Today's Blogs

Hired Guns Under Fire

Bloggers demand accountability for Blackwater USA. They’re also analyzing Anita Hill’s New York Times op-ed and wondering how a few performance artists wrote their own secret four-year lease on an apartment inside a mall.

Hired guns under fire: Blackwater owner Erik Prince testified Tuesday before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about the the hazards of allowing private security contractors to fight in war zones, in light of the notorious Sept. 16 incident in Nisour Square in Baghdad. The Wednesday New York Times offers a harrowing and thoroughly detailed account of the shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead and 24 wounded.

Mercenary is the word of the day for some. Mark H at the normally scientific denialism blog thinks: “Blackwater is war-profiteering and making things worse for the Americans and Iraqis. How about some jail time? Not just for the killers but for the CEO Erik Prince too.” While Kagro X at Daily Kos argues: “[T]he mercenaries working in Iraq don’t share our national Armed Forces’ mission of creating and supporting a stable post-Saddam government. Witness the December 2006 jailbreak of Ayham al-Samaraie, the former Iraqi electricity minister convicted on corruption charges in late 2006 and imprisoned by the Iraqi government. Awaiting sentencing on his conviction for embezzling $2.5 billion, al-Samaraie hired Blackwater to break him out. He’s now living in exile. In Chicago.”

At Wired’s military blog Danger Room, P.W. Singer, who attended the House hearings Tuesday, notes: “What I found especially telling … was that multiple representatives opened their remarks by talking about how Blackwater contractors protected them while on visits to Iraq. … It showed that they’ve known about the massive use of contractors for years - they just didn’t bother to ask any questions, even when the issue was in their faces.”

But military-affairs blog Strategy Page defends the company and cites its success rate at protecting foreign statesmen and personnel: “Blackwater has never lost any of the State Department people they have escorted. But 30 Blackwater personnel have been killed, along with hundreds of Iraqis (armed and unarmed, the terrorist attacks often use civilians for cover). … Considering what high value targets U.S. diplomats are, and the success of Blackwater in defeating hundreds of attacks, the State Department cannot afford to abandon Blackwater.”

And tactics-and-strategy blog Abu Muqawama concludes: “Blackwater should be held over the coals, sure, but especially the Departments of State and Defense have to be held accountable. Blackwater was just a capitalist enterprise playing on a field with no rules. That’s not their fault. The Departments of State and Defense, however, are paid by the taxpayer to bring a level of oversight and accountability to a little thing called WAR.”

Read more about Blackwater’s travails. In Slate, Bonnie Goldstein posts  a House committee report on Nisour Square and other incidents.

Reliving history: In response to her unflattering portrayal in Clarence Thomas’ memoir, My Grandfather’s Son, Anita Hill has penned an op-ed in the New YorkTimes saying that Thomas, whom she accused of sexual harassment in 1991, was still up to his victim-smearing old tricks. Among other things, Hill defends her religious convictions (called into question by Thomas) and her qualifications for the two jobs she held under him.

At Feministe, zuzu applauds Hill’s self-defense and agrees with her more general assessment of how sexual harassers try to vilify their victims: “[C]asting the complainant as someone who was in trouble at work, who had performance or attitude problems, who’s making the accusations to get back at her supervisor or to prevent being fired … It’s a way of impugning credibility.”

Law blogger Ann Althouse, who’s blogging the memoir as she goes, says Thomas was in the wrong for twice hiring someone he thought was unqualified and pushy when his only motive for doing so was that she was black: “He’s hiring a person he thinks is unqualified because she’s black and she’s friends with his friend. He therefore denied a job to someone else, someone who deserved it. And he’s the one assuming the position of chairman of a commission that is supposed to be about equal opportunity.”

Alabama professor Paul Horwitz at the lawyerly PrawfsBlawg sees more of the he-said/she-said debate: “Absent direct evidence other than the testimony of the two people involved, we are still, these many years later, arguing the truth of the dispute by turning Thomas into a pig or a Victorian gentleman, and Hill into a slut or a saint.” Tell that to Brad Friedman at BradBlog: “You go, girl. 16 years on, however, and we still have no answer as to who placed that pubic hair on Clarence Thomas’s Coke can. Little wonder he stays so quiet on the bench.”

Read more about Anita Hill’s op-ed.

Mall rats: An artist collective in Providence, R.I., spent four years building and sometimes occupying a secret, 750-square-foot apartment in the parking garage of the Providence Place Mall. The group documented their hideaway squatters’ existence, and brought in furniture, rugs, paintings, a China hutch, and a PlayStation 2 before being nabbed by mall security. The leader was sentenced to probation for trespassing.

The guys have a Web site called Trummerkind: “Life from within the mall was committed to the pursuit of normalcy and the purchase of objects and clothing that would help define me an active participant in the great things the mall has to offer. The apartment was a superb space for hosting guests and I only regret that we didn’t have a working toilet.”

“Give the man credit for a sublimely conceived and consummately executed vision,” writes Scotty D at Culture Vulture Time, “and give him a nod for the all too infrequent ability of conveying a sense of aesthetics to those of us out here sweating our way through our daily middle class machinations.”

At least one blogger is unsurprised: “It is known to many that the Providence Place Mall boasts an inordinate number of hidden corridors and rooms,” writesRhode Island blogger Ryan M. at Topogrophy of Ignorance. “A friend of mine discovered, for a memorable time, a labyrinthine route that brought you from a parking lot staircase to the inside of the movie theater.”

Read more about the mallpartment.