The New York Gold Conspiracy?

On September 24, 1869, the price of gold on the New York Gold Exchange hit $162 an ounce. Shortly after, it plunged to $133 an ounce, ruining scores of investors in the process. What was the Black Friday New York Gold Conspiracy?

"New York Gold Room bulletin board on Black Friday, Sept. 24, 1869"

“New York Gold Room bulletin board on Black Friday, Sept. 24, 1869″
Source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Jay Gould & James Fisk: The Plot to Corner the Gold Market?

During the Civil War, the U.S. government began issuing “greenbacks” in order to raise money. Greenbacks were a fiat currency (similar to that used today) and thus, were not backed by gold or anything else. After the war ended, the government began to withdraw the greenbacks from circulation. This was accomplished by buying greenbacks with gold. This allowed the price of gold, which had reached $300 an ounce, to return to a more normal level of $130 an ounce by early 1869.

Around that time, a group of investors, led by Jay Gould and James Fisk, saw an opportunity to generate enormous profits. They wanted to, in effect, “corner the gold market.” But they feared the U.S. government’s tendency to stabilize gold prices. They needed to find a way to temporarily take the government out of the game. And in order to do that, they needed to seize control of its monetary policy.

Gould and Fisk recruited Abel Corbin, President Ulysses S. Grant’s brother-in-law, to their cause. Together, the three men badgered Grant to stop selling government gold, arguing that it would make farmers more competitive in overseas markets and thus, raise farm prices.

Black Friday!

By September 1869, Gould and Fisk were convinced that their plan had worked. They began buying large amounts of gold with very little money, thanks to small margin requirements. As they accumulated a large position, they were able to manipulate the market price higher and higher, making plans to unload it before the inevitable fall. Prices rose and stocks fell. President Grant immediately grew suspicious of his brother-in-law and told his wife to add a note in a letter written to her sister:

“Tell your husband that the President is very much distressed by your speculations, and you must close them as quick as you can.”

On September 23, gold reached $142 an ounce. Gould, who’d learned that Grant was on to the scheme, began secretly unloading his position. Fisk, completely unaware of what was about to happen, did not. The next day, Black Friday, the price of gold ran all the way up to $162 an ounce (the actual blackboard is shown above). Then word reached the New York Gold Exchange that the Treasury was selling $4 million of gold. Abruptly, prices collapsed, sending gold reeling back to the mid $130s.

Many investors, who’d bought gold on margin, were ruined. Gould “was rumored to have cleared $10 or $11 million” although this remains in question. Fisk is believed to have escaped harm by repudiating his trades.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Black Friday caused a brief financial panic. But for the most part, no one paid a price for the scandal. Gould and Fisk escaped punishment, thanks to sympathetic Tammany Hall judges. President Grant was accused of being involved in the Black Friday scheme. However, it didn’t stop him from being reelected in 1872.

Over the years, others have tried to corner various types of financial markets. But Gould’s and Fisk’s Black Friday attempt might just be the most audacious of them all. By enlisting the gigantic hand of government to aid their cause, they took corporatism to a whole new level. On a relative basis, one could make the claim that Gould and Fisk caused the biggest one-day crash of gold in U.S. history on Black Friday, maybe even of all time, and got away with it.

The Mysterious Minamata Disease?

On May 1, 1956, a hospital director in Minamata, Japan raised the alarm. Almost a dozen residents were showing strange symptoms, namely difficulty with walking and speaking as well as physical convulsions. As the months rolled on, more victims of Minamata Disease were discovered. And even worse…these people were dying at a terrifying rate.

Japanese Citizens Protest against Minamata Disease (1972)
Photographed by William Eugene Smith
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 10 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Amazon Paperback * Kindle E-Book * Nook E-Book * Smashwords E-Book * iBooks E-Book * Kobo E-Book * Diesel E-Book * Sony E-Book

Minamata Disease

For a few years in the 1950s, Minamata Disease baffled health officials and horrified citizens. Minor symptoms included loss of muscle control, numbness, hearing impairment, and slurred speech. More serious symptoms included insanity, coma, and death. And humans weren’t the only ones with these symptoms…investigators also discovered a malady the locals called “cat dancing disease” in which cats would go into awful convulsive fits and die. In addition, there were reports of disappearing seaweed as well as dead crows and fish.

Since the strange outbreak seemed to be centered around Minamata, it was assumed to be contagious. Researchers from Kumamoto University canvased the area and by October 1956, had discovered a total of 40 victims. 14 of these victims had died, indicating an eye-raising mortality rate of 36.7%. And the disease didn’t stop there.

“Officially certified patients totaled 2,265 in both Kumamoto and Kagoshima, while the total was 690 in Niigata as of the end of March 2001. Among them, 1,784 have already died. In addition, there are 10,072 people in Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata as of the end of February 2001 with applicable conditions such as sensory disorders or a high consumption of marine products who are provided individual payments of medical expenses and a medical allowance.” ~ Minamata Disease Archives

What was Minamata Disease?

So, what was the source of this strange and deadly disease? An unknown pathogen? A mutated virus?

Not by a long shot. After a thorough investigation, researchers concluded that Minamata Disease was caused by metals. That’s right. The horrid, mysterious disease that plagued Japan was, in actuality, heavy metal poisoning or to be more specific…mercury poisoning.

It turned out that a company named Chisso Corporation operated a chemical factory in the area. Beginning in 1932, it pumped wastewater into the Shiranui Sea, which encompassed the Minamata Bay. Methylmercury accumulated in the shellfish and fish that lived in the Sea. These creatures, in turn, were eaten regularly by local citizens.

Chisso Corporation failed to cooperate with the official investigation and funded alternative research efforts to identify another cause. Worse, they performed their own investigation, realized that their wastewater was the cause of the disease, and ordered researchers to cover up the results. Even worse, they deliberately installed a wastewater treatment system that they knew was ineffective in order to placate anxious health officials.

That’s not to say that Japan’s government was completely innocent in the matter. Although it knew the true source of Minamata disease by 1959, this information wasn’t released to the public until 1968. And although it realized that local citizens were still contracting mercury poisoning, it failed to warn these citizens or take any actions to stop Chisso’s continued pollution of Minamata Bay.

Minamata Disease & Chaos

I wish I could say that this story had a happy ending. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. A settlement was reached in 2010, covering 2,123 victims. However, other lawsuits continue. More importantly, many citizens are already deceased and the survivors continue to suffer due to the fact that no cure exists for Minamata Disease.

On a personal level, I find the story of this “disease” to be extremely disturbing. But as an author, I found it intriguing as well. (SPOILER ALERT) The idea of a mysterious “disease” that wasn’t really a disease seemed perfect for a thriller novel. So, when I created the strange Colony (a shantytown of “Mole People” who reside in the tunnels under New York City), I decided to afflict them with a “disease” of my own creation. I won’t give away the true source of this disease but suffice it to say, its deadly…

Slowly, I turned my head in a circle. Strange eyes stared at me from the darkness.

They started to move.

Slowly at first, then faster.

And then even faster.

Body odor and dried urine filled my nostrils. Hands grabbed at my shirt, pawed at my arms, scratched at my face.

I released my grip. Rising to my feet, I found myself surrounded by hot, sweaty bodies. Eyes flashed at me. Bruised faces quivered with anticipation.

Punching wildly, I connected hard against a fleshy surface. A face vanished but another one rose to replace it.

They pressed against me and I fell backward, blanketed by the bodies. Amongst the mess of flesh and hair, I saw tiny, revolting details.

Crippled hands with bent, inflamed joints.

Clenched toes lacking nails.

Severely peeled, discolored skin.

Toothless, rotten mouths.

Who are these people?

And what the hell happened to them?David Meyer, Chaos

Cy Reed’s efforts to locate the source of the strange disease that plagues the Colony leads him to a secret underground laboratory that’s been lost for decades. Well, that’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a trip back in time to Nazi Germany. We’re going to take a fascinating look at one of the most sinister and mysterious devices in the history of warfare…die Glocke. I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

The Doomsday Seed Vault?

Just 810 miles from the North Pole lies one of the strangest and and most secure facilities in the entire world…a global seed bank of epic proportions. Could it one day save the Earth? Or is it at the center of a sinister conspiracy to gain control of the world’s food production?

Front entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Bank

Front entrance of the Svalbard Global Seed Bank
Photographed by Svalbard Global Seed Vault / Mari Tefre
Source: Wikimedia Commons

The  Svalbard Global Seed Bank Conspiracy?

In 1984, the Nordic Gene Bank entered an abandoned coal mine on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, which is located in the Arctic Svalbard archipelago. Inside the mine, they secured frozen seeds of various Nordic plants. The location was chosen due to a lack of tectonic activity in the area as well as the permafrost.

By 2006, after many years of collecting and depositing seed samples, the Seed Bank decided it needed a new location to store its growing treasure chest. This facility, called the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, opened in 2008.

This seed bank cost $9 million to construct and is located within a sandstone mountain. At the present time, no research takes place within its walls. It’s just a vault, designed to duplicate existing seed banks from around the world. That way, if a regional seed bank is ruined via natural disaster, war, or in some other manner, it can be easily replenished.

Numerous high-security technologies protect the Vault from temperature fluctuations, changes in the sea level, and even terrorist attacks. It currently holds somewhere around 1.5 million seed samples with capacity to hold an additional 3 million samples. These seeds could last within the facility for several centuries, maybe even millennia.

Why do we need a Doomsday Seed Bank?

Collecting and preserving seeds has taken on increased importance these days, at least in the eyes of government officials and scientists. Specifically, fears over things like climate change, epidemics, and nuclear war, in the view of some, “creates the need for an inaccessible ark.”

“Seed saving and its role in preserving biodiversity is of utmost importance. We are in an era called the Holocene extinction, which is notable for its decline in biodiversity.” ~ Dornith Doherty, Photographer of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault

Dr. Wolfgang Stuppy, a seed morphologist, agrees.

“We are essentially up against a deadline to collect the seeds of plant species before they go extinct. The current worldwide economic crisis makes it difficult to raise the funds necessary for this kind of work.” ~ Dr. Wolfgang Stuppy

The Dark Side of the Doomsday Seed Bank?

However, there is a little known dark side to this story. The Vault is financially backed by a mix of governmental organizations and large corporations and foundations such as Monsanto Corporation, Syngenta Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Gates Foundation. While these groups claim to have pure motives, others are not so sure.

“The whole research agenda of countries like India is driven by what is dictated by outside agencies with vested interests; they are using state-of-the-art laboratories and trained scientists to work toward the production and distribution of genetically modified seeds.” ~ Sunita Rao, Adjunct Fellow at the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment

Many researchers believe that Monsanto and other companies plan to use the Vault to eventually extend their control over the world’s food supply. And internal squabbles within the industry seem to bear this out. By gathering seeds from around the world and implementing international treaties, these companies will be able to conduct proprietary research with the purpose of creating and producing IP-protected, genetically modified seeds for all areas on earth. As you might expect, the money behind these seeds is immense.

“Monsanto, the corporate food giant with influence in the last three presidential administrations (including the current one), owns genes that can be found in 90% of America’s soy. Wind inevitably blows the seeds from Monsanto crops to those owned by smaller farmers, after which the company claims intellectual property rights over the land and forbids farmers to save seeds – a traditional agricultural practice – and even sues farmers for merely “encouraging” the violation of these patents.” ~ Anthony Gregory, Sustainable Living, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Urban Farms

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Even putting that aside, I have to admit I’m still highly skeptical of the so-called Doomsday Seed Vault at Svalbard. If one wants to protect plants from going extinct, I can think of no worse way to do that than to turn over control of regional seed banks to a single, centralized fortress. While I understand the need for redundant facilities, Svalbard seems ill suited to the task.

A series of regional, independent banks freely trading samples with each other seems far more likely to help unique seeds survive disasters. In the end, the best way to ensure the future of the earth’s seeds is not to restrict them to one place…it’s to set them free and to spread them as far as possible.