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Signs of the Times for Thu, 22 Jun 2006

Signs Editorial:

Joe Quinn
Signs of the Times
22/06/2006
Philip Merrill

Philip Merrill was the 71 year old president and CEO of Capital-Gazette Communications, Inc., which publishes Washingtonian magazine, the Annapolis Capital, and five other Maryland newspapers.

On June 10th, Mr Merrill's wife reported him missing when he failed to return from a days sailing in his boat, 'the Merrilly', on Chesapeake bay. The following day, the Merrilly was found floating 25 miles off the coast with its engine running. The first man on the scene reported that the boat was empty and that there was evidence of blood on the deck. Mr Merrill's body was subsequently found floating in Chesapeake bay on June 19th. Police said that he had apparently died of a shotgun blast to the head, and deemed his death a suicide even before an autopsy has returned its findings and despite the fact that Mr Merrill's body was found with an anchor tied to his feet.

While it might seem surprising that the mainstream media would completely ignore the fact that it is highly unlikely that someone would, or could, commit suicide by shooting themselves in the head with a shotgun and tieing an anchor to their feet, we need only remember the long list of politicians, journalists and scientists who 'officially' departed this life in equally impossible ways and whose suspicious deaths were met by the mainstream media with the same lack of journalistic integrity.

I am, however, open to having it explained to me how Mr Merrill could have shot himself in the head while on the boat, as the blood seems to suggest he did, and then flung himself over the side with an anchor attached to his feet. Perhaps he shot himself in the head and then attached the anchor to his feet? Or perhaps he attached the anchor to his feet, jumped into the water and then shot himself in the head? Of course, it is always possible that this was a case of 'assisted suicide', where a dear friend accompanied him on his last voyage and did the dirty work for him and then took off in another boat or swam the 25 miles to shore. Hey, anything is possible if you work for the great American mainstream media - it is, after all, "where wings take dream".

As to the 'official' motive: we are told that Mr Merrill's bypass operation last year is the likely cause of his assumed depression and 'suicide'. Mainstream media reports inform us that "experts" have tied depression to such illnesses and operations, but they are careful to add that "the link is complex". (which might be read as 'unlikely'). Family members, while stating that "it is impossible for them to imagine" that Philip Merrill would have committed suicide, appear to have publicly accepted the official verdict. Pictures on the Washingtonian website of a smiling Mr. Merrill holding his newborn grand-daughter on June 8th, just two days before his 'suicide', certainly do not belie a man in the depths of depression.

As is usually the case with such suspicious 'suicides' in the US, many of those who knew the victim express their shock, and in the case of Mr Merrill, many of his friends and colleagues found it difficult to reconcile his premature death with a man they knew to possess an "irrepressible spirit", a man who was brash and loud, a larger than life figure with impressive enthusiam and energy for life. Indeed, Mr Merrill, with a long career that took him to elevated positions within national and international politics, was no ordinary Maryland newspaper publisher.

Born Philip Merrill Levine on April 28, 1934 in Baltimore he grew up in New York City and Norwalk, Conn. His father, who worked in public relations, later encouraged his son to drop "Levine," saying a Jewish surname could limit his career prospects. Having graduated from Cornell University and Harvard Business School, he served as counselor to the Undersecretary of Defense for Policy from 1981 to 1983; as a member of the Defense Policy Board from 1983 to 1990; and as assistant Secretary General of NATO in Brussels from 1990 to 1992 under President George H. W. Bush. In 1988, Merrill received the Medal for Distinguished Service from the Secretary of Defense and was also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Mr. Merrill was a rich man, but it seems he gave his money away as easily as he made it, albeit that it was his two apparent passions, journalism and politics, that were the main benefactors. In 2001, he donated $10 million to the College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park, which now bears his name. He also donated $4 million in 2003 to create the Center for Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, aka a high-profile Neocon "thinktank", headed by arch Neocon Eliot Cohen. Cohen remembers Merrill as "a guy you could argue with" and a man with "a voracious intellect ... tremendous curiosity, a penetrating voice, a wonderful laugh. [He was] someone you would go to for advice - a font of hardheaded wisdom." Which makes us wonder how many arguments Merrill night have had with Neocons like Cohen ... and about what. Indeed, it seems that while he mixed with the political elite, Mr Merrill had no love for the predations of modern day Capitalist America. In remembering their ostentatious boss, staff writers at his own newspaper 'The Capital' recently wrote:

"He made a lot of people mad - his ear-splitting battles with politicians, businesspeople and even his own editors were legendary. He used the opinion pages of The Capital to take stands against slot machines and what he saw as pension giveaways and other government waste."

and:

"Right up to the end, Mr. Merrill remained engaged, still pecking out occasional editorials on the manual Royal typewriter in his office at the newspaper or the Washingtonian. In one in April on the BGE rate hikes, he blasted the governor's vetoes and fondly remembered Republicans who stood up for "Main St." and small business, not "Wall St. manipulators."

Vice President Dick Cheney's wife Lynne worked at Merrill's Washingtonian magazine for several years and it was the Vice President, who Merrill counted among his personal friends, who swore him in as chairman of the Export-Import Bank of the United States in 2002. A post that he held until 2005.

As you might have guessed, this is where it gets interesting.

Officially, the Export-Import Bank is a U.S. institution that has been providing 'insurance' to the tune of (at least initially) $500 million to U.S. companies that are 'investing' in Iraq.

But that's just officially.

Over the period of the first two months of the Iraq invasion in 2003, then Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) administrator Paul Bremner, on behalf of the Bush administration and with the blessing of the UN, established a 'Development Fund for Iraq' that was to be held by the Central Bank of Iraq. The fund was to comprise the proceeds from the sale of 95% of "all export sales of petroleum, petroleum products, and natural gas from Iraq and the money used "in a transparent manner to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, for the economic reconstruction and repair of Iraq's infrastructure, for the continued disarmament of Iraq, and for the costs of Iraqi civilian administration", although the funds were actually held in a new account in the Federal Reserve bank in New york. To start the fund off, there was $6bn in Iraqi money left over from the UN Oil for Food Programme, as well as sequestered and frozen assets, and at least $10bn from Iraqi oil exports that had already resumed. At the same time, the U.S. Congress voted to spend $18.4bn of U.S. taxpayers' money on the redevelopment of Iraq.

During the summer of 2003, Bremner, taking his orders from members of the Bush administration, came up with plan of how best to spend Iraq's billions:

To start, he signed various orders that established the CPA as exercising sole power over how to spend Iraq's oil money, and indemnified its American corporate cronies from liability in their theft of that oil. In essence, they took complete control of the Development Fund for Iraq and how it would be spent. Added to this were orders that allowed U.S. corporations to own 100% of any Iraqi land and resources and the mass privatisation, into the hands of these same corporations, of state enterprises previously owned by the Iraqi government.

Vast sums were awarded in no-bid contracts to companies like Haliburton and vast sums of money simply went missing. In essence, it was the complete and utter U.S. corporate pillaging of ALL of Iraq's wealth. To add insult to injury, the war that is being waged against the Iraqi resistance and the Iraqi people that they represent, including the US-trained death squads working out of the Iraqi interior ministry which is swarming with CIA personnel, is being financed from the same stolen Iraqi oil and resource money. Basically, the U.S. government put its hand into the pocket of the ordinary Iraqi citizen, used the money to buy a gun, and then shot him in the head with it.

Z Magazine of Jan 2004 continues:

"On June 8th 2003, Bremer issued CPA Order 12 , which lifts "All tariffs, custom duties, import taxes, licensing fees and similar surcharges for goods entering or leaving Iraq. The order unleashed a flood of imported goods that left Iraq's worn-out manufacturers unable to compete, pushing them to the brink of insolvency.

On June 19 2003 the Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im) of the United States announced it is "prepared to immediately start processing applications for exports to Iraq," including "subcontractors providing goods and services to Iraq under USAID contracts." The Ex-Im Bank (as it's called) went on to explain "support may be available for transactions where...the primary source of repayment is the Development Fund for Iraq, or another entity established under the auspices of the Coalition Provisional Authority."

The sole purpose of the Ex-Im Bank is to help "finance the sales of U.S. exports, primarily to developing markets, by providing guarantees, export credit insurance, and loans." Thus, in the case of Iraq, the Bank will provide credit for purchases for goods and services authorized by Bremer-including all of Bechtel and Halliburton's contracts.

This is amplified by CPA Order 20 from July 17 2003 establishing the Trade Bank of Iraq. Its purpose is to provide "financial and related services to facilitate the importation and exportation of goods and services to and from Iraq."

Take note of the entity called the "Trade Bank of Iraq".

While the facilitating of "importation and exportation of goods and services to and from Iraq" might sound reasonable, in reality, the "goods and services" being 'imported' to Iraq consist of:

the American military and its hardware

the infamous 'security contractors' like Blackwater

hardware to equip US-run death squads in the Iraqi interior ministry

the 'services' of US corporations like Haliburton etc.

The "goods and services" that are being 'exported' back to the U.S. (to U.S. companies) are, for the most part, Iraq's wealth in the form of massively overpriced no-bid contracts to U.S. corporations and payments to death squads and security contractors to kill civilians.

The official government website for the Ex-Im Bank of America informs us that "the Export-Import Bank of the United States (Ex-Im Bank), the Iraqi Ministry of Finance, and the Trade Bank of Iraq have signed a framework agreement that enables Ex-Im Bank to continue to support U.S. exports for Iraqi reconstruction."

The Trade Bank of Iraq was established in July 2003 and is led by a consortium of about a dozen private [mainly America] banks led by J.P. Morgan. Initially, this consortium was awarded a contract to provide letters of credit to companies looking to do business in Iraq via the newly formed Trade Bank of Iraq, but it seems that the Trade Bank of Iraq and the consortium of private banks are in fact one and the same.

Remember that the development Fund for Iraq was started with at least $16 billion of Iraqi money and that congress pledged $18 billion of U.S. taxpayers money? And remember that the CPA was tasked with spending that money "in a transparent manner to meet the humanitarian needs of the Iraqi people, for the economic reconstruction and repair of Iraq's infrastructure"?

When, in late 2003, an International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) was established to provide independent, international financial oversight of CPA spending ( the board included representatives from the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development), it found "incomplete accounting", "lack of documented justification for limited competition for contracts at the Iraqi ministries", "possible misappropriation of oil revenues", "significant difficulties in ensuring completeness and accuracy of Iraqi budgets and controls over expenditures" and "non-deposit of proceeds of export sales of petroleum products into the appropriate accounts in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 1483".

Bascially, if found fraud on a massive scale.

By the end of Paul Bremner's tenure in July 2004, his CPA had spent up to $20bn of Iraqi money, compared with $300m of U.S. funds, and $21 billion of Iraqi money was simply "missing".

Given its official remit to oversee the import and export of "goods and services" between Iraq and the U.S., and provide "finance" and "insurance" for American corporations and "security contractors" to "invest" in Iraq, it seems that, between them, the Trade Bank of Iraq (controlled by a consortium of private U.S. banks) and the Ex-Im Bank of America are two ends of a massive international theft operation run by the American government in cahoots with its corporate cronies, and where the Trade Bank of Iraq processes the stolen billions as they leave Iraq and head westwards, while the Ex-Im Bank of America receives these funds and funnels them to American corporations and god knows who else.

Philip Merrill presided over all of this as President of the Ex-Im Bank of America from 2003-2005, and while a political 'high-flyer', he still held to a quaint notion that journalists should have integrity - a dangerous mix if there ever was one. How much he knew of what was, and is, happening to Iraq's wealth and its people is hard to know. What we do know is that, now that he is dead, he can't write one of his "fiery editorials" about U.S. government and Wall Street "manipulations". But all of this is irrelevant, and we shouldn't waste time on "crazy conspiracy theories" about his death - the mainstream media has spoken: he shot himself in the head with a shotgun and then tied an anchor to his feet and jumped off his yacht into the cold Chesapeake bay.

There's nothing to see here.


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