Price takes on mercenaries

There's a new book out by Tim Shorrock called Spies for Hire. I haven't read it yet, but I did see some pages that feature Congressman David Price and his work on the business of military contractors. Shorrock singles out Congressman Price as an effective and persistent advocate for accountability in the deep, dark world of mercenary madness.

I've been critical of Congress in general and Mr. Price in particular (since he's my Congressman) but I want to use this post to praise the work David Price has done so far in bringing the dogs of war to heel. An excerpt from the book:

The outsourcing amendment to the the intelligence bill was largely the work of one Congressman who has diligently pursuing the issue of contractor accountability since 2003: David Price, D-North Carolina.

And this:

Representative Price began his quest for accountability in 2006 by drafting an amendment to an intelligence spending bill that asked the Bush administration to disclose the types of activities that were appropriate for contractors and show how their hiring saved money for American taxpayers.

Details about the intelligence bill amendment can be found here. It's a good start down the very long road of ending the blight of mercenary contractors:

“Contracting in the intelligence community has more than doubled in scope in the last decade, and it’s clear that effective management and oversight is lacking,” Rep. Price said. “We’ve got to get a handle on it. That means demanding more complete information, establishing more effective management practices and, in some cases, drawing a red line to prevent the privatization of especially sensitive activities.”

Rep. Price has been on the forefront of efforts in Congress to rein in the Bush Administration’s unprecedented use of contractors for sensitive national security functions. He is the author of legislation that passed the House last October, which would enhance the government’s prosecution of abusive actions by rogue security contractors. That bill was passed shortly after the infamous shootout in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, in which contractors for Blackwater USA fired on unarmed civilians, killing 17.

I want to give Congressman Price a ton of credit for the work he's done - and I want to encourage him (and you) to keep the pressure on for the next steps and the next steps required to end the practice of using mercenaries to fight our wars and protect our country.

No diplomat from the US State Department should ever be under the care of armed contractors. That is the job of the US armed forces. No supply convoy should ever be escorted by armed contractors. That is the job of the US armed forces.

Thank you Congressman Price for all you're doing. Please let us know what it will take to keep this ball rolling.



It's a good thing I'm not in public office, because I'd no doubt blow a gasket and slip into cardiac arrest in dealing with the glacial pace of change. So thank goodness for people like David Price who do the hard, long slogging necessary to move things forward.

That doesn't mean I'm going to let up on him and his colleagues who have allowed the free-market extremists to privatize too much of our national defense. That is morally and economically wrong - and it's up to Congress must put a stop to it.

Privatizing national defense has NOTHING to do with....

Free market economics. Just as privatizing social security has nothing to do with free market economics. Privatization does not necessarily entail the presence of free markets. In these particular cases, both of these policies represent corporatism, as both surmise that the government should centrally plan the distribution of goods to private entities to handle public functions, and usually to a degree that the cost outweighs the public benefit. In a libertarian world, national defense is one of the functions of the federal government. Sure, it is to be funded through taxation (the proper type of taxation, that is), but there is no real market manipulation by the government, a situation that constitutes a free market. As a kool-aid binging, free market extremist myself, I object to being linked (directly or indirectly) to those who want to privatize our national defense. What we are doing with Blackwater is something that I abhor.

I agree with you on this one.

What we are doing with Blackwater is something that I abhor.

Or maybe it's better stated that what "we're NOT doing TO Blackwater is something I abhor." I'm not talking about prosecuting - I'm talking about oversight. We can't prosecute because we don't even know if they've broken any laws, because somebody somewhere led them and us to believe that they (Blackwater) were above the law.

So now, we are relying on this private corporation for functions that should be left to our military - and that could be handled by our military if the funds spent on the contract were given directly to the military. Further, our elected officials in both the legislative and executive branches (save for a few brave souls like David Price) have abdicated their authority to oversee the operations of this corporation and ensure that said corporation and its agents are held accountable for their actions and are subject to the laws of the United States and/or other countries.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
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Abhor it or not

The privatization of government is very much an artifact of free-market mentality. Maybe not in the non-existent purist way you mean it, but for most people it's pretty simple: If something can be bought and sold it should be.

In this case what's getting bought and sold are the services of armed mercenaries.

I really don't know about Womble Carlisle.

If I were an attorney, I don't believe I would choose to represent such a client. However, I'm not an attorney, so it's hypothetical.

I am seriously concerned about mercenaries and what stops them from going with the highest bidder. After all, we've spent all our money on mercenaries, instead of on our military.

Who would have thought peace-lovin' little me would be urging Congress to spend billions more on the military? What a world.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
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Obligation v. discretion

I know we go round and round on this issue. It one thing when we are talking about legal representation that everyone is entitled to and, needs in civil and criminal proceedings. It's another when it's lobbying at issue. I know Rufus Edmisten can give the most eloquent justification for lobbying for anyone. However, I have to believe that an attorney who, on principle, would represent anyone in a legal proceeding, would also have principles that would preclude representation of someone as a lobbying client which is more discretionary.

It is disrectionary

But the point remains that if we decide to demonize someone for lobbying for a given client, we are, in effect, saying that this voice does not have a right to be heard, or that our indignation at this client's activities give us the right to smother that speech.

Thinking in these terms is a lot easier to do from behind a computer screen than when you're standing there in the hallways of the General Assembly and you see a fat cat lobbyist emerge from a fat cat legislator's office and they're all smiles and cozy. It's truly nausea inducing.

But I think it's important to remember that the rules we use and apply have to be used and have to apply to instances in which our views about a given subject may vary widely.

If the opposition is to Blackwater, focus on that operation, not its lobbyists. If the opposition is to lobbying, that opposition has to apply to all lobbying.

And this is what makes it a very difficult proposition. I don't know the answer to how to reform lobbying to the point that the playing field is leveled for the fat cat and small fry lobbyists. I'm not sure it's possible under the Constitution. But I'd sure like to support efforts with that goal in mind.

Not my point

To my knowledge I have not demonized Womble Carlisle for representing Blackwater. I have pointed to the facts of their federal and state representation more than once. Jumping on me for something I have not asserted smacks of smothering.

The same logic giving free rein to attorneys to lobby for whomever could easily be applied to mercenaries. As long a private military contracting is acceptable should we keep quiet about Blackwater, even when they go to work for foreign dictators and despots, and, focus on reforming military contracting? Or should we leave them alone entirely and focus on the government and policies that make them necessary? Or should we focus on the electorate that authorizes the government policy? Oh, that would be us.

By your logic it would be acceptable for Chris Fitzsimon to represent Blackwater. That is unlikely to happen. There is some tipping point that would terminate the relationship between Blackwater and Womble Carlisle. I am curious as to what that would be.

To me it is important to know who is talking for Blackwater just as it important to know which entities are part of the Blackwater mercenary-industrial complex. If Sandy Sands is chatting with Marc Basnight about incentives for Erik's Ammo Shack in Currituck or loosening environmental regulations to built a secret OLF I'd like to know about it and it's important to know who the players are.

This is fundamental for me. I want to know who is eating tunnels through the structure of our democracy, circumventing public channels. That applies to any entity and its lobbyists.

You were JUMPED on?

Jumping on me for something I have not asserted smacks of smothering.

Jeezus Christ Greg. I JUMPED on you? My post was somehow JUMPING ON and SMOTHERING you?

Maybe I should have laced the damned thing with a hundred freakin smiley faces, but I sure as hell wasn't jumping on you. I thought it was OK to refer back to posts by you and James in which I DO think the effort was made to demonize the lobbyists. Somehow that is SMOTHERING you?

Delicate, ain't ya?

The same logic giving free rein to attorneys to lobby for whomever could easily be applied to mercenaries.

Maybe, but you'd have to explain to me what the logical thread is, because it doesn't JUMP out at me right off the bat. Are you talking about right of contract? Yes, people do have the right to make contracts. (?)

And yes, I do think you have to give "free rein" to either attorneys or nonattorneys to lobby for whomever as long as they are not breakng the law. Otherwise you are saying that you get to decide who has the right to pay for an advocate based on whether you like that person's message or not.

I'm not sure what you mean by saying that my reasoning would have it "acceptable" for Chris Fitzsimmons to advocate for Blackwater. He could certainly choose to do so, but why would he? His advocacy for liberal causes is part of his career path. Kinda appley-orangey here again. Lobbyists like Womble Carlyle have a wide range of clients, not all of whom would be easily placed in a "liberal" or "conservative" camp.

And who asked you to be quiet about Blackwater? I don't think there's anything in what I said that suggested you should not denounce the hell of out them. All I'm saying is that if you seek to stifle the opposing point of view, i.e., go after the lobbyists by way of discouraging anyone from advocating for Blackwater, you're engaging in the same kind of tactic that censors do.

I think I come at it from a personal responsibility standpoint

While every voice does indeed have a right to be heard, I don't believe that I, as a hypothetical attorney am under the compunction to represent every client that comes my way. Whether it's representing a client in a civil or criminal case, or as a lobbyist, I believe a lawyer has a right to say - "I don't want to represent this client. I'm not comfortable with what he represents, what he did, etc." I am not making judgments about anyone or any firm, merely stating what think I would do, if I had done what my father wished and pursued that law degree.

I agree with you that often the only way for the small voices to be heard is through a lobby. Were it not for lobbyists, many beneficial children's issues would go unheard in NC. So I'm not against lobbyists, or lawyers.

I'm simply stating what I think I would, or wouldn't do, if I were in the position to make the decision.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
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They sure know how to stack the deck

by recruiting those who wield influence:

The stated reasons for the departures of FEC General Counsel Lawrence H. Norton and Deputy General Counsel James A. Kahl was that the two men had landed private-sector jobs at a large firm with offices in six states. Norton and Kahl, reached yesterday, said their resignations were not intended to send any broader message.

But those who monitor campaign finance law with some dedication said the departures coincided with a perceived shift in the way the commissioners have worked with the general counsel.

He and Norton said they are leaving together to give the firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice a sizeable footprint in the fast-changing area of campaign finance law.
"I've had as free a hand as ever to give the commission unvarnished advice," Norton said. "I have had ample authority, all the authority I need."

I understand your defense of law firms Bru, but Womble's becoming a powerful "player" in the world of politics. Where do you draw the line? Where does "representing your client" cross over into "exerting undue influence" over elected officials?

This is (one reason) why we should not shy away from scrutinizing the behavior of law firms.

Here's my problem with this position,

But unless the lobbyist is doing something illegal, I don't think he or she is the right target.

and I believe it goes to the core of how our system has degenerated:

when said lobbying firms develop webs of influence that are strong enough, they can actually influence/dictate what is or is not "illegal". Do you follow me? It's easy to play by the rules when you can make up the rules as you go.

This is the main reason why some (ethical) lawmakers are trying to implement rule changes that make it harder for elected/appointed officials to be hired by lobbying firms when they move into the private sector.

I think Womble (in particular) is turning into a stunning and local example of the potentiality for conflicts of interest when the public and private sector merge. Even though I had (and still do, to a certain extent) a great deal of respect for Jim Hunt, his employment by Womble represents everything that's wrong with the system, in my eyes.

So where is it we disagree?

I think the efforts by lawmakers to tighten the laws affecting lobbying and to enforce the rules that result from those laws are extremely important. It is a pretty tough job because one can only go so far to restrict interactions without running afoul of the Constitution.

As far as lobbyists making up the rules as they go, that's not true with respect to the laws restricting lobbying here in NC. Lobbyists have certainly written a lot of the legislation that gets passed, (and even rules) but you can't really prevent lawmakers from accepting those suggested drafts. In opposition, you can certainly make the argument that a given bill was the work of a given interest group, but one of these days the bill in question is going to be one written by a group you work with or pull for.

In any case, Lobbyists didn't write the "ethics" law crafted by legislators like Joe Hackney that we are now implementing in North Carolina. In fact they HATE it, and so do a number of legislators. (Sen. David Hoyle comes to mind, but he's not alone in having raised objections).

BTW, damn you people.

I'm supposed to be ON VACATION IN FREAKING MEXICO! And all I can think about is getting on here and chatting on here. Damn, I'm a geek, which is why I'm a libertarian, of course.

For the next few days........

just let us be right about everything. :D

Then you can get on with your vacation. You can get back to correcting us upon your return.

Robin Hayes lied. Nobody died, but thousands of folks lost their jobs.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.

Smoking Golden Hemp in Revolutionary Mexico?

Damn, I'm a geek, which is why I'm a libertarian, of course.*P

Maybe you are a wandering misinform young Greek in the land of OZ on the internet, but you should stop using the term "Libertarian" since the Founders had no idea what that meant! Suggest you are start saying you are a "Seeker of Liberty" and cut out the BS political correct Libertarian Orwellian lanauge. Most political activists on the left or right and the mainstream media think Libertarians is a bunch of Pot smoking hippies from the 60's and want to parade around nude in Vermont at a local Apple veg commune store rolling bales of Hemp to a free market and free parking zone village in Canada.

Is there something inherently wrong with this?

bunch of Pot smoking hippies from the 60's and want to parade around nude in Vermont at a local Apple veg commune store rolling bales of Hemp to a free market and free parking zone village in Canada.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
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Global Warming in Vermont by Max

Well, running around nude in Vermont during most months will

will expose some rather tender areas to either frostbite or bug bite.

Other than that, nothing wrong with it.*persondem

BS! Al Gore told me that Global Warming was in effect for Vermont until some damn Polar Bear chase my ass in a blinding blizzard during July and snap my nude ass off.

Dude, chill out!

Step away from the computer! Get sun-burned! (Not too badly) Come back to admit the error of your ways another day. :-D

Have a great vacation, Paige.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi
Pointing at Naked Emperors