Crime Pays for Blackwater


If a gang shoots down 17 people, its members are headed to jail … or worse. But if the gang belongs to a corporation, the perpetrators don’t even get charged. Instead, the corporation gets a multimillion-dollar government contract.

Welcome to Bushworld and the special treatment of Blackwater Inc. Last fall, these notorious private warriors were deep in hot water. The corporation, hired by the Bushites to provide security for State Department officials in Iraq, fostered a culture of arrogance and violence, and some of its freelance Rambos had gunned down 17 civilians in a Baghdad intersection.

Investigations were launched, justice promised, reforms proposed. Six months later, not a single charge has been filed, and it’s said that Blackwater will face no prosecution. Meanwhile, the Bush White House is working to kill a bill that would make for-profit mercenaries liable for their actions in future cases.

All this would be insult enough to our sense of justice, but now comes an outrageous capper to this sordid saga: The Bushites have handed Blackwater another Iraq contract. Crime does pay!

Worse than the contract is its rationale. The under secretary of state for management showed how badly Bush & Co. have mismanaged their war by flatly declaring: “We cannot operate without private security firms in Iraq.” Excuse me? With all the might of the U.S. military deployed there, the administration claims it can’t protect its own diplomats without resorting to corporate thugs? The under secretary then added: “If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq.”

If America is in that bad a shape, let’s get out of there, pronto!


For such a small creature, shrimp sure have become a giant problem.

Welcome to the costly consequences of a globalized food supply. Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the U.S., and we have both top-quality shrimp and excellent shrimpers in America. Yet, unbeknownst to average consumers, 80 percent of the shrimp we buy is imported.

The reasoning of the import industry (including such big marketers as Wal-Mart) is that it is much cheaper to get the product from Asia. Of course, as shoppers know, shrimp is not cheap at the retail level. Middlemen are skimming off the savings.

There are other costs the industry doesn’t mention, including the carbon footprint created by shipping these crustaceans in refrigerated containers 8,000 miles or more, and the devastating losses suffered by local fishing communities when retailers abandon American producers for their counterparts overseas.

Our imports are no boon to Asian people, either. A recent report on Southeast Asian shrimp processors uncovers child labor, sexual abuse, debt bondage, forced overtime, and nonpayment of wages, describing some factories as “little short of medieval.”

Then there’s quality. As seafood imports have soared, Washington has refused to update and adequately fund the government’s antiquated inspection system. Less than 1 percent of the shrimp entering our ports is even looked at, and only about a fifth of those are inspected. When a batch is tested, it’s often found to be contaminated with veterinary drugs, including cancer-causing nitrofurans.

Globalized food, you see, is a long way from being cheap. In fact, it’s quite costly.


There’s an old cliché that smug right-wingers like to fling: “If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. But if you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no brain.”

Even if that’s true, there’s a third phrase that should be added to this aphorism: “If you’re not a radical at 60, you haven’t been paying attention.”

Ours is a culture that celebrates youth-which is not a bad thing at all, since there is a freshness and idealism in the young that gives our society spark. Yet oldsters, too, bring something special to the cause, for they are in a unique position to question authority, defy the corporate order, and stand up for progressive values. And let’s face it, the clock is ticking, so it’s time to break loose, make a difference, and have some fun being disobedient!

I was recently reminded of seniors’ enormous potential to buck the system when I attended an event in Los Angeles with a group of old folks who proudly call themselves “aging agitators.” They work through an organization called Sunset Hall, whose members range from blue-collar retirees to people from the entertainment world.

Sunset Hall is not a place for the sedentary-it is an activist organization. Many of its members fought labor battles, challenged Joe McCarthy, marched with Martin Luther King Jr., protested the Vietnam War, helped found the modern women’s movement, and pushed environmental issues to the fore. They continue to put their gray heads on the line, both for local and international issues, and reach out to younger activists who need a little support, guidance, and old-time oomph.

Being an agitator is all about attitude-not age. Connect with these freethinking elders at

For more information on Jim Hightower’s work-and to subscribe to his award-winning monthly newsletter, The Hightower Lowdown-visit His newest book, with Susan DeMarco, is Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.