27 June, 2006

Who The Real Bastards Are

The post prior to this was generally lighthearted and funny. This one isn't. So if you aren't in the mood for not-lighthearted and really kind of twisty, then skip this post.

Grandefille wants us to buy helmets for the soldiers because they are poorly outfitted. On the heels of this comes an article about the equipment costs of the Army tripling because of the war.

That's what I want to talk about. You and I pay those equipment costs, and that's fine by me. As far as I'm concerned the military is one of the legitimate expenses of any government. The social contract of forming a government is motivated in large part by a collective need for defense. Or so goes my philosophy--based on the philosophies of smarter folk.

A few weeks ago we were honoured to dine with good friends. These good friends are in a small way involved in something to do with the military. For obvious reasons I'm going to be oblique. But the sum total of this flimsy anecdotal evidence is that these nice people have had something to do with a widget that is of interest to the military. The cost of the widget is something like $6, that includes the cost to produce it and the money it takes to employ the people who have everything to do with getting the widget made. Yet the widget is being sold to the military for a couple of hundred dollars a piece. Not by our friends, but by someone who is quite obviously beyond greedy.

So yes, out there in an anonymous office park in an anonymous city a group of people are robbing us and putting the lives of soldiers at risk so they can summer in Bora-Bora. That's only ONE corporation that I personally know of. Like cockroaches, I'm sure there are others in the walls, scurrying about in their filth.

Look, I'm not an idiot. I know there are development costs, research costs and some reasonable profit to be made on widgets. But thousands of percents? Thousands? How is this helping anyone?


At 11:42 AM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Chance said...

I understand your outrage; that is crazy. I support the free market, as well as the military spending our tax dollars, but there seems to be a conflict between the two in this scenario. I have to wonder why exactly it is so expensive. Such a high profit margin would indicate lack of competition. I wonder if this contractor is in cozy with the government, because another competitor could easily exploit that scenario. I guess another solution is for the military to incorporate those operations.

At 12:15 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Short and Fat said...

This is what I thought to myself when (I think one of) your commenters recently mentioned how ONLY the Defense Department efficiently spends money. All other departments waste money.

Of course I'm probably being non-Patriotic in even commenting on your clearly biased against the administration post.

At 12:19 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger grandefille said...

Yes ma'am, you're exactly right. And so is your post's headline.

It's the legendary $900 Pentagon toilet seat, or the $1,200 hammer, all over again, except now with Halliburton et al at the helm, you can easily quadruple those prices. The argument has long been that the American jobs created by those military contractors justified the prices because of higher pay. That's been disproven, especially now that so many of those contractors use manufacturers outside the U.S. or subcontract down several levels like the situation with your pals.

What's clearly at fault, aside from the lack of competition, is the money being spent (thus the high prices) for lobbyists to convince Congress to give their clients get said contracts.

By the way, Operation Helmet doesn't want new helmets. It wants an insert for current helmets that's essentially a better shock absorber for concussive blasts like those in IEDs. It keeps the wearer's head from rattling around in the helmet, and thus his brain from rattling around in his head, essentially. The Army's helmets are new and all have these. The Marines are still officially arguing over whether they need them or not.

I don't know why we're surprised, though. This is the same government that called up thousands of Guard members and sent them to the desert for two-plus years and didn't give them enough water to drink. They had to write home asking their families to figure out ways to send them cases of bottled water. (Meanwhile, Halliburton was being paid huge amounts of money to decontaminate water from the Euphrates for a base at Ramadi and didn't do so for months, exposing soldiers and civilians to fecal matter in their water. Yum!) I won't even get into the "buy your own body armor" stuff.

Changing the topic to something less critical to all our daily lives, I'm so glad somebody else in this world was hopeful that Keith Urban would at least bathe for his own wedding. I don't know who these people are who voted him Sexiest Whatever, but good golly, y'all. Ew. I would ever so subtly step back from him in the line at Kroger, just to try not to wince and audibly hold my breath.

Good golly, I took up your whole blog. I need to go back to lurking and muttering. Gracias.

At 1:05 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

See, chance, this is where my libertarian/free market ideas get called into question. Because how libertarian is it to demand price controls?

But there ISN'T a free market when it comes to military contracts, best I can tell.

This post isn't anti-administration, or even anti-Iraq war. This post is anti-profiteering.

The problem with profiteering is that it's a word which has been thrown around baselessly for so long that it seems to me in many cases we've cried wolf. No one will go after the REAL profiteers.

I have NO PROBLEM with people going to work and making money to feed their families and buy big houses and jet skis. I realise alot of these people who are making money off the war have spent many years in school getting an education to perfect offensive and defensive equipment to ensure victory. That's their job, and I'd hope they do it well.

I have a problem with the hard work of educated people being coopted by greedy multinational companies (and don't kid yourself--they ARE not all Haliburton. I think this company in question in my anecdote is based in Canada or Japan or something) and exploited to get cash out of the U.S.

At 1:31 PM, June 27, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with your post. But I really just want to comment on your blog skin. Oh man, it's beautiful - reminds me of my SanDiego roots, where 50% of all homes have an in-ground pool. I really wish I hade access to a swimming pool.

At 1:36 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Chance said...

But there ISN'T a free market when it comes to military contracts, best I can tell.

I would say there is to some extent, although I don't know all the intricacies. The gov't/military decides on something they need done, then award it to the lowest bidder, to oversimplify it grossly. The ideal is that no company could charge too high of a price, because they could easily be outbid. Now, I don't know all the factors involved, if there's some external force preventing the normal bidding process from taking its course. There's all sorts of hush, hush things going on that we never know about.

Personally, I don't think its a defiency in the free market system, because I don't think its a free market issue, I think something else is a factor preventing the normal bidding process from taking its course.

Except in the case of monopolies, I believe the free market will punish profiteers, that's why I'm so surprised this situation is occurring.

At 1:42 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

I think something else is a factor preventing the normal bidding process from taking its course.

What the something-else is, more often than not, is patented technology.

The upside of this next-gen warfare is that we have all these technical breakthroughs (like the helmet inserts that grandefille was talking about). But each of these breakthroughs is patented.

So, next step is for a company to buy the patent, produce the product at an undisclosed cost through a subcontractor and then sell the unique tech to the military. It's the new bid-free way to ensure high-dollar returns on government contracts.

At 3:32 PM, June 27, 2006, Blogger Chance said...

What the something-else is, more often than not, is patented technology.

Ah, yes. That would be the kicker.

At 6:16 PM, June 27, 2006, Anonymous tom said...

The profiteering angle has come around again. I went to see "Why We Fight* at the local arthouse theater.

The filmmakers put up a pretty convincing argument that the impetus for the massive defense budget is profiteering. It blames both Dems and Reps for lacking oversight because more often, legislation is packed with pork. The sticky wicket is that X congressman has a factory in such a state, and feels he must vote in favor of defense spending because of the 900 workers and their families at home he has to keep employed.

It seems like a vicious circle. The fact of the matter is that defense contracting industry is a classic case of oligopoly and market failure. I would suggest that Congress or The Executive branch be allowed to setup a non-partisan defense spending oversight commission (similar to the 9/11 comm) that could clean up defense spending. Then maybe the waters of the Euphrates could be cleaned up.

* Overall, the movie's worth the look, but even my leftist idealism rolled its eyes at the melodramatic lighting and camera work. I almost laughed when they showed a defense contractor at a convention with the rather contrived soundbite "Our business is collusion... with the government." It was so over the top that it almost ruined the whole movie for me.

At 1:48 AM, June 28, 2006, Blogger Kat Coble said...

The filmmakers put up a pretty convincing argument that the impetus for the massive defense budget is profiteering.

It's a chicken-and-egg thing in my opinion. The massive defense budget is due to profiteering so more people profiteer and the budget grows.

The bright, capitalistic side is that in some bizarre way it does encourage technological development. People will invest in research to score patents that will net them a government contract.

That, however, is a very small bright side when you see how much they profit.


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