Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rainwater, whose net worth of $3.5 billion makes him one of the 100 richest Americans....

Betting on the coming storm: Sovereign Deed's bankroller sees disaster ahead
by: Ed Brayton
Sunday (12/09) at 23:01 PM

Texas billionaire Richard Rainwater made his fortune by figuring out ways to profit from the misfortune of others. When the oil bust hit Houston in the mid '90s and property values bottomed out, he swooped in to buy up millions of square feet of office space at pennies on the dollar, investments that made him his first billion dollars when the values inevitably rebounded. As the money man behind private military contractor Sovereign Deed, which is now in the process of building a base of operations in Pellston, Mich., it looks like Rainwater is preparing to profit again by moving from Fortune to Soldier of Fortune.
Rainwater, whose net worth of $3.5 billion makes him one of the 100 richest Americans, began his financial ascent when he was put in charge of the family investments for Sid Bass, his classmate at Stanford. Rainwater turned their already sizable nest egg into a fortune worth more than $5 billion before striking out on his own in the mid-1980s. Sovereign Deed is the latest of many companies he has co-founded or founded , including oil-drilling company ENSCO International, Columbia Hospital Corporation and Crescent Real Estate.
Why the move into the private military contractor (PMC) field? The answer may be in a 2005 profile of Rainwater in Fortune magazine, where he spoke in blunt terms about what he sees as an imminent economic and societal collapse.Continued -
Ed Brayton :: Betting on the coming storm: Sovereign Deed's bankroller sees disaster ahead
The next blowup, however, looms so large that it scares and confuses him. For the past few months he's been holed up in hard-core research mode--reading books, academic studies, and, yes, blogs. Every morning he rises before dawn at one of his houses in Texas or South Carolina or California (he actually owns a piece of Pebble Beach Resorts) and spends four or five hours reading sites like LifeAftertheOilCrash.net or DieOff.org, obsessively following links and sifting through data. How worried is he? He has some $500 million of his $2.5 billion fortune in cash, more than ever before. "I'm long oil and I'm liquid," he says. "I've put myself in a position that if the end of the world came tomorrow I'd kind of be prepared."
The article notes that Rainwater has been spending the bulk of his time researching peak oil theory and reading survivalist literature about the inevitability of economic collapse that will cause society to fracture:
In August a friend gave Rainwater a copy of the book "The Long Emergency," a dystopic view of the future written by ex-Rolling Stone writer James Kunstler, otherwise known for his passionate dislike of suburbia. Taking peak oil as a given, Kunstler argues that Americans have been "sleepwalking" through the end of a "100-year fossil-fuel fiesta." The problem, he points out, is not that the world will run out of oil tomorrow, but rather that the lack of growth in oil production will wreak havoc on a global economic system predicated on perpetual expansion. Kunstler's "long emergency" is a decidedly unpleasant interval during which the world--and Americans in particular--must adapt to a post-oil regime of scarce energy and economic stagnation, a time of likely wars and the disappearance of all-American things like Wal-Mart and cul-de-sac homes 45 minutes by minivan from the office.
And while Rainwater says he doesn't think that Kuntsler's worst-case scenario is likely to come true, he does believe that his dystopic prediction is closer to reality than most of us would like to believe and he's been buying copies of this book and handing them out in his circle of business associates. The key to all of this is the collapse of the oil market, which Rainwater considers inevitable, and the resulting societal strife:
What concerns him most is the conflict that he thinks an oil shortage will precipitate. What happens when people get blindsided by prices rocketing past any level they have contemplated--especially when you factor in other challenges America faces? "We've got a lot of things going on simultaneously," he says. "The world as we know it is unwinding with respect to Social Security, pensions, Medicare. We're going to have dramatically increased taxes in the U.S. I believe we're going into a world where there's going to be more hostility. More people are going to be asking, 'Why did God do this to us?' Whatever God they worship. Alfred Sloan said it a long time ago at General Motors, that we're giving these things during good times. What happens in bad times? We're going to have to take them back, and then everybody will riot.' And he's right."
PMC's such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, founded by Rainwater's partner in Sovereign Deed, Barrett Moore, have become notorious for trigger-happy behavior in Iraq. At home, the PMC entrepreneurs tout themselves as security for insecure America.
In pitching the Pellston project to state and local officials, the leaders of Sovereign Deed have outlined a business plan that clearly seeks to capitalize on this future dystopia. Retired Brig. Gen. Richard Mills, vice president of Sovereign Deed, told a town hall meeting that the company planned to offer disaster survival aid to the wealthy through a "country club style of membership." For an initial charge of $50,000 and a $15,000 annual fee, Sovereign Deed will come to the aid of their members in the event of a disaster, natural or societal.
They plan to use the Pellston airport as their base of operations, dispatching teams of armed men, mostly former members of the U.S. military's Special Forces, which Mills used to command, to protect the property of their members, to distribute survival rations and, if necessary, to evacuate them from a dangerous situation. At that town hall meeting, Mills was asked by a local resident about the ethics of providing such protections only for those wealthy enough to afford it when it is the government's responsibility to protect all Americans during such disasters.
"Every individual is responsible for preparing and supporting themselves," he said. The government cannot be everywhere all the time."
The person who asked the question, noting that this answer did not address his question about the ethics of selling heightened protection to the rich and leaving those who can't afford it to fend for themselves, tried to ask a follow-up question but was cut off by a local official who said it was not an appropriate forum for debate. That suggests this is not an issue that neither Sovereign Deed nor their local government advocates feels comfortable addressing. Rainwater, on the other hand, speaks in almost mystical terms about his ability to grasp the magnitude of the inevitable collapses that inevitably convinced him to finance this new company:
This is going to get a little religious. I ask why I was blessed with this insightfulness. Everyone who has achieved something, scientists, ballplayers, thinks they were given their talent for a reason. Why me? Was I given this insightfulness at this particular time? Or was I just given this insightfulness?" He pauses. "I just want people to look out. 'Cause it could be bad."
Now, it seems, Rainwater doesn't just want them to watch out; he also wants them to pay him to bring the biggest umbrella to combat the coming storm.
Requests for an interview with Richard Rainwater for this story were unanswered

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