On the day the President told the American people to prepare for the long haul in Iraq, here's a story that perfectly sums up just how screwed up our priorities are 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 "ntertained by Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, 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 absurd pics here)
First off, what 13-year old girl is a Fleetwood Mac fan? Secondly, and more importantly, where does a guy get $10 million to blow on a party? 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 can'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 today]. 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, here [pdf].)
"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 veterans are not pleased at news of the party. HuffPo blogger 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 harms 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. Okay. If that's what the American people want. If that's what they voted for."
I've contacted the public relations firm representing DHB Industries and will publish their response when I get it.
UPDATE: 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 http://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/899166/000109230605000194/def14adhb.txt 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 still under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
On November 21, the Army Times reported http://www.armytimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-1364476.php, “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.”