Archive for August 4th, 2009

From The Nation:

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia.


In their testimony, both men also allege that Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq. One of the men alleges that Prince turned a profit by transporting “illegal” or “unlawful” weapons into the country on Prince’s private planes.


Among the additional allegations made by Doe #1 is that “Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq.” He states that he personally witnessed weapons being “pulled out” from dog food bags. Doe #2 alleges that “Prince and his employees arranged for the weapons to be polywrapped and smuggled into Iraq on Mr. Prince’s private planes, which operated under the name Presidential Airlines,” adding that Prince “generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade.”

Doe #2 states: “Using his various companies, [Prince] procured and distributed various weapons, including unlawful weapons such as sawed off semi-automatic machine guns with silencers, through unlawful channels of distribution.” Blackwater “was not abiding by the terms of the contract with the State Department and was deceiving the State Department,” according to Doe #1.

This is not the first time an allegation has surfaced that Blackwater used dog food bags to smuggle weapons into Iraq. ABC News’s Brian Ross reported in November 2008 that a “federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating allegations the controversial private security firm Blackwater illegally shipped assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in large sacks of dog food.” Another former Blackwater employee has also confirmed this information to The Nation.

And that isn’t even the worst of it…

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Speaking 2 weeks ago at the Chautauqua Institution, Michael Novak hold forth on the Ethics of Capitalism in a Friedman-esque fashion. Of course, he doesn’t come off as nearly that intelligent, at least not in the FORA.tv editor’s selected highlight clip, in which he talks about the rich-poor gap in response to a question from the audience or a panelist or somebody with a brain (I’d like to watch the rest tonight, but there are no promises in the blogosphere).

He makes a few stupid arguments in this particular clip, which you should watch for yourself because no transcript is available and I have to ungenerously paraphrase.

1) The common good does not require equality, just that the bottom are continuously moving up, and this is happening, so we’ve struck the common good.

The nice hidden premise in here is that the bottom (and middle, I suppose), have been moving up, so therefore we’ve reached the common good. This second premise, however, is false, and the stagnation of real wages has been documented thoroughly and even targeted as a key cause of the economic crisis.

2) Simple arithmetic implies that the gap will always be growing; even if the rich only grow by 1% and the poor grow by 10%, the gap will increase.

Who actually talks about the absolute gap? Maybe we should, because it would make our inequality growth look even starker. Nevertheless, I’ve always seen it referred to in ratios and relative terms, e.g. the top 1% received x% of national income, the CEO earned X times the lowest-paid worker, etc. This argument is simply ridiculous. Maybe it’s just because he got caught off guard by the most predictable question he could’ve face in front of a responsible audience.

3) Talk of inequality is a sign of envy. Now I’m going to moralize about how immigrants stay off welfare and pull themselves out of poverty. Anyone can do it in 5 years. Also, children can pitch in. “Family socialism.”

Where to begin? First, I’m doubting the “responsibly audience” line, as the word “envy” brought tremendous applause. Second, America is no longer the economically mobile society that Novak envisions. Third, by bringing up the immigrant thing (which may not even be true), Novak predictably ignores that immigrants are less likely (I think) to be caught up in vicious social and economic cycles.

4) This is just an argument of political factions; I used to be on the other side, before I saw the light.

Sigh. Reducing a pressing problem to politics is all too common, but completely dodges the point. On second thought, there’s no way I could stomach 59 more minutes of this bullshit, so if somebody else wants to watch it and pick things out for the comments, I’d be happy to bump them up here.

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Via Paul Krugman, a new CEPR study shows that:

Contrary to popular perceptions, the United States has a much smaller small-business sector (as a share of total employment) than other countries at a comparable level of economic development…The authors observe that the undersized U.S. small business sector is consistent with the view that high health care costs discourage small business formation, since start-ups in other countries can tap into government-funded health care systems.

Krugman proposes two explanations:

One is our lack of national health insurance; I personally know a number of people who gave up jobs at small firms in order to get health coverage. Another possibility, more favorable to the United States, is that in some European countries (Italy comes to mind) firms stay small to escape onerous regulations.

And piles on:

Either way, though, one more American myth bites the dust. We’re not independent free spirits; on the contrary, we’re more likely than Europeans to be cubicle rats working for big employers.

If reforming health care is the key to revamping small businesses (even if removing the employer tax exclusion is initially painful), then by all means. This report should only increase the drive of progressive politicians to do the right thing, and it should hold to account the “centrist” senators that taut the American free spirit.

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