Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013-A Close Call With Armageddon

2013 has been a hard year for many of us. We have seen friends lost, dogs lost, and some deep personal crisis. We have also seen some very great people on the world stage lost including Nelson Mandela and James Gandolfini (aka Tony Soprano).
But what many of us in the world failed to take note of was the battle to raise the United States debt ceiling. This is usually a routine procedure that attracts little or no attention.
This time some 44 Republican congress men and women who ally themselves with the Tea Party decided that enough was enough. They decided that it was time for the United States government to start living within its means.
I am not a political supporter of these people. But they do support a universal truth-all of us must live within our means or suffer dire consequences.
These 44 politicians took the simplistic view that it was time to "cut up the credit cards" and start living on income actually collected. (Almost 5 years ago Elena and I did this and it has improved our lives. We exhausted our savings account paying credit card companies.). I suspect that there are many of you around the world who have done this and understand where I am coming from.
The personal finances of a household or the finances of a company are not the same as the finances of a country.
Had the US debt ceiling not been raised, we would have had a technical default on US government securities. (This is not to say that the US government would not stop paying its debts. Rather it would not pay them right on time.) An international panic would have followed. Money would move quickly to other areas of perceived safety (Swiss francs, gold, other viable government bonds, etc.) Stock markets would have temporarily crashed. Unemployment would go up all over the world.
The US Secretary of the Treasury would find himself in a position of a household where there had been a big drop in salary. Priorities would have to be set. The debt service on bonds and T-bills would have to be paid first. Then whatever was left would go to pay for the military. Social Security. medicare, etc. There would be a big legal question as to whether the secretary of the treasury had the authority to do this without the approval of congress. Conservative groups would have filed lawsuits challenging the whole procedure. Chaos would have followed.
These 44 politicians had billions of dollars in support from conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation. They had Republican house speaker John Boehner totally intimidated and "backed into a corner."
What happened to avert a cataclysmic international disaster? On the senate side, Senator Mitch McConnell got a new $2.9 billion dollar dam project in his native state of Kentucky. This will create a large number of jobs there. It will help him to be reelected in 2014.
What happened to get the 44 Republican politicians in the congress to ease off their demands for a balanced budget? I honestly do not know. I suspect that literally a huge amount of money "went under the table" in some way to them. The politicians will never tell the truth about what happened here.
We came within one tenth of one percent of a worldwide financial catastrophe. All of us should be thankful that it did not come to pass.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

An Incredible Little Lady At Christmas

Who Turned Off The Lights In Buenos Aires?

My dear friends those of us in civilized countries tend to take our electricity for granted. We can only experience power outages when there are unusual storms or other natural disasters. I spent many years of my life in Third World countries like Mocambique, Angola, the Congo, Zimbabwe, Brasil, etc where electric power failures were and are common.

I feel sad for Elena's friends and relatives in Buenos Aires who are suffering major power failures when the temperatures are in the 90's and the humidity is 100%. (Imagine all of the food spoiling in ice boxes and freezers in homes and restaurants. Then we also have to consider all of the ill people in hospitals there. Also imagine numerous elderly people dying of heat-related problems)

Argentina is not a Third World country. It has educational institutions that are world class. It's road system is good. It's medical care in excellent. (For example Elena graduated from the University of Buenos Aires Medical School. Her training there prepared her so well that she scored in the top 5% of US doctors on tests for her US medical license.) It's people are sophisticated and cultured. Some 100 years ago Argentina was one of the five wealthiest countries on planet Earth.

What's going on here? The president is a beautiful woman with a brilliant mind. Sadly she has little common sense when it comes to economics. To keep her political supporters happy, she keeps electricity prices ridiculously low. This is great for the bill payer but not good for the electric companies. They do not have the money to do maintenance on their grid or to build new capacity to handle the always-growing population of Buenos Aires. Despite shale oil deposits that would make Argentina another Saudi Arabia of energy production, fuel must be imported to run the worn out electric generators that provide power.

Imagine what would happen in winter with major power failures. You would have a possibility of a substantial number of people freezing to death.

The object lesson here is that political ideology cannot be used to make practical economic decisions.

The Classic 1946 Film: "It's A Great Life"

An important part of each Christmas season is the opportunity to watch the classic 1946 film; "It's A Wonderful Life." It was filmed in 1946 right after the end of World War II.The great actor Jimmy Stewart played George Bailey. He was just back from being a combat pilot in the war. His co-star was Donna Reed, who was all of 24 years old at the time, and not far removed from Dennison, Iowa.She played his wife Mary Bailey.

I's a great film about love, sharing friendship, and the difference that one person can make in the lives of so many different people. The film always touches my heart.

Last night Elena agreed to watch the film with me. She might have found it corny. But she observed it. I was so happy to be able to see it again.

During my years in South Africa, 1990-1995, the film was always shown on television during the day. I pointed out to my South African employers that the film was an important part of my American culture and heritage. They were always gracious enough to allow me either to go home to watch the film (An excused absence with full pay) or they allowed me to haul one of those heavy old portable televsions to work to watch the film as I worked.

Going further back, I lived in Los Angeles in 1989. My domestic partner at the time, Antonieta Fuentes, and I got an invitation to attend a Christmas eve service at a Presbyterian church in Beverly Hills. The guest of honor was to be, none other than, Jimmy Stewart. We eagerly accepted the invitation. For some reason now forgotten after 24 years, our attention got side tracked. We did not attend the service. How wonderful it would have been to meet the great man in person. What would I have said to him. Perhaps it would have been a stupid question like: "What was it like to work with Donna Reed?" But at least I would have had a moment or two with George Bailey from "It' A Wonderful Life." I regret not attending that church service every day of my life.

Systemic Risk, International Regulation, and the Limits of Coordination | The Big Picture

Systemic Risk, International Regulation, and the Limits of Coordination | The Big Picture:

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The Big Lie About NSA Spying | The Big Picture

The Big Lie About NSA Spying | The Big Picture:

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Insurers may be at the centre of the next big crisis -

Insurers may be at the centre of the next big crisis -

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My Wonderful Christmas Gift

I got back in the pool today after a long absence due to flu. After my 1.5 hour swim I ran into a dear friend who is very lucky to still be with us. He was having some pain in his neck and shoulders. He went to see his cardiologists. Her first diagnosis was a problem that could be treated by nitroglycerine tablets. My friend took the tablets and felt better. Fortunately this cardiologist is a super thorough doctor like my wife Elena. She was suspicious that the problem was worse. She called him back in for an ultra sound. Sure enough one artery was totally blocked. My friend was right on the verge of a heart attack. The cardiologist sent him to ICU. The following morning some stints were put in the clogged artery and it was cleaned out. I told him that his survival was my wonderful Christmas gift.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Old Friend Leaves Us Much Too Soon

Like many harried Christmas shoppers I was standing outside waiting for UPS to come with packages for my wife and I as well as our daughter in law and our grand daughter. They were a "no show." A dear neighbor Marilyn walked by with a dog. We started to talk. She told me that one of her dogs was dying of cancer. I mentioned that her next door neighbor Mike had also been diagnosed with cancer. She gave me the shocking news that Mike had died of cancer some two weeks before. His wife Sue had left the house with her relatives and moved elsewhere. I asked about funeral arrangements and she knew nothing about that. I thanked her for the update.

My dear dog Copernicus was up in the back yard barking. He soon will be 12 years of age. I was thankful that he was not dying of cancer as Marilyn's dog was.

Then the shock and the sadness hit me. Sue and Mike had been my neighbors for all of the ten years that I had lived in Pacifica. For many years Sue had owned the local Ace Hardware Store. Mike was an ex-marine and a Vietnam veteran. He had worked for decades at the port of Oakland.

I was sad that we live such isolated lives here that we do not even know when a dear friend dies. It also shows how quickly one's life and circumstances can change with little or no warning.

I'm so sad for Mike and Sue but thankful that Elena and I have great health. We have been very lucky.

Christmas is a time to reflect, be generous, and give thanks.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Jack's Africa: Madiba Has Left Us

Jack's Africa: Madiba Has Left Us: Thousands of pages on the life and loss of Nelson Mandela have been written this afternoon. Let me give two examples on how he touched me...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Some Unintended Consequences Of A Massive Increase In The Minimum Wage

I hear a lot of talk about raising the minimum wage up to $15.00 an hour. I have a lot of empathy for low-wage workers. I was one for many years. I also lived in Australia from 1981 to 1986. At that time it was a society with a high minimum wage. The good news was that there was virtually no poverty except among aborigional people. The high minimum wage did not destroy jobs. In fact the unemployment rate was very low. But there were some serious consequences for most middle class people. First restaurant meals were so expensive that eating out was a once a month treat. Second the cost of repairing anything was prohibitive. People had to learn how to do it yourself to make house hold and vehicle repairs. Third the cost of clothing and necessities like that were high. The better-off Australians flew out of Australia to South Korea with empty suitcases. They did a lot of their shopping with shadowy vendors who sold all sorts of goodies from US military bases around Seoul. People of more humble means always had a sewing machine in the house. Women often had to make a lot of their own clothes. Please consider my words here before advocating a massive increase in the minimum wage.

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: What Will Your Bank Look Like 5 Years From Now? How Will Pizzas Be Delivered? Do You Tip a Drone?

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: What Will Your Bank Look Like 5 Years From Now? How Will Pizzas Be Delivered? Do You Tip a Drone?:

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Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: Pension Battle Shifts to San Jose, San Bernardino, Stockton; Rights of Dinosaurs vs. "Right Thing"

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: Pension Battle Shifts to San Jose, San Bernardino, Stockton; Rights of Dinosaurs vs. "Right Thing":

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United Airlines Flight 629 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

United Airlines Flight 629 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

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Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: What Will Your Bank Look Like 5 Years From Now? How Will Pizzas Be Delivered? Do You Tip a Drone?

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: What Will Your Bank Look Like 5 Years From Now? How Will Pizzas Be Delivered? Do You Tip a Drone?:

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Jack's South America: Repsol Likely To Accept Argentina's $5bn YPF Compe...

Jack's South America: Repsol Likely To Accept Argentina's $5bn YPF Compe...: Last updated:   November 26, 2013 6:51 pm Repsol likely to accept Argentina’s $5bn YPF compensation offer By Miles Johnson in Madrid ...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

23 And Me DNA Kits Pulled From The Market

November 26, 2013 12:00 am

DNA test company told to stop selling kits

23andMe, a DNA testing company that came to symbolise Silicon Valley’s ambition of grabbing a leading position in the emerging world of personalised medicine, was ordered on Monday to stop selling its testing kits after a long-running dispute with federal regulators.
The Food and Drug Administration said it had taken the action because imprecise results from the tests could mislead customers into pursuing unnecessary medical treatments or failing to get vital medical help.





Founded by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google founder Sergey Brin and younger sister of top Google advertising executive Susan Wojcicki, 23andMe has marketed its DNA testing kits for the past five years. It has raised more than $160m from high-profile backers in the tech world, including Google Ventures.
However, the difficulty of providing data detailed enough to give customers significant new insights into their odds of contracting diseases, along with growing pressure from regulators, has weighed on the business.
“The market has fallen way short of what the enthusiasts expected a few years ago,” said John Conley, a law professor at the University of North Carolina and editor of Genomics Law Report. 23andMe has about 400,000 customers, but has begun television adverts to expand its business – one reason the FDA gave for acting now to stop its sales.
The agency first put a chill on the market for personal gene testing in 2010, when it wrote to companies that offered consumer services, including 23andMe, questioning whether they needed to seek formal approval for selling their products under regulations aimed at the medical devices.
Ms Wojcicki’s company was the only one to have continued actively pursuing a consumer market, Mr Conley said, maintaining that people had a right to the information about their DNA make-up.
In a letter to the company, the FDA said some intended uses of its test kit were “particularly concerning”, such as testing for the BRCA mutations that cause breast and ovarian cancer. A false positive could lead to treatments such as a mastectomy, while “a false negative could result in a failure to recognise an actual risk that may exist”, the agency said.
In a statement, 23andMe said it was “committed to fully engaging with [the FDA] to address their concerns”.
Mr Brin revealed in 2008 that he had used information generated during one of the company’s tests to find a genetic mutation that made him more susceptible to contracting Parkinson’s disease, though 23andMe’s own analysis of the data had not identified the condition.
“Until the fountain of youth is discovered, all of us will have some conditions in our old age only we don’t know what they will be,” Mr Brin wrote at the time. “I have a better guess than almost anyone else for what ills may be mine – and I have decade

Israeli's Stold Weapons Grade Material From US Reactor In The 1960's

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Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: Encrypt Everything, Store Nothing, Leave No Trace! (Dissolving Messages, Wickr, Snapchat)

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: Encrypt Everything, Store Nothing, Leave No Trace! (Dissolving Messages, Wickr, Snapchat):

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: California Business Owner with 600 Employees Chimes in on Obamacare Effect; Clown to the Left, Jokers to the Right, Musical Tribute

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: California Business Owner with 600 Employees Chimes in on Obamacare Effect; Clown to the Left, Jokers to the Right, Musical Tribute:

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Kennedy Saved Us From A Nuclear War And Would Have Saved Us From The Horror of Vietnam

This is a sad morning for me. We lost John F. Kennedy 50 years ago today. We lost his humanity, intelligence, compassion, and decency (Please forgive him for his character faults.)

I am always haunted by the Cuban missile crisis. It could have easily escalated into World War III with 120 million Soviet dead and up to 40 million American deaths. The whole world might have gone into a nuclear winter. When we emerged from this disaster only a small part of the human race would have survived. We would have been back in the time of the Dark Ages over 1000 years ago.

Khruschev put the missiles and 45,000 Soviet troops in Cuba because he thought that Kennedy was a weak man who could be intimidated. (Ironically had Nixon been president, Khruschev would not have put missiles in Cuba. He feared Nixon and was sure that he was a mad man.)

Kennedy was tempted to order air strikes on the missile sites and to go for an invasion with an estimated 18,000 US casualties. Khruschev might have let him get by with the air attack on the missiles. But if an invasion started he would have used tactical nuclear weapons on the island to sink US aircraft carriers and destroy the naval base at Guantanimo Bay. This could have easily escalated to a full nuclear war.

Kennedy did not know about the tactical nuclear weapons on the island. His instincts told him that any aggressive actions using military force would lead to a war. He stayed cool and calm. He started a dialogue with Khruschev. He came up with a face-saving solution.

Let us now turn to Vietnam and what might have been had Kennedy lived. Believe it or not, almost every year a very serious academic conference is held each year in Georgia. Academics and public officials pour over thousands of pages of documents, recordings and testimony to answer one question:"Would Kennedy have committed US troops and done things as Lyndon Johnson did? The consensus from all of these meetings is that he would not have.

Kennedy have traveled to Vietnam in the early 1950's. He saw the situation there as a struggle for independence and national determination of the part of the Vietnamese people. He listened to Charles De Gaulle who warned him that a land war in Vietnam would be an awful mistake. (France lost some 250,000 men in Vietnam.) Kennedy would have continued material aid and withdrawn all US forces there. In 1965 he would have seen Vietnam as a lost cause and let nature take its course. We would have not had the nightmare with over 58,000 Americans killed, 366,000 wounded and some 3.4 million Vietnamese killed. Our country would not have been torn apart and pushed almost to the point of a civil war.

Yes one man can make a difference!!!

JacksMars: James Brown Comes Up With A Brilliant Idea For A R...

JacksMars: James Brown Comes Up With A Brilliant Idea For A R...: james brown 7:13 PM (10 hours ago) to  me I sent this to Bill Douglass. Is it OK, is it clear? This ...

50 Years Ago This Morning.....

I was 15 years old. I was in the 9th grade at Cullen Junior High School in Houston, Texas. At one in the afternoon I had just returned from lunch. I was in the algebra class of Raul Munoz. He came up to me and told me that President Kennedy was dead. I sort of laughed and told him that he must have been kidding. He got very sober and pale. He assured me that he would not kid about such things. Right then I knew that the president was dead. We all went into shock. No class work was done. We were all glued to televisions watching the sad drama unfold. That weekend I doubt if anyone went out to eat or to a movie.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

State Senator Jerry Hill Addresses The Pacifica Democrats 9

State Senator Jerry Hill Address The Pacifica Democrats 8

State Senator Jerry Hill Addresses The Pacifica Democrats 7

▶ State Senator Jerry Hill Addresses The Pacifica Democrats 6 - YouTube

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State Senator Jerry Hill Addresses The Pacifica Democrats 5

State Senator Jerry Hill Addresses The Pacifica Democrats 4

Senator Jerry Hill Addresses The Pacifica Democrats 3

LA Law Season 08 Episode 22 :: "Finish Line"

State Senator Jerry Hill Addresses Pacifica Democrats

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: U.S. Crushes 6 Tons of Ivory, Some of it Exquisitely Carved, to "Send Message" to Poachers; Does This Make Sense?

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: U.S. Crushes 6 Tons of Ivory, Some of it Exquisitely Carved, to "Send Message" to Poachers; Does This Make Sense?:

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Eyewitness Accounts of Kennedy's Assassination | Smithsonian Channel

Eyewitness Accounts of Kennedy's Assassination | Smithsonian Channel:

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Our Dog Copernicus Walks Past His Dream Femals

Many parents make an effort to pick a wife or a husband for their child. Believe it or not dog owners do the same. For many years we were looking for a domestic partner or wife for our male dog Copernicus. We decided that only a beautiful German Shepherd female would do. For years Copernicus was promised this partner in life. For one reason or another we never went out and got such a dog for the household. Now Copernicus has a wife who he honestly met without our intervention. Her name is Alice and she weighs only 17.1 lbs vs the 60 lbs or so that Copernicus weighs. Yesterday we were walking on the beach. I saw a beautiful German shepherd female. I thought about what might have been. Copernicus seemed to hardly notice the beautiful lady.

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: Eight Choices for "Generation Wait"; Percentage of Young Adults Moving Hits 50-Year Low

Mish's Global Economic Trend Analysis: Eight Choices for "Generation Wait"; Percentage of Young Adults Moving Hits 50-Year Low:

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Friday, November 15, 2013

G4S-A Giant Multi National Security Company

November 14, 2013 11:00 pm

G4S: the inside story

Damaging scandals are raising questions on how the third-largest listed private sector employer runs its empire
G4S Police Support Services staff member Marcus Bloomfield posing for a portrait outside the street to suite van in Boston, Lincolnshire UK on Oct 31 2013©James Dodd
G4S’s Marcus Bloomfield in front of a 'Street to Suite' custody van in Boston, Lincolnshire
On an overcast Friday evening on a rundown suburban street in Boston, Lincolnshire, a part-time plumber and a retired policeman are sitting in a large white van outside a cell-block, waiting to hear from the police. In black bulletproof vests, smart black trousers and white shirts, they look like police officers. But their van is emblazoned with the words “G4S – working with local policing” and the epaulettes on their uniforms carry the red, white and black logo of the private security company above that of Lincolnshire Police.
This is the frontline of part-privatised policing, where police officers still make the arrests but G4S staff go to the scene, drive offenders away, and later process them for fingerprints and other paperwork in the company’s own “custody suites”. “We tell offenders we are just a taxi service,” says Julian Davis, the ex-policeman on duty for G4S. “It helps defuse the tension.”
To critics, the police authority’s 10-year contract with G4S looks more like a time bomb that could destroy an increasingly fragile consensus about where the limits of private security lie. For G4S, however, such potentially explosive deals with the public sector – in Britain and abroad – are a treasure-chest, which it wants to prise open further.

The rise of G4S

The rise of G4S



That contradiction underlines the challenges facing an organisation of a scale and scope rarely seen in the private sector since the 18th century, when the East India Company ran its own army, ruled large parts of the British empire and implemented some of the most controversial government policies of the age. From “The Manor”, its modern black-and-white headquarters in Crawley in West Sussex, G4S employs 620,500 staff in 115 countries, pursuing a vision that was laid out by its ambitious, marathon-running former chief executive Nick Buckles during a decade of aggressive expansion. That vision is summed up in the company’s slogan “Securing Your World”.
The bulk of its business involves supplying private guards for commercial and residential property, stewards for large events – from The Rolling Stones’ appearance this year in Hyde Park to the Indian Premier League cricket tournament – and armoured vans to carry cash from stores to banks and from banks to cash machines. But G4S armed guards also protect ships against piracy off Somalia, while its uniformed employees screen airline passengers in Vancouver, Canada, manage detention centres where immigrants are held before ­deportation, clean hospitals, and install and monitor security systems.
A branded epaulette is the only obvious difference between G4S support services employee Laura Greenley (right) and Sergeant Wills at Boston Police Station©James Dodd/Statement Images
A branded epaulette is the only obvious difference between G4S support services employee Laura Greenley (right) and Sergeant Wills at Boston Police Station
Excluding state-controlled groups, G4S is the third largest listed private-sector employer in the world, behind only Walmart, with 2.2 million staff, and Hon Hai (which trades as Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturer of devices such as Apple iPads), with 1.3 million. The only employer to rival G4S for ­ubiquity is McDonald’s: 1.8 million people work there but most are employed in its fast-food franchises. It is an apt parallel. Academics have pointed to the growth of G4S and large rivals as evidence of the “McDonaldisation” of private security – a reference to sociologist George Ritzer’s theory that many products and services are now supplied, like burgers in buns, by multinationals that put a premium on efficiency, standardisation, predictability and control.
But G4S’s control over its empire has slipped. Buckles stepped down in May, hit by the triple blows of a failed takeover of ISS, a Danish outsourcing group, an embarrassing failure to supply enough security guards for last year’s Olympics and a profit warning. The pressure on his successor – the more technocratic Ashley Almanza – remains intense. The government has prompted a criminal investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into alleged overcharging by G4S and rival Serco for electronic tagging of prisoners, some of whom had left the country, returned to prison or even died.
In July, an inquest jury recorded a verdict of unlawful killing for an Angolan, Jimmy Mubenga, who died after being restrained by three G4S security guards as he was being deported. A report into Oakwood prison, Staffordshire, run by G4S since 2012, revealed a serious drugs problem and shortages of clean clothing and basic toiletries (G4S blamed “teething problems”). Abroad, former G4S prison guards have claimed they oversaw forced ­injections and electric shocks at a South African maximum-security jail once lauded as a model.
Such high-profile, high-risk, high-margin contracts are still a vital part of G4S strategy. Work that puts staff in the line of fire is lucrative, and where Britain has led – fuelling the group’s growth over more than 20 years through privatisation of vital services in a sector the National Audit Office estimates is worth £93.5bn a year – G4S expects other countries to follow. “The true benefits of ­globalisation and being larger [are] that you can bring expertise to markets that aren’t familiar with the products and services you’ve developed in the UK,” Buckles says. According to Almanza, fighting to convince investors he can sustain G4S’s growth, its emerging markets business should continue to expand more strongly than its activities in the rest of the world.
G4S’s Clare Heyes checking CCTV feeds from cells at Boston Police Station©James Dodd/Statement Images
G4S’s Clare Heyes checking CCTV feeds from cells at Boston Police Station
But G4S’s ability to standardise and control such work only goes so far. As current and former executives concede, some of what G4S and its large rivals do will always give rise to highly public, sometimes violent, confrontation. Strict controls on cost may push already low wages down, increasing pressure on staff. Governments could also lose their appetite for privatisation and outsourcing. If managed too loosely, the group’s riskier activities could threaten the reputation and future of G4S as a whole, as its global presence could backfire. After years of expansion is G4S now simply too big, too complex and too risky to manage?
. . .
The trail to the modern world of private security starts with a Danish company called Kjøbenhavn Frederiksberg Nattevagt – the Copenhagen-Frederiksberg Night Watch – set up by drapery wholesaler Marius Hogrefe in 1901 with 20 guards. Three large companies, which together now employ nearly 1.5 million people, trace their histories back to this point. One is ISS – the Danish service company that G4S failed to buy two years ago. The others are the two global rivals in guarding, Securitas of Sweden and G4S itself.
Buckles was the architect of G4S. He started at Securicor ­(eventually the “S” in G4S) in 1985 as a project accountant but as early as the 1990s, he saw that size would be an asset in the business. His approach and appearance were not that of the typical leader of a blue-chip business. According to the head of one G4S subsidiary based outside the UK, when he first glimpsed Buckles at a regional management meeting about three years ago, the chief executive was wearing light-coloured trousers and loafers; with his long hair and open-neck shirt, he “looked more like Elvis than a CEO”. In person he was – and remains – engaging. Another G4S executive, based in Asia, says Buckles “had this ability to know you – he would always make sure that he spent time with all of his senior managers at any opportunity he could get”.
As chief executive of Securicor, Buckles helped broker a 2004 deal with Group 4 Falck, a direct Danish descendant of Hogrefe’s Copenhagen Night Watch. The Danish group was larger than the British company but within a year, Buckles, then aged 44, had become head of what was now Group 4 Securicor. Kean Marden, a London-based equity analyst with Jefferies, the investment bank, says: “Nick Buckles was good at planting flags on the map.” That is an understatement. Backed by a highly loyal and close-knit group of executives, Buckles aggressively pushed for rapid expansion. In the nine years to 2013, the group spent about £1.5bn and gobbled up more than 70 companies. The deal drive took G4S into new territory and brought an extra­ordinary array of sensitive security businesses, big and small, into the empire, including ArmorGroup, whose armed staff protect UK diplomats in Afghanistan and clear mines in Iraq, and Nuclear Security Services, which supplies security systems to nuclear, oil and chemical plants. Until Almanza said he would rein in the deals, the group kept £200m in an annual takeover war chest.
Nick Buckles 2013©Kalpesh Lathigra
Nick Buckles, former CEO: ‘There’s no difference in our service delivery today than 10 years ago – it’s probably better – it’s just that people are after us'
The Buckles strategy more than doubled G4S’s share price between 2004 and 2011 and made it a stock market favourite. His expansionist approach, however, did not go down well everywhere. “We have always heard that the goal is to be the largest private-sector employer in the world,” says the head of the G4S subsidiary. “What kind of metric is that? It’s size not quality. If you look at the environment they are operating in, in second-, third-tier countries, risks are very high; the opportunities for unethical ­behaviour are extremely high and, quite frankly, I think the business acumen of a lot of these folks is in question.”
In one area, though, the acumen of G4S managers is not in doubt. They are extremely adept contract bidders and negotiators. They honed this skill during years competing for public-sector business, after Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government introduced competitive tendering and private construction and management of hospitals, transport links and prisons in the 1980s. The policy helped drive smaller companies from the field – or into the arms of bigger outsourcing companies, which were better equipped to take on the potential liabilities. “The government really was the market maker in this industry,” says Dame DeAnne Julius, who wrote a report on outsourcing for the last British government in 2008 and used to be a director of fellow outsourcer Serco.
Ronald van Steden of VU University Amsterdam, an adviser to the Dutch government and co-author of a paper on how security companies have expanded and adapted, chameleon-like, to local jurisdictions, says: “Because there’s no debate and nobody really cares about it, [the security companies] follow a salami technique: slicing off a small part of public ­services to see how far they can go.” There is a further consequence: policy makers “are not always fully aware of the magnitude of the sector”.
By the time Labour took power under Tony Blair in 1997, the idea of privatised public services was firmly embedded, despite early mistakes such as the episode in 1993 when a number of prisoners escaped from Group 4’s custody within weeks of the start of its contract to escort inmates. “Nobody was very impressed with G4S,” admits a former adviser to the UK government in the 2000s, “but nobody was very impressed with the UK Border officers or the Prison and Probation Service either. [G4S] only had to seem to be outperforming [them] rather than being a Rolls-Royce.”
This week, the National Audit Office warned about lack of transparency in government contracts with companies such as G4S and Serco and said the rise of a few major contractors needed to be scrutinised. But G4S and its rivals are not entirely to blame for the way the market has evolved, though they have profited from it. The government failed to co-ordinate or share information about early contracts, and the UK Treasury under Gordon Brown – the natural regulator of such activity – pushed to outsource more. Tom Gash, who was a senior crime policy adviser in Blair’s strategy unit and is now director of research at the Institute for Government, a think-tank, says: “There’s a pernicious public sector contracting dynamic: what you have had historically is often highly politicised drives towards outsourcing, with a heavy focus on doing the deal quickly and delivering success, not [on] how do we set up the market so it delivers in the long term.”
Armed forces step in to secure the 2012 London Olympics©Getty
Armed forces step in to secure the 2012 London Olympics
By December 2010, when the ill-fated Olympic security contract was signed, G4S was one of the few companies that could possibly have handled it. Then, in 2011, having secured the Olympics job, Buckles’ ambition hit a wall. He mounted a £5.2bn offer for ISS, G4S’s long-lost Danish cousin. The deal would have doubled the group’s size and moved it firmly into cleaning and facilities management. But previously loyal investors forced him to withdraw the bid. Just eight months later, Buckles faced further embarrassment when a shortfall in trained security staff for the London Olympics obliged the UK to mobilise armed forces personnel to assist. In front of a parliamentary committee that was hostile even by the Roman circus standards of such hearings, Buckles – who admits now he went into the committee room exhausted and unprepared – agreed with members of parliament that the prestigious contract had turned into “a humiliating shambles”. Two senior executives resigned and, following a profit warning in May this year, Buckles himself finally stepped down with a £16m package, including deferred pay, his pension and G4S shares.
Almanza – who was brought into the group as chief financial officer and promoted within a month – looks like the anti-Buckles. Where Buckles’ public persona is marked by blokeish bonhomie and grand ambition, Almanza’s style is buttoned-up and austere, with occasional flashes of dry humour. Buckles is a football fan; Almanza is a keen follower of rugby union. In his pomp, Buckles was known for his collar-length hair; Almanza is bald. Yet, as the new chief executive is starting to discover, many of the challenges he faces are the same as those that ultimately did for his predecessor.
. . .
Buckles’ most significant legacy is G4S’s global brand, imposed in 2005, when the group was already present in more than 100 countries, with 410,000 staff. He says the rationale was that it would help to raise standards and wages in the sectors that G4S served. Local companies “aren’t going to do [the job] as efficiently, with as much control and process as we do, because our reputation is at risk. So going into developing markets and establishing much stronger methods of security than they would otherwise get is a massive positive.” After that point, if managers came to him with the idea of exploring risky new areas, saying, “Don’t worry, we won’t brand it G4S,” Buckles says he would respond, “In that case, don’t do it.”
Buckles apologising to MPs for the 2012 Olympics 'shambles' when the company failed to supply enough security staff©PA
Buckles apologising to MPs for the 2012 Olympics 'shambles' when the company failed to supply enough security staff
The brand values include “the G4S Way” – common standards and practices including “service excellence” and ethics, reputation and crisis management. The GMB union, which represents 25,000 of the 45,000 G4S workers in the UK, compares the group favourably with other employers in the still-fragmented security sector. In India, for example, where all new recruits are paid more than the ­minimum wage, G4S guards get two weeks of classroom training at one of 31 schools around the country and two weeks’ training onsite and the chance to rise through the ranks to branch manager and beyond. “If you have ability, there’s possibility,” says the Asia-based G4S executive, pointing to G4S’s role in raising standards.
Although the G4S logo is omnipresent, the boots-on-the-ground nature of most of G4S’s business means most specific problems are handled locally – and usually don’t reverberate beyond the local market. Responsibility to “do the right thing lies quite heavily on our managers”, says the same ­executive, “down to the branch manager [who is] like a mini-managing director with profit and loss responsibilities”.
But for some G4S businesses, the brand is a handicap. One former ­executive, who used to sell expensive consulting services, says the logo was “troublesome” when trying to win business because “it stands for men in ill-fitting uniforms standing outside ­shopping centres or offices – in some parts of Africa, wearing flip-flops”.
Anthony Minnaar, who heads the security ­management programme at the University of South Africa (Unisa) and studies the global market for ­security services, says that while rival companies put their guards through Unisa’s professional development courses, few of G4S’s employees take part. “For them to just claim that they are assisting with the professionalisation of the guarding sector is nonsense,” he insists. G4S says that it is governed by the Private Security Regulations Authority and that all training is accredited before a guard gets a licence.
The most sensitive part of G4S’s South African business, however, is not guarding but prison management. Last month, South Africa’s Department of Correctional Services decided G4S had “lost effective control” of the Mangaung prison, accusing the company of using “uncertified security staff to perform custodial duties”. An investigation by the Wits Justice Project at the University of Witwatersrand, which interviewed former G4S guards, alleged they used electric shocks and forced injections to impose control. Andy Baker, G4S Africa’s regional president, strongly denies the allegations and says he expects “full management control [to] return to G4S once the current instability has abated”.
The company is under fire for alleged excesses by guards at Mangaung prison in South Africa©Wits Justice Project
The company is under fire for alleged excesses by guards at Mangaung prison in South Africa
One former South Africa-based executive blames a change in the way the prison was overseen after G4S took on the jail in 2008 through an acquisition. After years in which control of the budget and local management had been handled by UK-based experts in correctional services, G4S switched to a system of devolved oversight by Africa regional heads, who have responsibility for all G4S activities on the continent. The change was “quite uncomfortable”, says this former executive, as budget considerations for differing activities clashed. “If I’m guarding a casino, I’ll have particular costs, which are tangible,” says the former executive. “If I’m running a prison, I’ll spend money on rehabilitation and other things that are less tangible.”
Campaigners have jumped on the Mangaung crisis as further evidence of a company failing to live up to its own promise to raise standards. “G4S is interested in cosmetic changes at the top level, but we haven’t seen any changes at the level [where] workers are being managed,” says Rafeef Ziadah, a senior campaigns officer at War on Want, which is pushing for stronger global ­oversight of security companies under the aegis of the United Nations.
Highly publicised failures, as well as the threat of greater regulation, could also erode G4S’s business and undermine the lucrative public outsourcing market, which is already stalling in some areas. A recent critical report by the US-based Sentencing Project could find only 11 countries, including the UK, US and South Africa, with any form of prison privatisation. David Hall, former director of the University of Greenwich’s Public Services International Research Unit, says privatisation and outsourcing are no longer “badges of international respectability” for governments. “In developing countries, as in Europe, in terms of general political trends . . . the momentum is no longer with the private side,” he says. “It is at best stalled, at worst . . . going backwards.” Even in the UK, sensitive outsourcing plans for areas such as defence procurement (where G4S is not involved) and probation services (where it is) are now under even more intense political and public scrutiny.
That G4S is now a whipping boy is galling for Buckles, who refers to the company as if he still works there and clearly remains proud of the group. “There’s no difference in our service delivery today than 10 years ago – it’s probably better – it’s just that people are after us,” he says.
His replacement sees the situation slightly differently. Asked about Buckles’ supposedly “hands-on” style, Almanza is careful not to criticise his predecessor directly but says: “I don’t think management has been hands-on at a corporate level [and] although I think there was a distributed operating model, at the centre in the executive team, decision-making was very concentrated.”
G4S’s size should not be a management challenge. “They aren’t managing 620,000 people, they’re managing 6,200 contracts and they can do that perfectly simply,” comments Hall. Almanza says he asked himself, “Is G4S too big to manage?” when he joined the group. But he points out that most of the high-profile problems faced by G4S in the past two years should have been overseen close to home, including the abortive ISS merger, the Olympics contract and the UK electronic tagging deal, where G4S and Serco are alleged to have overcharged the government by tens of millions of pounds.
Even so, by granting a large amount of autonomy to individual managers on the most sensitive contracts, G4S ran a risk that corners would be cut. The former G4S risk consultant recalls his unit “scrambling to get a yes or no [from headquarters] only 24 hours before tendering” for potentially risky contracts. Hall, citing the Serious Fraud Office’s tagging probe, says companies such as G4S should “expect a recurrence of these kinds of issues because . . . [they have] people operating a contract within a clear financial framework, set by the parent company [and they] have work that is highly sensitive and political”.
Ashley Almanza, November 2011©Mike Abrahams
Ashley Almanza , G4S CEO: ‘It’s the nature of the business that we can hit the ball out of the park for 364 days of the year and on the last day of the year something goes wrong'
Almanza knows he must stop cracks in the brand from spreading. He says he has tightened assessment of the most complex and risky contracts. G4S now flies in executives with specific expertise to vet big, difficult deals. Almanza himself is demanding more information about who will take charge of such operations on the ground. In one recent case, he asked to see the organisational chart to assess the competence of the local management team.
He has strong financial reasons for clinging on to such work. What G4S calls “care and justice” – which covers both police and prison work – accounts for less than 10 per cent of group revenue but new contracts earn margins of more than 15 per cent, higher than for more mundane guarding. In return, G4S accepts that “stuff happens” – which is exactly what enrages campaigners and increasingly disquiets politicians.
At an investor meeting earlier this month, an analyst asked Almanza an unusually direct question for these normally anodyne sessions: is G4S at the stage where it is not worth putting shareholders’ money into some high-profile frontline contracts? The chief executive’s reply was equally direct: “We don’t think that’s the case.” He added: “We do difficult things sometimes in difficult places . . . It’s the nature of the business that we can . . . hit the ball out of the park for 364 days of the year and on the last day of the year something goes wrong.”
His response hints at an uncomfortable truth. When uniformed staff – however tightly supervised – are placating violent prisoners, tackling pirates or even fingerprinting drunks, the situation will occasionally get out of hand. Sometimes people will be hurt or could even die.
. . .
The G4S ‘police’. G4S support staff Beth Pearce (taking calls) and David Blunkett (staffing reception) at Boston Police Station, Lincolnshire©James Dodd/Statement Images
The G4S ‘police’. G4S support staff Beth Pearce (taking calls) and David Blunkett (staffing reception) at Boston Police Station, Lincolnshire
Near the bottom of the organisational diagram, the challenges for G4S have a human face. In Lincolnshire, many of the men and women who now embody the company were transferred from the police force as part of the deal. Even if cells are now called “custody suites”, the uniformed staff behind the desk in Boston, waiting for the Friday night influx of offenders, are the same people as before. They joined the police because they wanted to contribute to society.
Lincolnshire Police says the G4S collaboration has improved emergency call response rates, saved time – freeing police to get back on the beat – and cut costs. But the year preparing for the transfer to G4S was, as Clare Heyes, a custody suite worker and the union representative, puts it, “one of the most stressful I’d lived through . . . People were concerned that our jobs would be replaced by people who were cheaper. The feeling was that G4S would get us in the long run.” In fact, on the day, all that changed were her epaulettes. But she may yet be right about the long-term trend.
Laura Greenley, a senior custody detention officer, is keen to point out improvements since G4S came in: better communication, a new staff kitchen area, modernised cells. But she admits that with just two people on duty, and the cells usually full on a Friday night, the job is stressful. There is a rubber strip on the walls, which, if pushed in an emergency, will contact the nearest police station. But that assumes officers are there to heed the alarm. Often, they are out on a call.
With G4S in control, many new staff will be paid less than existing workers for doing the same job. Current G4S staff earn about £26,000 a year. Replacement jobs are being advertised at a rate that is £7,000 lower, in line with more menial and less stressful supermarket jobs. Greenley says she takes great pride in managing her block of 18 cells. But even she would not reapply on those terms. “I wouldn’t do this job for £19,000,” she says. “I could stack shelves in Tesco for that.”
Andrew Hill is an FT associate editor and management editor. Gill Plimmer is an FT correspondent. To comment, email


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