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Feeding the deals at Davos

| Sunday, Feb. 4, 2007


For the readers of the financial pages it would seem that the world's movers and shakers moved from around the world to the small town of Davos, Switzerland. And for those who believe that our world is motivated by conspiracies -- starting with Yale's Skull & Bones Club, through the Bilderberg meetings, to the raucous gatherings at Bohemian Grove -- Davos, in January, has become the 21st century's conspiracy epicenter.

Davos is either famous or notorious for hosting the World Economic Forum, which has met every year since 1972. There, the self-styled elite and leadership of the world's politicians and the richest corporations that fund them meet, discuss and plan our future.

Davos was not always like that. It still is known as an exclusive winter sports area with a wonderful climate that for more than 100 years was a treatment center for the wealthy with lung diseases. The city reinvented itself in the 1990s to become the forum's near-permanent meeting place under the supervision of the Swiss government.

Prior meetings had taken place in London, New York and Washington. The cities were disrupted by demonstrations and it was very apparent to those attending that the sessions were controversial and unwelcome.

Inevitably, using the word "security" as the magic wand, Davos was shown to be ideal: a remote mountain town accessible only by one road and one railway line. During a forum, which makes an enormous profit for Switzerland, the meeting site is further isolated by the Swiss army, which for a few days ensures the safety of the world's elite.

Perhaps the respiratory cripples of the past have been replaced by the mental cripples of 2007 or maybe they are only wearing blinders to the real needs and problems of the people that they claim to represent.

On the second day of Davos, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz told the group that the United States' very own Carlyle Group, which "manages $46.9 billion worldwide," is planning to invest several billion dollars in the Middle East.

Naturally, Aziz did not know where these investments would be, what their return would be to Carlyle and what benefits they might bring to Americans. After all, we don't need to be told again that trade with China brings wonderful profits: "CHINA: Communists High Investment in North America."

The Mercedes limousines trailed the private helicopters carrying a near 2,500 of the world's elite into Davos for more than 200 workshops on the "shifting power equation" -- by which they mean from the West to Asia, a quiet nudge to show China that the elite believe that they are ahead in the power struggle.

It was an amazing attendance list, at a mere $25,000 per person. The first man listed was Palestinian territory President Mahmoud Abbas, followed by the chairman of Deutsche Bank, Josef Ackerman. Then there was the president of Venezuela's oil companies, Enrique Garcia, and Bill Gates of Microsoft. And let's not forget Saudi Minister of State Abdullah Zainal and DaimlerChrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche.

Eight hundred of the most powerful chairmen of the largest companies met privately to polish and change their images. They made and consolidated deals with two dozen heads of state and Cabinet members from Tony Blair and Angela Merkel, most of George Bush's Cabinet and their opposite numbers in China, Russia, India and Japan.

Because of complaints that everyone's democratic institutions were being overridden, this year the World Economic Forum became "transparent." Fifty percent of the meetings were open to journalists, who were allowed to take notes and watch videos.

The wheeling and dealing at Davos was remarkable; rules of ethics have to be revised and enforced to separate persuasion from corruption -- a near impossible task. So, it was a minor relief to read about our own Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff heading a panel on the possible use by terrorists of nuclear weapons.

Poor Chertoff was supported on his panel by David Cameron, a new head of Britain's conservatives, who admits to a "pre-political" drug use, and a Dutchman, Gijs de Vries, the European Union's anti-terrorism coordinator, who didn't appear to admit that terrorism even existed.

The fourth member was Pakistan's Aziz, who said his country was "wildly successful" in fighting terrorism.

Aziz did not mention the decade of deals negotiated by A.Q. Khan, head of the Pakistan nuclear agency, in selling -- for his personal bank accounts -- nuclear equipment and technology to Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea.

And no one asked why Pakistan was protecting Khan from the FBI and Western law enforcement.

Secretary Chertoff faced a battery of hostile questions about use of secret CIA prisons, relaxing the rules on torture and America degrading basic human rights. Unprepared for so much antagonism from a very select audience, Chertoff did not improve his position by saying, "We have to be precise about what truly is fundamental and what isn't fundamental."

But who will tell the secret organizers that the World Economic Forum is not fundamental to anyone's needs.

Dateline D.C. is written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer.

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