The Guilt Profiteers

Every war has its war profiteers. No matter how noble the cause, there are those for whom it is a cause for profit, and who coin the sacrifice of soldiers into gold. The Haliburton's we have with us always, and the Haliburton's are always well-connected with those running the war. They are not always as blatant as Lincoln's first Secretary of war, Simon Cameron. Lincoln queried one of Cameron's political supporter's, Sen. Thaddeus Stevens, about Cameron's honesty. “Well,” replied Stevens, “he wouldn't steal a red-hot stove.”

But our fathers were crude people in this regard, and with modern techniques, there may a way to steal the red-hot stove without getting burned. The current war presents a very lucrative niche indeed, not just in the war, but in the war-guilt. We are particularly sensitive to guilt in this war. Oh, not guilt about the war itself. We all want it to end, of course, but the truth is, it is not really very important, one way or the other. Most of us are simply not affected by the war. Few of us have relatives fighting there, and the all-volunteer army allows us to say, “well, that's what they signed up for.” Of course, that's not what the reserves signed up for at all, but that's another story, one we would rather not hear.

It was different in Vietnam (my war). Every mother's son, or nearly, was subject to the draft and many mother's sons went and fought and died. Everybody knew a dozen or more who were fighting, had fought, were wounded, or were dead. Today, for most of us, they are just names in the newspaper, and we don't read the newspaper. In the Vietnam war, everybody paid a 5% income-tax surcharge to help pay for the war. For this war, those who most insist that it be prolonged indefinitely are also the ones who insist that we do not pay for it. “Leave that to the children and grandchildren” could be the McCain campaign slogan.

This separation from actual events leaves us with a red-hot guilt, and the more we suppress it, the brighter it burns. We would very much like to support the troops. We slap magnetic “yellow ribbons” on the side of our SUV's, ribbons that say “support the troops,” always missing the irony that the SUV is at least part of the reason for the troops being in danger in the first place. Nevertheless, we do realize that such “support” is likely to be of limited value, and we really would like to do more. This guilt, which becomes stronger as the sufferings of the troops becomes more distant and abstract, presents a market opportunity to get our hands on the red-hot stove without getting burned.

I am sent daily an email from an outfit called GOPUSA. The “content” of the slick email consists mainly of links to “news” stories of the latest Democratic perfidy in general and the maliciousness of Barrack Obama in particular. But half the space is given over to ads for patent medicines, investment gurus, medical nostrums, and books by Ann Coulter and other right-wing intellectuals. And if you click on their links, you will be directed to a site where you can vote on whether to “bomb Iran.” But sometimes GOPUSA dispenses with the “news” portion and just sends pure ads. Investment advice (from Ann Coulter, no less), and Medical nostrums ("Now You Can Slow Down, Halt, or Even Reverse the Progression of Arthritis") are the most popular. I am sure that the entrepreneurs of GOPUSA promise an easily frightened audience that can easily be swayed by even these crude appeals. But yesterday's missive from this group was special, and deserves our close attention.

It was a letter signed by Brigadier Gen. Arthur F. "Chip" Diehl in behalf of the Coalition to Salute America's Heroes (CSAH). This sounds very noble, and the story that General “Chip” tells is very true: it is the story of soldiers having their homes foreclosed while they are recovering from battle wounds. This is indeed a cause for shame, and our guilt for letting this happen should indeed burn red-hot. But such appeals are always more interesting for what they don't say. And the first thing that GenChip doesn't tell us is that he is getting $5,000/month for making these appeals. And the second thing that Chip doesn't tell us is that he is being paid this money a certain Roger Chapin.

Roger Chapin is a “philanthropy entrepreneur” who, since the 80's has founded a string of non-profit organizations for such things as cancer, Alzheimer's disease and drug-free youth. These “charities” have raised millions of dollars, but very little of the money raised ever seems to find its way to any actual charity. Unless, that is, you consider Roger Chapin himself to be a charity. After all, last year, CSAH paid Roger and his wife (listed as “newsletter editor”) $562,000, according the Forbes Magazine. They also provided Roger with a $17,000 country-club membership, and a luxury Washington condo.

CSAH claims that it provided $20,000,000 in services to veterans. That sounds impressive, but it turns out that $18,750,000 of these “services” consisted of “phone cards” that are good only for calling a sports line.

Who did get the money? Well, Richard Vigurie, the right-wing direct-mail guru got $14 million of it, which doesn't include expensive gifts to him and his wife from Chapin but charged off to “Help Hospitalized Veterans,” another Chapin “charity” that doesn't seem to do much for veterans. You can read the Better Business Bureau report on CSAH here.

Nor is “Chip” the only general in on the scam. General Tommy Franks, who led the initial invasion way back when received $100,000 from Chapin for the use of his name. Now, It is likely that Generals Chip and Tommy have broken no actual laws. However, they have engaged in “conduct unbecoming an officer,” and as retired officers receiving generous pensions, they may still be under military justice. If so, they should be tried and stripped of their rank and pensions. Not that this will affect Chip that much; he has a deal with Chapin to pay him 75% of his salary on retirement. In any case, these generals have certainly earned our contempt. They have used to blood of the soldiers they were supposed to lead and turned it into money. Shame, and eternal shame on them.

Roger Chapin isn't the only scoundrel playing the guilt game. ABC News ran an investigation which found that of 28 veterans “charities” surveyed, only four received an “A” rating. Another three received a grade of “C” and the rest were “D” or “F”, mainly because so little money actually went to veterans. See the scorecard here.

The audience for something like GOPUSA legitimately feels that they are under attack from know-it-all liberals who are quite willing to tell them how worthless their faith and their families are. However, this fear, legitimate or not, makes them easy prey for hucksters. Add to this the fact that they tend to be supporter's of a war with which they have no actual involvement or real knowledge, and you can add guilt to fear, making them the perfect target audience for the guilt entrepreneurs. But at the same time, even Simon Cameron would have admired their chutzpah. He never did figure out how to get that red-hot stove.

3 comments:

Jim Curley Friday, August 8, 2008 at 11:06:00 PM CDT  

I have been getting these emails too (I don't know how I got on their list.) After the first couple I quit reading. Interesting....

Anonymous,  Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 8:15:00 AM CDT  

Thanks for this important post on the lowest of the low.

Iosue Andreas Saturday, August 9, 2008 at 8:21:00 AM CDT  

I have been getting "GOPUSA" emails every day for years, but have yet to read one.

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