Wednesday, September 26, 2007

B Movie

When it comes to military spending and corruption, this Re-Ron is privatized:

To be honest, it wasn't really a million-dollar screw -- it was only half a million each, for washers. Two washers, which cost 19 cents each, cost taxpayers a million dollars.

It was paid by the Pentagon to a South Carolina defense contractor, who sent the equipment to Iraq. But there were some expensive screws, too: three of those screws cost $1.31 each, and then presto chango, because a private firm is shipping them to Iraq, the bill for transportation shoots up to more than $400,000.

Barry Bonds had a tough road to beat Hank Aaron's home run record, but the Pentagon has had an equally successful summer, finally besting the "$100 toilet seat" scandal of the Reagan years, and by a huge margin.

The contractor, C&D Distributors, recently pleaded guilty to the charges of massively overcharging the government for its services. The firm did it for six years, and we don't know why no one was available in the Pentagon to check the invoices. The military says that steps to correct things are "under way," but these steps remain confidential.


There have been other recent horror stories of massive waste and corruption in the new growth industry of outsourced war-making, and there are different ways to measure the privatization of war. State spending that goes to private companies has probably risen to one-third of the total amount, from around 10% in earlier conflicts.

Measured by people, the mercenaries and others working for private military companies and other contractors to help occupy Iraq outnumber U.S. soldiers who are there.

It's actually a deadly triangle: A rise in defense spending, a bigger share of the pie for private firms, and astounding levels of waste and mismanagement -- "privatization" is supposed to replace the bad old public sector, but in the Bush era, the private sector has become synonymous with bloated inefficiency.

The trend toward privatizing the military actually accelerated under President Bill Clinton, but it's no surprise that the policy has really taken off under Bush administration leaders like Vice President Dick Cheney, whose ex-firm Halliburton and its subsidiaries remain the poster children for war-profiteering, thanks to their seeming addiction to cost mark-ups and a failure to deliver what they're supposed to.


One is that the levels of waste and corruption are astronomical; just under $9 billion is believed to have been wasted in the reconstruction of Iraq during the first year of the occupation alone, according to a U.S. government inspector general's report.

Another is that privatizing war serves various objectives, all of which contradict what holders of public office are supposed to be doing. When you hire someone to go to war, the person is less likely to complain, meaning you don't have to deal with the messy task of, for example, generating public support for the fight.

It's a simple formula. Outsource a factory operation, and you don't have to deal with a union or employee benefits. Outsource a war or occupation, and you might not have to deal with citizens or taxpayers. Plus, when you look the other way and let your political buddies running such companies make millions in profits, you might receive a bit back at election time.

The policy might not cover getting the body armor to the troops, but hey, it's war, right?


Expect more million-dollar screws -- or $500,000 washers -- if the privatization of the military continues.

If it's boondoggles you want, this looks like the mother lode. Not to worry, though: as long as the US government is still in good with its creditors, the nation won't go bankrupt. Right? Riiiiiight.

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