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quote of day
Congress Still Wants to Know More About Blackwater's Level of Profit
By CHRISTINA DAVIDSON 10/02/2007 3:52 PM ET
Erik Prince, chairman of the Prince Group, LLC and Blackwater USA testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on 'Private Security Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan,' October 2, 2007 on Capitol Hill.
Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty
Erik Prince, chairman of the Prince Group, LLC and Blackwater USA testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on 'Private Security Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan,' October 2, 2007 on Capitol Hill.

Erik Prince, owner and CEO of Blackwater USA, deflected questions about his company's profitability during the House Oversight Committee's hearing on private security contracting Tuesday, but ultimately agreed to provide written responses to specific questions about its earnings.

Part of the hearing's stated purpose was to assess the cost to US taxpayers of the employment of private contractors, and a number of members of the committee questioned Prince about his own income, profit margins on contracts, and the overall earnings of his company.

The company had prepared an assessment of its Worldwide Personal Protective Service contract for the State Department, which indicated the profit margin on that particular contract was approximately 10%, but when asked for a general estimate of his company's overall profitability, Prince demurred.

He reminded the panel of the price-savings benefits of competition between corporate entities, stressing the "private" aspect of private enterprise, implying that Blackwater's profit was none of the government's business.

But members of Congress tasked with oversight do not like being given limitations on their reach.

Rep. Chris Murphy (D-CT) confirmed that Prince had reported 90% of Blackwater's revenue came from government contracts, paid for by taxpayer money, and expressed disbelief that a corporate entity that owed its existence to the American public could withhold such information.

After a short consultation with his legal team, Prince changed track and said that he would provide written responses to specific written questions about profitability.

When pressed to provide an immediate general estimate on the company's profit-level, the CEO said he didn't actually know, trying to assuage the committee members' disbelief by explaining, "I am not a financially-driven guy."

Regardless of Prince's own express motivations, the exchange highlighted something that will likely be revisited as Congressional leaders move forward in their debate over the use of private contractors--transparency in accounting.

Prince buckled under pressure today by agreeing to provide answers to questions about company profits, though it remains to be seen if he responds to requests for information with a useful level of detail.

But Congressional investigators have come up against the corporate financial firewall in many of their investigations of contractor abuses, so legislating greater transparency for any company who wants to work for the US could be an eventual outcome of this process.

Iraqslogger's Robert Young Pelton is doing the rounds of DC media today and will post his own perspective on the hearing tomorrow morning.

For further reading now, here is Erik Prince's prepared statement for the hearing.

Erik Prince's Prepared Statement statement.of.erik.d.prince.pdf

quote of day
Sydney Newspaper Claims Bush said so to Australian Deputy Prime Minister
09/06/2007 8:46 PM ET
President Bush arriving in Sydney Tuesday, September 4.
Photo by Jung Yeon-Je/AFP-Getty Images
President Bush arriving in Sydney Tuesday, September 4.

President Bush made the comment to Australian Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile when the Australian asked Bush about his Iraq trip Tuesday, according to the respected Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to confirm or deny the report.

Here is the newspaper report.

quote of day
IRIN: Conflict Blamed for Increase in Number of Sterile Iraqi Men
08/19/2007 11:21 AM ET
BAGHDAD, 19 August 2007 (IRIN) - Youssef Obeidi, 32, last week left Karada Hospital’s family planning clinic with news that he will not be able to have children unless he undergoes lengthy treatment to reverse his sterility. Doctors told him that in war conditions, there is a higher chance men can become sterile.

“For three years I have been blaming my wife because she couldn’t get pregnant. But after a long examination in this clinic, a doctor said that she was fine and in perfect condition to become a mother. For this reason, I had to have myself checked,” Obeidi said.

“Initially I refused because in our Arab society it is a disgrace for any man to be sterile. But later my desire to become a father overcame this and I went to the clinic, where I learnt that I couldn’t become a father because the low speed of my sperms cannot fertilize an ovule,” he added.

According to Dr Muhammad Bashier, manager of the family planning clinic in Karada Hospital, Baghdad, the number of sterile men in Iraq has increased dramatically over the past four years as a result of stress, depression and exposure to radiation and possibly chemicals.

Rise in male sterility

“Before 2002, the number of men seeking our services and advice were fewer than four a day, while we had 20 to 30 women every day. But today we have a minimum of 60 patients a day with men representing half this number,” Bashier said.

“It is very hard to tell an Iraqi man that he is sterile. We even had a doctor who was killed less than two years ago by a patient after giving him the news. In our research, we have discovered that most of the men who are completely sterile are from areas where radiation and chemicals from war have been present in higher proportions - especially in the south of the country and in the outskirts of Baghdad,” he added.

In addition, Bashier said some of the indirect effects of war, such as stress and tension, were also contributing to a higher incidence of sterility among men.

The wealthier of his patients are referred to the Princess Aisha Medical Complex in Amman, Jordan, which has a specialised department for family planning. Those whose sterility is caused by violence-induced stress are often cured when they seek treatment abroad, Bashier said.

“But for others, for whom the causes are more serious, the treatment is useless,” Bashier said. “Unfortunately, Iraq has a very deteriorated and old system and most of the time we cannot help because of a lack of specialised materials and psychologists.”

quote of day
US Ambassador Ryan Crocker Compares Iraq to a Movie
07/11/2007 4:19 PM ET
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is shown talking on a monitor screen on the set of Meet the Press.
Alex Wong/AFP/Getty
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker is shown talking on a monitor screen on the set of Meet the Press.

“In the States, it’s like we’re in the last half of the third reel of a three-reel movie, and all we have to do is decide we’re done here, and the credits come up, and the lights come on, and we leave the theater and go on to something else," he said. "Whereas out here, you’re just getting into the first reel of five reels,” he added, “and as ugly as the first reel has been, the other four and a half are going to be way, way worse.”

--US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, as quoted in the New York Times

quote of day
Civil War in Iraq? Hard to Say "Living in This Beautiful White House"
02/14/2007 9:04 PM ET
President Bush at news conference
Photo by Jim Watson/AFP
President Bush at news conference
On MSNBC tonight, Newsweek correspondent Howard Fineman said his Republican sources "cringed" in response to this comment by President Bush during his news conference today:

QUESTION: Do you believe it's a civil war, sir?

I can only tell you what people on the ground whose judgment -- it's hard for me, you know, living in this beautiful White House, to give you a first-hand assessment. I haven't been there. You have. I haven't. But I do talk to people who are -- and people whose judgment I trust -- and they would not qualify it as that. There are others who think it is.

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