Thursday, May 31, 2007

God, Guns and Garda World

NOTE: I've edited this from yesterday's original--removed some unneccessary whining about the press and tightened things up a bit.

A couple of days ago dozens of men in new Iraqi police uniforms walked into the Finance Ministry in the Green Zone (Correction: The Ministry is NOT in the Green Zone) , walked out with five Britons and drove off in their new police SUV’s without any interference.

Much of the press coverage (mostly from AP and Reuters) reads like this…

“Hundreds of Iraqi and U.S. troops cordoned off sections of Baghdad's Sadr City slum early Wednesday and conducted a series of raids in an apparent effort to find five British citizens (emphasis added).

This terminology reminded me of the original reporting of the four Blackwater "contractors" who were ambushed. mutilated and strung up on a bridge in Fallujah 3 years ago.
"U.S. officials said the civilians were killed in a grenade attack by suspected insurgents.." (CNN May 6 2004)

It eventually transpired that the "civilians" weren't hired for their truck-driving skills--they were actually ex-US military providing armed escort with licence to kill and total immunity from military, national and international law--hardly the definition of a "civilian" by anyone's standards.

So as the press is once again demonstrating a complete lack of curiosity I thought I'd dig a little deeper.

You’ll note from the press reports that the abductees are being generally referred to as “citizens”. In one or two instances it has been noted that 4 of the 5 were “security guards” working for an outfit called GardaWorld.

(Now I know things are pretty bad in Iraq, but to have four security guards protecting one individual inside the Green Zone? Is that extravagant, or sensible? In this instance apparently it’s neither.)

GardaWorld is the “Global Risk Security Group” of Garda World Security Corporation which, judging by its company literature is pretty impressed with itself and insists we should be impressed too.
It is one of many “security “ firms operating in Iraq, like the US-based Blackwater, Titan, CACI, ESS, Triple Canopy, Fluor. the UK–based Aegis and others.

Garda however is Canadian which is interesting because the Canadian government stayed out of the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq, as did Chile--which I mention because Blackwater has employed a couple of hundred Chileans in Iraq following which Chile passed a law making it illegal for ex-military to participate in conflicts without government sanction.
Canada apparently has no such law and it is unlikely the current PM and Bush admirer Stephen Harper would sign such a thing willingly.

(RedTory's post Canada's 'Global Risk' Mercenaries has more background on Garda and some salient questions)

There are some significant differences between Garda and Blackwater, but some notable similarities too.
Blackwater was founded by Erik Prince, a Navy SEAL who interestingly was also heir to an auto-accessory manufacturing fortune. Prince leveraged his wealthy family’s political contacts as well as his own military connections to establish a private paramilitary training facility in North Carolina in 1997.

Garda started out in 1995 as a general security firm providing cash-handling and office security and expanded into investigations and risk-management.

Blackwater (whose "vision" is to "support security, peace, freedom, and democracy everywhere") has become the largest and best-equipped mercenary force in the world thanks to the privatizing, militaristic Bush administration.

Garda meanwhile, dominated by sales and marketing entrepreneurs, expanded more through ordinary commercial acquisitions but just lately acquired Kroll Security International and thus a significant entry into the lucrative personal security business thriving in Iraq.

Aside from the cash-cow that is Iraq, there’s one other thing that these two companies share—a religious element.

Blackwater is infused with conservative religious purpose (neatly summed by founder Erik Prince's blurb of a book called "Christian Fatherhood: The Eight Commitment's of St. Joseph's Convenant Keepers" which he said "provides men with the basic training they need to complete their mission") . And Garda seems to have a religious connection of its own; on its website it proudly states that it is “the recipient of The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) 2007 Prize for Peace in the Middle East.”

The FRRME is chaired by Lord Carey a former Archbishop of Canterbury and compared to US religious poobahs, Carey is practically the antichrist—he allowed women to be ordained in the Anglican church, prefers talking to Muslims instead of bombing them and though he thinks homosexuality is a sin he seems to have no problem with gay civil unions (but “marriage” is verboten).

Now this “Peace Prize” wasn’t presented in a church or the FRRME’s UK headquarters or Garda’s HQ in Montreal--it was presented in a ceremony in the Pentagon!

“GardaWorld has provided an outstanding service to every aspect of our work in Iraq and in reality is the biggest contributor to our efforts of peace-making.” (said the President of FRRME Rev. Canon Andrew White).

The FRRME’s mission apparently is to expunge religious violence and intolerance--so they pal-around with the Bush administration and his Christian soldiers in the military? Well good luck with that whole combating religious violence and intolerance thing!

I call bullshit on that—they’re just profiting off the Iraq like everyone else. Where do they get the money to hire their security in Baghdad? (yes, they are there in the Green Zone being protected by private guards and the US military—not by God!)

So why should the US risk its soldiers to recover a handful of abducted British citizens provided by a Canadian company doing business in the middle of a warzone?

Because the US government is in the corporate religious war business now and it needs to look after its own—not its own citizens or citizen soldiers, but the contractors and middlemen that keep the business going.


For more on the nexus of war, business and religion I recommend Blackwater by Jeremy Scahill.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

At Least You've Got Your Health

For no good reason apparently I just haven't gotten myself together to post for a while. Though my individual efforts have no influence on important matters, the collective efforts of regular bloggers have changed our world. So it's back on the horse again, as it were.

As Shakespeare wrote in Henry the Fifth:

"And gentlemen in England now a-bed shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks that fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."

So it is with blogging methinks....ahem...

No battle was won that e'er was fought by those that sat in silent thought
Their counsel kept as secret treasure for fear of being held to measure,
The gold of silence oft is a weight when last unpursed is spent too late
To change the trade thus far agreed nor satisfy each trader's need.
For to the bold go victor's spoils, and so to them go victim's oils

Sorry, I got carried away there...anywhoo....

Michael Moore’s latest ‘opinion-reportorial’ on US health care, Sicko, may actually have the same kind of impact that “An Inconvenient Truth” has.

Here’s a personal comparison of the UK’s National Health System and the US “system”.

I was born at home (whilst the house was still being built, actually)—no hospital visit necessary, just the attendance of a midwife.

Even though my father was a manager at BOAC his pay was miserable and we led a frugal life (especially compared to today--we didn’t get a car until I was eight and then it was the cheapest—a Mini-Van). Mum got a job then. We got our first TV when I was ten (1970). My clothes were all hand-me-downs until I was 11. I got my first (and only) new bike at 13.

But of all the things my parents struggled to afford, health-care was never a problem thanks to the National Health Service.

We had regular checkups at school (not just for lice or “nits” but general health too), and doctors would make house-calls on request. From one of these my eldest brother was found to have a problem which further examination showed to be a hole in his heart.
He spent two weeks at Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital where he was operated-on in one of the first heart surgeries of its kind (this was in 1964). It didn’t cost my parents a penny.

When I was 13 I jumped-off a moving train (out of perceived necessity, not for a dare) fractured my skull and spent two of my seven days in hospital unconscious, all at no cost beyond the normal automatic NHS contributions.

In my second year in the US my throat began to feel tender and it was painful to swallow. It got so bad I could only eat soup and yoghourt, and I was running a temperature.
I was earning $4 an hour (no health insurance of course) and knowing the cost of health care I kept working and hoped my condition would just go away (I’d never had anything worse than a cold before).
Luckily for me a regular customer at my store was a male nurse who worked at Bellevue Hospital. He noticed my throat was swollen, gave me an impromptu exam right there and then literally dragged me up the block to the E.R., telling me not to worry about the expense.
It turned out I had a temperature of 104 and a virulent form of strep-throat. Fascinated interns made notes whilst the ENT specialist stuck me with an antibiotic and told me my throat was so swollen that I would otherwise have been dying from asphyxiation within an hour. The diagnosis and cure had taken about an hour altogether and totaled a week’s wages for me.

Years later working as a cabinetmaker my hand slipped into a table-saw blade. I broke two fingers and the tip of one of them was not-very neatly split laterally for about ½ an inch under the nail. The doctor took off the nail, washed out the wound, closed it up with five stitches, put my nail back on and as a precaution against infection recommended I stay for two days on an antibiotic drip. I was put on a gurney for no obvious reason and whilst an available bed was being looked-for I was wheeled into a supply closet where I was re-discovered six hours later.
I compare that to when as a 14 year-old I accidentally sliced the top of my thumb off; I got sixteen stitches from an ex-seamstress Indian nurse and, job done, was sent home immediately. My thumb looks normal, my left index finger looks odd and the bill for my saw accident was $2000. Worker’s compensation covered the cost of my saw incident, but of course the contribution went up by 40%.

The last six weeks of my mother’s life were spent in hospital; a week in the ICU and then under constant care, attached to various necessary life-sustaining tubes (but no major machinery). Again, the NHS took care of everything, we had no forms to fill-out or bills to pay.

The UK’s NHS was established as a flexible investment in the public and the future. Basic nationwide health-care serves both moral and practical needs. A healthy society is a stable and productive society. It is high time that the US realized that the notion of the individual as the salient characteristic of this nation’s identity is a myth, and a destructive one at that—and I think that’s the psychology behind many of the US’s problems.

The US as a nation needs to understand that it has a responsibility to care for its own. It needs to grow up. It has to apply it’s founding humanistic values on a nationwide scale by taking care of the poor and downtrodden, of being neighbourly and pitching-in and working hard in the present to make a better future. A real national health system would be about as democratic and American as it gets.