Today in History – November 30

Today is Monday, Nov. 30, the 334th day of 2009. There are 31 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History

On Nov. 30, 1939, the Russo-Finnish War, also known as the Winter War, began as Soviet troops invaded Finland. (The conflict ended the following March with a Soviet victory.)

On this date

In 1718, Charles XII, king of Sweden, was killed during a siege of the fortress of Fredriksten, east of Oslo Fjord, ending Sweden’s “Age of Greatness.”

In 1782, the United States and Britain signed preliminary peace articles in Paris, ending the Revolutionary War.

In 1803, Spain completed the process of ceding Louisiana to France, which had sold it to the United States.

In 1804, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase went on trial, accused of political bias. He was acquitted by the Senate.

In 1835, Samuel Langhorne Clemens – better known as Mark Twain – was born in Florida, Mo.

In 1874, Sir Winston Churchill, the British statesman, orator and author who served as prime minister during World War II, was born.

In 1900, Irish writer Oscar Wilde died in Paris at age 46.

In 1908, the United States and Japan signed the Root-Takahira Agreement, which averted a drift toward possible war through the mutual acknowledgment of certain international policies and spheres of influence in the Pacific.

In 1936, London’s famed Crystal Palace, constructed for the Great Exhibition of 1851, was destroyed in a fire.

In 1949, Chinese communist troops captured Chongqing.

In 1962, U Thant of Burma, who had been acting secretary-general of the United Nations following the death of Dag Hammarskjold the year before, was elected to a four-year term.

In 1966, Barbados, an island nation in the Caribbean situated about 100 miles (160 km) east of the Windward Islands, had gained internal self-rule in 1961 and achieved its full independence from Britain on this day in 1966.

In 1979, the album “The Wall” by Pink Floyd was released.

In 1981, the United States and the Soviet Union opened negotiations in Geneva aimed at reducing nuclear weapons in Europe.

In 1993, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Brady bill, which requires a five-day waiting period for handgun purchases and background checks of prospective buyers.

In 1993, authorities in California arrested Richard Allen Davis, who confessed to abducting and killing 12 year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma.

In 1994, almost 1,000 people are forced to abandon the Achille Lauro in the Indian Ocean after it catches fire.

In 1995, President Clinton became the first U.S. chief executive to visit Northern Ireland.

In 1999, ten years ago, the opening of a 135-nation trade gathering in Seattle was disrupted by at least 40,000 demonstrators, some of whom clashed with police.

In 2004, five years ago, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced his resignation.

In 2004, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume announced he was stepping down after a nearly nine-year tenure.

In 2004, President George W. Bush tried to repair strained U.S.-Canada relations during a visit to Ottawa.

In 2004, “Jeopardy!” fans saw Ken Jennings end his 74-game winning streak as he lost to real estate agent Nancy Zerg.

In 2008, one year ago, space shuttle Endeavour returned to Earth after a nearly 16-day mission to repair and upgrade the international space station.

In 2008, the world’s most comprehensive legalized heroin program became permanent with overwhelming approval from Swiss voters, who simultaneously rejected the decriminalization of marijuana.

Today’s Birthdays

Historian Jacques Barzun is 102. Actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr. is 91. Actor Robert Guillaume is 82. TV personality and producer Dick Clark is 80. Radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy is 79. Country singer-recording executive Jimmy Bowen is 72. Movie director Ridley Scott is 72. Singer Rob Grill (The Grassroots) is 66. Movie writer-director Terrence Malick is 66. Rock musician Roger Glover (Deep Purple) is 64. Playwright David Mamet is 62. Actress Margaret Whitton is 59. Actor Mandy Patinkin is 57. Musician Shuggie Otis is 56. Country singer Jeannie Kendall is 55. Singer Billy Idol is 54. Historian Michael Beschloss is 54. Rock musician John Ashton (The Psychedelic Furs) is 52. Comedian Colin Mochrie is 52. Former football and baseball player Bo Jackson is 47. Rapper Jalil (Whodini) is 46. Actor-director Ben Stiller is 44. Rock musician Mike Stone is 40. Actress Sandra Oh is 39. Country singer Mindy McCready is 34. Singer Clay Aiken is 31. Actress Elisha Cuthbert is 27. Actress Kaley Cuoco is 24.

Today’s Historic Birthdays

Andrea Doria
11/30/1466 – 11/25/1560
Italian admiral and naval leader

Andrea Palladio
11/30/1508 – 8/19/1580
Italian architect

Jonathan Swift
11/30/1667 – 10/19/1745
Anglo-Irish author and satirist

John Toland
11/30/1670 – 3/11/1722
Irish-born British religious philosopher

William Livingston
11/30/1723 – 7/25/1790
First governor of New Jersey

Oliver Winchester
11/30/1810 – 12/11/1880
American gun and ammunition manufacturer; developed the Winchester rifle

Mark Twain
11/30/1835 – 4/21/1910
American author

Frederick Charles Cavendish
11/30/1836 – 5/6/1882
English statesman

Winston Churchill
11/30/1836 – 5/6/1882
English statesman

I.J. Singer
11/30/1893 – 2/10/1944
Polish-born American author

Donald Ogden Stewart
11/30/1894 – 8/2/1980
American playwright and actor

Thought for Today

“‘Plain English’ – everybody loves it, demands it – from the other fellow.” – Jacques Barzun, French-born American historian.


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Decisions, Decisions

President Obama has no trouble making them! Well, except when they’re hard.

If it seems as though the world is moving faster than ever before, maybe that’s just because the White House is moving so slowly. To take an example at random, on Sept. 20, 2001, President Bush gave an address to a joint session of Congress about the war on terror. On Nov. 13, 54 days later, allied troops liberated Kabul. On Sept. 9, 2009, President Obama gave an address to a joint session of Congress in which he pointedly mentioned Afghanistan only as part of an illogical argument for massively higher domestic spending. Tomorrow, 83 days later, Obama will give another speech, this one on Afghanistan.

What a speech it will be! The New York Times gives a preview:

“It’s accurate to say that he will be more explicit about both goals and time frame than has been the case before and than has been part of the public discussion,” said a senior official, who requested anonymity to discuss the speech before it is delivered. “He wants to give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down.”

The officials would not disclose the time frame. But they said it would not be tied to particular conditions on the ground nor would it be as firm as the current schedule for withdrawing troops in Iraq, where Mr. Obama has committed to withdrawing most combat units by August and all forces by the end of 2011.

Officials of one allied nation who have been extensively briefed on the president’s plan said, however, that Mr. Obama would describe how the American presence would be ratcheted back after the buildup, while making clear that a significant American presence in Afghanistan would remain for a long while.

This is going to be stirring, isn’t it? With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will give a clear sense of both the time frame for action and how the war will eventually wind down! Let every nation know that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, to ratchet back our presence after the buildup! Either you are with us or you are with those who would fail to make clear that a significant American presence will remain, not just for a while but for a long while!

It sounds as though, after months of indecision, the president has finally resolved to be irresolute. It seems that his central strategic goal is to displease no one. Unless the speech turns out to be markedly different from what the Times leads us to expect–and let us hope it does–it will only reinforce the impression that he is a ditherer.

Last week Joel Achenbach of the Washington Post tried to rebut this stereotype. Here’s how his story began:

President George W. Bush once boasted, “I’m not a textbook player, I’m a gut player.” The new tenant of the Oval Office takes a strikingly different approach. President Obama is almost defiantly deliberative, methodical and measured, even when critics accuse him of dithering. When describing his executive style, he goes into Spock mode, saying, “You’ve got to make decisions based on information and not emotions.”

Obama’s handling of the Afghanistan conundrum has been a spectacle of deliberation unlike anything seen in the White House in recent memory. The strategic review began in September. Again and again, the war council convened in the Situation Room. The president mulled an array of unappealing options. Next week, finally, he will tell the American public the outcome of all this strategizing.

“He’s establishing his decision-making process as being almost diametrically the opposite of the previous administration,” says Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired Army colonel who served as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell’s chief of staff. Wilkerson, who teaches national security decision-making at George Washington University, says the Bush-Cheney style was “cowboy-like, typical Texas, typical Wyoming, and extremely secretive.”

This story appeared on page A1. That is, at the Washington Post, it is still front-page news that “the new tenant of the Oval Office,” who has been there for nearly a quarter of a term, is different from his predecessor. But actually, there’s a lesson here, for journalists and politicians alike. With Achenbach’s comments about Bush in mind, read this excerpt from the former president’s Jan. 10, 2007, speech announcing the surge in Iraq:

It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq. So my national security team, military commanders and diplomats conducted a comprehensive review.

We consulted members of Congress from both parties, allies abroad, and distinguished outside experts.

We benefited from the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq. And one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.

It was a spectacle of deliberation unlike anything seen in the White House in recent memory. Or it would have been, if anyone remembered it. But no one does, because the stereotype of Bush as “cowboy-like” stuck. The stereotype of Obama as indecisive, detached and irresolute is sticking, too. Achenbach has made a manful effort to counter it, but let’s look at another passage from his piece and see how well he did:

Stephen Wayne, who teaches about the presidency at Georgetown, said: “He’s not an instinctive decision-maker as Bush was. He doesn’t go with his gut, he thinks with his head, which I think is desirable.” Referring to the Afghanistan decision, Wayne said, “I don’t think he is an indecisive person, I just think this is a tough one.”

The defense of Obama is that he’s not indecisive, he just has trouble making tough decisions. When decisions are easy, bang, he makes them just like that! Imagine him sitting in a diner:

Waiter: Would you like eggs for breakfast?

Obama: Yes, I most certainly would!

Waiter: How would you like them cooked?

Obama: Hmm, let’s see. Bush liked deviled eggs, so that’s out. Sunny-side up? No, wait! Scrambled–that way they’re cooked through, so the risk of food poisoning is less. Or I could compromise and have them over easy. Then again, there’s something to be said for hard-boiled . . . Gosh, this is tough . . .

You know what? I’ll let you know at dinnertime. I’m just gonna eat my waffle right now.

Achenbach’s eagerness to portray Obama’s vacillation in a positive light reinforces another stereotype: that of journalists as courtiers rather than critics of the “new” president.

James Taranto, Wall Street Journal


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Terror by Trial Lawyer

Arlen Specter would make it easier for terrorists to sue.

If you think it’s outrageous that Navy SEALs who helped capture one of Iraq’s most wanted terrorists now face court-martial on charges they roughed him up, just wait. It may get worse. Tomorrow morning, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on a bill introduced by Arlen Specter (D., Pa.) that would make it easier for terrorists to sue military and federal law-enforcement officials.

That’s not Mr. Specter’s intent, of course. It would, however, be the effect of a bill that only a trial lawyer could love: the Notice Pleading Restoration Act of 2009. If successful, it would undo a recent Supreme Court ruling that gave us this common sense standard: Before you can sue someone, you have to have a plausible claim they did something wrong.

Mr. Specter, a former trial lawyer, finds the plausibility standard onerous. The reason has to do with the discovery process. Rightly used, discovery allows lawyers from both sides to gain access to evidence—documents, email, depositions, etc.—that support their case. In practice it can be abused, as when lawyers use discovery to go fishing for a case they don’t have. And because compliance alone can be expensive and time-consuming, many companies find it cheaper to settle.

Greg Garre, a former solicitor general for the Bush administration who will testify at tomorrow’s hearing, puts it this way: “If passed and signed into law, the bill would drive a truck through the Supreme Court ruling and dramatically lower the standards for pleading lawsuits.”

When Mr. Specter introduced his bill in July, he said that insisting on plausible evidence before a lawsuit can proceed will “deny many plaintiffs with meritorious claims access to the Federal courts.” So he aims to reverse the standard: Unless the Court has absolute proof that a claim will not succeed, his bill would effectively waive it through. There may be another, less altruistic interest: At a time when Mr. Specter is in a tough primary fight in his new party, he needs all the generosity he can get from his supporters in the plaintiff’s bar.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce naturally opposes the bill, saying it would impose a hefty “litigation tax” on American business and encourage frivolous lawsuits. But where do the terrorists come in?

The answer goes back to the original Supreme Court ruling this bill hopes to overturn. That case involved Javaid Iqbal, a Pakistani Muslim who was arrested in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, designated a person of “high interest,” and detained under restrictive conditions. After pleading guilty to criminal charges and serving time, he was released and sent back to Pakistan.

Once free, Mr. Iqbal filed a lawsuit against more than three dozen federal officials and corrections officers. That included everyone from the warden and the guards outside his cell to former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller. The complaint alleged that Messrs. Ashcroft and Mueller discriminated against him based on race, religion or national origin.

The Supreme Court limited itself to the charges against Messrs. Ashcroft and Mueller. The ruling came down to this: While Mr. Iqbal was free to sue those who he says abused him, he needed to show his allegations were plausible. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy defined a plausible claim as “factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”

That may not sound like much, but consider the alternative. We know that al Qaeda operatives are trained to claim abuse when they are captured. If Mr. Specter’s legislation succeeds, what is to prevent them from alleging all sorts of violations so they can go on discovery expeditions against, say, Gen. David Petraeus or Defense Secretary Robert Gates? And how would that affect the ability of these men to prosecute the war?

Justice Kennedy made this point when he wrote about the “heavy costs” imposed on government officials trying to do their jobs. These costs, he noted, “are only magnified when Government officials are charged with responding to, as Judge [Jose] Cabranes aptly put it, ‘a national and international security emergency unprecedented in the history of the American Republic.'”

As bad as this bill is, it’s an opportunity for Barack Obama. When he speaks at West Point this evening, he will ask for support for his new strategy for Afghanistan. With many Americans still reeling from the decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in federal criminal court, coming out strongly against the Specter bill would burnish the president’s war-fighting credentials—and limit al Qaeda’s ability to manipulate the courts.

It wouldn’t hurt that in so doing, the president would also be showing himself willing to stand up to a key Democratic constituency. Let’s hope he recognizes this bill for the gift it is.

William McGurn, Wall Street Journal


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Temporary Workers and the 21st Century Economy

The surge in temp hiring is not a sign of a malfunctioning economy. It is the face of the future.

The White House is turning its nose up at last month’s spurt in temporary work—the one bright spot in an otherwise grim jobs report. It claims that such work is proof that the economy is still malfunctioning. The truth is that this surge in temporary workers is not only good news for the economy, it’s the future of the 21st century labor market. If Washington wants to jump start job growth for the 3.5 million white-collar workers who have lost jobs in this recession, it should start by scrapping the outdated legal and regulatory hurdles to temporary work.

I know something about this because I run a business that places talented individuals into temporary consulting and interim executive assignments. Amid the worst recession in decades, our business is up 70%. Yet there would be much more growth in this sector if Americans—from the White House down to the personnel department—stopped discriminating against temporary work as inferior or anomalous.

Today, demand for high-end temporary business talent is not focused on cost-cutting projects, as some might suspect. Instead, firms use temporary executives to drive innovation. In uncertain times, firms are simply more comfortable with deploying talent on a flexible basis.

Temporary work also boosts economic efficiency because not all executive roles require permanent staff. For example, one pharmaceutical company client took on a temporary marketing executive to help launch a new drug. The old way of doing this was to make a new permanent hire (or a small team) who would have been under-utilized after the launch. The availability of temporary staff who can get the job done quickly means that firms can rethink how work is organized.

Which brings us to another case for temporary work: Top business talent increasingly wants to work this way. In one situation, a VP-level executive we placed was developing his own new business. He valued the way a part-time senior role allowed him to support his family while he worked on his own project. For others, working in a series of temporary assignments may be their preferred full-time occupation.

Given the contribution that temporary work makes to the economy, it’s time Washington embraced it. Here are three things the feds could do immediately to make it easier for firms and executives to work this way:

First, the Obama administration should create a two-year “safe harbor” for independent professionals doing temporary work. Currently, the rules governing independent contractors are determined on a case-by-case basis and are subject to state law variations. This leaves risk-averse personnel departments wary of hiring temporary executives for fear that they could be reclassified as employees, saddling employers with liabilities. The solution is to create a two-year safe harbor provision that lays out a clear test for being classified as an independent contractor. The White House could streamline these rules, beginning with the IRS, if it made it a priority.

Second, Washington should apply any new employment tax subsidy to temporary jobs. There is much talk of a new jobs tax subsidy, but as it currently stands it would exclude temporary work. This is 20th century thinking. Any new subsidy should seek to boost temporary roles as well.

Third, the feds should let independent workers buy into the congressional health plan. A huge barrier to temporary employment for professionals who prefer to work this way is their inability to access group health coverage outside the permanent employment setting. Though Congress may pass health reform this year, the new insurance exchanges that would remedy this problem won’t come into play until at least 2013. Congress should allow temporary workers to buy into the congressional health plan until then.

As we reboot the great American jobs machine, it’s time to shelve outdated assumptions and accept that a portfolio of multiple assignments is what growing legions of companies and executives want. This new relationship between talent and firms isn’t a failure to be stigmatized, but the latest sign of our economy’s endless capacity for renewal and innovation.

Ms. Miller is the founder and CEO of the Business Talent Group. She served as a special assistant to President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1995


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John Kerry’s Tora Bora Campaign

The Senator is now in favor of more troops after he was against them.

President Obama unveils his new Afghanistan strategy today, and in the nick of time Senator John Kerry has arrived with a report claiming that none of this would be necessary if former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had only deployed more troops eight years ago. Yes, he really said more troops.

In a 43-page report issued yesterday by his Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Kerry says bin Laden and deputy Ayman Zawahiri were poised for capture at the Tora Bora cave complex in late 2001. But because of the “unwillingness” of Mr. Rumsfeld and his generals “to deploy the troops required to take advantage of solid intelligence and unique circumstances to kill or capture bin Laden,” the al Qaeda leaders escaped.

This in turn “paved the way for exactly what we had hoped to avoid—a protracted insurgency that has cost more lives than anyone estimates would have been lost in a full-blown assault on Tora Bora.”

The timing of the report’s release suggests that Mr. Kerry intends this as political cover for Mr. Obama and Democrats, and some in the press corps have even taken it seriously. But coming from Mr. Kerry, of all people, this criticism is nothing short of astonishing.

In 2001, readers may recall, the Washington establishment that included Mr. Kerry was fretting about the danger in Afghanistan from committing too many troops. The New York Times made the “quagmire” point explicitly in a famous page-one analysis, and Seymour Hersh fed the cliche at The New Yorker.

On CNN with Larry King on Dec. 15, 2001, a viewer called in to say the U.S. should “smoke [bin Laden] out” of the Tora Bora caves. Mr. Kerry responded: “For the moment what we are doing, I think, is having its impact and it is the best way to protect our troops and sort of minimalize the proximity, if you will. I think we have been doing this pretty effectively and we should continue to do it that way.” The Rumsfeld-General Tommy Franks troop strategy may have missed bin Laden, but it reflected domestic political doubts about an extended Afghan campaign.

Remarkably, Mr. Kerry is now repeating those same doubts about Mr. Obama’s troop decision, saying that the “Afghans must do the heavy lifting” and that he supports additional troops only for “limited purposes” and wants the U.S. out within “four to five years.” Adapting his legendary 2004 campaign locution, Mr. Kerry is now in favor of more troops after he was against them, but in any case not for very long.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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The Climate Science Isn’t Settled

Confident predictions of catastrophe are unwarranted.

Is there a reason to be alarmed by the prospect of global warming? Consider that the measurement used, the globally averaged temperature anomaly (GATA), is always changing. Sometimes it goes up, sometimes down, and occasionally—such as for the last dozen years or so—it does little that can be discerned.

Claims that climate change is accelerating are bizarre. There is general support for the assertion that GATA has increased about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since the middle of the 19th century. The quality of the data is poor, though, and because the changes are small, it is easy to nudge such data a few tenths of a degree in any direction. Several of the emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) that have caused such a public ruckus dealt with how to do this so as to maximize apparent changes.

The general support for warming is based not so much on the quality of the data, but rather on the fact that there was a little ice age from about the 15th to the 19th century. Thus it is not surprising that temperatures should increase as we emerged from this episode. At the same time that we were emerging from the little ice age, the industrial era began, and this was accompanied by increasing emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide. CO2 is the most prominent of these, and it is again generally accepted that it has increased by about 30%.

The defining characteristic of a greenhouse gas is that it is relatively transparent to visible light from the sun but can absorb portions of thermal radiation. In general, the earth balances the incoming solar radiation by emitting thermal radiation, and the presence of greenhouse substances inhibits cooling by thermal radiation and leads to some warming.

That said, the main greenhouse substances in the earth’s atmosphere are water vapor and high clouds. Let’s refer to these as major greenhouse substances to distinguish them from the anthropogenic minor substances. Even a doubling of CO2 would only upset the original balance between incoming and outgoing radiation by about 2%. This is essentially what is called “climate forcing.”

There is general agreement on the above findings. At this point there is no basis for alarm regardless of whether any relation between the observed warming and the observed increase in minor greenhouse gases can be established. Nevertheless, the most publicized claims of the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) deal exactly with whether any relation can be discerned. The failure of the attempts to link the two over the past 20 years bespeaks the weakness of any case for concern.

The IPCC’s Scientific Assessments generally consist of about 1,000 pages of text. The Summary for Policymakers is 20 pages. It is, of course, impossible to accurately summarize the 1,000-page assessment in just 20 pages; at the very least, nuances and caveats have to be omitted. However, it has been my experience that even the summary is hardly ever looked at. Rather, the whole report tends to be characterized by a single iconic claim.

The main statement publicized after the last IPCC Scientific Assessment two years ago was that it was likely that most of the warming since 1957 (a point of anomalous cold) was due to man. This claim was based on the weak argument that the current models used by the IPCC couldn’t reproduce the warming from about 1978 to 1998 without some forcing, and that the only forcing that they could think of was man. Even this argument assumes that these models adequately deal with natural internal variability—that is, such naturally occurring cycles as El Nino, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, etc.

Yet articles from major modeling centers acknowledged that the failure of these models to anticipate the absence of warming for the past dozen years was due to the failure of these models to account for this natural internal variability. Thus even the basis for the weak IPCC argument for anthropogenic climate change was shown to be false.

Of course, none of the articles stressed this. Rather they emphasized that according to models modified to account for the natural internal variability, warming would resume—in 2009, 2013 and 2030, respectively.

But even if the IPCC’s iconic statement were correct, it still would not be cause for alarm. After all we are still talking about tenths of a degree for over 75% of the climate forcing associated with a doubling of CO2. The potential (and only the potential) for alarm enters with the issue of climate sensitivity—which refers to the change that a doubling of CO2 will produce in GATA. It is generally accepted that a doubling of CO2 will only produce a change of about two degrees Fahrenheit if all else is held constant. This is unlikely to be much to worry about.

Yet current climate models predict much higher sensitivities. They do so because in these models, the main greenhouse substances (water vapor and clouds) act to amplify anything that CO2 does. This is referred to as positive feedback. But as the IPCC notes, clouds continue to be a source of major uncertainty in current models. Since clouds and water vapor are intimately related, the IPCC claim that they are more confident about water vapor is quite implausible.

There is some evidence of a positive feedback effect for water vapor in cloud-free regions, but a major part of any water-vapor feedback would have to acknowledge that cloud-free areas are always changing, and this remains an unknown. At this point, few scientists would argue that the science is settled. In particular, the question remains as to whether water vapor and clouds have positive or negative feedbacks.

The notion that the earth’s climate is dominated by positive feedbacks is intuitively implausible, and the history of the earth’s climate offers some guidance on this matter. About 2.5 billion years ago, the sun was 20%-30% less bright than now (compare this with the 2% perturbation that a doubling of CO2 would produce), and yet the evidence is that the oceans were unfrozen at the time, and that temperatures might not have been very different from today’s. Carl Sagan in the 1970s referred to this as the “Early Faint Sun Paradox.”

For more than 30 years there have been attempts to resolve the paradox with greenhouse gases. Some have suggested CO2—but the amount needed was thousands of times greater than present levels and incompatible with geological evidence. Methane also proved unlikely. It turns out that increased thin cirrus cloud coverage in the tropics readily resolves the paradox—but only if the clouds constitute a negative feedback. In present terms this means that they would diminish rather than enhance the impact of CO2.

There are quite a few papers in the literature that also point to the absence of positive feedbacks. The implied low sensitivity is entirely compatible with the small warming that has been observed. So how do models with high sensitivity manage to simulate the currently small response to a forcing that is almost as large as a doubling of CO2? Jeff Kiehl notes in a 2007 article from the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the models use another quantity that the IPCC lists as poorly known (namely aerosols) to arbitrarily cancel as much greenhouse warming as needed to match the data, with each model choosing a different degree of cancellation according to the sensitivity of that model.

What does all this have to do with climate catastrophe? The answer brings us to a scandal that is, in my opinion, considerably greater than that implied in the hacked emails from the Climate Research Unit (though perhaps not as bad as their destruction of raw data): namely the suggestion that the very existence of warming or of the greenhouse effect is tantamount to catastrophe. This is the grossest of “bait and switch” scams. It is only such a scam that lends importance to the machinations in the emails designed to nudge temperatures a few tenths of a degree.

The notion that complex climate “catastrophes” are simply a matter of the response of a single number, GATA, to a single forcing, CO2 (or solar forcing for that matter), represents a gigantic step backward in the science of climate. Many disasters associated with warming are simply normal occurrences whose existence is falsely claimed to be evidence of warming. And all these examples involve phenomena that are dependent on the confluence of many factors.

Our perceptions of nature are similarly dragged back centuries so that the normal occasional occurrences of open water in summer over the North Pole, droughts, floods, hurricanes, sea-level variations, etc. are all taken as omens, portending doom due to our sinful ways (as epitomized by our carbon footprint). All of these phenomena depend on the confluence of multiple factors as well.

Consider the following example. Suppose that I leave a box on the floor, and my wife trips on it, falling against my son, who is carrying a carton of eggs, which then fall and break. Our present approach to emissions would be analogous to deciding that the best way to prevent the breakage of eggs would be to outlaw leaving boxes on the floor. The chief difference is that in the case of atmospheric CO2 and climate catastrophe, the chain of inference is longer and less plausible than in my example.

Mr. Lindzen is professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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Climategate: Follow the Money

Climate change researchers must believe in the reality of global warming just as a priest must believe in the existence of God.

Last year, ExxonMobil donated $7 million to a grab-bag of public policy institutes, including the Aspen Institute, the Asia Society and Transparency International. It also gave a combined $125,000 to the Heritage Institute and the National Center for Policy Analysis, two conservative think tanks that have offered dissenting views on what until recently was called—without irony—the climate change “consensus.”

To read some of the press accounts of these gifts—amounting to about 0.0027% of Exxon’s 2008 profits of $45 billion—you might think you’d hit upon the scandal of the age. But thanks to what now goes by the name of climategate, it turns out the real scandal lies elsewhere.

Climategate, as readers of these pages know, concerns some of the world’s leading climate scientists working in tandem to block freedom of information requests, blackball dissenting scientists, manipulate the peer-review process, and obscure, destroy or massage inconvenient temperature data—facts that were laid bare by last week’s disclosure of thousands of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, or CRU.

But the deeper question is why the scientists behaved this way to begin with, especially since the science behind man-made global warming is said to be firmly settled. To answer the question, it helps to turn the alarmists’ follow-the-money methods right back at them.

Consider the case of Phil Jones, the director of the CRU and the man at the heart of climategate. According to one of the documents hacked from his center, between 2000 and 2006 Mr. Jones was the recipient (or co-recipient) of some $19 million worth of research grants, a sixfold increase over what he’d been awarded in the 1990s.

Al Gore wins the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize: Doing well by doing good?

Why did the money pour in so quickly? Because the climate alarm kept ringing so loudly: The louder the alarm, the greater the sums. And who better to ring it than people like Mr. Jones, one of its likeliest beneficiaries?

Thus, the European Commission’s most recent appropriation for climate research comes to nearly $3 billion, and that’s not counting funds from the EU’s member governments. In the U.S., the House intends to spend $1.3 billion on NASA’s climate efforts, $400 million on NOAA’s, and another $300 million for the National Science Foundation. The states also have a piece of the action, with California—apparently not feeling bankrupt enough—devoting $600 million to their own climate initiative. In Australia, alarmists have their own Department of Climate Change at their funding disposal.

And all this is only a fraction of the $94 billion that HSBC Bank estimates has been spent globally this year on what it calls “green stimulus”—largely ethanol and other alternative energy schemes—of the kind from which Al Gore and his partners at Kleiner Perkins hope to profit handsomely.

Supply, as we know, creates its own demand. So for every additional billion in government-funded grants (or the tens of millions supplied by foundations like the Pew Charitable Trusts), universities, research institutes, advocacy groups and their various spin-offs and dependents have emerged from the woodwork to receive them.

Today these groups form a kind of ecosystem of their own. They include not just old standbys like the Sierra Club or Greenpeace, but also Ozone Action, Clean Air Cool Planet, Americans for Equitable Climate Change Solutions, the Alternative Energy Resources Association, the California Climate Action Registry and so on and on. All of them have been on the receiving end of climate change-related funding, so all of them must believe in the reality (and catastrophic imminence) of global warming just as a priest must believe in the existence of God.

None of these outfits are per se corrupt, in the sense that the monies they get are spent on something other than their intended purposes. But they depend on an inherently corrupting premise, namely that the hypothesis on which their livelihood depends has in fact been proved. Absent that proof, everything they represent—including the thousands of jobs they provide—vanishes. This is what’s known as a vested interest, and vested interests are an enemy of sound science.

Which brings us back to the climategate scientists, the keepers of the keys to the global warming cathedral. In one of the more telling disclosures from last week, a computer programmer writes of the CRU’s temperature database: “I am very sorry to report that the rest of the databases seems to be in nearly as poor a state as Australia was. . . . Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight. . . . We can have a proper result, but only by including a load of garbage!”

This is not the sound of settled science, but of a cracking empirical foundation. And however many billion-dollar edifices may be built on it, sooner or later it is bound to crumble.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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Open Source as a Model for Business Is Elusive

In many ways, MySQL embodies the ideals of the populist software movement known as open source, in which a program’s creator releases it to the world free of charge, and legions of volunteers contribute improvements that are also freely shared.

The start-up company came out of nowhere, building a database application beloved by vibrant, young Internet companies. Logging in from homes scattered around the globe, its workers seemed more a part of a virtual commune than a corporate monolith, and they relished taking on proprietary software giants like Microsoft.

But like most open-source companies, MySQL’s sales, tied to support deals, never matched the astronomical number of downloads for its product, about 60,000 a day. In January 2008, the founders decided to sell the company for $1 billion to Sun Microsystems. And this year, Sun agreed to sell itself to Oracle, which makes database software aimed at larger companies and tougher jobs, for $7.4 billion.

Now, disagreement over the value of MySQL — both as a stand-alone entity and as part of a big company — lies at the heart of a bitter public battle between Oracle and the European Union over the Sun acquisition. The fight illuminates a larger truth about open-source companies: their societal and strategic importance far exceeds their financial value as operating businesses.

European regulators view MySQL as sort of a database of the people, a low-cost alternative to Oracle’s costly proprietary products. The regulators worry that Oracle may stop improving MySQL in favor of protecting its core traditional products, and customers will lose an important option in the database market.

Neelie Kroes, Europe’s competition commissioner, wants open-source software to be available.

“In the current economic context, all companies are looking for cost-effective I.T. solutions, and systems based on open-source software are increasingly emerging as viable alternatives to proprietary solutions,” said the European Commission’s competition chief, Neelie Kroes, in a recent statement. “The commission has to ensure that such alternatives would continue to be available.”

Oracle, meanwhile, insists that it will continue to develop MySQL and other Sun technologies. Oracle’s chief executive, Lawrence J. Ellison, contends that MySQL serves a different part of the database market than Oracle’s main products do — an assessment supported by many analysts. One main incentive for Oracle to keep improving MySQL is that the program serves as a bulwark against Microsoft’s SQL Server database, which challenges Oracle’s products on the low end.

“The commission’s statement of objections reveals a profound misunderstanding of both database competition and open source dynamics,” Oracle said in a statement.

To Ms. Kroes’s point, there is an open-source alternative, and usually a pretty good one, to just about every major commercial software product. In the last decade, these open-source wares have put tremendous pricing pressure on their proprietary rivals. Governments and corporations have welcomed this competition.

Whether open-source firms are practical as long-term businesses, however, is a much murkier question.

The best-known open-source company is Red Hat, which produces a variant of the Linux operating system for server computers. Like most of its peers, Red Hat offers a free version of its base product and relies on selling support services and extra tools for revenue. In its last fiscal year, which ended in March, the company’s revenue rose 25 percent to $653 million, and it reported net income of $79 million.

But Red Hat is a rare case. “There’s only one company making real money out of open source, and that’s Red Hat,” said Simon Crosby, the chief technology officer at Citrix Systems, which acquired the open-source software maker XenSource for $500 million in 2007. “Everyone else is in trouble.”

The enduring appeal of open-source software revolves more around its disruptive nature than blockbuster sales.

As long as there has been software, there have been some people eager to share and improve it for the common good. The rise of the Internet made such sharing easier than ever, enabling people the world over to work together on projects outside the confines of a formal corporate structure.

Open-source software has thrived and played a prominent role in the building of the Internet’s infrastructure. Many companies rely on Linux-based computers and Apache Web server software to display their Web pages. Similarly, the Mozilla Firefox Web browser has emerged as the most formidable competitor to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

The grass-roots nature of open source has led advocates to view the projects as a populist foil to proprietary software, where a company keeps the inner workings of its applications secret.

But in the last decade, open-source software has become more of a corporate affair than a people’s revolution.

In some cases, dominant technology companies have used open-source projects as pawns. Google, for example, has needled Microsoft by providing financial support to the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation, which oversees of the development of Firefox. I.B.M. has been a major backer of Linux, helping to raise it as a competitor to Microsoft’s Windows and other proprietary operating systems.

Many of the top open-source developers are anything but volunteers tinkering in their spare time. Companies like I.B.M., Google, Oracle and Intel pay these developers top salaries to work on open-source projects and further the companies’ strategic objectives.

In the last three years, there have been five big acquisitions in which a major technology company bought an up-and-coming open-source company for many times its annual revenue. Sun, for example, bought MySQL for about 10 times its revenue, while Citrix bought XenSource for more than 150 times its revenue, according to people familiar with the companies’ sales.

Most recently, VMware, the leading maker of virtualization software, brought SpringSource for $420 million, or about 20 times its annual sales.

“A lot of these guys were getting close to an I.P.O., but they elected to go the acquisition route instead,” said Michael Olson, the chief executive of Cloudera, an open-source start-up. “A lot of open-source firms are one-product companies, and it’s hard to build a long-term, successful business that way.”

The larger technology companies have tended to buy these one-trick ponies for strategic purposes. With its core server business declining, Sun hoped it could piggy-back on MySQL’s momentum with Internet companies. In SpringSource, VMware acquired a company that had cultivated deep interest with software developers and helped VMware diversify beyond its virtualization roots.

“VMware took into consideration that which money can’t buy, which is a critical mass of adoption,” said Peter Fenton, a venture capitalist at Benchmark Capital, who has been involved in some fashion with many of the large open-source deals. “SpringSource’s main product was the equivalent of a best-selling novel.”

Citrix took perhaps the biggest risk of all, paying a huge premium for XenSource in the hopes of disrupting VMware’s position in the virtualization market.

“I don’t think Citrix would ever say it paid too much,” Mr. Crosby said. “Citrix leaped to the forefront of a whole software category. The ability to talk credibly about virtualization is worth a huge amount in its own right.”

Meanwhile, the ideal of an independent open-source giant has faded.

Mr. Fenton said that many open-source advocates had once hoped Red Hat would scoop up the top open-source start-ups, keeping these crown jewels out of the hands of proprietary software makers. But the company failed to go after other open-source companies initially and later could not afford to pay the high prices offered by larger companies.

“You could make the case there was a window of opportunity to do that three to five years ago,” Mr. Fenton said. “That opportunity has gone away. And it’s hard to put Humpty Dumpty back together again now.”

Ashlee Vance, New York Times


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Lead Us Not Into Debt

Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey looks nothing like a televangelist. He’s a little on the short side, neither fat nor thin, and he wears jeans and a sports jacket, not a shiny suit and an oily smile. With his goatee and what’s left of his graying hair trimmed close to his head, he looks mostly like what he is—a well-groomed, middle- to upper-middle-class American professional. But when he runs out onstage and starts dispensing financial advice, you realize that he could have been a great preacher.

On a fine summer day at the end of August, I paid $220 for front-row seats on the floor of a minor-league hockey rink in Detroit, just to hear Ramsey talk for five hours. The ostensible topic: getting your financial life in order. Afterward, my fiancé, who grew up in the Bible Belt, called me to ask what I’d thought.

“I think I just attended my first prayer meeting,” I told him.

There was, of course, a great deal of talk about money, and what to do with it. But the format was more tent revival than accounting seminar, with the first 90 minutes or so mostly devoted to Ramsey’s personal story of ruin and redemption. We heard how, during the second half of the 1980s, a young Ramsey built up a multimillion-dollar real-estate empire—then lost it all as the bank got nervous and called his loans, ultimately forcing him and his wife into bankruptcy. How, searching for help in his hour of need, he turned to the Bible and discovered Proverbs 22:7: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave of the lender.” At that moment, he told an audience so hushed that we could hear the ice squeak, Ramsey decided to never borrow another dollar again.

By all accounts, he hasn’t—a commitment that many business owners would like to catch him out on, since his disciples routinely shun lucrative financing deals at car dealerships, furniture stores, and electronics warehouses. The merchants’ loss is Ramsey’s gain: he has become rich spreading his debt-free gospel. The Dave Ramsey program got traction in evangelical churches, which are still one of the biggest distribution networks for his 13-week video program, Financial Peace University. Ramsey is not the first evangelical to sell financial advice to his co-religionists, of course. Jim Sammons, Crown Financial Ministries, and others all offer similar messages to get out of debt, tithe, and so on—not to mention the far more numerous proponents of the so-called prosperity gospel, who encourage consumption rather than restraint because they believe that God will shower the faithful with riches (see “Did Christianity Cause the Crash?,” page 38).

But although other evangelical financial advisers flourish mostly within their religious communities, Ramsey has made himself the breakout act, bringing his basic message to the wider world. His programs are available in high schools and on military bases, and Ramsey himself can be heard through his daily radio show, his nightly Fox Business broadcast, his Web sites, his live events, and his many books, including a special line of children’s stories. His company, the Lampo Group, now has hundreds of employees.

Ramsey offers some investment advice (much of which would have struck horror in my business-school professors), but for most of his followers, the main attraction is a simple program: give 10 percent of your income to charity, save 15 percent for retirement, build up a sizable emergency stash and a college fund for your kids, and above all, stop borrowing money. Ramsey devotees pay cash for everything they can. They are allowed only one exception to the no-more-debt rule: a 15-year fixed-rate mortgage. He is so serious about shunning debt that his Web site takes only debit cards; try to pay with a Capital One Visa, and the system rejects the card, then tut-tuts at you. These simple, austere, unbreakable rules are, as Ramsey likes to say, “the advice that God and Grandma gave you.”

Most things sound a lot crazier from the outside, and so once I’d decided to write about the friendly, slightly bombastic man on the television screen, I thought I should try his program, as outlined in his book The Total Money Makeover. At the beginning of August, I had dutifully sat down with Peter, my fiancé, to draft a budget. Once we’d given every dollar a name (as the book puts it), I drove to the bank and withdrew 1,800 of them. Huddled over the wheel to hide this stupendous wad of cash from prying eyes, I doled out the money among various envelopes for groceries, parking, entertainment, clothing, and so on, as recommended by Ramsey—and, funnily enough, by my grandmother, who invented a nearly identical system to manage my grandfather’s meager earnings from delivering groceries during the Great Depression.

When you pay for something with a credit card, or even a debit card, you can easily spend a few extra dollars here and there. But as Ramsey explained—while waving a handful of hundred-dollar bills to illustrate the point—if you have to actually hand over some of your dwindling cash supply, you tend to ponder every purchase. That impulsive latte buy becomes a little less enjoyable when every time you haul out your wallet, a quavering voice inside your head asks, “You want to send Uncle Abe away?” And sure enough, though we thought we’d budgeted conservatively for just the necessities, we nonetheless finished the month with extra money in every envelope.

It’s also hard to spend cash, because so many people look at you funny when you try. The very first day, I spent almost 20 minutes trying to check out in the “better dresses” section of a department store. The saleslady stared at the hundred-dollar bill in her palm as if I’d just handed her an eel. After a series of plaintive looks at my obviously card-free wallet, she started stabbing at the cash-register keyboard with a sort of bleak despair. To my immense surprise and relief—and clearly, also to hers—the cash drawer eventually opened.

Ramsey calls this “being weird.” The phrase came up over and over again in his five-hour spiel, always punctuated with the same rejoinder: “Normal is broke.” During our first month on the Dave Ramsey program, I was startled to find out how true this is. When I described my project, a really shocking number of people, many of them married professionals with good incomes, confessed that they had no control over their money.

They aren’t much different from most of America. According to a recent survey from CareerBuilder, six of every 10 workers “always” or “usually” live paycheck to paycheck. Affluent, educated people do a little better, but they certainly aren’t immune—three in 10 of those with salaries above $100,000 also report that they’re spending it as fast as they make it.

In fact, in some ways, education makes living above your means easier. In business school, my fellow students and I became big fans of the idea of “consumption smoothing,” as laid out in the work of economic luminaries like Milton Friedman and Laurence Kotlikoff. At least as we read it, the theory told us to do what we wanted, which was to spend money on stuff we didn’t quite need. After all, we’d be making good money when we graduated, so why not borrow a little against that future income to buy a car or go to Cancún?

Ramsey could have told me why not, but I doubt I would have listened; it’s a lesson you can perhaps learn only firsthand. I graduated into the teeth of the 2001 recession $100,000 in debt. My six-figure job offer evaporated when the consulting firm fell on hard times. It took me two years to find a permanent job, and when I did, that job was in journalism, which paid about a third of what I’d been expecting.

Just like me, our nation has experimented with the “educated” overuse of leverage, aka debt. Homeowners who believed that they would have been fools to rent when a mortgage-interest tax deduction was available have poured their savings and their hearts into homes they are now losing to foreclosure. M.B.A.s are shuttering the companies they leveraged to the hilt as they chased tax deductions and higher returns. Even our politicians speak of deficit spending as a sort of investment opportunity. In industries from autos to housing, even as the private sector has retreated to repair its balance sheets, the government has dangled money it has borrowed in front of potential buyers to tempt them to further purchases.

Debt magnifies our fortunes, whichever way they’re going. When incomes are rising, debt helps us live even better. When incomes are falling, fixed debt payments can push us into the abyss. If you have substantial assets, you can lose a lot more than your sterling FICO score in a bankruptcy, and bankruptcy makes it hard to save, or start over. Even if you don’t go bankrupt, debt payments make it difficult for you to accumulate wealth, or to take the kind of risks that can make your life better, like switching jobs, starting a business, or getting married. And of course, if everyone takes on too much leverage at once, the whole system can collapse.

Really, we know all this. We knew it before. Just as G. K. Chesterton once remarked of Christianity, the Grandma Plan hasn’t been tried and found wanting, so much as found difficult and left untried. It’s hard to make a collective decision to delay gratification—and even harder to “get your grandma on” when everyone else is out charging the good life to MasterCard.

After all, many people who got caught out in the housing bubble didn’t exactly want to take out an adjustable-rate mortgage with a 3 percent down payment. But there was no other way they could afford even a modest-size house in a decent school district. Houses were being priced, not on some notion of intrinsic value, but on the maximum payment that likely buyers could afford. As other buyers and many bankers became more willing to take absurd risks, even previously prudent consumers felt they had to follow suit. They couldn’t get “weird” without sacrificing their children’s education.

Dave Ramsey has little patience with this sort of argument. Some of his most scathing mockery is reserved for people who take out loans to pay tuition at an expensive private college. No school, he avers, is so much better than the local college that it’s worth gambling with your financial future.

There’s some evidence that he’s right about this; a study by the economists Stacy Berg Dale and Alan Krueger famously found that students who were accepted by schools with high average SAT scores, but chose to go somewhere else, earn about the same as those who actually attend the higher-ranked school. But there is also evidence to the contrary; and what nice upper-middle-class family is willing to, well, gamble with their child’s financial future?

This may be why Ramsey and the other evangelists for a debt-free existence have thrived most in a subculture that offers something even more sacred than a Harvard education. Though Ramsey’s television and radio shows have attracted a large secular audience, his hard-core followers still seem to be overwhelmingly evangelical. Ramsey closed his talk in Detroit with a sober lecture on taking care of yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and of course, spiritually. “Bluntly,” he said, “I’m talking about this man named Jesus, and if you don’t know him, you need to be introduced.” The arena erupted in a joyous roar.

Though I did take the audio CD of Ramsey’s personal witness being handed out free at the exit, I’m afraid that Jesus and I aren’t really any better acquainted than we were before. Nonetheless, Ramsey has made a convert out of a secular journalist with one of the pricey M.B.A.s he likes to poke fun at. I have never felt as serenely in control of my finances as I have during these months of knowing that every single dollar is where it is supposed to be: either in the bank, or on a well-chaperoned date with our envelope organizer. The process has been surprisingly painless but, even more surprisingly, pleasant.

Of course, both my fiancé and I have already acquired our expensive educations and a pair of decent cars. We don’t have any kids, we don’t own a home, and it won’t hurt us to rent a few extra years until we have paid off the last of our student loans and can afford a 20 percent down payment on a house. It is easier for us to be weird than for most of our peers.

On the other hand, Americans aren’t going to fix our national financial problems until a lot more people decide to drop out of the “normal” competition to see who can borrow the most money in order to bid on a fixed number of homes in affluent school districts and places at selective colleges. You don’t need to be a Christian to look for a better way. Even an unbeliever knew enough to listen up when he saw the bright light on the road to Damascus.

Megan McArdle is The Atlantic’s business and economics editor, and the editor of the business channel at


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At This School, It’s Marijuana in Every Class

Nick Tennant, 24, the founder of Med Grow Cannabis College, something of a trade school for medical marijuana growers

At most colleges, marijuana is very much an extracurricular matter. But at Med Grow Cannabis College, marijuana is the curriculum: the history, the horticulture and the legal how-to’s of Michigan’s new medical marijuana program.

“This state needs jobs, and we think medical marijuana can stimulate the state economy with hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars,” said Nick Tennant, the 24-year-old founder of the college, which is actually a burgeoning business (no baccalaureates here) operating from a few bare-bones rooms in a Detroit suburb.

The six-week, $485 primer on medical marijuana is a cross between an agricultural extension class covering the growing cycle, nutrients and light requirements (“It’s harvest time when half the trichomes have turned amber and half are white”) and a gathering of serious potheads, sharing stories of their best highs (“Smoke that and you are … medicated!”).

The only required reading: “Marijuana Horticulture: The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower’s Bible” by Jorge Cervantes.

Even though the business of growing medical marijuana is legal under Michigan’s new law, there is enough nervousness about the enterprise that most students at a recent class did not want their names or photographs used. An instructor also asked not to be identified.

“My wife works for the government,” one student said, “and I told my mother-in-law I was going to a small-business class.”

While California’s medical marijuana program, the country’s oldest, is now big business, with hundreds of dispensaries in Los Angeles alone, the Michigan program, which started in April, is more representative of what is happening in other states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Under the Michigan law, patients whose doctors certify their medical need for marijuana can grow up to 12 cannabis plants themselves or name a “caregiver” who will grow the plants and sell the product. Anyone over 21 with no felony drug convictions can be a caregiver for up to five patients. So far, the Department of Community Health has registered about 5,800 patients and 2,400 caregivers.

A hydroponic system

For Mr. Tennant, who is certified as both a caregiver and a patient — he said he has stomach problems and anxiety — Med Grow replaces the auto detailing business he started straight out of high school, only to see it founder when the economy contracted. Med Grow began offering its course in September, with new classes starting every month.

On a recent Tuesday, two teachers led a four-hour class, starting with Todd Alton, a botanist who provided no tasting samples as he talked the students through a list of cannabis recipes, including crockpot cannabutter, chocolate canna-ganache and greenies (the cannabis alternative to brownies).

The second instructor, who would not give his name, took the class through the growing cycle, the harvest and the curing techniques to increase marijuana’s potency.

Mr. Tennant said he saw the school as the hub of a larger business that will sell supplies to its graduate medical marijuana growers, offer workshops and provide a network for both patient and caregiver referrals. Already, Med Grow is a gathering place for those interested in medical marijuana. The whiteboard in the reception room lists names and numbers of several patients looking for caregivers, and a caregiver looking for patients.

The students are a diverse group: white and black, some in their 20s, some much older, some employed, some not. Some keep their class attendance, and their growing plans, close to the chest.

“I’ve just told a couple of people I can trust,” said Jeffery Butler, 27. “It’s a business opportunity, but some people are still going to look at you funny. But I’m going to do it anyway.”

Scott Austin, an unemployed 41-year-old student, said he and two partners were planning to go into medical marijuana together.

“I never smoked marijuana in my life,” he said. “I heard about this at a business expo a couple of months ago.”

Because the Michigan program is so new, gray areas in the law have not been tested, creating real concern for some students. For example, it is not legal to start growing marijuana before being officially named a caregiver to a certified patient, but patients who are sick, certified and ready to buy marijuana generally do not want to wait through the months of the growing cycle until a crop is ready. So for the time being, coordinating entry into the business feels to some like a kind of Catch-22.

Students say they are getting all kinds of extra help and ideas from going to class.

“I want to learn all the little tricks, everything I can,” said Sue Maxwell, a student who drives each week from her home four hours north of Detroit. “It’s a big investment, and I want to do it right.”

Ms. Maxwell, who works at a bakery, is already a caregiver — in the old, nondrug sense of the word — to a few older people for whom she thinks medical marijuana might be a real boon.

“I fix their meals, and I help with housekeeping,” Ms. Maxwell said. “I have an 85-year-old lady who has no appetite. I don’t know if she’d have any interest in medical marijuana, but I bet it would help her.”

Ms. Maxwell said her plan to grow marijuana was slow in hatching.

“We were talking at the bakery all summer,” she said. “Just joking around, I said: ‘I’m going to grow medical marijuana. I’m a gardener, I’ve always dreamed of having a greenhouse, I think it would be great.’ And then I suddenly thought, hey, I really am going to grow medical marijuana.”

Tamar Lewin, New York Times


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Things French kings never said



King Louis XIV of France never said L’état c’est moi,  Louis XV never said Après moi le déluge and Queen Marie Antoinette never said let them eat cake [Qu’ils mangent de la brioche]

Of course true scholars here on the blog already knew this but I didn’t. Those famous royal remarks are among dozens of misattributed, misunderstood and outright false quotations in a fun little book just published by two academics.

In their Petit Inventaire des Citations Malmenées [Little inventory of mishandled quotations] Paul Desalmand and Yves Stallini delight in knocking down famous lines that were outright invented or wrongly attributed to great figures of the past. They blame lazy journalists and historians for popularising dodgy quotes and making them up because they sound right.

Among these apocryphal quotations is King Henri IV’s Paris vaut bien une messe [Paris is well worth a mass]. No trace of this legendary quip by the ex-protestant king can be found in historical records. They suggest that it may have been invented by enemies of the popular 16th century ruler who switched to catholicism in order to have the crown.

Another quote spread by enemies is certainly Marie-Antoinette’s Qu’ils mangent de la brioche, say the authors. The doomed queen never uttered the line or anything like it when the hungry Parisians were at the gates of Versailles. They trace the quote to the Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau who described how, long before the revolution, there was a legend about a princess who said of hungry peasants ‘let them eat cake’.

As for Louis XV and his supposed remark on the flood, the quote should be more accurately attributed to Madame de la Pompadour, the king’s favourite in the 1750s. She is said to have joked to the king after a defeat by Prussia in the Seven Year War: “Après nous, le déluge“. But even that is dubious and the remark was more likely to have been spread as gossip at the time, the authors say.

Louis XIV never uttered the boast about being the embodiment of the state, says the book. The legend took off in 1655 when the 17-year-old monarch exerted his authority over the Paris parliament. There is no record of his using such language, which in any case would have contradicted his lifelong belief that he was the servant of l’Etat, not its incarnation.

Here are more made up or misattributed quotes:

Voltaire (see picture)  never uttered anything like his famous line on free speech “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”. The authors say the quotation was invented in the United States and popularised in dictionaries of quotations there. 

Machiavelli never formulated the concept of divide and rule [divides ut regnes in Latin, diviser pour mieux régner in French]. It is apocryphal.

Herman Goering never said “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver“. It came from a 1933 play by Hanns Johst, a pro-Nazi writer, whose character said “When I hear the word culture, I load my Browning”.

Sartre’s famous line l’enfer c’est les autres [Hell is other people] has been taken completely out of context, says the book. A character in Sartre’s wartime play Huis Clos says the words but he meant that the presence of other people forces one to practise moral behaviour. It is used now as a way of saying ‘I can’t stand other people’.  

And a final quote to end, La vieillesse est un naufrage [Old age is a shipwreck]. General Charles de Gaulle is famous for using the line, but it is often attributed to Chateaubriand. In reality de Gaulle invented it. Writing about Philippe Pétain, he said that he believed that the World War One hero would not have collaborated with the Nazis in 1940 if he had been his younger self.

Charles Bremmer, London Times


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Does everything have to be shortened?

Last week the New Oxford American Dictionary named “unfriend” as word of the year.

“Unfriend” is a verb that means to remove someone as a friend on a social networking site. Reading the shortlist for word of the year was depressing. There was “funemployed” — referring to those who take advantage of being out of work to have fun — and “sexting” — when someone sends sexy messages by phone. Perhaps even more disturbing: “Tramp stamp” — a tattoo on a woman’s lower back.

I knew someone once who had a “tramp stamp”. By coincidence, it was the same person who “unfriended” me.

I’m not a fan of hybrid words. I remember when I first heard the term, “metrosexual” I thought: no way this will ever catch on. Turns out there’s a word for what I was. Wrong.

Maybe it all started with the labradoodle. A crossbreed of a labrador retriever and a poodle, these adorable (and hypoallergenic) dogs introduced a whole new area of possibilities for cute word combinations. In my building in New York, there’s a cockerpoo, a shnoodle, a spoodle, a doodle and an eskimoodle. Those are fine but then there’s also a bug. This is a boston terrier and a pug.

And therein lies the problem. No one will ever know what a bug is. It’s far too obtuse. As soon as you start saying you’re dog is a bug, you’re asking for trouble.

Which is why I’ve never understood why someone would use the word: ‘frenemy.’ It just seems so lazy. How much extra time does it really take to explain the situation. Does everything have to be shortened?

Then the other day, I was telling someone about a friendship that had developed very quickly and this person said, “I know what you mean – it’s a ‘friendmance’.” A what? A friendmance. It is, she explained, a friendship that’s like a romance.

Even worse than a frenemy is a friendmance. Because at least “frenemy” has some lyricism to it. A “friendmance” is just two words cut-and-pasted together.

I was at dinner with my friend, Laura, talking about this and she agreed that she too, can’t stand the current trend towards the conflation of two words. “I have a word for it,” she said. “Combocabulary.”

I love that she has made up a word to describe how much she hates made up words.

When it comes to technological terms, I don’t mind the blending as much. Possibly because there’s a functional definition behind it and the terminology used is specific to the medium. For instance a “webcast” or a “webisode” Even a “vlog” — a form of blogging with video — seems appropriate. Anything that’s web-based is acceptable because it makes me sound tech-savvy. And I need all the help I can get.

It seems like every other week, there’s a new word that’s come up. I took an informal poll and the one that everyone currently hates the most is: staycation. I can see why. A staycation became a popular neologism during the recent financial crisis — when in the UK, the weak pound made going overseas prohibitively expensive.

Staycationers stay at home, check e-mail, do chores and try not to spend money. In other words, they are writers.

The Urban Dictionary is filled with all sorts of these made-up words. From shopaholic to mantrum (when a grown man throws a tantrum). I’m not sure how authoritative it is though. The word “bromance” has 42 definitions.

I asked a straight male friend if he would ever use the word “bromance”.

“No,” he said. “It makes me cringe, probably because I hate the word ‘bro’ I have never, even in jest, called anyone ‘bro.’ Guys who call each other ‘bro’, I imagine are frat brothers or investment bankers (same thing) and I don’t relate.”

The only thing that bothers me more than when people use fake words is when someone adds “gate” on to the end of a situation.

The other night I was having dinner with a friend who asked if I’d heard about “waxing-gate”. This was a conspiratorial incident that involved a Russian eyebrow-waxer, and two frenemies. It was at that point that I decided I’m not made for this world.

When I told her this, you know what she said?

“Oh my god, that’s sarcasmic.”

Ariel Leve, London Times


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The Fall and Rise of Media

Historically, young women and men who sought to thrive in publishing made their way to Manhattan. Once there, they were told, they would work in marginal jobs for indifferent bosses doing mundane tasks and then one day, if they did all of that without whimper or complaint, they would magically be granted access to a gilded community, the large heaving engine of books, magazines and newspapers.

Beyond that, all it took to find a place to stand on a very crowded island, as E. B. White suggested, was a willingness to be lucky. Once inside that velvet rope, they would find the escalator that would take them through the various tiers of the business and eventually, they would be the ones deciding who would be allowed to come in.

As even casual readers of media news know, those assumptions now sound precious, preposterous even. Calvinistic ideals are no match for macromedia economics that have vaporized significant components of the business model that drives traditional publishing.

The most popular books of the holiday season have become cat toys in a price war between online and offline retailers. Newspapers still hang onto a portion of seasonal ads, but the retail chains that place them have consolidated into a much smaller cohort, and much of their spending is bifurcated between old and new media marketing. Magazines intended to help the reader primp for Christmas parties are, in many cases, half as big as they were just a few short years ago.

Pages are down, spending is down, revenues are down, and the biggest feature of this holiday season in the media kingdom has been layoffs and buyouts at Condé Nast, Time Inc., The Associated Press, and yes, The New York Times.

(And it’s not just Manhattan-centric endeavors. Published ambition has been diminished by new realities elsewhere, most recently in the announced closing of The Washington Post’s remaining domestic bureaus. Last week, in an interview with Howard Kurtz, the executive editor, Marcus Brauchli, said it plainly: “We are not a national news organization of record serving a general audience.” Yeow.)

That feeling of age, of a coming sunset, is tough to avoid in all corners of traditional publishing. Earlier in November, the New York comptroller said that employment in communications in New York had lost 60,000 jobs since 2000, a year when the media industry here seemed at the height of its powers.

I arrived in New York that same year as part of, a digital news site conceived to cover a media space that was converging and morphing into something wholly new. The site covered the mainstream media’s efforts to come to grips with new realities and efforts by new players to cash in on emerging technology.

Few of us could have conceived that in the next decade some of the reigning titans of media would be routed. Profligate dot-com ad money that had fattened print went away in a digital wipeout, and when digital media came back, it was to dine on the mainstream media rather than engorge it. After 2000, jobs in traditional media industries declined at a rate of about 2.5 percent annually and then went into a dive in 2008 or so. (, an idea before its time — hey, let’s charge for high-quality, business-oriented content — disappeared after about 18 months.)

That carnage has left behind an island of misfit toys, trains whose cabooses have square wheels and bird fish who are trying to swim in thin air. The skills that once commanded $4 for every shiny word are far less valuable at a time when the supply of both editorial and advertising content more or less doubles every year.

Where do all the burgeoning pixels come from? Everywhere, and cheap at that. An outfit called Demand Media now tests headlines for reader salience and cranks out thousands of articles and videos daily that it pays about $20 apiece for.

Web crawlers grab expensive content and replicate it far away from the organizations that produce it. Various media labs are now testing algorithms that assemble facts into narratives that deliver information, no writers required. The results would not be mistaken for literary journalism, but on the Web, pretty good — or even not terrible — is often good enough.

For those of us who work in Manhattan media, it means that a life of occasional excess and prerogative has been replaced by a drum beat of goodbye speeches with sheet cakes and cheap sparkling wine. It’s a wan reminder that all reigns are temporary, that the court of self-appointed media royalty was serving at the pleasure of an advertising economy that itself was built on inefficiency and excess. Google fixed that.

Certain stalwart brands will survive and even thrive because of a new scarcity of quality content for niche audiences that demand more than generic information. The chip that was implanted in me when I arrived at this newspaper — you might call it New York Times Exceptionalism — leads me to conclude that this organization will be one of those, but the insurgency continues apace.

Those of us who covered media were told for years that the sky was falling, and nothing happened. And then it did. Great big chunks of the sky gave way and magazines tumbled — Gourmet!? — that seemed as if they were as solid as the skyline itself. But to those of us who were here back in September of 2001, we learned that even the edifice of Manhattan itself is subject to perforation and endless loss.

So what do we get instead? The future, which is not a bad deal if you ignore all the collateral gore. Young men and women are still coming here to remake the world, they just won’t be stopping by the human resources department of Condé Nast to begin their ascent.

For every kid that I bump into who is wandering the media industry looking for an entrance that closed some time ago, I come across another who is a bundle of ideas, energy and technological mastery. The next wave is not just knocking on doors, but seeking to knock them down.

Somewhere down in the Flatiron, out in Brooklyn, over in Queens or up in Harlem, cabals of bright young things are watching all the disruption with more than an academic interest. Their tiny netbooks and iPhones, which serve as portals to the cloud, contain more informational firepower than entire newsrooms possessed just two decades ago. And they are ginning content from their audiences in the form of social media or finding ways of making ambient information more useful. They are jaded in the way youth requires, but have the confidence that is a gift of their age as well.

For them, New York is not an island sinking, but one that is rising on a fresh, ferocious wave.

David Carr, New York Times


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Growing, Yes, but India Has Reasons to Worry

Military trucks in Arunachal Pradesh, where India has maintained a heavy military presence since its 1962 war with China.

During President Obama’s recent visit to China, many in India speculated that an emerging “G2” would leave their nation out in the cold.

“Obama’s China (credit) card casts shadow on PM’s US visit” ran a headline on The Times of India’s Web site shortly before India’s prime minister left for America and his own meeting last week with Mr. Obama — highlighted by the president’s first state dinner.

The country’s prickly response points to the lingering distrust with which India, which often leaned toward Moscow during the cold war, still views the United States. It is a reminder, also, of the many sensitivities that drive Indian foreign policy — sensitivities that are not always recognized in America.

For all the talk of a new era of Indo-American collaboration, Americans tend to view India through the narrow prisms of two shared concerns — a battle against Islamic extremists, and the benefits of international trade. But India is a complicated country in a complex part of the world — buffeted by internal insurgencies, surrounded by hostile neighbors, marginalized until recently as underdeveloped.

In the last decade, four of India’s neighbors (Pakistan, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka) have dealt with rebellions that, to varying degrees, have filtered into India. Since independence in 1947, India has been involved in armed conflicts in at least five nearby lands (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, China, the Maldives); it has also become a nuclear power.

Pakistan is the most intense flashpoint, and was on many minds in a week that marked the first anniversary of attacks by Muslim extremists, traced by India to Pakistan, that left 163 people dead in Mumbai. But it is only one potential flashpoint.

Another is China, which humiliated India in a border war in 1962. Last summer, after reports surfaced in the Indian media about increased border incursions by China’s army, India began moving aircraft and soldiers closer to China. In October, an editorial in The People’s Daily, a Chinese Communist Party publication, accused India of “recklessness and arrogance.” For Indians, the verbal and military jousting that followed has stirred deep anxiety, now heightened by suspicions that America is playing up to China. When Presidents Obama and Hu issued a joint statement that appeared to open the door to Chinese involvement in South Asia, the Indian press and political establishment responded with fury, born out of a sense of betrayal.

In adddition to its regional challenges, India is entangled in a host of complicated global negotiations — on climate change, trade, nuclear proliferation, intellectual property rights. As the country emerges onto the world stage, it has often had a hard time balancing its parochial interests with its desire to play the role of a responsible global power.

India’s response to all these challenges is complicated by its own difficulty in articulating an overarching strategic doctrine.

Writing in 1992, the late American political scientist George Tanham drew attention to the lack of a broad cohesive vision. Indian foreign policy, he argued, was fragmented; he pointed, for example, to the very different threat perceptions in northern India, which tends to worry about Pakistan and China, and in the south, which is more focused on northern dominance and seaward threats.

It hasn’t always been this way. Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, envisioned his nation as a force for global peace and justice. He committed India to policies of nonproliferation and anti-imperialism, and professed nonalignment in the cold war. Arguably, India’s moral high ground was always somewhat shaky; the country has rarely hesitated to use force to protect its interests. (After Indian troops marched into the then-Portuguese colony of Goa in 1961, President John Kennedy was reported to have remarked that maybe now he could be spared India’s lectures about a moral foreign policy.) Nonetheless, India’s expression of a moral foreign policy did provide an element of cohesiveness that has frayed in recent decades.

Today, as India tries to define its role as an emerging superpower, the search for a cohesive foreign policy that could articulate a response to the myriad challenges confronting the country continues.Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an Indian political scientist, says a big question for India is how to handle its new status, and in particular whether it wants to adhere to the notion of a moral foreign policy. “Now that we have in a sense arrived, what do we do?” he asked. “Do we participate in the standard great-power exceptionalism, or do we leverage our power to create a rule-bound system?”

Just as for any great power, that would be an easier question for India to answer were it not for problems in its own backyard. Indeed, Mr. Mehta argues that India is in a sense caught in a “defensive crouch” — tied to its neighbors, forced to react to regional security threats, and held back in its aspirations as a global superpower by the volatility of its neighborhood.

Akash Kapur, New York Times


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In Search of Their Own Elixir of Love

BLUSHING AT THE THOUGHT There is no corresponding drug like Viagra for women, who see men enjoying the benefits of a little blue pill.

CHARLOTTE McLAUGHLIN was married for 35 wonderful years. “He was the only partner in my life, a terrific guy,” said Ms. McLaughlin, a retired cosmetics consultant. But in 2001, her husband, Bill, died of heart disease at 60, and to help cope with the loss, Ms. McLaughlin, who was in her 50s, began taking an antidepressant.

Then in 2004 she met another terrific guy, a 65-year-old widower named Sanford, and felt an attraction, though she worried about keeping up. Antidepressants can inhibit sex drive. “I was afraid of pain at my age, after three or four years of not having … you know, relations.”

So Ms. McLaughlin did what a lot of middle-aged women here do when they are not ready to give up on sex. She visited the Pelvic and Sexual Health Institute, which treats about 200 women a week, mostly from the Philadelphia-New York City corridor, but some from as far away as Canada, South America and Britain. Half the patients seen by the staff of 20 are boomer women. A lot have husbands and boyfriends who’ve been given a recharge via Viagra or even a penile implant, and, as Ms. McLaughlin said, “We need something, too.”

Ms. McLaughlin first had a pelvic exam with the medical director, Dr. Kristene Whitmore, a urologist, and then a sexual medicine consultation with Susan Kellogg, who has a doctorate in human sexuality and is a nurse practitioner. Dr. Kellogg told her about antidepressants with fewer side effects and gave her a topical oil for heightening sexual arousal.

“Oh yes, it worked, absolutely,” said Ms. McLaughlin, who reports that for the next three years, she and Sanford enjoyed a healthy sex life. That is, until 2007, when at 68, Sanford died of a brain tumor.

By then Ms. McLaughlin had reached 60, but she was not yet ready to be alone. Two months ago she was at a funeral and met an old girlfriend who set her up with a guy — now a widower — they’d known in high school. Ms. McLaughlin and her new man have been going out for six weeks, and things, she reports, are clicking. So Ms. McLaughlin made a recent return visit to Dr. Whitmore and Dr. Kellogg. “In case I need — I don’t know if I need anything,” she said. “To tell you the truth, it’s been pretty hot.”

Ms. McLaughlin counts herself lucky, and statistically she’s right. Several studies, including one published in 1999 in The Journal of the American Medical Association, have indicated that sexual dysfunction is more common in women (43 percent) than men (31 percent). And it’s worse for middle-aged women. A survey of 31,581 women published in 2008 in Obstetrics & Gynecology found 44.6 percent of those age 45 to 64 reported a problem with desire, arousal or orgasm, compared with 27.2 percent of women age 18 to 44.

Since 1998, men have had Viagra, and for many years, doctors prescribed hormone replacement therapy for women to ease menopause symptoms and improve sex drive. But in 2002, hormone therapy was linked to small increases in breast cancer, heart attacks and strokes. Since then, Dr. Kellogg said, “We’ve had to be more creative.”

The typical boomer patient they see, she said, “is a woman 52 to 54, a year or two after menopause, and she’s saying, ‘I can’t do it, I can’t keep up.’ ” Dr. Kellogg said 10 to 15 percent point to Viagra.

“Viagra has brought women out of the closet on this,” Dr. Whitmore said. “It’s given them a way to talk about it. Suddenly he’s got a sex life again and she’s crying in pain. No one’s talked about the impact Viagra would have on her, which is why it’s important to work with the couple. She needs to understand what she’s going through is normal.” Their practice includes six sex therapists and a psychologist who often wind up seeing both partners.

Originally, Dr. Kellogg and Dr. Whitmore had separate practices and referred patients to each other. They estimate that in 50 percent of cases, there’s an overlap between pelvic-area health problems and sexual dysfunction, which led them to merge their practices 15 years ago.

Dr. Owen Montgomery, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Drexel University medical school, said that the treatment model Dr. Kellogg and Dr. Whitmore have created for women — a combination of sophisticated pelvic and urinary care along with sexual medicine and therapy all under one roof — is one of just a few in the country. “They’re on the cutting edge of a new field,” he said. “I used to have a gynecologist partner and if a middle-aged woman asked him about sex, he’d say, ‘I don’t talk about sex.’ Thankfully, that’s changing.”

Patty Maisano, 50, a nurse who’s been married to her second husband for 13 years, first visited the office with pain problems that required a hysterectomy and urinary surgery. But once these issues were addressed, she said, she continued to have pain during sex. Dr. Kellogg and her team offered a variety of medications, injections, lubricants, sprays and exercises over the next few years, which Ms. Maisano said made only “moderate improvements” in her sex life. What finally worked, she said, was a nonhormonal topical product called Zestra, made from botanical oils and meant to heighten sensitivity to touch. “This last month, I feel like I’m back in my 20s,” Ms. Maisano said. “My husband is just thrilled that we can be intimate and both get pleasure out of it. I can see a sigh of relief that I’m not in pain.”

“So many women give up,” she added. “That’s a shame. It’s so important. You marry your best friend, but intimacy is what makes a marriage work.”

Zestra is a favorite of the center’s patients, said Dr. Kellogg, who has worked as a paid consultant for Semprae Laboratories, which makes the product. But she cautions that even if a product helps arousal, that is not the same as desire, and rekindling desire is the most complex challenge in her work.

To date, there has been no elixir for Sue, 49, a paralegal who’s been married 26 years, and asked that her last name not be used. She first came to the office in 2005 with health-related pain issues that required surgery. “A year later,” she said, “I was feeling better, but had no sexual desire.” She also used Zestra and said she found it improved her sex life for a while. “But now I’m going through the same situation again — no sex drive,” she said. “My husband does occasionally have to take the Viagra. He’ll say, ‘Please, please, please.’ I’m like, ‘All right, all right, all right.’ His drive’s stronger than mine and he’s 73.”

“So I’m going back to see Dr. Kellogg,” she said.

Dr. Kellogg has patients who somehow have decided that 58 is the age it’s permissible to stop having sex. “I just had one today,” she said. “She told me 58 is when partners start sleeping in separate beds. I said some do, many do not. She said her partner’s O.K. with it. I said, ‘Are you sure?’ She’s going to bring him in and we’re going to verify that. We’ll see what happens next visit.”

Ms. McLaughlin, the 60-something who is dating again and still going strong, counts her blessings. “I’m very fortunate, very blessed, very thankful,” she said. “I have great faith. Every day I go to Mass and thank God that I am just full of life.”

Michael Winerip, New York Times


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The art of being an expert witness

In-depth knowledge of a subject is not enough. Professionalism and integrity are essential too, says senior judge

In the popular American crime drama, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, expert usually provide the vital missing link needed to solve the crime. But in real life, experts are not the panacea, one of the most senior judges in England and Wales recently warned.

Lord Justice Leveson was addressing the Bond Solon annual expert witness conference in London where he was describing the role that expert witnesses — now commonplace in trials — play in the administration of justice. “Experts abound in every field of litigation whereas once, going to an expert was rare.”

With their increased use came a view that they were “panacea, a fix-all, a universal solution to the evidence — or lack of evidence — in the case,” he said.

Television programmes such as CSI, Crime Scene Investigation, which follows Las Vegas criminologists as they use forensic evidence to solve murders, were in part to blame. “If you have watched that programme, each tends to be solved forensically: an expert, doctor or scientist provides the links and the proof.”

But the danger of this “CSI problem” was that the public thought that “regular old-fashioned normal witnesses” were not needed anymore; and as a result, they would be less willing to come forward to help the police.

His theme was that expert witnesses have an important (and increasingly professional) role to play — but they are not “the single silver bullet that would solve all issues in the case”.

The problem was not only how they are seen by the public. Some experts went too far, with their testimony straying beyond their expertise and their evidence taking on “an irrefutable significance that it did not merit”.

He urged experts to become more professional and dispassionate in their approach. “Simply because someone has a great level of expertise in a particular subject, he or she does not necessarily have expertise in the art of being an expert witness.”

So what does an expert need to do to be an expert expert, as he put it? He or she should know about the rules and procedure of court, including case management, complying with time limits and the need to avoid needless cost.

Above all, experts’ primary duty was to the court, not to those who had instructed them.

Not so long ago, experts might be well known for the line they would take and for always arguing the same evidence, even joining in with the “obstructive tactics” of litigants.

One orthopaedic surgeon had the initials NWA — “never work again” — because that was the evidence he always gave about the impact of an injury on a client.

He would always appear against another surgeon with the initials BTW — “back to work” — because that was the contrasting evidence he would always give, Lord Justice Leveson said.

Experts have a duty to help to keep costs down by being proactive in helping the judge and the parties to keep to a timetable, he said, so that cases were managed swiftly and efficiently.

“We ignore the costs of litigation at our peril. At present it is truly unsustainable.” If litigation was so expensive that it was only for the very rich, then “we fail to provide a system that is accessible to all”.

They should also confine their evidence to their expertise. An expert might be the world’s leading authority on forensic botany in the newly declared state of Ruritania, but “that does not mean for one moment that you will be the world’s leading EXPERT on Ruritanian forensic botany”.

And expert opinion was just that; it was not fact, he said. “The reason experts are brought in is precisely because there is ambiguity . . . a court examining expert evidence is more like an English tutor considering an essay, rather than the maths tutor looking for the right numbers. So you need to be clear as to the limits of your expertise and opinion.”

Courts also had to be aware of the persuasive but mistaken expert witness. That was why experts had to have the confidence and integrity to know the limits of their expertise and inform the court of those limits, where appropriate.

Third, experts should submit their evidence to robust testing; check if it complies with accepted scientific methodology or if there is a use or misuse of statistics; and whether it can be validated by other experts. If experts did not test their own evidence, “the other side might well do it to you in public, and I am reliably informed that the witness box can be very lonely in those circumstances”.

Mark Solon, managing director of Bond Solon, the expert training company that organises the annual conference, agreed. “The message — and one we endorse — is that experts need to be professional.”

But he cautioned that if experts were required to know more in terms of case management, then they should not be paid less. From October, experts had to sign a declaration with their evidence to state that they knew the rules of court, he said. A video produced by Bond Solon told experts all they needed to know on the new court rules. But of 40,000 experts notified, only half had downloaded it.

Meanwhile, ministers are proposing to cut fees for experts in legal aid cases by 20 per cent. “If it is reasonable for them to have to master all these things, then should they have to be paid less for it?” There is a danger, he warned, that if the proposed cuts go ahead, fewer experts will be willing to do the work.


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Fossil theft: One of our dinosaurs is missing

The illegal trade is increasingly lucrative, with dire results for science

Fossilised remains in a museum in Kunming, China

Armed with rock chisels, it took the thief only a few minutes to wipe out 135 million years of history. The fossilised iguanodon footprint was hacked out of the limestone slab where it had lain in a Dorset quarry and spirited away by an illicit collector.

 Some 5,000 miles away in southern India, scientists last month issued a plea for villagers and even student palaeontologists to halt the mass looting of hundreds of dinosaur eggs whose petrified embryos could shed new light on the extinction of a species.

Fascination with the ferocious beasts has never been greater, with scientists announcing almost weekly the discovery of new prehistoric species from giant crocodiles to feathered lizards that bear testimony to an evolutionary link with birds. But with a pristine Tyrannosaurus rex specimen fetching up to $8.3m (£5m), there is growing concern that a booming trade in stolen or illicit fossils is wrecking unique sites and seeing previously unknown species disappear into private collections, where they are lost to science.

One of the world’s leading palaeontologists told The Independent that fossil rustling had become a “huge international problem” stretching from developed markets like Britain to dinosaur hotspots such as Mongolia and China. The speed and anonymity of the internet has led to a thriving black market linking unscrupulous dealers to private collectors interested in “trophy” fossils for display rather than study. Once a fossil is dug out of the ground without proper recording of information such as its location and depth, at least half its scientific value is lost.

Even a correctly-recorded specimen which ends up in private hands is lost to science because scientific journals do not publish research on specimens which cannot be readily accessed or peer reviewed.

Professor Philip Currie of the University of Alberta, an eminent Canadian scientist who is chairman of the ethics committee of the Society of Vertebrate Palaeontology, said: “This is a huge international problem that affects most of us who do research in the field. I do a lot of work in China and Mongolia, where highly significant fossils, including new species of animals, feathered dinosaurs and birds, are regularly smuggled out illegally and sold at big international fossil shows and over the web. I have seen many quarries [in Mongolia] where, in the quest for illicit profit, specimens have been destroyed by incompetent collectors looking for teeth and claws. The destruction of specimens that survived underground for 75 million years only to be ripped up for a few dollars is heart-rending.”

After a spate of thefts in Scotland and northern England seven years ago, when fossil hunters armed with diggers, electric saws and dynamite stole stones worth ten of thousands of pounds, police and wildlife conservation bodies launched a campaign to crack down on illegal collectors.

A voluntary code of conduct for Britain’s army of enthusiasts has also been successful in ensuring that specimens are submitted for assessment to museums and conservation groups. But there is evidence that the plundering of Britain’s dinosaur-bearing rocks is continuing. Earlier this year, a thief carved the 18in iguanodon footprint out of the Coombefield Quarry on Dorset’s Jurassic Coast at Portland.

The discovery of the theft prompted the owner of the site, Portland Gas, to order the removal and secure storage of another 25 slabs containing footprints from various two-legged and four-legged dinosaurs.

More than 30 imprints from a three-toed dinosaur stolen from Bendrick Rock, near Barry in Wales, have been found for sale on eBay and fossil shops on the south coast of England.

Jonathan Larwood, senior palaeontologist with Natural England, said: “The vast majority of collectors out there are law-abiding and will let the appropriate people know if they find something of interest. A lot of fossils are found on our eroding coasts and this type of collecting is really important. It is something we want to encourage. But there have always been unscrupulous collectors who will steal fossils and seek to sell them on, and the internet has provided them with a much more easily accessible market.”

In order to shut down illicit dealers, landowners are increasingly resorting to injunctions to restrict the activities of repeat offenders. The Independent understands that the National Trust is currently seeking an injunction against one fossil collector who has repeatedly ignored demands to stop digging at one of Britain’s richest fossil sites. The Trust declined to comment on the case, saying that proceedings were still ongoing. But while the trade in illegally recovered fossils from Britain may be limited to a few dozen specimens every year, the problem is on a far greater scale elsewhere. In the village of Senthurai in Tamil Nadu, southern India, scientists had to call in police last month when storms uncovered hundreds of dinosaur eggs that had been concealed by sand 8ft below the ground. As news spread of the discovery, the site was plundered by villagers and students accused of selling on the eggs. Professor K Kumaraswamy, head of geosciences at Bharathidasan University, said: “We are unable to stop the plundering. Each egg or egg cluster may provide a unique insight into the life and extinction of the dinosaur species.”

The allure of the open market means that potentially unique or important specimens like the eggs will soon be circulating in a fossil-selling industry worth at least £100m a year. A spate of museum openings in Japan and a booming market in North America in recent years has led to eye-watering prices for so-called “voucher” specimens such as a T. rex skeleton. A private buyer last week paid between $5m and $8m for a T. Rex fossil, which will now be displayed in an unnamed American museum.

The risks of mixing academia with the fossil business were highlighted 10 years ago when an archaeoraptor bought on the open market for an American museum and hailed by National Geographic magazine as proof of the missing link between birds and dinosaurs turned out to be a “composite” – two fossils cleverly fused together to make a convincing fake.

Decades of expertise in fossil cleaning mean that Britain is also profiting from the commercial trade. Consignments of Chinese dinosaur eggs discovered in the 1990s were prepared in the UK, revealing beautifully preserved dinosaur embryos. But, because they have been sold to private collections and question marks remain about whether they were legally exported from China, scientists have not been able to study the specimens.

Paul Barrett, a dinosaur researcher at the Natural History Museum in London, said: “Fossils are a finite resource. In cases where they are recovered illicitly or illegally, and sold on, there is a loss of data to science. I would not like to estimate just how big that loss is.”


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Did Christianity Cause the Crash?

America’s mainstream religious denominations used to teach the faithful that they would be rewarded in the afterlife. But over the past generation, a different strain of Christian faith has proliferated—one that promises to make believers rich in the here and now. Known as the prosperity gospel, and claiming tens of millions of adherents, it fosters risk-taking and intense material optimism. It pumped air into the housing bubble. And one year into the worst downturn since the Depression, it’s still going strong.

Pastor Fernanado Garay preaches at the Casa del Padre’s church in Charlotteville, Virginia.

Like the ambitions of many immigrants who attend services there, Casa del Padre’s success can be measured by upgrades in real estate. The mostly Latino church, in Charlottesville, Virginia, has moved from the pastor’s basement, where it was founded in 2001, to a rented warehouse across the street from a small mercado five years later, to a middle-class suburban street last year, where the pastor now rents space from a lovely old Baptist church that can’t otherwise fill its pews. Every Sunday, the parishioners drive slowly into the parking lot, never parking on the sidewalk or grass—“because Americanos don’t do that,” one told me—and file quietly into church. Some drive newly leased SUVs, others old work trucks with paint buckets still in the bed. The pastor, Fernando Garay, arrives last and parks in front, his dark-blue Mercedes Benz always freshly washed, the hubcaps polished enough to reflect his wingtips.

It can be hard to get used to how much Garay talks about money in church, one loyal parishioner, Billy Gonzales, told me one recent Sunday on the steps out front. Back in Mexico, Gonzales’s pastor talked only about “Jesus and heaven and being good.” But Garay talks about jobs and houses and making good money, which eventually came to make sense to Gonzales: money is “really important,” and besides, “we love the money in Jesus Christ’s name! Jesus loved money too!” That Sunday, Garay was preaching a variation on his usual theme, about how prosperity and abundance unerringly find true believers. “It doesn’t matter what country you’re from, what degree you have, or what money you have in the bank,” Garay said. “You don’t have to say, ‘God, bless my business. Bless my bank account.’ The blessings will come! The blessings are looking for you! God will take care of you. God will not let you be without a house!”

Pastor Garay, 48, is short and stocky, with thick black hair combed back. In his off hours, he looks like a contented tourist, in his printed Hawaiian shirts or bright guayaberas. But he preaches with a ferocity that taps into his youth as a cocaine dealer with a knife in his back pocket. “Fight the attack of the devil on my finances! Fight him! We declare financial blessings! Financial miracles this week, NOW NOW NOW!” he preached that Sunday. “More work! Better work! The best finances!” Gonzales shook and paced as the pastor spoke, eventually leaving his wife and three kids in the family section to join the single men toward the front, many of whom were jumping, raising their Bibles, and weeping. On the altar sat some anointing oils, alongside the keys to the Mercedes Benz.

Later, D’andry Then, a trim, pretty real-estate agent and one of the church founders, stood up to give her testimony. Business had not been good of late, and “you know, Monday I have to pay this, and Tuesday I have to pay that.” Then, just that morning, “Jesus gave me $1,000.” She didn’t explain whether the gift came in the form of a real-estate commission or a tax refund or a stuffed envelope left at her door. The story hung somewhere between metaphor and a literal image of barefoot Jesus handing her a pile of cash. No one in the church seemed the least bit surprised by the story, and certainly no one expressed doubt. “If you have financial pressure on you, and you don’t know where the next payment is coming from, don’t pay any attention to that!” she continued. “Don’t get discouraged! Jesus is the answer.”

America’s churches always reflect shifts in the broader culture, and Casa del Padre is no exception. The message that Jesus blesses believers with riches first showed up in the postwar years, at a time when Americans began to believe that greater comfort could be accessible to everyone, not just the landed class. But it really took off during the boom years of the 1990s, and has continued to spread ever since. This stitched-together, homegrown theology, known as the prosperity gospel, is not a clearly defined denomination, but a strain of belief that runs through the Pentecostal Church and a surprising number of mainstream evangelical churches, with varying degrees of intensity. In Garay’s church, God is the “Owner of All the Silver and Gold,” and with enough faith, any believer can access the inheritance. Money is not the dull stuff of hourly wages and bank-account statements, but a magical substance that comes as a gift from above. Even in these hard times, it is discouraged, in such churches, to fall into despair about the things you cannot afford. “Instead of saying ‘I’m poor,’ say ‘I’m rich,’” Garay’s wife, Hazael, told me one day. “The word of God will manifest itself in reality.”

Many explanations have been offered for the housing bubble and subsequent crash: interest rates were too low; regulation failed; rising real-estate prices induced a sort of temporary insanity in America’s middle class. But there is one explanation that speaks to a lasting and fundamental shift in American culture—a shift in the American conception of divine Providence and its relationship to wealth.

In his book Something for Nothing, Jackson Lears describes two starkly different manifestations of the American dream, each intertwined with religious faith. The traditional Protestant hero is a self-made man. He is disciplined and hardworking, and believes that his “success comes through careful cultivation of (implicitly Protestant) virtues in cooperation with a Providential plan.” The hero of the second American narrative is a kind of gambling man—a “speculative confidence man,” Lears calls him, who prefers “risky ventures in real estate,” and a more “fluid, mobile democracy.” The self-made man imagines a coherent universe where earthly rewards match merits. The confidence man lives in a culture of chance, with “grace as a kind of spiritual luck, a free gift from God.” The Gilded Age launched the myth of the self-made man, as the Rockefellers and other powerful men in the pews connected their wealth to their own virtue. In these boom-and-crash years, the more reckless alter ego dominates. In his book, Lears quotes a reverend named Jeffrey Black, who sounds remarkably like Garay: “The whole hope of a human being is that somehow, in spite of the things I’ve done wrong, there will be an episode when grace and fate shower down on me and an unearned blessing will come to me—that I’ll be the one.”

I had come to Charlottesville to learn more about this second strain of the American dream—one that’s been ascendant for a generation or more. I wanted to try to piece together the connection between the gospel and today’s economic reality, and to see whether “prosperity” could possibly still seem enticing, or even plausible, in this distinctly unprosperous moment. (Very much so, as it turns out.) Charlottesville may not be the heartland of the prosperity gospel, which is most prevalent in the Sun Belt—where many of the country’s foreclosure hot spots also lie. And Garay preaches an unusually pure version of the gospel. Still, the particulars of both Garay and his congregation are revealing.

Among Latinos the prosperity gospel has been spreading rapidly. In a recent Pew survey, 73 percent of all religious Latinos in the United States agreed with the statement: “God will grant financial success to all believers who have enough faith.” For a generation of poor and striving Latino immigrants, the gospel seems to offer a road map to affluence and modern living. Garay’s church is comprised mostly of first-generation immigrants. More than others I’ve visited, it echoes back a highly distilled, unself-conscious version of the current thinking on what it means to live the American dream.

One other thing makes Garay’s church a compelling case study. From 2001 to 2007, while he was building his church, Garay was also a loan officer at two different mortgage companies. He was hired explicitly to reach out to the city’s growing Latino community, and Latinos, as it happened, were disproportionately likely to take out the sort of risky loans that later led to so many foreclosures. To many of his parishioners, Garay was not just a spiritual adviser, but a financial one as well.

Many of the terms and concepts used by prosperity preachers today date back to Oral Roberts, a poor farmer’s son turned Pentecostal preacher. Garay grew up watching Roberts on television and considers him a hero; he hopes to send all three of his children to Oral Roberts University, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the late 1940s, Roberts claimed his Bible flipped open to the Third Epistle of John, verse 2: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health. Even as thy soul prospereth.” Soon Roberts developed his famous concept of seed faith, still popular today. If people would donate money to his ministry, a “seed” offered to God, he’d say, then God would multiply it a hundredfold. Eventually, Roberts retreated into a life that revolved around private jets and country clubs.

Roberts’s fame had faded by the late 1980s, and prosperity preaching briefly imploded soon after. We all remember Tammy Faye Bakker and her mascara tears, along with her husband, Jim, and his various scandals. They took their place in a procession of slick, showy faith healers on Christian television who ultimately succumbed to earthly temptation.

But since that time, the movement has made itself over, moving out of the fringe and into the upwardly mobile megachurch class. In the past decade, it has produced about a dozen celebrity pastors, who show up at White House events, on secular radio, and as guests on major TV talk shows. Kirbyjon Caldwell, a Methodist megapastor in Houston and a purveyor of the prosperity gospel, gave the benediction at both of George W. Bush’s inaugurals. Instead of shiny robes or gaudy jewelry, these preachers wear Italian suits and modest wedding bands. Instead of screaming and sweating, they smile broadly and speak in soothing, therapeutic terms. But their message is essentially the same. “Every day, you’re going to live that abundant life!” preaches Joel Osteen, a best-selling author, the nation’s most popular TV preacher, and the pastor of Lakewood Church, in Houston, the country’s largest church by far.

Among mainstream, nondenominational megachurches, where much of American religious life takes place, “prosperity is proliferating” rapidly, says Kate Bowler, a doctoral candidate at Duke University and an expert in the gospel. Few, if any, of these churches have prosperity in their title or mission statement, but Bowler has analyzed their sermons and teachings. Of the nation’s 12 largest churches, she says, three are prosperity—Osteen’s, which dwarfs all the other megachurches; Tommy Barnett’s, in Phoenix; and T. D. Jakes’s, in Dallas. In second-tier churches—those with about 5,000 members—the prosperity gospel dominates. Overall, Bowler classifies 50 of the largest 260 churches in the U.S. as prosperity. The doctrine has become popular with Americans of every background and ethnicity; overall, Pew found that 66 percent of all Pentecostals and 43 percent of “other Christians”—a category comprising roughly half of all respondents—believe that wealth will be granted to the faithful. It’s an upbeat theology, argues Barbara Ehrenreich in her new book, Bright-Sided, that has much in common with the kind of “positive thinking” that has come to dominate America’s boardrooms and, indeed, its entire culture.

On the cover of his 4 million-copy best seller from 2004, Your Best Life Now, Joel Osteen looks like a recent college grad who just got hired by Goldman Sachs and can’t believe his good luck. His hair is full, his teeth are bright, his suit is polished but not flashy; he looks like a guy who would more likely shake your hand than cast out your demons. Osteen took over his father’s church in 1999. He had little preaching experience, although he’d managed the television ministry for years. The church grew quickly, as Osteen packaged himself to appeal to the broadest audience possible. In his books and sermons, Osteen quotes very little scripture, opting instead to tell uplifting personal anecdotes. He avoids controversy, and rarely appears on Christian TV. In a popular YouTube clip, he declines to confirm Larry King’s suggestion that only those who believe in Jesus will go to heaven.

Osteen is often derided as Christianity Lite, but he is more like Positivity Extreme. “Cast down anything negative, any thought that brings fear, worry, doubt, or unbelief,” he urges. “Your attitude should be: ‘I refuse to go backward. I am going forward with God. I am going to be the person he wants me to be. I’m going to fulfill my destiny.’” Telling yourself you are poor, or broke, or stuck in a dead-end job is a form of sin and “invites more negativity into your life,” he writes. Instead, you have to “program your mind for success,” wake up every morning and tell yourself, “God is guiding and directing my steps.” The advice is exactly like the message of The Secret, or any number of American self-help blockbusters that edge toward magical thinking, except that the religious context adds another dimension.Your Best Life Now, which has fueled a TV show that Osteen claims is now seen in 200 million homes worldwide, opens with a story of a man on vacation in Hawaii. He was “a good man who had achieved a modest measure of success, but he was coasting along, thinking that he’d already reached his limits.” While sightseeing, he and his wife admired a gorgeous house on a hill. “I can’t even imagine living in a place like that,” he said. For this bit of self-deprecation and modesty, Osteen pities the man: “His own thoughts and attitudes,” he writes, “were condemning him to mediocrity,” or what is known in the gospel as the “defeated life.”A few pages later comes the corrective, the model of a “victor” and not a “victim.” Osteen and his wife, Victoria, are walking around their neighborhood in Houston when they pass a beautiful house being built. “Most of the other homes around us were one-story, ranch-style homes that were forty to fifty years old, but this house was a large two-story home, with high ceilings and oversized windows,” he writes. “It was a lovely, inspiring place.” Victoria desperately wanted a house “just like it,” but Joel was worried about how stretched they already were. “Thinking of our bank account and my income at the time, it seemed impossible to me,” he writes. But this, of course, is an example of ungodly, negative thinking. With her unwavering faith, Victoria wouldn’t let it drop. Soon she convinced Joel and then he, too, started to believe that “God could bring it to pass.” There is no explanation of how they came to own such a house—whether Osteen worked hard to grow his ministry or got rich from his TV show or received an inheritance from his father’s estate. In this story they are standing in for an average middle-class couple who set their sights on a bigger house and believed, despite all the financial evidence, that God would bestow it upon them, like a gift. And he did.

Theologically, the prosperity gospel has always infuriated many mainstream evangelical pastors. Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life outsold Osteen’s, told Time, “This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It’s creating a false idol. You don’t measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn’t everyone in the church a millionaire?” In 2005, a group of African American pastors met to denounce prosperity megapreachers for promoting a Jesus who is more like a “cosmic bellhop,” as one pastor put it, than the engaged Jesus of the civil-rights era who looked after the poor.

More recently, critics have begun to argue that the prosperity gospel, echoed in churches across the country, might have played a part in the economic collapse. In 2008, in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, Jonathan Walton, a professor of religious studies at the University of California at Riverside, warned:

Narratives of how “God blessed me with my first house despite my credit” were common … Sermons declaring “It’s your season of overflow” supplanted messages of economic sobriety and disinterested sacrifice. Yet as folks were testifying about “what God can do,” little attention was paid to a predatory subprime-mortgage industry, relaxed credit standards, or the dangers of using one’s home equity as an ATM.

In 2004, Walton was researching a book about black televangelists. “I would hear consistent testimonies about how ‘once I was renting and now God let me own my own home,’ or ‘I was afraid of the loan officer, but God directed him to ignore my bad credit and blessed me with my first home,’” he says. “This trope was so common in these churches that I just became immune to it. Only later did I connect it to this disaster.”

Demographically, the growth of the prosperity gospel tracks fairly closely to the pattern of foreclosure hot spots. Both spread in two particular kinds of communities—the exurban middle class and the urban poor. Many newer prosperity churches popped up around fringe suburban developments built in the 1990s and 2000s, says Walton. These are precisely the kinds of neighborhoods that have been decimated by foreclosures, according to Eric Halperin, of the Center for Responsible Lending.

Zooming out a bit, Kate Bowler found that most new prosperity-gospel churches were built along the Sun Belt, particularly in California, Florida, and Arizona—all areas that were hard-hit by the mortgage crisis. Bowler, who, like Walton, was researching a book, spent a lot of time attending the “financial empowerment” seminars that are common at prosperity churches. Advisers would pay lip service to “sound financial practices,” she recalls, but overall they would send the opposite message: posters advertising the seminars featured big houses in the background, and the parking spots closest to the church were reserved for luxury cars.

Nationally, the prosperity gospel has spread exponentially among African American and Latino congregations. This is also the other distinct pattern of foreclosures. “Hyper-segregated” urban communities were the worst off, says Halperin. Reliable data on foreclosures by race are not publicly available, but mortgages are tracked by both race and loan type, and subprime loans have tended to correspond to foreclosures. During the boom, roughly 40 percent of all loans going to Latinos nationwide were subprime loans; Latinos and African Americans were 28 percent and 37 percent more likely, respectively, to receive a higher-rate subprime loan than whites.

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that state attorneys general had the authority to sue national banks for predatory lending. Even before that ruling, at least 17 lawsuits accusing various banks of treating racial minorities unfairly were already under way. (Bank of America’s Countrywide division—one of the companies Garay worked for—had earlier agreed to pay $8.4 billion in a multistate settlement.) One theme emerging in these suits is how banks teamed up with pastors to win over new customers for subprime loans.

Beth Jacobson is a star witness for the City of Baltimore’s recent suit against Wells Fargo. Jacobson was a top loan officer in the bank’s subprime division for nine years, closing as much as $55 million worth of loans a year. Like many subprime-loan officers, Jacobson had no bank experience before working for Wells Fargo. The subprime officers were drawn from “an utterly different background” than the professional bankers, she told me. She had been running a small paralegal business; her co-workers had been car salespeople, or had worked in telemarketing. They were prized for their ability to hustle on the ground and “look you in the eye when they shook your hand,” she surmised. As a reward for good performance, the bank would sometimes send a Hummer limo to pick up Jacobson for a celebration, she said. She’d arrive at a bar and find all her co-workers drunk and her boss “doing body shots off a waitress.”

The idea of reaching out to churches took off quickly, Jacobson recalls. The branch managers figured pastors had a lot of influence with their parishioners and could give the loan officers credibility and new customers. Jacobson remembers a conference call where sales managers discussed the new strategy. The plan was to send officers to guest-speak at church-sponsored “wealth-building seminars” like the ones Bowler attended, and dazzle the participants with the possibility of a new house. They would tell pastors that for every person who took out a mortgage, $350 would be donated to the church, or to a charity of the parishioner’s choice. “They wouldn’t say, ‘Hey, Mr. Minister. We want to give your people a bunch of subprime loans,” Jacobson told me. “They would say, ‘Your congregants will be homeowners! They will be able to live the American dream!’”

Garay often tells his life story from the pulpit, as an inspiration to the many immigrants in his church, some legal, some not. He grew up an outsider—a citizen by birth, but living a marginal existence in a diverse, working-class neighborhood in Flushing, Queens. His mother left when he was 8, and he was raised mostly by two older brothers; he spent most of his time on the street. “I ate jars of peanut butter for dinner,” he says. The story of how he became a Christian begins in 1989, when he was 28 years old, and involves a large sum of money. He’d been selling drugs in Miami, then started using, and owed some dealers $30,000 that he didn’t have, and they were going to kill him. He was on his mattress one night, in despair, when a picture of Jesus up on his wall “winked at me.” Soon after, he became a born-again Christian, and he told everyone about it. The dealers, he says, then went away. He doesn’t offer much explanation; he just says, “They were after me. They were going to kill me. And then they just backed off.” He credits Jesus.

Garay tried many churches, but they all felt alien and “dead” to him. “That’s not me, sitting quietly and saying ‘Thank you, God.’” Finally he came upon a Pentecostal prosperity church, much like the one he leads now. The church was full of miracles and real emotion, which drew him in, but it also offered practical benefits. The pastor pointed out Bible passages that referred to finances in specific terms, giving him images of wealth he could almost reach out and touch: “Give, and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over”—a passage that’s now often read at Garay’s church during tithing time.

“Then it started happening. It started happening!” He enrolled in a community college and began selling roses from buckets in the backseat of his Honda (“no AC, no radio”). In no time, as he tells it, he had worked himself up to roses in plastic straws, laid neatly across the backseat of his Cadillac, with no water sloshing on the white leather. With this story, Garay hopes to convince his followers that God has a bounty for them, but that to get it they have to take the first step of faith. One analogy he likes to use is a box of gifts in heaven; if you never reach up to get it, then it won’t come down to you. It’s a curious mix of active (a step of faith) and passive (“It started happening!”).

In Garay’s testimony, his life proceeds that way: part hard work, part miracle. He applied himself, eventually got married, and had children. One day, for no reason, he quit his job as a social worker counseling addicted juvenile delinquents. “I almost hit him with a frying pan,” Hazael, his wife, jokes. But the very same day, his mother-in-law walked into the house and said the bank was looking for a bilingual loan officer. He had no experience and had never used a computer. Yet he got the job and within a year was earning six figures. How did that happen? How did it all come together so neatly, one door opening the moment another had closed? When I asked him that, he smiled and pointed up at the sky.

Garay is like a father figure to his parishioners; I met a few who had named their children after him or his wife. Parishioners told me stories about his coming with them to their court hearings, showing them how to buy a phone card or find a good school for their children or, for the more entrepreneurial, invest in a small business. Oral Roberts’s seed-faith concept is the source of much suspicion about prosperity churches; pastors, including Garay, ask their parishioners to give 10 percent of their income to the church. But to Garay, seed faith is the church’s central tenet. The tithe, he says, is tangible proof that a believer has taken the first step toward God. It is the spiritual equivalent of spending three years selling flowers door-to-door. He often tells what’s known as Jesus’ parable of the three servants, from Matthew. A lord gives three of his servants money. Two invest the money and double their profit, and a third hides his in the ground. When the master returns, he declares the third “wicked and lazy” and a “worthless slave,” and casts him into the “outer darkness.” “To receive God’s bounty, you cannot hide your head in the sand,” Garay preaches. “You have to take a leap of faith.”

I asked Garay why his parishioner Billy Gonzales, who earns barely $25,000 and has no money to fix his car, should donate 10 percent of his income. “Because it gives him a new mentality. It teaches him that money can breed more money, that you can have money in your pocket on Saturday morning even though you got paid Friday night. People who support the church week after week have a dedication. Those who just give $5 or $10 here and there, you’ll hear them have the same problems week after week.” Jackson Lears would add another explanation: tithing is like the moment the gambler lays his money down on the table—it “promises at least a fleeting opportunity to contact a realm where hope is alive,” he writes. Without it, there’s only the dull regularity of $2,000 a month and a dead car.

During the boom years, Apostle Garay, as he is known in church, was brasher than he is now. He spoke in very specific terms during church services, promising that a $100 offering would yield a $10,000 return: “This is not my promise. It is God’s promise, and he will make it happen!” he would say.

While it sounds absurd, this kind of message can have a positive influence, according to Tony Tian-Ren Lin, a researcher at the University of Virginia who has made a close study of Latino prosperity gospel congregations over the years. These churches typically take in people who had “been basically dropped into the world from pretty primitive settings”—small towns in Latin America with no electricity or running water and very little educational opportunity. In their new congregation, their pastor slowly walks them through life in the U.S., both inside and outside of church, until they become more confident. “In Mexico, nobody ever told them they could do anything,” says Lin, who was himself raised in Argentina. He finds the message at prosperity churches to be quintessentially American. “They are taught they can do absolutely anything, and it’s God’s will. They become part of the elect, the chosen. They get swept up in the manifest destiny, this idea that God has lifted Americans above everyone else.”

At Casa del Padre, the celebration of consumer culture is quite visible, along with a sense of boundless opportunity. The people in the church, for instance, tend to have very expensive cell phones—never the free ones that come with a calling plan, nor the sort that can be bought cheaply at a convenience store. “They start wanting what’s considered the best and the most technologically advanced in this country,” Lin says. Garay’s church, it seems to me, teaches them that they deserve these things, so they go about getting them, with few resources and infinite adaptability. Before the crash, one group of young men got a $12,000 loan to start a landscaping company; another man bought a $270,000 house. One of the church’s Bible-study leaders, who’d grown up in a remote village in Mexico with an abusive, alcoholic father, had become a very successful contractor by the height of the boom, managing 30 men on multiple jobs and winning contracts to paint luxury subdivisions in the exurbs.

The tenets of the prosperity gospel, and the practical advice that pastors often give their parishioners, help immigrants learn “not just how to survive but how to thrive; not just live paycheck to paycheck but handle money—manage complicated payrolls, invest in equipment,” Lin told me. Along the way, they become assimilated. “While they’re trying to be closer to God, instead they become American,” he says, from their optimism and entrepreneurialism to the very nature of their dreams.

These days, Garay’s message is more subdued than it was at the height of the boom, but not substantially different. In a sermon on Father’s Day, he did not make specific claims of financial returns on investments but instead spoke vaguely about how his congregation’s prospects were “good and going to get better.” After church, I asked Garay about how the gospel was holding up in the recession. It was a hot summer day, and although he had just finished one of his feverish two-hour sermons, he seemed energized rather than drained. “Look,” he said, and rounded his hands as if to indicate a protective shield. “The recession has not hit my church.” He reminded me that when he had asked how many people were out of work, only four people out of about 100 there had raised their hands. But in a church where failure is seen as a kind of sin, it seems credulous at best to expect an honest response to that question. I later met at least one person—Billy Gonzales’s younger brother—who didn’t have a job but hadn’t raised his hand, because he thought he’d “have one lined up soon.”

Garay describes the recession as God’s judgment—for abortion, taking prayer out of school, bikinis on television, “Desperate Housewives, whatever.” But God is also giving us a two-year window to repent, he says. He calculates that we’ve had five years of extreme plenty and now the clock is running out, based on the biblical story of Joseph and the great famine—seven years of plenty followed by seven years of a failed harvest. If we don’t repent, we will experience “misery like we have never known it.” These days, if any parishioners or fellow pastors ask Garay for investment advice, he tells them to wait two years before making a move.

Like much of Garay’s advice, this recommendation is partly grounded in economic reality, and partly drawn from mystical notions about a biblical calendar. “I’m very real,” he once told me. “If you want to eat at Red Lobster, you better have a Red Lobster paycheck, and enough left over to pay your electric bill. But I’ve also seen miracles of God.” Later, during one of our talks over coffee, his wife echoed the sentiment. “If you can’t afford a house, you shouldn’t buy it,” Hazael said, when I asked whether the prosperity gospel might push people to take irresponsible risks. “But if the Lord is telling you to ‘take that first step and I will provide,’ then you have to believe.”

I asked Garay many times about a connection between the mortgage crisis and the gospel, but he does not really see one. From everything he says about his time as a loan officer, it seems he was involved in the kinds of subprime loans that led to so many foreclosures. He was hired in Countrywide’s emerging-markets division, which meant he was expected to target the growing Latino community in the area. Like Beth Jacobson, he had no previous experience, but was valued for his connections and hustle. He makes astute criticisms of the risky loans but, like many former loan officers, he does so with a curious sense of distance, as if he had been just a cog in the machine. Loans got “too easy,” he says. “Mortgages would be $1,500 a month, and that was all [the loan applicants] made in a month,” he recalls, “but they figured they would rent the basement.” He says sometimes he told people the loans were going to kill them, but they would plead, “Please help me, please. I want a house.” Because he was becoming an increasingly prominent pastor at the time, many people who came to see him assumed he was the president of the bank and could protect them, he recalls.

Garay says as far as he knows no one in his church defaulted. But at a bare minimum, some of his parishioners have run into intense financial difficulties, sometimes defaulting soon after leaving the congregation. The man who’d bought the $270,000 house threw a huge housewarming party and invited everyone from church. He gave a weepy testimony about the house God had given him, passing around the title for all to see. At the time, he was working as a handyman, putting up drywall, painting, roofing, and doing other odd jobs. Within three months he had three families living in the three-bedroom house, and he still could not keep up with the payments. After five months, he went into foreclosure and ducked out of the country. Tony Lin is careful—and of course correct—to say that neither immigrants nor Latinos caused the crash; adherents of every stripe exhibited the same sort of magical thinking about finances, as did millions of nonbelievers. Still, he recalls, “I wasn’t very surprised when the whole subprime-mortgage thing blew up. I’m sure a loan officer never said, ‘God wants you to have a house.’ But you’ve already been taught that. Now here comes the loan officer saying, ‘Sign here, and this house will be yours.’ It feels like a gift from God. It’s the perfect fuel for the crisis.”

The guys who’d started the landscaping company also fared badly. They had a pretty good spring and summer in 2007, their first year of operation, and then business started to fall off. In church they kept giving positive testimonies, bragging about their success. But by October, they’d begun selling off their equipment; eventually they lost the business and had to go into hiding. The most interesting part of the story is the epilogue. One of the partners in the group, whom I’ll call Luis, eventually moved to Richmond, and an acquaintance from Casa del Padre told me that he’d recently run into him there. Luis hadn’t been embittered by the experience; he blamed the disaster on the fact that he’d started working on Sundays instead of going to church. Luis asked the man to come visit with some of the parishioners of his new church, to confirm that he had once been a great success. As they talked, he seemed happy and positive. “He wasn’t angry that things didn’t work out. He wasn’t angry at God. He looked back at those days and thought, ‘I can still have everything. Look what God gave me. That was a time when I had it all.’”

By many measures, Billy Gonzales does not have it all. He lives with his wife and three children in a tiny apartment on the back side of a development at the edge of town, where people hang out on the stoop until all hours. He works 45 minutes away and his car has been broken down for three months, and he does not have any money to fix it. Every day at work he is faced with a vision of what he does not have. He works for a man who just built a $4 million house—one of four the man owns. Gonzales’s job is to make sure every wine glass, garden statue, and book is dusted and in its proper place. Yet when I talked to Gonzales he was like a child hearing the ice-cream truck, or a man newly in love. “I’m crazy! Just crazy,” he said, meaning crazy for the Lord, and giving little jumps out of his chair.

I visited Gonzales one evening after he’d had a long day at work; his brother had given him a ride home. Gonzales has a wide, earnest face that can look like a child’s or, if he is tired, like an old man’s. He sat in his favorite squeaky leather chair with his Bible in one hand and a soccer ball at his feet. The sofas in the tiny living room are actually backseats ripped out of cars, with cushions thrown on them. He got the cushions from a man he once shared a trailer with, and they turned out to be infested with cockroaches. As we talked, the roaches crawled across the floor or on the sofas. Gonzales apologized but did not pay them much attention.

He told me he feels pity for his employer. He assumes the man must have been close to God at one point, or at least his family must have been, “because the rich are closer to God.” But now the man has lost his way. He laughs when Gonzales talks to him about Jesus, and he wastes his money, buying $500 birdhouses and hiring Gonzales to clean them.

Gonzales was once lost too. He came from a big family in Guatemala so poor “that the poor people would call us poor.” For a while after he came to the U.S., he sent money home, but then like many of his friends he lost the rhythm of work. Instead, he was snorting cocaine and getting drunk four nights a week. “I hated Americans. I hated them,” he said, and I had trouble believing him, given his now-innocent, open demeanor. He says that back then, he spent most of his days fantasizing about killing his brother-in-law, whom he hated for no reason he can remember. His conversion came two years ago, in the form of a sudden vision like Garay’s. One night, in a drugged-out haze, he saw a polished, shimmery stone. He later realized it was a jewel, one of the many treasures in God’s vast storehouse, destined for him. Eventually he made his way to Garay, whom he now calls his father.

When I mentioned Gonzales to Garay, the pastor praised him as a model congregant. Indeed, by any standard Gonzales is an admirable man. He is 24, married, works hard, and limits his extracurricular activities to Bible study and soccer. It took me a few visits to realize that two of the three small children in the house are not his. He married a woman with two sons and takes care of them. They call him Papa and he reads to them at night and speaks to them gently, exactly the way he speaks to his own baby son. He has every reason to be frustrated with his circumstances, but I never once saw him express anything but delight. The gospel obviously grounds Gonzales in a very concrete way. But I can also see how, one day, it might send him floating into the air.

“I want to buy a house,” he confessed to me one evening this summer. It turned out his lease was almost up, and he needed to move in the fall. “Not a small one but a really huge one, a nice one. With six bedrooms and a kitchen and living room. I know, it’s crazy! But nothing is impossible! God, you saved my life,” he said, no longer speaking to me. “You saved my life, and now you will give me a gift. Now I’m crazy!” Last I heard, he and Garay were house-hunting together.

A year or so after the crash, there are signs of a new sobriety—higher savings rates, for example, and a reduction in conspicuous spending. But it’s hard to imagine Americans reverting to frugality the way, say, the Japanese did during the “lost decade” after their economy crashed. If by stereotype the Japanese are savers, then Americans are consumers, and ever hopeful. Already, countless “entrepreneurs” are finding a silver lining in the mortgage crisis, buying up foreclosed lots—often sight unseen, based on Web listings alone—in desolate parts of Cleveland and Phoenix and other places where abandoned houses can sometimes be had for a few thousand dollars or less. The buyers pay these bargain-basement prices eagerly, in the belief that the houses must be great deals, when they are just as likely to be overtaken by mold, or have every one of their doors and windows missing and the roof caving in. In America there is always a next play, another opportunity, an “unearned blessing” that can make up for a lifetime of disappointment.

It is not all that surprising that the prosperity gospel persists despite its obvious failure to pay off. Much of popular religion these days is characterized by a vast gap between aspirations and reality. Few of Sarah Palin’s religious compatriots were shocked by her messy family life, because they’ve grown used to the paradoxes; some of the most socially conservative evangelical churches also have extremely high rates of teenage pregnancies, out-of-wedlock births, and divorce. As Garay likes to say, “What you have is nothing compared to what you will have.” The unpleasant reality—an inadequate paycheck, a pregnant daughter, a recession—is invisible. It’s your ability to see beyond such things, your willing blindness to even the most hopeless-seeming circumstances, that makes you a certain kind of modern Christian, and a 21st-century American.

There is the kind of hope that President Obama talks about, and that Clinton did before him—steady, uplifting, assured. And there is Garay’s kind of hope, which perhaps for many people better reflects the reality of their lives. Garay’s is a faith that, for all its seeming confidence, hints at desperation, at circumstances gone so far wrong that they can only be made right by a sudden, unexpected jackpot.

Once, I asked Garay how you would know for certain if God had told you to buy a house, and he answered like a roulette dealer. “Ten Christians will say that God told them to buy a house. In nine of the cases, it will go bad. The 10th one is the real Christian.” And the other nine? “For them, there’s always another house.” 

Hanna Rosin, The Atlantic


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Rocker Offends Germans with Nazi-Era Anthem

Doherty Über Alles

Pete Doherty on stage at his concert in Munich Sunday following his gaffe on a live radio broadcast on Saturday.

British musician Pete Doherty was booed heavily in Germany after singing the first verse of the German national anthem. The lyrics are taboo in Germany because of their Nazi associations.

Pete Doherty, a scandal-ridden British rockstar best known for having dated supermodel Kate Moss, has made headlines again — and for once, it’s actually about his singing.

The Babyshambles frontman took to the stage Saturday evening at a festival that was being simultaneously broadcast live on the radio station Bayern 2. He had originally showed up to watch the concert, but talked his way on stage. After taking the microphone, the clearly drunk rocker started to sing the first verse of the German national anthem, which has been taboo since World War II because of its Nazi associations.

“With a quiet voice, he sang ‘Deutschland, Deutschland Über Alles’ (‘Germany, Germany Above All’) four times,” said Rudi Küffner, a spokesman for Bayern 2’s parent company, Bayerischer Rundfunk. “Then the audience booed him so loudly that he had to start another song.” As well as boos, the crowd reacted with whistles and outstretched middle fingers.

The first verse of the German national anthem, which is known as the “Deutschlandlied” (“Germany Song”), is no longer part of the official anthem due to its association with the Nazis. The modern version of the national anthem only uses the third stanza of the song.

Bayerischer Rundfunk says the live broadcast was quickly taken off the air but Doherty remained on stage. He moved on to the next song but his manager pulled him off after his fourth song. “After that, we could no longer guarantee his safety,” Rainer Tief, the program manager for Bayerischer Rundfunk told the Munich newspaper TZ.

The broadcaster has already issued an apology and is hoping that Doherty will apologize as well. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t foresee this. Live is live,” said Rainer Tief. “As the Brits say: We were not amused.”

Doherty has long been a subject of celebrity tabloid gossip. The 30-year-old singer has appeared in court numerous times for drug possession, robbery and assault. Following another appearance in Munich, at the 2007 MTV European Music Awards, he was caught on camera relapsing into his heroin habit.

His musical talent was first noticed while he was part of The Libertines, a band which also created headlines in Germany for their song “Arbeit Macht Frei.” The title of the song, which is about racism in Britain, is an infamous slogan which was placed over the entrance of Nazi concentration camps.


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‘Germany Would Also Have Voted to Ban Minarets’

The World from Berlin

The Mahmud Mosque in Zurich has one of only four minarets in Switzerland. No more will be built following Sunday’s referendum.

Switzerland’s vote to ban minarets is a disaster for its image, write German commentators. The vote doesn’t just reflect a fear of “Islamization” but also shows that setbacks in recent years have shaken its national self-confidence. But Germans would probably vote the same way, warn some observers.

Switzerland’s decision to ban the construction of minarets in a referendum on Sunday has drawn condemnation from politicians across Europe and from Muslim leaders, but far-right politicians have welcomed it as a courageous step that should be copied by other countries.

Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, the country’s top cleric, called the ban an “insult” to Muslims across the world but called on Muslims not to be provoked by the move. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he was shocked by the decision which showed “intolerance.”

However right-wing and far-right parties such as Italy’s Northern League in Italy and France’s National Front were quick to welcome the decision. The right-wing populist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who is famous for his anti-Islam views, called the result “great” and said he would push for a similar referendum in the Netherlands.

More than 57.5 percent of voters and 22 out of 26 cantons voted in favor of the ban on Sunday. The initiative was brought by supporters of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and a smaller party. The campaign’s organizers had argued that minarets are a symbol of a Muslim quest to dominate others and to introduce Shariah law, and that banning them would help stop an “Islamization” of Switzerland. Muslims make up around 5 percent of the Swiss population.

In Germany, Wolfgang Bosbach, the spokesman on domestic security for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats, said the vote expressed a fear of Islamization that also exists in Germany. “One has to take this concern seriously,” Bosbach told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper.

German media commentators writing in the Monday editions of Germany’s main newspapers said the decision reflects more than a fear of Islamization. The vote, they write, is a sign of how unsettled Switzerland has become in the last two decades that have seen its self-confidence shaken by the collapse of national economic symbols such as the airline Swissair, international criticism of its secretive banking system and setbacks in its foreign policy.

But mass circulation Bild, which can claim to have its finger on the nation’s pulse more than other newspapers, said Germans would probably vote the same way if they were allowed a referendum on the issue:

“The minaret isn’t just the symbol of a religion but of a totally different culture. Large parts of the Islamic world don’t share our basic European values: the legacy of the Enlightenment, the equality of man and woman, the separation of church and state, a justice system independent of the Bible or the Koran and the refusal to impose one’s own beliefs on others with ‘fire and the sword.’ Another factor is likely to have influenced the Swiss vote: Nowhere is life made harder for Christians than in Islamic countries. Those who are intolerant themselves cannot expect unlimited tolerance from others.”

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“The referendum is a disaster for Switzerland. There is no such construction ban anywhere else in Europe. When those six words ‘the construction of minarets is prohibited’ are written into the Swiss constitution, they will breach that constitution in several ways, as they violate its guarantee of freedom of religion and the ban on discrimination.

“The ban also constitutes a flagrant breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. It won’t take long before someone affected by this ban takes the case to the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights, which will result in an embarrassing condemnation and possibly Switzerland’s expulsion from the Council of Europe.

“There will be a storm of outrage, especially in the Muslim world. The worst mistake now would be for Switzerland to react by stiffening its stance. Because in its heart, this country is cosmopolitan and liberal.”

The conservative Die Welt writes:

“The Swiss decision gives the wrong answer to the right question. The question concerning all European societies is how to find the right way to deal with a growing Muslim minority, and where the limits of tolerance should be regarding the practice of traditions that are in some cases backward.

“The referendum has provided an excessively simplistic answer. It condemns the minaret which it interprets as a symbol of Islamic power — as if the traditional architectural feature so closely related to the Christian church steeple were more important than what is preached inside the mosques.

“It throws Switzerland back behind the level of enlightenment and tolerance that Europe has toiled to attain in the past — and which turned multi-ethnic Switzerland into such a successful model.

“The referendum shows how deep the fear of Islam runs in Europe and that the issue isn’t being taken seriously enough by the political elite — and not just in Switzerland. But it doesn’t provide a solution to Europe’s pressing integration problems.”

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“Fundamentally democratic, cosmopolitan, tolerant — that’s how the Swiss always liked to see themselves. But with the vote to ban further minarets, the country has also shown other traits that smack of narrow-mindedness, fear and the desire to wall themselves in.

“Many Muslims in Switzerland have integrated themselves well. The problems that do exist can’t be solved with a ban on minarets. But the Swiss People’s Party has succeeded in broadening the issue to Islamization. Existing problems with immigrants from Kosovo, for example, were simply combined with the religion issue.”

The left-wing Die Tageszeitung writes:

“The campaign was targeted at a Swiss population that has felt increasingly unsettled since the end of the Cold War. Switzerland, which according to official myth is ‘neutral’ but which is de facto aligned with NATO, hasn’t come to terms with the loss of the communist bogeyman as well as the members of the Western alliance have. From compensation claims for the theft of the assets of Jewish refugees by Swiss banks, to the recent softening of banking secrecy for foreign tax evaders — all corrections of obvious historical lies and foreign policy mistakes since 1989 took place not through a realization of wrongdoing on the part of Switzerland itself, but through pressure from outside.”

“In addition, the collapse of Swissair and other objects of Swiss national pride was also painful, as was the humiliating treatment by Libya’s dictator Moammar Gadhafi who has been holding two Swiss nationals as hostages for more than a year. The global economic crisis has also left clear marks on Switzerland.

“The perfectly devised campaign for a ban on minarets provided a suitable bogeyman for those who were unsettled by this general uncertainty and whose self-confidence has been shattered. Encouraged by their victory on Sunday, the initiators will next call for a ban on mosques and Islamic cultural centers. It is also to be feared that there will be more frequent acts of violence against such institutions.”

Der Spiegel


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Susan Boyle reaches No 1 with record-breaking debut album

Britain’s Got Talent star makes UK chart history with highest ever first-week sales for a debut album

Susan Boyle … Britain’s Got Talent star soars to No 1.

A 48-year-old Scottish church volunteer has trumped Arctic Monkeys and Leona Lewis – not to mention U2 and Michael Jackson – with record-breaking sales of her first LP. Susan Boyle’s I Dreamed a Dream topped the charts with the biggest first-week sales for a debut album in UK history.

I Dreamed a Dream, which is mostly a collection of covers, sold more than 410,000 copies in the UK, according to the Official Charts Company. This beats the two most recent record-holders for the fastest-selling debut album: Leona Lewis’s 2007 release, Spirit, which sold about 376,000 copies; and Arctic Monkeys’ 2006 record, Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not, which sold about 363,000.

Boyle’s first-week sales are the highest of any album this year, and the fourth-best of all time, behind Oasis’ Be Here Now, Coldplay’s X&Y and Take That’s The Circus. I Dreamed a Dream is also expected to top the US charts this week and break Eminem’s record for best first-week sales in America for 2009.

It’s been a Cinderella story for Boyle, “a slightly frumpy singleton grieving for the loss of her mother”, who first appeared on Britain’s Got Talent and stunned the judges silly. Though Boyle eventually lost the reality TV contest, she became a viral internet sensation. And in this era of illegal downloads over legal purchases, YouTube hits of her performance have somehow translated into album sales. Months before its release, I Dreamed a Dream had already broken’s pre-order sales records.

Boyle’s debut includes show tunes, spirituals, as well as covers of Madonna, Skeeter Davis and the Monkees. Her take on the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses reached No 9 in this week’s singles charts.


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Fed ‘reform’ we don’t want

Ever since its creation in 1913, the Federal Reserve has grappled with a daunting political contradiction. The Fed is charged with preventing the collapse of the banking and financial system, whose health is essential for the “real economy” of production and jobs. But financial bailouts usually occur when mistakes or misdeeds by bankers and investment professionals make them public pariahs. To do its job, then, the Fed protects — or seems to protect — an unpopular, disgraced and undeserving group. We are now witnessing this contradiction in full bloom.

The Fed has become a congressional scapegoat for assorted economic frustrations: 10.2 percent unemployment; expensive rescues of fragile financial institutions (AIG, Bear Stearns, Citigroup); outsize Wall Street bonuses; and the crisis itself. The denunciations transcend rhetorical outbursts. The House Financial Services Committee recently voted to require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to “audit” the Fed’s monetary policy — its efforts to influence interest rates and credit conditions. In the Senate, Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Banking Committee, has proposed stripping the Fed of all powers to regulate financial institutions — its actions to police lending and management practices. These powers would go to a new agency.

The Fed backlash is bipartisan. Rep. Ron Paul, a Republican and libertarian, proposed the GAO audit, which he sees as a first step toward abolishing the Fed (“End the Fed” is his latest book). Paul favors resurrecting the gold standard and combining it with private money; Wal-Mart could issue currency. His views are long-standing, principled — and wholly impractical. Dodd, of course, is a Democrat. Much Fed-bashing simply indulges Congress’s impulse to blame someone else for anything unpleasant.

Lost in this politically charged climate is the reality that the Fed, more than any other government agency, arguably stopped last fall’s financial panic from becoming a global depression. The Fed pumped out more than $1 trillion in new credit, created special lending programs to support faltering segments of the credit markets (commercial paper, money market funds) and rescued financial institutions, notably AIG, whose bankruptcy might have triggered a chain reaction of failures. These were seat-of-the-pants responses, taken in the midst of crisis and pervasive uncertainty. We will never know what might have happened without them. The second-guessing is occurring now when there’s less fear and more information.

What’s also overlooked is that the Fed isn’t the super-secretive, unaccountable agency of political stereotype. In 2009, Fed officials from Chairman Ben Bernanke on down have testified 32 times before congressional committees. The Fed makes detailed disclosures about its policies. After every meeting, the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the key decision-making body on monetary policy, issues a statement explaining why it has — or hasn’t — changed its interest-rate target. Until 1994, there were no announcements after FOMC meetings. Economists and investors had to guess.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Fed’s activities are already widely audited. Deloitte & Touche examines the Fed’s financial statements, which are published. The GAO can audit many Fed activities, including its banking regulation and supervision of the payments system. What it’s barred from auditing is the conduct of monetary policy, including relations with foreign central banks such as the European Central Bank.

Congress has so far sensibly put this off limits. “Audit” has a different meaning in the context of the GAO than in everyday usage. It means examine, investigate, evaluate and, often, criticize. It’s not just crunching numbers. The GAO usually undertakes studies at the request of someone in Congress. This suggests that the GAO could be used to influence or intimidate the Fed through selective investigations, which would involve access to internal Fed documents and interviews with policymakers. The Fed might be pressured to finance government deficits or to adopt an “undue focus on the short term,” Vice Chairman Donald Kohn testified before Congress on July 9. Historically, similar pressures have caused other central banks to unleash inflationary torrents of money, Kohn said.

This is not inevitable, but even the impression that the Fed’s “independence” is compromised could perversely undermine confidence in the dollar, leading to higher market interest rates or a rapid fall in the dollar’s foreign exchange value. Massive projected government budget deficits compound the psychological damage. Similar objections apply to Dodd’s proposal to end the Fed’s power to examine and regulate financial institutions. If this crisis teaches anything, it is that the Fed needs to know more — not less — about large financial institutions.

The Fed isn’t infallible. Its mistakes contributed to the crisis. Its present low-interest-rate policy poses dangers of fostering inflation or new “asset bubbles.” But the congressional Fed-bashing poses greater dangers. Ironically, the destructive remedies being peddled are part of “financial reform” legislation. If this is “reform,” we’re better off without it.

Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post


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The deflated Arab hopes for Obama

It’s been nearly six months since Barack Obama stirred hearts and raised hopes across much of the Arab world with his much-promoted Cairo address. Many came away from it expecting a new and more vigorous U.S. attempt to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others hoped for more American sympathy and support for liberal reform in countries where free expression, women’s rights and democratic elections are blocked by entrenched autocracies.

The peace-process bubble burst two months ago at the United Nations, when Obama’s poorly executed attempt to launch final-settlement talks between Israelis and Palestinians collapsed. Arabs who were led by Obama’s rhetoric to believe that the United States would force Israel to make unprecedented unilateral concessions — like a complete end to all construction in Jerusalem — were bitterly disappointed.

But they are not the only victims of post-Cairo letdown. Arab reformers, who for most of this decade have been trying to break down the barriers to social and political modernization in the Middle East, have also begun to conclude that the Obama administration is more likely to harm than to help them.

“All Arab countries are craving change — and many of us believed Obama was a tool for change,” says Aseel al- Awadhi, a Kuwaiti member of parliament. “Now we are losing that hope.”

Awadhi, one of four women elected to Kuwait’s parliament this year, is part of a movement that the Bush administration loudly promoted and sporadically attempted to help — though the effort steadily waned during George W. Bush’s second term. The Obama administration, in contrast, often speaks as if it does not recognize the existence of an Arab reform movement. Bush’s frequently articulated argument that political and social liberalization offer the best antidote to Islamic extremism appears absent from this administration’s thinking.

“People in Jordan are beginning to understand that the United States will not play the same role as under the old administration on democracy,” said Musa Maaytah, Jordan’s minister of political development — who, like Awadhi, visited Washington recently for a conference sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy. “People think that the U.S. has many issues that for it are a priority, and they prefer to have stability in these countries more than democracy.”

For the reformers, a big signal came this month in a speech Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered in Marrakech, Morocco. Clinton was attending a session of the Forum for the Future, a body the Bush administration established at the height of its pro-reform campaign. The idea was to foster a dialogue between Western and Arab countries about political and social reform that would resemble the Helsinki process between the West and the Soviet bloc during the 1970s.

Clinton began her speech by referring to Obama’s call in Cairo for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities around the world.” She then said that after consulting with “local communities” the administration had “focused on three broad areas where we believe U.S. support can make a difference.”

These turned out to be “entrepreneurship,” “advancing science and technology” and education. As if citing the also-rans, Clinton added that “women’s empowerment” was “a related priority” and that “the United States is committed to a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.” The word “democracy” appeared nowhere in the speech, and there was no reference at all to the Arabs who are fighting to create independent newspapers, political parties or human rights organizations.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, an Egyptian who is one of the best-known Arab reformers, was part of a group who met Clinton after the speech. He told me that he tried to point out to her that “the next two years are crucial” for determining the political direction of the Middle East, in part because Egypt is approaching a major transition. Parliamentary elections are scheduled in 10 months, and their results will determine whether a presidential election scheduled for 2011 will be genuinely democratic. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s 82-year-old ruler, is under pressure to retire; if he allows it, a truly competitive race to succeed him could pit his son Gamal against diplomatic heavyweights such as former foreign minister Amr Moussa and Mohamed ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency — not to mention Ayman Nour, who was imprisoned for three years after challenging Mubarak in 2005.

Clinton, said Ibrahim, replied that democracy promotion had always been a centerpiece of U.S. diplomacy and that the Obama administration would not give it up — “but that they have a lot of other things on their plate.” For Arab liberals, the translation is easy, if painful: Regardless of what the president may have said in Cairo, Obama’s vision for the Middle East doesn’t include “a new beginning” in the old political order.


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Social climbing with a twist

White House gate-crashers in a long tradition

President Obama shakes hands with Michaele Salahi at Tuesday’s state dinner as her husband, Tareq Salahi, looks on.

Social climbing is an ancient art, one as old as society itself. The character of the high-society impostor — the fake aristocrat, the soi-disant marquis, the “professor” with no degree — has been known in every era, too. Both social climbers and charlatans have been described over and over in fiction. Think of the “King” and the “Duke” who swindle Huckleberry Finn, or of Madame Verdurin, who claws her way upward throughout the course of Marcel Proust’s “Remembrance of Lost Time” — or of the Melanie Griffith character in “Working Girl.”

Over the centuries, some societies have been more susceptible to these sorts of swindles than others. Catherine the Great’s Russia, for example, was positively swarming with phony English duchesses and Italian princes: Imperial St. Petersburg was aspirational enough to want the company of “real” European aristocrats but far away enough from London or Naples to make it difficult to check their pedigrees. One also thinks of Edith Wharton’s New York, for similar reasons: Her characters are precisely the sort who would fall into a mésalliance with a dodgy Polish aristocrat, just off the boat, who invariably turns out not to be what he seems.

To that notable group of societies we can now add 21st-century Washington. Like 18th-century Russia, it is a world of neophytes, a society whose members have only recently “made it” into an elite magic circle and who don’t necessarily know the other members all that well. Like 19th-century New York, it is also a world where appearances matter: You get invited to the event — whether the White House Hanukkah party or the state dinner — not just because of who you are but because of what you represent, which costume you wear, which ethnic group you come from.

Above all, it is a world that seems to offer wealth and fame to those outsiders who manage to enter it. And it was in pursuit of both that Tareq and Michaele Salahi bamboozled their way into last week’s White House dinner for the Indian prime minister. Just like all charlatans and swindlers over the centuries, they managed it by looking and acting the part. He appears as if he could be South Asian, which seemed right; he also wore black tie and what looks, in the photographs, like a state decoration or medal. She is a striking, professionally coiffed blonde and wore a sari — a glamorous, red, expensive sari. Having managed to get previous meetings with Prince Charles and Oprah Winfrey (Michaele even finagled her way into Redskinettes alumni parties), they knew how to behave around the contemporary aristocracy: Simply act as if you belong, don’t stare too hard at the celebrities, don’t eat or drink too much, and do engage your neighbors in light chit-chat about the Kashmir conflict and the Indian gross domestic product. Since hardly anyone knows anyone else at this kind of party, you can get away with it.

But there are differences between the Salahis and, say, Count Alessandro di Cagliostro, a self-described “Spanish aristocrat” who set himself up as a glamorous “faith healer” in 1770s St. Petersburg, made his living by borrowing money from gullible courtiers (and possibly by renting out his wife, the “Princess di Santa Croce,” to Prince Potemkin).

The Salahis are hoping to cash in faster — a lot faster. It has been less than a week since they crashed the president’s party, and already they are demanding six figures for the exclusive television appearance in which they will either declare themselves to be be offended, on the grounds that they “thought” they were invited to the White House — or else will boast of having pulled off the social-climbing coup of the century.

They also have a lot more help than did the swindlers of yesteryear. Michaele had a television crew film her preparations for the party at a Georgetown beauty salon, so there is footage ready for whoever has the money to pay. A publicist has been booked and is prepared to negotiate. Plenty of “legitimate” news outlets are ready to play: According to The Post, a CBS reporter has already slipped a note under their door, offering an interview with Katie Couric. Next will come the book contract, the movie rights and — who knows? — maybe the television talk show. I can just see it: “Famous for Being Famous: At Home With the Salahis.”

Unless, of course, they meet the same fate as their many predecessors. The Spanish Count Cagliostro was eventually expelled from St. Petersburg, after the empress learned that he was neither Spanish nor a count. The “King” and “Duke” in “Huckleberry Finn” were tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.

A century ago, the Salahis, too, would be shamed, embarrassed and finally banished from the elite world that they had contrived to enter. Even now, they ought to expect to be under arrest, for lying to the Secret Service, if nothing else — unless the rules of polite society have changed so much that there are no longer any rules at all.

Anne Applebaum, Washington Post


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The FHA goes upmarket

Washington’s latest benefit for the not-so-poor

CREATED DURING the depths of the Great Depression, the Federal Housing Administration has a long history of supporting homeownership in the United States. In recent decades, its mission has been to enable lower-income Americans to tap otherwise inaccessible mortgage credit. Purchasers who meet certain qualifications can get a house with a lower-than-usual down payment — as little as 3.5 percent, currently — and the FHA compensates the lenders for the added risk by agreeing to pay off defaulted loans. The money comes from buyers’ insurance premiums, not tax revenue, but these deals are possible only because, in the final analysis, they’re backed by the U.S. government.

One may debate the costs and benefits of the FHA’s historical role. At relatively low upfront taxpayer cost, it has helped expand homeownership, even though many loans went sour over the years. But what must be debated, and indeed challenged, is the stepped-up use of the FHA to boost demand for, and hence the price of, houses in the current crisis. This is true not only because of the fiscal implications; the FHA’s reserves are currently below the statutory minimum, raising the specter of an eventual taxpayer rescue. It is true also because of the regressive distributional implications; the FHA is increasingly helping people who are decidedly not poor to buy houses that are anything but modest.

Legislation last year nearly doubled the maximum mortgage the FHA could insure, to $729,750 for single-unit properties and almost $1 million for multi-unit ones. As a result, the FHA is moving into expensive markets, especially on the West Coast, in which it previously had little or no role. Even some fairly fancy condo buildings are now trumpeting FHA financing. As the New York Times reported recently, among those buying property with little or no money down, thanks to FHA, are investors and well-off people who could have come up with more equity. Larger loans represent a greater burden on the agency if they ultimately default. On the other hand, it’s also possible that bigger loans are less likely to default, since richer people tend to take them out in the first place. Our point here is that, whatever the additional risk may be, the federal government is assuming it in a way that facilitates the upward transfer of wealth.

When adopted last year, the higher FHA loan limits were billed as a temporary fillip to the housing market. But temporary subsidies have a way of enduring. Congress has already extended the higher limits once, and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has spoken of making both ceilings $100,000 larger and permanent.

This might help build a floor under the still-shaky housing market, as intended. But it would also complete the mission creep of the agency from one dedicated to upward mobility to one that also produces middle- and upper-middle-class enrichment. Since when is that a job for the federal government?

Editorial, Washington Post


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Enlarging NATO, Expanding Confusion

TWENTY years ago, dictatorships across Central and Eastern Europe toppled. During this season of remembering, the focus has rightly been on celebration of the new freedoms gained by the inhabitants of those countries: to speak freely, to travel, to vote and to choose their own national futures and alliances. Yet the legacy of 1989 has difficult aspects as well, mostly centering on the origins and legitimacy of later NATO expansion to former East German and Warsaw Pact territory; acknowledgment of them by the United States could greatly improve American and Russian relations.

Moscow has long asserted that the Soviet Union allowed Germany to unify only in return for a pledge from Washington never to expand the Atlantic alliance. Former advisers to Presidents George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have transcended partisan differences in dismissing the Russian claim. An internal State Department review during the Clinton era concluded that no legally binding prohibition on NATO enlargement emerged from the era of German unification.

Since then, however, it has become possible to reconstruct what happened from first-hand evidence. Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany released the papers of his office, which inspired the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to publish many of his own. A number of other leaders and institutions also opened files in advance of the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall: the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library, Secretary of State James Baker, the German Foreign Ministry and the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office among them.

There are many twists and turns, but the story as we now understand it is as follows: The crucial month was February 1990. It had become apparent that the cold war order in Europe had collapsed. Some kind of new order needed to be established quickly. Bonn and Washington had agreed that it should center on the rapid unification of Germany.

Both countries also wanted to head off alternative visions to NATO’s continued primacy that were proposed by Mr. Gorbachev, who sought new European institutions from the Atlantic to the Urals, and by former Warsaw Pact dissidents-turned-rulers, who wanted a demilitarized Central and Eastern Europe to serve as a neutral bridge between East and West. Those plans would have diminished the leading role of the United States in Europe, whereas perpetuating the Atlantic alliance would maintain it.

The biggest obstacle was, of course, the Soviet Union. Despite economic hardship at home, the Soviets maintained 380,000 troops in East Germany and still held legal rights of occupation emanating from the unconditional German surrender in 1945. Bonn and Washington thus wanted Moscow to remove its troops and to renounce its claims, without forcing NATO troops out as part of the bargain.

What would Mr. Gorbachev demand in return? To learn the answer, Mr. Baker and Mr. Kohl journeyed to Moscow within a day of each other. On Feb. 9, 1990, Mr. Baker asked Mr. Gorbachev, “Would you prefer to see a unified Germany outside of NATO, independent and with no U.S. forces or would you prefer a unified Germany to be tied to NATO, with assurances that NATO’s jurisdiction would not shift one inch eastward from its present position?” Mr. Gorbachev, according to Mr. Baker, answered that “any extension of the zone of NATO would be unacceptable.” Their meeting ended without any final deals made. Mr. Baker left behind a secret letter, detailing what he had said, for Mr. Kohl in Moscow.

While Mr. Baker was in Moscow, though, members of the National Security Council back in Washington were worrying about his comment that NATO would not move eastward. To undo the damage they felt Mr. Baker had caused, they drafted a letter that President Bush sent to Mr. Kohl later that day.

The presidential letter included language that differed in a subtle but significant way from the language offered by the secretary of state. Instead of a pledge about NATO’s borders, Mr. Bush suggested that East German territory be given a “special military status” within NATO. What that status would consist of was to be negotiated later, but the core assumption was clear. NATO would grow and former East German areas would have a special status within the alliance as it did so.

A foreign leader can see daylight between a president and his secretary of state from the other side of the world, and Mr. Kohl did not have to look that far. He just had to read the differing phrasings used by Mr. Bush and Mr. Baker to notice it. So whose language did Mr. Kohl echo in his own talks with Mr. Gorbachev the next day, Feb. 10 — the president’s or the secretary’s?

Mr. Kohl chose to echo Mr. Baker, not Mr. Bush. The chancellor assured Mr. Gorbachev, as Mr. Baker had done, that “naturally NATO could not expand its territory” into East Germany. The documents available do not record Mr. Kohl using the presidential phrase — “special military status” — that the National Security Council had rushed over to him. Mr. Kohl’s foreign minister, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, visiting the Kremlin as well, assured his Soviet counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, that “for us, it stands firm: NATO will not expand itself to the East.”

Crucially, the Gorbachev-Kohl meeting ended with a deal, as opposed to the Gorbachev-Baker session the previous day. After listening to Mr. Kohl, Mr. Gorbachev agreed that Germany could unify internally. Mr. Kohl and his aides publicized this major concession immediately at a press conference. Then they returned home to begin merging the two Germanys under one currency and economic system.

In essentially settling for a gentleman’s agreement, Mr. Gorbachev missed some important pitfalls and then failed to do anything about them. First, Mr. Kohl spoke for West Germany, not for the United States or for NATO as a whole. Second, the Soviet leader got nothing about the trans-Atlantic alliance in writing. Third, Mr. Gorbachev did not criticize Mr. Kohl publicly when he and Mr. Bush later agreed to offer only a special military status to the former East Germany instead of a pledge that NATO wouldn’t expand. Finally, he did not catch subtle signals that, by early 1990, speculative discussion in the West about NATO’s future involved the inclusion of Eastern Europe as well. Mr. Gorbachev later complained to Mr. Kohl that he felt he had fallen into a trap.

Did the United States betray Russia at the dawn of the post-cold war era? The short answer is no. Nothing legally binding emerged from the negotiations over German unification. In fact, in September 1990, an embattled Mr. Gorbachev signed the accords that allowed NATO to extend itself over the former East Germany in exchange for financial assistance from Bonn to Moscow. A longer answer, however, shows that there were mixed messages and diplomatic ambiguities.

By acknowledging that there might be some substance to Russian grievances, the Obama administration would strengthen our relations with Moscow. Given that NATO enlargement has already taken place (and efforts for further expansion are stalled), little would be lost with such an acknowledgment but much could be gained. Certainly, Western attempts to manage everything from Iran’s nuclear program to European energy supplies during the coming winter would be a great deal easier with Russia’s cooperation. A commemoration of the events of 20 years ago that included both celebration and candor would increase the likelihood of such cooperation.

Mary Elise Sarotte, a professor of international relations at the University of Southern California and a fellow of the American Academy in Berlin, is the author of “1989: The Struggle to Create Post-Cold War Europe.”


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A Generation in the Balance

Do downturns create Democrats? The Great Depression certainly did: The generation that came of age in the 1930s has cleaved to the Democratic Party like no population before or since. And it makes intuitive sense that experiencing a recession at a formative age could inspire lifelong sympathy for the party of the welfare state and lifelong suspicion toward the party of free markets.

In a recent paper, “Growing Up In a Recession,” Paola Giuliano, an assistant professor of economics at U.C.L.A., and Antonio Spilimbergo, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, offer statistics to back this intuition up. Looking at over 40 years of survey data, the authors report that Americans who experienced “macroeconomic shocks” between the ages of 18 and 25 were more worried about poverty and inequality across their voting lives, and more skeptical about the wisdom of the market.

These findings track with the results of the 2008 election, when a cratering economy helped Barack Obama win an extraordinary landslide among young and first-time voters. And they provide grist for the liberal hope that the rising generation will prove as enduringly Democratic as that of their Depression-era grandparents, with George W. Bush playing Herbert Hoover to Obama’s F.D.R.

But the study shouldn’t make liberals too cocky. The authors find that growing up in a recession can encourage conservative instincts as well. Downturns make young voters distrustful of unfettered capitalism, yes. But they also make them less confident in the federal government.

This finding may explain why recent recessions have actually ended up pushing America rightward. The stagflation of the 1970s, for instance, and the hapless liberal response, helped usher in Ronald Reagan’s revolution. (The cohort that grew up with Reagan is the most staunchly Republican in modern history.) The slump of the early 1990s bolstered Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign — but it also gave a boost to the fiscally conservative populism of Ross Perot, and then to the Republican wave of 1994.

Recessions, it seems, only benefit liberals when an activist government is perceived to have answers to the crisis. When liberal interventions seem to be effective, a downturn can help midwife an enduring Democratic majority. But if they don’t seem to be working — or worse, if they seem to be working for insiders and favored constituencies, rather than for the common man — then suspicion of state power can trump disillusionment with free markets.

Among voters at large, that’s what seems to be happening at the moment. Nothing the government has done across the last 12 months has inspired much public confidence. Of the billions poured out in bailouts and stimulus, a substantial share has gone to privileged insiders and liberal interest groups — Wall Street bankers, auto unions, public-sector employees. Beltway Democrats have spent months laboring on an enormous health care bill that feels irrelevant, at best, to the continuing unemployment crisis. And Obama and his advisers overpromised on the stimulus package, whose economic boost, while real, remains imperceptible to a nation coping with a double-digit jobless rate.

Meanwhile, the regions hardest hit by the current downturn are places where liberals have dominated for generations, and where government is overextended already. (Of the 10 “States in Fiscal Peril” featured in a recent Pew report, nine went for Barack Obama in 2008.) Even if the residents of California or New Jersey or Illinois wanted further expansions of government, there isn’t any revenue to finance them.

So voters are turning rightward instead. In New Jersey, a recent Quinnipiac poll found that 61 percent of voters favored laying off state workers to reduce the current budget shortfall; only 23 percent favored raising taxes instead. Nationally, the percentage of Americans who say that government is doing “too much” hit a 10-year peak this fall. In 2007, 69 percent of the public said that government should guarantee universal health care; now that number is down to 47 percent.

The silver lining for liberals, though, is that this rightward turn hasn’t touched younger voters yet. With 18- to 29-year-olds, Democratic identification remains high, and Obama’s approval ratings are still up over 60 percent.

This suggests that a Depression-style realignment, in which today’s youthful “Obama Democrats” are still voting for hope and change (and grumbling about George W. Bush) in 2050 and beyond, remains within the Democratic Party’s grasp.

But even the young will need to see results eventually. And the more that Democrats flail in the present, the more likely it becomes that the Great Recession will be remembered as the time when liberalism let the future slip away.

Ross Douthat, New York Times


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The Jobs Imperative

If you’re looking for a job right now, your prospects are terrible. There are six times as many Americans seeking work as there are job openings, and the average duration of unemployment — the time the average job-seeker has spent looking for work — is more than six months, the highest level since the 1930s.

You might think, then, that doing something about the employment situation would be a top policy priority. But now that total financial collapse has been averted, all the urgency seems to have vanished from policy discussion, replaced by a strange passivity. There’s a pervasive sense in Washington that nothing more can or should be done, that we should just wait for the economic recovery to trickle down to workers.

This is wrong and unacceptable.

Yes, the recession is probably over in a technical sense, but that doesn’t mean that full employment is just around the corner. Historically, financial crises have typically been followed not just by severe recessions but by anemic recoveries; it’s usually years before unemployment declines to anything like normal levels. And all indications are that the aftermath of the latest financial crisis is following the usual script. The Federal Reserve, for example, expects unemployment, currently 10.2 percent, to stay above 8 percent — a number that would have been considered disastrous not long ago — until sometime in 2012.

And the damage from sustained high unemployment will last much longer. The long-term unemployed can lose their skills, and even when the economy recovers they tend to have difficulty finding a job, because they’re regarded as poor risks by potential employers. Meanwhile, students who graduate into a poor labor market start their careers at a huge disadvantage — and pay a price in lower earnings for their whole working lives. Failure to act on unemployment isn’t just cruel, it’s short-sighted.

So it’s time for an emergency jobs program.

How is a jobs program different from a second stimulus? It’s a matter of priorities. The 2009 Obama stimulus bill was focused on restoring economic growth. It was, in effect, based on the belief that if you build G.D.P., the jobs will come. That strategy might have worked if the stimulus had been big enough — but it wasn’t. And as a matter of political reality, it’s hard to see how the administration could pass a second stimulus big enough to make up for the original shortfall.

So our best hope now is for a somewhat cheaper program that generates more jobs for the buck. Such a program should shy away from measures, like general tax cuts, that at best lead only indirectly to job creation, with many possible disconnects along the way. Instead, it should consist of measures that more or less directly save or add jobs.

One such measure would be another round of aid to beleaguered state and local governments, which have seen their tax receipts plunge and which, unlike the federal government, can’t borrow to cover a temporary shortfall. More aid would help avoid both a drastic worsening of public services (especially education) and the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Meanwhile, the federal government could provide jobs by … providing jobs. It’s time for at least a small-scale version of the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration, one that would offer relatively low-paying (but much better than nothing) public-service employment. There would be accusations that the government was creating make-work jobs, but the W.P.A. left many solid achievements in its wake. And the key point is that direct public employment can create a lot of jobs at relatively low cost. In a proposal to be released today, the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank, argues that spending $40 billion a year for three years on public-service employment would create a million jobs, which sounds about right.

Finally, we can offer businesses direct incentives for employment. It’s probably too late for a job-conserving program, like the highly successful subsidy Germany offered to employers who maintained their work forces. But employers could be encouraged to add workers as the economy expands. The Economic Policy Institute proposes a tax credit for employers who increase their payrolls, which is certainly worth trying.

All of this would cost money, probably several hundred billion dollars, and raise the budget deficit in the short run. But this has to be weighed against the high cost of inaction in the face of a social and economic emergency.

Later this week, President Obama will hold a “jobs summit.” Most of the people I talk to are cynical about the event, and expect the administration to offer no more than symbolic gestures. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Yes, we can create more jobs — and yes, we should.

Paul Krugman, New York Times


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Today in History – November 29

Today is Sunday, Nov. 29, the 333rd day of 2009. There are 32 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History

On Nov. 29, 1961, Enos the chimp was launched from Cape Canaveral aboard the Mercury-Atlas 5 spacecraft, which orbited earth twice before returning.

On this date

In 1530, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, one-time adviser to England’s King Henry VIII, died.

In 1830, a Polish secret society of infantry cadets staged an uprising in Warsaw, beginning the November Insurrection.

In 1832, Louisa May Alcott, the American author of the classic “Little Women”, was born.

In 1864, Colonel John M. Chivington led a controversial surprise attack, known as the Sand Creek Massacre, on a surrendered, partially disarmed Cheyenne Indian camp in southeastern Colorado Territory.

In 1890, the first Army-Navy football game was played, with Navy winning 24-0 at West Point, N.Y.

In 1924, Italian composer Giacomo Puccini died in Brussels before he could complete his opera “Turandot.” (It was finished by Franco Alfano.)

In 1929, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard E. Byrd, pilot Bernt Balchen, radio operator Harold June and photographer Ashley McKinney made the first airplane flight over the South Pole.

In 1947, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the partitioning of Palestine between Arabs and Jews.

In 1952, the first Army-Navy football game was played, with Navy winning 24-0 at West Point, N.Y.

In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson named a commission headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

In 1963, more than 100 people are killed when a Canadian jet crashes into a field minutes after take-off.

In 1967, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara announced he was leaving the Johnson administration to become president of the World Bank.

In 1981, actress Natalie Wood drowned in a boating accident off Santa Catalina Island, Calif., at age 43.

In 1986, actor Cary Grant died in Davenport, Iowa, at age 82.

In 1989, in response to a growing pro-democracy movement in Czechoslovakia, the Communist-run Parliament ended the party’s 40-year monopoly on power.

In 1990, the U.N. Security Council voted 12-2 to authorize military action if Iraq did not withdraw its troops from Kuwait and release all foreign hostages by Jan. 15, 1991.

In 1996, a U.N. court sentenced Bosnian Serb army soldier Drazen Erdemovic to 10 years in prison for his role in the massacre of 1,200 Muslims – the first international war crimes sentence since World War II. 

In 1999, ten years ago, Protestant and Catholic adversaries formed an extraordinary Northern Ireland government designed to bring together every branch of opinion within the bitterly divided society.

In 1999, game show host Gene Rayburn died in Gloucester, Mass., at age 81.

In 2001, George Harrison, the “quiet Beatle,” died in Los Angeles following a battle with cancer; he was 58.

In 2004, five years ago, President George W. Bush picked Carlos Gutierrez, the chief executive officer of cereal giant Kellogg Co., to be commerce secretary.

In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a gay-marriage law in Massachusetts.

In 2004, an Army helicopter crashed near Waco, Texas, killing seven soldiers.

In 2004, John Drew Barrymore, the sometimes troubled heir to an acting dynasty and absent father of actress Drew Barrymore, died in Los Angeles at age 72.

In 2008, one year ago, Indian commandos killed the last remaining gunmen holed up at a luxury Mumbai hotel, ending a 60-hour rampage through India’s financial capital by suspected Pakistani-based militants that killed 166 people.

In 2008, architect Joern Utzon, who designed the iconic Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, died at age 90.

Today’s Birthdays

Hall-of-Fame sportscaster Vin Scully is 82. Former French President Jacques Chirac is 77. Blues singer-musician John Mayall is 76. Actress Diane Ladd is 74. Composer-musician Chuck Mangione is 69. Country singer Jody Miller is 68. Pop singer-musician Felix Cavaliere (The Rascals) is 67. Olympic skier Suzy Chaffee is 63. Comedian Garry Shandling is 60. Actor Jeff Fahey is 57. Movie director Joel Coen is 55. Actor-comedian-game show host Howie Mandel is 54. Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano is 52. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is 50. Actress Cathy Moriarty is 49. Actress Kim Delaney is 48. Actor Tom Sizemore is 48. Actor Andrew McCarthy is 47. Actor Don Cheadle is 45. Actor-producer Neill Barry is 44. Musician Wallis Buchanan is 44. Pop singer Jonathan Knight (New Kids on the Block) is 41. Rock musician Martin Carr (Boo Radleys) is 41. Actress Jennifer Elise Cox is 40. Actor Larry Joe Campbell is 39. Rock musician Frank Delgado (Deftones) is 39. Actress Gena Lee Nolin is 38. Actor Brian Baumgartner is 37. Actress Anna Faris is 33. Actor Julian Ovenden is 33. Rapper The Game is 30. Rock musician Ringo Garza is 28. Actor Lucas Black is 27.

Today’s Historic Birthdays

Pierre-Andre Latreille
11/29/1762 – 2/6/1833
French zoologist

Gaetano Donizetti
11/29/1797 – 4/8/1848
Italian opera composer

Christian Doppler
11/29/1803 – 3/17/1853
Austrian physicist and discoverer of the Doppler effect

Morrison Waite
11/29/1816 – 3/23/1888
Seventh chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1874-88)

Louisa May Alcott
11/29/1832 – 3/6/1888
American writer

Busby Berkeley
11/29/1895 – 3/14/1976
American film director and choreographer

William Tubman
11/29/1895 – 7/23/1971
Liberian statesman and president for 27 years

C.S. Lewis
11/29/1898 – 11/22/1963
English writer and scholar

Mildred Gillars
11/29/1900 – 6/25/1988
American Nazi radio propagandist

Marcel Lefebvre
11/29/1905 – 3/25/1991
French Roman Catholic archbishop

Adam Clayton Powell Jr.
11/29/1908 – 4/4/1971
American minister and civil-rights leader; congressman from New York (1945-70)

Billy Strayhorn
11/29/1915 – 5/31/1967
American pianist and composer

Thought for Today

“The tragedy of love is indifference.” – W. Somerset Maugham, English author-dramatist (1874-1965).


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