Saturday, May 12, 2007

Outsourcing the War in Iraq

Listening to the demands from the White House regarding the funding of the war in Iraq, the drumbeat message appears to be "must have money for the troops." Shouldn't citizens and representatives be asking how much money is given to private contractors versus how much actually goes into the US military?

Between 100 and 200,000 private contracts provide the military with laundry services, meals, latrine operations, transportation of materials, and an unknown number of private and heavily armed security forces. Without these contracts, could the military today conduct any operation? And does that mean that the White House is now lobbying for businesses to receive tax dollars?

On May 10th Jeremy Scahill testified before a Congressional Committee about what has become the "outsourcing" of the war in Iraq and the questions such operations bring --

Many Americans are under the impression that the US currently has about 145,000 active duty troops on the ground in Iraq. What is seldom mentioned is the fact that there are at least 126,000 private personnel deployed alongside the official armed forces. These private forces effectively double the size of the occupation force, largely without the knowledge of the US taxpayers that foot the bill.

"These forces work for US companies like Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp as well as companies from across the globe. Some contractors make in a month what many active-duty soldiers make in a year. Indeed, there are private contractors in Iraq making more money than the Secretary of Defense and more than the commanding generals. The testimony about private contractors that I hear most often from active duty soldiers falls into two categories: resentment and envy.

"They ask what message their country is sending them. While many soldiers lack basic protective equipment--facts well-known to this committee--they are in a war zone where they see the private soldiers whiz by in better vehicles, with better armor, better weapons, wearing the corporate logo instead of the American flag and pulling in much more money. They ask: Are our lives worth less?"

Scahill notes that 40 cents of every dollar for the war goes into private contracts, and asks about the wisdom of relying on the profit motive for private firms working in Iraq. Does it simply create a shadow army?

Also testifying was Robert Greenwald, who's film "Iraq For Sale" (previously mentioned) reports on the war profiteering taking place in Iraq. Congressman Jack Kensington (R-GA) does not seem much interested in investigating the use of tax dollars, but quizzes Greenwald on the money made by those who report on the war profiteers. It's an amazing video.

The recently vetoed legislation on funding, however, would have had minimal effect on private contractors:

The legislation vetoed by the president last week would not have reduced the use of private military operators in Iraq. As originally passed in the House, the Democrats' plan would have cut only about 15 percent, or $815 million, of the supplemental spending earmarked for day-to-day military operations "to reflect savings attributable to efficiencies and management improvements in the funding of contracts in the military departments." But even that mild provision was dropped in late April by the Democrats, who said they needed to hold more hearings on the contractor issue. Instead, they moved to withhold - not cut - 15 percent of total day-to-day operational funding, but only until Defense Secretary Robert Gates submits a report on the use of contractors and the scope of their deployment. Once the report is submitted, the 15 percent would be released.

While the discussions have centered on accountability, fiscal responsibility, and oversight, the big question that Congress has not confronted is: Should the U.S. government even be allowed to use mercenary forces, whose livelihoods depend on war and conflict, to help fight its battles in Iraq?"

Friday, May 11, 2007

And the Free CDs Go To ......

Thanks for reading and playing along for this simple contest. And thanks to Universal Music and Buzztone for providing the CDs to give away.

Here are the winners of the Number Ones collections:

George W. - Marvin Gaye
Snikta - James Brown
DSwann - Diana Ross and The Supremes

I'll be contacting each of you via your emails to get your land addresses and will then ship them to you ASAP. I also have one more CD with Number One hits by The Temptations, and will select a winner among all the other entries.

And thanks for having that cup of Joe!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Brain Drained

Delicious blue skies and abundant sunshine the last few days here in East TN, which means the hot and humid days of summer are near and that's my favorite time of year. But there has been a drawback - I haven't been able to enjoy it.

I've been weighed down this week with a nasty chest cold. The result is I feel lousy and most medications to ease such woes make me as loopy as someone huffing airplane glue from a sock. You know it's bad when you wake up at 3 am and the TV has some infomercial about the miracle of a new hunk of rubberized exercise equipment and I sit and stare at if for forty minutes with slack jawed attention. The thought of changing the channel befuddles me for so long, I start wondering if I am holding a jillion channel remote control or maybe an abacus from the 13th century.

All that to say this - I have been a poor blogger this week. The news or views which might have been here have oozed past me in the haze of over the counter dope. So I am posting now, writing via a window of brief consciousness, aware that I am headed back to my previously puddled state of sub-aware stupidity. (the occasional detractors of this humble yet lovable blog all say "AHA!")

I will provide some further details in coming days about all the fun of my trip to Washington (and isn't it time they installed Google maps on the windows of airplanes so you know just exactly what you are flying over?) Until things get back to normal, you still have time to win some free CDs.

Since I can't even taste my coffee anymore, I think I'll mix generous amounts of cough syrup into my cup and stare out the window at the beautiful day, ignore the news on TV and follow the ebb and flow of the vile stuff invading my precious bodily fluids.

Foo on being sick.

Last Day to Win Free CDs

You have just until tonite at midnight to win some free CDs which collect the number one hits of some of the best performers of the 60s and 70s. All the details are here - just leave a comment in that post and you could win.

All winners will be announced tomorrow and will get their free CDs next week!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Paradise "Lost"

Puzzling out the actual number of hours spent watching the show "Lost" along with the time spent searching online sites to determine just what the heck is going on in any episode may lead you to decide to find a better way to spend your time.

Fortunately, once you've seen a few basic episodes, you can leave the actual viewing of most any show to folks who do have time, and they can recap it all for you to read in less than one-fourth the time of an hour-long episode. And they even write up the recaps complete with the snarky comments one might make about any odd episodic elements.

Here's a wee bit of the recap from last week's "Lost" which sort of captures how much fun the writers at Television Without Pity can have:

"Sawyer has his brow furrowed in confusion and consternation. He asks, "Locke is dead because you threw him out a window?" Bad Dad says that he didn't die from being thrown out a window; he died when his plane crashed in the middle of the Pacific. Sawyer looks relieved. He says he was on that plane too, and he's not dead. Bad Dad fills him in on the fact that they found the plane's wreckage and all the bodies. Sawyer refuses to believe that he's dead, because he's standing on an Island. Bad Dad asks again if Sawyer is sure it's an Island. Sawyer punts by asking, if it's not an Island, what is it? Bad Dad laughs that it's a little hot for heaven. Sawyer rolls his eyes, but Bad Dad says, "One minute I'm in a car wreck, the next I'm in a pirate ship in the middle of the jungle. If it's not hell, friend, where are we?" I think that was supposed to mirror Charlie's line from the first episode ever, but I don't really have the energy to parse it out, because during the last five minutes of the show, I have wandered over to my bedroom and slammed the closet door on my head about twelve times."

The full recap is here. And if you are a devoted follower of most any show, they've got dozens of forums for you to debate "what it all means."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Free Number Ones CDs for You!

A pause here today in the retelling of my great good fortunes of the last week to share some freebies with you. I've got some CDs to give away, part of a massive collection of music from Universal Music.

I've been listening to the Jazz Number Ones collection myself and it's fine stuff. Quincy Jones' "Killer Joe," Etta James' "At Last," Nina Simone's "I Put A Spell On You" are just some of the 17 tracks of jazz hits.

Here's what I have for you readers -- The Marvin Gaye Number Ones, The Temptations Number Ones, James Brown Number Ones and Diana Ross and the Supremes Number Ones. How can you get one of these must-have collections?

Just leave a comment on this post telling me which of the four you want and why you want it -- maybe it brings back great memories or maybe the music is something you are still discovering. Leave your entry before midnight on Thursday, May 10.

One entry per person and you must be at least 18 to enter. Be sure and include your email address in your comment, and I'll pick four lucky winners by this Friday, May 11 and post their names and then I'll send you the CD. Free.

One thing I like about this collection is that the CD package is made from recycled materials, and isn't a maze of plastic and stickers to untangle. Easy to open and earth-friendly!

The complete list of CDs in this collection can be explored here at Number Ones. Sample tracks and complete CD tracks are also listed. You can also choose ringtones and wallpaper from the collection too.

The collection includes number one hits from Country, Soul, Dance, Jazz, Motown, Soundtracks, hits from the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s and even more individual artists and groups, from Hank Williams Sr. to Lionel Ritcie and Elton John and many more.

This is simply a way to say thanks to all the readers here as Cup of Joe Powell closes in on 100,000 hits -- some free hits for you too!

Monday, May 07, 2007

Da Vinci Goes to the Air and Space Museum

The blend of work and pleasure has happened to me more than once, but the past week was one of the most memorable such blends. I hope it is also a sign that the future holds even more opportunities where work and pleasure co-exist for your humble narrator.

I'll explain some of the details of the how and the why in a later post. For now, let me just offer some tantalizing examples of why I had a fine week.

Imagine getting an offer to fly to Washington DC and stay at the ritzy Washington Court Hotel, all expenses paid, and to spend my working hours entertaining folks as a historical character -- in my case I performed as a Russian Cosmonaut and as Leonardo da Vinci. Added bonus - I was told I would be performing the da Vinci role at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum, which would be closed for the evening for a private catered party.

I had to pinch myself more than once at Air and Space. It's a place which I had visited before, spending hours wandering thru the exhibits and gawking at the displays of planes and rockets which made history. To be strolling casually through it, sipping wine and acting as da Vinci ("I invented everything here, you know. I never finish, I just make a sketch.") while a jazz combo played just under the heat shield of the Apollo 11 Command Module ... and to be paid while doing all that ... it makes you say Life is Good.

It also made me think if I ever do go to space, I want a jazz combo on board playing the whole time. Jazz and Space. Each compliments the other.

As I mentioned in my previous post , my camera wasn't working, but fellow performer MountainGirlXD was kind enough to share the photos she took. So here you are -- first, me as daVinci. The costume wasn't too uncomfortable, but man that hair and beard took some work so it did not look like Santa. A little bit of make-up was needed too, so that the wig did not look Mamie Van Doren's hair and too much would have made me look like Bob in Twin Peaks. One thing I learned was that about half of those I talked with thought that da Vinci painted the Sistine Chapel. And just for the record, I doubt there would much difference between da Vinci's astonishment inside that museum and mine.

Sadly, as exciting as the exhibits were, I hate to think we now see space exploration as merely an exhibit in a museum, part of our past. It must remain part of our future, too.

Here's a shot of the X-1, which broke air speed records when piloted by Chuck Yeager.

I admit to being stunned when thinking that a company could rent out the museum for the evening and have dinner catered. I'm sure I could live quite well for years on what that must have cost.

In the next post, I'll have more on how I landed the job last week and other tales from Washington, so stay tuned.

Oh, and why not take a peek at MountainGirlXD as she played the role of Amelia Earhart?