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President Abraham Lincoln warns that powerful corporations threaten to exert undue influence on American elections and upon society in general. In a letter, he warns of “a crisis approaching,” writing: “As a result of the [Civil W]ar, corporations have become enthroned, and an era of corruption in high places will follow. The money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its rule by preying upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is concentrated in few hands and the Republic is destroyed.” (Geraci 2006 )
At a congress in Berlin, the Western powers divide the Balkans in the aftermath of the defeat of the Ottoman Empire by Russia that January. Under the Treaty of San Stefano, signed that March, Bulgaria received territory as far west as central Albania and Serbia took the northern part of Kosova. Western countries refuse to accept this settlement, and instead return Kosova and Macedonia to the Ottomans, Serbia gets only the area north of Nis, and Bulgaria’s territory also shrinks. Montenegro gets northern parts of the future Albania, including Peja, Ulqin, Pllava, Guci, Hot, Gruda, Tivar, Vermosh, Kelmend, Kraja, and Anamal, which had been part of Kosova under the Ottomans. This division angers Albanian leaders and sows hostility between Albanians and Serbs. According to Albanian scholar and diplomat Paulin Kola, Albanian anger comes from the way the congress exposes its powerlessness and divides the Balkans without concern for the ethnicity of its inhabitants. The settlement also sparks ethnic cleansing. According to Kola, up to 50,000 Albanians are expelled from Kosova, as government policy. Serbs are also expelled, but this is localized. Kola will come to believe fewer were expelled than the Serbian academic figure of 150,000, which is about the total Serb population of Kosova at this time. (Kola 2003, pp. 8-9)
Article 43 of the 1907 Hague IV convention on “Laws and Customs of War on Land” states that “[t]he authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” Article 55 states, “The occupying State shall be regarded only as administrator and usufructuary of public buildings, real estate, forests, and agricultural estates belonging to the hostile State, and situated in the occupied country. It must safeguard the capital of these properties, and administer them in accordance with the rules of usufruct.” Most legal experts interpret these provisions to mean that an occupying military power cannot change the laws of a country it occupies. (Hague Convention IV 10/18/1907; Whyte 3/2007, pp. 181)
Serbia begins a program intended to colonize Kosova and Macedonia with Serbian settlers, issuing a Decree on the Settlement of Newly Liberated and Annexed Regions of the Kingdom of Serbia. However, the program is soon interrupted by World War I. (Kola 2003, pp. 20)
The government of Yugoslavia introduces agrarian land reform. By decree, landholders lose their land to the government unless they have Yugoslav deeds. However, most Albanian landowners lack such deeds and lose their land. (Vickers 1998, pp. 105-108; Kola 2003, pp. 21)
Newly elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt delivers his Inaugural Address in Washington immediately after being sworn into office. To a country reeling from the effects of the Great Depression, Roosevelt offers a ringing promise of economic change—the first hints of what will become his “New Deal” economic policies. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he tells the crowd, “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Acknowledges Economic Calamity - He continues: “Our common difficulties concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunk to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce: the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone. A host of unemployed citizens face the grim problem of existence. Only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.”
'Rulers of the Exchange,' 'Money Lenders' Stand Responsible - “Primarily, this is because the rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure and abdicated,” Roosevelt says. “Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted. True, they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit, they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence. They know only the rules of a generation of self-seekers. The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. There must be an end to a conduct in banking and in business which too often has given to a sacred trust the likeness of callous and selfish wrongdoing. Small wonder that confidence languishes, for it thrives only on honesty, on honor, on the sacredness of obligations, on faithful protection, on unselfish performance.”
Call to Action - He continues: “This nation asks for action, and action now. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war.… It can never be helped by merely talking about it. We must act, and act quickly. There must be a strict supervision of all banking and credits and investments; there must be an end to speculation with other people’s money, and there must be provision for an adequate but sound currency. These are the lines of attack.” (Time 3/13/1933)
The Balli Kombetar (National Front) party is created under Mit’hat Frasheri and advocates a united Albania, including the Kosovars. A British representative to Albania during WWII, Julian Amery, will say the Ballists are “for ideological reasons, inclined towards the Western democracies, but their enthusiasm for the allied cause was severely constrained both by hatred of communism and by fears that an allied victory might once again deprive them of Kosovo as well as their southern provinces.” The Balli Kombetar includes former government members, and the Communist Party of Albania will later accuse it of being a cover for the parliamentarians who had agreed to offer Albania to Italy’s Emmanuel III after it was invaded, among other charges. (Kola 2003, pp. 29-31)
The 1946 Yugoslav constitution and the 1947 Serb constitution give Vojvodina more self-rule than Kosovo. Serbia, under articles 90 and 106, allows Vojvodina, but not Kosovo, to have separate courts, including a supreme court, with elected judges, and more control over what are called businesses with “provincial importance,” as well as cultural and educational institutions. Each has an assembly that elects its executive committee and can create laws, but the laws have to be ratified by the Serb legislature, while republics can make laws without needing higher approval. Each autonomous area has 20 representatives in the Yugoslav parliament, while the six Yugoslav republics each have 30. (Kola 2003, pp. 65)
Albania is allowed to participate in the Paris Peace Conference, regarding the post-war settlements between the Allies and Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, and Finland, but is not a full participant, instead being classed with Austria. The Albanian government argues that it was a full member of the Allied effort, fielding 70,000 Albanian Partisans, including 6,000 women, against around 100,000 Italians and 70,000 Germans. It says Italy and Germany suffered 53,639 casualties and prisoners and lost 100 armored vehicles, 1,334 artillery pieces, 1,934 trucks, and 2,855 machine guns destroyed or taken in Albania. Out of its population of one million, Albania says 28,000 were killed, 12,600 wounded, 10,000 were political prisoners, and 35,000 were made to do forced labor. Albania says 850 out of 2,500 of its communities were destroyed by the war.
Disputed by Greece - To oppose Albania’s demands, Greece argues that Albania is at war with it. Greece also claims Gjirokastra and Korca, south of the Shkumbin River, and there is some fighting along the border. By 11 votes to seven, with two abstentions, the conference votes to discuss Greece’s territorial claims. Italian King Victor Emmanuel III blames Albania for the invasion of Greece, and Greece points to a declaration of war by the Albanian occupation government after Daut Hoxha was found murdered at the border in summer 1940.
Hoxha's Address - Enver Hoxha addresses the conference. He points to hundreds of Albanians conscripted by Italy who deserted or joined the Greeks, who then treated them as POWs. Many were later sent to Crete and joined British forces who landed there. Others joined the Albanian Partisans or were captured by Italy, court-martialed for “high treason,” and imprisoned in the Shijak concentration camp. There are other cases of attacks on Italian forces by Albanian soldiers. Hoxha also mentions attacks on Albania by Greeks, such as the over 50 homes in Konispol burned by German soldiers guided by a captain under Greek collaborationist General Napoleon Zervas on September 8, 1943. His forces also joined German forces in their winter 1943-44 Albanian offensive. They invaded and burned again in June 1944. Hoxha refutes Greek claims that Albania is treading on the rights of the Greek minority, which Albania numbers at 35,000. There are 79 schools using Greek, one secondary school, autonomous Greek local government, and Greeks in the government and military. Between 1913 and 1923, Hoxha claims there were 60,000 Albanians in Greece, 35,000 of whom were classified as Turks and deported to Turkey in exchange for Turkish Greeks. In June 1944 and March 1945 Zervas’ forces attacked Greek Albanians, and at least 20,000 fled to Albania. Hoxha will later say that what Albania terms the “monarcho-fascist” Greek government commits 683 military provocations against Albania from its founding to October 15, 1948. Hoxha claims the Greek prime minister tells a Yugoslav official at the Peace Conference that he is open to dividing Albania with Yugoslavia, but Yugoslavia refuses. Hoxha tells the conference, “We solemnly declare that within our present borders there is not one square inch of foreign soil, and we will never permit anyone to encroach upon them, for to us they are sacred.” Italy is accused of harboring Albanian and Italian war criminals, including “fascists” who assassinated an Albanian sergeant at the Allied Mediterranean High Command in Bari in March. The Italian politicians are accused of threatening Albania during recent elections. In conclusion, Hoxha asks that the Peace Conference further limit Italy’s post-war military, claims Italy committed 3,544,232,626 gold francs worth of damage in Albania, and Albania wants to be classified as an “associated power.”
US, British Opposition - These requests are opposed by the UK and US. Albania afterward considers its share of the reparations to be too low. The UK and US will later oppose Albanian participation in the Moscow conference on peace with Germany, held in March-April 1947. An American delegate will say: “We are of the opinion that, first, Albania is not a neighbor of Germany, and second, it did not take part in the war against Germany. Only some individual Albanians, perhaps, took part in this war, but apart from this there were also Albanians who fought side by side with the Germans.” (PLA 1971, pp. 258; Hoxha 1974, pp. 539-542, 593-614; Hoxha 1975, pp. 90-91, 99)
In Belgrade, Nako Spiru, Albania’s economy minister, and Boris Kidric, Yugoslavia’s minister of industry, sign a 30-year treaty unifying Albania’s economy with Yugoslavia. They agree to coordinate economic planning, make the value of Albania’s lek dependent on the value of Yugoslavia’s dinar, equalize prices (not based on international market prices), and create a customs union under Yugoslavia’s rules. According to author Paulin Kola, Albanian communist leader Enver Hoxha praises the treaty highly, while Hoxha will later say he had many reservations. According to the Albanian communists’ official history, the Albanian government and Hoxha think economic conditions make currency parity impossible to achieve on Yugoslavia’s schedule and they say Yugoslavia sets parity “on an altogether arbitrary basis to the advantage of the dinar.” Albania also has reservations about unifying prices. It says the customs union is set up to benefit Yugoslavia, later causing shortages and inflation in Albania. Joint companies are later set up based on the convention, and Albania will complain that it is providing the capital it promised, while Yugoslavia provides not “even a penny in the original funds” but still “appropriated half of the profits.” A joint commission to coordinate the economies is created, and the Albanian government says Yugoslavia tries to “turn it into a super-government above the Albanian government.” Yugoslavia is supposed to provide two billion leks of credit in 1947, but reportedly does not provide even one billion, and credit in goods is overvalued by two to four times more than their prices in international trade. Yugoslavia provides four factories, which Albania considers too small and decrepit. The Albanian government subsequently says that the withholding of promised credit hinders the economic plan for 1947, and Albania says that the 1948 credits are also lacking. (PLA 1971, pp. 306-309; Kola 2003, pp. 78-79)
Yugoslav representative Savo Zlatic meets with Albanian Prime Minister Enver Hoxha, Koci Xoxe, and Pandi Kristo and lays out the Yugoslav plan for a commission to coordinate the Yugoslav and Albanian economies. As Zlatic puts it, “Our governments should not quarrel with each other through the fault of a few directors or specialists of the economy.” The Yugoslavs appoint Sergej Krajger to chair the Commission, and Xoxe says Kristo should be the Albanian liaison. Hoxha is still concerned whether it will be “an organ above our governments.” Zlatic denies this, and says “…the commission will be engaged with the problems which have to do with common plans, with the most effective ways for the co-ordination of plans, with the definition and detailing of the budgets, investments and income, with checkup on the accomplishment of tasks and measures which will be allocated, hence with all the major problems in [the economic] field. After that let the government decide about the economy.” He also says “We came with the idea that the time was over when doubts and frictions began over every issue” and that Hoxha should trust Yugoslavia. Hoxha later recounts that the Commission did become “a kind of government over the government,” duplicating the Albanian government’s departments and allowing Yugoslavia to legally rob Albania. (Hoxha 1974, pp. 760-762; Hoxha 1982, pp. 421 - 427)
At the Eighth Plenum of the Communist Party of Albania’s Central Committee, Yugoslavia’s criticism of the CPA and the Yugoslav plan to accelerate unification are endorsed. Koci Xoxe, as interior minister and the CPA’s organizational secretary, uses his power to threaten, remove, or arrest people. Mehmet Shehu is barred from the meeting. In an unusual turn, there is no report to the Plenum, other than what Prime Minister and CPA General Secretary Enver Hoxha will call “a so-called conclusion of a meeting of the Political Bureau,” presented by Xoxe. According to Hoxha, Xoxe conspires with Xhoxhi Blushi, Nesti Kerenxhi, Pellumb Dishnica, Tahir Kadare, Gjin Marku, and others, who turn the meeting from questions of substance to reviewing alleged misconduct by the recently deceased Economy Minister Nako Spiru and others. Hoxha does accept some of the criticisms of Spiru, Liri Belishova (Spiru’s wife), and Shehu; many years later Belishova and later Shehu will be charged with treason. At the Plenum, it is implied that Hoxha allowed Spiru to act. Xoxe and Pandi Kristo urge the Plenum to expand its criticism of the leadership, but Hoxha will later say his clean record prevented attack, and he makes few comments. According to Hoxha, Xoxe comes close to accusing him of leading a faction with Spiru. Nonetheless, Hoxha later says that he thinks the majority in the CPA and Albania do not approve of the Plenum’s conclusions. The Political Bureau is enlarged. A committee is formed to draft a resolution to be approved at a later Plenum.
Results of the Plenum - According to the official party history, Xoxe uses intimidation and surveillance to control the party and plans to execute opponents, weakens mass organizations such as the unions, and wants to abolish the Communist Youth Organization, formerly headed by Spiru. Yugoslav advisers become unquestionable. The Co-ordination Commission becomes “almost a second government,” and joint companies come under Yugoslav control. Fraternization is encouraged to make unification look like a popular demand. Hoxha prevents Xoxe from expelling all Soviet advisers, merging the Albanian military with the Yugoslav military, and unifying the countries. Subsequently Savo Zlatic, Xoxe, Kristo, and Themelko will say the Soviet advisers are generally no longer needed, but Hoxha, Hysni Kapo, and Gogo Nushi are able to keep them in the country. Yugoslavia wants Albania to request unification, and the Political Bureau decides to ask for clarification from Yugoslavia and the USSR leadership.
Varying Accounts - According to Albanian academic Paulin Kola, Hoxha will endorse federation at a Political Bureau meeting on March 14 and say that was the plan from the beginning, and is ready for formal announcement. Kola will portray both Hoxha and Xoxe as pro-Yugoslav and pro-Soviet. (PLA 1971, pp. 314-317; Hoxha 1982, pp. 446-469; Kola 2003, pp. 92)
Minnesota attorney Jerome Daly defends himself in a lawsuit filed by the First National Bank of Montgomery, in a case later cited as First National Bank of Montgomery v. Daly. The bank sues Daly in Credit River Township, Minnesota, after foreclosing on his property for nonpayment of his mortgage, and seeks to evict Daly. Daly, a well-known anti-tax protester who has filed “protest” tax returns in the past (see 1951-1967), argues that the bank never actually loaned him any money, but merely created credit on its books. Since the bank did not give him anything of tangible value, he argues, the bank has no right to his property. Both the jury and the Justice of the Peace presiding over the case, Martin V. Mahoney, agree, and declare the mortgage “null and void.” In his ruling, Mahoney admits that the verdict runs counter to provisions in the Minnesota Constitution and some Minnesota statutes, but contends that such provisions are “repugnant” to the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights in the Minnesota Constitution. Mahoney finds in his ruling that all Federal Reserve paper money has no intrinsic value. Initially, Daly retains his right to the property and has his mortgage revoked, but the bank appeals the case and the verdict favoring Daly is reversed, as is a similar lawsuit brought by Daly against another bank. The Minnesota Supreme Court begins proceedings against Mahoney and Daly for “constructive contempt” of the law. Mahoney’s death in 1969 voids the proceedings against him, but Daly is subsequently disbarred for his arguments, which the Minnesota Supreme Court finds entirely fraudulent, “unprofessional,” and “reprehensible.” The case and its reasoning will be frequently cited in lawsuits challenging the US banking system, particularly the practice of “fractional reserve banking.” The case has no value as precedent, but will often be cited by groups supporting a government-owned central bank or opposing the Federal Reserve system. (State of Minnesota, County of Scott, First National Bank of Montgomery v. Daly 12/9/1968 ; State of Minnesota, County of Scott, First National Bank of Montgomery v. Daly 1/12/1969 ; US District Court for the District of Utah 10/28/2008; Minnesota State Law Library 5/27/2010)
Arizona tax protester Marvin Cooley writes a best-selling book, The Big Bluff, documenting the struggles of his fellow anti-tax protester, W. Vaughn Ellsworth. Cooley, whose gruff tirades against the IRS and the federal government make him popular on the far-right speaking circuit—in 1971, he wrote to the IRS: “I will no longer pay for the destruction of my country, family, and self. Damn tyranny! Damn the Federal Reserve liars and thieves! Damn all pettifogging, oath-breaking US attorneys and judges.… I will see you all in Hell and shed my blood before I will be robbed of one more dollar to finance a national policy of treason, plunder, and corruption”—includes sample letters and copies of his own tax returns in his book. Among Cooley’s adherents is Robert Jay Mathews, who will go on to found the violent neo-Nazi group The Order (see Late September 1983). In 1970, the 17-year-old Mathews, still living with his parents in Phoenix, becomes a sergeant-at-arms for some of Cooley’s meetings. In 1973, Mathews will use Cooley’s income tax theories to fraudulently list 10 dependents on his W-4 tax form, a common protest tactic that winds up with Mathews convicted of tax fraud (see 1973). Cooley, a vocal proponent of tax protester Arthur Porth (see 1951-1967)‘s “Fifth Amendment Return” strategy (refusing to pay taxes on Fifth Amendment grounds) will go to jail for tax evasion in 1973 and again in 1989. (Southern Poverty Law Center 12/2001; Anti-Defamation League 2011)
Sergio De Castro, leader of the Chicago University movement in Chile and the head author of “The Brick,” is made a chief economic adviser to Augusto Pinochet’s authoritarian regime almost immediately after the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. During the first one and a half years of Pinochet’s rule, Chile is subject to a large array of neoliberal economic reforms. These include the privatization of state-owned firms, financial deregulation, removal of import tariffs, a ten percent cut in government spending (with the notable exception of military spending), and the termination of price controls. As a result, the cost of basic goods will skyrocket while domestic industries are put out of business by imported goods. Orlando Sáenz, who originally recruited the Chicago School graduates to redesign the Chilean economy (see September 1971-September 11, 1973), will declare the consequences to be “one of the greatest failures of our economic history.” (Klein 2007, pp. 79-80)
The population of Buenos Aires grows from 3 to 9.5 million. During this time, the city’s public water and sewage utility company, Obres Sanitarias, is hit with a number of budget cuts recommended by the IMF and World Bank, and cannot afford to implement the needed upgrades and improvements. By the late 1980s, it is apparent that the utility will need a huge infusion of capital to extend its services to the new inhabitants of the city. (Public Citizen 6/14/2007) Less than two thirds of the city’s population is connected to the water system while less than half has access to the sewers. Moreover, up to 50 percent of the system’s water is lost because of leaks. As a result, the per capita consumption of water is an extremely high 600 liters per customer. (Brogan 4/13/1993; CBC News 3/31/2004) The World Bank steps in and offers to lend Argentina hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure—but only on the condition that it privatize Obres Sanitarias. (Public Citizen 6/14/2007) Critics of the privatization plan will later argue that despite its lack of cash-on-hand, Obras Sanitarias was a “well-run company” with little debt and was capable of expanding on its own—had it been sufficiently funded. (Santoro 2/6/2003)
The Mexican government, in 1984, controls about 1,212 firms and entities. By December of 1988, this number will be reduced to 448 through a massive privatization program. (Hart-Landsberg 12/2002)
Detective Sergeant Peter Caram, the head of the New York Port Authority’s Terrorist Intelligence Unit, has been directed by the assistant superintendent of the Port Authority Police Department to compile a report on the vulnerability of the WTC to a terrorist attack. Having previously worked at the WTC Command, Caram has exclusive knowledge of some of the center’s security weaknesses. On this day he issues his four-page report, titled “Terrorist Threat and Targeting Assessment: World Trade Center.” It looks at the reasoning behind why the WTC might be singled out for attack, and identifies three areas of particular vulnerability: the perimeter of the WTC complex, the truck dock entrance, and the subgrade area (the lower floors below ground level). Caram specifically mentions that terrorists could use a car bomb in the subgrade area—a situation similar to what occurs in the 1993 bombing (see February 26, 1993). (Caram 2001, pp. 5, 84-85; New York County Supreme Court 1/20/2004) This is the first of several reports during the 1980s, identifying the WTC as a potential terrorist target.
The Mexican government, with technical assistance from the World Bank, sells off a profitable phone company called Telmex. In the months preceding the sell-off, the Mexican government increases the rate of calls by local users from 16 pesos per minute to 115 pesos per minute in order to make the company more attractive to potential buyers. This makes the privatization of the phone system detrimental to consumers. In a 1992 report, The World Bank will admit that “the privatization of Telmex, along with its attendant pricetax regulatory regime, has the result of ‘taxing’ consumers—a rather diffuse, unorganized group—and then distributing the gains among more well-defined groups, shareholders, employees, and the government.” (Global Exchange 9/2001, pp. 4 )
A number of French dignitaries, including French Minister of Commerce Bruno Durieux, travels to Buenos Aires to lobby on behalf of two French companies—Compagnie Générale des Eaux and Lyonnaise des Eaux—which are trying to win a concession to operate the city’s water utility. On one visit, Durieux reportedly says that France will increase its investments in Argentina based on “how many privatizations we win.” Daniel Chain of Aguas de Buenos Aires will later recall, “The Embassy of France was hyperactive throughout the concession process. Every week it invited political leaders to lunches attended by French ministers. However, the Embassy of Great Britain, which supposedly was supporting the bid of the British company, Thames, had a low profile. It was an unequal fight.” (Santoro 2/6/2003 Sources: Daniel Chain)
The World Bank approves and provides funds for a team of British private sector technical and financial consultants to advise the Argentine government on the privatization of its water and sewer sector. (CBC News 3/31/2004)
Vice President Dan Quayle, chairman of the President’s Council on Competitiveness, and Louis Sullivan, secretary of health and human services, announce the FDA’s new policy on the regulation of genetically engineered foods. In the policy statement that is published three days later, the FDA will say it has determined that genetically modified (GM) foods are “substantially equivalent” to conventionally grown foods and therefore will not be subject to any special regulations. The agency justifies its position saying that assessments concerning the safety of food products should be based on the characteristics of the food product and not on the methods used to develop that product. (US Food and Drug Administration 5/29/1992 ) Specifically addressing the issue of labeling for GM foods, the May 29 statement will read: “The agency is not aware of any information showing that foods derived by these new methods differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way, or that, as a class, foods developed by the new techniques present any different or greater safety concern than foods developed by traditional plant breeding. For this reason, the agency does not believe that the method of development of a new plant variety… would… usually be required to be disclosed in labeling for the food.” Labeling would only be required in special cases, the FDA says. For example, if a genetically engineered tomato contains a peanut protein that is a proven allergen, a label will be needed. (US Food and Drug Administration 5/29/1992, pp. 22991 ) In their statement to the press, Sullivan says that biotechnology promises to develop new food products “that are tastier, more varied, more wholesome, and that can be produced more efficiently.” Quayle’s council played a key role in expediting the development of the policy. (Food and Drug Administration 5/26/1992) Quayle explains that the policy will ensure the competitiveness of US firms. “The reforms we announce today will speed up and simplify the process of bringing better agricultural products, developed through biotech, to consumers, food processors, and farmers,” he says. “We will ensure that biotech products will receive the same oversight as other products, instead of being hampered by unnecessary regulation.” (Eichenwald, Kolata, and Petersen 1/25/2001)
Upon learning that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided not to require special regulation for genetically engineered foods (see May 26, 1992), FDA scientist Dr. Louis J. Pribyl blasts the decision in a memo to his colleagues. “This is the industry’s pet idea, namely that there are no unintended effects that will raise the FDA’s level of concern,” he writes. “But time and time again, there is no data to back up their contention.” Pribyl, one of 17 government scientists who have been working on a policy for genetically engineered food, knows from his own research and studies that the introduction of new genes into a plant’s cell can produce toxins. (Eichenwald, Kolata, and Petersen 1/25/2001)
Buenos Aires’ public water utility, Obras Sanitarias, is privatized under heavy pressure from the World Bank, the IMF, and the US government. It is taken over by Aguas Argentinas, a recently formed consortium of private companies that won a 30-year concession to manage the city’s water and sewage system (see December 9, 1992). The deal represents the largest transfer in history of a water service and watershed to the private sector. The consortium will be responsible for providing water to the residents of Buenos Aires and 14 surrounding municipalities—some 10 million people (see also 1980s-1993). Oversight of Aguas Argentinas will be conducted by the newly formed regulatory body, ETOSS (Ente Tripartito de Obras y Servicios Sanitarios). Its task will be to monitor the quality of service, represent customers, and ensure that the company fulfills the terms of its contract. (Brogan 4/13/1993; Santoro 2/6/2003; Hacher 2/26/2004; CBC News 3/31/2004; Public Citizen 6/14/2007)
Stephen Jones, the lead lawyer for accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, April 21, 1995, and April 24, 1995), says he will attempt to get McVeigh’s trial moved out of Oklahoma. McVeigh faces the death penalty if convicted of crimes related to the bombing (see July 11-13, 1995). Jones says he has in mind sites well away from Oklahoma City, including New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia, and the city of San Francisco. “These are places where there has been way less than the usual media coverage,” Jones says. “I haven’t been contacted by a single person from any of those states, in terms of the media.” US Attorney Patrick Ryan has said McVeigh and his accused co-conspirator, Terry Nichols (see March 1995, April 16-17, 1995, 5:00 a.m. April 18, 1995, 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995, and June 23, 1995), could get fair trials in Oklahoma, and that to move the trial would “further victimize the victims,” whose family members would likely testify during the sentencing phase of the trials if either or both are convicted. Jones says: “That is not a factor used in measuring where trials are held.… We have three criteria. The contents of what has been carried in the media in those states, the facilities to hold trials, and whether there was a nearby federal prison that could accommodate security concerns.… I definitely think we should not be in Oklahoma.” (Thomas 7/18/1995)
The US Marshals sell the foreclosed Montana ranch of farmer Ralph Clark for the Farmers Home Administration (FHA). Clark’s ranch has been occupied by the anti-government Freemen (see 1993-1994) and declared an independent “township” (see September 28, 1995 and After). The Freemen choose not to leave the ranch, though it now belongs to a local farmer. (Billings Gazette 3/25/2006)
The Montana Freemen (see September 28, 1995 and After), seemingly unrestrained by local laws (see January 1994, June-July 1994, February - March 1995, May 1995, September 28, 1995 and After, and October 2, 1995), publish a “public notice” in local newspapers announcing their intention to take control of a huge swath of land in northeastern Montana, including land owned by private citizens, the State of Montana, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). They announce that anyone trespassing on their land will be “arrested” and punished. The people of Jordan, Montana, and the nearby areas are outraged. “So if Dad was out feeding his cows,” says the son of a rancher who leases grazing land from the state, “to them he’d be trespassing on their so-called land, and they’d take him to their court. And from there your imagination could run rampant.… Maybe they wouldn’t do anything, but who knows. Dad was really upset; up until that time, all their threats had been against government officials. Now they were disrupting our lives.” County voters, enraged by local, state, and federal inaction against the Freemen, schedule a meeting to discuss their own actions against the Freemen, including cutting the telephone lines to the Freemen ranch and blockading the county roads leading to their compound. In apparent response, Freemen leader LeRoy Schweitzer holds a meeting (videotaped and later shown in court) outlining their own plan to kidnap government officials, perhaps a preemptive strike against the local citizenry. Schweitzer says: “We’ll travel in units of about 10 outfits, four men to an outfit, most of them with automatic weapons, whatever else we got—shotguns, you name it.… We’re going to have a standing order: Anyone obstructing justice, the order is shoot to kill.” Afterwards, many speculate that the FBI, likely conducting surveillance against the Freemen for months and aware of the escalating conflict, decides the time is right to move against the Freemen (see March 25, 1996). (Mark Pitcavage 5/6/1996)
Huffman Aviation, the Venice, Florida flight school later attended by Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi (see July 1-3, 2000) is sold to Naples-based flight school Ambassador Airways, which is owned by Wally Hilliard and Rudi Dekkers. Although Hilliard finances the purchase, Dekkers becomes the sole stockholder. Dekkers is a Dutch national with a highly questionable past. The St. Petersburg Times will later comment, he “seems to have benefited from the same type of casual scrutiny of visa applicants that let the 9/11 hijackers live and train here [in the US].” Even before 9/11, he has “a long history of troubled businesses, run-ins with the Federal Aviation Administration and numerous lawsuits… It is the kind of checkered history, experts say, that should have raised questions both before and after the 9/11 attacks about Dekkers’ fitness to run a school that trained pilots.” Having previously run a computer company in the Netherlands that went bankrupt, he’d moved to Naples, Florida in 1992. After running a computer chip exporting company, he’d started Ambassador Airways. Yet he’d been so late on some of his bills there that at one point the Naples airport refused to sell him aviation fuel, even if he paid cash. At some point in 1999 the FAA revoked his pilot’s license for 45 days—a severe penalty—for several violations, including “operating an aircraft in a careless or reckless manner.” In spite of Dekkers’ dubious history and the fact that his Ambassador Airways is struggling, Wally Hilliard, a prominent retired businessman, loans him $1.7 million to buy Huffman Aviation. Dekkers says he plans spending $60,000 per year promoting the school, advertising extensively in Germany and other European countries. (McIntyre 5/29/1999; Mudge 1/25/2003; Martin 7/25/2004) Huffman Aviation is just up the road from Florida Flight Training Center, where Ziad Jarrah, the alleged pilot of Flight 93, will begin flying lessons in summer 2000 (see (June 28-December 2000)). (Corte 9/9/2002) Dekkers will close Ambassador Airways in December 2001, due to financial difficulties, and sell Huffman Aviation in January 2003. (Zoldan 1/25/2003; Kimel 1/28/2003)
After Percy Schmeiser and Monsanto fail to reach an out-of-court settlement, Monsanto takes the 69-year-old canola farmer to court. Monsanto claims that in 1998, Schmeiser planted 1,030 acres with seed from his 1997 canola crop containing a gene or cell that was protected by Monsanto’s 1993 (see February 23, 1993) patent on glyphosate-resistant plants and that he did so without permission from Monsanto. The company further alleges that in doing so Schmeiser illegally used, reproduced, and created genes, cells, plants, and seeds containing the patent-protected genes and cells. According to Monsanto, it is of no consequence how the gene arrived in Schmeiser’s field; his mere planting of the gene constitutes infringement. The company is suing for the $15 CAD/acre technology fee that other farmers using the seed are required to pay (A total of $15,450 CAD), the profits resulting from Schmeiser’s 1998 crop ($105,000 CAD, according to Monsanto), interest, exemplary damages ($25,000 CAD), and court costs. (Marushko 6/3/2000; Yu 6/6/2000; Lyons 6/21/2000) Terry Zakreski, Schmeiser’s attorney, does not deny that the some of the canola plants in Schmeiser’s 1998 crop contained Monsanto’s patent-protected Roundup-resistant gene. However, he rejects Monsanto’s claim that Schmeiser infringed on the company’s patent when he planted the crop since the presence of Monsanto’s Roundup Resistance canola was not a result of any deliberate action on the part of Schmeiser. The defense suggests that Monsanto’s patented-gene arrived on Schmeiser’s property by way of pollination or wind-blown seed. (Yu 9/6/1999)
Plaintiff Argument--Tests show high percentage of Roundup in sample taken from Schmeiser's 1997 crop - In spite of the fact that Monsanto’s argument does not hinge in anyway on how its Roundup Ready Canola came to grow on Schmeiser’s fields, it nonetheless attempts to make the case that the alleged high percentage of Roundup-resistant canola in Schmeiser’s 1997 crop was too high to have resulted solely from cross-pollination or wind-blown seed as Schmeiser claims. As evidence of this, Monsanto cites tests (see Fall 1997) (see January 24, 2000) performed on plant samples taken in August of that year by Wayne Derbyshire (see August 18, 1997). Those tests found that the samples contained a very high percentage (more than 90 percent) of seeds containing the patented genes. Monsanto also introduces as evidence, tests performed on seeds given to Monsanto by Humboldt Flour Mills (see Between April 24 and April 28, 1998), the company that had inoculated Schmeiser’s seeds prior to the 1998 planting season. Tests later performed on those seeds found that 95 to 98 percent of them contained Monsanto’s patented gene (see April 2000; (August 26, 1999)). (Toronto Star 6/6/2000; Yu 6/6/2000)
Plaintiff Argument--Tests show high percentage of Roundup in Schmeiser's 1998 crop - Monsanto also presents evidence aimed at demonstrating that Schmeiser’s 1998 crop consisted almost entirely of plants containing Monsanto’s patented Roundup-resistant gene. As evidence, it cites tests performed on samples that were taken from Percy’s crop in the summer of 1998 (see August 12, 1998). The tests done by Aaron Mitchell of Monsanto on these samples indicated that between 92 and 97 percent of the seeds in the samples were resistant to Roundup (see January 1999). (Toronto Star 6/6/2000; Yu 6/6/2000)
Plaintiff Argument--Schmeiser used Roundup on his 1998 crop - In an effort to prove that Schmeiser’s 1998 crop consisted mostly of Roundup Ready Canola and that Schmeiser sought to take advantage of its resistance to the herbicide, Monsanto cites the testimony of Wesley Niebrugge, a farmer and employee of the Esso bulk dealership in Bruno. Niebrugge claims that in 1997 and 1998 Schmeiser’s farm hand Carlyle Moritz told him that Schmeiser had sprayed his fields with Roundup after having seeded his fields with Roundup Ready Canola. Monsanto argues that in spite of Schmeiser’s claims that he did not use Roundup on his crops in 1998, there is no evidence that he used Muster and Assure herbicides as claimed. Furthermore, Monsanto provides evidence that Schmeiser purchased 720 liters of Roundup in 1998. (Lyons 6/17/2000)
Plaintiff Argument--Roundup Ready Canola presence in Schmeiser's fields cannot be explained by windblown seed - Monsanto also argues that seed blown off the top of passing grain trucks could not have been responsible for the Roundup-resistant canola plants that Schmeiser found in his field more than 100 feet away from the road in 1997 (see Summer 1997). As evidence, Monsanto cites the testimony of Barry Hertz, a mechanical engineer hired by Monsanto because of his expertise in road vehicle aerodynamics. Hertz tells the court that according to his own calculations, canola seed blown off the top of a moving grain truck would fly no more than 8.8 meters from the road. His calculations are based on the weather conditions recorded at the Saskatoon airport in October and May of 1996, 100 kilometers away from Schmeiser’s farm. (Lyons 6/9/2000; Canadian Press 6/9/2000)
Plaintiff Argument--Schmeiser segregated his crop - Monsanto argues that Schmeiser segregated his crop when he chose to save and plant the seeds harvested from the same field where he knew Roundup Ready plants had grown. The company’s lawyer questions why he would have done so if he considered those plants to be a contaminant on his land. (Lyons 6/15/2000)
Defense Argument--Schmeiser did not undertake any deliberate action to obtain Monsanto's Roundup Ready Canola - According to Schmeiser, the presence of Monsanto’s patented gene in his crop was not a result of any deliberate action he took. Rather he suggests that his crop was likely contaminated with Monsanto’s genes from wind-blown pollen or seed.
Zakreski notes that there is no evidence whatsoever that Schmeiser illegally obtained Roundup Ready Canola seed. Monsanto has never identified anyone who may have sold Roundup Ready Canola seed to Schmeiser, and Schmeiser has never admitted to having acquired the seed. Monsanto employee Aaron Mitchell candidly testifies to this fact on the stand. (Lyons 6/9/2000; Lyons 6/13/2000)
Percy Schmeiser’s field hand, Carlyle Moritz, testifies that swaths from a neighboring canola field planted with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola blew onto one of Schmeiser’s fields in 1996 (see Fall 1996). The swaths were subsequently picked up by a combine on Schmeiser’s fields and deposited in the grain bins on that field. The defense believes it is possible that some of the seed from that bin was used to plant Schmeiser’s 1997 crop. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 6 )
Schmeiser recalls that in 1997 (see Summer 1997), after spraying Roundup in his ditches and around telephone poles adjacent to his canola field, approximately 60 percent of the canola plants in that area survived. Curious about the possibility that his canola plants may have developed a resistance to Roundup, he sprayed a trial strip about 100 feet wide in one of the fields that is next to the road. The total area of the strip was a “good three acres,” he says. As a result of the spraying, roughly 40 percent of the canola plants died. The surviving 60 percent were scattered in clumps and were mostly concentrated near the road. He believes that the uneven presence of clumps that were thicker closest to the road and thinner towards the center of the field is evidence that plants had been sown from seed coming from the direction of the road, probably from seed blown off passing grain trucks in late 1996.
Zakreski argues that Schmeiser’s plants may have been pollinated with pollen transported by wind or other means from a neighboring farm. He notes that Monsanto scientist Robert Horsch has acknowledged in court testimony that the company’s dominant Roundup-resistant gene would be present in any pollen from a Roundup Ready Canola plant and therefore could pollinate non-transgenic plants. Zakreski also cites the testimony of Monsanto witness Keith Downey that “one hungry bee” is capable of traveling a great distance. Even though Monsanto employee Aaron Mitchell testified that the closest field planted with Monsanto licensed Roundup Ready Canola seed was approximately five miles away, Zakreski notes that it is impossible to state for sure that someone was not illegally growing it closer. (Yu 6/6/2000; Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 28 ; Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Percy Schmeiser 3/29/2001, pp. 16 )
Schmeiser’s neighbor Elmer Borstmeyer testifies that he grew Roundup Ready Canola under agreement for four years beginning in 1996 and that he drove his truck by four of Schmeiser’s fields after harvest. He recalls that on one or two of his trips, the tarp was loose, and he believes he lost a lot of canola seed. “The tarp acted like a cyclone,” he said. “I lost some seed. That’s for sure” (see Fall 1996). (Lyons 6/16/2000; Monsanto Canada Inc. v. Percy Schmeiser 3/29/2001, pp. 50 )
Schmeiser’s lawyer cites other cases where farmers’ fields have been contaminated with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready Canola, including farmers Charles Boser (see Summer 1999) and Louis Gerwing (see Summer 1999). He also notes that just a few weeks before, Canadian canola seeds sold to Europe by Advanta Canada were discovered to have been contaminated with a small percentage of genetically modified (GM) seeds (see May 2000). (Lyons 6/16/2000)
Zakreski also addresses the various tests that were conducted on samples taken from Schmeiser’s 1997 and 1998 crops. Monsanto had used some of the tests as evidence to argue that more than 90 percent of the plants in some of Schmeiser’s fields contained Monsanto’s patented gene. Of the samples that were taken by Wayne Derbyshire in 1997 (see August 18, 1997) and used as the basis for two grow-out tests (see Fall 1997) (see January 24, 2000), and of the samples that were taken by Don Todd and James Vancha in 1998 (see August 12, 1998) and used for a grow-out test performed by Aaron Mitchell (see January 1999), Zakreski argues that they were all (1) taken illegally, and should not be admitted by the court; (2) taken using a methodology that was not intended to be representative of the fields from which they were taken; and (3) were not obtained, stored, or tested in a scientific manner or by independent parties. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000 )
Of the samples that were handled by Aaron Mitchell before being sent to and tested by Keith Downey on January 24, 2000 (see January 24, 2000), Zakreski questions (1) why so many seeds were apparently missing from the coin envelopes; and (2) why there were cleaver seeds, debris, and cracked seeds present in this sample—presumed to have been taken directly from canola pods. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 18 )
Zakreski also challenges the authenticity of seeds used in a grow-out test that was performed by Aaron Mitchell in January 1999 (see January 1999). He asks how it came to be that seeds Mitchell brought to Leon Perehudoff were clean when in fact the seeds in the original sample contained debris. Though Mitchell claims to have cleaned the seeds by hand in a matter of an hour, plant biologist Lyle Friesen, another witness, testifies that such a task should have taken “days” to do by hand. Zakreski also notes that is unclear why the seeds Mitchell planted enjoyed a 100 percent germination rate when Friesen and experts at Monsanto headquarters in St. Louis were able to get only about half their seeds—presumably taken the same day as Mitchell’s seeds—to grow. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 23-25 )
Additionally, Zakreski questions the authenticity of the seed samples that Monsanto obtained from Humboldt Flour Mills (see Between April 24 and April 28, 1998). The seeds tested by Monsanto had apparently been cleaned, when in fact the seeds supplied to the mill by Schmeiser (see April 24, 1998) were bin-run seeds full of chaff. No evidence is provided by the plaintiff to explain how the seeds cleaned themselves. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 19 )
Defense Argument--One must use a patented invention for there to be infringement - Zakreski argues that for a patent infringement to occur, one must use the invention. His argument can be summarized as thus: (1) Monsanto has a patent on a gene, not a plant; (2) it is not a patent infringement to merely possess a patented invention, one must either use, or intend to use, the patented invention in order for there to be an infringement; (3) the act of growing a plant that contains the patented gene does not imply the use of that gene since that gene is not needed for the plant to grow; (4) the use of a patented invention necessarily entails that the “object,” or “essence,” of a patent be utilized, which in this case is a cell’s resistance to Roundup; (5) to use Monsanto’s invention, one must therefore either use, or intend to use, Roundup on one’s crop; and (6) because Schmeiser did not use Roundup on his crop, he did not infringe on Monsanto’s patent. The evidence Zakreski provides to support this argument can be summarized as follows: (a) there was no motive for Schmeiser to acquire and use Monsanto’s patented technology; (b) Schmeiser did not attempt to segregate seed known to be Roundup-resistant from the rest of his seed and therefore had no intention of using the properties of Monsanto’s patented gene; and (c) Schmeiser’s 1998 crop was a mixture of Roundup-resistant and non-resistant canola plants and therefore Schmeiser derived no benefit from Monsanto’s technology; and (d) Schmeiser did not, in fact, use Roundup on his 1998 crop.
Using Roundup Ready Canola would have made it impossible for Schmeiser to grow canola back-to-back, his preferred method of growing canola (see 1994-1998). (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 2-3 )
The only benefit of using Roundup Ready Canola is that it allows one to spray Roundup herbicide on one’s crop. Roundup can only be applied after the weeds have germinated and there is weed foliage to spray. Schmeiser prefers not to spray weeds in his crop at this late stage because it would allow the weeds to use much of the soil’s moisture that would otherwise be available to the crop. Instead, he uses products that can be incorporated into the soil, or that kill weeds as they germinate (see 1994-1998). Furthermore, Schmeiser notes that Roundup is thought to leave a residue in the soil that kills mycorrhiza, a beneficial fungus that helps plants absorb nutrients in the soil. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 3 )
Schmeiser prefers to save his seeds rather then buy new seeds each year, which he considers to be an unnecessary expense. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 2 )
There was nothing wrong with Schmeiser’s seed stock that would have warranted interest in acquiring new seed. Schmeiser’s crops have performed much better than others in the area and are relatively free of common diseases that affect canola. Schmeiser has never had to file an insurance claim for his crop and because of this he receives a discount on his crop insurance premium. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 2 )
Zakreski notes that in 1997, Schmeiser made no attempt to segregate the Roundup-resistant plants from the non-resistant plants in his fields. His farmhand, Carlyle Moritz, saved the seed from both the area where Roundup-resistant crop was known to have grown and other areas where these plants were not known to have grown (see Fall 1997). In spring 1998, these seeds were combined with bin-run seeds from previous years to sow Schmeiser’s canola crop (see Spring 1998). (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 11 )
Schmeiser’s attorney argues that Schmeiser had nothing to gain in planting a mixed crop of Roundup-resistant and non-resistant canola plants. “The advantage in growing Roundup Ready Canola is that a grower may spray in-crop with Roundup and achieve broad spectrum weed control. If a grower plants a crop which is a mixture of Roundup Ready and Roundup susceptible canola, he cannot spray in-crop with Roundup. To do so would be suicide.” (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 28-29 )
Schmeiser says that in 1998 the herbicides he used on his crops were the brand-names Muster and Assure. It would have made no sense, Zakreski argues, for Schmeiser to have knowingly planted Roundup Ready Canola. “It would make no sense if he knowingly proceeded to seed Roundup Ready Canola and not use Roundup,” notes Zakreski. (Lyons 6/13/2000) Schmeiser, however, as noted by the plaintiff, was unable to produce receipts showing he had used Muster and Assure on his canola. He explains that the Esso bulk dealership where he lives changed hands after 1998 and the new owners were unable to locate the receipts. (Lyons 6/15/2000)
Weed ecology expert Rene Van Acker testifies that the test results from Manitoba (which identified the presence of non-resistant canola plants in a sample taken from Schmeiser’s fields) (see (August 26, 1999)) prove that Schmeiser did not spray his fields with Roundup. If he had sprayed his fields, he would have killed much of his crop. “It would make no sense for a producer to sow Roundup Ready Canola and not use Roundup,” Van Acker recently wrote in a report requested by the defense. (Lyons 6/17/2000)
While Schmeiser did purchase 720 liters of Roundup in 1998, as noted by the plaintiff, Schmeiser says that he used this quantity of Roundup to clear his fields before spring planting and also to clear the weeds in the roadside ditches and around telephone poles. Schmeiser testifies that he would have used 515 liters of the herbicide to chem fallow his 1,030 acres leaving 205 liters for the ditches and right-of-ways. Zakreski’s final brief includes a table depicting Schmeiser’s use of the chemical in 1996, 1997, and 1998, demonstrating that the amount of Roundup used in 1998 was entirely consistent with the previous two years. Additionally, Schmeiser explains that if he had planted 100 percent Roundup Ready Canola that year, following Monsanto’s recommended application rate of 1 liter/acre, he would have needed an additional 1,000 liters, a claim that not one of Monsanto’s witnesses attempts to challenge. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 13 )
Defense Argument--Monsanto's patent does not confer property rights - Another argument advanced by Schmeiser’s attorney is that because Monsanto’s patent does not confer ownership rights of the gene to the company, only intellectual property rights, the insertion of that gene into someone’s plant cannot possibly make that plant property of Monsanto. If the pollen produced by a Roundup Ready Canola plant fertilizes a non-transgenic plant owned by another farmer, Monsanto can claim no property rights to the plant’s offspring. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 38-39 )
In support of this argument, Zakreski cites the similarity of this case to “stray bulls” cases in which the owners of cows impregnated by stray bulls owned by someone else have successfully sued for damages on the basis that early breading stunted the growth of their cows. In no such cases, notes Zakreski, has an owner of a stray bull attempted to claim any rights to the stray bull’s offspring. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 38-39 )
Zakreski also states that the law of admixture applies to this case. The premise of that law is as follows: “… where a man willfully causes or allows property of another to inter-mix with his own without the other’s knowledge or consent, the whole belongs to the latter…”. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 38-39 )
Defense Argument--Monsanto waved its patent rights when it released its invention unconfined into the environment - The defense also argues that Monsanto waived the patent rights on its invention when it failed to control the spread of its invention after it was released into the environment unconfined. The lawyer writes: “Had [Monsanto] maintained control over its invention, it may have maintained its exclusive rights. However, inventions do not usually spread themselves around. They do not normally replicate and invade the property and lands of others. Ever since regulatory approval for this invention was given, it has been released unconfined into the environment. Mr. Schmeiser has produced ample evidence of just how extensive the release is in the Rural Municipality of Bayne, where he farms. Any exclusive rights Monsanto may have had to its invention were lost when it lost control over the spread of its invention. Surely, the exclusive right to possess such an invention cannot be maintained if the spread of the invention cannot be controlled. The unconfined and uncontrolled release into the environment is an act by Monsanto completely inconsistent with its exclusive rights. It cannot on the one hand unleash self-propagating matter uncontrolled into the environment and then claim exclusively wherever it invades. It can, by this, be taken by its conduct to have waived its statutory rights.” Zakreski warns that giving Monsanto property rights to any and all genes or plants that result from the uncontrolled replication of its invention could potentially cause all Canadian canola farmers to lose their right to save and replant seed. “It can never be said with certainty that Monsanto’s gene will not soon be present on any canola field in western Canada. Accordingly, no farmer who saves and re-uses his seeds can be sure the Monsanto gene is not present in his seed supply.” Zakreski suggests: “Perhaps this is a benefit that Monsanto hoped to achieve by releasing their product into the environment without any control.” (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 39-41 ; McNairn 6/22/2000) As evidence that Monsanto failed to control the spread of its invention, Schmeiser spends several hours showing the courtroom pictures he took in the vicinity where he lives of volunteer Roundup-resistant canola plants growing in ditches, flower beds, cemeteries, and roadways. He explains how he sprayed the plants with Roundup and then returned to see if they had survived. (Lyons 6/14/2000)
Defense Argument--Monsanto's patent is invalid; Monsanto's intellectual rights are protected under the Plant Breeders' Rights Act - Zakreski argues that a gene is “not the proper subject matter for a patent” and therefore the patent “should be declared invalid.” In support of this claim, he cites a federal appeals court’s 1998 decision in the case Harvard College v. Canada (Commissioner of Patents). In that case, the judges ruled that “A complex life form does not fit within the current parameters of the Patent Act… .” Zakreski further argues that there already is legislation—the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act—that protects the intellectual property rights of those who develop new plant varieties. He notes that unlike the Patent Act, the Plant Breeders’ Rights Act explicitly preserves farmers’ rights to save and re-plant their seed. (Federal Court of Canada 6/22/2000, pp. 43 )
President Bush informs a small group of reporters that he is forming an “energy task force” to draw up a new national energy policy. It will be the first major policy initiative of his presidency. The administration is driven by its concern for “the people who work for a living… who struggle every day to get ahead.” The task force will find ways to meet the rising demand for energy and to avoid the shortfalls causing major power blackouts in California and other areas (see January 23, 2001). He has chosen Vice President Cheney to chair the task force. “Can’t think of a better man to run it than the vice president,” he says. He refuses to take questions, turning aside queries with jokes about the recent Super Bowl. The short press briefing will be virtually the only time the White House tells reporters anything about Cheney’s National Energy Policy Development Group. (Savage 2007, pp. 85-86) Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that the task force “held a series of meetings with outside interests whose identities were withheld from the public. This created an early impression of an administration prone to secrecy and reinforced the image of the Bush White House as in thrall to corporate interests.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 96)
Real estate development and investment firm Silverstein Properties and real estate investment trust Westfield America Inc. finalize a deal worth $3.2 billion to purchase a 99-year lease on the World Trade Center. The agreement covers the Twin Towers, World Trade Center Buildings 4 and 5 (two nine-story office buildings), and about 425,000 square feet of retail space. (Bagli 4/27/2001; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey 7/24/2001; IREIzine 7/26/2001) Westfield America Inc. will be responsible for the retail space, known as the Mall. Silverstein Properties’ lease will cover the roughly 10 million square feet of office space of the Twin Towers and Buildings 4 and 5. Silverstein Properties already owns Building 7 of the WTC, which it built in 1987. This is the only time the WTC has ever changed hands since it was opened in 1973. (International Council of Shopping Centers 4/27/2001; Westfield Group 7/24/2001; Daily Telegraph 9/11/2001; Glanz 11/29/2001; CNN 8/31/2002) It was previously controlled by the New York Port Authority, a bi-state government agency. (Malanga 5/12/2007) Silverstein and Westfield are given the right to rebuild the structures if they are destroyed. (Goldberger 5/20/2002)
Silverstein Properties Not the Highest Bidder - Silverstein Properties’ bid for the WTC, at $3.22 billion, was the second highest after Vornado Realty Trust’s, at $3.25 billion. Silverstein Properties won the contract only after protracted negotiations between the Port Authority and Vornado Realty Trust failed. The privatization of the WTC has been overseen by Lewis M. Eisenberg, the chairman of the Port Authority. Eisenberg, a financier, is involved in Republican politics. (Bagli 3/17/2001; Kessler 8/20/2004)
Banks Provide Most Money for Deal - Larry Silverstein, the president of Silverstein Properties, only uses $14 million of his own money for the deal. His partners, who include real estate investors Lloyd Goldman and Joseph Cayre, put up a further $111 million, and banks provide $563 million in loans. (Brill 2003, pp. 156; Bagli 11/22/2003; Seemuth 2/2005; Frangos and Grant 9/11/2008)
Silverstein's Lenders Want More Insurance - The Port Authority had carried only $1.5 billion in insurance coverage on all its buildings, including the WTC, but Silverstein’s lenders insist on more, eventually demanding $3.55 billion in cover. (Frankel 9/3/2002) After 9/11, Larry Silverstein will claim the attacks on the World Trade Center constituted two separate events, thereby entitling him to a double payout totaling over $7 billion. (English 10/9/2001; Vuillamy 8/18/2002) Eventually, after several years of legal wrangling, a total of $4.55 billion of insurance money will be paid out for the destruction of the WTC (see May 23, 2007). Most of this appears to go to Silverstein Properties. How much goes to Westfield America Inc. is unclear. (Topousis 5/24/2007)
In the first week of September 2001, the real estate development and investment firm Silverstein Properties assumes control of the World Trade Center. The company had acquired the lease to operate the Twin Towers from the New York Port Authority in late July (see July 24, 2001). It has already begun managing the facility with its own executives. Selected Port Authority employees, including Alan Reiss, the director of the World Trade Center, have been assisting the firm during a three-month transition period. But in the weeks prior to 9/11, according to the New York Times, “Silverstein Properties asked Mr. Reiss to let it more fully operate everything from safety systems to tenant relations.” (Moss and Bagli 9/13/2001; Kleinfield 10/14/2001; Weiss 2003, pp. 338; 9/11 Commission 11/3/2003; 9/11 Commission 5/18/2004 )
Howard Rubenstein cancels a meeting he had scheduled at the World Trade Center for the morning of September 11. (Davidovit 9/2004) Rubenstein, a famous public relations man for powerful New Yorkers, has represented Larry Silverstein, the World Trade Center leaseholder (see July 24, 2001), for many years. (Fitzgerald 6/7/2004 ) He will later recount how a staff meeting at his own firm requires him to cancel a meeting he has scheduled for the morning of 9/11 with John O’Neill, who was recently appointed as director of security at the World Trade Center (see August 23, 2001): “The Monday before the Tuesday, I get a call from John O’Neill.… He said, ‘Why don’t you come down on 9/11, come to a breakfast meeting at 8:00, where we’ll talk about what we’re doing to prevent terror attacks?’ So I said, ‘Okay.’ And he said, ‘Bring your staff, two people.’ I said that’s fine, because we were then representing the World Trade Center. Then I thought about it on Monday, and I called him, I said, ‘I have a staff meeting on Tuesday, do you mind if I don’t go?’ He said, ‘No, send somebody.’ I said, ‘But that somebody is also at my staff meeting.’ He said come at 9:00 instead of 8:00.” Rubenstein’s cancellation of this meeting appears to save his life. He will recall that, the morning of 9/11: “I’m sitting in my staff meeting, and my secretary runs in and said the World Trade Center just got hit, and you were supposed to be there. Everyone at that breakfast meeting died, including John O’Neill.” (PBS 7/15/2004) After the attacks, Rubenstein and his firm, Rubenstein Associates, will play a leading role in publicizing Larry Silverstein’s legal claims against several insurance companies (see September 12, 2001). (Cordasco 2/10/2003)
People in the vicinity of the Pentagon, including the managers of the high USA Today building, phone the local emergency call center, with concerns about their own safety. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 48; Schwartz 2008) The Emergency Communications Center (ECC) is the focal point of all police and fire 911 calls for Arlington County, where the Pentagon is located. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 66) After events in New York make it clear the US is under attack, the phones there light up with calls from local people wanting to know what to do. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 48) According to Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department, the center is “receiving phone calls from buildings that are along the [Potomac] river and are also along the flight path for [Washington’s Reagan] National Airport,” which is about a mile from the Pentagon. (Schwartz 2008)
USA Today Building Managers Concerned - Among the callers to the ECC are the building managers at the USA Today building in Rosslyn, who are worried their complex could be a target and want to know if they should evacuate it. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 48) The USA Today complex is just a few miles down the road from the Pentagon. (Zillgitt 9/13/2001) It includes the two tallest high-rise buildings in the county, one of which is 30-stories high. (White and Lohr 9/11/2001; Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 9) These two buildings are in fact known as the “Twin Towers.” (Lohr 9/7/2001)
ECC Suggests Evacuation - The ECC has no specific guidance it can offer the building managers, but tells them that if it makes them feel better, based on what they are seeing on television, then they should evacuate their building. (Schwartz 2008) Some employees will begin evacuating from the USA Today building after the Pentagon is hit at 9:37. However, Westfield Realty, the company that owns the building, will not ask the tenants to evacuate until around 11:00 a.m. (White and Lohr 9/11/2001; Lohr 9/14/2001)
Firefighters Think USA Today Building Is a Possible Target - Around the time that the ECC is receiving calls from concerned people in the area, firefighters at a local fire station who have seen the television footage of the attacks in New York start speculating what landmarks terrorists might go for if they attacked northern Virginia. The firefighters in fact see the USA Today complex as the most obvious target, but they also consider the Pentagon, CIA headquarters, the White House, and the Capitol building to be potential targets. (Creed and Newman 2008, pp. 9-10) Just before the time of the Pentagon attack, a fire alarm will go off at the USA Today building, though it is unclear whether this is actually caused by a fire there (see (Shortly Before 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Schwartz 2008)
Larry Silverstein, who recently took over the lease of the World Trade Center complex (see July 24, 2001), discusses possibly bringing down WTC Building 7 in a controlled demolition in a telephone conversation with his insurance carrier, according to a reporter who is at the WTC site this afternoon. (Shapiro 4/22/2010) WTC 7 is a 47-story office building located just north of the Twin Towers. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will say it suffered some structural damage (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001) when the North Tower collapsed (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001) and it has fires on several floors (see (10:28 a.m.-5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). It will collapse at 5:20 p.m., apparently becoming the first tall building ever to come down primarily as a result of fire (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 11/2008, pp. xxxv-xxxvi)
Silverstein Allegedly Wants WTC 7 Demolished - Investigative reporter Jeffrey Scott Shapiro, who is at the scene of the attacks in New York, will later recall: “Shortly before [WTC 7] collapsed, several NYPD officers and Con Edison workers told me that Larry Silverstein… was on the phone with his insurance carrier to see if they would authorize the controlled demolition of the building, since its foundation was already unstable and expected to fall. A controlled demolition would have minimized the damage caused by the building’s imminent collapse and potentially save lives.” Shapiro will add: “Many law enforcement personnel, firefighters, and other journalists were aware of this possible option. There was no secret.” (Shapiro 4/22/2010) Preparing a large building for demolition usually takes weeks, or even months. This time is spent on operations such as wrapping concrete columns to ensure pieces do not fly off. (Dang 2/26/1995; Loizeaux 12/1996; Ruggiero 2/24/2005)
Discussion of Demolition Later Denied - Silverstein will later recall discussing WTC 7 over the phone with the commander of the New York Fire Department, and telling him, “We’ve had such terrible loss of life, maybe the smartest thing to do is pull it” (see After 12:00 Noon September 11, 2001), but a spokesman will subsequently claim that Silverstein was referring to withdrawing firefighters from the building, not bringing WTC 7 down with explosives. (US Department of State 9/16/2005; BBC 7/4/2008) At the end of a three-year investigation into the building’s collapse, NIST will say WTC 7 “did not collapse from explosives,” but critics will dispute this conclusion (see August 21, 2008). (Barrett 8/21/2008; Lipton 8/21/2008)
Developer Larry Silverstein, who recently took over the lease of the World Trade Center (see July 24, 2001), later tells journalist Steven Brill that he’d been so sickened by the destruction on 9/11, and by the deaths of four of his employees in the WTC, that he did not focus on insurance or financial matters until “perhaps two weeks later.” But according to two people who call him this morning to offer their sympathy, Silverstein soon changes the subject: “He had talked to his lawyers… and he had a clear legal strategy mapped out. They were going to prove, Silverstein told one of the callers, that the way his insurance policies were written the two planes crashing into the two towers had been two different ‘occurrences,’ not part of the same event. That would give him more than $7 billion to rebuild, instead of the $3.55 billion that his insurance policy said was the maximum for one ‘occurrence.’ And rebuild was just what he was going to do, he vowed.” By mid-morning, he calls his architect David Childs, and instructs him to start sketching out a plan for a new building. He tells Childs to plan to build the exact same area of office space as has been destroyed. In fact, Silverstein’s lawyers claim the developer had been on the phone to them on the evening of 9/11, wondering “whether his insurance policies could be read in a way that would construe the attacks as two separate, insurable incidents rather than one.” (Brill 2003, pp. 18-19 and 39-40; Elliott 1/2004) Yet Jerome Hauer, the former director of New York’s Office of Emergency Management, had gone to Silverstein’s office on 9/11, and later claims that Silverstein’s primary concern that day had been his employees, and whether they had gotten out of the WTC. “Larry was absolutely devastated,” he says. (Weiss 2003, pp. 374) Following a lengthy legal dispute, Silverstein will eventually receive $4.55 billion in insurance payouts for the destruction of the WTC (see May 23, 2007). (Topousis 5/24/2007)
The Canadian government overrides Bayer’s patent for the anthrax antibiotic Cipro and orders a million tablets of a generic version from another company. The US government says it is not considering a similar move. Patent lawyers and politicians state that adjusting Bayer’s patent to allow other companies to produce Cipro is perfectly legal and necessary. (Harmon and Pear 10/19/2001) The New York Times notes that the White House seems “so avidly to be siding with the rights of drug companies to make profits rather than with consumers worried about their access to the antibiotic Cipro,” and points out huge recent contributions by Bayer to Republicans. (Bumiller 10/21/2001)
Industrial Risk Insurers agrees to make a full payment under its $861 million policy for the loss of World Trade Center Building 7, a 47-story office building which completely collapsed late in the afternoon of 9/11. (Insurance Journal 6/7/2002; Grant 7/10/2002; Hetter 10/21/2003) WTC 7 was owned by Silverstein Properties, which also acquired the lease on the Twin Towers six weeks before 9/11. (International Council of Shopping Centers 4/27/2001; Port Authority of New York and New Jersey 7/24/2001) Larry Silverstein, the president of Silverstein Properties, intends to use $489 million of the insurance payment to cover an existing mortgage on WTC 7, and $65 million of it for other debts and costs. The remaining $307 million will go toward the construction costs of the new WTC 7. (Bloomberg 1/14/2003; Gittrich 1/14/2003) He is currently in a dispute with the carriers of his insurance on the Twin Towers, over whether the 9/11 attack constituted one or two separate events, and this will not be settled until mid-2007 (see May 23, 2007). (Grant 9/11/2002; Bagli 5/23/2007)
An engineering report is released concluding that the destruction of one of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers would have rendered the other unusable. Swiss Re and other insurance companies involved in the WTC coverage commissioned the study, which was written by California-based Exponent Failure Analysis Associates. It is released the same day as a report on the collapses by WTC leaseholder Silverstein Properties Inc. (see October 23, 2002). Contradicting the Silverstein report, it concludes: “[T]he collapse of one tower in the World Trade Center complex would have severely compromised the future viability of the entire complex.” This supports the insurance companies’ contention that the WTC attacks constituted one loss event, not two, as claimed by Silverstein Properties, thereby entitling Silverstein to a policy limit of $3.5 billion instead of $7 billion. The report, along with the underlying data, computer models, and engineering analyses, have been passed on to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is conducting an investigation into the collapses (see August 21, 2002). (McLeod 10/23/2002; Insurance Journal 10/23/2002; Post 11/4/2002) In late 2004, a jury will rule that the WTC attacks were two events, and Silverstein Properties will be tentatively awarded $2.2 billion in insurance for the destruction of the Twin Towers. (BBC 12/7/2004; Insurance Journal 12/7/2004)
A report is made publicly available, which the Engineering News-Record calls the “most comprehensive study yet on the destruction of the World Trade Center.” The study was commissioned by WTC leaseholder Silverstein Properties Inc. to support a $7 billion insurance claim, and conducted by a team of engineers from several leading firms, including Weidlinger Associates, LZA Technology/Thornton-Tomasetti, and ARUPFire. It is intended to build on a previous study sponsored by FEMA (see May 1, 2002). The report’s findings are based on an analysis of original structural drawings, thousands of photos, and dozens of videos. Investigators used fire evaluation techniques and powerful computer software to simulate the condition of each tower at critical times between the planes’ impacts and the towers’ collapses. The earlier FEMA investigators had no access to such computer modeling. Matthys Levy, the chairman of Weidlinger Associates and one of the engineers on the study team, says, “The buildings had tremendous reserve capacity and that was reflected in all of the elements we analyzed. In fact, because there were so much excess capacity, the columns even in the impact floors did not buckle immediately, but failed as the result of the fire.” The report states that failure of the WTC’s steel floor supports (“trusses”) did not contribute to the collapses. Instead, the collapses were caused by the failure of steel structural columns that were either destroyed when the planes hit or lost fireproofing, leaving them vulnerable to the weakening effects of the ensuing fires. It says that debris and dust distributed by the plane crashes inhibited the fires, such that the average air temperatures on the impact floors were between 400 and 700°C (750-1,300°F): significantly lower than those associated with typical “fully developed” office fires. However, says Matthys Levy, “By the time the temperature inside the buildings reached 400 degrees, the steel would have lost approximately 50% of its strength. Eventually, gravity took over and the towers began to fall.” Then, according to the analysis led by researchers from LZA Technology/Thornton-Tomasetti, “Once collapse initiated in each tower, essentially all of the interior structure of the tower fell straight down with floors pancaking on top of one another. The network of perimeter steel columns and spandrels acted like a chute to funnel the interior contents into the tower footprint.” According to the computer simulations, the damage to the South Tower’s steel core columns was so severe that the tower should have collapsed immediately after the plane hit. Civil engineer John Osteraas says this incorrect result casts doubt upon some of the study’s predictions. The report concludes that the collapse of the South Tower did not cause or contribute to the subsequent collapse of the North Tower, thus supporting Silverstein Properties’ claim that the terrorist attack represented two occurrences, entitling it to two $3.5 billion insurance policy limits. A separate study commissioned by the insurers contradicts this (see October 23, 2002). The Silverstein report apparently does not examine the collapse of WTC Building 7, a 47-story skyscraper that also collapsed on 9/11 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). It has been passed on to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which is undertaking its own investigation of the WTC collapses (see August 21, 2002). (Glanz and Lipton 9/30/2002; McLeod 10/23/2002; Silverstein Properties, Inc. 10/23/2002 ; Post 10/25/2002; Glanz and Lipton 10/29/2002; Post 11/4/2002; Misonzhnik 4/30/2003)
The Oil and Energy Working Group, one of 17 such groups working under the US State Department’s “Future of Iraq” project (see April 2002-March 2003), meets to discuss plans for the oil industry in a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. The only known member of the 15-member group is Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum, who will become Iraq’s oil minister after the invasion. Other people likely involved include Ahmed Chalabi of the Iraqi National Congress, Sharif Ali Bin al Hussein of the Iraqi National Congress; recently defected personnel from Iraq’s Ministry of Petroleum; the former Iraqi head of military intelligence; Sheikh Yamani, the former Oil Minister of Saudi Arabia; and unnamed representatives from the US Energy Department. The responsibilities of this working group include: (1) developing plans for restoring the petroleum sector in order to increase oil exports to partially pay for a possible US military occupation government. (2) reconsidering Iraq’s continued membership in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and “whether it should be allowed to produce as much as possible or be limited by an OPEC quota.” (3) “consider[ing] whether to honor contracts made between the Hussein government and foreign oil companies, including the US $3.5 billion project to be carried out by Russian interests to redevelop Iraq’s oilfields.”] (Oil and Gas International 10/30/2002; Beaumont 11/3/2002; US Department of State 12/19/2002; Hoyos 4/7/2003; Pelham 9/5/2003; Muttitt 2005) By April 2003, the working group will have met a total of four times. One of the policies they agree on is that Iraq “should be opened to international oil companies as quickly as possible after the war” and that development of Iraq’s oil fields should be done through the use of Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs). Under a typical PSA, oil ownership remains with the state, while exploration and production are contracted to the private companies under highly favorable terms. (Muttitt 2005; Juhasz 12/8/2006)
The US Agency for International Development asks BearingPoint, Inc to bid on a sole-sourced contract for “economic governance” work in Iraq. The contract document, which USAID says will eventually be opened up to a select pool of additional companies, was written by Treasury Department officials and reviewed by financial consultants. The confidential 100-page request, titled “Moving The Iraqi Economy From Recovery to Sustainable Growth,” states that the contractor will help support “private sector involvement in strategic sectors, including privatization, asset sales, concessions, leases and management contracts, especially in the oil and supporting industries.” The bid request lays out a plan to, among other things, rapidly replace Iraq’s currency; identify industries for consolidation, liquidation, and privatization; “rationalize” and “modernize” Iraqi banking and financial sectors; develop taxation, legal, and regulatory regimes to compliment a new market-based economy; devise a plan to turn Iraq’s rudimentary stock market into a “world-class exchange” for trading the shares of newly privatized companies; and create a public relations campaign to promote these changes to the public. Summarizing US objectives for the economic reorganization, the document states, “It should be clearly understood that the efforts undertaken will be designed to establish the basic legal framework for a functioning market economy; taking appropriate advantages of the unique opportunity for rapid progress in this area presented by the current configuration of political circumstances.” (Wall Street Journal 5/1/2003)
Jay Hallen, a 24-year old Yale graduate, is bored with his job at a real-estate firm. He is fascinated with the Middle East, and has taken some Arabic classes and read some history books about the region. He contacts Reuben Jeffrey, an adviser to CPA head L. Paul Bremer whom Hallen had met in 2002 when trying to land a job at the White House, and asks if there is a job for him in Baghdad.
'I Don't Have a Finance Background' - Three weeks later, Hallen is in Baghdad, and meets with Thomas Foley, the CPA official in charge of privatizing Iraq’s state-owned enterprises. Foley, a former classmate of President Bush and a major Republican donor, says he is putting Hallen in charge of Baghdad’s stock exchange. Hallen is shocked. “Are you sure?” Hallen asks. “I don’t have a finance background.” No problem, Foley responds. He will be the project manager; his subordinates will do the actual work. Before the invasion, Baghdad’s stock exchange was primitive by American standards; author Rajiv Chandrasekaran will describe it as loud, boisterous, and, despite all appearances, quite functional. After the invasion it was looted to the bare walls and ignored by the first wave of US economic reconstruction specialists. But Iraqi brokers and businessmen want it reopened, so the CPA acquiesces.
Revamping the Exchange - Hallen launches an ambitious, if almost entirely ignorant, plan to modernize and upgrade the stock exchange to make it the most technologically sophisticated exchange in the Arab world. He also wants to implement a new securities law that would make the exchange independent of the Finance Ministry. The Iraqi brokers and businessmen who clamored for the exchange to reopen are horrified at Hallen’s plans. “People are broke and bewildered,” broker Talib Tabatabai—a graduate of Florida State’s business department—tells Hallen. “Why do you want to create enemies? Let us open the way we were.” Tabatabai, like other brokers, believes Hallen’s plan is ludicrously grandiose. “It was something so fancy, so great, that it couldn’t be accomplished,” he will later recall. But Hallen is unmoved.
Hallen's View - “Their laws and regulations were completely out of step with the modern world,” Hallen will later say. “There was just no transparency in anything. It was more of a place for Saddam and his friends to buy up private companies that they otherwise didn’t have a stake in.” To just reopen the exchange the way it was, Hallen will insist, “would have been irresponsible and short-sighted.” Hallen recruits a team of American volunteers, most with no more experience or knowledge of finance than he has, to rewrite the securities laws, train the brokers, and purchase the necessary computers. By the spring of 2004, CPA head Bremer approves the new laws and appoints nine Iraqis hand-picked by Hallen to become the exchange’s board of governors.
No CPA Role - The new exchange board names Tabatabai as its chairman. The new laws have no place for a CPA adviser as a decision-maker; immediately a conflict between Hallen and the board arises. Hallen wants to wait several more months for the new computer system to arrive and be installed; unwilling to wait, Tabatabai and the board members buy dozens of dry-erase boards for the exchange floor, and two days after Hallen’s tour ends, the exchange is open for business. Without CPA oversight, the exchange quickly begins functioning more or less as it did before the invasion. When asked what would have happened had Hallen not been assigned to reopen the exchange, Tabatabai will answer: “We would have opened months earlier. He had grand ideas, but those ideas did not materialize.… Those CPA people reminded me of Lawrence of Arabia.” (Chandrasekaran 9/17/2006)
Americans who want to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in the so-called “Green Zone,” the fenced-off area of Baghdad also called “Little America” and the hub of US governmental and corporate activities, are routed through Jim O’Beirne, a political functionary in the Pentagon whose wife is prominent conservative columnist Kate O’Beirne.
Focus on Ideology, Not Experience or Expertise - O’Beirne is less interested in an applicant’s expertise in Middle Eastern affairs or in post-conflict resolution than he is in an applicant’s loyalty to the Bush administration. Some of the questions asked by his staff to applicants: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? According to author Rajiv Chandrasekaran, two applicants were even grilled about their views on abortion and Roe v. Wade (see January 22, 1973). While such questions about political beliefs are technically illegal, O’Beirne uses an obscure provision in federal law to hire most staffers as “temporary political appointees,” thus allowing him and his staff to skirt employment regulations that prohibit such questioning. The few Democrats who are hired are Foreign Service employees or active-duty soldiers, and thus protected from being questioned about their politics.
Unskilled Applicants - The applicants chosen by O’Beirne and his staff often lack the most fundamental skills and experience. The applicant chosen to reopen Baghdad’s stock exchange is a 24-year old with no experience in finance, but who had submitted an impressively loyalist White House job application (see April 2003 and After). The person brought in to revamp Iraq’s health care system is chosen for his work with a faith-based relief agency (see April 2003 and After). The man chosen to retool Iraq’s police forces is a “hero of 9/11” who completely ignores his main task in favor of taking part in midnight raids on supposed criminal hangouts in and around Baghdad (see May 2003 - July 2003). And the manager of Iraq’s $13 billion budget is the daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator who has no accounting experience, but graduated from a favored evangelical university for home-schooled children.
Selection Process - O’Beirne seeks resumes from the offices of Republican congressmen, conservative think tanks, and Republican activists. He thoroughly weeds out resumes from anyone he deems ideologically suspect, even if those applicants speak Arabic or Farsi, or possess useful postwar rebuilding experience. Frederick Smith, currently the deputy director of the CPA, will later recall O’Beirne pointing to one young man’s resume and pronouncing him “an ideal candidate.” The applicant’s only real qualification is his job working for the Republican Party in Florida during the 2000 presidential recount.
Comment by Employee - A CPA employee writes a friend about the recruitment process: “I watched resumes of immensely talented individuals who had sought out CPA to help the country thrown in the trash because their adherence to ‘the president’s vision for Iraq’ (a frequently heard phrase at CPA) was ‘uncertain.’ I saw senior civil servants from agencies like Treasury, Energy… and Commerce denied advisory positions in Baghdad that were instead handed to prominent RNC (Republican National Committee) contributors.”
Result: Little Reconstruction, Billions Wasted or Disappeared - In 2006, Chandrasekaran will write: “The decision to send the loyal and the willing instead of the best and the brightest is now regarded by many people involved in the 3 1/2-year effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq as one of the Bush administration’s gravest errors. Many of those selected because of their political fidelity spent their time trying to impose a conservative agenda on the postwar occupation, which sidetracked more important reconstruction efforts and squandered goodwill among the Iraqi people, according to many people who participated in the reconstruction effort.” Smith will later say: “We didn’t tap—and it should have started from the White House on down—just didn’t tap the right people to do this job. It was a tough, tough job. Instead we got people who went out there because of their political leanings.” The conservative ideologues in the CPA will squander much of the $18 billion in US taxpayer dollars allocated for reconstruction, some on pet projects that suit their conservative agenda but do nothing for Iraqi society, and some never to be traced at all. “Many of the basic tasks Americans struggle to accomplish today in Iraq—training the army, vetting the police, increasing electricity generation—could have been performed far more effectively in 2003 by the CPA,” Chandrasekaran will write.
Projects - Instead of helping rebuild Iraq—and perhaps heading off the incipient insurgency—CPA ideologues will spend billions on, among other things, rewriting Iraqi tax law to incorporate the so-called “flat tax,” selling off billions of dollars’ worth of government assets, terminating food ration distribution, and other programs.
Life in Green Zone - Most spend almost all of their time “cloistered” in the Green Zone, never interacting with real Iraqi society, where they create what Chandrasekaran later calls “a campaign war room” environment. “Bush-Cheney 2004” stickers, T-shirts, and office desk furnishings are prominently displayed. “I’m not here for the Iraqis,” one staffer tells a reporter. “I’m here for George Bush.” Gordon Robison, then an employee in the Strategic Communications office, will later recall opening a package from his mother containing a book by liberal economist Paul Krugman. The reaction among his colleagues is striking. “It was like I had just unwrapped a radioactive brick,” he will recall. (Chandrasekaran 9/17/2006)
Sabah Asaad, managing director of a refrigerator factory outside Baghdad, later tells journalist Naomi Klein that when he goes to a nearby US Army base begging the soldiers to help stop the looters who are destroying the factory, they refuse. “I asked one of the officers to send two soldiers and a vehicle to help me kick out the looters. I was crying. The officer said, ‘Sorry, we can’t do anything, we need an order from President Bush.’” (Klein 9/24/2004)
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund announce that they will send their economists to Iraq to assess needs for reconstruction as soon as it is safe to do so. The decision was made “with strong pressure from the United States,” the New York Times reports. (Becker 4/14/2004)
US administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer announces that Iraq’s economy will be revived through “free trade.” “A free economy and a free people go hand in hand,” he says, adding that the occupation powers “would like to see market prices brought into the economy… [and the] privatization of key elements.” State subsidies—which up until now have supplied ordinary Iraqis with affordable food, gasoline, and other essentials—will eventually be eliminated. According to Bremer, “history tells us that substantial and broadly held resources, protected by private property, private rights, are the best protection of political freedom. Building such prosperity in Iraq will be a key measure of our success here.” The Washington Post notes that “Iraqis would most likely not be deciding for themselves what kind of economy will replace the state-planned system that functioned under deposed president Saddam Hussein.” The paper also warns that “dismantling Iraq’s state-managed system holds big risks for the occupation authority at a time when most Iraqis are struggling to get by.” (Agence France-Presse 5/26/2003; Wilson 5/27/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 5/28/2003) Bremer also announces the creation of a trade-credit authority that would extend generous lines of credit to Iraq’s ministries, government-owned factories, and private companies so they can import needed goods and equipment (much of which had disappeared during the initial period of mass looting, see April 9, 2003). (Tyler 5/26/2003; Agence France-Presse 5/26/2003; Wilson 5/27/2003) “It will be a substantial credit facility that first symbolically indicates to the world that Iraq is open for business and also provides a practical incentive to people who want to trade with Iraq,” Bremer says. The agency will be funded by private banks and the Central Bank of Iraq (Agence France-Presse 5/26/2003) , which is being overseen by Peter McPherson, a former deputy Treasury secretary and a Bank of America executive. (Lynch 5/9/2003) Bremer says that American and British companies will be among the first to benefit from these lines of credit. (Tyler 5/26/2003)
Coalition Provisional Authority administrator Paul Bremer (see May 1, 2003) meets with Iraqi Communications Minister Haider al-Abadi and Minister of Industry Mohamad Tofiq for the first time. Al-Abadi will later recall in an interview with journalist Naomi Klein that he told Bremer he would not support a policy of privatization. “I said, ‘Look, we don’t have the mandate to sell any of this. Privatization is a big thing. We have to wait until there is an Iraqi government.’” Tofiq likewise tells Bremer, “I am not going to do something that is not legal, so that’s it.” (Klein 9/24/2004)
At a press briefing in Baghdad, Paul Bremer says that Iraq should consider privatizing its state-owned sectors and allowing foreign investment into its oil industry soon, even if that means doing so before Iraq has an elected government. He says that the soon-to-be-appointed Iraq Governing Council will need to reassure private investors by taking a friendly stance toward foreign capital. “Privatization is obviously something we have been giving a lot of thought to,” he says. “When we sit down with the governing council… it is going to be on the table. The governing council will be able to make statements that could be seen as more binding and the trick will be to figure out how we do this. Everybody knows we cannot wait until there is an elected government here to start economic reform.” (Reuters 7/8/2003)
A senior Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) official announces plans to waive an existing Iraqi law requiring foreign investors in the telecommunications industry to subcontract at least 51 percent of their work to Iraqi companies. The CPA justifies the move saying that the waiver would encourage investment by reducing the risk for foreign telecom companies. The waiver will expire in two years. (Revenue Watch Institute 2003, pp. 4 ; Chaffin and Clover 7/18/2003)
Iraqi oil minister Ibrahim Bahr al-Ulum tells the Financial Times that Iraq is preparing plans for the privatization of the country’s oil sector. He says he supports the “full privatization of downstream installations, such as refineries, but [says] he would back production-sharing contracts upstream,” the newspaper reports. He adds that US, possibly European, oil companies will be given priority. But he also says the decision will not be made until Iraq has an elected government. “The new elected government at the end of the transitional period will decide this issue,” he tells the Times. “The Iraqi oil sector needs privatization, but it’s a cultural issue,” he explains. “People lived for the last 30 to 40 years with this idea of nationalism.” Al-Ulum—a US-trained petroleum engineer who lived in London from 1992 until the overthrow of Hussein—was part of a working group organized by the State Department’s Future of Iraq Project before the invasion (see December 20-21, 2002). (Pelham 9/5/2003)
Paul Bremer signs Order 37, titled “Tax Strategy for 2003,” reducing the tax rate on corporations from a high of 40 percent to a flat rate of 15 percent. The income tax rate is also capped at 15 percent. “The highest individual and corporate income tax rates for 2004 and subsequent years shall not exceed 15 percent,” the order says. (Coalition Provisional Authority 9/19/2003 ) The flat tax has long been a goal of economic conservatives and was planned for Iraq in pre-war planning sessions with Iraqi exiles. According to one Middle East expert interviewed by the Washington Post, the new tax system “has almost no support from other members of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.” The new tax law will take effect in January. In the meantime, reports the Post, “Bremer has abolished all taxes except for real estate, car sales, gasoline and the pleasantly named ‘excellent and first class hotel and restaurant tax.’ Even while leaving these Hussein-era levies in place, Bremer exempted his coalition authority, the armed forces, their contractors, and humanitarian organizations. Exempting occupation personnel leaves only the Iraqis to pay taxes, as well as journalists, business people, and other foreigners.” (Pincus 11/2/2003)
US administrator for Iraq Paul Bremer signs CPA Order 39 setting terms for foreign investment that are far more favorable than those that existed under the previous government. The order eliminates Iraq’s longstanding restrictions on foreigners’ rights to own property and invest in Iraqi companies. It grants foreign investors the right to fully own Iraqi enterprises and transfer 100 percent of all profits outside of Iraq. Prior Iraqi law, which allowed citizens of Arab countries to invest in Iraq, required that a certain percentage of investment profits be reinvested in Iraq. Order 39 also prohibits the government from establishing any terms for investment that would favor Iraqi investors over foreign investors. The order also states that in cases “where an international agreement to which Iraq is a party provides for more favorable terms with respect to foreign investors undertaking investment activities in Iraq, the more favorable terms under the international agreement shall apply.” (Coalition Provisional Authority 9/19/2003 )
At the annual World Bank/IMF meeting in Dubai, Iraq’s nominal finance minister Kamel al-Gailani announces Bremer’s shock therapy program of economic reforms. The announcement comes two days after Bremer signed a number of orders opening up Iraq’s economy to foreign investment (see September 19, 2003, September 19, 2003, and September 19, 2003). Collectively, the orders allow foreign investors to acquire 100 percent ownership of Iraqi assets in any sector except oil production and refining, give foreign investors equal legal standing with local firms, and allow them to repatriate all profits made in Iraq without any requirements for local re-investment. The laws also cap income and corporate taxes at 15 percent and slash tariffs down to 5 percent, with the exception of tariffs on food, drugs, books, and other humanitarian imports, which can be imported duty-free. Al-Gailani says these “measures will be implemented in the near future and represent important steps in advancing Iraq’s reconstruction effort.” As an article in Economist magazine will note, the changes, which “bear the signature of Paul Bremer… and the imprimatur of the American consultants it has hired to frame economic policies,” represent “a radical departure for Iraq.” The article—titled “Let’s all go to the yard sale”—calls these reforms “the kind of wish-list that foreign investors and donor agencies dream of for developing markets.” The caption of an image accompanying the article reads, “If it all works out, Iraq will be a capitalist’s dream.” But the magazine also acknowledges that there will be resistance to these reforms. “Given the shock and awe expressed by many Baghdad businessmen at the scale of the changes, it is not clear that such a future regime would be able to resist pressures to reimpose protectionism.” It also predicts that the rapid overlay of this legal framework over Iraq’s existing economic system will create disparities. “The instant discarding of 40 years of national-socialist commercial culture is likely to create serious distortions,” the magazine says. (O'Brien 9/21/2003; Fairweather 9/22/2003; Economist 9/27/2003)
Paul Bremer meets with President Bush in Washington for a private meeting. The Coalition Provision Authority’s effort to implement a number of structural changes to Iraq’s economy is failing, and Washington needs to rethink its strategy. Members of the US-backed Iraqi interim government oppose the changes, and corporate attorneys are advising their clients that Bremer’s orders opening up Iraq to foreign investment could be challenged by a future Iraqi government on the basis that the orders violated UN Resolution 1483 (see May 22, 2003). That resolution stated that the US and Britain were bound to the Hague Regulations of 1907, which bars occupying powers from changing the laws of the occupied country (see October 18, 1907). If corporations purchase Iraqi state assets, and a future elected government declares Bremer’s orders illegal, the companies could lose their investments, the lawyers warn. The risk is so great that not a single insurance company is willing to insure its corporate clients for the “political risk” of losing their investment to expropriation. Bremer returns to Iraq from Washington with a Plan B. On June 30, the Coalition Provisional Authority will be dissolved and the sovereignty of Iraq will be turned over to a US-backed transitional government. That government will be bound by an “interim constitution” (see March 8, 2004), which will contain a clause barring the transitional government from modifying any of Bremer’s laws. (Klein 9/24/2004)
The US’s first administrator of post-invasion Iraq, Jay Garner, tells BBC reporter Greg Palast that he was replaced by Paul Bremer because of his insistence on early elections and resistance to the Bush administration’s plan to impose a free market system on Iraq. Garner says he felt it would have been wrong to impose a new economic system on the Iraqi people before they could elect a representative government. (Leigh 3/18/2003)
Paul Bremer, the US administrator for Iraq, issues Order 81 rewriting Iraq’s 1970 patent law. The order extends intellectual property right protections to plants, making it illegal for Iraqi farmers to save, share, or replant seeds harvested from new varieties registered under the law. The order was written with the help of Linda Lourie, an attorney-advisor in the US Patent Office’s Office of External Affairs. She was invited to Iraq to help draft laws that would ensure Iraq’s eligibility into the World Trade Organization (WTO). Bremer’s order, however, makes Iraq’s patent law stricter even than the WTO-compliant 1991 International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (see March 19, 1991), which allows its member-states to exempt farmers from the prohibition against seed saving. Lourie claims these changes were sanctioned by the Iraqi governing council, which she says wants Iraq to have the strongest intellectual property rules in the region in order to attract private investment. (Administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority of Iraq 4/4/2004 ; Focus on the Global South and GRAIN 10/2004; National Public Radio 11/24/2004)
Norwegian petroleum firm Det Norske Oljeselskap (DNO) signs a production-sharing agreement with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) before a legal framework has been drawn up in Iraq to govern such actions. (Petroleum Economist 2/8/2006)
Top Iraqi officials head to Washington for the second meeting of the Iraq-US Joint Economic Commission. The first meeting took place in September. At a press conference, Iraqi Finance Minister Adil Abdel Mahdi tells reporters that the new Iraqi government is implementing, or intends to implement, a number of major changes to the country’s economy. Some of the reforms he mentions would be part of a new oil law that will be “open to investment, to foreign investment downstream, maybe even upstream.” He explains that the law is being developed by a “high-ranked official from the Oil Ministry” in consultation with “his counterparts and with agencies here in the States.” Mahdi also says that Iraq will review the oil contracts that Saddam Hussein had inked with countries like France and Russia. “So I think this is very promising to the American investors and to American enterprises, certainly to oil companies,” he says. Mahdi also defends an agreement the Iraqi government recently made with the IMF to implement certain reforms, which included an end to food subsidies (see September 29, 2004). “I think this is a necessity for the Iraqi economy,” Mahdi says. “We really need to work on our subsidy side. Subsidies are taking almost 60 percent of our budget. So this is something we have to work on… Other measures really were a real necessity for the Iraqi economy before becoming conditions asked by the IMF.” But as Inter Press Service notes, Iraq’s food subsidies system “have kept millions of Iraqis from starvation under US and UK-pressed sanctions imposed by the United Nations after the 1991 Gulf War.… It is believed that many more Iraqis would have died if not for Hussein’s strong subsidies system that gave food to Iraqi families.” An issue that is apparently not discussed during the two-day meeting between US and Iraqi officials is the large amount of money that is known to have been defrauded from the CPA. In response to a reporter’s question, Mahdi says only, “No, this issue has not been discussed. We are interested to follow such issues, of course. Whatever concerns corruption or money, we are interested.” (US Department of State 12/21/2004; Mekay 12/24/2004)
A study conducted by the American Medical Association (AMA) finds that health insurance companies are becoming near-monopolies. Ninety-five percent of the 294 HMO/PPO metropolitan markets surveyed have a Herfindahl-Hirschman Index (HHI) above 1,800. The HHI is used to determine whether a company’s control of the market warrants antitrust concern. A market with a rating of 1,800 is considered by the Department of Justice to be “highly concentrated.” Sixty-five percent of the companies surveyed have a rating over 3,000. The concentration is apparently the product of a period of intense consolidation within the industry. According to the AMA, there were more than 400 mergers during the preceding ten years. (American Medical Association 2006 ; Associated Press 4/18/2006) “Patients do not appear to be benefiting from the consolidation of health insurance markets,” says AMA board member Dr. J. James Rohack. “Health insurers are posting historically high profit margins, yet patient health insurance premiums continue to rise without an expansion of benefits.” (Consumer Affairs 4/18/2006) The AMA has asked the Department of Justice to take up antitrust action. But the organization says that in spite of the extremely high market concentration, regulators seem uninterested. (Associated Press 4/18/2006)
An article published in the journal Health Affairs reports that on average nonprofit nursing homes and hospitals provide better quality service than those operating for a profit. The authors of the report, whose conclusions are based on a review of 162 studies comparing nonprofit and for-profit health care providers, found that the evidence suggests that nonprofit hospitals have lower mortality rates. Eight of the studies surveyed by the authors concluded that nonprofits have lower death rates while only one study reported that for-profits have lower mortality rates. The article also reports that non-profit hospitals have lower expenses on average. For nursing homes, the opposite is true. The review says that evidence suggests for-profits tend to mark their prices up to improve the bottom line. There is also evidence that they receive more complaints. Sixteen percent of all hospitals are for-profit, a five percent increase since the early 1990s. (Dixon 1/21/2006)
US Southern Command concludes in an internal report that efforts in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia to nationalize their petroleum industries pose a threat to US energy supplies. “Pending any favorable changes to the investment climate, the prospects for long-term energy production in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Mexico are currently at risk,” the report says. This assessment is based on the view that extending state control over oil supplies “will likely increase inefficiencies and… will hamper efforts to increase long-term supplies and production.” Energy from the region accounts for 30 percent of US energy imports. Commenting on the report, Colonel Joe Nunez, professor of strategy at the US Army War College in Carlisle, says that it is “incumbent upon the command to contemplate beyond strictly military matters.” (Webb-Vidal 1/26/2006)
The US government and major oil companies are given the opportunity to review the latest draft of a new oil law for Iraq (see July 2006). The draft has yet to be seen by Iraqi lawmakers. (Independent 1/7/2007)
Monsanto announces that it will purchase Delta & Pine Land Company, the world’s largest cotton seed company, and the first company to obtain a patent on terminator technology (see March 3, 1998). Monsanto has had its sights on Delta & Pine Land for years. A previous plan to buy the company—announced in 1998 (see May 11, 1998)—fell through in December 1999 (see December 19, 1999). The acquisition means that Monsanto will control over 57 percent of the US cotton seed market. It will also deepen Monsanto’s reach into the developing world, where Delta & Pine Land has subsidiaries in 13 countries—including India, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, and Pakistan. According to the ETC Group, an outspoken critic of terminator technology, “the takeover means that Monsanto will command a dominant position in one of the world’s most important agricultural trade commodities and that millions of cotton farmers will be under increased pressure to accept genetically modified (GM) cottonseed.” (Monsanto 8/15/2006; ETC Group 8/16/2006)
In its final report, the Iraq Study Group (ISG) recommends significant changes to Iraq’s oil industry. The report’s 63rd recommendation states that the US should “assist Iraqi leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise” and “encourage investment in Iraq’s oil sector by the international community and by international energy companies.” The recommendation also says the US should “provide technical assistance to the Iraqi government to prepare a draft oil law.” (Iraq Study Group 2006, pp. 57 ) The report makes a number of recommendations about the US occupation of Iraq, including hints that the US should consider moving towards a tactical withdrawal of forces from that beleaguered nation. President Bush’s reaction to the report is best summed up by his term for the report: a “flaming turd.” Bush’s scatological reaction does not bode well for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s own hopes that the administration will use the ISG report as a template for revising its approach to Iraq. This does not happen. Instead, Vice President Dick Cheney organizes a neoconservative counter to the ISG’s recommendations, led by the American Enterprise Institute’s Frederick Kagan. Kagan and his partner, retired general Jack Keane, quickly formulate a plan to dramatically escalate the number of US troops in Iraq, an operation quickly termed “the surge” (see January 10, 2007). The only element of the ISG report that is implemented in the Bush administration’s operations in Iraq is the label “a new way forward,” a moniker appropriated for the surge of troops. Administration officials such as Rice and the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, quickly learn to swallow their objections and get behind Bush’s new, aggressive strategy; military commanders who continue to support elements of the ISG recommendations, including CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid and ground commander General George Casey, are either forced into retirement (Abizaid) or shuttled into a less directly influential position (Casey). (Blumenthal 1/10/2007)
Changes are again made to the draft of the proposed Iraqi oil law. (Juhasz and Jarrar 2/28/2007) According to this draft:
Foreign corporations would have access to nearly every sector of Iraq’s oil and natural gas industry, including service contracts on existing fields that are already being managed and operated by the Iraqi National Oil Company (INOC). For fields that have been discovered, but which are not currently being developed, the law would require INOC to be a partner in developing these fields. But the new oil law does not require participation of the INOC or any private Iraqi companies in contracts for fields that have not yet been discovered. In such cases, the new law would permit foreign companies to have full access. (Iraqi Council of Ministers 2/2007; Mekay 2/28/2007; Juhasz and Jarrar 2/28/2007)
Companies contracted to develop oil fields would be given exclusive control of fields for up to 35 years, and would be guaranteed profits for 25 years. Foreign companies would not be required to partner with an Iraqi company or reinvest any of its profits in the Iraqi economy. Nor would they have to employ or train Iraqi workers, or engage in any other effort to transfer technology and skills to the Iraqis. (Iraqi Council of Ministers 2/2007; Juhasz and Jarrar 2/28/2007)
An Iraqi Federal Oil and Gas Council would be established and given the ultimate decision-making authority in determining what kinds of contracts could be used to develop Iraq’s oil and what would be done with the existing exploration and production contracts already signed with French, Chinese, Russian, and other foreign companies. The law states that council members would include, among others, “executive managers from important related petroleum companies.” As an article in the Asian Times notes, “[I]t is possible that foreign oil-company executives could sit on the council. It would be unprecedented for a sovereign country to have, for instance, an executive of ExxonMobil on the board of its key oil-and-gas decision-making body.” There is no language in the law that would prevent foreign corporate executives sitting on the council from making decisions about their own contracts. And there is no requirement that a quorum be present when making decisions. The Asian Times article notes, “Thus, if only five members of the Federal Oil and Gas Council met—one from ExxonMobil, Shell, ChevronTexaco and two Iraqis—the foreign company representatives would apparently be permitted to approve contacts for themselves.” The new law does not specify what kind of oil agreements could be signed between Iraq and private firms to develop Iraq’s oil. Rather it leaves this question to the council, which would be permitted to approve and rewrite contracts using whatever type is agreed upon by a “two-thirds majority of the members in attendance.” Previous drafts of the law had specifically mentioned production sharing agreements (PSAs), a controversial type of contract that is favored by the oil companies. (Juhasz and Jarrar 2/28/2007) That model, favored by the US and by oil companies, was opposed by many Iraqis, including Iraqi oil professionals, engineers, and technicians in the unions. The Iraqis prefer technical service contracts, like the ones used in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Under such contracts foreign companies would be allowed to participate in the development of oil fields, but only for a limited time. (Democracy Now! 2/20/2007) The companies would be paid to build a refinery, lay a pipeline, or offer consultancy services, but then would leave afterwards. This type of arrangement would help transfer technical expertise and skills to Iraqis. “It is a much more equitable relationship because the control of production, development of oil will stay with the Iraqi state,” notes Ewa Jasiewicz, a researcher at PLATFORM, a British human rights and environmental group that monitors the oil industry. She notes that no other country in the Middle East that is a large oil producer would ever sign a PSA because it’s “a form of privatization and… it’s not in their interests.” Critics also note that the signing of PSA agreements with US oil companies would add fuel to the unrest in Iraq and that the US would attempt to legitimize its continuing presence in Iraq with assertions about the need to safeguard US business interests. (Mekay 2/28/2007)
Iraq’s national government would not have control over production levels. Rather, the contractee developing a field—e.g., the INOC, or a foreign or domestic company—would be able to decide how much oil to produce. However, the document does say: “In the event that, for national policy considerations, there is a need to introduce limitations on the national level of petroleum production, such limitations shall be applied in a fair and equitable manner and on a pro rata basis for each contract area on the basis of approved field-development plans.” But it does not specify who has the authority to introduce such nation-wide limitations or how production levels might be lowered in a “fair and equitable manner.” The language appears to signify that Iraq would no longer work with OPEC or other similar organizations. (Iraqi Council of Ministers 2/2007; Juhasz and Jarrar 2/28/2007)
Oil revenues would be distributed to all of Iraq’s 18 provinces according to their population sizes. Regional administrations, not Iraq’s central government, would have the authority to negotiate contracts with foreign oil companies, monitor contracts, and deal with small disputes. But the ultimate authority would lie with the Federal Oil and Gas Council which would be able to veto decisions made by regional authorities. Critics say this arrangement almost encourages the split of Iraq into three different regions or even three different states. According to Raed Jarrar, Iraq Project Director for Global Exchange, a situation like this would mean that “Iraqis in different provinces will start signing contracts directly with foreign companies and competing between themselves, among themselves, among different Iraqi provinces, to get the oil companies to go… there without any centralized way in controlling this and thinking of the Iraqi interest and protecting Iraq as a country.” (Iraqi Council of Ministers 2/2007; Mekay 2/28/2007)
Insurance companies reach a $2 billion settlement with real estate development and investment firm Silverstein Properties for the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11. The agreement, which involves seven of the two-dozen insurers for the WTC, ends more than five years of legal wrangling. The other insurance companies involved have already paid out about $2.55 billion, meaning the total payout will be $4.55 billion. In September 2006, Silverstein Properties and the New York Port Authority had agreed to split the reconstruction of the WTC site between them, and to divide up the remaining insurance proceeds accordingly. Consequently, the Port Authority is to receive about $870 million from the latest settlement, while the remaining $1.13 billion will go to Silverstein Properties. (New York State 5/23/2007; Bagli 5/23/2007; Schuster 5/23/2007; Gralla and Wilchins 5/23/2007) Silverstein Properties acquired the lease on several of the World Trade Center buildings, including the Twin Towers, in July 2001 (see July 24, 2001). (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey 7/24/2001) As the New York Times summarizes, “At that time, two dozen insurers had signed binders pledging to provide $3.5 billion in insurance coverage, but had not finished the documentation.” Therefore, after 9/11, an “ugly dispute developed over which insurance policy was in effect at the time of the attack. Mr. [Larry] Silverstein [the president of Silverstein Properties] argued that since two jetliners slammed into the two towers, he was entitled to a double payment on the $3.5 billion policy. But many of the insurers countered that they had agreed to a different policy that did not permit double claims.” (Bagli 5/23/2007) In 2004, federal juries had decided that Silverstein Properties could collect a maximum of $4.68 billion for the loss of the WTC. The current settlement therefore means the insurers are obliged to pay 97.2 percent of that maximum. (Levitt 5/23/2007; New York State 5/23/2007; Schuster 5/23/2007; Gralla and Wilchins 5/23/2007) Silverstein Properties had separately been awarded $861 million of insurance money in 2002 for the loss of World Trade Center Building 7, which also collapsed on 9/11 (see May 2002).
Chief Warrant Officer Pete Peleti, formerly the military’s top food adviser in the Middle East, is sentenced to 28 months in prison for taking bribes from US contractors operating fraudulent war-profiteering schemes in Iraq and Kuwait. Peleti took bribes from Saudi conglomerate Tamimi Global Co, US firm Public Warehousing Co, and others between 2003 and 2006. Among the bribes Peleti accepted was a trip to the 2006 Super Bowl. Peleti also accepted bribes from Tamimi executive Shabbir Khan to influence military contracts. In 2006, Peleti was arrested as he re-entered the US at Dover Air Force Base; he was carrying a duffel bag stuffed with watches and jewelry, and had $40,000 hidden inside his clothes. Peleti is now cooperating with prosecutors. This and other information about KBR war profiteering in Iraq comes from a federal investigation that will begin in late 2007 (see October 2006 and Beyond). (Jackson and Grotto 2/20/2008; Chicago Tribune 2/21/2008)
To assist in the merger of Bear Stearns Companies, Inc. and JP Morgan Chase & Co., the US Federal Reserve authorizes the New York Fed to form Maiden Lane LLC, a Delaware limited liability company. Once established, Maiden Lane is extended credit by the Fed to acquire certain Bear Stearns assets. Maiden Lane funds the purchase of the Bear Stearns asset portfolio of mortgage related securities, residential and commercial mortgage loans, and associated hedges through senior and subordinate loans of approximately $29 billion from the New York Fed, and a much smaller amount, approximately $1.15 billion, from JP Morgan Chase. As of March 14, 2008, the asset portfolio has an estimated fair value of approximately $30 billion. (Federal Reserve Bank of New York 3/2008)
The United States Federal Reserve has lent Wall Street’s largest investment bank billions of dollars, as the credit crisis threatens to spiral into a full-blown banking crisis. In developments currently rocking the world’s financial markets, the Fed and rival Wall Street bank, JP Morgan Chase, are funneling emergency loans to Bear Stearns, whose exposure to battered credit markets has led to a crisis of confidence in its ability to continue trading. In accelerating numbers, clients and trading partners are pulling business from Bear Stearns, after rumors of its solvency began circulating. During a last-minute conference call with investors, management at the investment bank warned that its emergency lending facility with the Federal Reserve has failed to staunch the bleeding. “We have been subject to a significant amount of rumor and innuendo in the past week,” says Bear Stearns chief executive Alan Schwartz. “We attempted to provide some facts but, in the market environment, the rumors intensified and a lot of people wanted to act to protect themselves first from the possibility that the rumors were true, and wait till later for the facts.” Bear Stearns appears most fragile of Wall Street’s major investment banks, since the July 2007 collapse of two internal hedge funds, providing initial clues about the scale of the unfolding credit crisis. Shares across the banking sector plunge as analysts fear that the Fed’s willingness to intervene suggests that Bear’s future is pivotal to the banking system, and that its failure precipitates losses that may cascade through its trading partners. Bear Stearns stocks are in freefall, closing down 47 percent. Pierre Ellis at New York’s Decision Economics said, “Clearly the Fed is addressing what they feel is a systemic risk very aggressively.” (Belfast Telegraph 3/15/2008)
It is revealed that Larry Silverstein, the developer of Ground Zero, is seeking $12.3 billion in damages from airlines and airport security companies for the attacks on 9/11. Silverstein sought the damages in a claim filed in 2004, alleging that the companies failed to prevent the hijackers from taking over the planes that destroyed the World Trade Center buildings. The size of his claim was previously unknown, but is now revealed at a status conference in the US District Court in Manhattan. (Hartocollis 3/27/2008) Of the $12.3 billion sought, $8.4 billion would be to replace the property destroyed in the attacks, and the other $3.9 billion would cover lost income and expenses associated with renting the new buildings. Companies named in the suit include American Airlines, United Airlines, Continental Airlines, Boeing, and the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), which manages Logan Airport in Boston, from where the two planes that hit the WTC took off. (Mackey 3/27/2008) Silverstein’s case is consolidated with similar, earlier lawsuits by other property owners and some families of 9/11 victims. Silverstein is by far the biggest of the claimants. A lawyer for the airlines says that if Silverstein wins, it could push the total claims beyond the amount of insurance the airlines and security companies have available. Silverstein, the CEO and president of Silverstein Properties, only signed the 99-year lease on the World Trade Center six weeks before 9/11 (see July 24, 2001). He has already won nearly $4.6 billion in insurance payments stemming from the attacks (see May 23, 2007). (Hartocollis 3/27/2008; NY1 News 3/28/2008)
During a PBS broadcast of a panel discussion about US interventions in the Middle East, host Bill Moyers observes that the hidden costs of the Iraq war are staggering. He notes that the huge number of suicides among US soldiers in Iraq as well as those who have come home is “the dirty little secret of this war.” The broken Veterans Administration, and its inability to provide decent medical care for the troops, is another, he says. Not only are these underreported in the US media, he says, even the economic costs get relatively little play, despite the fact that “The war’s costing us $5,000 a second, $12 1/2 billion to $13 billion a month,” with the costs ultimately soaring into the trillions of dollars. “[T]hat would seem to hit people in the viscera,” he says. Guest Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher says that the economic issues of the war are one of the biggest reasons why President Bush’s approval ratings stay below 30 percent, even as the media touts the “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) as such a success. “[T]he reason is the people figured out long ago, long ago that the war was a mistake and that it’s incredibly costly in the human and financial and even moral terms.” (Moyers 6/6/2008)
In an historic move, the federal government bails out insurance corporation AIG with an $85 billion loan, giving control of the firm to the US government. After resisting AIG’s overtures for an emergency loan or other intervention to prevent the insurer from falling into bankruptcy, the government decided AIG, like the now-defunct investment bank, Bear Stearns, was “too big to fail” (see March 15, 2008). The US government will lend up to $85 billion to AIG. In return, the government gets a 79.9 percent equity stake in warrants, called equity participation notes. The two-year loan will carry a LIBOR interest rate plus 8.5 percentage points. LIBOR, the London InterBank Offered Rate, is a common short-term lending benchmark. The bailout comes less than a week after the government allowed a large investment bank, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., to fold (see September 14, 2008). As part of the loan agreement, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson insists that AIG’s chief executive, Robert Willumstad, steps aside. Willumstad will be succeeded by Edward Liddy, the former head of insurer Allstate Corp (see September 18, 2008). (KARNITSCHNIG et al. 9/16/2008) Shares in AIG drop to $3.75 on the news. (Bloomberg 3/5/2009)
Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters reports that conservative radio host Jim Quinn, of the syndicated show Quinn & Rose, says that the US should go back to a time where only landowners could vote. Quinn says: “Originally, if you didn’t own land, you didn’t vote, and there was a good reason for it: because those without property will always vote away the property of other people unto themselves, and that’s the beginning of the end.… Now—I mean, I can hear the appeal to the masses: ‘It’s not fair, it’s not the American way that you don’t get to vote,’ but let me ask you a question: If I don’t own anything, what kind of a problem do I have with voting for a measure—a tax, a law—that takes somebody else’s property and gives it to me? I have no stake in personal property ownership ‘cause I don’t have any. Now, back in the day, when this was the law of the land, anybody who wanted to vote needed to step up to the plate, achieve, get a stake in America, and then vote.” Quinn equates non-landowners’ right to vote with what he calls “organized theft from the wealthy by the democratic masses.” (Media Matters 10/21/2008) A day later, radio host Michael Savage says that public assistance recipients should lose the right to vote (see October 22, 2008).
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage tells his audience that Americans who receive public assistance should not be able to vote. “Do you think a person on welfare has the right to vote?” he asks. “I don’t. Why should a person who is on public assistance maintain the right to vote? Tell me why. Where is it written that they should have the right to vote?… I support them, and they should have the same vote I do? That would be like saying an infant has the right to vote or an insane person has the right to vote. Why should a welfare recipient have the right to vote? They’re only gonna vote themselves a raise.” Savage then brings up Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama: “So if you get a demagogue like Obama coming along, and he says to the welfare recipient, elect me, and I’ll make sure that we have trickle-up poverty, and the rich—so-called, that is anyone who works for a living—will give you more money, more welfare, of course you’re gonna vote for the demagogue Obama. See, if I was in charge, I’d pass a law which says, OK, you can’t support yourself for whatever reason, you’re on welfare, you lose the right to vote.… You get back on the self-sufficiency, you get the right to vote. Then we’ll have a fair election in America. Otherwise, it’s all over. We have a communist nation either now or in the very near future.” (Media Matters 10/23/2008) A day before, radio host Jim Quinn said that only landowners should be allowed to vote (see October 21, 2008).
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, many different conservative radio hosts repeat a falsehood about presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) that originates on the Drudge Report. According to the original report, Obama told a radio audience in 2001 that he regretted the US Supreme Court did not pursue “wealth redistribution,” a concept some associate with socialism. Obama did not make such a statement; instead he said during that interview that it was a tragedy the civil rights movement “became so court-focused” in trying to bring about political and social equality. Minneapolis radio host Chris Baker misquotes Obama by claiming that he said “we gotta have economic justice and the Supreme Court ought to weigh in on redistributing wealth.” Baker adds: “Yeah, it’s too bad you kind of stuck with the Constitution as it was. It’s a tragedy that redistribution of wealth was not pursued by the Supreme Court. Can you believe that?” Baker also claims that Obama “wants to use the Supreme Court to reinterpret the Constitution in order to force the redistribution of wealth.” Baker is not the only radio host to repeat the falsehood. Sean Hannity tells his radio audience, referring to the 2001 interview, “Obama actually believes the Constitution is defective because it doesn’t allow judges to redistribute wealth.” He adds: “if he becomes president, [Obama] wants the Supreme Court and other federal courts to literally have the power to spread the wealth around and redistribute the wealth. Those are his words, his voice.” He goes on to say flatly, “Obama is a socialist.” Mark Levin tells his listeners, “what the [Supreme] Court should have done from Obama’s point of view was impose socialism from the bench.” Levin levels another false accusation against Obama: that he wants to reinterpret the 14th Amendment “to compel as a matter of constitutional law, the socialist agenda. In other words, constitutionalize redistribution of wealth.” Radio hosts Michael Savage, Jim Quinn, Brian Sussman, and others reiterate the claims, with Quinn telling listeners: “He just got done telling you that the Constitution’s only half-done. He needs to write the other half—you know, the other half where we decide how much we take from you and give to that guy down the street.” Like many of his colleagues, Sussman plays an edited clip of Obama’s 2001 statement to bolster his claims. (Media Matters 10/28/2008; Media Matters 11/6/2008)
To facilitate AIG’s ability to complete its corporate restructuring, the New York Federal Reserve, as authorized by the US Federal Reserve, creates Maiden Lane II LLC and Maiden Lane III LLC to fund the purchase of certain multi-sector collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) from certain AIG Financial Products Corporation (AIGFP) counterparts. The Asset Portfolio purchase will be made in two stages, with Maiden Lane II LLC lending AIG $26.8 billion on November 25, 2008, and Maiden Lane III LLC lending AIGFP and its counterparties $2.5 billion on December 18, 2008 (see March, 2008). (Federal Reserve Bank of New York 11/10/2008)
US government-seized mortgage finance companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac suspend foreclosures from November 26, 2008 until January 9, 2009. The six-week suspension on both foreclosures and evictions will give loan servicers time to implement streamlined loan modifications for struggling borrowers. Since September 6, 2008, Fannie and Freddie have been federal government-controlled and sponsored entities that own or guarantee $5.2 billion of the $12 billion US home mortgage market. They offer borrowers who are 90 days or more delinquent with high loan-to-income ratios a chance to modify their mortgage terms to decrease their monthly mortgage payments by roughly 38 percent of the homeowner’s monthly pretax salary. The companies say they plan to reduce interest rates for up to 5 years while lengthening repayment terms as much as 40 years to trim monthly payments. (Kopecki 11/20/2008)
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly and former Bush administration political director Karl Rove tell listeners that media journalists are “overstating” the current economic problems in order to help the incoming Obama administration. O’Reilly asks Rove, “All right, so you are agreeing with me then that there is a conscious effort on the part of the New York Times and other liberal media to basically paint as drastic a picture as possible, so that when Barack Obama takes office that anything is better than what we have now?” Rove’s response: “Yes.” O’Reilly says that the “plot” is to “blame everything on Bush for quite a long period of time.” Rove calls the economic reporting little more than “scare tactics.” O’Reilly concludes: “All I want is an honest press. I’m not hoping one way or the other.” Amanda Terkel of the Center for American Progress observes: “For years, in fact, the Bush administration has tried Rove and O’Reilly’s strategy of insisting that nothing is wrong. Although the United States has been in a recession since December 2007, the Bush administration has continued to insist that the economy was strong. The result? A government unprepared to deal with ‘the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.’” (Terkel 12/9/2008)
According to a Commerce Department report, in January, new home purchases drop 10 percent to an annual pace of 309,000, the lowest level since data tracking began in 1963. The report, published in February 2009, will attribute the fall to high unemployment and foreclosures. In addition, at 13.5 percent, the median home price falls the most in almost four decades. (Schlisserman 2/26/2009)
“The worst economic turmoil since the Great Depression is not a natural phenomenon but a man-made disaster in which we all played a part,” says Guardian City editor Julia Finch, who lists individuals who led the world into its current economic crisis (see June 2008). These individuals include:
Alan Greenspan, US Federal Reserve chairman, 1987-2006: “[B]lamed for allowing the housing bubble to develop as a result of his low interest rates and lack of regulation in mortgage lending. Backed sub-prime lending; urged homebuyers to swap fixed-rate mortgages for variable rate deals, leaving borrowers unable to pay when interest rates rose. Defended the booming derivatives business, which barely existed when he took over the Fed, but which mushroomed from $100tn in 2002 to more than $500tn five years later.”
Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England: “His ambition was that monetary policy decision-making should become ‘boring.’”
Bill Clinton, former US president: “Beefed up the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act to force mortgage lenders to relax their rules to allow more socially disadvantaged borrowers to qualify for home loans. Repealed the 1999 Glass-Steagall Act, prompting the era of the superbank; the year before the repeal, sub-prime loans were just 5 percent of all mortgage lending. By the time the credit crunch blew up it was approaching 30 percent.” (Finch, Clark, and Teather 1/26/2009)
Yale economist Robert Schiller reflects on the genesis of the economic recession, tracing it back in part to policies pursued by the Bush administration for the 2004 presidential election effort. At that time, Schiller warned of a “housing bubble” caused by a plethora of bad loans and toxic debt, and called for re-regulation of the housing markets. His warnings were ignored. Schiller says: “The Bush strategists were aware of the public enthusiasm for housing, and they dealt with it brilliantly in the 2004 election by making the theme of the campaign the ownership society. Part of the ownership society seemed to be that the government would encourage home ownership and, therefore, boost the market. And so Bush was playing along with the bubble in some subtle sense. I don’t mean to accuse him of any—I think it probably sounded right to him, and the political strategists knew what was a good winning combination. I don’t think that he was in any mode to entertain the possibility that this was a bubble. Why should he do that? Attention wasn’t even focused on this. If you go back to 2004, most people were just—they thought that we had discovered a law of nature: that housing, because of the fixity of land and the growing economy and the greater prosperity, that it’s inevitable that this would be a great investment. It was taken for granted.” John C. Dugan, the comptroller of the currency since 2005, says he believes a lack of regulation caused the “housing bubble.” Dugan says: “A lot of mortgages got made to people who could not afford them and on terms that would get progressively worse over time, and that created the seeds of an even bigger problem. As the whole market became even more dependent on house-price appreciation, when house prices flattened and then started to decline the whole situation began to unravel. The question you have to ask yourself: Why did credit become so easy? Why would lenders make mortgages that became increasingly less likely to be repaid? Part of the answer is that there was a huge chunk of the mortgage market that was not regulated to any significant extent. The overwhelming proportion of subprime loans were being done in entities that were not banks and not regulated as banks—I’m talking here about mortgage brokers and non-bank mortgage lenders that could originate these mortgages and then sell them to Wall Street firms that could package them into new kinds of mortgage securities, which arguably could take into account the lower credit risks and still be salable to investors worldwide. Unfortunately, the theory was not in accord with the reality. Although they thought they had accurately gauged that risk, they too were in fact depending—when you get to the bottom of it—on house prices continuing to go up and up and up. And they did not.” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)
According to economists and other finance experts, most of the major US banks are broke, awash in losses from bad bets that overwhelm the banks’ assets. (Link TV 2/10/2009; Wolf 2/10/2009) None of the experts focus on individual banks, and there are exceptions among the 50 largest banks in the country. Consumers and businesses do not need to fret about their federally insured deposits, and even banks that are technically insolvent can continue operating, and could recover their financial health once the economy improves. Until there is a cure for banks’ bad assets, the credit crisis that is dragging down the economy will linger, since banks cannot resume the lending needed to restart commerce.
Suggested Response - Economists and experts say that the answer is a larger, more direct government role than the recently-unveiled Treasury Department plan. The Obama-Geithner plan leans heavily on sketchy public-private investment funding to buy up the banks’ troubled mortgage-backed securities. Experts say that the government needs to delve in, weed out the weakest banks, inject capital into surviving banks and sell off bad assets. “The historical record shows that you have to do it eventually,” said Adam Posen, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Putting it off only brings more troubles and higher costs in the long run.” The Obama administration’s recovery plan could help spur a timely economic spurt, and the value of the banks’ assets could begin to rise. Absent that, the prescription would not be easy or cheap. Estimates of the capital injection needed range from $1 trillion and beyond. By contrast, the commitment of taxpayer money is the $350 billion remaining in the financial bailout approved by Congress last fall.
Pessimism - In a new report Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics at the Stern School of Business at New York University, estimates that total losses on loans by American financial firms and the fall in the market value of the assets they hold will reach $3.6 trillion, up from his previous estimate of $2 trillion. (Roubini 2/10/2009) Of the total, he calculates that American banks face half that risk, or $1.8 trillion, with the rest borne by other financial institutions in the United States and abroad. “The United States banking system is effectively insolvent,” Roubini says. (Lohr 2/13/2009)
Iraqi women, particularly war widows, have an extremely difficult time surviving in their country, according to a profile by the New York Times. Of Iraqi women between 15 and 80 years of age, 740,000, or around one in 11, are estimated to be widows; only about 120,000 of those widows receive any governmental aid.
Depressed Living Conditions - Many of the widows profiled by the Times live, either alone or with the remnants of their families, in a trailer park for war widows in a poor section of Baghgad. Many other widows are not so fortunate; the trailer park, which houses 750 people, is among the very few aid programs available for the widows. Many of those widows and their children live in public parks or inside gas station restrooms. The sight of war widows begging on the street—or available as potential recruits for insurgents—is an everyday occurrence.
Potential Insurgency Recruits - Times reporter Timothy Williams writes: “As the number of widows has swelled during six years of war, their presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraqi self-sufficiency. Women who lost their husbands had once been looked after by an extended support system of family, neighbors, and mosques. But as the war has ground on, government and social service organizations say the women’s needs have come to exceed available help, posing a threat to the stability of the country’s tenuous social structures.”
'Too Many' Widows to Help - Leila Kadim, a managing director in the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, acknowledges that the situation will not change soon. “We can’t help everybody,” she says. “There are too many.”
Alternatives - Some engage in “temporary marriages,” Shi’ite-sanctioned unions lasting anywhere from an hour to a year and usually based on sex, to become eligible for government, religious, or tribal leaders. Others have become prostitutes. Others have joined the insurgency in return for steady pay. The Iraqi military says dozens of women have become suicide bombers, and that number is expected to increase.
Minimal Government Assistance - The government’s current stipend for widows is an ungenerous $50/month and an additional $12/month for each child; efforts to increase that stipend have not made progress. And only about one in six widows receive that small amount of money. Widows and their advocates say that to receive benefits they must either have political connections or agree to temporary marriages with the powerful men who control the distribution of government funds. Samira al-Mosawi, chair of the women’s affairs committee in Parliament, says: “It is blackmail. We have no law to treat this point. Widows don’t need temporary support, but a permanent solution.”
Paying Men to Marry Widows - One solution has been proposed by Mazin al-Shihan, director of the Baghdad Displacement Committee. Al-Shihan has introduced a proposal to pay men to marry widows. When asked why money shouldn’t go directly to the widows, al-Shihan laughs. “If we give the money to the widows, they will spend it unwisely because they are uneducated and they don’t know about budgeting,” he says. “But if we find her a husband, there will be a person in charge of her and her children for the rest of their lives. This is according to our tradition and our laws.” (Williams 2/22/2009)
President Barack Obama implements a home mortgage rescue plan that he says will prevent as many as 9 million Americans from losing their homes to foreclosure. Obama says that turning around the battered economy requires stemming the continuing tide of foreclosures. He says that the housing crisis that began last year set many other factors in motion and helped lead to the current, widening recession. “In the end, all of us are paying a price for this home mortgage crisis,” Obama says. “All of us will pay an even steeper price if we allow this crisis to deepen. The American dream is being tested by a home mortgage crisis that not only threatens the stability of our economy but also the stability of families and neighborhoods. While this crisis is vast, it begins just one house and one family at a time.” Of the nearly 52 million US homeowners with a mortgage, about 13.8 million, or nearly 27 percent, owe more on their mortgage than their home is currently worth. Obama’s plan contains three initiatives:
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac homeowners owing between 80 and 105 percent of what their homes are worth can refinance their mortgage. Prior to implementation of the rescue plan, only those borrowers with at least 20 percent home equity could refinance. Refinancing at a lower rate may save borrowers thousands of dollars yearly on their mortgage payments.
Banks will be encouraged to work with homeowners to modify existing mortgages, which is different from refinancing. The Bush administration plan, “Hope for Homeowners,” passed late in 2008, tried to do what Obama has now accomplished, but, since banks were not eager to modify terms to help people stay in their houses, the Bush plan is considered a failure. Under Obama’s plan, banks who received TARP funding will have to participate and, if they do not, Obama may request that the Congress allow bankruptcy judges to modify mortgage terms. Before Obama’s new plan, judges already had the power to modify mortgage terms on a homeowner’s second and third homes, although not on their primary residences.
Interest rates will be kept low by having the Treasury Department buy up mortgage-backed securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in the hope of re-inflating the market for mortgage-related products, even if Treasury may be overpaying for toxic assets in a market with few, if any, other buyers. (Baumann 2/18/2009; Luhby 4/16/2009)
In an interview with Bill Moyers, Robert Reich, former labor secretary under President Clinton, says: “I believe that there’s no doubt that we’re going down to government intervention everywhere, government ownership unprecedented in this country. And it’s a long road and a slippery slope. Essentially, capitalism has swamped democracy. The Bush administration started the bank bailouts because the financial system had overreached with wild speculation and was on the verge of breaking down. Tim Geithner and [President] Obama are continuing these big bank bailouts, and I happen to think the bailouts have not worked very well, except as a kind of socialism for big corporations. There’s no such thing as pure capitalism without rules and regulations that set limits on profit making, because otherwise it’s everybody out for themselves. Otherwise, nobody can trust anybody. Otherwise, it’s the law of the jungle.… We rely upon government to set the boundaries—this can’t happen because it’s fraud, that can’t happen because you’re stealing something, this can’t happen because you’re imposing a huge burden on other people. Unless you have a democratic system that allows the rules to be created not by the companies but by the people and the people’s representatives reflecting what the public needs—not what the corporations need—you’re going to have a system that is not a democracy and not democratic capitalism. It’s super capitalism without the democracy. People pressuring their individual Congress members and Obama standing up to the banking industry will force real regulation. There will be no recovery in the sense of going back to where we were because the old path was unsustainable. If we don’t lift middle class wages, if we don’t get some control over Wall Street, if we don’t have genuine health care reform, if we don’t do something about the environment and global warming, we will not have a recovery. The next downturn is going to be worse than the downturn we just had, so there’s no going backwards. In every conversation I’ve participated in with the president, I was left with the impression that he understood this very, very well. I think most of the people around him understand this. The question is can he pull this off? Can he overcome the vested interests? It will be a clear indication of his toughness with regard to the willingness to twist arms and demand that the public interest be foremost.” (Bill Moyers Journal 6/12/2009)
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) spent $314.3 million to shut down 16 banks in June 2009, according to reports released today. The federal insurer closed seven banks on June 25, pushing the number of bank failures for 2009 to 52, more than double the failures for all of 2008. The late June closures included six Illinois regional banks, all controlled by one family whose bank business model, according to the FDIC, “created concentrated exposure in each institution.” The FDIC says that the failure of the six family-owned banks is due to the banks’ investments in collateralized debt obligations and other losses. The failures and subsequent government takeover of the Illinois banks brought total 2009 Illinois bank failures to 12. Local and regional banks have been especially hard hit by plummeting home values that devalued mortgage-backed assets, while rising unemployment rates forced increased numbers of consumers to default on their loans.
June 2009 Bank Failures FDIC Update through July 2, 2009 -
Founders Bank, Worth, Illinois, with approximately $962.5 million in assets, closed. The PrivateBank and Trust Company, Chicago, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximatedly $848.9 million.
Millennium State Bank of Texas, Dallas, Texas, approximately $118 million in assets, closed. State Bank of Texas, Irving, Texas, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $115 million.
The First National Bank of Danville, Danville, Illinois, approximately $166 million in assets, closed. First Financial Bank, N. A., Terre Haute, Indiana, assumed all deposits, approximately $147 million.
The Elizabeth State Bank, Elizabeth, Illinois, approximately $55.5 million in assets, closed. Galena State Bank and Trust Company, Galena, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $50.4 million.
Rock River Bank, Oregon, Illinois, approximately $77 million in assets, closed. The Harvard State Bank, Harvard, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $75.8 million.
The First State Bank of Winchester, Winchester, Illinois, approximately $36 million in assets, closed. The First National Bank of Beardstown, Beardstown, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $34 million.
The John Warner Bank, Clinton, Illinois, with approximately $70 million in assets, was closed. State Bank of Lincoln, Lincoln, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximaedly $64 million.
Mirae Bank, Los Angeles, California, approximately $456 million in assets, closed. Wilshire State Bank, Los Angeles, California, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $362 million.
MetroPacific Bank, Irvine, California, approximately $80 million in assets, closed. Sunwest Bank, Tustin, California, agreed to assume all non-brokered deposits, approximately $73 million.
Horizon Bank, Pine City, Minnesota, approximately $87.6 million in assets, closed. Stearns Bank N. A., St. Cloud, Minnesota, agreed to assume all deposits, excluding certain brokered deposits, approximately $69.4 million.
Neighbor Community Bank, Newnan, Georgia, approximately $221.6 million in assets, closed. CharterBank, West Point, Georgia, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $191.3 million.
Community Bank of West Georgia, Villa Rica, Georgia, approximately $199.4 million in assets and approximately $182.5 million in deposits, approved for payout by the FDIC board of directors.
First National Bank of Anthony, Anthony, Kansas, approximately $156.9 million in assets, closed. Bank of Kansas, South Hutchinson, Kansas, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $142.5 million.
Cooperative Bank, Wilmington, North Carolina, approximately $970 million in assets, closed. First Bank, Troy, North Carolina, agreed to assume all deposits, excluding certain brokered deposits, approximately $774 million.
Southern Community Bank, Fayetteville, Georgia, approximately $377 million in assets, closed. United Community Bank, Blairsville, Georgia, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $307 million.
Bank of Lincolnwood, Lincolnwood, Illinois, approximately $214 million in assets, closed. Republic Bank of Chicago, Oak Brook, Illinois, agreed to assume all deposits, approximately $202 million. (Clifford 7/2/2009; FDIC.gov 7/2/2009)
The second quarter of any year is generally considered peak leasing season in the US, but reports show that during the second quarter of 2009, the apartment vacancy rate rose to a 22-year high because of rising unemployment that decreased apartment rental demand. Rents plunged fastest in markets such as New York and San Jose, California, where many white collar jobs have been lost. Additionally, markets such as Las Vegas and Orange County, California, that have transformed foreclosed homes and condominiums into rental property also suffered a decrease in vacancies. Nationally, vacancy levels rose from 6.1 percent in 2008 to 7.5 percent in the April to June 2009 period. Victor Calanog, Reis’s director of research, says: “Everyone expected spring leasing to save apartment landlords. That hasn’t happened.” Initially, the housing catastrophe offered property owners a chance to entice distressed homeowners into the leasing market, but job losses occurred at such a rapid pace that any increases that apartment leasing might have garnered from the housing crisis were destroyed. The rise in apartment vacancies began at the end of 2007, further quickening with the worsening of the economy in fall 2008. Meantime, rents have continued to fall at the swiftest pace in more than a decade and effective rents—concessions by landlords such as a month’s free rent—fell 1.1 percent in first quarter 2009 and 0.9 percent in the second quarter, and averaged $975 per month. At 5.8 percent, New York City marked the largest 12-month rent decrease with an average of $2,680 per month. Statistics are based on a survey by Reis Inc., a New York real estate research firm, which tracked 79 markets, of which 45 showed vacancy increases. (Timiraos 7/8/2009)
Orders for durable goods in the US fall by a seasonally adjusted 2.4 percent in comparison with July, according to a report that will be released by the Commerce Department in late September. One reason is a 40 percent monthly decline in orders for civilian aircraft. Computer, electrical equipment, and transportation equipment orders all fall as well, with durable goods shipments slipping 1.4 percent for the month. In total, durable goods orders are down 25 percent from the same time last year. Except for transportation, orders for durable goods are flat in August. (Healy 9/25/2009)
Research conducted by the Experian credit bureau and the international management consulting group Oliver Wyman reveals an alarming tendency: homeowners with excellent credit are more likely to “strategically default” on their homes than those who are financially strapped. Using an enormous sample of 24 million individual credit files, the study found that those with super prime credit scores are 50 percent more likely to “abruptly and intentionally” dump their mortgage. Researchers found that, with foreclosures, delinquencies, and loan losses at record levels, so-called “walkaways” are at or near the top of the most-discussed real estate finance topics. The Experian-Wyman study group identified specific patterns with strategic defaults. Among its findings:
Strategic default numbers are much higher than industry estimates. For example, 588,000 super-prime credit holders defaulted during 2008, double the number from 2007;
Warning signs, such as non-payment of other debts, are virtually non-existent;
Walkaways often go from perfect payment histories to no mortgage payments whatsoever, in severe contrast with most financially stressed borrowers, who attempt mortgage payments even when delinquent on other credit accounts;
Strategic defaults are located mostly in negative equity markets where home values skyrocketed during the boom before taking a huge dive after 2006. For example, last year in California, strategic defaults were 68 times higher than in 2005; in Florida, they were 46 times higher than in 2005. In most of the rest of the country, walkaways were nine times higher in 2008 than in 2005;
People with large mortgage balances are more likely to walk away. Those with the two highest VantageScore credit ratings (as created by Experian and the other national credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion) are far more likely to default than homeowners in lower score categories;
Walkaways seem to understand the consequences of their actions but may view it as a business decision, and the most practical solution under the circumstances.
Although the Experian-Wyman study does not explore the ethical and legal facets of strategic defaults, a major suggestion arising from it is that lenders and loan servicers take steps to spot walkaways in advance to avoid offering them loan modifications, since they will probably default on these as well. (Harney 9/20/2009)
With unemployment rates for American Indians at 27 percent, African-Americans logging jobless rates of 15 percent, and Hispanics at 13 percent, experts say that for these ethnic groups, the economic recession is more of a “Great Depression.” The foreclosure crisis is equally ominous, having worsened with increasing joblessness, unduly impacting minority groups at a staggering rate. Dr. James Carr, chief operating officer of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, explains: “The crisis is now fueled by unemployment and loss of income. In 2009, nearly 60 percent of foreclosures are triggered by unemployment.… The Obama administration’s endeavors to curtail foreclosures aren’t working.” He emphasizes that the loan modification program has “plenty of carrots” for the banks, “but no meaningful sticks to compel more responsible actions.” On average, lenders lose 10 times as much on foreclosures than loan modifications, or about $144,000 as opposed to a loan modification tax write-off of $14,000. Because they can, banks are choosing to deduct the greater loss on their current tax bill by foreclosing rather than modifying the loan. Consequently, only 12 percent of homeowners eligible for modification have received such through voluntary Making Home Affordable program set up by the Obama administration. According to Raymond Skinner, Maryland’s secretary of housing and community development: “Foreclosures are taking on a different face. As of the second quarter of 2009, the majority of the nation’s foreclosures are now on prime loans.”
Bankruptcy Law Reform, Homeowners Loan Corporation - What is needed, says Carr, is bankruptcy reform to allow judges to modify mortgages using the same methods they use to modify yacht and investment property payments; at least 30 percent of loans on the way to foreclosure could be helped by reformation of bankruptcy laws. Still, experts agree that even loan modifications won’t help many unemployed persons. Carr is calling for “a new version of the Great Depression-era Homeowners Loan Corporation” (HOLC) to allow the use of eminent domain to purchase loans between current market value and face value cost. The discount could then be used to modify the loans so that the unemployed homeowner could enter into rental agreements to stay in their homes, or even obtain emergency grants or loans to continue paying their mortgages. HOLC, however, is not under consideration by either Congress or the Obama administration.
Insufficient American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Resources - Some argue that the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act did not provide the resources needed by those hardest hit by the recession, which was supposedly the goal of the bill. As a result, there is now an immediate need for a targeted stimulus for job creation and unemployment benefits extension. “Channeling dollars to the individuals and communities that need them most will immediately stimulate the economy and save and create jobs for both the neediest households and the US population generally,” Carr says. “Families that live on the edge of survival will pour these recovery dollars immediately back into the economy through spending on groceries, medicine, clothing, childcare, energy, transportation, and other basic necessities. That spending would support multiple sectors of the economy and have positive impacts far outside of the communities where dollars are immediately spent.” Additionally, racial barriers and continuing discrimination need to be addressed to guarantee access to affordable housing alternative, transportation, education, and economic opportunity. (Kaufmann 9/25/2009; NPR 9/28/2009)
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