NY Times reporters Andrew Jacobs and Penn Bullock wrote it onto the front page but their latest Romney 'scandal' has not found a following at Memeorandum [Hmm, a self-defeating prophecy...]. The gist:
Firm Romney Founded Is Tied to Chinese Surveillance
BEIJING — As the Chinese government forges ahead on a multibillion-dollar effort to blanket the country with surveillance cameras, one American company stands to profit: Bain Capital, the private equity firm founded by Mitt Romney.
In December, a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust has holdings purchased the video surveillance division of a Chinese company that claims to be the largest supplier to the government’s Safe Cities program, a highly advanced monitoring system that allows the authorities to watch over university campuses, hospitals, mosques and movie theaters from centralized command posts.
The Bain-owned company, Uniview Technologies, produces what it calls “infrared antiriot” cameras and software that enable police officials in different jurisdictions to share images in real time through the Internet. Previous projects have included an emergency command center in Tibet that “provides a solid foundation for the maintenance of social stability and the protection of people’s peaceful life,” according to Uniview’s Web site.
Such surveillance systems are often used to combat crime and the manufacturer has no control over whether they are used for other purposes. But human rights advocates say in China they are also used to intimidate and monitor political and religious dissidents. “There are video cameras all over our monastery, and their only purpose is to make us feel fear,” said Loksag, a Tibetan Buddhist monk in Gansu Province. He said the cameras helped the authorities identify and detain nearly 200 monks who participated in a protest at his monastery in 2008.
Mr. Romney has had no role in Bain’s operations since 1999 and had no say over the investment in China. But the fortunes of Bain and Mr. Romney are still closely tied.
The financial disclosure forms Mr. Romney filed last August show that a blind trust in the name of his wife, Ann Romney, held a relatively small stake of between $100,000 and $250,000 in the Bain Capital Asia fund that purchased Uniview.
First, thank heaven no one has linked Romney to the video equipment used by the NYPD at the Republican National Convention in 2004! Liberals would never vote for him.
As the story notes this is dual use equipment; Romney left Bain in 1999; Bain acquired Uniview, the camera manufacturer, in 2010; and Romney has no say in their investment decisions.
And dare we have a moment of perspective? Romney's net worth is estimated to be in excess of $250 million. The Times is breathless about a $250 thousand dollar investment in Bain Capital Asia, which notes investments in 18 companies including the video camera manufacturer. As a ballpark guess, Romney's (blind, indirect) stake in Uniview might be $25,000, which would be 0.01% of his net worth. Consequential? Not to a guy who infamously described his $374,000 in speaking fees as "not very much".
But let's spin like Lin and press on for a bit more perspective! Per their most recent financial disclosure (May 2011), Barack and Michelle Obama have between $100,000 and $250,000 in 529 college funds for both Sasha and Malia. Each young lady is invested in the Bright Directions® College Savings Program for 9-12 year olds, and all seems to be admirable and above-board.
But is it? (Cue "Jaws" soundtrack...)
The disclosure form does not indicate whether the Obama are in the aggressive, moderate or timid variations of the Bright Directions fund, but no matter - all three variations have a mix of equity mutual funds, including some index funds and the utterly non-controversial TR Price Institutional Large Cap Growth Fund.
But hold the front page! The TR Price managers have put roughly 1% of their assets into Baidu, the Chinese search engine famous for its repression of dissent. Really, Barack?
Sasha and Malia will be going to college funded by global warming denialism and repression in China - where is the outrage?
Since you asked, my very rough guess is that the Sasha and Malia college funds combine for about 6% of the Obama net worth of (my guess) $5 million. Take 2% of 6% and - isn't that interesting - these controversial investments are as inconsequential to the Obama fortune as the Uniview stake is to the Romney fortune. (One might argue that the Obama stake is even less since he has huge book deals and speaking fees looming after he leaves the White House; after all, Bill Clinton ran not much up to many millions in less than ten years. Or maybe Democrats don't want to ride that horse just now...)
I will add that the Times article cites General Electric, Honeywell, United Technologies and Cisco among US heavyweights that have caught flak for their dealings with China. The Obamas hold stakes in all these companies through their index funds and GE chairman Jeffrey Immelt is chair of Obama's job council, so pass the smelling salts.
Leaving us where? After we recover from the outrage that a wealthy man has investments all over the world, including China, and the shock that our Presidents mutual funds include large, well known companies, perhaps we can move on.
BUT BEFORE WE DO... Think Progress inflates this non-story a bit - who can spot the hype?
The New York Times revealed yesterday that a Bain-run fund in which a Romney family blind trust had holdings purchased Uniview Technologies in December, a Chinese company that claims to be the biggest supplier of surveillance cameras to the Chinese government.
Wrong. Uniview claims to be the largest supplier to the Chinese "Safe Cities" program; deep in the article we learn that their market share is, well, not very much:
According to the British firm IMS Research, the Chinese market for security camera networks was $2.5 billion last year, a figure that is expected to double by 2015, with more than two-thirds of that demand coming from the government. Uniview currently has just 1 percent of the market, the firm said.
Hmm - if Uniview has a 1% market share either there are a lot of companies or some are bigger. And I am intrigued by this formulation in the Times lead:
BEIJING — As the Chinese government forges ahead on a multibillion-dollar effort to blanket the country with surveillance cameras, one American company stands to profit...
Do they really mean that only one American company is involved in this market? Or do they mean that one company of special interest to them is involved? Can anyone run that down?