Tuesday, February 17, 2009
The paradigm-busting set of enterprises founded and built by Navy SEAL and entrepreneur Erik Prince is now a collection of disparate names.
"We've taken the company to a place where it is no longer accurately described as Blackwater," company spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell tells the Washington Post. "The idea is to define the company as what it is today and not what it used to be."
Blackwater Worldwide, best known for its diplomatic security services in Iraq and Afghanistan, and famous within the Pentagon and national security community for other defense and related services, has been re-named Xe.
Blackwater Target Systems is now GSD Manufacturing. Blackwater Airships will become Guardian Flight Systems. And so on.
The famous Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, which started it all to provide first-rate, efficient training for the US military and law enforcement, is now the US Training Center.
The company website, www.blackwaterusa.com, now leads to a scaled down version of its former self to feature the US Training Center.
Blackwater has undergone a gradual change in its brand. In 2007 it expanded its focus from Blackwater USA to Blackwater Worldwide, embracing a new, less edgy, New York-designed corporate logo. The rebranding was planned before the deadly Nisoor Square shootout in September of that year, but was implemented soon afterward. The new change seems to reflect the reality that the controversy has tarnished the companies' overall image and presented a misleading public image that Blackwater's main business line was intended to be diplomatic security. The company at its core is a training and logistics business, with security being a side line.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Welcome to Xe.
That's pronounced "Zee."
Not as cool as Blackwater, but with none of the baggage that have cost the family-like company so much grief.
Kind of like Valujet, the revolutionary low-cost airline whose fortunes nosedived when one of its jetliners crashed into the Florida Everglades. Everyone aboard perished. Many in the industry hated Valujet, the upstart who dared challenge the creaky and expensive status quo.
Those who said that cheap, safe, reliable air travel would be impossible - that high-end, high-cost titans like Pan Am, TWA, Northwest and Delta would dominate the industry forever - called Valujet a menace to public safety. The Everglades crash proved it, with critics alleging that low-cost operations came at the price of safety. Valujet's fortunes sank into the swamp.
But the business model was sound. All signficant airlines occasionally suffer catastrophic accidents. Valujet's safety record was fine. But the company couldn't survive on its tarnished brand. So it re-named itself Airtran and spawned a whole new business model that helped put many of the high-cost behemoths out to pasture. Pan Am and TWA are no more. Northwest is being absorbed by Delta.
Enter Airtran's new world that includes other profitable upstarts like Jetblue and Southwest.
Dying airlines like United, with its high costs, lame service and customer-hostile attitudes had to take notice and change if they wanted to survive.
So we'll miss Blackwater. But we'll keep its memory alive on this blog - defending the honor of the people who built the company and made it the success it became, challenging the malicious detractors, and discussing the issues. And we'll watch as Blackwater's re-named components (see post above) continue to innovate, continue to revolutionize and - as with any innovator - to make mistakes and learn from them, becoming better with each tough experience.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Amy Ridenour of the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington takes note:
Remember the ultra-mini Blackwater tax scandal of 2007? In it, liberal Senators Barack Obama, John Kerry and Dick Durbin kicked up a fuss because Blackwater treated security guards it employed in Iraq as independent contractors (making them responsible for paying their own taxes) rather than as employees whose income and payroll taxes were deducted from their paychecks.
Obama and Durbin sent a letter to Bush Administration Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson complaining that misclassification of employees as independent contractors contributes to the 'tax gap' (that is, the difference between the amount of taxes legally owned to the federal government versus the amount collected), and seeking a full investigation into Blackwater.
Fast forward 15 months. After sticking behind a Treasury Secretary nominee with 'tax gap' problems of his own, Barack Obama is pushing for an HHS Secretary, Tom Daschle, who somehow managed to leave $83,333 in consulting income off his 2007 tax return, deducted $14,963 in non-existent charitable contributions from his 2007 tax return, and accepted $73,031 worth of car and driver services in 2005, $89,129 worth in 2006 and $93,096 worth in 2007 without it occurring to him over three solid years that these benefits are taxable income.
And then there's the unresolved question of possible tax liability for luxury travel paid for by others. Of the Daschle nomination, John Kerry is saying 'there is a completely understandable, absolutely acceptable and rational explanation for what happened here.' (Blackwater had a stronger case than does Daschle, but never mind.)
For his part, Dick Durbin is assuring the country, 'If all you knew about Tom Daschle was that he used to be a Senator, and he made a mistake and had to pay over $100,000 in back taxes, you have a right to be skeptical, even cynical. But if you know Tom Daschle, you know better.' Where is the concern for the 'tax gap' now?>
The bottom line, of course, is that our leaders should not tolerate tax cheats. At the same time, the public should no tolerate politicians who use the tax laws as political weapons against people and companies they don't like. Blackwater's practice of hiring contractors is entirely lawful and ethical, but certain politicians wanted to beat up the company anyway. Those same politicians' excuses for Daschle and other obvious tax cheats shows how insincere they are. They have destroyed any credibility they might have had in criticizing Blackwater, and hopefully we've heard the last of them on this subject.
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Monday, February 2, 2009
Saturday, January 31, 2009
- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton "has shown herself to be nothing more than a shrewish mouthpiece for her AIPAC paymasters while running the State Dept!! Her Zionist attitudes render moot any kind of impartial resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and they speak volumes about the unconditional US support of Israel. . . ." (Posted by SMMajid_1 January 30, 2009 7:35 PM)
- "We have experienced what it is like to live under evangelical, ultra-right-wing plutocrats. They do what they please. They do it in secret. They flout the laws. They gum up the works so they won't be questioned let alone prosecuted. In the end, like a certain German chancellor, they leave the country in ruin and leave office." (Posted by: BlueTwo1 January 30, 2009 11:34 PM)
- Assorted swipes and slams on Christians, particularly evangelical Christians, written by people under the false impression that the owner of Blackwater is an evangelical and showing an ugly bigotry against Christian believers.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Here's the video of trial lawyer Mike Papantonio's self-described "Pap Attack" on Blackwater. He's seen narrating the piece that ran in the Pensacola News Journal, which we dissected in the following post.
Friday, January 23, 2009
That's what Florida trial lawyer Mike Papantonio (pictured) calls former Navy SEAL and Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
But Papantonio's hit job is way off the mark, showing a staggering level of ignorance of American history, law, and of the subject of his attack. The trial lawyer's clumsily-worded, error-filled screed appeared in the Pensacola News Journal. I'm almost embarrassed for him. The piece looks it was written by someone who's had too much to drink.
Papantonio is a radio talk show host on Air America and is founder of GoLeft.tv.
Standish has found at least nine major, glaring errors in Papantonio's attack piece.1. Papantonio has his legal definitions wrong. He repeatedly refers to Prince and Blackwater as "mercenary." As a lawyer, Papantonio should know better. The international legal definition of mercenary, as defined by the Protocol to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949, to which the US is a party, is as follows in Protocol I, Article 47.2:
A mercenary is any person who:
(a) is specially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.
Blackwater contractors do security guard, logistics work, training and related jobs abroad on contract for the US government or under US government license. They are not "specially recruited" to "fight in an armed conflict" or to take "direct part" in hostilities. Their main motivation is to serve their country again, not "essentially the desire for private gain;" as we'll see below, Blackwater contractors are well paid financially, but they pay high taxes and receive none of the non-taxable benefits that military personnel receive, so in the end, the compensation is comparable to those on active duty. All Blackwater personnel guarding the State Department are nationals and residents of the US, a party to the conflict (support staff are multinational). So they do not meet the Geneva Conventions' six standards to be considered mercenary.
Consequently, Papantonio is slandering American veterans who return from their private lives to serve their country again in wartime. The story of helicopter pilot Art Laguna, who gave his life in defense of a trapped US diplomat in Iraq two years ago, shows the caliber of the military vets who join Blackwater: Unusually dedicated people. The Defense Department gave Art Laguna the Legion of Merit posthumously last year, citing his "exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements." Click here for the story.
2. Papantonio says that Erik Prince's (deceased) father funded a "neo-con[servative] revolution." Again, the trial lawyer is wrong, misusing a word intended as a pejorative. Edgar Prince funded Reagan-line social conservatives, including leaders of evangelical Christian causes. Those folks are very different from neo-conservatives, a movement founded by Norman Podhoretz, who characterized neo-cons as liberals "mugged by reality." Neo-cons and social conservatives have seldom been comfortable with one another on major issues; neo-cons tend to be hawkish on defense issues but more liberal on social matters. Many prominent neo-cons turned their backs on their Marxist backgrounds, which is why so many on the left particularly hate them. Neo-conservative movement ideology centered around Podhoretz and other Jewish intellectuals with Commentary magazine - a totally different kind of movement than what Edgar Prince supported, which was based on Protestant Christianity. (Erik Prince is not an evangelical but a Catholic, so his views are not the same as those of his late father.) But "neo-con" is now an unpopular epithet, used both as a means of discrediting the recently-departed Bush Administration's first-term defense team that included some prominent neo-cons. It's also a code word for "Jew" among some closet anti-semites.
3. Papantonio is wrong when he states, "today, the Prince family's private army numbers about 25,000 strong." That's an outrageous estimate. It's not even on the most oddball, foil-hat conspiracy websites. Papantonio must be making it up. It looks like he is referring to the number of private security guards in Iraq, which is estimated at about 25,000, but most of those are Iraqi nationals working for other (mainly Iraqi) security companies.
Blackwater makes up only about 1,000 of the private security guards in Iraq, perhaps even fewer. If one adds the press reports and State Department testimony of Blackwater personnel abroad, and the company's own statements, one finds that the actual number of Blackwater personnel at about 700 in the US and between 1,000 and 3,000 contractors abroad. All Blackwater contractors abroad are either in the direct employ of the United States government, or operating with US allies under explicit US government permission and license. Many of these people are trainers and logisticians, not guards.
4. Papantonio is wrong when he claims, "Soldiers enlisted in the U.S. military get paid about $70 a day to put themselves in harm's way, while Mr. Prince's private soldier gets about $1,500 a day for facing the same risks." This is nonsense, an allegation that was debunked during a congressional hearing nearly a year-and-a-half ago, and by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in August 2008. Blackwater guards make only a fraction of that, and they have to pay their own expenses, from food, housing and healthcare to self-employment taxes and other items that soldiers receive as part of their non-taxable benefits. A 2007 Serviam magazine study found that the compensation is roughly the same. Blackwater has published its own comparison figures.
The CBO discussed cost comparisons less exaggerated than the figures Papantonio uses, and discounted the data. "Those figures are not appropriate for comparing the cost-effectiveness of contracting the security function or performing it using military personnel," according to the CBO. "The figures of $1,222 a day represents the contractor's billing rate, not the amount paid to the contractor's employees. The billing rate is greater than an employee's pay because it includes the contractor's indirect costs, overhead, and profit." CBO says a better comparison would be to estimate the total cost to the government. "CBO performed such an analysis, comparing the costs of a private security contractor with those of a military alternative. That analysis indicates that the costs of the private contractor did not differ greatly from the costs of having a comparable military unit performing similar functions."
5. Papantonio is wrong when he says that Blackwater guys are unaccountable to American law. He claims, "to this day, the lawyers for the Prince-family soldiers are still arguing that these mercenaries can't be prosecuted under traditional criminal and civil U.S. statutes." This claim is false. Indeed, some prominent legal scholars say that Congress never bothered to keep the laws up-to-date, creating a "legal vacuum" and accountability problems. Keeping federal laws up-to-date are up to Congress, not Blackwater, to solve. Blackwater operates under the laws in existence - some of which are either imprecise or contradictory - and it has urged that the laws be updated so that the company's work can be more specifically defined.
6. Papantonio is wrong when he implies that Blackwater is in danger of becoming an "independent, unchecked power in America." The company is tightly regulated under a host of state and federal laws. Its operations are regulated by the Justice Department, Defense Department, Treasury Department, Commerce Department and State Department. It is subject to the same gun-control and export laws that govern everyone else. Where laws haven't kept up with the outsourcing trend, they have been amended, and Blackwater has been urging Congress to continue updating the law. Congress even passed a law that Prince personally advocated in testimony before Congressman Henry Waxman's oversight panel on October 2, 2007.
7. Papantonio is wrong when he says that the US won World War II without the use of "American mercenaries." Perhaps he's never heard of the famous American Volunteer Group (AVG), better known as the Flying Tigers, led by Claire Chennault - a private air force of American aviators who fought the Japanese in Burma, China and Australia. Most people are familiar with the AVG's famous P-40 fighter plane with its distinctive shark-mouth paint job (pictured). Other "American mercenaries," as the trial lawyer would define them, were the armed civilian crews of the Liberty Ships who ferried supplies across the Atlantic to make D-Day possible. The US relied heavily on private contractors to support the military during World War II. In 1941, prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress passed the Defense Base Act (DBA) to provide insurance for civilian contract workers on US military bases, an Act that Congress has expanded over the years as the contracting sector has grown.
8. Papantonio is wrong when he says that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have opposed private military companies to do outsourcing military work in the service of the United States. As soon as he became Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1775, Washington outsourced a naval force, without consent of the Continental Congress, leasing private ships and hiring private sea captains as what he called "privateers." Military historian James L. Nelson documents this in his new book, George Washington's Secret Navy. (See how Nelson's account takes the legs out from under another Blackwater critic, Bill Sizemore of the Virginian-Pilot.)
Washington as general and Jefferson as a member of the Second Continental Congress personally supported the legalization and regulation of private military companies to make war on British shipping, in March, 1776. Washington commanded ships that worked in partnership with privateers, and during the war he even held an ownership stake in a private warship. As president, Thomas Jefferson made extensive use of private warships to compensate for US naval weakness in defense of American trading interests against the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean. Robert H. Patton's book Patriot Pirates: The Privateer War for Freedom and Fortune in the American Revolution is a great introduction to the subject in the 1770s and early 1780s. Privateering is one of the few businesses specifically authorized in the US Constitution, under the "letters of marque and reprisal" clause in Article I, Section 8. Papantonio is a trial lawyer who doesn't even know the Constitution.
9. Papantonio makes the preposterous claim that "Blackwater has reached a level of overgrown and unchecked power that makes it capable of overpowering the military of many of the world's governments." The company can do nothing abroad without the legal authorization of the State Department, Commerce Department, Defense Department and Justice Department. Its powers are not unchecked at all. Blackwater is liable under state and federal gun control laws, military export laws, labor and safety laws, and a host of regulations that fall under those laws.
"Blackwater spokesmen tell us that their mercenaries operate under a pledge of strict loyalty and patriotism," Papantonio says. "But take time to follow the story about this mercenary group, and you will wonder who or what entity actually benefits from that loyalty pledge." '
Papantonio's attack on Blackwater is one of the most ignorant this blogger has ever seen. Phony and sloppy allegations like his are what have given many well-intentioned people a false impression of the company and its role. The more people know about Blackwater, the more they appreciate what it does. So it was no surprise when last summer, a US Senator receiving Blackwater protection in Afghanistan said in comments picked up by US News & World Report, "Blackwater is getting a bad rap." That senator is now the new president of the United States.
"WHATEVER ELSE the Iraq War may be remembered for, it has already achieved one unique distinction: It is America’s first outsourced war."
Sizemore is wrong. He doesn't know his American history. The nation's "first outsourced war" was its first war - the Revolutionary War. And the first American leader to do the outsourcing, according to military historian James L. Nelson, was General George Washington, as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Foster's Daily Democrat, the hometown New Hampshire newspaper of Evan Liberty, a former Marine and one of five former Blackwater guards being put on trial, has studied the transcript, photographs and other evidence and concluded that the facts show something very different from what prosecutors claim.
Nobody involved with the prosecution - including the turret gunner in the convoy who copped a plea - has said that the Blackwater security convoy came under fire when guards reportedly opened up in defense of the American diplomat being protected.
"There is no mention of the team coming under fire or the vehicle being disabled in court documents based on the accounts by Ridgeway and the Iraqi witnesses," according to the newspaper.
Friday, January 9, 2009
The IG pointed out quite a few problems with the government's management and oversight of the contractors - understandable, given the huge scope of the problem that was tackled in a short time and under wartime conditions - but concluded with high praise for the services that Blackwater and two other companies provided.
The Washington Post reports that the IG found that "State Department Bureau of Diplomatic Security had been 'highly effective in ensuring the safety" of diplomatic personnel in Iraq. There have been no casualties among U.S. diplomatic and civilian officials protected by contractors under the bureau's supervision.'"
The IG found several areas that government managers needed to fix.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
The government has no idea who shot whom, but is nevertheless charging the five with "14 counts of manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter," and - for good measure - a special charge of using a firearm in the commission of a crime.
"We want to make it clear to everyone these men committed no crime. They were defending themselves on a battlefield in a war zone when this occurred," said their defense lawyer, David Schertler, in comments covered by CNN.
Federal prosecutors wanted to ram the oddly prepared case through the courts as fast as possible, but the defense says it needs as much time to prepare to address the charges as the government took to make them.
"The United States government had a year and a half to investigate the case, and we did not. So we need a year to catch up," the defense says, according to CNN.
The judge said he wanted the case to proceed as quickly as possible, and would not tolerate unreasonable delays, but he said that the trial would not begin until 2010. US prosecutors wanted the trial to begin in the fall of 2009, to coincide with the second anniversary of the September 2007 incident.
Most people probably missed it because of the holidays. So here's what the story said, and we want to dwell on this a bit because it would never have happened without the brave guys from Blackwater, who kept our embassy people 100 percent safe.
"The war, in a sense, is over," the Post said in a center-of-the-front-page headline. No surrendering enemies, or captured fuehrer bunker, or any of those things that we like to see to bring us closure after a war. Here's how the article, by Anthony Shadid in Baghdad, began:
"Maybe it was the only shot heard for days in a neighborhood once ordered by the cadence of gunfire. Perhaps it was the smiles at checkpoints and the shouts of Iraqi policemen navigating the always snarled traffic. 'God's mercy on your parents,' they beseeched. 'God's blessings on you.' Maybe it was the music box still playing 'Santa Claus Is Coming to Town' at a kiosk overflowing with Christmas tree decorations and heart-shaped red pillows.Iraq is fragile, and bombings continue around the country, but the war is essentially over. Blackwater played a big part in the victory.
"For anyone returning to Baghdad after spending time here during the darkest days two years ago, when it was paralyzed by sectarian hatred and overrun by gunmen sowing despair, the conclusion seemed inescapable.
"'The war has ended,' said Heidar al-Abboudi, a street merchant.
"The war in Iraq is indeed over, at least the conflict as it was understood during its first five years: insurgency, communal cleansing, gangland turf battles and an anarchic, often futile quest to survive."