

It is just this use of private firms to do work that is clearly the domain of the military that is troubling. According to the Washington Post, the number of private contractors in Iraq topped 100,000 in 2006. The L.A. Times reported the number had risen to 140,000 by July 4, 2007 and on August 18, 2008, Peter Grier in the Christian Science Monitor noted that the number of civilians employed in Iraq was 190,000. NBC News reported that at least 68,000 are currently in Afghanistan, compared to 52, 000 actual soldiers.

The civilians who work for these private corporations are often paid many times what soldiers in the U.S. military receive for doing the same work. Financial reasons alone makes one wonder why we would ever use such an approach. Combine these problems with the numerous episodes of armed engagement with the civilian populace of Iraq and there becomes a greater moral morass concerning the use of private contractors. These civilians are not held to the same standards of conduct and in some cases it seems unclear how and if the law applies to them.

In the Geneva Conventions, civilians working for private firms are the very definition of "unlawful combatant," not that imposed by the Bush (mis)Administration on individuals clearly fighting a war.

There has long been another name for individuals privately hired to fight in another country - mercenaries. Let us begin to call the private contractors what they are, the mercenary force that allows these wars to continue.

British Petroleum Gulf Oil Spill Costs

  • 11 workers killed in initial blast
  • Damage to Ocean Ecosystem
  • 35,000 to 60.000 Barrels of Oil Per Day. That's somewhere between 1,500,000 to 2,500,000 gallons a day or 150 to 300 million gallons already spilled into the ocean as of July 27th by that estimate.
  • Gulf Fisheries Industry
  • Gulf Tourism (ongoing costs)
  • Long Term Health Effects to Humans and Wildlife (to be determined)

Worst Oil Spills

  • Kuwait 1991 - 520 million gallons: Gulf War I
  • Gulf of Mexico 2010 - 206 million gallons: BP Oil
  • Mexico, Bay of Campiche 1979 - 140 million gallons: Pemex Oil
  • Trinidad & Tobago 1979 - 90 million gallons: Greek Oil Tanker Atlantic Empress
  • Russia 1983 - 84 million gallons: Leaky Pipeline collapsed into Kolva River
  • Iran 1983 - 80 million gallons: Tanker collided with Oil Platform
  • South Africa 1983 -79 million gallons:Tanker Castillo de Bellver sank
  • France 1978 - 69 million Gallons: Amoco Cadiz ran aground and broke in half.
  • Angola Coastal Waters (700 miles at sea) 1991 - 51-81 million gallons: ABT Summer exploded at sea.
  • Italy 1991 - 45 million gallons: M/T Haven Oil Tanker exploded.
  • Source: Mother Nature Network. The 13 largest oil spills in history. by Laura Moss. Friday July 16, 2010.

Nuclear Accidents (Under Construction)

  • 1957 Windscale, UK
  • 1961 Idaho Falls, Idaho, US
  • 1979 Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, US
  • 1984 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1985 Athens, Alabama, US
  • 1986 Plymouth, Masachusetts, US
  • 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, USSR
  • 1996 Waterford, Connecticut, US
  • 1989 Griefwald, Germany
  • 1999 Ibaraki Prefecture, Japan
  • 2002 Oak Harbor, Ohio, US
  • 2004 Fukui Prefecture, Japan
  • Source: Benjamin Sovacool

Mining Disasters (Under Construction)

  • China 1942 - 1549 deaths
  • France 1906 - 1100 deaths
  • Japan 1963 - 447 deaths
  • Wales 1913 - 438 deaths
  • South Africa 1960 - 437 deaths
  • Source: Epic Disasters Website
  • Note: Do not look at the dates herein and conclue that mining disasters are a things of the past. Every year thousands of miners die worldwide in largely unreported accidents.

OIL IS OVER! - Resources

  • Hibbert's Peak - "The" source that explains why Oil is Over.
  • Tragedy of the Commons -Garrett Hardin
  • The Land Ethic - Aldo Leopold
  • Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight - Thom Hartmann
  • Eco-Defense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching


  • The Dirt People - Ray Bawarchi (yes, that's me)
  • The Razor's Edge - Somerset Maugham
  • Demian - Herman Hesse
  • Black Elk Speaks - Black Elk (as told to R. Neimur)
  • The Quiet Don - Mikhail Sholokov
  • Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
  • Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
  • 1984 - George Orwell
  • Delicious Laughter - Jallahudin Rumi
  • The Sybil - Par Lagerksvitz
  • The Fixer - Bernard Malamud
  • Spirits Rebellious - Khalil Gibran
  • The Quiet American - Graham Greene
  • Midaq Alley - Nagib Mafouz
  • Cat's Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
  • Farenheit 451- Ray Bradbury
  • We - Yevgeny Zamyatin


  • John Coltrane - St. John the Divine
  • Patti Smith
  • The Clash - the only band that matters
  • Billy Bragg
  • Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band
  • Art Blakey
  • Death - pre-punk visionaries from Detroit
  • PJ Harvey - Polly Jean, Polly Jean
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Michael Franti (Spearhead)
  • Public Enemy
  • Ray Charles - the Genius
  • Bob Dylan
  • Velvet Underground
  • Flaming Lips
  • John Doe & X
  • The Beatles

opiate of the masses

  • God is a comedian, playing to an audience too afraid to laugh. - Voltaire
  • I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and inellect has intended us to forgo their use. - Galileo Galilei
  • The ink of a scholar is worth far more than the blood of a martyr.- Mohammad
  • If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him. - Sheldon Kopp
  • No one will be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest. - Louisa Mae Alcott
  • When it is a question of money, everyone is of the same religion.- Voltaire
  • If God were alive today, he'd be an athiest. - Kurt Vonnegut
  • The god I worship is not short of cash, Mister. - Bono
  • Jesus died for somebody's sins, but not mine. My sins they only belong to me. - Patti Smith
  • God sure baked a lot of fruitcake baby, when Adam met the Eden lady. - Joe Strummer