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NY Mag has a really great article on young woman and alcohol. Apparently we (the ladies) are have taken to imbibing–with coworks, friends, alone–in more copious amounts.

A couple of disjointed things that struck me about the article:

-Third Wave Feminism is painted as being the spoiled, bratty daughter of the last two waves, doing little more than empowering women to thoughtlessly booz and fuck just like the guys. To this I respond: Yes and no. Thirdwavers are not a cohesive group, and for all the thoughtlessness of the louder popcultury types (I’m looking at you, Jezebel) the strides women of color have made are probably the hallmark of this wave. Not that has anything to do with the article really, but I like to throw it out there whenever I can.

-Speaking of boozin’ and fucking just like the guys,  lets talk about the gender assimilation. As women enter highly competitive male-dominated spheres such as high education and certain sectors of the work force, they adopt (consciously and unconsciously) the attitudes and behaviors of their male counterparts to survive. Its a kind of acculturation, adopting the values and norms of the dominant group in order to be allowed to particpicate.  This is not necessarily a good thing, espeically when the norms adopted are as highly dysfunctional and predispossed to perpetuating inequality as those of professional middle class white men (remember, just because they’re the most powerful and pervasive does not make them right–or even rational).  In the article, one of the women interviewed said something akin to ‘I had to be seen as a bitch to get things done, but the drinking made me appear more personable, less lame than the other women unwilling to party and more appealing to work with’.To get ahead professionally, she had to overcome the gender sterotype of ‘the bitch’ by proving she could be as rowdy and drunk as the next guy.

-The author asserts that the sexual component comes in only so much as it is another aspect of choice. Drinking is an expression of control, because women now have the power to choose when and where they allow themselves the loss of control. Sounds sort of convoluted, but its a sentiment not foreign to me. The author downplays the idea that some women drink so that they may allow themselves sexual dalliances they would otherwise think themselves too shy or morally upstanding to engage in. It is my nonobjective and unscientific observation that this behavior is actually rather typical, even if unintentional. I never thought of myself as the kind of person who got especially trigger happy when intoxicated because I’m generally the very forward go-get-’em sort to begin with. When I stopped to recall how many times I engaged in sexual contact with a new partner during or after consuming alcohol, however, I was totally shocked (but not embarrassed–in fact, I laughed myself to sleep). That isn’t to say that these were isolated incidents, the majority of my sexual relationships are relatively longterm, its just they were helped along initially by alcohol. Stop for a second and think about how many times you were drunk the first time you had sex with someone, not just one night stands but with a significant others or long term hookup–you might just find a curious pattern of behavior.

-Oh, and lets also discuss the place of higher education: the more prolonged the period of education, the more deeply ingrained the questionable drinking habits become. Now, why do we hardly talk about the alcoholism of the well educated? Because, as members of the cultural elite, we have the cultural clot to normalize our habits, no matter disruptive to ourselves/our social group they might become. We can stigmatize the poor and less educated’s alcoholism/drug use as deviant because clearly is perpetuates their cycles of economic deprivation, but let ours slide as simply the youthful antics of undergrads, grads, young professionals harmlessly cavorting because we perceive they have no larger social consequences.

As someone who planed on spending her winter break in a state of near-constant intoxication, I must admit this article made me reevaluate my drinking habits in terms of ideology, biology and interpersonal consequences. Some of the best advice I every got was from a Scotsman on a cruise ship: Be good. And if you can’t be good, be safe.

Paternalism asside, they’re words to live by.

More on the Jewish Football Club thing

The other day, Mireille introduced the weird philo-semitism of Ajax Football Club.  Ajax fans, however, are not alone in appropriating Jewishness.  A number of teams worldwide identify with Judaism.  Among them are M.T.K. Hungaria and England’s Tottenham Hotspur.

There are multiple reasons a club gets tagged as “Jewish.”  MTK was founded in 1888 by Jewish businessmen.  Through the end of World War I, this held little stigma.  However, post-war nationalist politicians explicitly attacked MTK in the press, and the team was shut down in the 1940s.  Although the Communists revived the club under a series of political patrons, it still remains identified as the “Jewish” team; which may explain their poor attendance despite an impressive league record.

Rival club Ferencvaros is considered the “authentic” Hungarian side.  It’s a pretty explicit link, framed openly in the political discourse by right-wing MPs:

“Those who consider themselves proper, working-class Hungarians oppose the spirit of business conduct practised by upper-class Hungarians with foreign roots.  The upper- class supports MTK, and Fradi [Ferencvaros] supporters have always felt that they are the oppressed, ordinary children of the nation, while the Jews have secured their place in high society.”

Ferencvaros fans chant “the trains are leaving for Auschwitz,” among other things, and through the 1990s celebrated goals with Nazi salutes.  These days the club has bigger problems, having been demoted to the Hungarian second division due to financial mismanagement.  Predictably, supporters blamed the “red media” and the Jews.

Tottenham is a different animal.  The club has no particularly Jewish roots in its founding.  It earned the badge of Zion either because of the large number of Jews in the White Hart Lane neighborhood; or because of a 1970s television show.  Whichever the cause, opposing fans have long targeted Spurs supporters with chants about Hitler and gas chambers.  Obviously, the great majority of Tottenham fans are gentiles.  They have met these taunts by building the “Yid Army” identity, a strange co-optation of Jewishness if there ever was one.  Franklin Foer, whose book is the source for much of this post, relates the story of Manchester City fans chanting the following during a game against Tottenham in the 1980s:

“We’ll be running around Tottenham with our pricks hanging out tonight,

We’ll be running around Tottenham with our pricks hanging out tonight,

Singing I’ve got a foreskin, I’ve got a foreskin, I’ve got a foreskin and you ain’t

We’ve got foreskins, we’ve got foreskins, you ain’t.”

How did Spurs fans reply?  A handful went around their group identifying Jewish supporters, and then brought them together to simultaneously drop their pants and wave their dicks at the Manchester City crowd.  Statement made.

What does it mean when a largely gentile group decides to identify as Jewish?  Michael Brenner, author of Emancipation Through Muscles: Jews and Sports in Europe, notes that Spurs fans also began flying Argentine flags during and after the Falklands War.  The co-optation of Jewish identity is an attempt to build solidarity and kinship through victimhood.  Marginalization, real or perceived, adds depths to the supporters’ emotional ties to their club.  Unlike MTK, there is no historical Jewish context for Tottenham supporters to draw on.  Simply, as Brenner cites one fan saying, “Spurs supporters…really like putting two fingers up to the rest of the world.”

Judaism is useful shorthand for any number of things: defiance, group unity, or even hipness.  Witness the counterculture philo-semitism of Holland’s greatest club.  During the 1960s, it was Johann Cruyff and Ajax whose “total football” trashed traditional formations and forced players, coaches, and fans to rethink the game.  Cruyff, who was not Jewish, had a pregame ritual of eating Kosher salami and decorating his pep talks with Yiddish phrases.  The club’s Jewish physiotherapist recalled, “the players liked to be Jewish even though they weren’t,” and Cruyff himself has been spotted wearing a yarmulke in Israel.  Foer suggests a link between the cultural radicalism of Amsterdam in the 60s and the faux-Jewishness of the Ajax clubhouse.  While it is obviously impossible to prove directly, it can’t be a coincidence that the one club revolutionizing football was the one trying hardest to look like outsiders.

It’s strange watching non-Jews revel in Jewishness, probably not unlike how Chuck D must feel knowing that rap is mostly consumed by suburban white teenagers.  Fake Jewish identity gives the gentile fan something to cling to, a sense of victimhood and authenticity without the historical baggage that would actually justify those feelings.  (All the sympathy, half the Holocaust!)  There’s an old saying that a philo-semite is simply “an anti-semite who loves Jews.”  That may be a little unfair, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find some of those gentile Spurs fans voting BNP before donning their Yid Army gear for match day.

Go out and get Foer’s book for more on this and other random social insights drawn from the beautiful game.

Sometimes, you win

Good news out of Chicago this morning.  (The story sort of broke yesterday, but the details just came out).  The Associated Press reports:

“CHICAGO – With cheers and chants that echoed President-elect Barack Obama’s campaign of change, jubilant workers agreed to a $1.75 million settlement that ends their six-day occupation of a shuttered Chicago factory that became a symbol of the plight of labor nationwide.”

The deal, negotiated in part by Representative Luis Gutierrez, will provide the laid-off workers with eight weeks salary, all back vacation pay, and two months of paid health care.  The union says the workers are “very, very satisfied” with the outcome, and they were seen leaving the factory Wednesday night chanting “Yes We Can.”

So yeah.  Keep that in mind.  Sometimes, the good guys do win.

Revenge of the nerds

SCIENCE!

“President-elect Barack Obama has chosen Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who heads the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, to be the next Energy Secretary, Democratic sources said today. He also has picked veteran regulators to fill out his environmental and climate team…

…The son of highly educated Chinese immigrants, Chu won the Nobel Prize in 1997 for his work in the “development of methods to cool and trap atoms with laser light.”

But, in an interview last year with The Post, Chu said that he began to get more interested in energy and climate change several years ago. “I was following it just as a citizen and getting increasingly alarmed,” he said. “Many of our best basic scientists realize that this is getting down to a crisis situation.”

He sought and won the top job at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in order to focus on energy issues. Chu is in London and was unavailable for comment, but the physicist has been, in the words on his Web site, on a “mission” to make the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory “the world leader in alternative and renewable energy research, particularly the development of carbon-neutral sources of energy.”

Damn, it’s nice to have people in charge of agencies where they actually understand the material.

It’s the little things

Two quick takes off the New York Times this morning:

“Barack Obama plans to use his full name, Barack Hussein Obama, at his inauguration.”

And…

“For the first time, a gay and lesbian band will be marching in a presidential inauguration.

Barack Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee has chosen the Lesbian and Gay Band Association, with members from across the country, to march in the inaugural parade in Washington on Jan. 20.”

After 8 years in the desert, even the progressive little details are refreshing.

Our local (American) football club has a uniquely unpleasant history.  Consider this image of an elderly black fan dressed in faux-native garb.  What makes it so incongruous is not simply the appropriation of someone else’s culture; it’s the fact that the Redskins are historically the most racist franchise in football against blacks too.  Owner George Preston Marshall, the franchise’s patriarch, brought the team to Washington in 1937.  NFL clubs began signing black players in 1946, but Marshall held out until 1962.  He rationalized being the last franchise to sign black players, long after all other teams had:  “We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites.”  He eventually backed down when JFK’s Secretary of the Interior threatened the lease on his stadium on grounds of discriminatory hiring practices.

This was only part of Marshall’s southern strategy.  When they came into the NFL, the Redskins were the league’s closest thing to a “southern” team.  (Franchises in Texas, Florida, and elsewhere would come later.)  Marshall aggressively marketed them to the south, and mostly drafted players from southern colleges.  His wife composed the lyrics to the team’s Dixie-lovin’ fight song “Hail to the Redskins.” Renowned sportswriter Shirley Povich once described Marshall as “one of pro football’s greatest innovators and its leading bigot.”

(In a possibly apocryphal story, head coach George Allen once called a play requested by Richard Nixon.  Allen’s son went on to greater fame.)

The Redskins obviously aren’t Marshall or Allen’s team anymore.  I like seeing them win as much as the next guy.  That said, the historical context still makes it a little incongruous seeing African-Americans old enough to have been raised under segregation all decked out in ‘Skins gear.

I would imagine by now most people are aware of my aversion to using ethnic groups as sports mascots and how deeply bewildered I am by the fact that my home town’s football team happens to be the Redskins. I’m not even going to entertain the idea that the name isn’t racist– the very fact there is a debate over if ‘it is or isn’t’ shows the invisibility and disenfranchisement of Native peoples in the United States.

Often I illustrate how offensive this name is by saying something like: “Could you imagine if it were any other minority group? People would be up-in-arms over the San Fran Chinks or the Tri-State Area Jews.”

Tickle me surprised when I find out that there is in fact a Dutch football club nicknamed the Jews. According to Ye Olde Wikipedia:

This nickname for Ajax fans dates back to before World War II, when Amsterdam was home to most of the Netherlands’ 140,000 Jews and the Ajax stadium itself was located near a Jewish neighbourhood. Most Dutch Jews were killed by the Nazis during the occupation, and today very little remains of Amsterdam’s old Jewish quarter. But the tradition at Ajax survived.

The truth of this account is still up for debate.

Sociological Images has an interesting dissection of the appropriation of Israeli political symbols by Ajax fans and this NYT article spotlights some of the more sinister anti-Semitic antics of both rivals and fans. This includes Nazi salutes, people shouting “Hamas! Hamas!” and hissing to imitate the sound of gas entering a death chamber. Let me be the first to say: Keep it classy, European futball fans.

And what of the Ajax fans who are actually Jewish? Well, many of them reportedly find the atmosphere so hostile they are unable to attend matches. Quoth a former member of the board of directors: “A lot of Jews all over the world believe that Ajax fans are proud to call themselves Jews, but it’s a kind of hooliganism.”

The outsider status fans feel by labeling themselves Jews has become a badge of honor, they think of themselves as being part of a distinctly oppressed subculture and gain a sense of group cohesion from that. The only problem is that they aren’t actually members of this oppressed ethnic group and appropriating the symbols and rhetoric of that struggle for the sake of sport is totally . Despite Ajax’s best efforts to nip this thing in the bud (spurned not by the rampant antisemitism, but by a chant calling a star player’s girlfriend a whore), decades of identification can’t be stopped–I mean, honestly, do you expect all those gentiles with the Star of David tattooed on their shoulder to just drop it?

Obama and the workers

Since 1965, the Republic Windows and Doors Company has been manufacturing vinyl windows and sliding doors in Chicago.  Last week, Bank of America informed the company that its line of credit had been canceled due to declining sales, probably related to the housing market collapse.  Republic’s management subsequently informed its 250 employees that they were being laid off with literally three days notice, and, according to the bank’s terms, would not receive any severance or back vacation pay.

Normally, this is where it ends.  The long-term decline of labor, which isn’t an accident, has left workers with little bargaining power vis-a-vis management.  So it came as a surprise when Republic’s employees stood up and fought back:

“Workers laid off Friday from Republic Windows and Doors, who for years assembled vinyl windows and sliding doors here, said they would not leave, even after company officials announced that the factory was closing.

Some of the plant’s 250 workers stayed all night, all weekend, in what they were calling an occupation of the factory.”

Most of the staff are members of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers.  Approximately 80% are Hispanic, making an average salary of $14 an hour.  They’ve dug up an old-time tactic, currently more common in Argentina than America.  They are demanding their severance and vacation pay, as well as criticizing the company for failing to give them the 60 days notice required under federal law for mass layoffs.  Workers claim that the management knew about the situation in advance, removing heavy equipment in the middle of the night before Thanksgiving while informing staff that all was well.  Subsequent revelations don’t make the company look any better.  Workers are also blaming Bank of America, who recently received $25 billion in government bailout funds and refused to comment on the situation other than passing the blame back to Republic:

“Neither Bank of America nor any other third party lender to the company has the right to control whether the company complies with applicable laws or honors its commitments to its employees.”

Normally, Democrats rely on labor support while quietly whacking it with a stick.  So it was surprising and encouraging to see President-elect Obama come out in support of the Republic workers:

“When it comes to the situation here in Chicago with the workers who are asking for their benefits and payments they have earned, I think they are absolutely right,” Obama said Sunday…What’s happening to them is reflective of what’s happening across this economy.

When you have a financial system that is shaky, credit contracts. Businesses large and small start cutting back on their plants and equipment and their workforces. That’s why it’s so important for us to maintain a strong financial system. But it’s also important for us to make sure that the plans and programs that we design aren’t just targeted at maintaining the solvency of banks, but they are designed to get money out the doors and to help people on Main Street. So, number one, I think that these workers, if they have earned their benefits and their pay, then these companies need to follow through on those commitments.”

Labor, management, and bank representatives remain in negotiations with 60 workers at a time occupying the plant according to planned 8-hour shifts.  The workers have been visited by U.S. Representatives Luis Gutierrez and Jan Schakowsky, as well as random people stopping by with food, water, and other supplies.

David Corn, writing in The Nation, puts this developing story in important context:

“Much has been made about the prospect that Barack Obama’s presidency might, due to economic necessity and the president-elect’s interventionist inclinations, be a reprise of the New Deal era.

But there will be no “new New Deal” if Americans simply look to Obama to lead them out of the domestic quagmire into which Bill Clinton and George Bush led the country with a toxic blend of free-trade absolutism, banking deregulation and disdain for industrial policy. Just as Roosevelt needed mass movements and militancy as an excuse to talk Washington stalwarts into accepting radical shifts in the economic order, so Obama will need to be able to point to some turbulence at the grassroots.”

President Obama may be progressive, not progressive, or just right.  (And yes, the debate continues on OpenLeft.)  The point is, he’s subject to pressure.  There’s a famous (if possibly apocryphal) story about a group of party activists who approached Roosevelt with policy suggestions shortly after his election.  FDR replied to their demands saying “I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it.”  Roosevelt didn’t save capitalism in a vacuum.  He faced pressure from local government, the labor movement, and yes Virginia, the Communist Party.  What Time called “thunder on the left” helped drag Roosevelt towards the progressive positions we credit him with today.

President-elect Obama’s positive response to the Republic sit-down is an encouraging sign.  Government can be as progressive as the public demands it be.  Chicago city officials are already discussing canceling all business deals with Bank of America due to these developments.  If you’re in the area, you can stop by 1333 North Hickory with contributions of food or messages of support.  If not, please at least sign the UE’s petition or donate to their solidarity fund via Paypal.

You voted for change – Now make them do it.

Earl Stafford is one of 12 children of a Baptist minister.  The Air Force veteran is also the founder of  a successful Fairfax County technology company.  With the historic victory of President-elect Obama, Stafford decided to bring some friends to the inauguration.  (Note to WordPress: “Obama” is no longer a typo.) He dropped $1 million on the Marriott’s “Build Your Own Ball” deal, covering 300 rooms, four suites, and $200,000 of food in a location overlooking the parade route.

So what well-connected political and business leaders are coming?

“…the homeless, battered women, disabled soldiers, and the terminally ill.”

Stafford, who runs a philanthropic organization, will also host a prayer breakfast and a lunch on Martin Luther King Day before the Tuesday inauguration.  Participants won’t pay a dime.  He is working with the Urban League to help identify participants.

My computer is doing weird things and I have to yell at Comcast, again.  So here’s an interview with Stafford and the full feature on it.  And it’s good to see religion inspiring something useful.

Drug War collateral damage

“These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There’s no authority over them…they shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath.”
-Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, 3rd Infantry, Baghdad, 2005.

The occupation of Iraq has been an unqualified success for at least one sector of the economy.  Private military firms (PMFs) handle a larger load of both supply and combat operations than ever before.  Thousands of private military contractors (PMCs) are running around the country, from former Special Forces guys making $1,000 a day to third-world nationals delivering cheesecakes protected by National Guardsmen.

In the last decade, the Pentagon has alone has entered into over 3,000 contracts with PMFs.  This does not include the operations of other agencies such as the CIA.  P.W. Singer, the expert’s expert on this topic, attributes the rise in PMF activity to three factors:  the end of the Cold War; transformations in warfare; and a general trend towards privatization of government tasks.   With the fall of the USSR, standing armies worldwide were downsized and demand arose for smaller, non-permanent military forces.  Simultaneously, the market was flooded with well-trained soldiers from the ranks of both the Red Army and the concurrently defunct apartheid South Africa.  Also, warfare in the developed world was becoming increasingly reliant on off-the-shelf commercial technology, much of which was operated by representatives of private firms.  Finally, PMFs benefited from the general neoliberal trend of devolving state responsibilities to the private sector – if Ohio can have private prisons, why not Baghdad?

There are over 100,000 PMCs in Iraq, not even counting subcontractors.  Approximately 20,000 have taken part in combat operations, representing more than 60 firms.  This made PMFs the second-largest participant in the Coalition of the Willing.  We’re talking about $100 billion worth of contracts.  The U.S. government has paid salaries for some 1,500 South Africans, most of who are former members of the South African Defense Forces (SADF), because apartheid means never having to say you’re sorry.

So what happens when, as Brig. Gen. Horst put it, they “do stupid stuff?”  How should the individuals and their employers be held accountable?  Neither national nor international law has proved capable of regulating the behavior of private contractors.  There are a number of toothless international treaties on mercenarism, and I’ll probably post an old paper on this some time when I’m too lazy to do new material.  For now, a summary of legal oversight mechanisms for PMFs and PMCs:

International law says much and does little.  The United Nations has passed a series of resolutions condemning “mercenarism,” but none of the major powers have ratified any enforcement mechanisms.  Without the creation of any standalone institutions, implementation of these guidelines is left to individual states.  David Shearer, former Senior Advisor to the U.N. Department of Humanitarian Affairs in Liberia and Rwanda, notes a “palpable international apathy” to implementing serious international regulations on PMFs and PMCs.  Even if individual PMCs commit crimes great enough to be liable under something like the International Criminal Court, the ICC’s jurisdiction does not cover their corporate employers – the ones whose CEOs are responsible for setting the often-reckless rules of engagement.  As weak as regulation of the PMC’s themselves has been, it has proved even more difficult to apply oversight to the modern, corporate-model PMF.  No international law actually governs the firms themselves.  At current, international law is useless.

-National law (state law) is occasionally effective.  This tends to work best on the supply side.  South Africa is not only a major source of personnel, but used to be home to Executive Outcomes (EO).  EO, once “[arguably] the most deadly and efficient army in sub-Saharan Africa,” went out of business immediately following the passage of the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act (RFMAA).  The RFMAA  increased the government’s licensing and control power over PMFs, while enacting a blanket ban on “mercenary activities” as defined by “direct participation as a combatant…for private gain.”  PMFs providing non-combat services, up to and including training, intelligence, and operational support, are allowed to exist subject to Parliamentary authorization.  The government is working to expand their efforts, with subsequent prohibitions aimed at reducing the presence of former apartheid Special Forces running around in conflict zones.

Problem is, South Africans can still be PMCs; they just have to work for companies not based in South Africa.  This gets to the general jurisdictional problem underpinning all the legal loopholes.  What happens when a South African working for British company paid by the United States government kills a civilian in Iraq?

Unfortunately, there is no answer.  Even Americans working for American companies under American contracts have been exempt from legal repercussions.  “Small” crimes are nearly impossible to prosecute.  The Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), passed in 2000, only applies for crimes that carry a sentence of over a year.  Michael Nardotti Jr., former Army judge advocate general, explains that simple assault only carries a six-month sentence.  “Suppose the behavior involves humiliating the detainee, or stripping him naked.  What crime would that constitute? You’d have to look at the whole list of federal offenses and find one that is punishable by more than one year.”   Worse, the MEJA only applies to Department of Defense employees.  Contractors from State, the CIA, or any other agencies are entirely exempt.

The simplest solution would be to fold PMCs into military law.  They weren’t through 2007, even as PMCs fought literally next to uniformed soldiers.  In 2007, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) added five words in the 2007 defense appropriations bill which overnight subjected certain civilians to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  The arrangement was sharply criticized by PMFs, as well as representatives of the American Civil Liberties Union who objected to the use of military law to govern civilians.  Thus far, it has had little impact on oversight.

Jurisdictional problems also remain prohibitive, particularly in cases against the PMFs.  Judges have thrown out several cases on jurisdictional grounds, including a $10 million verdict against Custer Battles.  When the families of Halliburton truck drivers sued for recklessly sending convoys into battle, a federal court ruled that the army, not Halliburton, was in charge.  As a result, trying the case would represent “an impermissible intrusion into powers expressly granted to the executive by the Constitution.”

In other words, PMFs got off because the army had jurisdiction; while PMCs also got off because the army did not have jurisdiction.  Somewhere, Joseph Heller is throwing up.

Hopefully, the Status of Forces Agreement will straighten some of this out.  It is still not clear how Iraqi demands for PMC accountability will work in reality.  PMCs could end up being tried in Iraqi courts.  If nothing else, the political pressure around this may push the U.S. to try its own people, especially if PMFs demand American juries for American citizens.  Until today, the only repercussions for PMCs who commit crimes have been reassignment or firings by their PMF bosses; hardly a terrible outcome for perpetrators of child prostitution rings among others.  Although the Pentagon found that “several of the alleged perpetrators” of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib were private contractors, none have faced criminal charges.  (Though this may change yet.)  The President of the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), the professional organization of PMFs, responded to the Abu Ghraib case with “What happens is the people are fired…that’s what you have to do in this environment.”  Or, what happens overseas stays there.

So given this context, a stunning recent development:  The Department of Justice (DoJ) is preparing to charge three to six Blackwater guards for the deaths of 17 civilians in Iraq in September 2007.  All the usual caveats apply:

-Can they be charged for crimes committed overseas?

-Since Blackwater works for State, not DoD, do the legal regulations apply to them?

-State reportedly gave them promises of immunity for statements following the shootings, and prosecutors may be barred from using this information.

-Blackwater itself is not a subject of the investigation.

And the best part:  They’re not being tried for murder.  Prosecutors lost the closest thing yet to a similar case, a failed first-degree manslaughter charge.  Proving murder in a war zone is understandably a bitch.  So the weird, weird alternative:

“Charges could be announced as early as Monday in the shooting, which left 17 civilians dead and strained U.S. relations with the fledgling Iraqi government. People familiar with the charges said they may include an aggressive Reagan-era anti-drug law cracking down on assault weapons…

…Though drugs were not involved in the Blackwater shooting, the Justice Department is pondering the use of a law, passed at the height of the nation’s crack epidemic, to prosecute the guards. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 law calls for 30-year prison terms for using machine guns to commit violent crimes of any kind, whether drug-related or not.”

The law office intern who dug that one up just won a job offer.  This should be somewhat easier to prove than a manslaughter charge.  This isn’t terribly encouraging from a structural perspective; it’s hardly a useful precedent, let alone a generalizable legal framework.  That said, more power to them for trying something.  Private contractors have enjoyed de facto immunity for years.  If it takes Reaganite drug law to get a leash on them, so be it.