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Bad Day at Blackwater, or Drowning in Scandal

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The other day, I got a note from my friend Nell Minow. As co-founder of The Corporate Library, a leading watchdog for corporate governance, her mind is always on the lookout for unexpected connections. This one was whimsical, but Nell wrote that she found it bizarre how many political scandals have water in them - Watergate, Whitewater - and now Blackwater. And for historians, Waterloo. Even Teapot Dome, she quipped.

(You could even add Hurricane Katrina, though that's unfair because it was real water, so it had an advantage.)

"I'd stay away from water names if I were a politician," she noted.

Strong water advice from someone named Minow.

It's too early to tell where the Blackwater scandal will fit in with its water-logged brethren. But the early stages are impressive for reaching full-fledged Political Scandal status. Ratings for political scandals range on a sliding 6-level scale.

What's That?
Ah, It's Just Politics
Oh, My God
Is Everyone Covering This?!!!
This Should Bump Anna Nicole Smith

At the moment, Blackwater is hovering around "Really?????" But it has gained traction, and is giving Scandal Aficionados real hope.

After all, it's finally got its own report from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. And the report is impressively devastating--

Thus far, 122 Blackwater employees in Iraq have been terminated. That's 15% of their entire Iraq workforce. This is considered Not Good for a security company protecting U.S. diplomatic personnel. Of course, it's bad even for Burger King.

A full 84% of shooting incidents have been instigated by Blackwater guards, even though they're contracted to be defensive only. Then again, perhaps Blackwater is operating on the George Bush Theory of Defense: bomb first even when not attacked.

A drunken Blackwater employee killed the bodyguard of Iraq's Shiite Vice-President. No, wait, it gets worse. And then worse, still. The U.S. State Department intervened and said that $250,000 should be paid as an "apology" - their words, really - but Diplomatic Security Service rescinded this order, saying the amount was too much, because - are you ready? - it might inspire other Iraqis "to try and get killed" to support their families. (No, I couldn't make this up if I tried.) The total ultimately paid was a bargain, $15,000. Finally, we have an official dollar figure for the phrase, "Life is cheap."

A Blackwater shooting incident on September 16 ended with 11 Iraqis killed, which eyewitnesses claim was unprovoked. It was so egregious that the FBI has sent agents to investigate. When you have the domestic FBI looking into killings during a war 6,000 miles out of their normal jurisdiction, you know something really troubling is bubbling under the surface. In fact, it's bubbling so far above the surface that the Old Faithful geyser could learn a lesson or two.

And these are only the highlights. The full report goes on, much worse.

We can take Nell Minow's cosmic unity water concept a step farther - there are two possibilities here: either God is a hack dramatist, going for over-the-top irony, or this is a Taoist thing with yin/yang. Because right after the massive Whitewater scandal, who in their right mind would name their company Blackwater? It's like begging for the FBI to come knocking on your door. It's like speeding in a red Ferrari. This is the corporate equivalent of putting a "Kick Me" sign on their own butt. And then mooning the football team and trashing their locker room.

Right now, the lunatic who named Blackwater USA is holding his head in his hands, and moaning, "What was I thinking?? I thought it would be funny. I couldn't imagine anyone would get it."

And what's all this scandal costing? Thus far, Blackwater USA has received over $1 billion from the U.S. government since 2001. It gets paid $445,891 a year for each guard. (Talk about getting bang for your buck.) It will surprise no one that that's, oh, just a wee bit more than the U.S. military pays to do the same thing. But that's what happens when you've stretched your military to the breaking point and don't have the personnel to provide these services, but have to rent out.

It may, however, come as a huge shock that the founder of Blackwater USA, Erik Prince, has connections with the Bush family, interning in the Bush-1 White House, and major ties to the Republican Party. No, really! His sister Betsy, it turns out, is married to Dick DeVos, former head of the Michigan Republican Party and heir to the founders of Amway, all of whom are major donors to the Republican Party. How major? As Josh Marshall explains, "according to a 2005 Center for Public Integrity study, Dick & Betsy DeVos were the fifth largest political givers in the country during the 2004 election cycle. Richard DeVos Sr. & his wife were ranked third."

In fairness to Erik Prince, he had problems with the first Bush White House. "I saw a lot of things I didn't agree with," he once told the Grand Rapids Press, "homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kind of bills."

In case you missed the sentence three paragraphs above, "Blackwater USA has made over $1 billion in the last six years." No doubt that and ties to the Bush-2 White House are all a coincidence.

Like Halliburton.

Heck of a job.