There's this newspaper clipping that's been sitting among the flotsam of my desktop for the last week or so. I tore it out of the December 20 Wall Street Journal because it struck me. Struck me how? Well, that's pretty much what I've been trying to figure out since then.
Having lived through the last seven years of you-know-what, I figured I'd been rendered immune further from shock or awe. And I was sure I'd exceeded my lifetime supply of irony-spotting.
Then I saw the story in question. It couldn't have been considered very important by WSJ editors, because it was buried on an inside page. But it sure jumped out to me. The headline asked:
Who Bought the Magna Carta?
The story answered it's own question:
"Talk about your historic takeovers. David Rubenstein, co-founder of the private-equity firm Carlyle Group, bought a 710-year-old copy of the Magna Carta(Full Story)for $21.3 million on Tuesday. "
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If you've put up with my rants for any time at all, you know I'm no lover of conspiracy theories. And so that's not where I;m going with this. The Carlyle Group has replaced the Trilateral Commission as the conspiracy-minded's invisible hand of all things devious and evil. I don't see it that way at all. Instead I see the Carlyle Group for what it is -- America's preeminent conduit of the fruits of crony capitalism.
Founded in 1987 with $5 million, the Washington-based merchant bank controls nearly $14 billion in investments, making it the largest private equity manager in the world. Carlyle doesn't dabble in investments. It buys and sells entire companies the way most other investment firms trade shares of stock.
I'm not saying that the Magna Carta's new owner, David Rubenstein, is a bad man. I did some research and he gives a lot of (tax deductible) money to worthy charities. But then, why not? If members of this exclusive group have anything in excess, it's money. At any point in time, Carlyle and it's investors have vested interests virtually any thing important that's going down in the world.
Wars are bullish for Carlyle. Which is why Carlyle's board of directors and advisor's has read like a Who's Who of all things that go BANG -- and KA-CHING.
Oh, and all things Bush too.
Former president George H.W. Bush is a Carlyle adviser, as is former British prime minister John Major who heads its European arm. Former secretary of state James Baker is senior counselor, former White House budget chief Richard Darman is a partner, former SEC chairman Arthur Levitt is senior adviser -- the list goes on.
Carlyle has, from time to time, played the role of power-legacy incubator, as it did when asked to find a no-work job for George H. Bush's good-for-nothing son, George W. George and Barbara Bush are close to the Rubensteins. David, his wife and three children tagged along on an African safari with Barbara Bush.
Four years before George W. Bush's first run for Texas Governor, Rubenstein was asked to find a soft spot for Georgie to cool his heels and earn some easy money. Carlyle had just purchase Caterair, a company that provided food service to the airlines. A Bush family confident came to Rubenstein and pitched young George.
"...we were putting the board together, somebody [Fred Malek] came to me and said, look there is a guy who would like to be on the board. He's kind of down on his luck a bit. Needs a job. Needs a board position. Needs some board positions. Could you put him on the board? Pay him a salary and he'll be a good board member and be a loyal vote for the management and so forth...We put him on the board and [he] spent three years. Came to all the meetings. Told a lot of jokes. Not that many clean ones. " (David Rubenstein)
(Irony alert: Fred Malek received his 15 minutes of fame in the 1970s as deputy director of CREEP (Committee to Re-elect the President), the Nixon White House operation behind Watergate.)
Did Carlyle's managers laugh at George's jokes? Hard to say. More likely they just grinned and bore it, which paid off a decade and half later:
April 2003: Directors of one of the world’s largest armament companies are planning on meeting in Lisbon in three weeks time. The American based Carlyle Group is heavily involved in supplying arms to the Coalition forces fighting in the Iraqi war.
It also holds a majority of shares in the Seven Up company and Federal Data Corporation, supplier of air traffic control surveillance systems to the US Federal Aviation Authority. The 12 billion dollar company has recently signed contracts with United Defense Industries to equip the Turkish and Saudi Arabian armies with aviation Defense systems.
Top of the meeting’s agenda is expected to be the company’s involvement in the rebuilding of Baghdad’s infrastructure after the cessation of current hostilities. Along with several other US companies, the Carlyle Group is expected to be awarded a billion dollar contract by the US Government to help in the redevelopment of airfields and urban areas destroyed by Coalition aerial bombardments. (Full Story)
And, talk about being in on the ground floor of the "War on Terror:" On September 11, 2001, the day two planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Carlyle Group was hosting an investors conference at the nearby Ritz-Carlton, a conference attended by none other than Osama bin Laden's brother. George H. Bush attended the conference the day before and had met personally with the bin Laden kin.
No, I'm not siding with the 9/11 conspiracy folks. I still think they're nuts. I am simply making the point that when it, if it's big, or promises to be big, the Carlyle Group makes sure it has an arm lock on good hunk of the action.
Former Secretary of State James Baker is (of course) a member of Carlyle's inner circle and he bristles at the notion that the company somehow manipulates world events.
"I say that's bullshit, and you can print it!" Baker snapped at a reporter. "Somebody would say, 'well, you had one of the bin Laden brothers as an investor.' Well, that's exactly right," he says, adding that the bin Ladens are one of the wealthiest families in the Middle East and have disowned Osama.
(Duh Alert: After 9/11 Rubenstein announced he had returned the bin Ladens' $2 million investment.)
Rubenstein has stopped trying to deny the benefits of his company's toady hyper-connectedness:
"We've actually replaced the Trilateral Commission" as the darling of conspiracy theorists," Rubenstein jokes.
(Irony alert: Rubenstein is also a member of said Trilateral Commission.)
So there we are. The new owner of one of the most important documents in mankind's march towards democracy has been purchased by Carlyle co-founder David Rubenstein. His new acquisition will be housed and conserved, at taxpayer expense, at the National Archives.
The value of Rubensteins copy of the Magna Carta is sure to continue to rise, even as the paradigm-shattering rights it was the first to enshrine into law slip, one by one, from our lives today.
Which brings me to the next story that caught my interest:
From: Privacy International
Each year since 1997, the US-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and the UK-based Privacy International have undertaken what has now become the most comprehensive survey of global privacy ever published. The Privacy & Human Rights Report surveys developments in 70 countries, assessing the state of surveillance and privacy protection.
The most recent report published in 2007, available at http://www.privacyinternational.org/phr, is probably the most comprehensive single volume report published in the human rights field. The report runs over 1,100 pages and includes 6,000 footnotes. More than 200 experts from around the world have provided materials and commentary. The participants range from eminent privacy scholars to high-level officials charged with safeguarding constitutional freedoms in their countries. Academics, human rights advocates, journalists and researchers provided reports, insight, documents and advice. In 2006 Privacy International took the decision to use this annual report as the basis for a ranking assessment of the state of privacy in all EU countries together with eleven non-EU benchmark countries. Funding for the project was provided by the Open Society Institute (OSI) and the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust. Follow this link for more details of last year's results.
The intention behind this project is two-fold. First, we hope to recognize countries in which privacy protection and respect for privacy is nurtured. This is done in the hope that others can learn from their example. Second we intend to identify countries in which governments and privacy regulators have failed to create a healthy privacy environment. The aim is not to humiliate the worst ranking nations, but to demonstrate that it is possible to maintain a healthy respect for privacy within a secure and fully functional democracy.
This study and the accompanying ranking chart measure the extent of surveillance and privacy. They do not intend to comprehensively reflect the state of democracy or the full extent of legal or parliamentary health or dysfunction in these countries (though the two conditions are frequently linked). The aim of this study is to present an assessment of the extent of information disclosure, surveillance, data exploitation and the general state of information privacy.
Invasion of Privacy -- At a Glance
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