An American law called the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act generally protects sovereign countries from being sued in our courts, and in this case the price-fixers are ostensibly their countries’ oil ministers acting in their official capacities. (OPEC is an acronym for Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.) But I’d love to see a piece exploring: whether a case can be made that when governments act as commercial entities to fix prices in the marketplace, they are within the jurisdiction of American law and squarely within the intent of antitrust law—and outside the protection of sovereign immunity; whether the oil companies that participate in, or at least benefit from, the cartel can be sued even if the countries can’t; and, most important, why our president and his attorney general haven’t raced up to Capitol Hill demanding that the sovereign immunity law be changed to clear an easy path for suits against OPEC. After all, it’s just a statute. Why would any member of Congress, Democrat or Republican, be against amending it for this narrow but enormously significant purpose?
That kind of amendment to the sovereign immunities law was actually passed by the House of Representatives in 2008, and the idea of suing OPEC became popular at the time among some law professors and editorial writers. But the bill was killed by Republicans in the Senate because Bush administration officials opposed it, saying they feared it would lead the OPEC countries to reduce supplies to U.S. oil refiners. But why wouldn’t that kind of cartel retaliation simply lead to more damages being assessed against those countries by an American court, which would likely be able to assert jurisdiction over OPEC country assets in the United States, a jurisdiction that could be used to collect those damages?
Does the Obama administration, in the midst of an election battle in which the price at the pump has become a major issue, have the same position as the Bush team did four years ago? Would Republicans still oppose it? Someone ought to ask.
4. China mystery:
Here’s a pregnant paragraph from a New York Times story last week about the fall of Bo Xila, the mayor of the Chinese city of Chongqing and a high-profile corruption-fighter who had been touted as likely to become one of the seven members of the country’s ruling Politburo until his police chief became enmeshed in a scandal:
Mr. Bo’s troubles began last month when his handpicked police chief, Wang Lijun, sought refuge in the United States Consulate in Chengdu, about 210 miles from Chongqing. Mr. Wang, who had come under scrutiny in a corruption inquiry, spent the night in the consulate before being escorted to Beijing by security officials. He was also removed from his post, according to state media.
Did the police chief change his mind about seeking asylum? If so, what happened inside the American consulate that encouraged him to do so? Or did we turn him over to the Chinese? How did the State Department handle this situation, and who was involved in these decisions?