Monday, May 31, 2010

War Profiteering: The Biggest Threat to Democracy

Opening Statement
(Disclaimer: I have nothing but respect for our troops and our veterans. I did want to write this piece on Memorial Day, to give everyone else something to think about while we're honoring the memory of our fallen heroes. This is a discussion that should be renewed not just on Memorial Day, but every day that we're entrenched in two pointless wars. I hope that what you read here will shock you, and will cause you to scoff. Feel free to read any of the links posted here to learn more. I'm just scratching the surface.)

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.
-Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower

The beloved Dwight D. Eisenhower, WWII general and two-term Republican president, made a chilling, cryptic prediction in his 1961 farewell speech. One can imagine that Eisenhower put much importance in conveying this message, as he chose these words to be the last he would ever say as leader of the free world, to a free people.

"In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizen can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense, with our peaceful methods and goals. So that security and liberty can prosper together.

Eisenhower was a five-star general, or General of the Army. It is the second-highest rank in the Army, next to the honor bestowed upon George Washington and General John Pershing, General of the Armies. If anyone knew the inner complexities of the defense sector and the grave implications of a power-grab by the arms manufacturing industry, it was Eisenhower. And his warning to us was grave. We did not listen, and we grew complacent. And now, nearly 50 years after the speech, the military industrial complex is alive and well, and has taken hold of our government, and indeed, the global economy as well. In this piece, I'll be delving into exactly how much power the military industrial complex wields in Washington, and what we can do as citizens to restore democracy.

A Brief History of War and Money

"...As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed."
-Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21st, 1864

As Commander of the Allied Forces during World War II, Eisenhower was likely privy to the onset of corporate war profiteering through John Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Company. More specifically, Standard Oil's sister company, IG Farben.

At the time, IG Farben was the fourth-largest company in the world behind General Motors, U.S. Steel, and Standard Oil. IG Farben had a facility near Auschwitz, and manufactured Zyklon B, which was the gas that murdered millions of Jews in concentration camps during the holocaust. Meanwhile, Standard Oil provided the fuel for both American military strikes on German arms factories, and for the Luftwaffe as they bombed Britain. Rockefeller profited from all of this, as IG Farben was the next largest stockholder in Standard Oil behind the Rockefeller family. Essentially, John Rockefeller was making big bucks off of World War II from both the Allied and Axis forces. From the above link-

"...The planes that made up the Luftwaffe needed tetraethyl lead gasoline in order to fly. At the time, only Standard Oil, Du Pont, and General Motors had the ability to produce this vital substance. In 1938, Walter C. Teagle, then president of Standard Oil, helped Hermann Schmitz of I.G. Farben to acquire 500 tons of tetraethyl lead from Ethyl, a British Standard subsidiary. A year later, Schmitz returned to London and obtained an additional 15 million dollars worth of tetraethyl lead which was to be turned into aviation gasoline back in Germany."

Rockefeller's war profiteering was the first most egregious example of a wealthy corporate entity lining its pockets with money made from the blood of thousands. This is perhaps what led Eisenhower to urge the citizenry to become aware and take action against such corruption and greed.

The Influence of Today's Military Industrial Complex

"You know it's funny when it rains it pours
They got money for wars, but can't feed the poor
Say there ain't no hope for the youth and the truth is
it ain't no hope for the future."

-Tupac Shakur, Oct. 28, 1993

While teachers are losing their jobs, children are being pushed into larger classrooms, states are cutting budgets, closing facilities and terminating public sector jobs all across the nation, when America is still in dire need after bankers ran off with billions of our tax dollars, Congress has just approved $600 billion in war funding for Afghanistan and Iraq. These two wars that have lasted almost ten years, and arguably very little progress has been made. Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, is still suffering from bad PR after he was embroiled in a scandal where he essentially rigged the election in his favor. We are withdrawing troops in Iraq, and are on target for the Iraqi government's demand that we vacate their borders by 2011. However, withdrawing troops and equipment still takes time and money, and Iraq still manages to eat into the budget, even with a new administration and different objectives.

Here are a few examples of astonishingly corrupt war profiteering, just in Iraq.

(Gruesome and disturbing content ahead)

1. At the Abu Ghraib prison, private intelligence contractors CACI and Titan, paid with US tax dollars, were caught torturing, beating and sexually abusing prisoners.

"We believe that CACI and Titan engaged in a conspiracy to torture and abuse detainees, and did so to make more money," says Susan Burke, an attorney hired by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), whose lawsuit against the companies is proceeding into discovery before the Federal Court for the District of Columbia.

2. Bechtel, contracted to build Iraqi infrastructure, was awarded a $2.4 billion contract by the Bush administration, but went wildly over their budget while far exceeding time constraints to complete those projects.

Additionally, Bechtel neglected to train Iraqi operators in maintenance of these facilities, and many of them have since fallen into disrepair. However, Bechtel still ran off with billions of profits made from American tax dollars for not doing their job.

3. Because there's no draft, private contracting of security and military forces has led to 48,000 such mercenaries in Iraq, doing jobs normally done by US Armed Forces, all paid for by US tax dollars. It's estimated that these mercenary contractors will be a $200 billion industry by the end of this year.

Most of us know about the notorious Blackwater (now known as Xe) firm, where mercs massacred Iraqi civilians in a city street, and whose founder, Erik Prince, has personally spoken about Blackwater being used as a religious crusade against Muslims. But one contractor not mentioned much is Aegis Defense Services.

Aegis, a U.K. based firm, was awarded a $293 million contract (taxpayer money) to supply forces in Iraq, despite lower offers from American competitors. With public money going toward the private sector, and with a private company not operating within the states, it could be argued that Aegis was chosen specifically to avoid accountability for any Blackwater-like incidents.

However, as one can see in this video, these mercenaries are clearly firing on civilian cars in Iraq. From the link above-

"...Moreover, An audit of Aegis activities conducted in April 2005 had reported that several of Aegis recruits had not received appropriate training in the use of weapons. In fact, 11 out of 20 surveyed were considered to be inadequately trained with regard to the handling of an AK 47.

...In addition to criticizing Aegis Defence Services Ltd., the audit took aim t the Army's contracting office in Iraq for poor oversight. It reported that the official who was supposed to keep watch over Aegis's contract had not been trained in either monitoring contracts or security. The office was also severely short-staffed: At the time of the audit, 41 officials were administering 6,500 contracts and task orders.

...A random survey of 20 Aegis employees who had been issued weapons -- including AK-47 and M4 assault rifles -- showed that the company did not have the needed weapons training documentation for 14 of them. As a result, auditors could not say whether "all contractor personnel are qualified on the weapons that they had been issued."

Despite these shortcomings, Aegis was found to be in compliance with its contract.

Additionally, Aegis and the Pentagon have yet to apologize to families of the civlians killed in that video. Aegis has defended its actions, saying they were operating under the rules of engagement. Untrained mercenaries, killing civilians, being paid with US tax dollars. And we're seeing more of this, not less.

There are numerous other examples of corporate malfeasance and criminal activity overseas. But let's take a look at how those guys operate in Washington.

Corporate Lobbying For More War
At the time President Obama announced the Afghan troop surge, top defense contractors had reported spending $27 million pushing for more war. In fact, their spending had gone up by $7 million in the 4th quarter of 2009, according to lobbying records. This, coincidentally, is around the time the president announced the deployment of 30,000 more young men and women to Afghanistan.

One of those contractors, Northrop Grumman, has even recently announced that it's moving its corporate HQ to Washington DC, in order to be closer to legislative action. As congress approved a $635 billion war appropriations bill in December, lobbyists for defense firms cited "appropriations" as their chief objective in public records.

As of January, the number of private contractors in Afghanistan have doubled in just a four-month span. Mercenaries purchased with tax dollars now account for 30% of all forces in Afghanistan. The military industrial complex is paying top-dollar for control of defense policy. And they're getting what they've paid for.


"I hope we shall... crush in its birth the aristocracy of our
moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our
government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of
our country."

-Thomas Jefferson to George Logan, 1816.

Eisenhower's prediction has come true. The military industrial complex has usurped the democratic process, and private companies can legally make absurd profits directly from the murdering of young men and women. With war now seen as a business opportunity instead of a country's last line of defense of freedom from agressors, the military inudstrial complex can bypass international law and make money. To them, war is not the wanton destruction of lives, homes, and natural resources, but simply as another way to get rich.

As citizens, we have the power to stop this. We must do as Eisenhower asked us, and get informed about the complexities and dangers of the military industrial complex's erosion of freedom and democracy. Hopefully, reading this piece and the links within have helped you reach that step.

And as I implored all of you to do in my last piece, I urge all of you once again to find your Congressman and Senators, put their office numbers in your cellphones, and call them every day to end these wars. Ask your lawmakers to write and sponsor legislation that forbids the outsourcing of war. Vote for politicians who promise to make war a last resort, instead of succumb to the influence of war profiteers. Organize call-in days to Washington in your community. Bombard congressional offices with calls from constituents, and demand that your voice be heard and understood.

As we remember and honor our veterans today, let's take a stand as taxpaying Americans, as defenders of liberty, and demand our elected leaders put a stop to the corporate cheerleading of war.

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