Friday, December 02, 2005

profits to be made, wars to be lost

UPDATED: 50 Cent, the War Profiteer and the $10 million Bat Mitzvah
Thu, 01 Dec 2005 12:51:26 -0800
Best Bat ever
By Anthony Lappé
Why the world's best 13th birthday party has Iraq vets' blood boiling

On the day the President told the American people to prepare for the long haul in Iraq, here’s a story that seems to perfectly sum up our priorities as a nation. They’re calling it Mitzvahpalooza. It may go down in history as the world’s most obscene birthday party (eat your heart out Dennis Kozlowski). David H. Brooks, CEO of bulletproof vest maker DHB Industries, spared no expense for his 13-year old daughter’s entry into adulthood. The girl and 300 of her closest BFFs were entertained recently in New York’s Rainbow Room by Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, Kenny G, Aerosmith and, believe it or not, 50 Cent (I guess 500 large can make you forget all about street cred). It was hosted by Tom Petty. The reported cost: $10 million. See the pics here.

First off, what 13-year old is a fan of Don Henley, Fleetwood Mac and, for God’s sake, Kenny G? Who was this party really for? Second, and more importantly, where does a guy get $10 million to blow on a Bat Mitzvah? Well, it appears, from you, the American taxpayer. According to United for a Fair Economy, Brooks and Co. have made a tidy profit outfitting our nation’s fighting men and women in body armor that allegedly couldn’t take a hit from a 9mm round:

David H. Brooks, CEO of bulletproof vest maker DHB Industries, earned $70 million in 2004, 13,349% more than his 2001 compensation of $525,000. Brooks also sold company stock worth about $186 million last year, spooking investors who drove DHB’s share price from more than $22 to as low as $6.50 [DHB was trading at $4.20 Wednesday]. In May 2005, the U.S. Marines recalled more than 5,000 DHB armored vests after questions were raised about their effectiveness. By that time, Brooks had pocketed over $250 million in war windfalls.

Read UFE’s full report Executive Excess 2005 (PDF, 3.81 MB).

According to a government memo uncovered in an eight-month investigation by the Marine Corps Times, the company’s vests, made by DHB subsidiary Point Blank Body Armor, failed tests when they suffered “multiple complete penetrations” of 9mm pistol rounds and other ballistics. In the memo, government ballistics expert James MacKiewicz said his office “has little confidence in the performance” of the body armor.

The Marines later disputed the results of the tests.

A spokeperson for the Marines issued a statement at the time saying, “Even though they may not have met contract specifications there’s no evidence to suggest (troops) would be or had been at risk.”

Nevertheless, the Marines recalled 5,277 of the company’s “Interceptor” vests in May.

“It’s shocking to see a guy who has no shame like this. He may be the world champion war profiteer,” said the Institute for Policy Studies’ Sarah Anderson, who co-authored the report. “The shareholders are up in arms over the defective equipment, the military is up and arms, and he’s out partying.”

Indeed, Iraq war veterans are not pleased. 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.”

Another OpTruth Iraq vet, Bobby Yen, had a darker take, “I guess it just goes to show the state of affairs and the state of mind of this tired, old (of mind) veteran that when this story came up it didn’t even make me blink. So some rich guy somewhere who made tons of money selling defective bulletproof vests to the military has a filthy rich party for his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah. ‘Oh, wow, someone wants to endanger my life for a few bucks?’ Sounds like the entire war. So the soldiers get paid poorly, on occasion shell out there own few bucks to buy gear, lose a year of their life, lose their sanity, lose their limbs, lose their lives, and a very few, very select group closely connected to our government get very, very rich. OK, if that’s what the American people want. If that’s what they voted for.”

Bruce S. Rubin, of rbb Public Relations, sent this reply on Brooks’ behalf:

“The party was to commemorate his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, a cherished tradition in the Jewish religion, marking the passage into adulthood. The costs of the reception are private, although I can acknowledge that figures which have been reported are wildly exaggerated and untrue. All other aspects of the reception are private.

I do not accept your use of the word ‘decadence.’ I think it’s inappropriate and inaccurate. I have not seen any criticism from Iraq war vets. I have, however, seen hundreds and hundreds of letters, notes, etc. that Mr. Brooks has received from current and former members of our Armed Forces thanking him and his company for the protective vests which have saved countless lives.

Point Blank takes great pride in the quality, design and workmanship of all of our products, especially our life saving body armor products. To our knowledge, none of the hundreds of thousands of Outer Tactical Vests that Point Blank has manufactured have failed in the field—an extraordinary achievement. All testing procedures for these vests were approved by, and conducted under the close supervision of, the U.S. government. For specific information, I would refer you to the military, which conducted the recall action.

Mr. Brooks’ compensation for DHB is fully disclosed in the company’s annual report. For 2004, it was approximately $3 million.”

According to the company’s 2004 annual report, Rubin is correct. Brooks earned around $3 million in salary and “other compensation.” But he also pocketed an additional $69,930,000 in cash from exercising stock options. This does not include Brooks’ $186 million stock sale, which is under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

On November 21, the Army Times reported, “The Army and Marine Corps are recalling more than 18,000 body armor vests because they failed ballistic requirements when they were manufactured in 1999-2000. Many of those vests may now be in the war zone. The Nov. 16 recall order is the second in six months for the Marines. The Corps recalled more than 5,000 vests in May. All of the vests involved were produced by the same manufacturer, Point Blank Body Armor Inc. of Pompano Beach, Fla., under contract to the Marine Corps.”

Posted by anthony
Anthony Lappé is GNN's Executive Editor. He's written for The New York Times, Details, New York, Paper, The Fader and Vice, among many others. He has worked as a producer for MTV, Fuse and WTN. He is the co-author of GNN's True Lies and the producer of their Iraq doc,...

UPDATE: The picture now at left is from what some are calling Mitzvahpalooza; you can see more photos here. Also check out this very good analysis of the whole travesty from Anthony Lappe at GNN.

We really thought that after five years of lies, trumped-up wars, torture, secret prisons, assaults on civil liberties. etc., etc., etc., that absolutely nothing could shock or disgust us that much anymore.

Boy, were we wrong.

That's because before tonight, we did not know about Long Island defense contractor David H. Brooks, the poster boy for the orgy of greed, cynical corruption, and abuse of decent, everyday American workers and soldiers that history will come to know as the Bush years.

You see, Brooks and his company -- DHB Industries -- make a lot of the bulletproof vests that our fighting men and women over in Iraq and Afghanistan have been wearing. The Pentagon bought them even though the union of mostly low-paid workers at DHB's plant in Florida; a small, muckraking paper, the Marine Corp Times; and experts from two government agencies had been warning that the vests didn't stop 9 mm bullets. Earlier this year, the Marines finally recalled some 5,277 of the DHB vests.

Forget about the fact that scores of DHB investors are now suing the company after Brooks cashed in a whopping $186 million of his stock just days before it tanked. Or the allegations of union busting. It is for the crime -- moral if not legal -- of selling shoddy body armor to our troops that we'd like to see Brooks sent off to jail.

Except Brooks is not only a very free, and very rich man, but he's now taking all that money that he's reaped from George W. Bush's wars, and he's rubbing it in your face.

This weekend, Brooks spent a reported $10 million of his war profits...on a bat mitzvah. A bat mitzvah where the entertainers included Aerosmith, 50 Cent, Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks, and more. He even sent the public corporation's jet to Pittsburgh to pick up Steve Tyler and Joe Perry.
Some day, this party will get a whole chapter when they write "The Decline and Fall of the American Empire." We wonder if an endangered kimodo dragon was on the menu.

Lloyd Grove has some of the lowdown in the New York Daily News:

I'm also told that in honor of Aerosmith (and the $2 million fee I hear he paid for their appearance), the 50-year-old Brooks changed from a black-leather, metal-studded suit - accessorized with biker-chic necklace chains and diamonds from Chrome Hearts jewelers - into a hot-pink suede version of the same lovely outfit.

The party cost an estimated $10 million, including the price of corporate jets to ferry the performers to and from. Also on the bill were The Eagles' Don Henley and Joe Walsh performing with Fleetwood Mac's Stevie Nicks; DJ AM (Nicole Richie's fiance); rap diva Ciara and, sadly perhaps (except that he received an estimated $250,000 for the job), Kenny G blowing on his soprano sax as more than 300 guests strolled and chatted into their pre-dinner cocktails.

"Hey, that guy looks like Kenny G," a disbelieving grownup was overheard remarking - though the 150 kids in attendance seemed more impressed by their $1,000 gift bags, complete with digital cameras and the latest video iPod.

For his estimated $500,000, I hear that 50 Cent performed only four or five songs - and badly - though he did manage to work in the lyric, "Go shorty, it's your bat miztvah, we gonna party like it's your bat mitzvah."

It's pretty funny -- except of course it's not, especially if your loved one of was of those wearing one of Brooks' defective vests.

The chickens are all coming home to roost, aren't they? The final notes of "Dream On" had barely faded when we learned that a congressman had accepted over $2.4 million in bribes from defense contractors, including a Rolls Royce, a yacht and a 19th-century Louis-Philippe commode. (Randy "Duke" Cunningham also got a graduation party for his daughter that cost just $2,000 -- wonder if he feels shortchanged now.)

Why are defense contractors bribing politicians and hiring rock stars for a bat mitzvah?

Because they can. Pay for the CEOs of defense contractors has soared since...well, since Sept. 11, 2001, to be blunt. Check out this recent CEO pay study from United for a Fair Economy and the Institute for Policy Studies.:

"As the death toll mounts among Americans and Iraqis, it seems particularly unjust to see executives profiting personally from the horrors of war," states the report, written by UFE's Scott Klinger and Liz Stanton and IPS's Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh.

The ratio between median pay for defense contractor CEOs to military generals with 20 years experience nearly doubled since the September 11 tragedy that set the so-called "War on Terror" in motion, rising to 23-to-1 ($3.9 million compared to $168,509), up from 12-to-1 in 2001.

You'll be shocked to learn that the worst offender is David Brooks. Before the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, before the White House started selling its invasion of Iraq, his annual salary (in 2001) was $525,000. Last year, his pay was $3 million but a separate exercise of stock options netted another $69 million on top of that.

For bulletproof vests that aren't always bulletproof.

Talk about obscene profits.

That same article on CEO pay has a quote from a U.S. president who said: "I don't want to see a single war millionaire created in the United States as a result of this world disaster."

The president was FDR. Did you honestly think it was George W. Bush?

Dream on.

"Sigh"...just another Plan for Victory...Ain't It Grand?

December 2, 2005
Op-Ed Columnist
Bullet Points Over Baghdad
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was supposed to provide the world with a demonstration of American power. It didn't work out that way. But the Bush administration has come up with the next best thing: a demonstration of American PowerPoint. Bullets haven't subdued the insurgents in Iraq, but the administration hopes that bullet points will subdue the critics at home.

The National Security Council document released this week under the grandiose title "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" is neither an analytical report nor a policy statement. It's simply the same old talking points - "victory in Iraq is a vital U.S. interest"; "failure is not an option" - repackaged in the style of a slide presentation for a business meeting.

It's an embarrassing piece of work. Yet it's also an important test for the news media. The Bush administration has lost none of its confidence that it can get away with fuzzy math and fuzzy facts - that it won't be called to account for obvious efforts to mislead the public. It's up to journalists to prove that confidence wrong.

Here's an example of how the White House attempts to mislead: the new document assures us that Iraq's economy is doing really well. "Oil production increased from an average of 1.58 million barrels per day in 2003, to an average of 2.25 million barrels per day in 2004." The document goes on to concede a "slight decrease" in production since then.

We're not expected to realize that the daily average for 2003 includes the months just before, during and just after the invasion of Iraq, when its oil industry was basically shut down. As a result, we're not supposed to understand that the real story of Iraq's oil industry is one of unexpected failure: instead of achieving the surge predicted by some of the war's advocates, Iraqi production has rarely matched its prewar level, and has been on a downward trend for the past year.

What about the security situation? During much of 2004, the document tells us: "Fallujah, Najaf, and Samara were under enemy control. Today, these cities are under Iraqi government control."

Najaf was never controlled by the "enemy," if that means the people we're currently fighting. It was briefly controlled by Moktada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The United States once vowed to destroy that militia, but these days it's as strong as ever. And according to The New York Times, Mr. Sadr has now become a "kingmaker in Iraqi politics." So what sort of victory did we win, exactly, in Najaf?

Moreover, in what sense is Najaf now under government control? According to The Christian Science Monitor, "Sadr supporters and many Najaf residents say an armed Badr Brigade" - the militia of a Shiite group that opposes Mr. Sadr and his supporters - "still exists as the Najaf police force."

Meanwhile, this is the third time that coalition forces have driven the insurgents out of Samara. On the two previous occasions, the insurgents came back after the Americans left. And there, too, it's stretching things to say that the city is under Iraqi government control: according to The Associated Press, only 100 of the city's 700 policemen show up for work on most days.

There's a lot more like that in the document. Refuting some of the upbeat assertions about Iraq requires specialized knowledge, but many of them can be quickly debunked by anyone with an Internet connection.

The point isn't just that the administration is trying, yet again, to deceive the public. It's the fact that this attempt at deception shows such contempt - contempt for the public, and especially contempt for the news media. And why not? The truth is that the level of misrepresentation in this new document is no worse than that in a typical speech by President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney. Yet for much of the past five years, many major news organizations failed to provide the public with effective fact-checking.

So Mr. Bush's new public relations offensive on Iraq is a test. Are the news media still too cowed, too addicted to articles that contain little more than dueling quotes to tell the public when the administration is saying things that aren't true? Or has the worm finally turned?

There have been encouraging signs, notably a thorough front-page fact-checking article - which even included charts showing the stagnation of oil production and electricity generation! - in USA Today. But the next few days will tell.

Thomas L. Friedman is on vacation.

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Help Your Buddy to a Future Filled with WAR

Guard entices ranks to recruit

By Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAYFri Dec 2, 7:16 AM ET

The Army National Guard, battling a falloff in recruiting, is offering troops a finder's fee for lining up new soldiers.

The Guard Recruiter Assistant Program, launched this week in five states, offers National Guard members $1,000 for enlisting a recruit and another $1,000 when the prospect shows up for basic training.

"Bring in 10 people and you can earn $20,000," says Lt. Col. Mike Jones, deputy division chief for recruiting and retention at the National Guard Bureau.

The Army Guard and Reserve have struggled with recruiting as the Pentagon has leaned heavily on their soldiers to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Before 9/11, Guard troops counted on drilling one weekend a month and two weeks each summer - not on overseas deployments as long as 18 months and the risk of death. As of Wednesday, 123,000 Guard and Reserve troops were on active duty.

The Guard recruited 50,219 troops - 20% short of its goal - in fiscal year 2005, which ended Sept. 30.

The National Guard has nearly doubled its recruiting force to 5,100 and tripled cash bonuses for some recruits. Those efforts are beginning to pay off, Jones says, noting that the National Guard had 4,050 new recruits in October, 102% of its goal.

But, he says, the Guard can't maintain a large, expensive recruiting force indefinitely. Enter the recruiter assistant program.

Nobody's in a better position to convince a potential recruit than a National Guard member, Jones says. National Guard members have always produced some of the best leads on recruits from family, co-workers or church, he says.

The program is open to part-time Guard members in good standing. They must complete an online training program that covers ethics, values of the National Guard and what qualifies someone to join the military.

They'll receive a kit to help market the Guard. Once they find a potential recruit, they enter the name on a website and full-time recruiters take it from there.

"This is not just a lead program," Jones said. "It's not just, 'Hey, I met Johnny, give him a call.' "

An assistant recruiter is expected to serve as a mentor and sponsor to ensure that the new soldier succeeds.

For now, the program is a pilot project in Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota and West Virginia. It could go nationwide by September 2006, Jones says.

It could be opened further to military retirees or spouses, he says.

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