Dec 122011



By Suzanne Kelly, CNN

The company once known as the world’s most notorious private security contractor, Blackwater, is changing its name and its look once again in a bid to prove that it has outgrown its toxic reputation.

Renaming the company “ACADEMI” tops a number of changes that have been made by a private equity consortium that purchased the company from former owner Erik Prince last year.

“The message here is not that we’re changing the name,” said Ted Wright, who came on as the new company CEO in June. “The message is that we’re changing the company, and the name just reflects those changes. We have new owners, a new board of directors, a new management team, new location, new attitude on governance, new openness, new strategy – it’s a whole new company.”

Blackwater was dogged by controversy as it rose from a training facility in Moyock, North Carolina, in the late ’90s, to a private security powerhouse at the height of the war in Iraq. But as business boomed, so did the demand for growth, and rules regarding issues like compliance and governance were sometimes not followed. There were also accusations that some Blackwater guards operating in Iraq’s virtually lawless environment were heavy-handed, and then a deadly shooting in a Baghdad traffic circle in 2007 was the beginning of the end for the company.

Prince tried changing the Blackwater name to Xe, before selling it late last year to the group of investors led by Jason DeYonker, a managing partner at Forte Capital Advisors, and Dean Bosacki, managing partner of Manhattan Partners. The other investing partners remain anonymous.

Prince has an earn-out agreement over a set number of years, meaning he will continue to be paid on Academi’s business, but Wright says “the agreement is for a finite period, a significant portion of which has already passed.” Wright insists that Prince has nothing to do with the day-to-day running of the company. In fact, he says he’s never even met Erik Prince. […]




By MinistryOfTruth, Daily Kos

We started on Tuesday by visiting OccupyDC’s camp at McPherson Square on K Street and then went over to the Capitol. Congressman Rangel’s office. Austin (our fellow Kossack Tool) and I entered the House Congressional office buildings for what we thought would be a 10 min meeting with Congressman Rangel. We ended up staying for a half and hour. I will include the video of my conversation with Congressman Rangel at the bottom of this diary.

Next we went downstairs to talk to Speaker Boehner. His office door was shut. A bunch of SEIU folk waited out front to ask Boehner about jobs. Boehner refused to meet with us. I should have brought money or whiskey. I imagine Boehner dressed up in an ugly golf uniform from Caddyshack chain smoking and knocking back shots while us peasants stood outside his office door. Unless you are a lobbyist with a bunch of money to contribute to the GOP John Boehner is useless to you, and I am pretty much the poorest lobbyist on the Hill.

Other occupiers visited Congressman Joe Walsh (Deadbeat dad-IL). He hid in his office and refused to come out, treed like a possum. When finally he did emerge we only saw his lame tweet stating that the protestors had $1,000 laptops and smelled like “vomit”. I wonder why working class people smell bad to corrupt members of congress. I guess they are so used to the smell of dirty secret campaign funding that hard work and real life smell offensive to them now. This is why we need to visit these guys where they work more often, if corrupt members of congress want to make life harder for the 99% so they can do the bidding of the 1% and watch out for their own interests then we should return the favor while maintaining the moral high ground. Smile and ask them tough, smart questions. They hate that.

We ran around all day on Capitol Hill, attending meetings with other Occupiers who came down from across the country. We know what is broken and why, it is the money in politics. We want to get the lobbyists out of power and restore our democracy to We The People, not the special interests. Apparently, Speaker Boehner and the Republicans I visited don’t want that. Try and act surprised. […]




By Tim Cushing, TechDirt

from the what-the-public-doesn’t-know-will-probably-hurt-them dept

We recently discussed the National Defense Authorization Act currently working its way through the House and Senate. Both have passed their respective bills but some debate continues over a controversial provision which aims to extend indefinite military detention (without charge or trial) to cover US citizens, rather than just foreign terrorist suspects.

The whole “indefinite military detention” aspect of the bill is heinous enough even if it just ends up being used against foreign suspects. But the decision to declare US territory as a “war zone” in order to mobilize the military against US citizens is particularly worrisome. Due to the fact that this provision is highly controversial and yet another in a long line of post-PATRIOT Act attacks on the Bill of Rights, Congress has decided to move the discussion behind closed doors, presumably to avoid any scrutiny from the very public it wishes to foist this legislation upon. The vote wasn’t even close:

With the House having voted 406-17 to “close” portions of the meetings and avoid public scrutiny, members from both chambers and both parties are meeting in a secretive conference committee to work on reconciling the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. On the military detention provision, their main task is going to be to find a solution that can pass both chambers (again) and not draw a veto from President Obama.

Here is the very brief list of representatives who still believe that government still has something to do with being “by the people, for the people”:

Justin Amash (MI)

Earl Blumenauer (OR)

Yvette Clarke (NY)

John Conyers (MI)

Peter DeFazio (OR)

Keith Ellison (MN)

Sam Farr (CA)

Raul Grijaiva (AZ)

Michael Honda (CA)

Dennis Kucinich (OH)

Barbara Lee (CA)

John Lewis (GA)

James McDermott (WA)

John Oliver (MA)

Ron Paul (TX)

Fortney Stark (CA)

Lynn Woolsey (CA)

As depressing as it is that only 17 representatives out of the 423 voting would stand up for government openness, it’s even more depressing that the threat of a veto doesn’t carry much weight. […]




By Washington’s Blog

The Social Contract Has Been Broken

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is one of the world’s most prestigious economic organizations. An international economic organization of 34 countries, the OECD was founded in 1948 to administer the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe after World War II, and then reformulated in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade.

So it is dramatic that the head of the OECD said last week that the social contract is unravelling:

Trickle down theory is dead. The belief fostered by Ronald Reagan in the U.S. and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. in the 1980s, that if the rich got richer, their income and wealth would trickle down the income scale so that a rising tide lifted all the boats, has had the last rites pronounced on it – by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Its report “Divided We Stand” published on Monday highlights how income inequality is rising almost everywhere in the developed world. Not just, as it first did, in the Anglo-Saxon countries, such as the U.S. and Britain, but more recently in traditionally more egalitarian countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany.


“The social contract is unravelling,” Angel Gurría, OECD secretary-general, said.

Indeed, many people have argued for years that our government has breached it social contract with the people.

Matt Stoller – former Congressman Grayson’s chief legislative aide – wrote in August:

To see what happens when a social contract falls apart, look at the massive rioting in London.

Middle-class incomes are down radically in the U.S. since 2007, as much as 15 percent according to new Internal Revenue Service data. Home equity is still falling. If cherished entitlement programs are also savaged by the politicians who destroyed our life savings, citizens might begin to question whether this whole constitutional democracy thing is worth it.

I noted last year:

The rule of law is the basis for our social contract. Indeed, it is the basis for our submission to the power of the state.


Lawlessness – the failure to enforce the rule of law – is dragging the world economy down into the abyss.

When the Seattle City Council passed a resolution supporting the Occupy movement last month, the councilman sponsoring the bill said:

Working together, we can fix our broken economy and fix our broken social contract.

And economist Michael Hudson says that the powers-that-be are trying to revoke the social contract altogether, to make us into debt peons and to exert feudal power over our lives:

You have to realize that what they’re trying to do is to roll back the Enlightenment, roll back the moral philosophy and social values of classical political economy and its culmination in Progressive Era legislation, as well as the New Deal institutions. They’re not trying to make the economy more equal, and they’re not trying to share power. Their greed is (as Aristotle noted) infinite. So what you find to be a violation of traditional values is a re-assertion of pre-industrial, feudal values. The economy is being set back on the road to debt peonage. The Road to Serfdom is not government sponsorship of economic progress and rising living standards, it’s the dismantling of government, the dissolution of regulatory agencies, to create a new feudal-type elite.” […]




By Bill Moyers, AlterNet

(Editor’s note: The following is the foreword to Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It, by Jeffrey Clements, a new book from Berrett-Koehler Publishers.)

Rarely have so few imposed such damage on so many. When five conservative members of the Supreme Court handed for-profit corporations the right to secretly flood political campaigns with tidal waves of cash on the eve of an election, they moved America closer to outright plutocracy, where political power derived from wealth is devoted to the protection of wealth. It is now official: Just as they have adorned our athletic stadiums and multiple places of public assembly with their logos, corporations can officially put their brand on the government of the United States as well as the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the fifty states.

The decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission giving “artificial entities” the same rights of “free speech” as living, breathing human beings will likely prove as infamous as the Dred Scott ruling of 1857 that opened the unsettled territories of the United States to slavery whether future inhabitants wanted it or not. It took a civil war and another hundred years of enforced segregation and deprivation before the effects of that ruling were finally exorcised from our laws. God spare us civil strife over the pernicious consequences of Citizens United, but unless citizens stand their ground, America will divide even more swiftly into winners and losers with little pity for the latter. Citizens United is but the latest battle in the class war waged for thirty years from the top down by the corporate and political right. Instead of creating a fair and level playing field for all, government would become the agent of the powerful and privileged. Public institutions, laws, and regulations, as well as the ideas, norms, and beliefs that aimed to protect the common good and helped create America’s iconic middle class, would become increasingly vulnerable. The Nobel Laureate economist Robert Solow succinctly summed up the results: “The redistribution of wealth in favor of the wealthy and of power in favor of the powerful.” In the wake of Citizens United, popular resistance is all that can prevent the richest economic interests in the country from buying the democratic process lock, stock, and barrel.

America has a long record of conflict with corporations. Wealth acquired under capitalism is in and of itself no enemy to democracy, but wealth armed with political power — power to choke off opportunities for others to rise, power to subvert public purposes and deny public needs — is a proven danger to the “general welfare” proclaimed in the Preamble to the Constitution as one of the justifications for America’s existence.





By Gaby Ochsenbein, swissinfo

The political mood in Greece has calmed down since the appointment of a coalition government last month, the Swiss ambassador in Athens tells

Lorenzo Amberg said the will for the necessary change was slowly gaining a foothold, but admitted many ordinary Greeks were struggling to afford food and medicine.

On November 11, a new coalition cabinet led by Lucas Papademos was sworn in, easing the political tension.

On December 6, Athens witnessed riots following a ceremony to mark the shooting of a teenager by a police officer in 2008. But two earlier demonstrations – one in mid-November to mark the anti-junta Polytechnic uprising of 1973, as well as the general strike on December 1 – proceeded peacefully. Has the popular mood improved under the transitional government?

Lorenzo Amberg: There is less uncertainty than at the beginning of November. We now know there’s a coalition government that is endeavouring to carry out these cutbacks and economic measures.

That doesn’t mean this increased calm will last for ever, since there could be new elections in February or March. But for the moment people want to give the new government a chance and let it do its job. The talk is still that despite loans worth billions, Greece will go bankrupt anyway, have to leave the eurozone and bring back the drachma. Is this fear justified or simply paranoia?

L.A.: All fears exist in such a situation. Above all the realisation has spread that this is not just a Greek crisis but a pan-European crisis. That does not mean, however, that all Greeks believe Greece will leave the eurozone tomorrow.

According to surveys, a significant majority of Greeks believe Greece will remain in the eurozone. Most people are pro-European. There’s no noticeable anti-European feeling. People know that the country’s fate is closely tied to Europe. Are people prepared to tighten their belts? Do they understand that things have to change?

L.A.: There’s a widespread view that for a long time Greece experienced growth that was based not on production but on consumption, that people spent money that didn’t belong to them but was lent to them by the banks and the EU. They realise things can’t continue like that.

The penny’s dropping that certain structural adjustments must be made – in politics in general, in the running of individual ministries, in public life. What exactly that will look like, no one really knows. But the political will to change is there. Pensions are going down, taxes and prices are going up. Once again it’s the ordinary people who are being hit. One often hears of people who don’t have enough money for medicine or food. Is there a new poverty?

L.A.: This poverty can be seen in certain districts in Athens, not only among the illegal immigrants – that’s always existed – but increasingly also among the Greek population. Organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières or the charitable wings of the Orthodox Church are reporting a large increase in those in need of medical aid or food.

It’s true that this crisis is having serious social effects. On top of that there’s unemployment, which according to official figures is at 18 per cent. Among young people it’s double that. […]


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