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Pearls for Swine?

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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 for $21.3 million on Tuesday. "(Full Story)

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.

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Stephen Pizzo has been published everywhere from The New York Times to Mother Jones magazine. His book, Inside Job: The Looting of America's Savings and Loans, was nominated for a (more...)
 
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Knowing the predilections of these so-pious folk, ... by amazin on Thursday, Jan 3, 2008 at 7:09:09 AM

 

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