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Author Topic: March 6th, 2009: "Bush Is To Blame. But Not The Bush You Might Think."  (Read 4451 times)
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« on: March 06, 2009, 06:40:44 PM »

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And honestly I think Dick Cheney had a lot more to do with it than anyone else.

The title of this strip is of course a nod to the recent John Cusack film of the same name. I'm a huge fan of Cusack. There are a few of his films that to me are just classics that I will always enjoy watching no matter how many times I've seen them. War, Inc. however is not one of them.

I'm not going to trash the film here. Frankly there isn't enough space to tell you all the things that went wrong with it; so when I wrote this comic I focused on what they did right.

Shining a light on the corporate involvement in the war was and always will be a good thing. The commercialization and profiteering of something like combat between nations is a very dangerous thing. I honestly find it amusing (in a tragic sort of way) that our government, whilst entering itself into new fields such as banking and auto manufacturing, must spend billions on outside vendors to do thing what� frankly you would think they should have a handle on already. Like feeding our troops; providing security at our foreign embassies; rebuilding infrastructure (something the Army Corp of Engineers is legendary at) and delivering fresh, potable water (anyone who has seen that awful Pauly Shore movie knows the Army has Water Boys).

So what does it say about our military and our government when we must pay billions in taxpayer money to provide private support services to our military when the expertise to provide those services already exists in the military? Obviously this leads to the question "there must not be enough Engineers; enough cooks and kitchen workers, enough water specialists or enough military police to provide those services right?"

Well yes, that is the case. But why is that? Why don't we have enough servicemen and women in active and reserve duty to provide these services? Well, I believe that the answer goes back to President Bush. Not George W but George H.W. The first president Bush.

When he took office he promised in that famous quote "read my lips� no new taxes." Of course he went back on that promise but what he did do to try and reign in the soaring budget deficit was make substantial cuts in military spending; something that the Clinton administration continued to do as well. This gave us those wonderful budget surpluses during the 90's that made everyone feel great about the way the economy was going.

But it was a farce. In the end, President Bush's "Reduction in Forces Act" (the executive order under which I actually exited the military myself) and base closings only served the short term goal of reducing spending during peace time. In the long term it hurt us significantly.

Once war broke out we quickly learned the cost of these actions. Military wages are sub par in comparison to civilian jobs in the same industry; without the headaches of dealing with a rank structure and risk to life and limb. Military living for the most part is substandard for most American families living on bases in comparison to off base or "civilian" accommodations. Military services, like health care for instance� well we've all heard the stories. Let's just be charitable and say that they are doing their best (I personally have had nothing but good experiences at the VA Hospital's where I have received care� but it is my understanding that while you are in the service you are being treated by the military health care system which is not even on the same planet as the VA where you get treated once you are out of the military).

These conditions leave us with a military that the best and brightest want nothing to do with. Only those with a strong calling to serve their country, or those who have few other options even consider the military these days. Why would you join up if you could make more money and give yourself or your family a better, healthier life by staying in the civilian sector?

What is really hard to wrap your head around about all this is how it relates to the way support services are provided to our military. In most past conflicts the economy has seen a boost from combat. Government spending increases on products and services produced by the private sector. Everything from ammunition to water to food to clothes to tank parts. All consumables, all disposable and all replaced by companies selling their products to the government directly.

This created jobs; lower middle class manufacturing jobs and upper middle class management jobs. As jobs were created domestic spending increased, wages increased as competition for skilled workers increased, tax bases were expanded, new businesses were created, and innovation was sparked.

What we have today though is something entirely different. What we have today is a situation where instead of having military cooks and kitchen workers to feed our troops; instead of military drivers to transport military equipment; instead of Army Engineers to supply and rebuild infrastructure; instead of Marines to provide embassy and consulate security; instead of military water purification teams to provide fresh water; instead of all these things and so many more we have private, multinational corporations, contracted by the government or subcontracted by a larger company providing these services.

So why is this bad and why isn't this providing the same economic boost as in previous times of conflict? Well, for starters, corporations are not responsible to a chain of command. The government and therefore our soldiers are their customers. If a soldier working a purification team provided contaminated drinking water he would be court martialed for incompetence. If an engineer left exposed electrical wiring lying around that caused the death of a soldier he would see the inside of Leavenworth before you could say "shocking." The most that can be done to a private company is they can be sued or thier contract can be cancelled (assuming that language is in the contract).

Additionally, instead of highly trained, highly motivated individuals providing these services the companies are going to hire the cheapest people they can find to fill these positions. Do you really think a truck driver who is in Iraq just to make money is going to provide the same service as a military transport specialist? What about an electrician?

In addition to hiring people for lower wages, the company is going to find the cheapest source of materials as well. Since they are providing the personnel to build the buildings and install the wiring they don't have anyone checking the quality of the materials they are using to build with. If the government contracted with a timber company to provide four hundred tons of pine two by fours and when they showed up they were poplar and rotten the Army Corp of Engineers would reject the shipment, the government would sue the company and then contract with another to get the right supplies. When the company who is building with the wood is the same company subcontracting out the purchase of the wood well; poplar is cheaper and who cares if it's a little rotten as long as the building goes up on schedule?

When a military truck goes out of the motor pool there is a 40 or so point inspection that must be done before the truck is allowed to get on the road. If it is determined that the driver failed to perform this preventative maintenance and it led to damage to government property or personnel the driver can be held criminally liable. Do you really think private transportation companies in Iraq meet the same exacting standards?

So to recap, the old way of doing things allowed military personnel to provide high quality support and infrastructure while gaining valuable experience that improved the civilian sector once they left service. The new way of doing things has companies that bid the lowest, hiring low quality and inexperienced workers with little to no oversight of materials, supplies or procedures.

Lastly we have to ask ourselves who benefits from these government contracts. When the government had a larger military most of the jobs created when military spending increased were in manufacturing, middle management, research and development. After their service was done the men and women of the military would depart with skills that benefited the civilian sector; which benefited us all.

Now, when military spending increases the money goes directly to these large corporations. They cut costs on materials, employment and services and who benefits? Why their investors and shareholders of course. People who own large portions of stock in Haliburton, Blackwater and other large service providing military contractors (in short people who are already pretty rich) are doing pretty well.

But the economic evidence shows that it doesn't trickle down to the American economy in any appreciable fashion. It doesn't improve employment opportunites and I personally believe that we have just begun to see the detrimental affect it will have on the civilian sector. I am sad to say that I think things are going to get a lot worse.

And I have heard recently that our new President is going to repeat the mistakes of the past and try and decrease military spending. Look, I'm no war hawk. I'm not a fan of armed conflict. That said, if we increase the quality of living and the wages for military personnel; get the support services out of the hands of the private sector so that military personnel are receiving the vastly increased quality that military run support services provide and start buying American materials from American companies we will see an increase in expertise, efficiency and overall quality of our military, an increased desire to serve in the military and a boon to our nations economy as jobs are created and well trained ex military folks are there to fill them.

Cutting costs is not always the answer; going with the lowest bidder is not always the answer; finding the cheapest labor and materials is not always the answer; spinning the marketing to alter public opinion is not always the answer; lobbying congress to free yourself from oversight is not always the answer; sometimes, most times all you are doing is making short term gains and sacrificing long term market feasibility.

In short, if everyone is too poor to buy your stuff, everyone is too poorly trained to make your stuff and everyone is too injured from your stuff the world will go to hell in a hand basket and you will go along for the ride. Capitalism with an eye towards social responsibility is the best economic system in human creation. Capitalism run amuck is no better than communism; and in the end it is just as sure to fail.

Sorry for the massive missive guys. This is a subject I know a bit about and something I've been wanting to get off my chest for awhile. If you made it all the way through I hope you found the journey with it and that it gave you something to think about. If you agree, write your congressman or senator. It's what they're there for.

Have a great weekend. I'll see you all back here on Monday.
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« Reply #1 on: March 07, 2009, 02:58:00 AM »

I'm going to have to agree with my colleague.

War, Inc. was horrible movie. In many ways it seem like the sequel to Grosse Pointe Blank. The only problem it was no where near as good as that movie. The movie wasn't without its funny parts though. Just a tad too strange for its own good.
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