Friday, September 30, 2005

Private Security Companies

You won't find all of the world's private security companies on the web, but many do advertise their services in that way. Here's a sampling of what's available if you need to hire an army:

  • Blackwater USA
  • Cubic Corporation
  • Diligence, Inc.
  • DynCorp International
  • Genric
  • Global Risk International
  • ISI Iraq
  • Military Professional Resources, Inc. (MPRI)
  • Northbridge Services Group
  • Sumer International Security (SIS)
  • Triple Canopy, Inc.
  • Vinnell Corporation
  • Thursday, September 29, 2005


    Because the subject of private security firms came up at the very end of class on Tuesday, this seems an opportune time to fulfill a promise made many weeks ago to say a few things about mercenaries and modern war.


    Mercenaries have been around for almost as long as recorded history, but the term "mercenary" is one that the current purveyors of privatized military services would prefer never to see or hear again. They believe it conjures up all sorts of negative images, none of which are applicable to them. It’s not entirely clear, though, why they think the negative images shouldn’t be associated with what they do. The best explanation is that "private security firms" are commercial enterprises and, like other businesses, they understand the importance of public perceptions. Just as the companies that haul your trash are far more likely to say they’re in "waste management" rather than "garbage" or "trash collecting," so hired guns prefer to call hemselves "security consultants" rather than "mercenaries."

    The fact of the matter is that "security consultants" go to war zones, engage in many of the same military activities that state-supported armies engage in, take and inflict casualties, and generally do it all with a high degree of expertise. But it is not military service. While those who perform their jobs well may earn bonuses from the corporation, they are not awarded Purple Hearts or Bronze Stars from a grateful nation.

    Of course, an All-Volunteer Force, which the United States has had since the end of the Vietnam War, means that most of those in the military services are also there for the money. This is abundantly clear from the distinctly lower-class cast of the ranks of enlisted men and women and the fact that military recruiters do better during a recession. For most people, the military is a job, one that is far better when no war is going on. Glory and honor, the thanks of a grateful nation, the pride that comes with wearing the flag and a military insignia on one’s shoulder--these things, for most people, are secondary to merely having a job.

    So, if it is out of the question to return to a draft that would make military service a matter of duty crossing class boundaries--not to mention filling the ranks so that soldiers, rather than Halliburton employees, could once again be expected to cook meals and clean latrines--why shouldn’t the military contract out many of its functions? If members of Special Operations Forces who have retired from active duty are having trouble finding jobs back home that make use of their hard-earned skills doing things like jumping out of helicopters, planting bombs, or entering secure buildings unnoticed, why not encourage them to form "private security companies" and return to war zones in the employ of the United States Government (although in a somewhat different capacity)? Is the idea that soldiers fight for their country rather than for themselves a romantic notion left over from the heyday of the nation-state?

    To some extent it is. When the country goes to war for reasons that do not touch on its vital interests, it might as well use mercenaries. Perhaps that’s why private security firms have been more pervasive in America’s war in Iraq than in its war in Afghanistan.

    (UN peacekeepers, incidentally, are something of a hybrid of state and private militaries. States essentially "rent" troops and equipment to the UN for peacekeeping missions. Some states--Fiji, for example--have been known to seek out opportunities to rent their military forces to the UN as a means of earning a bit of money for the state.)

    One of the problems with "hired guns" is that waging a war of choice (rather than a war of necessity) is easer for a democracy if there are no body counts and flag-draped coffins returning home. Mercenaries don’t get that kind of treatment. We don’t grieve the deaths of Blackwater employees--nor do we even hear about those deaths unless something exceptional happens.

    Wars employing mercenaries are the next best thing to covert wars for those concerned about public opinion. And that’s a bad thing in a democracy where we ought to be waging wars of necessity only--wars that, because the defense of the state and its values are truly at stake, will be supported by a majority of the citizenry.

    A prediction: As the United States begins its pullout from Iraq--and it’s only a matter of time at this point--Pentagon contracts to private security companies will increase. Many of the troops will come home, but tens of thousands of Americans without uniforms will continue to wage war in Iraq.

    Another Apologist for Torture

    Timothy E. Flanigan, President Bush's nominee to be deputy attorney general, will soon be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate. Like Alberto Gonzales, his former boss in the Office of the White House Counsel and his future boss at the Justice Department, Flanigan likes to play word games when the subject of torture arises.

    Yesterday, the Washington Post condemned Flanigan's evasions in response to Senate Judiciary Committee questions and noted their effects in an editorial:

    Like Mr. Gonzales, he has piously repeated the administration's insistence that it does not engage in torture. Yet, also following the administration's disgraceful line, he has refused to say that conduct just short of torture--which is banned by treaty and is a stain on American honor--is either illegal or improper when inflicted on foreigners overseas.

    Mr. Bush has promised that all detainees will be treated humanely. Yet, when asked how he would define humane treatment, Mr. Flanigan declared that he does "not believe that the term 'inhumane' treatment is susceptible to a succinct definition." Did the White House provide any guidance as to its meaning? "I am not aware of any guidance provided by the White House specifically related to the meaning of humane treatment."

    Mr. Flanigan could not even bring himself to declare particularly barbaric interrogation tactics either legally or morally off-limits. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) asked him about "waterboarding," mock executions, physical beatings and painful stress positions. Mr. Flanigan responded: "Whether a particular interrogation technique is lawful depends on the facts and circumstances," and without knowing these, "it would be inappropriate for me to speculate about the legality of the techniques you describe." And he reiterated that "inhumane" can't be coherently defined.

    Lynndie England has been sentenced to three years in prison for her role in the Abu Ghraib scandal. Joshua Claus has just been sentenced to five months in prison for his role in the murder of a man known as Dilawar in Afghanistan. And yet Timothy Flanigan, who can't say what constitutes "inhumane" treatment of detainees--not even when an honorable soldier like Capt. Ian Fishback needs guidance after the President has declared the Geneva Conventions to be inapplicable--is about to become the deputy attorney general of the United States.

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    The End of Poverty

    I have finally begun reading The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey D. Sachs. It is compelling, just as I expected it to be given the subject and the author's credentials.

    The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities For Our Time

    What I had not expected to find was a compelling foreword by Bono--not that I wasn't aware of his passion for Africa and his gift for oratory. This passage--referring to the fact that 15,000 Africans die of preventable or treatable diseases each and every day--was particularly arresting:

    This statistic alone makes a fool of the idea many of us hold on to very tightly: the idea of equality. What is happening in Africa mocks our pieties, doubts our concern, and questions our commitment to that whole concept. Because if we’re honest, there’s no way we could conclude that such mass death day after day would ever be allowed to happen anywhere else. Certainly not in North America, or Europe, or Japan. An entire continent bursting into flames? Deep down, if we really accept that their lives--African lives--are equal to ours, we would all be doing more to put the fire out. It’s an uncomfortable truth.

    Perhaps we have come to the point where we must be prepared either to embrace the end of poverty or to cast off our belief in equality. Of course, there is not likely to be any help in ending poverty from the many Americans who stopped believing in equality a long time ago.

    The Last Abu Ghraib Conviction

    Private Lynndie England today became the ninth American soldier convicted in the Abu Ghraib scandal. England, who was photographed smiling and pointing at naked Iraqi prisoners and holding a leash attached to one, now faces up to nine years in prison.

    Just as in two prior trials and five prior plea bargains related to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Private England's trial failed to answer the most important question: How high up the chain of command did responsibility for the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib go?

    Sunday, September 25, 2005

    Prisoner Abuse and Revenge

    Abusing Iraqi prisoners is not just bad for America's image abroad. It also threatens the security of the United States. Why? Because it fuels a desire for revenge. That desire can persist undiminished for years. Laura Blumenfeld quotes a Bedouin saying in her book Revenge: A Story of Hope: "If a man takes revenge after forty years, he was in a hurry."

    Mahatma Gandhi may have been right when he said, "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind," but many in the world haven't accepted this view. When Blumenfeld asked a Christian Albanian how his nation's fixation on revenge squared with Christ's admonition to turn the other cheek, the Albanian laughed and replied, "In Albania we have 'Don't hit my cheek because I'll kill you.'"

    The humiliation of torture or other degrading treatment is not easily forgotten. Many who experience it and live to tell about it--and many others who simply hear of it--are likely to desire revenge. And that guarantees a generation or more of anti-American terrorism.

    Saturday, September 24, 2005

    More Evidence of Prisoner Abuse

    According to a story in today's New York Times, American soldiers in Iraq have been routinely abusing prisoners.

    Three former members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division say soldiers in their battalion in Iraq routinely beat and abused prisoners in 2003 and 2004 to help gather intelligence on the insurgency and to amuse themselves.

    The new allegations, the first involving members of the elite 82nd Airborne, are contained in a report by Human Rights Watch. The 30-page report does not identify the troops, but one is Capt. Ian Fishback, who has presented some of his allegations in letters this month to top aides of two senior Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, John W. Warner of Virginia, the chairman, and John McCain of Arizona. Captain Fishback approached the Senators' offices only after he tried to report the allegations to his superiors for 17 months, the aides said. The aides also said they found the captain's accusations credible enough to warrant investigation.

    Human Rights Watch reports that prisoners were subjected to extremes of hot and cold, sleep deprivation, and stress positions. Chemical substances were sometimes reportedly used on prisoners' skin and eyes. On one occasion, a soldier broke a prisoner's leg with a baseball bat.

    One of the soldiers (apparently Capt. Fishback) whose testimony Human Rights Watch used to compile its report on prisoner abuse stated, "I thought that the chain of command all the way up to the National Command Authority [President Bush and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld] had made it a policy that we were going to interrogate these guys harshly. . . . We knew where the Geneva Conventions drew the line, but then you get that confusion when the Sec Def [Secretary of Defense] and the President make that statement [that Geneva did not apply to detainees] . . . . Had I thought we were following the Geneva Conventions as an officer I would have investigated what was clearly a very suspicious situation."

    It is time for Congress to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate all allegations of prisoner abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo.

    Thursday, September 22, 2005

    Lord of War

    Lord of War, starring Nicholas Cage as an international arms dealer and Ethan Hawke as the Interpol agent who tries to arrest him, begins tomorrow. The film has attracted the attention of Amnesty International, which has a web page devoted to it. Amnesty works with a number of NGOs, including the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), to try to curb international arms trafficking.

    More on the film later--after I've had a chance to see it. Meanwhile, you can see the trailer here.

    Katrina and NOLA's Prisoners

    Add this, from a Human Rights Watch press release issued today, to the many institutional failures that occurred in the wake of Hurricane Katrina:

    As Hurricane Katrina began pounding New Orleans, the sheriff's department abandoned hundreds of inmates imprisoned in the city’s jail, Human Rights Watch said today.

    Inmates in Templeman III, one of several buildings in the Orleans Parish Prison compound, reported that as of Monday, August 29, there were no correctional officers in the building, which held more than 600 inmates. These inmates, including some who were locked in ground-floor cells, were not evacuated until Thursday, September 1, four days after flood waters in the jail had reached chest-level.

    "Of all the nightmares during Hurricane Katrina, this must be one of the worst," said Corinne Carey, researcher from Human Rights Watch. "Prisoners were abandoned in their cells without food or water for days as floodwaters rose toward the ceiling."

    This is yet another facet of a national disgrace.

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    HIV/AIDS and International Security

    Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations will be participating in a national conference call tomorrow. Her topic is the threat posed by HIV/AIDS, a subject Dan Caldwell and I address in Seeking Security in an Insecure World. Here's a brief excerpt from the book:

    HIV/AIDS is recognized as a clear and present danger. By the end of 2004, approximately forty-two million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS and twenty million had died from the pandemic. Since the disease was first identified just over twenty years ago, seventy million people have been infected. Three million people died of the disease in 2004 alone. Ninety-five percent of those infected with HIV are in the developing world, almost thirty million in sub-Saharan Africa alone. Every day, eight thousand people worldwide die of HIV/AIDS, and every day there are fourteen thousand new cases, over half of them among people under twenty-five years of age. Within two decades, HIV/AIDS will have surpassed all other diseases, including smallpox, as the most prolific killer in history. An official of the U.S. National Intelligence Council has noted that AIDS "has already killed more people than all the soldiers killed in the major wars of the twentieth century, and equals the toll taken by the bubonic plague in 1347. The bad news about AIDS is that unless something is done in the near future, we’re on a trajectory for things to get much worse." The World Bank estimates that an additional forty-five million people will have become infected with HIV/AIDS in the 2002–10 period.

    Hurricanes and Global Warming

    As Hurricane Rita gathers strength from the unusually warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, some are finally beginning to consider the impact of global warming on tropical storms. Hurricanes intensify over warm water and weaken over cooler water. The oceans, like the atmosphere, have experienced a net increase in temperature as a consequence of global warming. But can we really predict whether global warming will produce more Category 5 hurricanes than we've experienced in the past?

    Climate change scientists tend to be reluctant--and cautious--predictors. Most prefer not to make predictions without a great deal of observational data. Insurers, on the other hand, never have the luxury of waiting for all the data to come in before making predictions. Their profitability depends on the predictions they make about the risks they've assumed. And on the relationship between hurricanes and global warming, insurers are now making some interesting predictions.

    Consider this exchange in onearth, the quarterly magazine of the Natural Resources Defense Council--an exchange that was in print before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast:

    Q: I've just lived through another hurricane season in Florida. Is it true that global warming could increase my insurance?

    A: Scientists believe that global warming is making hurricanes and tropical storms more destructive, so as damage claims increase, it's likely that insurance will be more expensive, and perhaps more difficult to obtain. Over the past three decades, sea surface temperatures have risen, and today's average storm has higher wind speeds and lasts longer than those of the 1970s. Temperature isn't the only factor that controls storm frequency and intensity, but warmer water pumps more energy into the storm system, so its effect is pretty hard to ignore. Insurance industry risk analysts are just beginning to factor global warming into their assessments. Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurance company (an insurer of the insurance industry, in other words), believes that global warming is already taxing the insurance industry. Insured disaster losses totaled $44 billion last year--an industry record. Some say insurers are simply looking to global warming as an excuse to raise insurance rates; that increased coastal development is partly to blame. The Assocation of British Insurers predicts that global warming is likely to increase the worldwide cost of major storms by as much as two thirds over the next 75 years.

    Foreign Courts and John Roberts

    This brief essay by law professor Ann Althouse provides a gentle rebuttal to those (including John Roberts) who believe that American judges should never cite foreign legal precedents. The larger question, of course, is whether the American exceptionalism that motivates such isolationist views might be misguided, but for now it's worth simply enjoying Althouse's encomium for an open mind and a liberal education.

    Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    Preemption--with Nukes

    The role of nuclear weapons in the military posture of the United States is often ignored in the post-9/11 world. It shouldn't be, especially not as long as the Bush Administration continues to believe that preemption is a reasonable strategy for the United States.

    On September 11, Walter Pincus reported in the Washington Post that the Pentagon's draft revision of nuclear weapons doctrine (Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, March 15, 2005) allows military commanders to request the use of nuclear weapons to preempt WMD use by states or terrorist groups against the United States. Such a policy, if adopted, would marry the considerable risks associated with all preemptive uses of military force (including those relating to Iraq and faulty assumptions regarding active WMD programs) to the international revulsion that would inevitably accompany the first-use of nuclear weapons. The international community would regard the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003 as absolutely right and proper in comparison with preemption using nuclear weapons.

    Others apparently agree. Yesterday Pincus reported that the Pentagon is having second thoughts about the change in nuclear doctrine after members of Congress and others expressed alarm following the first Post story on the topic.

    Friday, September 16, 2005

    Photos of Our Nuclear Landscape

    In a forthcoming post, I plan to discuss the role that the American nuclear arsenal may soon come to play in the Bush Administration's "war on terrorism." Before doing that, however, I want to offer an opportunity for you to get reacquainted with that arsenal. It has been out of the spotlight since 9/11 when, suddenly, attention shifted from the nuclear weapons that we know are out there (in American, Russian, Chinese, and other stockpiles) to those that we fear might be out there.

    The United States maintains over 6,000 active nuclear warheads in its stockpile (along with 4,200 additional inactive warheads), according to Natural Resources Defense Council estimates. To see what many of them look like, go to, a strangely beautiful collection of photographs. The site describes itself this way: is the only comprehensive source for independent photographs of U.S. nuclear weapons. It is an exclusive collection produced by Paul Shambroom for his project "Face to Face with the Bomb: Nuclear Reality After the Cold War."

    Granted unprecedented access by military officials, Paul has photographed in twenty states and the South Pacific between 1992 and the present. These images reveal in startling, intimate detail the missiles, warheads, bombers, submarines, and command centers that make up the U.S.'s far-flung nuclear infrastructure. They depict both historic Cold War-era weaponry shortly before being mothballed and new warhead designs and missile defense prototypes that may be deployed well into the twenty-first century.

    Look at the photos and remember what once was--and may again become--the greatest threat to human security.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    Reviewing Bush's UN Speech

    Today the Los Angeles Times assessed George W. Bush's address to the UN General Assembly yesterday. It's good for democracy when newspaper supply the facts that corroborate or, in this case, refute the claims made by our leaders.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    The Leaders

    With world leaders gathered at the United Nations this week for the 2005 World Summit, this might be a good time for a photo quiz. Can you name the leaders pictured in the following photos? (Or, in the case of the last photo, can you identify the world leader writing a note about needing a bathroom break?)

    Answers are posted in the comments.

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Bolton Likes It

    The United Nations General Assembly today approved a draft document to be adopted by 149 world leaders attending the 2005 World Summit, which begins tomorrow in New York. The Guardian (London) describes the document this way:

    This final draft, to be presented to the leaders for publication on Friday, fell far short of ambitious proposals for an overhaul of the UN which was set out earlier this year by Kofi Annan, the secretary general.

    Development campaigners expressed disappointment at the lack of progress on aid, debt and, particularly, trade. Ambassadors at the UN, who have been engaged in tortuous negotiations for weeks, made one final push yesterday to find consensus but soon abandoned the attempt.

    According to the story, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton "said he was pleased with the final draft."

    Commentary from Singapore

    Tom Friedman, commenting on Katrina from Singapore in tomorrow's New York Times, quotes Straits Times columnist Janadas Devan:

    Today's conservatives differ in one crucial aspect from yesterday's conservatives: the latter believed in small government, but believed, too, that a country ought to pay for all the government that it needed.

    The former believe in no government, and therefore conclude that there is no need for a country to pay for even the government that it does have....[But] it is not only government that doesn't show up when government is starved of resources and leached of all its meaning. Community doesn't show up either, sacrifice doesn't show up, pulling together doesn't show up, "we're all in this together" doesn't show up.

    Governments can impose order in society from the top down or they can foster community. It is undoubtedly more difficult to foster community than it is to impose order, but the difference between the two modes is what separates freedom from tyranny.

    Carlos and Katrina

    Yesterday, while waiting for a board meeting to begin in the offices of El Rescate, I had a nice conversation with a man named Carlos. Carlos works with Comunidades, an organization of Salvadoran immigrants who fund development projects in their hometowns back in El Salvador. With considerable pride, Carlos told me about the school that had been established in his hometown of Cacaopera to teach people to make clothes for export. Fifteen sewing machines costing $120 each, he said, have been purchased in an effort to provide job opportunities for some of the people in the community.

    Carlos was obviously a man with a big heart, but even knowing that, I wasn't prepared for what he told me about Comunidades' current project. Comunidades is now raising money to donate to the relief effort in New Orleans. Even though El Salvador is among the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, even though it suffered through a decade-long civil war, and even though it has suffered major devastation from earthquakes and hurricanes in recent years, Salvadorans in Los Angeles are turning their attention from the needs of their own hometowns to the needs of Americans along the Gulf Coast. I couldn't help but think of the widow's mite--and the dissatisfaction Christ expressed with those who have so much but give so little.

    In answer to the question I posed in yesterday's post, the United States gives a little over 0.1 percent (0.16 percent, to be precise) of gross domestic income in official development assistance each year--a penny, a nickel, and a dime for every $100 of national income.

    Monday, September 12, 2005

    The 2005 World Summit

    The 2005 World Summit begins at the United Nations on Wednesday. The meeting of world leaders is designed to provide an opportunity to take stock and renew the commitment of the international community to the Millennium Development Goals.

    In tomorrow's New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof fires a shot across the bow of the world's leaders for their failure to address global poverty. He points out that the recently released Human Development Report "notes that the U.S. and other rich countries seem unwilling to provide a total of $7 billion annually for the next decade to provide 2.6 billion people with access to clean drinking water," an investment that "would save 4,000 lives a day" at a cost that is "less than Europeans spend on perfume--or than Americans spend on cosmetic surgery." The report also notes that "annual world spending to fight AIDS amounts to three days of military expenditures."

    This might be a good time to ask how much money the government of the United States contributes each year in overseas development assistance. As a percentage of gross domestic income, is it closest to

    • 2 percent?
    • 1 percent?
    • 0.1 percent?
    • 0.02 percent?

    You can find the answer in Kristof's column--or you can check back here tomorrow.

    Sunday, September 11, 2005

    Since 9/11

    It has been four years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01.
    • Osama bin Laden remains at large.
    • Al Qaeda has become an amorphous, difficult-to-track movement.
    • Afghanistan has been conquered but remains unstable.
    • Iraq has been conquered but has become unstable.
    • The United States has begun torturing prisoners.
    • FEMA has become a national embarrassment.
    • North Korea has become a nuclear-weapons states.
    • Iran has moved closer to becoming a nuclear-weapons state.
    • The United States is, arguably, less secure than it was in 2001.

    Those who take comfort in the fact that the 9/11 tragedy has not been repeated should recall that Al Qaeda or its subsidiaries have attacked Madrid, London, Bali, Riyadh, Istanbul, and Casablanca since 2001.

    Saturday, September 10, 2005

    The Cover

    Katrina, the Environment, and Human Security

    The following observation from Seeking Security in an Insecure World (due out in early December) has, sadly, been validated by Hurricane Katrina:

    Climate change, like virtually every other environmental threat, will affect the poor much more than it will the rich. The poor are, in many instances, dependent on the very resources and economic activities that are most likely to be affected by climate change. Subsistence agriculture, for example, may be affected in some regions by prolonged drought and in other regions by an increase in the number and severity of violent storms. Either drought or flooding can be devastating to communities living close to the margin of existence. Flooding, of course, is likely to be a particularly acute problem for people living in low-lying coastal areas, among them roughly seventy million Bangladeshis. However problematic and unpalatable many of the solutions will be, wealthy states (and wealthy individuals) will be able to purchase a measure of security against environmental threats, security that will simply be unavailable to many in the world. To put it bluntly but accurately, the rich will be able to buy their way out of many aspects of the problem.

    There is nothing prophetic about this statement (which was written eight months ago). It merely describes what has happened over and over again in cases of environmental catastrophes.

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    A Stone for Bread

    "When the logic of history hungers for bread and we hand out a stone, we are at pains to explain how much the stone resembles bread."

    --Aldo Leopold, "The Land Ethic" (1949)

    Tuesday, September 06, 2005

    Revelations in New Orleans

    James Carroll and Nicholas Kristof both describe some of what Katrina's aftermath should tell us about our country.

    Environmental Refugees

    According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), at the beginning of 2005 there were 19,200,000 people "of concern" to the agency--refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, internally-displaced persons (IDPs), and previously displaced persons still requiring assistance. The UNHCR, following the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, counts as "refugees" only those persons who have left their own country due to a well-founded fear of persecution. There are, of course, other reasons why people may feel it necessary to leave their homes to seek security elsewhere.

    The disaster (part natural, part anthropogenic) in New Orleans has produced a million or more "environmental refugees." To see refugees of any kind in the United States is shocking, but it is not unprecedented. In the 1930s, three million people left Oklahoma to escape the catastrophic environmental collapse that produced the "Dust Bowl."

    What makes America's refugees different from those we occasionally glimpse in sporadic news reports from Chad, for example, where thousands of Sudanese have fled in an effort to escape genocidal campaigns in Darfur, is the character of the accommodations we offer our refugees. Rather than erecting tent cities as the Red Cross and the International Rescue Committee have done in Africa, America is housing its refugees inside the symbols of its wealth: its domed sports stadiums. In Houston, it was a spare domed stadium, the Astrodome, that was first pressed into service as a camp for environmental refugees. In the Astrodome, in Reliant Stadium, and in New Orleans' own Superdome, people too poor ever to even hope to be able to buy tickets on the fifty-yard line find themselves sleeping on cots at midfield.

    The incongruity of people who have lost all of what little they ever possessed sleeping in arenas where people with six-figure salaries go to watch athletes with seven- and eight-figure salaries is startling. And while Americans' outpouring of assistance to the flooding victims in New Orleans is gratifying, we must not congratulate ourselves on our generosity without first asking what people in other parts of the world are asking about us: How did we ever become so complacent about such poverty in the midst of such wealth?