U.S. Corruption, Inc.: What huge government contracts can do for you

If you’re a senior looking for a lucrative, morally questionable job after graduation, you can forget about Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan: Blackwater and Haliburton may need your help today. These companies make huge profits, and don’t have to compete to get their huge government contracts. As long as we’re still in Iraq and hurricanes keep hitting the Gulf Coast, they’re in business. In other words, forever.

Over Thanksgiving break, I paused between football games to catch up on some reading and found an article by Naomi Klein from the October Harper’s about the massive privatization of formerly governmental tasks like waging war and providing hurricane relief. The U.S. government used to be responsible for this stuff, but in a move towards privatization, the jobs have been given to private firms that are largely held unaccountable for their performances. At first, I was just as outraged as the writer.

After all, Blackwater was hired to protect Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) operations at a cost of $950 a day per guard, while Haliburton received $60 million dollars to construct military bases on the Gulf Coast. In all, the U.S. government handed out $3.4 billion to private firms without open bidding. The money comes so easily that these companies have been able to establish their own mini-states, a la the Feudal System of the Middle Ages. Blackwater has a private army of 20,000 mercenaries, a $50 million military base in North Carolina, helicopters and gunships.

The U.S. government has inefficiently outsourced the clean-up effort in the Gulf and the war in Iraq to completely lawless corporations. Those non-uniformed personnel posing next to naked, electro-shocked and hooded “terrorists” in those infamous prison photos? You guessed it: Blackwater employees, immune from prosecution in America or Iraq. Meanwhile, the government estimates that a Blackwater guard costs taxpayers four to 10 times as much as a U.S. military soldier.

When I finished reading Klien’s article, I had a sudden idea. Here I was, wasting my time perusing the OCC Web site for grunt level jobs in media and education. What I was I thinking? Working for Blackwater or Haliburton is a guaranteed way to make an absolute killing (no pun intended) by doing a very poor job. While the rest of the country is embarrassed by the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the war in Iraq, companies like Blackwater and Haliburton are psyched: they’ve received $30 billion from Iraq, and $110 billion for the Gulf Coast. Never mind that these private firms have performed worse than the 2007 Miami Dolphins. Sounds like the OCC needs to develop some new connections.

Of course, any prospective employee would need to get into the management of the company, because Blackwater treats its low level employees like O.J. Simpson treats wives. Blackwater soldiers are forbidden to quit (under threat of a $250,000 fine), but can be fired at any time without cause or notice. They are constantly in the line of fire, but their loved ones cannot inquire about their deaths or sue the company if jihadists blow them up due to Blackwater’s negligence.

I figure, though, that a Williams degree will be enough to avoid active combat, so I should be able to hop on the gravy train while it’s still largely unknown. With a little luck, I could be ineptly running the cleanup of New York city after a terrorist attack, or, if I really suck, planning the invasion of Iran.

Klien also pointed out that this kind of inept but powerful corruption has led to conspiracy theories: one out of every three Americans believes that the government aided the Sept. 11 attacks because it wanted an excuse to invade Iraq. Klein dismissed the conspiracy theorists, but I’m not so sure. At the risk of sound like Oliver Stone, I feel like the explanations of the fishy physical evidence from the attack sights in the films Loose Change and Zeitgeist make as much sense as the 9/11 Commission’s report, and obviously some powerful people stood to make some serious cash.

When the companies and the political parties are getting rich, who cares how many poor kids are killed in Iraq, or how many black people are homeless in New Orleans? I won’t say that President Bush caused Sept. 11, but something is not right.

That’s why this op-ed is my swansong of skepticism. I didn’t come to Williams to bring down the man; like so many of you, I came to become the Man. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Blackwater can expect my application after Christmas, just before the scheduled New Year’s Eve “tornado” in Philadelphia.

Matt Roach ’08 is a history and English major from Middletown, Del.