2009 - %3, March

Blackwater's Prince Abdicates

| Mon Mar. 2, 2009 9:22 AM PST

First Blackwater lost its big State Department contract to do security work in Iraq. Then it changed its name to Xe. Now the controversial firm is replacing its head man. On Monday, Erik Prince, who founded the company, announced that he was bailing out as chief executive office and was appointing a new CEO and a new president. From AP:

The management shake up, he said, was part of the company's "continued reorganization and self-improvement."

Prince founded Blackwater in 1997 and last month the company changed its name to Xe, pronounced like the letter "z," in an effort to repair its severely tarnished name and reputation.

The company has had a contract to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, but the State Department announced it would not rehire Blackwater after its current contract with the company expires in May. The company has one other major security contract, details of which are classified.

A report by a House committee in October 2007 called Blackwater an out-of-control outfit indifferent to Iraqi civilian casualties. It said that Blackwater had been involved in nearly 200 shooting incidents since 2005.

In January, five Blackwater security guards pleaded not guilty to federal manslaughter and gun charges. A federal judge in Washington on Feb. 17 denied motions to dismiss the case against the guards, accused in a September 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead and another 20 wounded in a Baghdad's busy Nisoor Square.

Could it be that by renaming the company and removing himself as its frontman, Prince is hoping to keep the firm-formerly-known-as-Blackwater afloat and in line for big-ticket US government contracts? That might explain all these changes. But Blackwater's baggage is so heavy that these moves still might not allow it to escape its past.

But there's a more important question: who will do Blackwater's work once it is gone from Iraq? That has not yet been announced by the State Department. There are some obvious candidates, other private security firms. But one former CIA officer now working in Iraq in a private capacity tells me that these companies may not be up to the task and that a precipitous shift from Blackwater could cause problems of its own. In other words, in the Blackwater tale, there still may be no good exit strategy.

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Support Senate Disclosure Parity, Again

| Sun Mar. 1, 2009 9:39 PM PST

A little less than a year ago, I asked you to support the Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act, calling it "no-brainer legislation." The bill, introduced repeatedly by Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) over the last several years to little effect, would modernize the way in which Senate candidates file their campaign fundraising disclosures (and bring Senate candidates into line with House candidates and presidential candidates).

Well, the bill has been reintroduced and has more support than ever. This may be the year (finally!) that the Senate puts transparency over secrecy on the key issue of campaign contributions. If one of your senators is on this list of cosponsors -- Akaka, Alexander, Bennett, Bingaman, Brown, Cardin, Chambliss, Cochran, Dodd, Durbin, Feinstein, Grassley, Harkin, Isakson, Kerry, Leahy, Levin, Lieberman, Lugar, McCain, Nelson (NE), Reed, Reid, Rockefeller, and Schumer -- don't bother making any phone calls to them. But if you don't see your senators here, consider picking up the phone and letting them know how you feel. When an industry's interests are at stake in a bill, there are always lobbyists buzzing around Capitol Hill telling lawmakers how to vote. But when it comes to transparency, and bills that protect the public interest, there is no one to voice an opinion but you.

Mapping Stimulus Funds vs. Unemployment

| Sun Mar. 1, 2009 9:25 PM PST

ProPublica used a neat data visualization tool called Many Eyes to create the two maps below, which I've chopped up a bit so I could fit them on our blog. The top map displays unemployment numbers by state. The bottom map shows stimulus funds by state. As Oregon, Wyoming, and a number of other states illustrate, there is essentially no connection. The amount of stimulus funds a state will get depends on a number of things, not least among them the seniority and committee assignments of that state's representatives. Apparently "need" isn't at the top of the list.