ERIK PRINCE’S NEW ARMY: A year after he fled to Abu Dhabi, Blackwater founder Erik Prince is building an army of mercenaries, the New York Times has revealed. The forces, 800 strong, are under the auspices of a new company, Reflex Responses, also known as R2. Prince was hired by Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and bankrolled to the tune of $529 million.
The contract includes “crowd-control operations,” protecting oil pipelines and special operations missions in and outside the United Arab Emirates “to destroy enemy personnel and equipment.” The Emiratis are also reportedly interested in quelling potential rebellions in the labor camps that house Filipinos, Pakistanis and other imported laborers of the country’s workforce. Prince plans to build a training camp modeled after the 7,000-acre private military base he built in North Carolina.
Jan Schakowsky, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee, tells The Nation she opposes US citizens providing mercenary forces for foreign governments, and that she will investigate whether Prince’s work in the UAE has breached US law. “The man who brought us Blackwater, a company whose name has become synonymous with the worst of contractor abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been hired to put together a mercenary army that could be used to suppress a revolt or attack pro-democracy protesters,” Schakowsky says.
Meanwhile, an American who runs a different security company in the country tells The Nation that news of Prince’s company is “a fricking PR disaster” for the UAE, adding that it will mean “some of the other sheiks will want answers about what a private Christian army was intended for.” JEREMY SCAHILL
ISRAEL AND THE ARAB SPRING: On May 15, thousands of Palestinian refugees and their supporters marched to Israel’s borders from neighboring countries to mark what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” when more than 700,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes after the 1948 founding of Israel.
From Syria thousands of Palestinians marched toward the village of Majdal Shams in the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967. Protesters overwhelmed Syrian border guards, briefly entering Israel before coming under fire from Israeli soldiers. Four protesters were killed. In Lebanon marchers went to the border village of Maroun al-Ras, where several hundred got past the Lebanese army and threw stones across the border. Israeli troops responded with live ammunition, killing ten people. Palestinians also marched from the Gaza Strip, and protests erupted in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
In Egypt the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled the country since the departure of Hosni Mubarak, prevented protesters from reaching the Rafah border, installing checkpoints in Sinai and even blocking bridge and tunnel crossings at the Suez Canal. The Egyptian government has been complicit in Israel’s siege of Gaza for the past five years, and the Rafah border remains largely closed despite a pledge by Egypt’s transitional government to reopen it. In response, thousands protested outside the Israeli Embassy in Giza, threatening to storm the building. The Israeli army and central security forces opened fire with rubber bullets, live ammunition and tear gas, wounding more than 350 people and arresting 137.
The protests, unprecedented in scale, come less than four months before Palestinians take their case to the United Nations to request international recognition of the State of Palestine by the General Assembly—another historic move for the Arab world. SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS
TELECOM’S ‘REGULATORS’: There was nothing Comcast and NBC executives wanted more than approval by the Federal Communications Commission of their multibillion-dollar merger. And despite objections from public interest groups, commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker gave the media giants what they wanted, voting with the FCC majority to create the controversial conglomerate. Four months later, the commissioner who aggressively promoted the merger—arguing to speed the approval process, opposing accountability measures—is leaving the agency to become a highly paid Comcast–NBC lobbyist.
“I feel strongly that the process was compromised,” says Representative Maxine Waters, who wants to know when Baker began negotiations about working with the media monolith she was supposed to regulate. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee chair Darrell Issa is monitoring the alleged ethical violations; the media reform group Free Press is urging him to investigate her “seemingly clear conflict of interest.”
Investigations make sense, as would stricter rules barring “revolving door” lobbying by former regulators. But the bigger problem is at the other end of the process. Baker, appointed to a Republican-reserved seat on the FCC by President Obama and approved by the Senate, should never have been an FCC commissioner. A former telecom lawyer who was director of Congressional affairs with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, she didn’t develop conflicts of interest while serving on the commission—she arrived with them. This is not just an FCC problem; Washington has grown too comfortable with putting foxes in charge of henhouses. Our government fails the public interest when it appoints “regulators” who serve the industries they are supposed to regulate. JOHN NICHOLS
KUDOS TO KATHA: With more than three decades as a Nation contributor and columnist, Katha Pollitt is both an institution and indispensable. Winner of two National Magazine Awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation and the Whiting Foundation, Katha can now add a 2011 Puffin Foundation Writing Fellowship at The Nation Institute to her many accolades. The Puffin Foundation has a long and admirable record of investing in writers who might otherwise be marginalized “due to their race, gender, or social philosophy.” We’re delighted that it has chosen to support Katha’s vital, fiercely independent voice. Congratulations, Katha!