Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More Elite Than Our Military?

OPINION- CODY LYON

Why are United States taxpayers paying the private military and security firm Blackwater, $1,222 a day for the services of each of its single protective security specialist. By most estimates that amount is six times what it would cost for a U.S. soldier to perform the same duty.

Thanks to well publicized, reportedly reckless and deadly blunders, including the deaths of sixteen of its own staff, coupled with recent questioning on Capital Hill, at least some of the answers may arrive, eventually. But, as that process lumbers along, and as facts begin their slow ascent into the public forum, the people of the United States may notice their skin crawling with outrage.

That unfortunate and greater truth appears to indicate that a number of well connected private military contractors have gotten rich from our current national nightmare that is Iraq.

Not that Blackwater co-founder Erik Prince ever had anything to worry about when it came time to eat at night. The private school educated, Naval Academy graduate, former navy Seal is, after all, the son of the late Edgar Prince, who founded Prince Automotive, a company that was sold in 1995 for $1.4 billion. Erik Prince’s Mother now manages the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation which has dolled out tremendous amounts of money to socially conservative causes. In 2004, she was the top individual contributor to the Citizens for the Protection of Marriage, an anti-gay marriage group that campaigned to ban same sex marriage in Michigan.

Prince’s sister is the former Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Betsy DeVos. Betsy DeVos is married to Dick DeVos who is the son of the billionaire founder of Amway Corporation Richard DeVos. In 2006, Forbes Magazine estimated Richard DeVos to be the 73rd wealthiest person in the United States. Each of these Prince family connections have given generously to Republican candidates, including President George Bush. Erik Prince himself donated an estimated $200,000 to the Bush campaign.

While there may be a number of soldiers in Iraq who, as they say, “come from money” one wonders, if it’s the kind of money Erik Prince comes from and whether or not, money and connections have the ability to influence decisions on who gets the high paid mercenary license to kill contract.

More curious is the question of how Erik Prince’s company came upon its latest financial windfalls that saw the company, founded in 1997, go from $1 million before 2001, to over $1 billion in awarded government contracts today, several million dollars of which arrived through what are called, single source or no bid arrangements.

A June 24, 2006 “Virginian Pilot” of Hampton Roads, Va., report raised questions about pull and influence among the top brass at Blackwater. In addition to the Erik Prince and his family connections to the Republican Party, the company’s President, Gary Jackson, gave money to some high powered Republican decision makers that included Rep.Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

In addition, the company’s vice chairman, Coffer Black was the former director of the CIA’s counterterrorism unit. In fact, Black was in charge back in 2001 when Al Queda struck on 9/11. He later worked at the State Department joining Blackwater in 2005.

Another Blackwater official, Joseph Schmitz joined Blackwater’s parent company, Prince Group, as its Chief Operating Officer and general counsel in 2005. Schmitz is a former inspector general at the Defense Department, who at the time of the “Pilot” report, faced a congressional hearing inquiry into whether or not he had quashed two investigations of senior Bush Administration officials. As a Defense Department inspector, he was in charge of looking at fraud and waste in the Pentagon.

To be sure, individuals, companies and political action groups can raise and give money to whomever they like. And, individuals can, and often do, work in the private sector after leaving government. After all, that’s part of the modern American way. But as it looks with this case, the greater question has become, who benefits, and who loses in the end. With Blackwater, it would appear there are a few losers including the members of our military who aren’t getting $1,222 a day, the taxpayers, who are paying the difference for a private firm to protect state department officials and the people of Iraq who are subject to the whims of an armed security firm that appears to be engaging in questionable, possibly poorly trained and dangerous behaviors.

Not only should congress break out the shovels and start digging for answers, it had better start defining and explaining the rules, better yet, the ethics of how money gets dolled out. Along the way, questions should be raised on who and how anyone does, and if anyone ever should, benefit from a war that is wrecking the lives of our “volunteer” military members. These are the men and women who earn a penance in financial compensation in comparison to the high paid sharpshooters at Blackwater. For America’s military, if this all adds up to the answer it appears to be heading for, is an insult to their service since it has the appearance of labeling the private mercenary services of Blackwater, as an elite alternative to the available skills offered by our nation’s official guardians of security.

2 comments:

Stevencap said...

Does Your Candidate Have Plan to Save U.S. Manufacturing?

For the October 9 Republican debate in Dearborn, the Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) urges Michigan voters to challenge their presidential candidates regarding America’s manufacturing crisis.

The United States racked up a $763 billion trade deficit in 2006, and more than 40,000 U.S. factories have closed since 2000. Michigan has lost more than 279,000 manufacturing employees. These lost factories, and our enormous trade deficit, do not happen by accident. U.S. manufacturers face ongoing, unfair competition from overseas. For example, China employs currency manipulation—a practice deemed illegal under international law—to artificially lower the cost of their goods while raising the price of U.S. exports. China also dumps product in the U.S. and illegally subsidizes its manufacturing. In the past five years alone, China’s state-run economy has poured $52 billion into its steel production, a serious challenge to private American steel producers.

We believe it’s high time that our presidential candidates address this illegal competition confronting American businesses, and offer concrete solutions about how to strengthen U.S. manufacturing.

At the Dearborn debate, and elsewhere, ask your candidates to explain how they’ll stand up for American manufacturing. Ask them directly:
1. What specific policies will you support to strengthen the American manufacturing base, which is vital to our economic and national security?
2. What steps will you take to enforce our trade laws and hold cheating countries like China accountable?

These are serious questions—ones that deserve forthright answers.

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Mike said...

Very interesting indeed!!! It's rather amazing how all of these issues seem connected in some way... Great to finally meet you earlier today in the East Village!