Americans are known for outsourcing everything. So, why not the Iraq war too? Currently, contractors in Iraq number more than 180,000, according to the Associated Press. 137,000 of them are working for the Department of Defense, and thousands more have been separately contracted by the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Their number is greater than the 163,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq now.

As journalist Jeremy Scahill writes, "In essence, the Bush administration has created a shadow army that can be used to wage wars unpopular with the American public but extremely profitable for a few unaccountable private companies."

And this "shadow army" is accountable to no one, thanks to the immunity granted by U.S. authorities following the invasion in 2003, which essentially prohibits Iraqi courts from prosecuting contractors. This action prompted politicians on both sides of the aisle to introduce bills which would place U.S. security contractors under U.S. federal criminal codes. But in the meantime, contractors continue to rake in billions of dollars in Iraq and surely, when we withdraw, they'll make bank off that as well.

—Neha Inamdar

Fujimori Handed Over to Peru

Last Friday, Chile's Supreme Court ruled to extradite former Peruvian dictator Alberto Fujimori to face charges of corruption, and more importantly, human rights violations in Peru. Within a day of the decision, authorities packed Fujimori into a helicopter and flew him to the airport, from where he was shuttled off to Lima. This is pretty stunning considering every indication from Chile's high court could have predicted exactly the opposite and that it is not unlike a South American court to let one of its leaders get away with, well, murder. But Chile's unprecedented ruling might just change the game.

News reports indicate that Chile's full Supreme Court lost its nerve after initially deciding to reject Fujimori's extradition, but what's really important here is that for the first time in modern history a domestic court of a sovereign nation has returned a dictator to face the people he abused. I definitely didn't see this one coming.

—Rafael Valero

Ahmadinejad Claims Gays Do Not Exist in Iran

This is why you let guys like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speak. They eventually make asses of themselves. From the Iranian president's highly disputed appearance at Columbia:

Actually, um, there are gays in Iran. Think Progress quotes 365gay.com: "Some international gay rights groups believe that more than 4,000 lesbians and gay men have been executed since the Ayatollahs seized power in 1979." And here's video proof.

DLC Prez Wins Romney Ad-Making Contest

Democratic Leadership Council President and Slate blogger Bruce Reed answered the call last week when the Romney for President campaign launched a "create your own ad" contest. Team Mitt promised to buy air time for the ad with the most "love" and page views. Reed apparently couldn't resist. He used the campaign's official materials (provided by the contest), cut and pasted, and— voila!—created "Way!," a funny riff on how Mitt dissuaded son Tagg from becoming a Democrat.

The Romney people were not amused and have banned Reed's creation from the contest (which got all of 137 entries, according to Reed). Nonetheless, Reed's creation has generated vastly more love than anything the Mitt supporters have come up with. See it for yourself here:
jumpcut movie:"Way!"

Christopher Orr highlights the best part of Newt Gingrich's Fox News interview from yesterday.

CHRIS WALLACE: You've been flirting with the idea of running for president for months. And this week you said you want to see if you can get pledges of $30 million before deciding. How is that going to work?
NEWT GINGRICH: ....Next Monday, Randy Evans, who's been my friend and adviser for many, many years, will hold a press briefing. Randy will spend the next three weeks checking with people around the country. If he reports back that, in fact, we think the resources are there for a real race.... then close to that we'll face a very big decision in late October. If there aren't enough resources, I'm not for doing unrealistic things.
WALLACE: But why even go through it unless, if you get the money, you'd run?
GINGRICH: I think the odds are very high, if we ended up with that level of pledges, we'd -- I don't see as a citizen how you could turn that down.
WALLACE: So you'd run.
GINGRICH: I think you'd be compelled to.

People say Hillary would fare poorly in a general election because she would energize Republicans. Newt Gingrich would do the same to Democrats, except times a thousand. So everyone get out your checkbooks and start mailing money to this Randy Evans fellow. Or just use newt.org. Winning the future!

More on Rudy and the NRA

Here's Rudy awkwardly answering a phone call from his wife during the speech I mentioned below. Note the equally awkward jokes afterward.

And here's Rudy roughly ten years ago calling the NRA extremists. This can't play well.

Giuliani: 9/11 Changed My Views on Gun Control

This video shows Rudy Giuliani explaining his stance on guns to the NRA. He cites 9/11 as one of the reasons why he is changing his pro-gun control views.

Tim Grieve at War Room asks the obvious questions: "Could the citizens of New York have stopped the attacks of 9/11 if they'd opened fire on those airplanes with handguns and hunting rifles? Should airline passengers be allowed to carry weapons on board?" I'll add: does Rudy Giuliani think American citizens will soon be fighting terrorists in the streets of their hometowns? Is that what he envisions as the future of The Terrorists' War on Us?

The easiest explanation for all this nonsense is that Giuliani is pandering, plain and simple. The more complex reason is that Giuliani's experience on 9/11 made him overly paranoid about the world's dangers and simultaneously hardened him to what is normal, sane, and good in the world. He now sees danger around every turn — primarily from Islamic terrorists but really from everyone, from everywhere, and at all times.

And, I'll be perfectly honest, there is a portion of America that actually wants those qualities in a leader. This is the country in which we live, no?

Why Banks Want Your Checks to Bounce

Back in the day, writing bad checks used to be a criminal offense. Now, it's a profit center. Banks make an eye-popping $17.5 billion a year by encouraging us to overdraw our checking accounts. Banks hold on to deposits and clear checks in a way that ensures the maximum number of bounces, regardless of when the checks were actually cashed. They let us use ATM and debit cards even when there's no money in our accounts. Then they charge us $34 a pop for the favor. Some banks even charge extra fees for every day an account is in the red, turning overdraft "protection" into a form of loansharking, with interest rates that would make Tony Soprano blush. Except when banks do it, it's all legal.

Tomorrow, the U.S. House Financial Services Committee will vote on a bill that might change some of this. Among other things, H.R. 946 would prohibit banks from manipulating check-clearing to enhance overdraft fees and require banks to warn customers that their accounts are overdrawn before allowing them to make a purchase with a debit card or make an ATM withdrawal. Seems sensible enough, but expect a major fight over this one, given the money involved. You can read more about overdraft abuses here.

The good people over at TPM filed a Freedom of Information Act request to find out exactly what counting system General Petraeus was using when he went before Congress and said that sectarian violence is down in Iraq. A number of independent assessments and outside experts either contradicted his claims or threw serious doubt on them.

Here are some answers. First, any violence perpetrated by Sunnis on other Sunnis or by Shiites or other Shiites doesn't count. While that seems like a natural enough thing to exclude from a definition of "sectarian violence," it means that the general level of crime/lawlessness in Iraq is scrubbed out of Petraeus' numbers. It also means that when the sect of a perpetrator of a violent crime isn't immediately obvious, the authorities have the ability to do some investigating and deducing, and then to label the attack as either sectarian or non-sectarian. And those authorities, be they Iraqi or American, absolutely have an agenda.

Second, attacks on U.S. forces don't count. Again, a reasonable thing to exclude from a tabulation of sectarian attacks. But Petraeus should have presented statistics on the number of attacks on U.S. forces with the same frequency and prominence that he presented stats on sectarian violence.

Third, attacks on the Iraqi government or Iraqi security forces are not included. This is just preposterous. The Shiites control the government and have infiltrated the security forces. The Sunnis insurgents had control of the country for decades and are now on the outs. This can't be stressed enough: when insurgents attack the government, their intentions are sectarian. Whatever other motivations there might be, they cannot be teased out from sect-based hatred and jockeying for power.

When Sunni insurgents attack the government or the government's corrupt goons in uniform, they do so because their targets are Shiites. That's reality. When the Army believes otherwise it is an act of willful ignorance meant to deceive the American people.

When this happened, we should have known this was the case:

Senior Iraqi officials repeatedly complained to U.S. officials about Blackwater USA's alleged involvement in the deaths of numerous Iraqis, but the Americans took little action to regulate the private security firm until 11 Iraqis were shot dead last Sunday, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials.
Before that episode, U.S. officials were made aware in high-level meetings and formal memorandums of Blackwater's alleged transgressions. They included six violent incidents this year allegedly involving the North Carolina firm that left a total of 10 Iraqis dead, the officials said.
"There were no concrete results," Lt. Gen. Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister who oversees the private security industry on behalf of the Iraqi government, said in an interview Saturday.
The lack of a U.S. response underscores the powerlessness of Iraqi officials to control the tens of thousands of security contractors who operate under U.S.-drafted Iraqi regulations that shield them from Iraqi laws.

Read the full Post article for more info. Read this Mother Jones feature for more on Blackwater.