Sunday, October 28, 2007

Dialing for Dollars

I got an unsolicited phone call this afternoon from a woman who explained it was a political call. It didn't take long to figure out she was dialing for dollars for the Democratic party. She explained how George Bush had taken this country down the wrong road. Money was being spent on the war instead of domestic issues was another example.

I said I agreed with everything she said. I'm sure she was hopeful when she asked if she could count on me to support the Democratic party.

My response was this: "I agree with everything you said, but my son was killed in Iraq 3 1/2 years ago and until the Democrats stand up to the President, stop funding the war and continue to apologize when there is no reason, I will not send money to any Democrats.....and you can quote me on that"

Enough said!

#1 War Profiteer

To say David Brooks puts profits before people is an understatement. To do this when it involves military men & women who are fighting in his name is unconscionable. While we have heard of many cases of shameless war profiteering and the extravagant lifestyles enjoyed as a result, this one is the most egregious (that we are aware of).

David Brooks, spent a scandalous $1o Million of profits from his company was spent on a bat mitvah for daughter, Elizabeth in November 2005. Then CEO of DHB, a defense contractor that provides protective armor to the US military, the bat mitzvah and was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to extravagant living. $120,000 worth of electronic toys, including ipods and digital cameras was in the goody bags for guests; more than a million dollars for entertainment frames this party for a 13 year old. What will she get for her Sweet Sixteen? I was raised Catholic so I don't know, but I can't see how all of this frivolity relates to a religious ceremony.

Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Kenny G, Aerosmith and, 50 Cent performed at the event. I wonder how they feel knowing it was blood money that paid for this event. Stevie Nicks journal on her official website talks about how Stevie Nicks, Steve Tyler & Joe Perry have supported the troops in the past. They visited Walter Reed Army hospital and passed out ipods to some of the soldier/patients there. Aerosmith's website shows only low key and little support for the troops. Kenny G's website indicates nothing. Don Henley's site, nope, nothing there, either. Hollywood has been far too absent during these wars when it comes to showing support for the troops.

This story gets worse as more details and photos are revealed. One particularly offensive photo from the Mitzvahpalooza is of David Brooks and shows him wearing a bright pink suede suit adorned with a dog tag. I wonder what that meant to him. Was there a name on it, or was it some gold, diamond encrusted obscene, "I'm making boatloads on your backs, while you die" F-you message to the troops who wear the real deal around their necks as they fight in this man's name? Everything I have read about this defense contractor's arrogance suggest that wearing the dog tag would be his way of saying "He supports the troops". The military dog tags I wear everyday belong to my son, Lt Ken Ballard; they were given to me at the same time as I received his flag covered casket from Iraq.

One Down: Obscenely Decadent War Profiteer Hauled Off in Handcuffs reports Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war veteran and founder of Operation Truth (and my frequent radio partner), told me, “It is already disturbing that anyone can live the high-life as a result of the booming war business, but it is particularly disheartening to hear about someone having their own private Lollapalooza, in part from the sale of defective equipment that put our troops in harm’s way. America must take a long, hard look at the idea of profit on the battlefield.”

A comment from Capn Solar on the Alternet article seemed appropriate to me. A good quality control system should guarantee a good product.

To ensure this never happens again:
Simply put the CEOs of defense contracting firms in their own body armor....
and shoot them....
if the CEO walks away --use it....
if not -- look elsewhere.

Fortunately, David Brooks and the Sandra Hatfeld, former COO of DHB industries were indicted Thursday on charges of insider trading, fraud and tax evasion as reported by the New York Times. They were charged with manipulating DHB’s financial records to increase earnings and profit margins, in that way inflating the price of DHB’s stock. Beyond the $10 million bat mitzvah, a sampling of the charges authorities say Brooks concealed from shareholders and the IRS:
  • $7,900 for a facelift for Brooks' wife
  • more than $1 million for expenses related to his 100 trotting and breeding horses
  • $101,190 for a belt buckle studded with diamonds, rubies and sapphires
  • $101,500 for an armored vehicle for his family's use
  • more than $1 million for numerous family vacations, including frequent stays at the Bellagio in Las Vegas and various Caribbean and European villas
  • $31,802 to transport one of his daughters and her college friends to Halloween parties in Madison, Wisconsin, using a private jet
  • hundreds of thousands of dollars in bonus checks drawn on a DHB bank account handed out by Brooks at a company Christmas party to non-DHB personnel, including his horse trainer
  • and of course the predictable $10,000 here, $5,000 there for purchases at Luis Vuitton, Gucci, Gianni Versace, and Prada boutiques around the world

The 71-page indictment (PDF) tells the whole ugly story.

War profiteering is ugly and it should be illegal. There is a special place in hell for these people. If we can make their time on earth feel like hell, so much the better. Brooks could spend up to 70 years in prison if convicted of all charges. I've got a few ideas of my own for Brook's punishment. The jury, while certainly not of his peers, should be made up of family members whose loved ones were killed as a result of his shoddy equipment.

Maybe they would decide that Brooks should be sent straight to Iraq, with the same defective, overpriced protective gear his company provided to the military. Or maybe a big red tattoo with the letters WP right on the front of his forehead. He should go to a real jail, with real hardened criminals where his new "friend" is waiting to show him around. If he gets released from jail, he should have to perform community service to a veterans organization for the rest of his life. He should never, ever see be allowed to participate in a for-profit business again. How about all of the above?

An interesting side note to this story. On October 1, 2007, DHB Industries, Inc changed their name to Point Blank Solutions, Inc.

Larry Ellis, President and CEO stated, "In changing the name of the Company to Point Blank Solutions, Inc, we are aligning our corporate name with our vision to become the global leader in safety apparel and protective solutions.... By doing so, we seek to give the Company a name and brand that will afford great opportunities in the future and become an excellent moniker for our planned product line expansion."

I think that is PR speak for "We are taking the DHB out of our name and moving as fast and far away from anything that has to do with our former CEO". Probably a good business strategy, but there is still blood dripping off the hands of this corporation, and we will continue to watch them.

Point Blank Systems is, by far, not the only corporation on this war profiteering bandwagon. CorpWatch who investigates and exposes corporate violations has this to say about Reconstruction as related to war profiteering and disaster planning, they have this to say:

Today the victors of modern wars no longer rape and pillage as their predecessors did, instead they make extraordinary profits by giving contracts to their favorite companies to rebuild what they have destroyed and then hand the bill to local taxpayers to pay.
Read up, folks, and see how your taxpayer dollars are being spent!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Oct 27 Protest

San Francisco

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pick me, pick me!

I was fortunate that I listened to and did not watch Bush's shameless guilt-ladened demand to Congress to give him another $46 Billion to continue his adventure in the Iraq and Afghanistan war. He may as well have had a gun pointed at Congress for as much as it was a shakedown rather than a request.

But he did even better. I missed actually seeing that the President was accompanied by the family of a dead US Marine to stand with him as he executed the shakedown. This president, who says he supports the troops has made it common practice to use the troops as backdrop to prove his patriotism. Although not surprising, even this was low for Bush. I honestly don't know how he does what he does with a straight face. On second thought, I guess his ever present smirk doesn't qualify for a straight face.

You would think that after 5 years of these supplemental requests, someone in congress could figure out how to demand that there be no more supplemental budget requests for the war. It's time to demand that the administration includes the funding for the war in the budget. This administration cannot do that because, they say, they can't predict the costs. By submitting these requests as supplemental, they imply that it's just not that much money; it's just not significant enough to research and provide facts and solid numbers and anyway, you've got to approve it, or you just don't support the troops. The supplemental is working just fine for them.

The 110th Congress was sent to DC to end the war. Whatever else they may accomplish would be a bonus, but ending the war and bringing our troops home was priority one, numero uno, top of the list. So far, not so good on that front.

Funding the war is killing the troops- PERIOD. Additional funding insures additional death sentences to our military and the Iraqi population. Additional funding insures additional waste, fraud and abuse from the contractors like Blackwater, KBR and Halliburton. Additional funding means putting good money after bad when numerous Inspector General audits have proven time and time again that there is little control of US taxpayer money. It's time to stop the madness! How will Bush have been able to spend to $1 trillion on this war by the time he leaves office in 2009? How do we explain to the nearly 3900 families of the US military who died that this $1 trillion and loss of their loved ones was worth it? We can't.

Nancy Pelosi & Harry Reid have the opportunity to include families of dead US soldiers & Marines like me to accompany them as they just say NO to funding the wars. Just because the president can find families to stand with him, doesn't mean that there are not Gold Star families who wouldn't stand proudly with the courageous members of Congress who are willing to stand up for their constituents. We do not want the deaths of our loved ones to be used as an excuse to continue this endless war. We do not wish this lifelong journey of bereavement on any other family. We are not unpatriotic; we are not treasonous and we do support the troops. We want to bring the troops home now and take care of them when they get home. I would be happy to stand with them if only they had the courage to just say NO. Nancy, Harry, pick me, pick me!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

For the President's Amusement

I don't have a problem with Rep Pete Stark's (CA-D) comments about Bush's attitude about the war. I tried to let the Congressman know at his offices in Washington and California on Friday, without success as his voice mailboxes were predictably full. Stark's comments are probably closer to the truth than anyone would like to think. No one wants to think this president undertook this war with anything but the sober understanding that war is a serious proposition and not a game, but we have little evidence.

So when Pete Stark stood in front of the House of Representatives during a debate about the proposed SCHIP funding (State Children's Health insurance Plan focused on uninsured children from low-income families), and said what he said, some Republican's heads predictably exploded as they felt the words were harsh. (video & transcript from Raw Story here)

"You don't have money to fund the (Iraq) war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people -- if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement."

Bush has never given us any indication that he takes his little wargame's in Iraq & Afghanistan with any kind of seriousness, care or empathy. The Republicans may have forgotten his speech to the Radio & Television Correspondents Dinner back in March of 2004. This was the speech that Bush thought he was sooooooooo funny when he presented a White House Election year photo album with his amusing commentary. Especially hysterical talking about the search for WMD's. A series of photos showed the president in awkward positions -- on his knees, looking behind draperies and moving furniture in the Oval Office -- accompanied by such comments as "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," "Nope, no weapons over there!" and "Maybe under here?" Yes, it was hilarious! Especially when the president knew there were no weapons of destruction in Iraq at all.

I spoke to a reporter who had attended the RTCA dinner that night. She said that many of them were embarrassed at the comments and couldn't believe he was making jokes while our service members were dying. And when the White house was asked at the time whether they thought Democrats were using the issue of the president's comments to engage in partisan politics, a spokesperson said, "I'll let you be the judge of that." For this White House, it is never about taste, decorum or empathy, it is always about politics.

I was horrified as my son, 1Lt Ken Ballard was in his 10th month of hell in Iraq at the time of the RTCA dinner. This president was joking about the serious job that our soldiers had undertaken on his orders with nearly 600 who had died by then. We did not think it was funny nor very presidential.

I know that my friends, the Zappala's, the family of Sgt Sherwood Baker, who was a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard sent to Iraq to provide security to the Iraq Survey Group, didn't think it was funny at all. Less than a month after the RTCA dinner, Sherwood was killed in an explosion guarding those looking for those same weapons of mass destruction, that we now know never existed.

Bush's joking about war as young men & women are dying show us he is more Frat Boy In Chief, rather than the Commander in Chief of US Armed Forces. Despite the president's claims that he suffers with each death and that he frequently cries about the war, it is hard to believe with his cavalier attitude. When the president landed on the aircraft carrier back in May 2003, and announced "Mission Accomplished", he was hearkening back to his days of "service" in the Texas National Guard. It was a game to Bush then and it is a game now.

Members of the military serving in Iraq are thought of as little green army men or a game of Risk to this president and his supporters. Multiple deployments, increased divorce rates, PTSD, many cases of shoddy medical treatment, lack of appropriate resources and equipment; these fighting men and women and their families are on their own.

War is not for anyone's amusement, it's not funny and jokes about anything related to our son's and daughter's dying are inappropriate and disrespectful. Ask any of the families and friends of the 3834 US military who have been killed to date. We don't think it is funny at all.

Thanks to Pete Stark for having the courage to say what many people have been thinking all along.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us

I'm turning my soapbox over to Frank Rich of the New York Times. This Op-ed, The ‘Good Germans’ Among Us, appeared on October 14, 2007.

“BUSH lies” doesn’t cut it anymore. It’s time to confront the darker reality that we are lying to ourselves.

Ten days ago The Times unearthed yet another round of secret Department of Justice memos countenancing torture. President Bush gave his standard response: “This government does not torture people.” Of course, it all depends on what the meaning of “torture” is. The whole point of these memos is to repeatedly recalibrate the definition so Mr. Bush can keep pleading innocent.

By any legal standards except those rubber-stamped by Alberto Gonzales, we are practicing torture, and we have known we are doing so ever since photographic proof emerged from Abu Ghraib more than three years ago. As Andrew Sullivan, once a Bush cheerleader, observed last weekend in The Sunday Times of London, America’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques have a grotesque provenance: “Verschärfte Vernehmung, enhanced or intensified interrogation, was the exact term innovated by the Gestapo to describe what became known as the ‘third degree.’ It left no marks. It included hypothermia, stress positions and long-time sleep deprivation.”

Still, the drill remains the same. The administration gives its alibi (Abu Ghraib was just a few bad apples). A few members of Congress squawk. The debate is labeled “politics.” We turn the page.

There has been scarcely more response to the similarly recurrent story of apparent war crimes committed by our contractors in Iraq. Call me cynical, but when Laura Bush spoke up last week about the human rights atrocities in Burma, it seemed less an act of selfless humanitarianism than another administration maneuver to change the subject from its own abuses.

As Mrs. Bush spoke, two women, both Armenian Christians, were gunned down in Baghdad by contractors underwritten by American taxpayers. On this matter, the White House has been silent. That incident followed the Sept. 16 massacre in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, where 17 Iraqis were killed by security forces from Blackwater USA, which had already been implicated in nearly 200 other shooting incidents since 2005. There has been no accountability. The State Department, Blackwater’s sugar daddy for most of its billion dollars in contracts, won’t even share its investigative findings with the United States military and the Iraqi government, both of which have deemed the killings criminal.

The gunmen who mowed down the two Christian women worked for a Dubai-based company managed by Australians, registered in Singapore and enlisted as a subcontractor by an American contractor headquartered in North Carolina. This is a plot out of “Syriana” by way of “Chinatown.” There will be no trial. We will never find out what happened. A new bill passed by the House to regulate contractor behavior will have little effect, even if it becomes law in its current form.

We can continue to blame the Bush administration for the horrors of Iraq — and should. Paul Bremer, our post-invasion viceroy and the recipient of a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his efforts, issued the order that allows contractors to elude Iraqi law, a folly second only to his disbanding of the Iraqi Army. But we must also examine our own responsibility for the hideous acts committed in our name in a war where we have now fought longer than we did in the one that put Verschärfte Vernehmung on the map.

I have always maintained that the American public was the least culpable of the players during the run-up to Iraq. The war was sold by a brilliant and fear-fueled White House propaganda campaign designed to stampede a nation still shellshocked by 9/11. Both Congress and the press — the powerful institutions that should have provided the checks, balances and due diligence of the administration’s case — failed to do their job. Had they done so, more Americans might have raised more objections. This perfect storm of democratic failure began at the top.

As the war has dragged on, it is hard to give Americans en masse a pass. We are too slow to notice, let alone protest, the calamities that have followed the original sin.

In April 2004, Stars and Stripes first reported that our troops were using makeshift vehicle armor fashioned out of sandbags, yet when a soldier complained to Donald Rumsfeld at a town meeting in Kuwait eight months later, he was successfully pilloried by the right. Proper armor procurement lagged for months more to come. Not until early this year, four years after the war’s first casualties, did a Washington Post investigation finally focus the country’s attention on the shoddy treatment of veterans, many of them victims of inadequate armor, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and other military hospitals.

We first learned of the use of contractors as mercenaries when four Blackwater employees were strung up in Falluja in March 2004, just weeks before the first torture photos emerged from Abu Ghraib. We asked few questions. When reports surfaced early this summer that our contractors in Iraq (180,000, of whom some 48,000 are believed to be security personnel) now outnumber our postsurge troop strength, we yawned. Contractor casualties and contractor-inflicted casualties are kept off the books.

It was always the White House’s plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war. Part of this was achieved with the usual Bush-Cheney secretiveness, from the torture memos to the prohibition of photos of military coffins. But the administration also invited our passive complicity by requiring no shared sacrifice. A country that knows there’s no such thing as a free lunch was all too easily persuaded there could be a free war.

Instead of taxing us for Iraq, the White House bought us off with tax cuts. Instead of mobilizing the needed troops, it kept a draft off the table by quietly purchasing its auxiliary army of contractors to finesse the overstretched military’s holes. With the war’s entire weight falling on a small voluntary force, amounting to less than 1 percent of the population, the rest of us were free to look the other way at whatever went down in Iraq.

We ignored the contractor scandal to our own peril. Ever since Falluja this auxiliary army has been a leading indicator of every element of the war’s failure: not only our inadequate troop strength but also our alienation of Iraqi hearts and minds and our rampant outsourcing to contractors rife with Bush-Cheney cronies and campaign contributors. Contractors remain a bellwether of the war’s progress today. When Blackwater was briefly suspended after the Nisour Square catastrophe, American diplomats were flatly forbidden from leaving the fortified Green Zone. So much for the surge’s great “success” in bringing security to Baghdad.

Last week Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war combat veteran who directs Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, sketched for me the apocalypse to come. Should Baghdad implode, our contractors, not having to answer to the military chain of command, can simply “drop their guns and go home.” Vulnerable American troops could be deserted by those “who deliver their bullets and beans.”

This potential scenario is just one example of why it’s in our national self-interest to attend to Iraq policy the White House counts on us to ignore. Our national character is on the line too. The extralegal contractors are both a slap at the sovereignty of the self-governing Iraq we supposedly support and an insult to those in uniform receiving as little as one-sixth the pay. Yet it took mass death in Nisour Square to fix even our fleeting attention on this long-metastasizing cancer in our battle plan.

Similarly, it took until December 2005, two and a half years after “Mission Accomplished,” for Mr. Bush to feel sufficient public pressure to acknowledge the large number of Iraqi casualties in the war. Even now, despite his repeated declaration that “America will not abandon the Iraqi people,” he has yet to address or intervene decisively in the tragedy of four million-plus Iraqi refugees, a disproportionate number of them children. He feels no pressure from the American public to do so, but hey, he pays lip service to Darfur.

Our moral trajectory over the Bush years could not be better dramatized than it was by a reunion of an elite group of two dozen World War II veterans in Washington this month. They were participants in a top-secret operation to interrogate some 4,000 Nazi prisoners of war. Until now, they have kept silent, but America’s recent record prompted them to talk to The Washington Post.

“We got more information out of a German general with a game of chess or Ping-Pong than they do today, with their torture,” said Henry Kolm, 90, an M.I.T. physicist whose interrogation of Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy, took place over a chessboard. George Frenkel, 87, recalled that he “never laid hands on anyone” in his many interrogations, adding, “I’m proud to say I never compromised my humanity.”

Our humanity has been compromised by those who use Gestapo tactics in our war. The longer we stand idly by while they do so, the more we resemble those “good Germans” who professed ignorance of their own Gestapo. It’s up to us to wake up our somnambulant Congress to challenge administration policy every day. Let the war’s last supporters filibuster all night if they want to. There is nothing left to lose except whatever remains of our country’s good name.

photo courtesy of Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

there was no one left to speak out for me

A poem from 1946

First the Nazis came…
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me—
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

Martin Niemöller (1892—1984), Protestant pastor and social activist

Who is going to be left to speak out for you if you don't start speaking out against this war NOW?