Ediorial – Blood Money

It’s a simple fact of enterprise that businesses–at least, for-profit ones–exist to do just that: make a profit. There are mark-ups, margins, and formulas galore, but the whole point is to sell a product or service and to make money doing it.

But there are ways to make a buck–and then there are ways to make a buck on the backs of people who have chosen to put their lives on the line.

Whether you believe the Bush rhetoric about the reasons behind Iraq, men and women by the thousands are dying for a cause that, at least in the beginning, they believed in and chose to fight for. And a small company in South Carolina has found a way to turn the Iraq war–and its related casualties–into big money. Big as in $20.5 million U.S.

They did it by working on profit margins that would have had even the most jaded capitalist in awe. When the Pentagon ordered two 19-cent washers from the parts supplier in question, they were charged $998,798 in shipping costs. The tiny package was sent from South Carolina to Texas.

In another incident, the two sisters running the company billed the Pentagon $455,009 to ship three screws–worth a mere $1.31 each–to Marines in Iraq. They also charged $293,451 to send one washer to an air-force base in Florida.

They got away with it by using a flaw in the Defence Department’s billing system. When items being shipped to soldiers in combat zones (or to army bases) were marked ?priority,? the bill was paid automatically. The blood money they pulled in was spent on ?homes, beach property, jewellery and high-end automobiles? (1).

Now, it could be argued that the Pentagon got exactly what it deserved. That if they’re that careless throwing millions of dollars around (millions that could have been spent on medical supplies, rebuilding costs, you name it), It’s their own fault that a pair of enterprising entrepreneurs dipped into the trough. There are also a growing number of voices that would argue that the Bush administration is no different: that they’re putting their lust for oil profits before people’s lives.

But whatever your stance on the bigger picture, the fact remains that this is one of the lowest ways to make a buck that I can think of: deliberately taking advantage of war to turn an outrageous profit (and profit that wasn’t even based on a fair exchange of service).

In some ways, It’s reminiscent of the T-shirts that appeared within a day of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in the San Francisco Bay area. People were still trapped in cars on a collapsed double-decker bridge, and at least one person was already turning a profit by selling T-shirts saying ?I survived the 1989 quake.?

It’s blood money, plain and simple. And there’s got to be a better way to make a buck.

(1) The Globe and Mail. ?Pentagon pays dearly for ?priority? parts shipping.? Friday, August 17, 2007. Report on Business, B7.

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