A Visiting Card from Latvia : An Exceptional Video from the Latvian Institute : Via the Baltic Online Media Store (BOMS)

Seen originally at the Baltic Online Media Store (BOMS)

Latvijas vizītkarte – Sounds Like LATVIA (2009) – Latvijas Institūts

Full Text of April 23, 2009 Press Release of the European Commission regarding Germany’s Dodging of its CAP Disclosure Duty

Here is the full text – in English, French and German – of the April 23, 2009 Press Release of the European Commission regarding Germany’s dodging of its disclosure duty to publish a list of all recipients of all forms of EU agricultural and rural development funds for each financial year.

See the original EU links – IP/09/632 Date: 23/04/2009
Commission insists that all Member States publish recipients of CAP payments by 30th April, as set out in EU law

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ENGLISH

IP/09/632
Brussels, 23 April 2009
Commission insists that all Member States publish recipients of CAP payments by 30th April, as set out in EU law

The European Commission today expressed its surprise and disappointment with suggestions that Germany may not publish the list of beneficiaries of Common Agricultural Policy payments by 30th April 2009, as required by EU law. “We are very surprised. Germany voted in favour of this proposal and the legal situation is clear. Germany is obliged to implement this legislation. If they do suspend publication, we will react accordingly,” said Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development. “This could mean starting infringement proceedings against Germany. This is taxpayers’ money, so it is very important that people know where it is being spent. Transparency should also improve the management of these funds, by reinforcing public control of how the money is used. Only in this way can we guarantee an informed debate about the future of the Common Agricultural Policy.”

The new Financial Regulation, adopted in 2006, sets out the principle that Member States have to ensure the publication of a list of all recipients of all forms of EU agricultural and rural development funds for each financial year. A Commission Regulation sets out the details of how this publication will be carried out.

It provides that each Member State shall publish the information on a website which allows people to search for the beneficiaries by name, municipality, amounts received (and the currency concerned) or a combination of these three criteria and to extract the information as a single set of data. It requires Member States to inform the beneficiaries that their data will be made public and that they enjoy the rights accorded to them by EU data protection rules, thus ensuring that the system complies with the requirements of data protection. Recipients of money from the Rural Development fund have already been required to be published since September 2008. Germany has also published this data.

German Agriculture Minister Ilse Aigner has suggested “a temporary suspension” of the publication of this information, citing data protection concerns.

After careful examination, the Commission cannot agree to this suspension. Questions related to data protection were taken into consideration during the development of the legislation, which was backed by the Council. Germany itself voted in favour. EU regulations are directly applicable in all Member States, and the transparency rules are therefore binding in their entirety.

Neither the Member States nor the Commission may suspend the enforcement and application of these rules as long as they have not been declared invalid. Only the Court of Justice is empowered to declare an EU regulation to be invalid.

In this case, since an action is pending before the Court for a preliminary ruling on the validity of the EU transparency rules, the Commission must refrain from taking any action that could be perceived as prejudging the Court’s future ruling.

As Guardian of the Treaties, the Commission will treat all Member States in the same way and ensure that transparency rules are fully enforced in the whole EU from 30 April 2009.

FRENCH

IP/09/632
Bruxelles, le 23 avril 2009
La Commission insiste pour que les États membres publient la liste des bénéficiaires des paiements de la PAC pour le 30 avril, comme le prévoit la législation communautaire

La Commission a exprimé aujourd’hui sa surprise et sa déception à l’annonce que l’Allemagne pourrait ne pas publier la liste des bénéficiaires des paiements de la politique agricole commune pour le 30 avril 2009, comme l’exige la législation communautaire. «Nous sommes très surpris», a déclaré Madame Mariann Fischer Boel, membre de la Commission chargé de l’agriculture et du développement rural; l’Allemagne a voté en faveur de cette proposition et, sur le plan juridique, la situation est claire: elle a l’obligation d’appliquer la législation correspondante. Si elle suspend effectivement la publication de la liste, nous prendrons les mesures qui s’imposent. Cela pourrait signifier le lancement d’une procédure d’infraction contre l’Allemagne. Il s’agit de l’argent du contribuable et il est donc particulièrement important que les gens sachent ce qu’on en fait. La transparence devrait aussi améliorer la gestion de ces fonds, grâce à un contrôle public renforcé de leur utilisation. C’est la seule manière de garantir un débat éclairé sur l’avenir de la politique agricole commune.»

Le nouveau règlement financier, adopté en 2006, établit que les États membres doivent garantir la publication pour chaque exercice financier d’une liste de tous les bénéficiaires de toutes les formes d’aides dans les domaines de l’agriculture et du développement rural octroyées par l’UE. Les modalités de cette publication sont fixées dans un règlement de la Commission.

Celui-ci prévoit que chaque État membre publie les informations sur un site web permettant au public de rechercher les bénéficiaires par nom, commune, montants reçus (et devise correspondante) ou en combinant ces trois critères et d’extraire les renseignements correspondants sous la forme d’un ensemble de données unique. Le règlement impose aux États membres d’informer les bénéficiaires que leurs données seront publiées et qu’ils bénéficient des droits qui leur sont accordés par la réglementation communautaire en matière de protection des données; cette disposition garantit la conformité du système aux exigences de protection des données. Depuis septembre 2008, il est obligatoire de publier la liste des bénéficiaires de subventions du Fonds pour le développement rural. Ces données ont aussi été publiées par l’Allemagne, mais son ministre de l’agriculture, Madame Ilse Aigner, a proposé une «suspension temporaire» de la publication en raison de considérations relatives à la protection des données.

Après mûre réflexion, la Commission a conclu qu’elle ne pouvait pas donner son accord. Les questions de protection des données ont été prises en considération lors de l’élaboration de la législation, qui a reçu l’appui du Conseil. L’Allemagne elle-même a marqué son approbation. Les règlements de l’Union européenne sont directement applicables dans tous les États membres et les règles en matière de transparence sont donc contraignantes dans leur intégralité.

Tant que la validité de ces règles n’a pas été annulée, ni les États membres, ni la Commission ne sauraient donc en suspendre l’application ou la mise en œuvre, et seule la Cour de justice est habilitée à invalider un règlement de l’Union européenne.

Étant donné qu’en l’espèce, une action a été engagée devant la Cour, qui est appelée à rendre un arrêt préjudiciel sur la validité de la réglementation communautaire en matière de transparence, la Commission doit s’abstenir de toute action susceptible d’être perçue comme préjugeant de la future décision de la Cour.

Gardienne des traités, la Commission entend agir de manière identique vis-à-vis de tous les États membres et veiller à ce que, dans toute l’Union européenne, la réglementation en matière de transparence soit intégralement mise en œuvre à la date du 30 avril 2009.

GERMAN

IP/09/632
Brüssel, den 23. April 2009
GAP-Zahlungen: Kommission besteht auf Veröffentlichung der Empfängerdaten durch alle Mitgliedstaaten bis 30. April 2009

Die Europäische Kommission zeigte sich heute überrascht und enttäuscht über Hinweise, dass Deutschland die Liste der Empfänger von GAP-Zahlungen möglicherweise nicht wie im EU-Recht vorgesehen bis 30. April 2009 veröffentlichen will. „Wir sind wirklich überrascht. Deutschland hat für diesen Vorschlag gestimmt, und die Rechtslage ist klar. Deutschland ist verpflichtet, die Vorschriften umzusetzen. Sollte es die Veröffentlichung dieser Daten tatsächlich aussetzen, werden wir entsprechend reagieren“, kommentierte Kommissarin Fischer Boel, zuständig für Landwirtschaft und ländliche Entwicklung. „Dies könnte bedeuten, dass ein Verstoßverfahren gegen Deutschland eingeleitet wird. Hier geht es um das Geld der Steuerzahler, und deswegen müssen die Bürger wissen, wohin dieses Geld fließt. Mehr Transparenz dürfte auch die Verwaltung der Mittel verbessern, weil die öffentliche Kontrolle der Mittelverwendung gestärkt wird. Nur so kann es eine sachlich fundierte Diskussion über die Zukunft der Gemeinsamen Agrarpolitik geben.

Nach der neuen Haushaltsordnung von 2006 müssen die Mitgliedstaaten jedes Jahr eine angemessene nachträgliche Veröffentlichung der Informationen über die Empfänger von Haushaltsmitteln sicherstellen. Die Einzelheiten dieser Veröffentlichung sind in einer Durchführungsverordnung der Kommission geregelt.

Nach dieser Verordnung müssen die Informationen von den Mitgliedstaaten auf einer speziellen Website veröffentlicht werden und für die Nutzer über eine Suchfunktion zugänglich sein, mit der Name, Gemeinde und erhaltene Beträge (in der betreffenden Währung) oder eine Kombination dieser drei Kriterien abgefragt und die Informationen als ein Datensatz entnommen werden können. Außerdem müssen die Mitgliedstaaten die Empfänger im vorhinein über die Veröffentlichung ihrer Daten informieren und sie auf ihre Rechte im Rahmen der EU-Datenschutzbestimmungen hinweisen, womit sichergestellt ist, dass das System den Datenschutzerfordernissen entspricht. Die Daten über die Empfänger von Mitteln aus dem Europäischen Landwirtschaftsfonds für die Entwicklung des ländlichen Raums wurden erstmals bereits im September 2008 und auch von Deutschland veröffentlicht.

Die deutsche Landwirtschaftsministerin Ilse Aigner hat nun unter Hinweis auf datenschutzrechtliche Bedenken darum gebeten, die Verpflichtung zur Veröffentlichung dieser Daten „auszusetzen“.

Nach sorgfältiger Prüfung kam die Kommission jedoch zu dem Schluss, dass sie einer Aussetzung nicht zustimmen kann. Die Datenschutzproblematik wurde während des Legislativverfahrens berücksichtigt, der Rat hat die Vorschriften genehmigt, Deutschland hat für die Vorschriften gestimmt. Die Gemeinschaftsverordnungen gelten unmittelbar in allen Mitgliedstaaten, und die Transparenzvorschriften sind in allen ihren Teilen verbindlich.

Weder die Mitgliedstaaten noch die Kommission können die Durchsetzung und Anwendung dieser Vorschriften aussetzen, solange diese nicht für ungültig erklärt worden sind. Und nur der Gerichtshof ist befugt, eine Gemeinschaftsvorschrift für ungültig zu erklären.

Da beim Gerichtshof ein Vorabentscheidungsersuchen zur Gültigkeit der Transparenzvorschriften anhängig ist, muss die Kommission außerdem jede Handlung unterlassen, die als Vorgriff auf die Entscheidung des Gerichtshofs gewertet werden könnte.

Als Hüterin der Verträge wird die Kommission alle Mitgliedstaaten gleich behandeln und sicherstellen, dass die Transparenzvorschriften ab dem 30. April 2009 in allen Mitgliedstaaten in vollem Umfang durchgesetzt werden.

European Union EU Common Agricultural Policy CAP Susbsidies also include Egregious Non-Farm Aid to Multinational Corporations

With reference to our previous posting on EU farm subsidies, we should point out that CAP payments made by the EU are not limited to farms and that European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) susbsidies also include Non-Farm Aid to multinational corporations, for example, in the form of notorious so-called export refunds, which involve the transfer of billions of euros to the bank accounts of large food-related companies.

MDC Datum explains how export refunds work (see also CAOBISCO on this topic). In the first instance, prices, e.g. for sugar, are kept artificially higher in the European Union than what world prices would warrant, by implementing various means of “intervention” (this used to be called “price fixing”), thus already greatly benefitting the relevant companies in the first instance.

Then, when these same companies sell their (increasingly?) surplus production not to the EU, but on the world market, the EU by a system of so-called “export refunds” makes up the difference in price between the “world market price” and the fixed artifically-created “intervention price” which prevails in the European Union for the given commodity. This difference is paid to the exporting company! Now there is a game to be involved in. The European Union system of export refunds thus can be regarded as one of the greatest scams ever invented for the beneficiaries of this “sure thing” system.

As written by Felicity Lawrence at the The Guardian on December 8, 2005 in Multinationals, not farmers, reap biggest rewards in Britain’s share of CAP payouts:

[C]ampaign groups such as Oxfam argue that the CAP has given a handful of monopoly multinational companies fixed prices and guaranteed markets while encouraging excess production. Just six sugar traders, for example, control most of the EU sugar market and between them have been able to claim EU export subsidies amounting to between €1.2bn and €1.4bn annually. Surpluses can be dumped on international markets at subsidised rates and thus keep world prices artificially low, further benefiting the multinational companies. “Stripped to its essential, the sugar regime is a system of corporate welfare…[it] sanctions what is effectively a [legal] cartel“, according to Oxfam.” [link and emphasis added by LawPundit]

Read in this regard Oxfam’s Briefing Paper 34 Milking the CAP: How Europe’s dairy regime is devastating livelihoods in the developing world, which observed in commenting on the year 2001 that :

European citizens are supporting the dairy industry to the tune of €16 billion a year. This is equivalent to more than $2 per cow per day – half the world’s people live on less than this amount. EU surpluses of milk and milk products are dumped on world markets using costly export subsidies, which destroy people’s livelihoods in some of the world’s poorest countries. Dairy processing and trading companies are the direct beneficiaries of these subsidies. Meanwhile, many small-scale European dairy farmers are struggling to make ends meet. Oxfam is calling for an immediate end to EU dairy export dumping and for agricultural support to target small-scale farmers.

Although export refunds for dairy products were discontinued by the European Commission in 2007 in part because of the understandable swell of protest against these clear monopoly scams, it is now reported a mere two years later that export refunds for dairy products are again to be reinstituted, as we read in the European Parliament on March 12, 2009 in Strasbourg in the ANNEX (Written answers) – QUESTIONS TO THE COMMISSION:

Question n° 56 de Alain Hutchinson (H-0122/09 )
Objet: Subventions à l’exportation
H-0122/09

En 2001, l’UE s’était engagée à diminuer progressivement les subventions à l’exportation de ses produits agricoles, pour les supprimer d’ici à 2013. Cependant pour 2006-2007, l’UE a encore dépensé 2,5 milliards d’euros en subventions à l’exportation. Si ce montant représente une diminution, il demeure encore beaucoup trop élevé. Dans un contexte international marqué par la crise alimentaire et la flambée des prix agricoles, il serait pourtant nécessaire d’avancer beaucoup plus rapidement vers la suppression de telles subventions qui constituent un dumping intenable pour des millions de petits producteurs des pays en développement.

La Commission peut-elle préciser, chiffres et calendrier à l’appui, quelles sont ses intentions en la matière?

The re-introduction of EC export refunds for dairy products is a response to a dramatic 60% decrease in world market prices over recent months, a result from shrinking demand. And contrary to the current situation in the EU, dairy production increases in certain competing exporting third countries such as New Zealand, Brazil and the United States.

These export refunds have therefore to be considered as a safety-net and certainly not as a setback of the course set out in the 2003 Common Agricultural Policy reform and the subsequent Health Check.

The EU has always respected its international commitments on export refunds and will continue to do so.

The Ministerial Declaration adopted at the Hong Kong World Trade Organisation (WTO) Ministerial Conference on 13-18 December 2005 lays down that: “We agree to ensure the parallel elimination of all forms of export subsidies and disciplines on all export measures with equivalent effect to be completed by the end of 2013.” The EC as WTO member will respect its political commitments in the declaration, including on the deadline for the elimination of all forms of export subsidies. This commitment however is conditioned on the successful completion of the Doha Round.

The EC remains committed to concluding the Doha Round and hope that an agreement can be achieved during 2009. Following an agreement the EC will specify in its schedule the details on the elimination of export refunds by 2013.”

In 2006/2007 the EC notified to the WTO the spending of €1.4 billion in export refunds and not € 2.5 billion. This is less than one fifth of the agreed WTO ceiling for export subsidies.

According to the Farmers Guardian, the following non-farm CAP payments were e.g. made in 2004/2005 (the very fact that these numbers are not up to date anywhere online indicates that people are trying to hide what is at heart a tremendous scam system, benefitting only large vested interests):

1. Tate & Lyle Europe £88,703,757.25
2. C Czarnikow Sugar £39,396,794.72
3. Tate & Lyle Europe £20,104,840.01
4. Fayrefield Foods Ireland £18,361,816.61
5. Tate & Lyle Citric Acid £15,243,922.59
6. Philpot Dairy Products £13,229,777.84
7. Meadow Foods £12,471,426.15
8. Milk Supplies £9,775,832.61
9. Dale Farm £8,616,911.24
10. Nestle UK £5,116,853.67
11. Meadow Foods £4,909,609.00
12. G’s Growers £4,593,443.86
13. T M C dairies £3,100,963.74
14. Lakeland Dairies £2,938,066.39
15. KG Growers £2,380,753.40
16. Express Dairies Milk £2,270,698.41
17. Eilers & Wheeler Sales £2,149,003.87
18. Fruition APO £1,664,004.76
19. Humber Growers £1,644,222.60
20. Cargill plc Agricultural Division £1,478,833.50

It is no wonder that the WTO has put pressure on the European Union to abandon these export refunds which are not only skewing world prices, but are also wrongfully filling the coffers of various EU multinational companies and their wealthy shareholders at EU taxpayer expense, taxpayers who not only are being forced to pay higher than world prices for the commodities that they themselves consume, but who in addition are also forced to pay to subsidize EU companies who are selling surplus commodities to the 3rd world nations at subsidized prices, thus undercutting 3rd world economies. It is a new “colonial-type” racket of immense scope.

What is particularly disturbing about CAP subsidies is that they are going straight out of the pockets of ordinary citizens into the pockets of large companies and landholders. This is nothing more than a modern form of feudalism as far as the paying EU taxpayer is concerned.

Both the UK and Germany, for example, pay more into the CAP pot than they get back, so that their ordinary citizens have every right to demand that this money go at least to deserving farmers either at home or in some of the other developing EU Member States. It is most surely not the intent of the EU populace to see their hard-earned monies being continuously plundered by wealthy institutions and individuals who already have more than enough.

There is also no excuse (according to 2006 stats at FarmSubsidy.Org) for large countries such as France WINNING €22 more per citizen per year in CAP subsidies than they put into the pot, whereas each citizen in the United Kingdom LOSES €22 in the deal, and in Germany each citizen even loses €42 in the deal. In 2007, according to FarmSubsidy.Org, the top three CAP recipients in France were BANKS! Why should citizens in the UK and Germany be subsidizing French banks, agribusiness and large multinational corporations?

Once again, we point a strong finger of guilt at all of those knowingly involved in this unprecedented and often clandestine scheme for the redistribution of money within the European Union. The very fact that information about CAP subsidy payments is extremely hard to obtain indicates clearly that those in the know also know that they are in the middle of operations which should best not see the light of day.

Jack Thurston at FarmSubsidy.Org refers to a Financial Times article on CAP by Alan Beattie, who tellingly wrote:

People pushing for reform of the CAP say more pressure from inside the EU is needed. But the first problem is finding detailed information. For much of its history, the CAP has largely operated in the dark. Figures on how much each farmer receives have had to be painfully extracted from EU member governments by sustained campaigning and repeated requests under various national freedom of information acts.

We see this again clearly in Germany’s reluctance this week to abide by EU law and to disclose the names of CAP recipients in the year 2009.

WHERE IS there evidence of the PROGRESS FORWARD so badly needed by the EU?

European Union Farm Subsidies of $55 Billion are 43% of EU Budget : Germany Refuses to Name Aid Recipients on Data Protection Grounds

Feudalism is alive and well in Europe. It just has a very modern form of expression.

The really big money in the European Union financial scheme of things changes hands feudally between the lowly taxpayers and vested agricultural interests, mostly big agribusiness and large landowners. Just as in the United States, where the wealthiest factions of the country have been milking the economy for all it is worth, a similar process is at work in the European Union in transferring more and more money into the hands of those who already have it.

As reported by Valentina Pop at EUObserver, European Union farm subsidies currently total $55 billion per year, which accounts for 43% of the entire EU budget. Since EU budget funds come from the EU Member States in the form of a flat tax of ca. 1% of GDP, it is in fact the little guys who are once again paying the bill.

This can be seen from Richard Baldwin’s analysis of agricultural aid to the UK in Who finances the Queen’s CAP payments? The CAP as a dooH niboR scheme [i.e. taking from the poor and giving to the rich in a reverse of Robin Hood, which is dooH niboR backwards – see Paul Krugman on Dooh Nibor Economics].

Baldwin may be writing in the year 2005 in The royalty of CAP madness, but nothing has changed in the intervening years. As written February 9, 2008 by Colin Brown, Deputy Political Editor at the Independent in ‘Fat cats’ benefit from EU farming subsidies:

The Queen and one of the richest men in London, the Duke of Westminster, are among the biggest winners from this year’s payment of farm subsidies.

The Duke, who owns most of Mayfair and also Grosvenor Farms Limited, was paid £562,786, while the Duke of Marlborough, a member of the Churchill family, was paid £452,944 in subsidy for the Blenheim Farm Partnership based in Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

One of the largest payments went to the Mormon Church, which has become one of the biggest foreign landowners in English farming following a payment of £1.59m from the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The Queen’s Sandringham Farms were paid £408,970 in subsidies. Half of the land is let to tenants and the rest is turned over to two studs for her racehorses, forestry and fruit farms which produce apples and juice for the Windsor farm shop.

The UK Parliament has also provided interesting figures. The House of Commons Hansard Written Answers for 27 Jan 2009 (pt 0010) show the following top 10 recipients in the UK of EU farm aid:

Jane Kennedy [holding answer 5 February 2009]: The following table lists the 10 individuals and/or organisations that received the highest subsidies available under all schemes under the common agricultural policy for the European financial year 2008, which runs from 16 October 2007 to 15 October 2008.

Individual/organisations
£

K G Growers

3,170,052.01

G’s Growers

2,908,857.66

Farmcare Limited

2,641,415.83

The Berryworld Producer Organisation

1,943,996,51

Strutt and Parker Limited

1,493,340.64

The National Trust

1,348,898.74

Sir Richard Suttons Settled Estate

1,264,889.52

Lilburn Estates Farming Partnership

1,215,740.15

Blankley Estates Ltd

1,189,030.63

Fruition Producer Organisation Limited

1,186,619.38


We found the following information about these organizations online:

Of course, none of these companies is to be blamed for obtaining subsidies if the EU laws permit them to do so. The fault is to be sought in Brussels, not in London, through whose incompetence billions of euros are being funneled into the bank accounts of those who least need the money.

As Valentina Pop now writes at Germany dodges disclosure of EU farm funds, to keep these kinds of payments to the rich out of the public eye, Germany has now ignored an EU law requiring full agricultural subsidy disclosure and has refused to name the German aid recipients on the grounds of “data protection”, which is of course absolutely absurd from every possible legal viewpoint. As EUObserver writes:

Claiming data protection issues, German agriculture minister Ilse Aigner on Wednesday recommended: “temporarily suspending the publication of further information on the beneficiaries of agricultural funding.” Germany is the only country to have done so.

Aigner is by profession a trained radio and TV technician who appears to us intellectually and by educational background to be totally out of her league in her ministerial post. What does Aigner know about law? One of the tragedies of our media age is that “pretty faces” such as Aigner are elevated into top political positions where they wreak havoc due to their lack of qualifications.

In fact, as we already know from a November 2007 Stern article Agrarsubventionen: Volle Töpfe für die Großen, the lion’s share of EU agricultural CAP subsidies to Germany is going into the pockets of the large agribusiness concerns and the old landholding gentry, just as in the UK.
The idea that the names of those who are plundering the European Union economy should be kept secret is a travesty, as pointed out by Jack Thuston in the EUObserver article by Pop:

This is a disgrace. The handful of politicians and judges in Germany who are opposing transparency are acting as the puppets of big agri-business and wealthy landowners, who’s only interest is to keep the German people in the dark about the reality of farm subsidies,” Jack Thuston, co-founder of www.farmsubsidy.org, the journalist-launched initiative behind the EU requirement, said in a statement.

He also pointed to the fact that the commission can release the names of the beneficiaries if a member state dodged this requirement, because the EU executive does have this data on file.

“Farmsubsidy.org originally proposed that the commission publish the information in one single dataset, partly because it would be simpler, less bureaucratic and less fragmented, and partly in anticipation that some member states would backslide from their obligations, as Germany is now doing. Unfortunately the commission chose to pass the responsibility down to member states,” he added.

Also on Friday, a court in Munster ruled that the publication of names, addresses and amounts of EU funding received by farmers complies with German legislation. The ruling cannot be challenged further.”

It is quite clear in this quarter that the names must be revealed. It will now be interesting to see who does the revealing and what consequences it will have. With Ministers like Aigner, Merkel does not need enemies – they are in her own cabinet.

USA Drug Policy Flawed : 2.3 Million in Jail or Prison : Limits of the Criminal Sanction : Portugal Leads Way to Legal Reform & Drug Decriminalization

According to Eric E. Sterling, President of the non-profit Criminal Justice Policy Foundation and former counsel on anti-drug legislation to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, there are currently 2.3 million Americans in jails or prisons, many of them due to drug infractions:

We certainly need to imprison dangerous offenders – to protect us and to punish them. But we need to get a lot smarter about why we imprison and who we imprison. Remarkably, in the last thirty years, the largest increase in imprisonment has been due to prohibition drug policy.

Even though drug enforcement leaders have warned for more than twenty years that “we can’t arrest our way out of the drug problem,” every year we arrest more people for drug offenses than the year before. Last year we arrested over 1.8 million Americans, more than three times the number arrested for all violent crimes combined. Now about one-quarter of those in prison are serving drug sentences. As the centerpiece of our anti-drug strategy, arrests and imprisonment have failed: high school seniors report that drugs are easier for them to get now than in the 1970s and 1980s.

Andrew Bosworth at PopulistAmerica.com in Incarceration Nation: The Rise of a Prison-Industrial Complex writes similarly:

Consider this disturbing fact: the United States now has the world’s highest incarceration rate outside of North Korea. Out of 1,000 people, more Americans are behind bars than anywhere in the world except in Kim Jong-Il’s Neo-Stalinist state. The US has a higher incarceration rate than China, Russia, Iran, Zimbabwe and Burma – countries American politicians often berate for their human rights violations.

Well over two million Americans are behind bars. Let us agree that violent criminals and sex offenders should be in jail, but most Americans are not aware that over one million people spend year after year in prison for non-violent and petty offenses: small-time drug dealing, street hustling, prostitution, bouncing checks and even writing graffiti. Texas, with its boot-in-your-butt criminal justice system, is now attempting to incarcerate people who get drunk at bars – even if they are not disturbing the peace and intend to take a taxi home…

Arguably, continuously lowering the bar for what it takes to be jailed threatens the liberty of all Americans. And having one million non-violent offenders in prison (often for absurdly long periods) makes it that much easier, in the near future, for the return of debtors’ prisons and dissident detention centers. This approach to locking up everyone possible undermines both the liberal emphasis on personal liberty and the conservative emphasis on small government.”

Who out there in the American criminal justice system understands the basic wisdom found in Herbert Packer‘s Limits of the Criminal Sanction? What lawmaker, government official, judge, prosecutor, or prison official in the United States has ever read Packer’s book – much less applied the inexorable legal policy conclusions demanded by it? (see Google Books, this PPT and Packer’s Two Models of the Criminal Process)

Not every undesirable human action or activity in society is or should be subject to criminal punishments. There are other – more modern – means available to deal with socially undesirable behavior.

Indeed, the primitive idea of jails or prisons as legal solutions for societal problems has been around for millennia. But such jails and prisons, except as a deserved punishment of and/or an effective deterrent of violent and dangerous criminals, are by their very nature as outdated in modern law as the now discredited blood-letting is in modern medicine, which was an accepted medical practice worldwide from the earliest times of humanity down to the late 19th century, a flawed medical practice which surely cost America’s first President, George Washington, his life (we quote from the Wikipedia):

Bloodletting was also popular in the young United States of America…. George Washington asked to be bled heavily after he developed a throat infection from weather exposure. Almost 4 pounds (1.7 litres) of blood was withdrawn … contributing to his death in 1799.

We were reminded of the similar backward state of contemporary American law by the April 26, 2009 TIME article of Maia Szalavitz on Drugs in Portugal: Did Decriminalization Work? (referring to an article by Glenn Greenwald at the Cato Institute), where the answer to that question in the title is a clear, resounding, “YES, drug decriminalization has worked in Portugal”.

Szalavitz quotes Glenn Greenwald, writing at the Cato Institute:

“Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”

What sensible legal policy did Portugal adopt?

Going to the original article at the Cato Institute, Glenn Greenwald writes in Drug Decriminalization in Portugal: Lessons for Creating Fair and Successful Drug Policies :

On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were “decriminalized,” not “legalized.” Thus, drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense….

The data show that, judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success. Within this success lie self-evident lessons that should guide drug policy debates around the world.” [emphasis added]

We are particularly gratified to read this result, because the Portuguese solution is the solution advocated 40 years ago by our mentor at Stanford Law School, the late Professor John Kaplan – famed for his legal brilliance from his days at Harvard, a former prosecutor who was a conservative at heart – who in the late 1960’s was selected as a member of a top-notch advisory committee of law professors to advise the California state legislature on a revision of the California criminal (penal) code.

Kaplan’s drug research at that time led the professorial advisory committee to recommend the decriminalization of marijuana in California to the California legislature – with the result, if memory serves correctly, that some if not all of the entire advisory committee was released from its duties by the legislature and replaced by other law professors whose political views were more in line with what the California legislature wanted to hear. I know of this only be hearsay and can not vouch for the exact details.

In any case, Kaplan responded to this experience with his book, Marijuana: The New Prohibition, which I had the honor and pleasure to edit while still a student, and in which Kaplan was of the opinion that drugs such as marijuana should be “decriminalized” – it was his major recommendation in this field of law. Drug abuse, as Herbert Packer – for whom I was also a student assistant at Stanford Law School – would have predicted by the principles in his book on the limits of the criminal sanction, simply does not lend itself well to control by criminal punishments.

Eric E. Sterling, J.D., President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation in his Drug Policy Bibliography and Websites lists Kaplan’s book as follows:

John Kaplan, Marijuana – The New Prohibition, Pocket Books, New York, 1971, 402 pp. A
classic. Stanford law professor John Kaplan demolished the factual foundation for marijuana
prohibition when originally published in 1970. Throughly documented.

Talcott Bates M.D. wrote in his book review of Marijuana: The New Prohibition:

Professor Kaplan was appointed in 1966 by the California Senate to a committee to revise the California Penal Code, last completely revised in 1872. By chance he was assigned the drug laws, about which he felt he had no knowledge or experience except that which he had acquired as a one-time prosecutor as Assistant United States Attorney. It became apparent at once that the key drug problem in California was the treatment of marijuana. Not until the treatment of marijuana was intelligently handled would progress in the broader area of drug abuse be possible.

Marijuana: The New Prohibition reviews the history of marijuana, how in 1937, four years after Prohibition ended, Congress outlawed the sale, possession, and use of marijuana. Professor Kaplan points out that the measure of the wisdom of any law is the measure of its total social
and financial costs and the benefits that derive from this outlay. This book is an attempt to measure the costs of the criminalization of marijuana and concludes that the costs far outweigh the benefits.

It is not without reason, as written at ProhibitionCosts.Org, that in the year 2005, three Nobel laureates in economics and more than 500 distinguished economists advocated “replacing marijuana prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation similar to that used for alcoholic beverages [which] would produce combined savings and tax revenues of between $10 billion and $14 billion per year….

In terms of drug possession and abuse, as I wrote previously elsewhere about John Kaplan’s book:

John Kaplan’s
Marijuana — The New Prohibition

John’s book on the drug laws resulted from his membership on a professorial advisory committee to the California state legislature. John was quite conservative in his views and had in fact served as a public prosecutor of crimes, but his committee recommended a liberal stance toward marijuana – regarding its criminalization to be a legislative mistake.

John’s view was that the legislature should concentrate more on workable laws regarding hard drugs such as heroin and cocaine, which were the major dangers. Too much emphasis was going toward marijuana – where young people were easily being caught in the act of smoking – and too little effort was being placed on going after hard drug makers and dealers, where arrests were much harder for the authorities to obtain.

As the result of the objective committee report, however, the committee was fired by the California legislature and a new committee was formed, ostensibly with members whose views were more in line with what the legislature subjectively wanted to hear, whether it fit the facts or not. In his book, John predicted that the criminalization of marijuana would not work – it did not work – and that, on the contrary, the marijuana laws would strengthen the hard drug dealers as suppliers – which in fact happened, leading many people to take stronger drugs. The drug abuse mess that exists today throughout much of America is partially the result of this very erroneous drug law policy, having concentrated on marijuana and not enough on the truly dangerous substances.

See: Marijuana — The New Prohibition
by John Kaplan
Publisher: Ty Crowell Co; 1st Edition (June 1970)

The State of California and the other states of the United States ignored Kaplan’s recommendations and the results are now in, 40 years later. They do not speak well for the wisdom of past or current legislation on drug laws or their enforcement. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) :

In 2006, 25 million Americans age 12 and older had abused marijuana at least once in the year prior to being surveyed. Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health; http://www.samhsa.gov/. The NIDA-funded 2007 Monitoring the Future Study showed that 10.3% of 8th graders, 24.6% of 10th graders, and 31.7% of 12th graders had abused marijuana at least once in the year prior to being surveyed. Source: Monitoring the Future http://www.monitoringthefuture.org/. “

The case for decriminalization and for a more intelligent approach to drug possession and abuse is clearly apparent.

Generally, in terms of all petty and needlessly “criminalized” legal infractions, there are great legislative and judicial opportunities out there to adopt sensible criminal laws, to get people out of jails and prisons who should not be there, and to help to integrate people into normal life rather than tossing them stupidly into jails and prisons, where little progress in development is possible for most. Quite the contrary, people are thrown together with hardened criminals, to their detriment. In most non-violent crimes, especially petty infractions, jail and/or prison should be the LAST option, not the first.

But how likely is it that an entrenched unmoving American legal system will now take the intelligent path forward to reform its vastly outdated drug laws and to free its jail and prison populations of people who should not be there?

Not very likely – unless the people in Congress and state legislatures suddenly get to be a lot smarter than we judge them to be.

For more resources on this topic, see the Cato Institute’s Criminal Justice Reading List.

U.S. Federal Reserve Bank Earned $32 Billion in 2008 : Bankruptcy Law and Policy : Law Prof Todd Zywicki on the Housing Crisis : Real Estate Sales

One must always recall that whenever money is being lost somewhere, it is being made elsewhere. The world’s financial markets are in a constant seesaw battle for supremacy.

It is thus no surprise to us that the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank, in spite of having absorbed the assets – including the so-called “toxic assets” – of the “bankrupted” Bear Stearns and AIG companies, posted a $32 billion profit for the year 2008. What goes on here?

Joshua Zumbrun reports at Forbes.com on the Fed in What Bank Earned $32 billion In 2008? Take a look at the numbers there, which suggest that much of the current media panic is overstated and is – sadly – contributing to a mood of gloom which is often not warranted.

In other words, one should be careful about believing all the negative hype you can read in the newspapers. The actual realities below the surface may actually look much different.

The so-called “housing crisis”, for example, is a case in point.

As Man Friday, Peter Robinson reports at Forbes.com in The Housing Crisis Isn’t A Crisis on George Mason law prof Todd Zywicki and his forthcoming book Bankruptcy Law and Policy in the Twenty-First Century (Yale University Press, 2009) in which he suggests that there are three distinct housing markets and only one of these is actually in distress, in part due to former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan driving down the price of adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), which sent house prices through the roof. This third type of housing market – which includes retirement and second homes – is focused in the Sun Belt, whereas Zywicki is quoted as saying that “41 out of the 50 states have foreclosure rates below the national mean.

Accordingly, one has to be careful in applying the idea of a “housing crisis” globally, even though it may actually be concentrated only regionally.

A similar message is being sent by Joel Kotkin in The American Suburb Is Bouncing Back: Don’t believe the urban-living fundamentalists, where he points out that California real estate sales are picking up, to which he adds:

Nor is this merely a Californian phenomenon. Nationwide, existing home sales–predominately in the suburbs–have been on the rise for the last few months. The strongest growth is occurring in Sunbelt markets in Arizona, Nevada and Florida, as well as in California. These places experienced some of the greatest surges in prices, which forced many buyers to turn to subprime and interest-only loans.

As Kotkin writes:

George Guerrero, a top agent at Advantage Real Estate in Chino Hills, says he can see the light, with sales picking up and inventories finally beginning to drop … it’s all enough to make George Guerrero a born-again optimist. “There’s something healthy just beginning to happen out here,” he says. “This time people with good credit are getting good deals at good prices. It’s a wonderful thing to see.”

World Digital Library (WDL) Launched to Share Content of World’s Libraries and Cultural Institutions

The World Digital Library (WDL) was launched on April 21, 2009.

Staff writer Louise Fenner at America.gov provides the essential details of “a vast multilingual collection of manuscripts, maps, rare books, sound recordings, films, prints, photographs and other cultural and historical materials [which] can be viewed with the click of a computer mouse — and this is only the beginning of an ambitious project to share the contents of the world’s libraries and cultural institutions.

Here is one example: the Constitution of the United States.

Comparing Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology Innovation in the United States and Europe : The Key Player is Venture Capital Financing and not Patents

It is often claimed that the liberal granting of patents is essential for the development of the pharmaceutical industry, especially modern biotechnology. The facts do not support that view.

NGP’s Mind the gap? writes:

Fast facts

For most of the past century, Europe has been leading the world in pharmaceutical innovation. But over the last decade, the US gradually overtook Europe both in terms of innovative efforts (R&D investment) and in terms of the output of its innovative activity (New Molecular Entities).

Europe is still leading the world in pharmaceutical production, which has risen fivefold in value over the last 20 years, with exports accounting for 60 percent of total production.

More than 400,000 Europe-born scientists are estimated to have crossed the Atlantic, where they account for 40 percent of scientists working in the US.

About 40 percent of the new active substances launched nowadays on the world market have been discovered and developed in Europe, whereas 30 years ago Europe’s share of pharmaceutical discoveries was 65 percent.“

The reason for the mass exodus of pharmaceutical scientists from Europe to the USA is the lure of more money, enabled by exorbitant U.S. pharmaceutical profits as engendered by a failed and exploitative patent policy. As written by Marcia Angell in Excess in the pharmaceutical industry:

Although the pharmaceutical industry claims to be a high-risk business, year after year drug companies enjoy higher profits than any other industry. In 2002, for example, the top 10 drug companies in the United States had a median profit margin of 17%, compared with only 3.1% for all the other industries on the Fortune 500 list. Indeed, subtracting losses from gains, those 10 companies made more in profits that year than the other 490 companies put together. Pfizer, the world’s number-one drug company, had a profit margin of 26% of sales. In 2003, for the first time in over 2 decades, the pharmaceutical industry fell slightly from its number-one spot to third, but this was explained by special circumstances, including Pfizer’s purchase of another drug giant, Pharmacia, which cut into its profits for the year. The industry’s profits were still an extraordinary 14% of sales, well above the median of 4.6% for other industries. A business that is consistently so profitable can hardly be considered risky.

Excess profits are, of course, the result of excess prices — and prices are excessive principally in the United States, the only advanced country that does not limit pharmaceutical price increases in some way. Of the top 10 drug companies in the world, 5 are European and 5 are American, but all of them have the US as their major profit centre. In the US, uninsured patients (of which there are many) are charged more for drugs than those who have large insurance companies to bargain for them, and the prices of prescription drugs are generally much higher to start with than in other advanced countries. Moreover, the prices of top-selling drugs are routinely jacked up in the US at 2 to 3 times the general rate of inflation.“

In reality, biotechnology patents are not an issue of health, invention or patent law, but rather a matter of greed for money, as discussed in the Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice by Katherine A. Helm in her article, The battle over global drug markets: enforcement of pharmaceutical patents in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

The facts also tell a different story about the alleged relationship of patents to innovation. Margaret Sharp and Pari Patel, SPRU, University of Sussex, write as follows in their article Europe’s Pharmaceutical Industry: An Innovation Profile: Summary as part of EIMS (European Innovation Monitoring System):

For the 20 largest R&D spending pharmaceutical firms, there is little correlation between measures of innovation such as R&D spending, patenting, the number of new drugs under development (in R&D), or the number of top-selling drugs, except for a positive correlation between R&D intensity and the number of new drugs as a percentage of sales….

Biotechnology offers a new route to drug discovery that could potentially reduce R&D costs and development times. A large number of small, dedicated biotechnology firms (DBFs) have been established in the United States in response to a conducive environment characterised by a developed venture capital market, lenient stock exchange rules, and a well-funded research base in the life sciences (Irvine et al, 1990). In contrast, few DBFs have flourished in Europe, while Europe’s large pharmaceutical and chemical firms were latecomers to biotechnology, although several built up research teams in the early 1980s in order to keep abreast of developments. Since the late 1980s an important route for European firms to access biotechnology expertise has been through the purchase of American DBFs or the establishment of research laboratories in the US. However, case-study research shows that there is no systematic tendency for leading-edge biotechnology research by European firms to move to the United States (Senker et al, 1996). On the contrary, European firms are building up strong research capabilities in biotechnology, using links with American DBFs in areas where Europe is weak.

Few DBFs have been able to become fully integrated pharmaceutical firms and as of 1993 only about 3.9% of all pharmaceutical sales were due to biotechnology drugs (Ernst & Young, 1994). Most DBFs survive through a synergistic relationship with larger firms, where the DBF supplies potential new products to a large firm which in turn takes them through clinical trials and helps defend patents. This has meant that there has been a shift over the past decade from R&D agreements to alliances based on marketing and licensing.

Conclusions

Innovation in the pharmaceutical industry is difficult to measure. Too much R&D is devoted to duplicating the work of other firms and much patenting is defensive. Counts of drugs under development is not a satisfactory innovation indicator because they can reflect poor management as much as real innovation. The best measure is perhaps to take the number of top-selling drugs, but the drawback with this measure is that it measures past rather than present innovation. By this measure German firms have been lagging while British firms are the leading innovators in the EU. All EU firms have been rather slow at making the shift from a drug development paradigm based on chemistry to one that also includes biotechnology, although most are now moving in this direction, partly through establishing links with American DBFs.

The priority for European policies to support innovation in this sector is to create an environment conducive to innovation. Several policy measures would assist the European pharmaceutical industry: continued substantial support for the public research base in the life sciences; encouraging the full exploitation of that base by Europe’s major firms (who still tend to know too little about what lies beyond national boundaries); the reinforcement of the single market and in particular the construction of a European rather than a national regulatory system, the easing of financial restrictions on venture capital financing; and finally, the promotion of other mechanisms to support and fund new, technology-based firms.“

Accordingly, the surely short-lasting biotechnology edge that American firms obtained in the last decade was largely a product of more lenient American venture capital financing practices. Biotechnology innovation has had little to do with patents and patent law.

Patent Baristas Comments Extensively on In Re Kubin : The Use of Conventional Techniques to Arrive at an Obvious Result Does Not Make an Invention

Stephen Albainy-Jenei at the blog Patent Baristas has an extensive posting on In re Kubin at Court: It’s Not An Invention If You Use Conventional Techniques To Make It, writing:

In In re Kubin (08-1184), the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit held that the US Patent and Trademark Office’s Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences was correct to hold claims as unpatentably obvious when applicants use “conventional techniques” to make an invention. This is bad news not just for biotech but for all arts.

The discussion by Albainy-Jenei is a good one, so be sure to read it, although we think that In re Kubin is not going to be long-term bad news for biotech or for the arts. The Federal Circuit in In re Kubin, following the United States Supreme Court’s new obviousness standard in KSR, simply has finally drawn an understandable and desperately needed line for biotechnology patent applications – this far and no further. Not every foreseeable – obvious – increase in our scientific knowledge is – or should be – subject to patent protection. There is something we might call the “normal” progress of science – and that – to our mind – is not invention.

The patent situation in biotechnology has gotten as much out of hand as in the rest of the patent world. We need merely to refer to the Google Public Policy Blog where

After the last time I blogged about patent reform in late 2007, the House went on to approve the Patent Reform Act. The bill unfortunately got bogged down in the Senate the following year. Since then the problems of the current system — and the need for reform — have only grown.

Consider this: Of the 20 patent lawsuits filed against Google since late 2007, all but two have been filed by plaintiffs who don’t make or sell any real product or service — in other words, by non-practicing entities or “patent trolls.” Most of these cases seem to feature the same small set of contingent fee plaintiff’s lawyers asserting patent claims against the same small set of companies. We’ve also noticed a more disturbing trend: in many of these cases, the patents being asserted against us are owned by — and in a surprising number of cases, are even “invented” by — patent lawyers themselves.

Unfortunately, the temptations and opportunities for abuse have gotten too high. Lawyers and plaintiffs have seen the potentially huge payoffs available in patent litigation. Before 1990, there had been just one patent damage award of over $100 million. Since 1990, there have been at least 15, with at least five topping $500 million.

As the current world financial crisis shows, especially in the United States – which is bogged down by a mountain of debt to various vested financial interests, including those created by patent monopolies – you can’t have the non-producing sectors of society sucking the life out of the economy without serious deleterious economic and political consequences.

Federal Circuit affirms In re Kubin and puts sensible limits on Biotechnology Patents pursuant to the KSR obviousness standard, thus negating Deuel

We posted previously, extensively and definitey about the need to limit biotechnology patents at In re Kubin : Hitting the NAIL on the Head : Sequencing Poor Federal Circuit Court Decisions out of the Biotechnology Patent Genome via KSR and/or Bilski Reasoning.

Through Filewrapper we just became aware of the the fact that the Federal Circuit decided this landmark biotechnology case just last Friday, applying the obviousness standard in KSR to biotechnology cases and in so doing finding that Deuel in this regard is no longer good law. BRAVO to the Federal Circuit in properly applying the U.S. Supreme Court’s KSR standard.

Read the full posting Kubin decided: Federal Circuit provides guidance for application of KSR in biotechnology at Filewrapper, which provides excellent links to most if not all of the necessary resources – something we ourselves always try to do in our often lengthy postings, but which most blogs in their superficiality never do.

Well done, Filewrapper team!

By contrast, Patent Docs, pushing their particular subjective and outdated view of biotechnology patents, still doesn’t get it, assigning multiple errors to the Federal Circuit court rather than trying to formulate a workable understanding of the rule now applied in In re Kubin and applicable to the grant or denial of all biotechnology patents in the future. When Patent Docs writes that “the Court set forth a plethora of factual grounds unlikely to be identically (or even substantially) encountered for other genes,” they are engaging in wishful nostalgic thinking which has no bearing on the current and modernized patent realities.

The fact is that biotechnology patents will be more difficult to obtain because of In re Kubin, make no mistake about that, and thank goodness for that, for the sake of the health of the patent industry as a whole and for the sake of the health of the entire legal system.

Rethinking the Legal Profession at the New York Times : Adam Cohen Ponders the Logical Consequences of the Downturn

At the New York Times, Adam Cohen ponders the logical consequences of the financial crisis in big law in his article, With the Downturn, It’s Time to Rethink the Legal Profession:

The employment pains of the legal elite may not elicit a lot of sympathy in the broader context of the recession, but a lot of hard-working lawyers have been blindsided, including young associates who are suddenly finding themselves with six-figure student-loan debts and no source of income.

Leading firms have historically avoided mass layoffs, concerned that their reputations would take a hit. But some have been putting those inhibitions aside, perhaps calculating that the stigma of pushing out their colleagues has faded. Law firm managers and bar associations should be looking for more creative ways to deal with the hard times — like reducing pay for both partners and associates to save jobs, as a few firms have begun doing.

The silver lining, if there is one, is that the legal world may be inspired to draw blueprints for the 21st century.

Read the rest here.

European Union (EU) Political Blog Aggregator at BloggingPortal.eu

The BloggingPortal.eu has instituted an interesting concept as it provides a website that aggregates European Union political blogs, 334 in number as of the date of this posting.

Hat tip to GrahnLaw.

The Odd Couple : President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany : A Partnership for European Unity ? The G20 Summit

Steven Erlanger and Nicholas Kulish have a very perspicacious March 30, 2009 article in the New York Times on the European economic situation at Sarkozy and Merkel Try to Shape European Unity, in which they refer to the “odd couple” of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who are currently leading a world in which we are surely seeing the inglorious end of what Erlanger and Kulish call “unbridled capitalism”.

Erlanger and Kulish write about the French and German government heads:

[A]n extremely odd couple — he is short and hyperactive, she is dour and shy. He believes in the power of the state and big interventions; she believes in a softer role for the state, guiding and prodding the market. Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel don’t even get along very well, aides to both leaders say. He has made fun of her accent in private meetings, the aides say, and she says he is self-centered and impetuous.

But the French president and the German chancellor find themselves in a forced marriage in these days of economic crisis. Responsible for the two largest economies among nations that use the euro, known as the euro zone, they are trying to shape European unity in the days before the Group of 20 economic summit meeting this week.Read the rest here for current German and French economic policies.

That London G20 summit started today. G20 stands for the Group of Twenty at whose home page we find the following information:

The Group of Twenty (G-20) Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors was established in 1999 to bring together systemically important industrialized and developing economies to discuss key issues in the global economy. The inaugural meeting of the G-20 took place in Berlin, on December 15-16, 1999, hosted by German and Canadian finance ministers….

The G-20 was created as a response both to the financial crises of the late 1990s and to a growing recognition that key emerging-market countries were not adequately included in the core of global economic discussion and governance….

The G-20 is made up of the finance ministers and central bank governors of 19 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, and also the European Union who is represented by the rotating Council presidency and the European Central Bank. To ensure global economic fora and institutions work together, the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the President of the World Bank, plus the chairs of the International Monetary and Financial Committee and Development Committee of the IMF and World Bank, also participate in G-20 meetings on an ex-officio basis. The G-20 thus brings together important industrial and emerging-market countries from all regions of the world. Together, member countries represent around 90 per cent of global gross national product, 80 per cent of world trade (including EU intra-trade) as well as two-thirds of the world’s population. The G-20’s economic weight and broad membership gives it a high degree of legitimacy and influence over the management of the global economy and financial system.

Well, we shall see what the G20 brings. Right now they really have their work cut out for them in the face of a recession that can easily devolve into a full-scale world depression if the right counteracting measures are not taken immediately worldwide by these governments and institutions in particular.

Hat tip to CaryGEE.

Building a Better Legal Profession (BBLP) : April 3-4 National Student Conference on Large Law Firm Reform : Layoffs, Recession : New Book on BigLaw

PRESS RELEASE

NATIONALLY RECOGNIZED STUDENT-RUN NONPROFIT RELEASES FIRST BOOK; ORGANIZES NATIONAL CONFERENCE ON REFORMING LARGE LAW FIRMS DURING ECONOMIC DOWNTURN

Stanford, CA, April 3, 2009 – Building a Better Legal Profession (“BBLP”) – the national student group whose efforts to reform large law firms “shook up the legal world,” according to the New York Times – has intensified its efforts in the wake of the economic downturn. On April 7, 2009, the group will release its first book, Building a Better Legal Profession’s Guide to Law Firms, a “for students, by students” guide designed to help students make considered career choices in a tightened labor market. On April 3 to 4, 2009, the group will host a national conference at Stanford Law School focusing on how the current recession has increased the need to reform law firm business practices.

The organization, now a registered 501(c)(3), founded at Stanford Law School, first made headlines in April 2007 for its critique of the business model of the large corporate law firm. That model depends on associates working excessive hours, resulting on high attrition, low female and minority partnership rates, and poor client service.

“Building a Better Legal Profession is a path-breaking effort to reform the legal profession in ways that speak to the most fundamental concerns of its next generation,” said Deborah Rhode, Earnest W. McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Director of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession.

According to BBLP President, Stanford 2L Davida Brook, “The economic downturn makes it clear as never before that the large law firm must adopt more rational business practices.” Brook pointed out that while some firms have laid off large numbers of young associates, “not all firms are the same. Some firms have better practices, for example, more diverse partners carrying a more diverse book of business, and were better positioned to weather the economic storm.”

Keisha Stanford, BBLP’s Director of Firm Outreach and a Stanford 2L, points out that “firms such as Cadwalader and Thatcher Profitt bet heavily on mortgage-backed securities and credit default swap deals with catastrophic results.” In response, the website has added a feature highlighting those firms that have done severe layoffs, information BBLP hopes that law students will consider during the fall law firm recruiting season.

“One particularly irrational layoff practice in some firms is laying off first and second year associates while continuing to recruit new classes of graduates,” said BBLP faculty advisor Michele Dauber, a professor at Stanford Law School. According to Dauber, firms are doing this to curry favor with law schools like Stanford. “These firms would rather fire 150 young people who have done nothing to deserve it than risk alienating the elite schools by not hiring for a few years until the economy improves.” Dauber suggested that associates should have a voice in layoff policies and that firms should give laid off associates the chance to be recalled before doing more hiring.

Guide to Law Firms

April 2009 marks the release of BBLP’s groundbreaking book for law students seeking ‘Biglaw’ jobs, Building a Better Legal Profession’s Guide to Law Firms (360pp., Kaplan Publishing, $24.95). The book was written by Stanford law students and includes numerous essays and contributions by law firm partners, associates, and other experts.

BBLP’s unique guidebook is intended to demystify and facilitate the law firm job search. “Our goal is to make the law firm a more transparent institution, by providing information to students about factors that are important to them such as work-life balance, diversity, billable hours, and pro bono commitment,” said Irene Hahn, the book’s editor and a 2L at Stanford Law School.

  • In the book’s Forward, Sheila Birnbaum, a partner in the NY office of Skadden Arps, recounts her own brush with pay discrimination early in her career, and cautions young women that informal barriers to success still exist. According to Birnbaum, “this book is packed with practical suggestions” that will be invaluable to young lawyers.
  • The first section of the book walks anxious interviewees through the hiring process. It provides information on how to evaluate law firm diversity initiatives, pro bono programs, and partnership models, as well as what questions to ask during the interview process.
  • The second section of the book is devoted to BBLP’s trademark, turning the tables on firms by giving them grades based on diversity. The book’s firm report cards examine percentages of female, African-American, Latino-American, Asian-American, and LGBT partners. Rankings are provided for the country’s six largest markets: New York; Washington, D.C.; Chicago; Boston; San Francisco; and Los Angeles. The group’s website also provides rankings for five smaller markets including: Texas; Atlanta; and Philadelphia. Some brief findings from the book’s rankings:

    – While some large Manhattan firms have made strides in promoting women to partner, at approximately half of New York firms women make up less than 15% of the partners. Hispanic women seem to face particularly severe hurdles, with fewer than 20% of NY firms reporting any Latina partners, and only 7 out of the 80 firms surveyed reported more than one.

    – Certain areas of the country have done better than others in developing diverse lawyers. California – particularly Southern California – has far higher demographic diversity among both the partner and associate ranks of large law firms than other regions.

David Lat, founder of the popular website Above the Law, says, “It’s easy to lament the state of the legal profession today; bringing about real change is harder. But that’s exactly what BBLP is doing, with its revolutionary, market-based approach to reforming the modern law firm as a workplace. This book, part of BBLP’s larger mission of harnessing information for empowerment, is an invaluable resource for anyone exploring the often bewildering world of ‘Biglaw.’”

National Student Conference

The conference will host BBLP leaders from the nation’s top law schools, including Yale, Stanford, Harvard, Chicago, and Columbia. These students are the leaders of BBLP chapters started last year around the country. These leaders are coming together at the Stanford conference to plan the agenda for the year ahead.

“We are pleased to sponsor the conference and to support BBLP’s efforts to understand and change how law firms operate,” said Dean Larry Kramer of Stanford. “This will benefit clients, young lawyers, and the firms themselves in the long run. Nothing is more important for our profession.”

Highlights of the conference include:

  • Saturday afternoon will feature a videoconference appearance by Ralph Nader, a 1958 graduate of Harvard Law School and a long-time critic of corporate law firms.
  • The conference keynote will be delivered by Paul Barrett, associate managing editor of Business Week, and author of the 1999 book on race relations in large law firms entitled The Good Black.

    – Other speakers include journalists, academics, representatives of law firm management, corporate counsel, professional unions including SEIU and WGA, law professors, and former law firm associates hit by the “golden axe” of firm firings for a series of panels aimed at frank discussion of the current crisis challenging the legal profession.

    – BBLP has also partnered with the National Law Journal and the American Association of Law Schools to hold a discussion on the continuing importance of pro bono service at the conference.

    “With the current economic downturn, the issue of pro bono work has taken on even greater urgency,” said Rachel F. Moran, President of the Association of American Law Schools, Raven Professor at Berkeley Law, and Founding Faculty of UC Irvine School of Law. “There are fewer resources to support public interest work, and meanwhile, the ranks of those in need only grow.”

# # #

About Building a Better Legal Profession

Building a Better Legal Profession is a national grassroots movement that seeks market-based workplace reforms in large private law firms. By publicizing firms’ self-reported data on billable hours, pro bono participation, and demographic diversity, we draw attention to the differences between these employers. We encourage those choosing between firms – students deciding whom to work for after graduation, corporate clients deciding whom to hire, and universities deciding whom to allow on campus for interviews – to engage only with the firms that demonstrate a genuine commitment to these issues.

BBLP was founded in January 2007 by Stanford Law students. In the summer of 2007, using publicly available data reported by firms and collected by the National Association of Law Placement (NALP), the organization examined the largest law firms in six geographic markets by several important quality-of-life criteria. BBLP produced a set of rankings for each market –New York, Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco/Silicon Valley – for billable hour requirements, demographic diversity, and pro bono participation.

The organization released these reports on October 10, 2007 at a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. The goal was to provide law students a new set of rankings to help them decide where to work after graduation, in the hope that as more law students began to select firms based on quality-of-life criteria, rather than simply prestige or compensation, the top law firms would face increasing market pressure to reform their workplace culture in order to attract the best recruits. This project received significant media attention, including from the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, CBS News, New York Law Journal, American Lawyer, and Above the Law.

More information is available at www.betterlegalprofession.org. For a press copy of our book, the BBLP Guide to Law Firms: The Law Student’s Guide to Finding the Perfect Law Firm Job (Kaplan Press 2009) please contact Davida Brook at the number and/or email below.

Media Contacts

Davida Brook
President
917-991-2240
davida.brook@betterlegalprofession.org

Michele Dauber
Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
650-521-6005
mldauber@law.stanford.edu

Keisha Stanford
Director of Firm Outreach
404-502-9646
kstanford@stanford.edu

Praise for Building a Better Legal Profession and the Guide to Law Firms

“It’s easy to lament the state of the legal profession today; bringing about real change is harder. But that’s exactly what BBLP is doing, with its revolutionary, market-based approach to reforming the modern law firm as a workplace. This book, part of BBLP’s larger mission of harnessing information for empowerment, is an invaluable resource for anyone exploring the often bewildering world of ‘Biglaw.’”

David Lat, Founder, AbovetheLaw.com

The Building a Better Legal Profession Guide to Law Firms is “a refreshingly readable, comprehensive, and wonderfully practical guide for launching your professional career as a lawyer.”

Sheila Birnbaum, Partner, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP

“Building a Better Legal Profession has provided us with a resource that has great promise. By comparing the largest law firms in the top legal markets, the students have put a spotlight on the key issues of demographic diversity, pro bono participation and hours billed. These enterprising law students have an enormous potential to be a force for good and for positive change – now and throughout their careers. I commend them for their dedication and hard work.”

Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President, National Women’s Law Center

“We are pleased to sponsor the conference and to support BBLP’s efforts to understand and change how law firms operate. This will benefit clients, young lawyers, and the firms themselves in the long run. Nothing is more important for our profession.”

Larry Kramer, Dean and Richard E. Lang Professor of Law, Stanford Law School

“This report confirms that the legal profession has a long way to go in terms of becoming more diverse and fully reflective of our society. We hope that this report can also serve as a springboard for devising strategies that increase minority representation in law firms.”

L. Jared Boyd, National Attorney General, National Black Law Students Association

“Building a Better Legal Profession is a path-breaking effort to reform the legal profession in ways that speak to most fundamental concerns of its next generation.”

Deborah Rhode, Earnest W. McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford Law School and Director of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession.

“Change is coming to law firms. The most powerful agents for encouraging these changes, however, are not the law firm decision makers, the most powerful agents for change are associates, clients, and the shrinking talent pool of law students, who are, at last, finding their voices, asking hard questions, and forcing change.”

Patricia K. Gillette, Partner, Orrick, Harrington & Sutcliffe LLP

“These reports are extremely important. Even the best intentioned law firms can have gaps between policy and actual practice and objective numbers can help point out those gaps. Law firms as well as law students will benefit from better information that is widely available.”

Cynthia Thomas Calvert, Co-Director, Project for Attorney Retention