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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

October 23, 2007


The Blackwater Way

What do you call a company that: pays to train you; provides you the including the tools necessary to do your job; the means to get to the destination where you'll be performing your job; and has the authority to hire and fire you from your position? If you said "An Employer", you would be correct.

"A worker who is required to comply with another person's instructions about when, where and how he or she is to work is ordinarily an employee,"
-the Internal Revenue Service, a.k.a, the IRS

Do you know what the IRS does with companies who pay regular employees as contractors? They fine them and sometimes, throw them in jail.

Blackwater - yes, THAT Blackwater - doesn't pay their employees the way you or I get our paychecks, and House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (DEMOCRAT-CA) agrees with the IRS that Blackwater is trying to get away with something. And in the end, those employed as "contracted employees" - a.k.a. 1099 employees - are going to be left with a larger responsibility for their own tax bill at the end of the year. You see, a citizen who is employed as a private contractor for a company pays 12.65 percent in Social Security and Medicare taxes (withholding taxes) combined. When a worker is employed as a regular W-2 employee, their employee pays 7.65 percent towards their withholding taxes and the employer matches it.

It appears that Blackwater decided it's better to keep the little extra in their wallet while forcing their on-again - off-again employees to pay more out of their pockets.

"By classifying its armed guards and other personnel as independent contractors instead of employees, Blackwater has apparently evaded withholding and paying these taxes,"

Those same employees not only have to pay more in Withholding taxes, they're responsible to pay an estimated quarterly tax as if they own their own company.

"We provide the trained person with the right equipment, the right training, the logistics to get them in and out of theater. When they get to Iraq or they get to Afghanistan, they work for the State Department,"
-Blackwater's Erik Prince

Sounds like an employer to me. After all, after all of the training offered these "franchisees", for lack of a better word, Blackwater could lose their trainees to a competitor - that is, if they didn't have a no-bid contract guarantee with no competitors allowed.

And this brings up another question: Since these franchisees/ employees/ trainees/ State Department contract workers are being paid by the State Department, as Prince suggests, then why aren't they subject to the same rules and regulations as other State Department employees are answering to?

Other questions persist: Why are we employing a company like Blackwater to train ex-US military to act as current US military? Is our training not good enough? And if it isn't good enough, then just how are we supposed to train the Iraqi military? This leads me to the final conclusion that if Mr. Prince of Blackwater's explanation for tax evasion is correct, it must mean that the US military is, as a training device, is dysfunctional; and we will never be able to get out of Iraq because those training their troops could not possible carry out the task.

Or is it possible that the US government could have cut out the Blackwater middle-man right from the get-go; trained their own "contractors" to do the jobs that Blackwater is charging the American taxpayer billions for; and maybe saved a buck or two in the process?

By the way, Prince's sister Betsy is a former chairwoman of the Michigan State Republican Party and her husband, Amway big-wig Dick DeVos, ran for Governor on the GOP ticket. Prince, himself, has donated in excess of $200,000 to the Republican party, $15,000 of which was donated when he was nineteen years old. He is the son of Edgar Prince, an auto parts business owner. Some surprises, huh?

And if one wants even further proof that Blackwater's "contractors" are really employees, take a look at this exchange between PBS' Charlie Rose and Prince:
CHARLIE ROSE: How many Blackwater employees have been killed?
ERIK PRINCE: Twenty-seven in Iraq, three in Afghanistan.

And later in the interview, when Rose asked about Blackwater "employees" fired by Prince and his people, the founder and former Navy Seal had this to say:
PRINCE: Some of the guys hit the weights pretty strong, and we don't permit them to use steroids while they are an employee. So they were fired for that.

Sounds like "employees" to me, Erik.

Blackwater's website offers a "Careers" page. On this page they commit to a "Daily in country pay rate" which "starts at $550.00". That's per day, boys and girls. Their online employment "application" calls for disclosure of the applicant's Social security number. If Blackwater wasn't the true employer and simply a training facility and employment agency, then why bother asking for that?

Rep. Waxman is right to investigate Blackwater and all of their dealings, no matter what Blackwater's Prince says. I personally can't wait to see the rats jump of the bad ship Blackwater in the end.

-Noah Greenberg

Due to a mistake where the table showing the top ten issues facing America wasn't published, I'm publishing last night's article again, complete with the table.

Sorry about the mistake. -NG


Health Care: Blue vs. Red

I was curious. After checking the Democratic party's front-running Hillary Clinton's website for her health care plan, I decided to do the same with her GOP counterpart, Rudy Giuliani, who is his party's lead contender.

Each site's home page had a link pointing to the issues, and clicking on the link brought you to that candidate's page on the issues. One might assume that the candidates put their most important issues on top while leaving the lesser issues languishing towards the bottom of those pages. Both listed ten issues with short explanations of their stances and links to a more expanded explanation. Here's the order for both candidates:

No one could argue that each one of the issues listed are at the top of the list for different Americans. Similarly, it would be hard to argue that each one of these issues isn't important to all Americans to some degree. According to the latest CBS News Poll (October 14-16, 2007), the most important issues to Americans is the Iraq War, and understandably so. However, in a virtual ties with the Iraq War in importance is health care (26 percent to 25 percent, within the margin of error), and that should make any candidate take notice, even America's mayor, Rudy Giuliani.


  Hillary Clinton Rudy Giuliani CBS News Poll (Oct 12-16, 2007) Most Important Issues Percent
1 Strengthening the Middle Class Fiscal Discipline War in Iraq 26
2 Providing Affordable and Accessible Health Care Cutting Taxes Health care 25
3 Ending the War in Iraq Winning the War on Terror Economy/Jobs 11
4 Promoting Energy Independence and Fighting Global Warming Iraq Immigration 6
5 Fulfilling Our Promises to Veterans Public Safety Education 3
6 Supporting parents and Caring for Children Judges Environment 2
7 Restoring America's Standing in the World Education Social Security 2
8 A Champion for Women Abortion Defense/Military 2
9 Comprehensive Government Reform Second Amendment Terrorism (general) 2
10 Strengthening Our Democracy Marriage Abortion 1

It didn't.

Conspicuously absent from Rudy's Top Ten List (with apologies to David Letterman) is the number one or number two issue in importance to the American people. Rudy's number two issue is cutting taxes, a favorite of the Bush administration and one which benefits the Bush "base" of "haves and have mores" than any of us regular Americans didn't bother to put on our top ten list.

Health care to Rudy Giuliani is an issue better left off the table. As a matter of fact, Rudy's website only mentions health care as it relates to his announcement on July 29th of this year that he has put together a commission on the issue.

"The group consists of Dr. Daniel Kessler, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute,"
-Rudy's website

Is anyone who considers health care to be an important issue, let alone the most important issue, supposed to take solace that Rudy is "studying" the health care problem and has assigned a member of the ultra-conservative Hoover Institute as his front-man on the issue? And wasn't the Hoover Institute named for the US President who was in charge during the stock market crash of 1929, and the ensuing Great Depression which followed?


A Yahoo.com search using the keywords "Rudy Giuliani Health Care" came up without the mention of a real health care plan by the former New York City mayor. It did, however, come up with this NewsMax archive titled "Rudy Giuliani's Health Plan: 'Take Care of Yourself'". NewsMax is the ultra-Conservative (NeoCon) website owned by NewsCorp, the parent company of Fox News Channel. According to NewsMax, Rudy actually does have a plan: he plans to give every American a tax break of some $15,000 per year. Of course even this plan forgets the real problem that most Americans who don't have health care insurance don't pay $15,000 per year in federal income tax. Funny how you can't find this place anywhere on Rudy's site, isn't it?

Rudy Giuliani is not the answer to fixing our health care problems. He is, however, the answer to the dreams of Bush's "base" of "haves and have mores" to "Stay the Course" in spite of what the rest of the nation wants and needs. Rudy is the answer to the health care insurance industry's plea to keep things the way they are.

The Democratic candidates all seem to have real health care plans superior to those of their GOP counterparts, with former Senator John Edwards' plan appearing to be the better of them all (of the ones which could actually get through Congress). However, for comparison sake's, I decided to compare the two parties' front-runners, and, in the end, there is no comparison.

-Noah Greenberg

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-Noah Greenberg