Literary Liaisons

From the medieval ‘Song of Roland’ to a novel about human cloning—and a lot of greatness in between.

Last year’s big literary ruckus in France, which pitted President Nicolas Sarkozy against fans of the 17th-century novel “The Princess of Clèves,” served as a reminder that classic story-telling can still raise pulses. Mr. Sarkozy’s proposal to remove “The Princess of Clèves” from the school syllabus—the president confessed “to having suffered a lot from it” as a boy—not only failed to win approval but also encouraged impromptu readings of Marie-Madeleine de la Fayette’s novel in towns all over the country. Sales of the book shot up by more than 40%.

Lance Donaldson-Evans rightly includes “The Princess of Clèves” (1678) in “One Hundred Great French Books,” his deft and illuminating study of landmark French literature. He explains that Madame de La Fayette’s 124-page tale—concerning marriage and wayward passion within an aristocratic household— offered “a radically new concept of the novel,” moving the genre away from the massively long works that were “wildly popular at the time but whose length and complexity attract only few readers today.”

It is clear from Mr. Donaldson-Evans’s survey that the first female writers in France were often more daring than their male counterparts. Marie de France, who came to prominence during the 12th century, wrote about adultery as though it were “normal practice,” Mr. Donaldson- Evans notes. The poet Louise Labé perturbed her 16th-century contemporaries by writing sonnets about female sexual desire at a time when “writing in general and writing poetry in particular were primarily seen as male occupations.”

Mr. Donaldson-Evans wisely presents his choices in chronological order, giving each book and author two pages of introduction and comment. By so doing he provides us with a lapidary history of France by way of the works that have helped to shape its culture. The first entry is “The Song of Roland,” a chivalric narrative poem written around 1095, possibly by a man named Turoldus; the last entry is “The Possibility of an Island” (2006) by Michel Houellebecq—an apt endpoint, given the novel’s futuristic subject, human cloning.


One Hundred Great French Books

By Lance Donaldson-Evans
BlueBridge, 224 pages, $15.95

Not that French history is everywhere evident among the “greats” on offer. As Mr. Donaldson-Evans concedes in his own introduction, he might have called his survey “One Hundred Great Books Written in French,” since it includes authors from Africa, the Caribbean, Canada, Belgium and Switzerland—and one from Ireland: Samuel Beckett (“Waiting for Godot”), whom Mr. Donaldson-Evans describes as “one of those rare authors who, like Vladimir Nabokov, have achieved literary renown for their work in two languages.” Mr. Donaldson-Evans’s survey itself is a bridge between two languages: He tells us that he decided, as a criterion of selection, that each of the books be available in English translation.

Its few limits aside, “One Hundred Great French Books” is an enjoyably subjective trawl through different literary genres, from novels and poetry to plays and short stories—and a great deal more. Mr. Donaldson-Evans includes François de Sales’s “An Introduction to the Devout Life” (1609), dubbed “the greatest Catholic self-help book ever”; René Descartes’s “Discourse on Method,” his philosophical treatise from 1637; Eugène Delacroix’s journal from 1893; Georges Simenon’s detective fiction (“Lock 14,” from 1931); the “Asterix” comic book series by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, which began appearing in 1959 and continues today; and Jean Renoir’s memoir, “My Life and My Films” (1974).

After more than 40 years of teaching French literature, Mr. Donaldson-Evans, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, is expert at detecting the wider cultural effects that certain French books have had. He suggests that Edmond Dantès, the badly wronged and cunningly vengeful hero of Alexandre Dumas’s “The Count of Monte-Christo” (1844), “takes on almost mythical status,” becoming “in many ways the precursor of the modern superhero.” Chateaubriand’s largely autobiographical novella, “René” (1802), reminds Mr. Donaldson-Evans of modern-day Goths, “the spiritual descendants” of the novel’s main character, a figure consumed by “self-indulgent sadness.” He traces the bad-boy lineage of poets like Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud—so-called poètes maudits (accursed poets)—back to François Villon, the 15th-century writer whose “Testament,” an autobiographical collection of poems, used acerbic irony to attack senior members of the French clergy.

With a characteristic mix of wit and erudition Mr. Donaldson-Evans ponders Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du mal” (1857), or “The Flowers of Evil”: “Although probably not popular with florists, the title of Baudelaire’s great collection of poetry is one of the most captivating in literature, juxtaposing as it does the negativity of evil with a term associated with love and beauty.” The title reveals “a new poetic vision in which things and people not normally considered beautiful become the object of the poetic gaze. Indeed, it is up to the poet to extract the beauty—the ‘flowers’—from ugliness and evil (one of Baudelaire’s poems is even devoted to roadkill).”

There is only one glaring omission in Mr. Donaldson-Evans’s selection and that is the most accursed and cursing of all French writers, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, whose lyrical, fulminating novels, especially “Journey to the End of the Night” (1932), have influenced writers like Günter Grass, Charles Bukowski and Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, the recent French Nobel Prize winner (whose novel “The Prospector” is included). Perhaps one day Mr. Donaldson-Evans can be persuaded to write a sequel: “One Hundred More.”

Mr. Grey is a reporter and literary critic living in Paris.


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About That Playboy in My Drawer . . .

If America wants to tilt the balance of Muslim sentiment in its favor, it needs to stand up for its principles, its liberties and its friends—Israel, Playboy and Lady Gaga included.

It’s time to make a personal and professional admission: I keep a copy of the Feb. 2007 issue of Playboy in a desk drawer in my Wall Street Journal office.

This is not the sort of thing I ever thought I’d publicly confess. But I’m prompted to do so now in response to a string of online rebuttals to my Tuesday column, “Lady Gaga Versus Mideast Peace,” in which I argue that Western liberalism (in its old-fashioned sense) has done far more than Israel’s settlements to provoke violent Muslim anti-Americanism.

In particular, I was taken to task by Andrew Exum—the “Abu Muqawama” blogger at the Center for a New American Security—for allegedly failing to watch my share of racy Arabic-language music videos, such as those by Lebanese beauty queen and pop star Haifa Wehbe. “With music videos like this one,” writes Mr. Exum, “Stephens can hardly argue that Lady Gaga is the one importing sexual provocation into the Arabic-speaking world and stirring things up, can he?”

So let me tell you about that Playboy, and how I came to purchase it.

In the spring of 2007 I wrote a series of columns from Indonesia about the battle lines then emerging between religious radicals and moderates in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country. I profiled Abdurrahman Wahid, then the former (now late) president of Indonesia and a champion of his country’s tolerant religious traditions. I visited a remote Sumatran village that had expelled an itinerant Islamic preacher for his militant Wahhabi teachings. I interviewed Habib Rizieq, head of the Front for the Defense of Islam, a vigilante group known for violently suppressing “un-Islamic” behavior.

I also spent a delightful evening in the company of Inul Daratista, the Indonesian equivalent of Shakira, who had been accused by a council of Muslim clerics of committing pornoaksi—or “porno action”—for gyrating a little excessively in one of her music videos. A million Indonesians had taken to the streets to denounce the video, and legislation was introduced in Indonesia’s parliament to ban pornoaksi, which could be defined as any female behavior that could arouse a sexual response in a man, such as the sight of a couple kissing in public or a woman wearing a backless dress.

One person I didn’t manage to interview was Erwin Arnada, the editor of the Indonesian edition of Playboy. I did, however, get hold of a copy of the magazine (the one now in my office): It contains not a single picture of a naked woman. The Playmate in the centerfold is clad in the kind of lingerie that would seem a bit old-fashioned in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue; a second photo essay in my magazine looks as if it belongs in a J. Crew ad.

Nevertheless, upon beginning publication in 2006 Mr. Arnada was almost immediately charged with violating Indonesia’s indecency laws. (He was ultimately acquitted.) His Jakarta offices were violently attacked by Mr. Rizieq’s goons, forcing the magazine to move to the predominantly Hindu island of Bali. “For Arnada,” wrote New York Times reporter Jane Perlez, “all the fuss represents fears about the intrusion of Western culture. ‘Why else do they keep shouting about Playboy?’ he asked.”

Mr. Arnada’s comment gets at the crux of the argument I made in my column, which is that it is liberalism itself—liberalism as democracy, as human rights, as freedom of conscience and expression, as artistic license, as social tolerance, as a philosophy with universal application—to which the radical Muslim mind chiefly objects, and to which it so often violently reacts. Are Israeli settlements also a provocation? Of course they are, as is Israel itself. Should Israel dismantle most or even all of its settlements? Sure, if in exchange it gets a genuine peace.

But the West will win no reprieve from the furies of the Muslim world by seeking to appease it in the coin of this or that Israeli withdrawal or concession. To do so would be as fruitless and wrong-headed as cancelling a performance of Mozart’s Idomeneo because it might offend radical Islamic sensibilities—though that’s precisely what a Berlin opera house did in September 2006 for fear of sparking a violent outburst of Muslim rage.

Fortunately, the West has better options for dealing with that rage than pressuring Israel. Though he doesn’t seem to realize it, Mr. Exum makes my point very nicely by noting the inroads that artists like Ms. Wehbe have made in much of her region. Liberalism, not least of the sexual kind, sells in the Muslim world: The first issue of Playboy Indonesia, tame as it was, sold out its entire print run of 100,000 copies. In Bahrain, efforts by Islamists in parliament to ban a performance by Wehbe failed on account of popular demand: As one Bahraini fan told the Lebanese Web site YaLibnan, “If certain people find it offensive, they shouldn’t go to the concert.” It’s hard to imagine a more liberal outlook than that.

There was a time when liberals believed that rock’n’roll would change the world. They were right, though not in the way most of them imagined. Instead, in places like communist Czechoslovakia—where Vaclav Havel took inspiration from the likes of Lou Reed—and today in the repressive lands of Islam, the sensual currents of Western life exert a constant and ineradicable attraction, even as they also provoke censorious and violent reactions.

If America wants to tilt the balance of Muslim sentiment in its favor, it needs to stand up for its principles, its liberties and its friends—Israel, Playboy and Lady Gaga included.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal


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A Second Big Bang In Geneva?

The Large Hadron Collider could unlock the secrets of genesis.

Champagne bottles were popped Tuesday in Geneva where the largest science machine ever built finally began to smash subatomic particles together. After 16 years—and an accident that crippled the machine a year and a half ago—the Large Hadron Collider successfully smashed two beams of protons at the astounding energy of 3.5 trillion electron volts apiece. This act produced temperatures not seen since the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billions years ago.

The LHC is colossal. It is a gigantic doughnut, 17 miles in circumference, in which two beams of protons will eventually create energies of 14 trillion electron volts. Yet by nature’s standards the LHC is a pea shooter. For billions of years the earth has been bathed in cosmic rays much more powerful than those created by the LHC.

Despite this great achievement, European taxpayers are asking if this 10 billion euro machine is a waste of money, particularly given the current financial crisis. These skeptics would do well to remember that the LHC could help us understand not only the instant of genesis, but will help unify the four fundamental forces that rule the universe. Each time one of these forces was deciphered it changed the course of human history.

When Sir Isaac Newton worked out the theory of the first force—gravity—in the 17th century, he created the mechanics that laid the groundwork for steam engines and the Industrial Revolution. The Machine Age unleashed humanity from the bondage of subsistence farming, lifting untold numbers from grinding poverty.

When Thomas Edison, James C. Maxwell and Michael Faraday helped to decipher and harness the second force—electromagnetism—it eventually gave us TV, radio, radar, computers and the Internet.

When Albert Einstein wrote down E=mc2, it helped to unlock the secret of the two nuclear forces (weak and strong), which unraveled the secret of the stars and unleashed nuclear power.

Today the LHC may have the potential to explain the origin of all four fundamental forces—gravity, electromagnetism, and the strong and weak nuclear forces. Physicists believe that at the beginning of time there was a single superforce which unified these fundamental forces. Finding it could be the crowning achievement in the history of science, ending 2,000 years of speculation since the Greeks first wondered what the world is made of. It could answer some of the deepest questions facing us, such as: What happened before the Big Bang? Are there parallel universes? Is time travel possible? And are there other dimensions?

In addition to helping us unlock the mysteries of the universe, the LHC may also create a new scientific elite. These scientists will likely spearhead new industries, creating jobs and perhaps significant wealth in Europe.

It’s sobering to remember that this could have happened in the U.S. Back in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan pushed to create a Superconducting Supercollider just outside Dallas, Texas. This machine would have been three times larger than the LHC and would have maintained U.S. leadership in advanced science for at least a generation. Congress allotted $1 billion to dig the hole for the Supercollider. Then it got cold feet and cancelled the plans in 1993, spending another $1 billion to fill up the hole. U.S. high-energy physics was set back an entire generation and has never recovered. So today the Europeans can brag about being the world’s leader in advanced physics.

Remember that because of World War II, the cream of European science, perhaps no more than a few hundred people, fled Europe for America. They unleashed the greatest explosion in science the world has ever seen. These Europeans trained new generations of American scientists, people that went on to create radar, microwaves, nuclear power, computers, the Internet, the laser and the space program. They created a scientific establishment that is the envy of the world, a source of profound wealth, and a magnet for young scientists world-wide. U.S. technological superiority and all the high-tech wonders of today can, in some sense, be traced back to this exodus. But such leadership is not a given.

I extend my congratulations to the Europeans; the LHC is their well-earned prize. I only hope that U.S. policy makers are paying close attention to Geneva.

Mr. Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics at City College of New York, is the author of “Physics of the Impossible” (Doubleday, 2008) and host of “Sci Fi Science: Physics of the Impossible,” on the Science Channel.


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Would the Founders Love ObamaCare?

The resistance to ObamaCare is about a lot more than the 10th Amendment.

The left-wing critics are right: The rage is not about health care. They are also right that similar complaints about big government were heard during the New Deal and the Great Society, and the sky didn’t fall.

But what if this time the sky is falling—on them.

What if after more than a century of growth in the national government, starting with the Progressive Era, the American people are starting to push back. Not just the tea partiers or the 13 state attorneys general seeking protection under the 10th Amendment and the Commerce Clause. But something bigger than that.

The Democratic left, its pundits and academics criticizing the legal challenges to ObamaCare seem to be arguing that their version of our political structure is too big to change.

That’s not true. The American people can and do change the nation’s collective mind on the ordering of our political system. The civil rights years of the 1960s is the most well-known modern example. (The idea that resistance to Mr. Obama’s health plan is rooted in racist resentment of equal rights is beyond the pale, even by current standards of political punditry.)

Powerful political forces suddenly seem to be in motion across the U.S. What they have in common is anxiety over what government has become in the first decade of the 21st century.

The tea party movement is getting the most attention because it is the most vulnerable to the standard tool kit of mockery and ridicule. It is more difficult to mock the legitimacy of Scott Brown’s overthrow of the Kennedy legacy, the election results in Virginia and New Jersey, an economic discomfort that is both generalized and specific to the disintegration of state and federal fiscs, and indeed the array of state attorneys general who filed a constitutional complaint against the new health-care law. What’s going on may be getting past the reach of mere mockery.

Constitutional professors quoted in the press and across the Web explain that much about the federal government’s modern authority is “settled” law. Even so, many of these legal commentators are quite close to arguing that the national government’s economic and political powers are now limitless and unfettered. I wonder if Justice Kennedy believes that.

Or as David Kopel asked on the Volokh Conspiracy blog: “Is the tax power infinite?”

The signing of the Constitution, which included states

In a country that holds elections, that question is both legal and political. The political issue rumbling toward both the Supreme Court and the electorate is whether Washington’s size and power has finally grown beyond the comfort zone of the American people. That is what lies beneath the chatter about federalism and the 10th Amendment.

Liberals will argue that government today is doing good. But government now is also unprecedentedly large and unprecedentedly expensive. Even if every challenge to ObamaCare loses in court, these anxieties will last and keep coming back to the same question: Does the Democratic left think the national government’s powers are infinite?

No one in the Obama White House, asked that in public on Sunday morning, would simply say yes, no matter that the evidence of this government’s actions the past year indicate they do. In his “Today Show” interview this week, Mr. Obama with his characteristic empathy acknowledged there are “folks who have legitimate concerns . . . that the federal government may be taking on too much.”

My reading of the American public is that they have moved past “concerns.” Somewhere inside the programmatic details of ObamaCare and the methods that the president, Speaker Pelosi and Sen. Reid used to pass it, something went terribly wrong. Just as something has gone terribly wrong inside the governments of states like California, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Massachusetts.

The 10th Amendment tumult does not mean anyone is going to secede. It doesn’t mean “nullification” is coming back. We are not going to refight the Civil War or the Voting Rights Act. Richard Russell isn’t rising from his Georgia grave.

It means that the current edition of the Democratic Party has disconnected itself from the average American’s sense of political modesty. The party’s members and theorists now defend expanding government authority with the same arrogance that brought Progressive Era reforms down upon untethered industrial interests.

In such times, this country has an honored tradition of changing direction. That time may be arriving.

Faced with corporate writedowns in response to the reality of Congress’s new health plan, an apoplectic Congressman Henry Waxman commanded his economic vassals to appear before him in Washington.

Faced with a challenge to his vision last week, President Obama laughingly replied to these people: “Go for it.”

They will.

As to the condescension and sniffing left-wing elitism this opposition seems to bring forth from Manhattan media castles, one must say it does recall another, earlier ancien regime.

Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal


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Trouble by the Spoonful

The world’s favorite sweetener was once at the heart of the slave trade.

Your Java Chip Frappucino at Starbucks will never taste quite the same after you’ve read Elizabeth Abbott’s “Sugar,” a sprawling, often fascinating, sometimes annoying history of the world’s favorite sweetener. If you always wanted to know what kind of dessert chefs served to medieval kings, what slaves on Barbadian plantations ate for dinner, how Hershey’s chocolate was invented, or how a wild plant from the Far East changed the world’s eating habits and the Western economy, Ms. Abbott is ready to tell you (and tell you and tell you). “Sugar” is epic in ambition and briskly written, interweaving the invention of the global sugar industry with its far-reaching effect on New World slavery, the environment and, in Ms. Abbott’s words, “the addiction of millions of people to sweetness and to unhealthy, disease-causing diets.”

Sugar was unknown to ancient Europeans. When the Greeks and Romans sweetened their feasts, it was with honey. “The noble cane,” as it was once called, was first domesticated in New Guinea. By the late centuries B.C. it was known in India, and from there it traveled to the Middle East, where Europeans discovered it during the Crusades. In 13th-century England it was so precious that when King Henry III ordered three pounds of it for the royal kitchens, he added, “if so much is to be had.”

Everywhere man’s encounter with sugar was love at first sight. In wealthy Renaissance households, it was used as a medicine, a spice, a decoration and a preservative, and of course as a food in its own right. Best of all, it enhanced the flavor of meals and drinks without altering their essential tastes. Demand for sugar climbed dramatically with the popularization of tea, coffee and chocolate in the 17th century. Suddenly naturally bitter drinks became sweet and delectable. Aristocratic diners ate from sugar dishes and drank from sugar glasses, sliced their bonbons with sugar knives, and even lit their dining rooms with sugar candles. In time, Ms. Abbott explains, sugar became “proletarianized,” becoming “the crutch and delight of toiling millions” in the form of icing on wedding cakes, chocolate Easter bunnies, candy canes and a multitude of other tooth-rotting delicacies.

Though there is much to savor in “Sugar,” it is not without flaws, some trivial, others less so. Ms. Abbott’s fact-gathering is sometimes sloppy. At one point she says that in 18th-century England sugar sold for about sixpence per pound, “the price of a postage stamp” at the time. In fact, stamps were not introduced until the 1840s. She claims that “when the Civil War ended in 1865, one-fifth of military-age white men and hundreds of black soldiers were dead.” Not exactly. Of the three million men who served in the Union and Confederate armies, 20% died during the war (perhaps 4% of the eligible male population), including 36,000 African-American soldiers.

Ms. Abbott also has a penchant for strained oracular utterances. She mars her generally excellent account of the sugar-related slave trade, for instance, by claiming that its “stranglehold monopoly over sub-Saharan external commerce stifled Africa’s economic development . . . stymieing infrastructural or institutional developments that might otherwise have occurred,” including “manufacturing and agriculture [that] failed to develop as they surely would have.” This is well-meaning nonsense. Slaves were exported almost exclusively from the coastal regions of West Africa. Had the slave trade never existed, it is still not likely that Africa would today resemble Western Europe.


Sugar: A Bittersweet History

By Elizabeth Abbott
Overlook, 453 pages, $29.95

That said, the foul relationship between sugar and slavery did create the trans-Atlantic slave trade, wrecked the lives of millions of Africans, and brought fabulous wealth to white planters and absentee investors. “Sugar slavery’s most insidious creation was the racialism that justified enslaving Africans and forcing them into the cane fields,” Ms. Abbott accurately writes. Black slaves, in effect, became “sugar machines.”

Sugar was an economic pillar of the British Empire, part of the triangular trade by which British ships carried trade goods to Africa; slaves from Africa to the West Indies; and sugar, rum and molasses from the Indies back to England. According to Ms. Abbott, field slaves could expect to survive only seven years on average; they died, remarked one 19th-century observer, like “over-driven horses.” Cultivating cane in the Caribbean sun was unimaginably grueling. Failure to meet an hourly work quota might mean a flogging on the spot. “The music of the negro is the whip,” remarked one Martinique planter.

If sugar was “literally polluted with slaves’ blood,” as Ms. Abbott arrestingly puts it, the horrors of slavery also aroused humanitarians and jump-started the abolition movement in 18th-century England. Abolitionists calculated that if every family using five pounds of sugar and rum per week refused to consume slave-grown sugar, every 21 months they would save one African from enslavement and death. Cynics scoffed. But by the 1790s, 300,000 English were abstaining from West Indian sugar, while grocers and importers sought new sources of “free sugar” in East Asia. Parliament voted to abolish slavery in Britain in 1807 and then in the West Indies in the 1830s. These victories, in turn, inspired abolitionists in the U.S.

Oh, about Hershey’s chocolate. At the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Milton Snavely Hershey, a Pennsylvania Mennonite, was amazed to see a contraption that roasted, hulled and ground up chocolate beans into a liquid so that, when blended with sugar and other ingredients, it could be poured into molds and hardened into bars. Hershey bought the equipment on the spot and hurried home to his farm in Lancaster County, where he processed milk from his herd of Holsteins until it was slightly sour—”to the horror of European connoisseurs,” Ms. Abbott says—then blended it with the output from his new machine. Voila! North America’s first milk chocolate.

Mr. Bordewich is the author of “Bound for Canaan: The Underground Railroad and the War for the Soul of America.”


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Iran Sanctions Are Failing. What’s Next?

Has the U.S. abandoned plans to target the Iranian regime’s access to banking and credit and to isolate Iranian air and shipping transport? While recent reports to that effect have been strenuously denied by the administration, it has become clear that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s promise of “crippling sanctions” and President Barack Obama’s “aggressive” penalties are little more than talk. The administration simply cannot persuade a critical mass of nations to join with it.

At this juncture, there are blunt questions that need to be asked. Can sanctions even work? Can we live with a nuclear Iran? Is military action inevitable? But first, some foreign policy forensics are in order.

Candidate Obama told us engagement would be his byword, and to give him credit, he proffered a generous, open hand to Tehran. If his hand remained outstretched a little too long, he was secure in the knowledge that the world rarely criticizes an American president who is willing to make sacrifices for peace (especially if those sacrifices are measured in terms of American national security). But Mr. Obama was more than committed to dialogue with Iran: He was unwilling to take no for an answer.

How else to explain Mr. Obama’s lack of interest in the Iranian people’s democratic protests against the regime. Or his seeming indifference to Tehran’s failure to meet repeated international deadlines to respond to an offer endorsed by all five permanent U.N. Security Council members (and Germany) to allow Iran to enrich uranium in Russia, receiving back enriched fuel rods that do not lend themselves to weapons production. One might have hoped the administration was using that time to build international consensus for a plan B. But apparently that’s not the case.

After months of begging, China will agree only to discuss the possibility of a fourth U.N. Security Council resolution punishing Tehran’s noncompliance with its nonproliferation commitments. But along with Russia, it has already ruled out any measures to target the regime or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. Even nonpermanent U.N. Security Council members Japan, Brazil and Turkey have reportedly rebuffed the administration requests to support tougher sanctions.

Meanwhile, Tehran continues to work toward a nuclear weapon, with the International Atomic Energy Agency now looking for two new nuclear sites in the Islamic Republic. Any talk of a tidal wave of ad hoc sanctions among various like-minded Western nations has fallen by the wayside. True, companies like Royal Dutch Shell, major oil trader Vitol and others have decided to take a pass on new deals with Iran. Others are less cautious.

In the past few weeks, among other reported business with Iran, Turkey announced it was mulling a $5.5 billion investment in Iran’s natural-gas sector. Iran and Pakistan signed a deal paving the way for the construction of a major pipeline. And a unit of China National Petroleum inked a $143 million contract with Iran’s state-run North Drilling Company to deliver equipment for NDC’s Persian Gulf oil fields.

Sanctions increasingly appear to be a fading hope. Thus we are left with a stark alternative: Either Iran gets a nuclear weapon and we manage the risk, or someone acts to eliminate the threat.

Unofficial Washington has long been discussing options for containment of a nuclear Iran. Setting aside the viability of containment (I have my doubts), surely these challenges must be apparent to some on the Obama team. But you’d never know it from administration officials, who continue to privately profess faith in the (weak) sanctions route. Badgered by those in the region most directly menaced by a nuclear Iran, administration officials have reportedly refused to engage in discussion of possible next steps.

The implications of this ostrich-like behavior are grave. Some Gulf states (including, some say, Qatar, which hosts American forces and equipment) have begun to openly propitiate the Tehran regime, anticipating its regional dominance once it is armed with nuclear weapons. Others, not reassured by Clinton drop-bys and ineffectual back-patting, have begun to explore their own nuclear option. Repeated rumors that Saudi Arabia is negotiating to buy an off-the-shelf Pakistani nuclear weapon should not be ignored.

What of Israel? The mess of U.S.-Israel relations has ironically only bolstered the fears of Arab governments that the current U.S. administration is a feckless ally. If the U.S. won’t stand by Israel, by whom will it stand? Conversely, our adversaries view both the distancing from Israel and the debacle of Iran policy as evidence of American retreat. All the ingredients of a regional powder keg are in place.

Finally, there is the military option. Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu left Washington last week befuddled by Mr. Obama’s intentions on Iran. Should Israel decide to attack Iran, the shock waves will not leave the U.S. unscathed. Of course, Mr. Obama could decide that we must take action. But no one, Iran included, believes he will take action.

And so, as the failure of Mr. Obama’s Iran policy becomes manifest to all but the president, we drift toward war. The only questions remaining, one Washington politico tells me, are who starts it, and how it ends.

Ms. Pletka is vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.


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Where the Tea Partiers Should Go From Here

Five commitments that could make a difference this fall.

Democrats are taking aim at the tea party movement. In a recent fund-raising email, the Democratic National Committee called those who attend tea party events “narrow minded . . . nut jobs” and “vile two-bit wing-nuts.” Democratic leaders routinely denigrate tea party participants and President Barack Obama dismisses them as an extremist “strain [that] has existed in politics for a long time.”

But that’s not true. Democrats are attacking the tea party movement because it is a new force that’s bringing millions of here-to-fore unengaged Democrats, independents and Republicans into the political arena. If there’s something a ruling party doesn’t like, it’s a new political player converting spectators into participants.

The Democrats are particularly concerned because the No. 1 target of the tea partiers—ObamaCare—is not rising in public opinion polls. It remains as unpopular as before it was jammed through Congress.

The president’s popularity briefly increased after health-care reform passed but has since fallen back below 50%. Also, the generic ballot, a measure of support for each party, indicates that the GOP could win a large congressional victory this fall.

The White House’s promised campaign to sell its health-care reforms is unlikely to pay off. Mr. Obama delivered 58 speeches on health care in the 51 weeks leading up to Congress’s passage of ObamaCare and was still unable to halt a slide in public opinion against his reforms. What new can he say in the 31 weeks before Election Day?

The president will speak against a background of bad news about health-care reform. For example, already 3,500 companies are considering dropping or reducing the drug coverage they offer hundreds of thousands of retirees because ObamaCare changes the tax status of those benefits.

If insurance premiums now rise and states push back against ObamaCare’s expensive Medicaid expansion, Mr. Obama could be speaking into a fierce wind.

To maintain their influence, tea partiers will have to maintain their current energy and concern over health care and federal spending.

I suggest that to do that tea partiers design a citizen’s pledge and then ask friends and neighbors to sign it with them. The pledge should make five concrete commitments.

The first would be to educate themselves about the key issues of health care, spending, deficits and the economy. The second commitment would be to ascertain with certainty where their candidates for the U.S. Senate and House stand on these issues.

The third would be for each signatory to agree that they will register and then vote this fall for candidates they personally believe best represent their views on these issues.

Such a pledge would also draw on the tea party movement’s record of spontaneous growth with a fourth commitment that each signatory make a manageable list of 10 to 25 people whom they would individually approach to take the pledge.

The fifth and final commitment would be that each signatory personally see that each of their recruits register and vote.

These steps would build on the natural inclination of tea party groups to use social networking tools and draw on the energy of people fresh to politics looking for ways to affect the country’s direction.

But tea partiers will have to do more than surf discontent with the Obama administration’s policies. They will also have to coalesce around a positive agenda.

Some political leaders, like Rep. Paul Ryan (R., Wis.), have offered good ideas (see his “Roadmap for America’s Future”). Good ideas are also being generated by conservative think tanks, like the Heritage Foundation with its new publication, “The Patriot’s Guide: What You Can Do for Your Country.” This can be downloaded from

Politicians who hope to appeal to tea partiers must offer solutions that are heartfelt and well thought out. Tea party members may be new to politics, but they have a keen instinct for what’s authentic. Attempts to pander will fall flat.

The tea party movement must also distance itself from the “birthers” who insist Mr. Obama wasn’t born in the U.S., the 9/11 deniers, and other conspiracy fans who make wild comments the media will seize on to undermine the movement’s credibility.

The unhinged quality of the White House and the DNC attacks show that they understand how much the tea party movement can affect this year’s elections. Now is the time for the movement to ensure its energy—and influence—stay high.

Mr. Rove, the former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, is the author of “Courage and Consequence” (Threshold Editions, 2010).


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Chávez’s Gag Orders

It’s a crime to criticize El Jefe.

‘It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once,” wrote 18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume. “Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom that it must steal in upon them by degrees and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes in order to be received.”

So it goes in Venezuela, where Hugo Chávez has slowly but steadily tightened his political grip since coming to power in 1999. Last week he squeezed again.

On Thursday military intelligence briefly detained the president of Globovision, the country’s final remaining independent media voice. According to Attorney General Luisa Ortega, Guillermo Zuloaga is under investigation for criticizing Mr. Chávez at the Inter-American Press Association meeting in Aruba earlier this month for closing down independent media outlets. Mr. Zuloaga said press freedom had been lost.

Ms. Ortega said that Mr. Zuloaga is being investigated for spreading false information and making comments “offensive” to the president. The media owner was released but can’t leave the country until the investigation is completed. He faces from three to five years in prison if convicted of making false statements.

This follows the recent arrest of Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, the former governor of the state of Zulia, on charges of conspiracy and making false statements. Mr. Alvarez Paz had appeared on Globovision supporting the claim by a Spanish judge that the Chávez government is allied with Basque separatists and Colombian rebels. He also said Venezuela is a major thoroughfare for drug trafficking in South America.

Mr. Chávez has already stripped Venezuelans of their property rights and their right to private schools, to hold dollars and to free association. Now, as his popularity slumps, he is closing the window on free speech.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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The ObamaCare Writedowns—II

Democrats blame a vast CEO conspiracy.

So the wave of corporate writedowns—led by AT&T’s $1 billion—isn’t caused by ObamaCare after all. The White House claims CEOs are reducing the value of their companies and returns for shareholders merely out of political pique.

A White House staffer told the American Spectator that “These are Republican CEOs who are trying to embarrass the President and Democrats in general. Where do you hear about this stuff? The Wall Street Journal editorial page and conservative Web sites. No one else picked up on this but you guys. It’s BS.” (We called the White House for elaboration but got no response.)

In other words, CEOs who must abide by U.S. accounting laws under pain of SEC sanction, and who warned about such writedowns for months, are merely trying to ruin President Obama’s moment of glory. Sure.

Presumably the White House is familiar with the Financial Standard Accounting Board’s 1990 statement No. 106, which requires businesses to immediately restate their earnings in light of their expected future retiree health liabilities. AT&T, Deere & Co., AK Steel, Prudential and Caterpillar, among others, are simply reporting the corporate costs of the Democratic decision to raise taxes on retiree drug benefits to finance ObamaCare.

When the Medicare prescription drug plan was debated in 2003, many feared that companies already offering such coverage would cash out and dump the costs on government. So Congress created a modest subsidy, equal to 28% of the cost of these plans for seniors who would otherwise enroll in Medicare. This subsidy is tax-free, and companies used to be allowed to deduct the full cost of the benefit from their corporate income taxes (beyond the 72% employer portion).

Democrats chose to eliminate the full exclusion and said they were closing a loophole. But whatever it’s called, eliminating it “will be highly destabilizing for retirees who rely upon employer sponsored drug coverage” and “will impose a dramatic and immediate impact on company financial statements.”

That’s how the AFL-CIO put it in a December 10 letter. The Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers—also known as the AT&T and Verizon workforce—were opposed too. So much for White House claims that reporting these facts is partisan.

As for whether this change is better tax policy, the new health-care bill creates a similar $5 billion fund that will subsidize health costs for early retirees between the ages of 55 and 64. These payments won’t be subject to taxation, and companies will likely be able to deduct the full cost of such coverage. (The language is vague and some experts disagree.) The Democrats now feigning tax outrage—but who are really outraged by political appearances—didn’t think twice about writing the same loophole back into the tax code. This new reinsurance program was a priority of the United Auto Workers.

The deeper concern—apart from imposing senseless business losses in a still-uncertain economy—is that companies will start terminating private retiree coverage, which in turn will boost government costs. The Employee Benefit Research Institute calculates that the 28% subsidy on average will run taxpayers $665 in 2011 and that the tax dispensation is worth $233. The same plan in Medicare costs $1,209.

Given that Congress has already committed the original sin of creating a drug entitlement that crowds out private coverage, $233 in corporate tax breaks to avoid spending $1,209 seems like a deal. If one out of four retirees is now moved into Medicare, the public fisc will take on huge new liabilities.

Meanwhile, Democrats have responded to these writedowns not by rethinking their policy blunder but by hauling the CEOs before Congress on April 21 for an intimidation session. The letter demanding their attendance from House barons Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak declared that “The new law is designed to expand coverage and bring down costs, so your assertions are a matter of concern.”

Perhaps Mr. Waxman should move his hearing to the Syracuse Carrier Dome. The Towers Watson consulting firm estimates that the total writeoffs will be as much as $14 billion, and the 3,500 businesses that offer retiree drug benefits are by law required to report and expense their losses this quarter or next. But ’twas a famous victory, ObamaCare.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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The Demons of Pope Benedict XVI

Stories of abuse in the Catholic Church have dominated headlines in Germany in recent weeks, following similar scandals in the US and Ireland. Victims from other countries throughout Europe have likewise begun to come forward recently.

The case of an American priest who abused deaf children for years has shaken the Vatican. Detailed information about the sexual misconduct of the Rev. Lawrence Murphy went across the desk of Cardinal Ratzinger prior to his papacy. Abuse allegations in Italy are also putting the Catholic Church in an increasingly tough spot.

It is late on a Thursday evening at the Vatican and it is already beginning to look like Easter. St. Peter’s Square is brightly lit, and groups attending a world youth forum are in high spirits as they sing and clap to celebrate their pope, clad in immaculate white, who has just spoken about the “Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin,” behaving “as if nothing at all had happened.”

These are the words of Peter Isely. Standing on a street corner one block away from the spectacle, he is determined to spoil the pope’s festival of redemption. Isely has come to Rome all the way from Milwaukee, in the US state of Wisconsin. He is a 49-year-old psychotherapist with a buzz cut and a question that has been on his mind since he was 13: “Why is my church the only institution where pedophiles continue to be employed?”

This is Isely’s first visit to Rome. Isely and a handful of abuse victims were already standing on St. Peter’s Square in the morning, holding up photos and adding their contribution to the process of drawing His Holiness into the maelstrom of cover-ups and revelations that has confronted the Catholic Church with its most serious crisis in decades. While pots containing olive trees — for Easter — were being unloaded on St. Peter’s Square, Isely talked about “Father” Lawrence Murphy from Milwaukee: “This priest molested more than 200 boys at my school. Joseph Ratzinger is responsible for the fact that Murphy was never defrocked.” Isely says that he doesn’t want him to resign. “I just want him to acknowledge his culpability.”

He is referring to the current pope. The scandal over child abuse by priests has rocked the Vatican more than the pope’s Regensburg speech, which got him into trouble with Muslims, or the affair involving the Society of St. Pius X and the Holocaust denier Bishop Richard Williamson.

Culprits in the Cassock

“Everyone here is highly alarmed,” says one official at the Curia, adding: “For Benedict, this is the most difficult challenge of his pontificate. This time it’s not about theological or historical interpretation, but about his own outfit.”

And about Benedict himself.

Last Wednesday, the New York Times published documents on the Lawrence Murphy case that Isely’s victims’ rights group had been trying to make public for years. It was only one case among far too many cases. Nevertheless, it is one that casts a light on how the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), under the leadership of Joseph Ratzinger, showed more concern for the welfare of culprits in the cassock than for the welfare of abused children.

Between 1950 and 1974, Murphy stalked his pupils and molested them in cars, in dormitories and, in some cases, even in the confessional — a doubly serious offence under Catholic Church law.

Murphy would tell the boys to confess to sexual activities with their peers. Then he would begin touching them, using his hand to masturbate them and himself. Murphy pressured the boys to give him the names of other young sinners, whose beds he would then visit at night. There was no need to be quiet about it, because the boys were all deaf.

In 1974, Murphy was removed from the school “for health reasons” and transferred to a parish in northern Wisconsin, where he apparently continued to have contact with children and adolescents. But the civil authorities also did nothing, and all investigations against Murphy were dropped.

Prayed and Went to Confession

It wasn’t until 20 years later that the church hierarchy became active. In 1993, an expert hired by the church concluded that Murphy had no sense of guilt. The priest told her that he had essentially taken on the sins of the adolescents. He said that if he “played” with the boys once a week, their needs would be satisfied and they wouldn’t have sex with each other. “I sensed whether or not they liked it. And if they didn’t push me away, they must have liked it.” After molesting the boys, Murphy said, he always prayed and went to confession.

In June 1996, the Archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, turned to the then chairman of the CDF, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. Even though it wasn’t until 2001 that the church began requiring that all abuse cases in the global church be reported to the CDF, Ratzinger’s office was responsible, because the “sollicitatio,” or solicitation to commit carnal sin, occurred in the confessional, one of the holiest places in the church. The severity of the case, Weakland wrote, suggested that an internal church trial would be the right approach, a trial that could end in exclusion from the priesthood.

Ratzinger didn’t respond.

In December 1996, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee informed Murphy of its intention to investigate the abuse cases. Only after a second attempt did Weakland receive a response from the Vatican, in March 1997, in the form of a letter from Tarcisio Bertone, Ratzinger’s then deputy at the CDF. Bertone wrote that he recommended an internal church trial based on the laws of 1962, which protects the participants by applying the “Secretum Sancti Officii,” or secrecy on penalty of excommunication.

‘Kind Assistance’

On Jan. 12, 1998, Murphy appealed directly to Cardinal Ratzinger, asking him to stop the proceedings his archdiocese had initiated. The acts of which he was being accused, he wrote, had occurred 25 years earlier: “I am 72 years of age, your Eminence, and am in poor health. I simply want to live out the time that I have left in the dignity of my priesthood. I ask your kind assistance in this matter.”

His wish was fulfilled. In April 1998, Bertone dropped the case against Murphy, in the spirit of forgiveness. In his letter to the Bishop of Superior, Wisconsin, he wrote: “The Congregation invites Your Excellency to give careful consideration to what canon 1341 proposes as pastoral measures destined to obtain the reparation of scandal and the restoration of justice.” The letter ends with Bertone’s best wishes for “a blessed Easter.”

Murphy died five months later, in August 1998. Bertone, for whom this meant that the matter was closed, wrote to the Archbishop of Milwaukee: “This Dicastery commends Father Murphy to the mercy of God and shares with you the hope that the Church will be spared any undue publicity from this matter.”

Today, Tarciso Bertone is the Cardinal Secretary of State, which makes him the second-in-command at the Vatican.

Abuse in the Vatican’s Backyard

“Bertone should not have put an end to such a sensitive case without consulting his superior first,” says abuse victim Peter Isely. “Ratzinger must have concealed the cover-up, just as he must have known about the transfer of pedophile priest Peter H. to Bavaria when he was Archbishop of Munich.”

Commenting last week on the “tragic case of Father Murphy,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi merely said that the CDF “was only informed 20 years after the matter.” He also pointed out that there were never any reports to criminal authorities that would have stood in the way of the Vatican’s recommendation to drop the case because of Murphy’s age.

For this reason, the official Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano denounced the media for what it called “the evident and ignoble intent to wound Benedict XVI and his closest advisers at any cost.”

The Murphy case has clearly struck a nerve. Since it became public, there has been speculation, even within the walls of the Vatican, over Bertone’s possible resignation.

Just Outside the Gates of the Vatican

Benedict’s pontificate set out to strengthen the church through dialogue with the Eastern churches, the traditionalists and Catholics in China. But now Benedict XVI must look on as the temple begins to totter, and as a veritable furor develops against the Roman church, and not just north of the Alps.

A widespread apathy toward all things religious has turned into aggression. Since the most recent revelations, a mood of “reckoning” has prevailed in Italy, writes historian Ernesto Galli della Loggia: “No one is forgiving the priests and the church for anything anymore.”

The Vatican is now deeply concerned that the scandal could continue to spread around the world. Why shouldn’t the abuses that occurred in Irish parishes have happened elsewhere, as well?

The next wave of revelations could begin just outside the gates of the Vatican. Even in Italy, where the majority of youth work is in the hands of the church, the code of silence is beginning to crumble. Victims’ groups have been formed in Sicily, Emilia-Romagna and the country’s northern regions. The groups plan to hold their first conference in Verona in September, under the motto: “I too suffered abuse at the hands of priests.” For years, the Curia in Verona covered up the abuse of deaf-mute children at a school in Chievo on the city’s outskirts.

And what happens if there were also abuse cases in the Diocese of Rome? The pope is the nominal Bishop of Rome. Internet sites are already calling upon Catholics to refuse to pay their voluntary church contribution.

A List of Horrors

A recently published book by an anonymous author, “Il peccato nascosto” (“The Hidden Sin”), enumerates the cases of recent years. It is a list of horrors. For instance, from 1989 to 1994, a priest in Bolzano, Don Giorgio Carli, repeatedly raped a girl who was nine when the abuse began. The relevant bishop refused all cooperation with the courts. Only last year, the priest was declared guilty by a higher court, but by that time the statute of limitations had passed. Today, Don Carli works as a pastor in a village in South Tyrol.

In Palermo alone, a group headed by a priest attended to 824 victims of abuse last year. According to an investigation by the newspaper La Repubblica, more than 40 priests have already been sentenced in sex abuse cases — “and this could be only the tip of the iceberg.”

Nevertheless, Italy’s bishops have yet to form an investigative commission. The “problem was never underestimated” in Italy, a spokesman for the Italian Bishops’ Conference (CEI) explained in the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, insisting that the situation is “under control.”

Whatever that means.

Benedict’s pastoral letter speaks a completely different language. With unprecedented openness, the pope writes: “In her (the Church’s) name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel.” Critics in Ireland and Germany would have preferred a mea culpa.

‘Listen to the Voice of God’

In November 2002, Joseph Ratzinger refused to admit that there was a crisis. He described the abuse debate in the United States as “intentional, manipulated, (and characterized by) … a desire to discredit the church.”

Now the pope writes, in his pastoral letter, that he intends “to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland.” The term refers to a field audit of sorts, which can take months.

Even critical Vaticanologists concede that the pope, in his last few years at the CDW, made an about-face from a silent Saul to a zero-tolerance Paul. It would appear that Ratzinger, as head of the CDW, read too many dossiers to harbor any further illusions about the state of his church.

The turning point in Ratzinger’s thinking can be precisely dated to April 2003, when he banished Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legion of Christ and a man held in high esteem by Pope John Paul II, to a monastery. Ratzinger had been told that Maciel had allegedly sexually abused minor seminarians.

The pope began Lent this year by saying that it was a time to “return to ourselves and listen to the voice of God, in order to overcome the temptations of the Evil One and find the truth of our being.”

But for the pope, perhaps the most dangerous demons are the ghosts of his own past, in Munich, Regensburg and Rome.

Benedict wants the crisis to be seen as a test, and as a purification and new beginning. He wants to lead his flock through the desert, presumably until the end of his pontificate.

But after everything that has now come to light — the letters, the accusations, his deputy’s entanglement in the Murphy case — it is unlikely to be a feast of redemption for Pope Benedict this year.


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Evolving Sexual Tensions

male and female sage-grouse


The female sage-grouse, left, and her decorative male counterpart.

Males and females are different.

This is so obvious that, at first, it hardly seems worth pointing out. But in fact, it is remarkable. It is also the cause of a profound sexual tension.

The problem is, often, the pressures on males and females are not the same. In the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, for example, males must perform an elaborate song-and-dance routine to seduce each female; females, in contrast, must give off a certain smell to be attractive to a male. Females need to eat a high protein diet so as to be able to produce eggs; males can skimp on the proteins.

male sage-grouse

A strutting male sage-grouse.

Among greater sage-grouse, Centrocercus urophasianus, females are smaller than males and have straw-colored feathers. Males have flamboyant feathers and strut and cavort and puff themselves up to seduce females. Needless to say, in this species females do all the childcare: they choose a nest site, sit on the eggs, then feed and protect the chicks.

In sum, the traits that make a “good” male are often different from those that make a “good” female. (Note: I’m only talking about “good” in evolutionary terms. That means a trait that improves your chance of having surviving offspring.) Since many of these traits have a genetic underpinning, male and female genes are thus being sculpted by different forces.
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China Convicts Itself

Beijing needs to commit to the global economy

China tactfully reminds the world every once in a while that its specialty is masquerading weakness as strength.

In convicting iron-ore salesman and naturalized Australian citizen Stern Hu of bribery and stealing commercial secrets this week, China passed a verdict sure to frighten but not a verdict that anyone in the world would actually trust. A solitary Australian consular official was permitted to witness only part of the largely secret trial; the only publicly disclosed piece of evidence appears to be a written statement by Du Shuanghua, owner of a private steel mill, saying he paid off one of Mr. Hu’s colleagues.

Rio Tinto, one of the few Western companies to earn billions out of China, was quick to write off its employee. The Australian government is having a harder time endorsing the verdict, prompting the predictable caterwaul from China.

China unloading what it would like to get cheaper.

Let’s recall, the reason for an open courtroom is not just to make sure justice is done, but to make sure a verdict will be believed and lend credibility to the government that issues it.

The reason to have a free media, and even to put up with Google, is so people can know when their government is lying to them, which in turn is conducive to people being prepared to believe their government when it’s telling them the truth.

Weakness masquerading as strength is also key to understanding the most dangerous issue in U.S.-China relations today—China’s controversial currency peg and the false prize of its $2 trillion in accumulated dollar reserves.

The problem isn’t that China ties its yuan to the dollar. The problem is that it never let the full consequences of this choice flow through to domestic prices, wages and patterns of investment and employment.

Perhaps the pithiest summary came from whoever said that the real trouble with China is that one Chinese won’t lend to another to buy a house unless he’s buying it in the U.S.

Exactly. Tens of billions of Chinese-owned dollars rolled into Fannie and Freddie to support a U.S. housing boom. Meanwhile, at home, the world’s second biggest economy has yet to develop a real banking system or debt market, or any way for consumers to leverage China’s huge savings to improve their standard of living.

Writ small, China’s ore wars are emblematic of the same lopsided development agenda. Beijing has been trying somehow to turn its rickety and overmanned steel industry into leverage over international ore prices. China has been trying for two years to defy market realities and force Rio and its major competitors to deliver supplies at a steep discount to the international price created by China’s own explosive and volatile demand.

Not the least of Rio’s offenses was that it refused to go along. Rio sold a growing share of ore at spot market prices to the all-too-willing buyers among mainland steelmakers. Whatever the truth of the bribery charges, this actually reduced the opportunity for corruption—but then maybe that was Rio’s real sin, since well-connected mainlanders apparently had been getting rich reselling their ore allocations to unapproved buyers at huge markups.

Had China opened up its economy at a pace commensurate with its exports and accumulation of dollars, a solution would have revealed itself: import more steel. Many of the world’s steelmakers use domestic ore or scrap. Unlike China’s, they aren’t captive to an internationally traded raw material controlled by three big sellers.

This week, two of the three, Brazil’s Vale and Australia’s BHP, persuaded major Japanese, South Korean and Chinese steelmakers to accept quarterly ore repricings, with price hikes of nearly 100% above last year. Even with the Stern Hu verdict in hand, Beijing can’t hope to hold back this tide.

Nor can it hold back forever those in the U.S. who want to use China’s currency policy as an excuse to start a trade war, joined by some who apparently want to blame China for the failure of their tax-and-spend nostrums to lift the U.S. economy to a sustainable recovery.

See, we can masquerade weakness as strength too. But Washington can’t make China see a light its leaders don’t want to see. How much better to adopt a policy of real strength at home, beginning with domestic U.S. reforms that do what the word actually implies: justify confidence in our own economic future.

When Moody’s threatened to downgrade the U.S. credit rating recently, it said a prime concern was a loss of faith in Washington’s ability to get spending under control and protect growth. Moody’s didn’t mention China.

Holman Jenkins, Wall Street Journal


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Sarkozy Searches for Friendship with Obama that Has Eluded Him

L’Americain in Washington


Nicolas Sarkozy: The French president during his speech on Monday to American students at New York’s Columbia University

With his power wobbling at home, the timing of Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Washington couldn’t be better. The French president’s meeting with Barack Obama will provide exactly the images he needs in France. But in truth, his relationship with the US president is a tense one.

There are two types of European state visitors in the United States capital. One seeks to underscore his or her closeness to Washington. The other likes to emphasize how independent Europe really is. But French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is visiting American Senators and US President Barack Obama, would like to be both at the same time.

And that’s his problem.

Of course Sarkozy — who loves Elvis Presley, takes vacation in Maine and has long carried the nickname “L’Américain” in France — wants to maintain his image as a friend of America. Members of his entourage have pointed out that after his working meeting with the president on Tuesday he has also been invited to a dinner in the Obama’s private residence in the White House. It will be the world’s most exclusive guest list, French diplomats are proudly stating: just Sarkozy with his wife Carla Bruni and the Obamas.

But Sarkozy also wants to remind the Americans that, as a European, he can defy them. In a speech given in New York on Monday, the Frenchman repeated his demand for better regulation of the global economy. “We can no longer accept a capitalist system without rules or order,” Sarkozy said. “The world economic regulations cannot go on as they are,” Sarkozy said. “A system in which the most money is earned through speculating instead of producing, I don’t want to live in such a system.”

Obama’s Biggest Fan

The Americans don’t like those kinds of populist tones. Sarkozy’s promise that he will have strong words for Obama about the failed EADS bid to build planes for the Pentagon has also led to skepticism in Washington about the nature of his visit. The French are blaming American protectionism for the decision by the European aerospace giant and its partner Northrop Grumman to withdraw from a bid to manufacture 179 tanker jets for the US Air Force in a massive contract with a total value of €35 billion. Sarkozy claims the bidding process favored Boeing.

Of course, Sarkozy needs to score points back at home, too. Only last weekend, he was punished in regional elections in France. In an interview, Sarkozy’s own father advised his son not to run for re-election. Given his electoral setback, it makes sense for Sarkozy to bang the drum for French and European interests in Washington.

Obama, on the other hand, is feeling reinvigorated following the passage of his healthcare reform through Congress and the new arms treaty with Moscow. And his whirlwind trip over the weekend to Afghanistan underscores the fact that he now feels prepared for new tasks — on the international level, too. He could probably simply laugh off any possible French provocations.

But that’s exactly what gets under Sarkozy’s skin. For a long time he has tried to position himself as Obama’s biggest fan. During group photos he always squeezes his way in next to the American, and he has tried to secure for France the special relationship that Britain has traditionally had with Washington. At the end of the day, even the otherwise US-critical French love Obama — even if they have reservations about his country’s policies.

‘The Hoped-for Partnership Never Materialized’

But Obama hasn’t seemed to take Sarkozy seriously. When he has, he has often reacted with irritation towards the French president’s brisk leadership style. When the US president traveled to Paris last year, he preferred to dine with his wife Michelle rather than Sarkozy. “The hoped-for partnership never materialized,” the French daily Le Figaro wrote.

Sarkozy hasn’t forgiven his American colleague for it, either. He has complained to those close to him that Obama is ill-prepared to govern, noting that he didn’t even hold a cabinet-level position before taking office. And he has responded in public to Obama’s vision of a nuclear weapons-free world with little more than a polite smile. During his recent speech before the United Nations, Sarkozy reminded the Americans that we live in a real world, not a virtual one.

Sarkozy has little to contribute when it comes to Afghanistan, either. Close to 4,000 French troops are stationed there. But when the Americans asked for more, Sarkozy refused to pledge further troops. The deployment is very unpopular in France.

Of course, that will all be forgotten during his Washington visit, French officials claim. They insist that the alleged conflicts are media fabrications. In an interview with the International Herald Tribune and French journalists last week, Obama’s National Security Advisor, James Jones, described Sarkozy as a “very helpful and steadfast ally.”

‘I Am a Friend of America’

But this visit will hardly be as triumphant as Sarkozy’s last big trip to Washington in 2007. Back then, the French wanted to single-handedly repair a trans-Atlantic relationship that had suffered under the strains of the Iraq war. “I am a friend of America,” Sarkozy beseeched his fellow countrymen in France before he departed for the States. “Don’t torture me for it.” During a gala dinner at the White House, Sarkozy promised to win back the hearts of Americans. He spoke before Congress and he commemorated the historical roots of the French-American partnership together with then-President George W. Bush — the 250th birthday of General Lafayette, whose military genius saved the Americans from the Brits during the War of Independence.

By comparison to that, his dinner in the Obama’s residential quarters looks to be a pretty modest affair. It’s also symbolic of the disillusionment right now in trans-Atlantic relations. The Americans are disappointed that, even after the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty — which was meant to give the European Union’s common foreign policy more clout — the individual European countries are continuing to pursue their own interests abroad. The question, former senior US diplomat and current Harvard professor Nicholas Burns argued in an interview with the New York Times, is whether Europe can “develop a collective European idea of global power? They talk about it a lot, but they don’t do it.” 

At the same time, the Europeans have been irritated by the cold shoulder Obama has shown them. The US president hardly seems to even pay attention to France’s reintegration last year into NATO’s structures. The Washington Post has even criticized Obama for this, noting that in contrast to his predecessors, he hasn’t established close ties to a single European leader.

But those close to the president say this is simply a misunderstanding that will be cleared up during personal meetings like Sarkozy’s visit to Washington. John Podesta, the leader of Obama’s transition team that helped prepare the newly elected president for the White House in 2009, told SPIEGEL: “His style is certainly different from George W. Bush who wanted to be liked and really developed deep personal relationships.”

“But if you have the wrong foreign policy and good personal relations, you end up with bad results,” he added. “And if you have the right foreign policy, a strong team to implement it, and thinner personal relations, you’re more likely to have very good results.”


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‘Berlusconi’s Only Political Project Is Himself’

Silvio Berlusconi on the campaign trial.

Silvio Berlusconi’s center-right coalition emerged victorious after regional elections in Italy this week. However, most German papers argue that this success has less to do with the prime minister himself than it does with the increasing strength of his ally, the anti-immigrant Northern League.

Many on the Italian left may have hoped that the economic crisis — coupled with the many distractions in Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi ‘s life, including sex scandals and an ugly public spat with his wife — would see them making significant gains in regional elections this week. If so, they were sorely disappointed.

Instead, Berlusconi’s center-right People of Freedom Party (PDL) and his coalition partner, the anti-immigrant Northern League, actually wrested control of four regions away from the opposition and held onto two other contested regions. Italy’s fragmented left now only controls seven regional governments and was largely driven out of the wealthy north.

Berlusconi’s decision to hit the campaign trail and mobilize his supporters seemed to pay off to some extent as 13 of Italy’s 20 regions went to the polls on Sunday and Monday. In particular, the prime minister will relish taking the Lazio region, which includes the capital, Rome. Nevertheless, the 73-year-old Berlusconi’s triumphalism may be premature. His party’s share of the vote was down almost 11 points, to 26.7 percent, compared to the 2008 national election. The coalition’s success was largely a result of low voter turnout, which saw 35 percent of Italians not voting for any party. Indeed, there was no major switch to the opposition Democratic Party, which has lacked a clear platform and been beset by infighting.

More significantly, perhaps, the coalition’s success was also the result of the Northern League’s emergence as an increasingly important political force. The party saw its share of the vote rise from 8.3 percent in the 2008 election to 12.7 percent. As expected, it won the northern region of Veneto, becoming the biggest party there, but it also edged ahead of the left in Piedmont and closed the gap with the PDL in the industrial region of Lombardy.

This success will undoubtedly give the Northern League and its leader, Umberto Bossi, a greater say in the national government. It is expected to push for a tougher line on immigration, which it links to crime, and more autonomy for the north.

On Wednesday, German papers look at the rising fortunes of the Northern League and the inability of the left to present a convincing alternative to the center-right.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Silvio Berlusconi sees himself as the winner of Italy’s regional elections. He can claim to be strengthened as he enters into the last three years of this legislative period. … But, if you take a closer look, this is no great personal success. It will now be more difficult for him to claim he is backed by the majority of the population. That is due, first of all, to the historically low turnout of 63.6 percent and, secondly, to the fact that his party only saw an average vote of 27 percent in the 13 regions.”

“The true winner in these regional elections was the Northern League. The PDL’s junior coalition partner is getting increasingly stronger: It reached an average vote across the regions of almost 13 percent.”

“The league’s success marks another phenomenon in these elections. The big parties are stagnating or losing support. The PDL only attracted 27 percent of the vote, and the biggest opposition group, the Democratic Party, won just 26 percent. … The record abstention rate is not just the result of resignation, but also a protest against the big parties, which many regard as only being preoccupied with themselves. Italians feel they have been left alone to deal with their economic problems and are disgusted by the scandals of the elites.”

“The Northern League’s leader, Umberto Bossi, was able to profit from this…. Likewise, although the league has officially softened its tone … it is still anti-immigrant, still fixated on law and order, and still gives priority to the north above all else. However, they have given up on the idea of secession in favor of federalism. The party has become the mouthpiece for the small farmers and businesspeople in the north who make up Italy’s economic backbone. They are suffering in the current crisis. Most have no financial protection. They complain that they can’t get credit and that they pay too many taxes. They feel the pressure from lower-wage economies and see how foreign companies are taking away their profits. To many, Bossi seems to offer a more decisive set of policies.”

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

“Italy’s opposition may have hoped that results in the regional elections would have given Berlusconi a similar mauling to that which President Sarkozy recently experienced across the Alps. However, once again, it was the Italian left that was mauled.”

“The hope that Berlusconi’s slide in popularity, and all the scandals big and small, would automatically have sent voters into the arms of the opposition has once again been dashed.”

“The prime minister has lost a lot of his appeal in the eyes of his many followers. But they would never consider voting for the left. … Instead, they just stayed at home.”

“In the past 15 years, he has succeeded in polarizing voters to such an extent that it has become a huge exception to see voters switch from the opposing camps. Nevertheless, Berlusconi could easily have lost if the Democratic Party and other opposition groups had managed to mobilize their own forces.”

“That didn’t happen. Left-wing voters are as little impressed by their parties as those on the right are impressed by Berlusconi. There has been a lack of convincing ideas to oppose his right-wing populist policies … What left-wing voters want are politicians who are working for the interests of the ordinary people and policies that mark a clear alternative to those of the right-wing parties.”

The Financial Times Deutschland writes:

“Berlusconi may act like the winner … but his triumph is just wishful thinking. Granted, his coalition did win, but he emerges from these elections … weakened.”

“The cry of triumph is supposed to distract from the fact that his PDL party saw a massive slump in votes. The voters are turning away from the established parties. There is growing disappointment with the political class. Abstention reached a record level. And the main culprit for this development is Berlusconi himself, who has consistently worked at freeing politics of all real content.”

“This draining of politics of any meaning continues to be Berlusconi’s recipe for success. Making light of things and denying problems are what helped him attract voters in the past.”

“But not this time. The country’s problems are too great, and its social and health systems need reform. There has been huge disappointment with the government’s work over the past two years, as Berlusconi has yet to launch any fundamentally new policies.”

“The right-wing camps with serious policies — and, above all, the Northern League — are the ones profiting from this. The party has clear political aims: an independent north, tough measures against illegal immigrants and more law and order. Moreover, unlike the PDL, it has a strong grassroots movement to back up these aims. In fact, it is the opposite of the presidential PDL, which changes its profile to match the moods of its leader.”

“The election result shows that the party will have to create a stronger profile if it is to be successful. And that means getting rid of Berlusconi, whose only political project is himself.”

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

“How could this happen? After all the scandals, the Italians have once again voted for the center-right coalition. And Berlusconi’s coalition was able to take power away from the left in Lazio and Piedmont, in particular, the regions where he campaigned in person.”

“The success of Berlusconi’s coalition is not due to his media empire; nor is it a result of the Italian’s low expectations when it comes to the morals of their politicians.”

“The problem is, in part, the weak impression the left made. In recent months, it has also been in the headlines for sex scandals and corruption. And the infighting amongst those on the left has cost it a lot of sympathizers.”

“Many Italians are not happy with Berlusconi but they don’t see any convincing alternatives.”

“What does the result mean for Italy? Although Berlusconi feels strengthened, he knows that he now will have to deal with a much stronger coalition partner. The Northern League … wants financial federalism, which, for them, means that taxes should be spent where they are collected.”

“Meanwhile, Berlusconi wants to reform the justice system, mainly to help himself … nd to introduce a directly-elected prime minister.”

“It is difficult to see what else Berlusconi wants to achieve. The latest campaign was almost devoid of content. The government program is mostly directed toward the needs of the prime minister … Italy has long lost its international importance. Luckily for it, the government has been prudent during the crisis, which has given it a good handle on the deficit. But less thanks for this is owed to Berlusconi than to his finance minister, Giulio Tremonti.”


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Wishing Doesn’t Make It Law

When noncitizens are convicted of aggravated felonies, federal law makes it relatively easy to remove them from the country — and it should. But the law is not a weapon for overzealous immigration officials who want to deny immigrants fair deportation hearings.

The Supreme Court hears arguments on Wednesday about the removal of one such immigrant, who committed a couple of minor drug offenses but was treated as if he had committed an aggravated drug felony. The court should use the case of Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder to put an end to this unfair practice.

Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a native of Mexico, was a lawful permanent resident of the United States living in Texas. He was engaged to an American citizen, and had four children who are American citizens. In 2004, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor marijuana possession and was sentenced to 20 days in jail. A year later, he pleaded no contest to misdemeanor possession of a single Xanax anti-anxiety pill without a prescription, and was sentenced to 10 days in prison.

The government notified Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo in 2006 that he was removable from the United States because of his Xanax plea. The Immigration and Nationality Act allows a noncitizen facing removal to seek discretionary cancellation, which lets an immigration judge consider all of the circumstances of the applicant’s life, but this option is not available to noncitizens who have been convicted of an “aggravated felony.”

In Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo’s case, the judge decided that his two misdemeanors taken together constituted an aggravated felony — because he could have been prosecuted for recidivist possession, which is a felony. That made it possible to deny Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo a hearing, even though he was never charged with recidivism or any other felony.

Immigration officials across the country have used this twisted logic to fast-track the deportation of many noncitizens who should be given a shot at discretionary cancellation. Most appeals courts that have considered the question ruled that immigration officials cannot do this, but Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo’s appeal was heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, one of two federal appeals courts that approve of the practice.

This should not be a hard case. Federal law makes noncitizens eligible to seek discretionary cancellation of their removal as long as they have not been convicted of an aggravated felony. Mr. Carachuri-Rosendo was not convicted of a felony, and no amount of conjecture about what might have happened changes that.

If the government believes noncitizens should lose their right to seek discretionary cancellation after being convicted of multiple misdemeanors, it should try to persuade Congress to change the law. The justice system is diminished when the government tries to enforce the law it wishes for, instead of the law that exists.

Editorial, New York Times

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Springtime for Arms Control

A new START with Russia, but the same old proliferation.

The second “T” in START, the nuclear arms deal President Obama struck with the Russians late last week, stands for “Treaty.” That means two-thirds of the Senate is obliged to sign off on the accord. The U.S. would benefit from a full and close Senate airing of where Mr. Obama is taking the nation on both the offensive and defensive sides of nuclear weapons.

Known as “New START,” the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is modest in scope and at best does relatively little harm. The deal cuts the number of warheads 30%—to 1,550—from the levels agreed in the 2002 Moscow Treaty. That accord in turn made far steeper cuts to the original 1991 START agreement, which expired in December. These numbers were headed down without any formal agreement. But the Senate needs to ensure the new ceiling doesn’t undermine the robust deterrent in the U.S. nuclear triad—long-range bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Bearing even closer inspection are the reductions in delivery vehicles, or launchers. The U.S. and Russia agreed to keep 800 bombers and land- and sea-based missiles, whether armed with nuclear or conventional weapons. With much of its hardware obsolete and rusting, Russia already is at that level and tried to push the U.S. as low as 500 launchers.

On launchers, new START cuts close to the bone of what Pentagon brass said was comfortable. B-2 bombers are a useful instrument for global power projection and conventional weapons delivery, not only in nuclear conflict. In Congressional testimony last summer, Deputy Joint Chiefs Chairman General James Cartwright put 860 launchers as the bare minimum. This treaty goes further.

On U.S. missile defense, Administration officials insist the treaty places no “binding” limits on America’s future plans. But the Kremlin in its statement said the link between offensive and defensive weapons “will be fixed in a legally binding way.”

Russia seems to claim a right to withdraw from the treaty if in its view America goes too far toward building missile defenses. With a U.S. President so eager to pursue arms control, this may incentivize Moscow to hold America’s future antimissile programs hostage.

The Senate should press this matter. Last year, Mr. Obama pulled the plug on long-range missile interceptors in Poland. That pleased the Russians, who then purported to be annoyed when the Administration unveiled an alternative “phased” missile defense for Europe. That disagreement held the treaty up for three months. Arms-control chess is a famous Russian sport.

There is one silver lining the Senate could also extract: getting serious about modernizing the U.S. nuclear deterrent. The Administration by law must submit a 10-year plan to bring aging U.S. nuclear labs and weapons technology into the 21st century. In December 41 Senators—enough to block ratification of START—told the President to move on this proposal if he wants the treaty to pass. The Senate has an obligation to ensure that what’s left in our nuclear arsenal works. It should also insist on a new warhead, which the Pentagon wants but which arms control activists and Mr. Obama oppose.

Next month, President Obama will host “a nuclear security summit” in Washington, and he wants to revive the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, which the Senate failed to ratify a decade ago. He then attends the renewal conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. All of this, especially the nonproliferation regime, will be meaningless if Iran gets the bomb. But even as it hailed the pact with Russia last week, the Administration was diluting an already weak draft of U.N. sanctions against Iran.

Announcing the Russian deal, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said repeatedly that the treaty shows the likes of Iran and North Korea “that one of our top priorities is to strengthen the global nonproliferation regime.” And that somehow the U.S.-Russian agreement will induce Tehran and Pyongyang to join in.

This faith-based nonproliferation flies in the face of history. As the U.S. and Russia have drawn down their arsenals the past two decades, the rogues have moved fast to build up theirs. They continue to do so. What the Senate needs to explore before ratifying START is whether a new era of parchment disarmament promises will make America safer.

Editorial, Wall Street Journal


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Genetic shock

A surprising court ruling in America may loosen the drug industry’s grip on important genes

PERSONALISED medicine has proved an elusive dream. Since the decoding of the human genome, biotechnology companies have claimed that by matching a person’s genetic make-up with specialised treatments, they can tailor drugs to maximise benefits and minimise side effects. Alas, researchers have discovered that the link between a given person’s genetic make-up and specific diseases is much more complex than they had hoped. The tantalising vision remains out of reach.

A rare exception has been the success that Myriad Genetics, an American firm, has had with two genes called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Certain versions of these genes, it has been shown, are associated with a high risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The University of Utah has patented the genes and licenses them to Myriad. The firm uses that exclusivity to create expensive genetic tests for cancer risk which only it offers for sale (the patents and licensing conditions are different outside the United States).

The BRCA patents have long frustrated medical researchers, cancer lobbyists and legal activists. They claim that the firm’s grip on the two genes unlawfully stifles both innovation and basic science. Given the history of patent rulings in America, that has been a fringe argument—until now.

On March 29th a federal district court in New York made a ruling that, taken at face value, turns America’s approach to the patent protection of genes on its head. A coalition led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had challenged the very basis of Myriad’s patents. The nub of the case was this question: “Are isolated human genes and the comparison of their sequences patentable things?”

Until now, the answer had been “Yes”. But Robert Sweet, the presiding judge, disagreed, at least as far as the BRCA genes are concerned. After weighing up Myriad’s arguments, he ruled: “It is concluded that DNA’s existence in an ‘isolated’ form alters neither this fundamental quality of DNA as it exists in the body nor the information it encodes. Therefore, the patents at issues directed to ‘isolated DNA’ containing sequences found in nature are unsustainable as a matter of law and are deemed unpatentable subject matter.” Mr Sweet reasoned that DNA represents the physical embodiment of biological information, and that such biological information is a natural phenomenon.

As a rule, patents are not granted for rules of nature or naturally occurring phenomena, but the American patent office has allowed genes to be patented if they are isolated and “purified.” Perhaps no longer, if this decision is upheld. The ACLU gleefully declared that this ruling “marks the first time a court has found patents on genes unlawful and calls into question the validity of patents now held on approximately 2,000 human genes.”

It is clear that the judge has the history books in mind

So is this really such a landmark ruling? It is clear that the judge has the history books in mind. His ruling cites Stephen Breyer, a member of America’s Supreme Court, who argued in a dissenting opinion in 2006 that “sometimes too much patent protection can impede rather than ‘promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,’ the constitutional objective of patent and copyright protection.”

However, the majority of the Supreme Court did not agree with Justice Breyer. Dianne Nicol, a professor of law at the University of Tasmania, observes that “this case turns on whether an isolated gene sequence has markedly different characteristics from a gene that occurs in the human body. The judge in this case has said it does not have different characteristics but it will be interesting to see if the higher courts agree with that.”

This week’s ruling, though ground-breaking in some ways, is not binding on other federal courts or on other kinds of genetic patents. What is more, Myriad will appeal to the higher courts, and the case may even end up at the Supreme Court. The odds probably remain in favour of the existing regime, but it is just possible that Judge Sweet has put an irreparable chink in Big Biotech’s armour.


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Posted in Law

The party’s over for RNC head Michael Steele

What a difference $2,000 in a lesbian bondage strip club makes.

Then again, the latest Republican National Committee scandalita (Press three for Spanglish: “Small scandal”) is, alas, just that — the latest in a string of problems plaguing the RNC when it should be stocking champagne for November.

Who are these goofballs?

The responsible committee staffer has been fired for authorizing donor reimbursement to cover a night out for some “young donors” to the forever-grateful Voyeur, a West Hollywood lesbian bondage-themed nightclub for the discriminating diner. That is, one who finds gustatory stimulation in the presence of, for example, a woman with a horse’s bit in her mouth being strapped to the wall by another woman.

To each his own appetizer, I suppose, but something tells me the family-values crowd may not be down with this fundraising approach.

But let’s be clear: RNC Chairman Michael Steele had absolutely nothing to do with it. Got that? He wasn’t there. He doesn’t approve of it. Moving on.

There’s just one problem: RNC and lesbian bondage are now tattooed on the American brain, and the buck stops at the top. Moreover, if G-string spending were the single offense under Steele’s leadership, then perhaps this stain would fade, as have others, in time for Republicans to tap into voter frustration. Alas, this is hardly the first or the worst example of Steele’s leadership deficit.

More egregious are his spending sprees and preening self-regard. As one party leader put it in an e-mail, the GOP is in trouble when it is seen “as the party of limos (taxis work fine), $6K hotel bills, $2K strip clubs, private jets. What happened to Orbitz or Expedia?”

Wrote another:

“It doesn’t matter if he [Steele] was there or not. He doesn’t have a clue how to spend money and [Republicans] put him in charge at their peril.”

Dozens of other comments reflect similar sentiments. To be sure, Steele has many attractive qualities. Telegenic and passionate, he was viewed as the right face at the right time for a party widely seen as bland and too white. Well, we can scratch “bland.”

But Steele is also a prominent personality whose performance offers little evidence of the skills necessary for a party on life support. He can raise money, but he doesn’t spend it well.

Questions of impropriety also have been raised about Steele’s book tour and speaking calendar, both personally profitable distractions on party time. Although Steele has broken no committee rules in accepting speaking fees of up to $20,000, many have criticized him for trading on his chairmanship. Giving speeches without pay is part of a party leader’s job description, along with raising money for candidates.

Steele has a relatively poor record in this department, too. A Politico analysis comparing Steele’s fundraising and spending to that in 2005, the last comparable year before a midterm election, suggests too much expense for too little gain.

When he assumed the chairmanship, Steele inherited a $23 million surplus. Through late last month, he had raised $10 million less and spent $10 million more than the party did in 2005. Much of the spending has gone for private jets, limos, Ritz-Carltons and Wolfgang Puck-catered dinners. While big donors and committee members sup on ahi tuna cones, bubbacrats and Tea Partyers hear: “Let them eat catfish.”

In January, the RNC spent $9 million of its $10 million monthly haul, much of it on its annual winter meeting in Hawaii. Keeping a buck out of every 10 is probably not inspiring confidence in donors, who are beginning to put their money elsewhere.

A couple of organizations that are benefiting and that may make Steele less relevant are the Republican Governors Association, run by former RNC chair and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, run by Texas Sen. John Cornyn.

Steele’s future, meanwhile, is probably and strangely secure. To terminate the chairman, which has never been done before, 16 states have to call a meeting, followed by a two-thirds vote of committee members. And, of course, the hardest and least likely part among the humility-challenged: admitting they made a mistake.

Oh, go ahead. You’ll feel better.

Kathleen Parker, Washington Post


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This Time We Really Mean It

This newspaper carried a very troubling article on the front page on Monday. It detailed how President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan had invited Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to Kabul — in order to stick a thumb in the eye of the Obama administration — after the White House had rescinded an invitation to Mr. Karzai to come to Washington because the Afghan president had gutted an independent panel that had discovered widespread fraud in his re-election last year.

The article, written by two of our best reporters, Dexter Filkins and Mark Landler, noted that “according to Afghan associates, Mr. Karzai recently told lunch guests at the presidential palace that he believes the Americans are in Afghanistan because they want to dominate his country and the region, and that they pose an obstacle to striking a peace deal with the Taliban.”

The article added about Karzai: “ ‘He has developed a complete theory of American power,’ said an Afghan who attended the lunch and who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. ‘He believes that America is trying to dominate the region, and that he is the only one who can stand up to them.’ ”

That is what we’re getting for risking thousands of U.S. soldiers and having spent $200 billion already. This news is a flashing red light, warning that the Obama team is violating at least three cardinal rules of Middle East diplomacy.

Rule No. 1: When you don’t call things by their real name, you always get in trouble. Karzai brazenly stole last year’s presidential election. But the Obama foreign policy team turned a blind eye, basically saying, he’s the best we could get, so just let it go. See dictionary for Vietnam: Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky.

When you can steal an election, you can steal anything. How will we get this guy to curb corruption when his whole election, and previous tour in office, were built on corruption? How can we be operating a clear, build-and-hold strategy that depends on us bringing good governance to Afghans when the head of the government is so duplicitous?

Our envoy in Kabul warned us of this before the election, but in his case, too, we were told to look the other way. On Nov. 6, the ambassador, Karl Eikenberry, wrote to Washington in a cable that was leaked: “President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner,” he warned. “Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further. They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and for military bases to use against surrounding powers.”

One reason you violate Rule No. 1 is because you’ve already violated Rule No. 2: “Never want it more than they do.”

If we want good governance in Afghanistan more than Karzai, he will sell us that carpet over and over. How many U.S. officials have flown to Kabul — the latest being President Obama himself — to lecture Karzai on the need to root out corruption in his administration? Do we think he has a hearing problem? Or do we think he believes he has us over a barrel and, in the end, he can and will do whatever serves his personal power needs because he believes that we believe that he is indispensable for confronting Al Qaeda?

This rule applies equally to the Israeli prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. There is something wrong when we are chasing them — two men who live in biking distance from one another — begging, cajoling and pressuring them to come to a peace negotiation that should ostensibly serve their interests as much as our own.

Which leads to Rule No. 3: In the Middle East, what leaders tell you in private in English is irrelevant. All that matters is what they will defend in public in their own language.

When Karzai believes that the way to punish America for snubbing him is by inviting Iran’s president to Kabul — who delivered a virulently anti-U.S. speech from inside the presidential palace — you have to pay close attention to that. It means Karzai must think that anti-Americanism plays well on the streets of Afghanistan and that by dabbling in it himself — as he did during his presidential campaign — he will strengthen himself politically. That is not a good sign.

As Filkins and Landler noted, “During the recent American-dominated military offensive in the town of Marja — the largest of the war — Mr. Karzai stood mostly in the shadows.” And if Karzai behaves like this when he needs us, when we’re there fighting for him, how is he going to treat our interests when we’re gone?

We have thousands of U.S. troops on the ground in Afghanistan and more heading there. Love it or hate it, we’re now deep in it, so you have to want our engagement there to build something that is both decent and self-sustaining — so we can get out. But I still fear that Karzai is ready to fight to the last U.S. soldier. And once we clear, hold and build Afghanistan for him, he is going to break our hearts.

Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times


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Barack The Good

The big government liberalism that Mr. Obama uses to make himself history-making also alienates him in the center-right America of today.

It has to be acknowledged that, in his battle for health-care reform, President Obama has shown real presidential mettle. He did what it took to win his way. He put every ounce of his political capital on the line, and he never blinked. For all the wrongheadedness of this reform—and the ugly backroom dealing that finally carried the day—the president himself will now enjoy a new respect at home and abroad. He will be less dismissible.

But if the old bowing and boyish president is receding, a new and more ominous president is emerging. And it is now apparent that Mr. Obama wants to be—above all else—a profoundly transformative president. He has spoken admiringly of the way Ronald Reagan changed the “trajectory” of history, and clearly he would like to launch a trajectory of his own.

But Reagan came into office as a very well-defined man with an unequivocal sense of direction. Agree with him or not, you knew what kind of society he wanted. Mr. Obama, despite his new resolve, remains rather undefined—a president happy to have others write his “transformative” legislation. As the health-care bill and the stimulus package illustrate, scale is functioning as vision. From where does it come?

Well, suppose you were the first black president of the United States and, therefore, also the first black head-of-state in the entire history of Western Civilization. You represent a human first, something entirely new under the sun. There aren’t even any myths that speak directly to your circumstance, no allegorical tales of ancient black kings who ruled over white kingdoms.

If anything, you may literally experience yourself as a myth in the making. After all, you embody a heretofore unimaginable transcendence over the old human plagues of tribalism, hatred and ignorance. Standing on ground that no man has stood on before, wouldn’t it be understandable if you felt pressured by the grandiosity of your circumstance? Isn’t there a special—and impossible—burden on “the first” to do something that lives up to his historical originality?

Does this special burden explain Barack Obama’s embrace of scale as vision (if I don’t know what to do, I’ll do big things)? I think it does to a degree. It means, for example, that a caretaker presidency is not an option for him. His historical significance almost demands a kind of political narcissism. For him the great appeal of massive health-care reform—when jobs are a far more pressing problem—may have been its history-making potential.

Here was a chance for Mr. Obama not just to be a part of history but to make history. Here he could have an achievement commensurate with his own historical significance. To have left off health care and taken up jobs would have left him a caretaker rather than a history-maker. So he hung in with health care and today it can be said: Barack Obama has signed the most significant piece of social legislation in 45 years—achieving something that has eluded every president since FDR.

A historic figure making history, this is emerging as an over-arching theme—if not obsession—in the Obama presidency. In Iowa, a day after signing health care into law, he put himself into competition with history. If history shapes men, “We still have the power to shape history.” But this adds up to one thing: He is likely to be the most liberal president in American history. And, oddly, he may be a more effective liberal precisely because his liberalism is something he uses more than he believes in. As the far left constantly reminds us, he is not really a true believer. Rather liberalism is his ticket to grandiosity and to historical significance.

Of the two great societal goals—freedom and “the good”—freedom requires a conservatism, a discipline of principles over the good, limited government, and so on. No way to grandiosity here. But today’s liberalism is focused on “the good” more than on freedom. And ideas of “the good” are often a license to transgress democratic principles in order to reach social justice or to achieve more equality or to lessen suffering. The great political advantage of modern liberalism is its offer of license on the one hand and moral innocence—if not superiority—on the other. Liberalism lets you force people to buy health insurance and feel morally superior as you do it. Power and innocence at the same time.

This is an old formula for power, last used effectively on the presidential level by Lyndon Johnson. But Johnson’s Great Society was grasping for moral authority after the civil rights movement. I doubt any white president could use it effectively today, and even ObamaCare passed by only a three vote margin in the House and with no Republican support at all. Worse, in the end, it passed not to bring the nation better health care but to pull a flailing Democratic presidency back from the brink.

There has always been a narcissistic charge around Mr. Obama, the sense that in embracing him one was embracing something special in oneself—and possibly even a larger idea of human perfectibility. Every politician wants this capacity to attract identification. But it is also a trap. What happens when people are embarrassed for having seen themselves in you?

The old fashioned, big government liberalism that Mr. Obama uses to make himself history-making also alienates him in the center-right America of today. It makes him the most divisive president in memory—a president who elicits narcissistic identification on the one hand and an enraged tea party movement on the other. His health-care victory has renewed his narcissistic charge for the moment, but if he continues to be a 1965 liberal it will become more and more impossible for Americans to see themselves in him.

Mr. Obama’s success has always been ephemeral because it was based on an illusion: that if we Americans could transcend race enough to elect a black president, we could transcend all manner of human banalities and be on our way to human perfectibility. A black president would put us in a higher human territory. And yet the poor man we elected to play out this fantasy is now torturing us with his need to reflect our grandiosity back to us.

Many presidents have been historically significant in retrospect, but Mr. Obama had historic significance on his inauguration day. His inauguration told a transcendent American story. Other presidents work forward into their legacy. Mr. Obama is working backwards into his.

Mr. Steele, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is the author most recently of “A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can’t Win” (Free Press, 2007).


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In Therapy, Cellphones Ring True

Though the interruption may be jarring, I rather welcome the twang of bluegrass or the toll of church bells coming from a patient’s cellphone during a psychotherapy session. Here’s why.

A psychiatrist’s office is a place for confidences, so I have taken care to make it a private space. My consulting room is separated from the adjacent waiting room by two parallel walls. The office door is also double. A white noise machine in the hallway further ensures that no one can hear what transpires inside the office. Patients control the movement of information, in and out.

In this kind of secluded place it is easier to reflect and discover thoughts just at the edge of awareness. With this kind of privacy it is easier for patients to be open.

But such a byzantine arrangement creates certain limitations. What patient’s spouse has not wondered, “Is the therapist getting the full story?” Inside the consulting room a therapist hears only the patient’s perspective. Having first boxed ourselves in, how can we help patients to think outside the box?

A solution to this dilemma presents itself when my patient answers that cellphone call. The isolation of the office is shattered; the patient has allowed someone from his or her life to enter. And I have the privilege of witnessing the person across from me interacting spontaneously with that world.

Most patients handle calls with a quick apology; then they switch off their phones, surprised they had forgotten to do so before coming in. Some screen their calls, always available to selected callers.

Others do not make anything at all of interruptions and answer every time their theme song sounds. Even their brief conversations can be revealing. “I’m seeing my shrink.” “I’m with Doc S.” Who knew they had pet names for me? To one family, I’m “The Big B” (though I stand 5-feet-2 in heels.)

A mother receives a call from her teenage daughter. One theme of our sessions has been how to deal with the daughter’s “demanding behavior.” The volume is up; I hear both sides. The daughter is insistent about something trivial; mother is endlessly patient, even solicitous. Now I see that this child hasn’t been getting consistent feedback that her behavior is problematic. Guilt has driven my patient to conceal her anger. She is surprised to learn from me how successful she has become at this deception and how counterproductive it is.

When another patient’s husband calls to learn the results of her medical tests, I sense his tenderness; this counterbalances my knowledge of their sexual difficulties.

A calliope blares from the coat pocket of another patient, a young man. “I bet a hundred dollars it’s my sister!” he says. Clearly she calls him a lot, and he kind of loves it. Oddly, he rarely mentions her in therapy. Now I learn why. He had been afraid to disrupt the sweetness of his sibling relationship by uncovering its competitive core.

I am witness to another patient, a physician, juggling a potpourri of calls: colleague needs urgent consultation; child wants sleep-over; spouse craves takeout; nurses worry about wound infections, fevers, bleeding. I really get the stress involved in ceaselessly shifting from matters of trivial consequence to those with life and death stakes.

Sometimes patients hand me their phones to hear their messages. We play them and discuss whether we discern the same nuanced implications between the lines.

And patients show me those little glowing screens with photos of pets and progeny, apartments they might rent, last week’s rash (for diagnosis and for empathy). I see messes that have become the focus of family fights: the kid’s room with wet towels piled atop clean clothes; the cluttered dining room table that hasn’t allowed for dinner parties.

In trying to grasp the infinite complexity of an individual’s mind, it helps to narrow the focus by closing out the world and creating a place of privacy. But, for understanding the context — the life a patient inhabits outside the office — it helps to let in some of the sights and sounds. The pictures are worth a thousand words; so are the voices. Home videos, now available on most mobile devices, are coming soon to my office.

Barbara Schildkrout is a psychiatrist in Boston.

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Tales From Inner Space

The Stories of Ray Bradbury”—a 1,112-page Everyman’s Library anthology to be published April 6, a few months ahead of its author’s 90th birthday on Aug. 22—is filled with fictional wonders. Among them: time-travelers who take refuge from a fearful future in an anxious past; a children’s playroom where the videotronic lions have real teeth; an ocean-dwelling dinosaur that falls in love with a lighthouse.

Ray Bradbury’s two-story home in the L.A. suburb of Cheviot Hills also brims with marvels: souvenirs, trophies and mementos of a life that’s brought the author of such books as “The Martian Chronicles,” “Dandelion Wine” and “The Illustrated Man” a panoply of honors, including a National Book Foundation Medal, the French Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Commandeur) Medale, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a patch of the moon (Dandelion Crater) named in honor of one of his works.

On an upstairs-corridor wall, for instance, hangs a sepia-tinted photograph of the English author W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965). “He was a big influence,” says a white-thatched Mr. Bradbury, seated nearby like a benevolent wizard. “I loved his short stories, and I wrote him when I was 39 years old; I wrote a fan letter, and sent him my first book of stories. And Somerset Maugham wrote back and said: ‘I think Edgar Allan Poe would have liked some of these stories.’ Isn’t that a great thing for him to say?”

Poe’s were among the first tales Mr. Bradbury was exposed to, in a childhood spent mostly in Waukegan, Ill. Other early companions: the Oz books of L. Frank Baum, the Martian stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the science adventures of Jules Verne.

Such works—and the sorts of movies they inspired—sparked the mind of a youngster more timorous and creative than his Midwestern peers. “They didn’t like me,” Mr. Bradbury says of his classmates. “They were jealous. And I was a sissy, a mama’s boy; and they beat up on me. Oh yeah.”

But in 1934, a 14-year-old Mr. Bradbury moved with his family to Los Angeles, source of the celluloid visions he loved. The youngster was in heaven.

“I lived near the Picwood Theatre, at the corner of Pico and Western,” Mr. Bradbury recalls. “And I’d look every night and see: If there was a red lantern turning [in the theatre’s tower], I knew there was a preview. The very first night it was there, I went over to the Picwood Theatre and stood outside. . . . And a car pulled up, and a man in a tuxedo got out, and I recognized him: It was Irving Thalberg, the head of MGM. And he reached in and pulled out this beautiful lady in evening gown: Norma Shearer. . . . I talked to both of them, got their autographs.”

For the next few years, young Mr. Bradbury roller-skated all over Hollywood, getting more autographs of movie stars in front of Paramount Studios, bringing scripts and sketches he’d written to comedian George Burns at CBS Radio. Burns told the kid he was a genius and that he’d make it as a writer. “He was very kind to me,” Mr. Bradbury says, “and he finally used one of my routines on ‘The Burns and Allen Show.’ . . . He was a sweet man.”

When the would-be writer graduated from high school in 1938, his family had no money to send him to college. Mr. Bradbury educated himself in the public library. He sold newspapers at a street-corner newsstand. And he joined the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, which met downtown at Clifton’s Cafeteria.

“We were all loners,” he says of the 30 people in that group, whose ranks included such other future-famous scribes as Robert Heinlein and Leigh Brackett. “We were all lonely. We believed what we believed, and the society didn’t believe in what we believed.”

Such as what? “Well,” he says with a sigh, “‘Fahrenheit [451]’ is full of it. I grew up with radio, I saw what radio did to a people. I saw that it was beginning to disconnect us in society. So I wrote about that disconnection.”

But Mr. Bradbury would not confine himself to one genre. “I wrote 20 mystery stories,” he says. “I wrote 90 science-fiction stories. I wrote 90 fantasies—all kinds of stuff. . . . If it exploded in my mind and something came to me, I wrote it. I never thought about it. I don’t believe in thinking about stories; I believe in doing them. . . . Everything I do is passionate. . . . It’s all from the heart. All my stories are me.”

He gives an example. “When I was 8 years old, I was at the beach in Waukegan and a little girl was building a sand castle with me. She went in the water and she never came out. She drowned. It was my first experience with death. It upset me terribly. . . . Years later, I remembered that, and I wrote about it; it was called ‘The Lake.’ It was published in Weird Tales. And all around the world, people wrote to me about that story; and my career was started. I was 26 years old.”

In 1947, Mr. Bradbury married Maggie McClure, a young woman he met when she was working in the Fowler Brothers bookstore. When his wife became pregnant, the young author went to New York and got a publisher’s advance for a book called “The Martian Chronicles,” a 1950 work constructed, he says, on the structural framework of John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” and the emotional blueprint of Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio.”

“Waukegan’s in there, too,” he says. “The third story in the book is ‘The Third Expedition’—when the men walk into a Martian town? It’s Waukegan, Ill., all over again.”

More books followed, including “The Illustrated Man,” “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and “Fahrenheit 451,” the last written on a 20-cents-an-hour rental typewriter in the basement of the UCLA library. “‘Fahrenheit 451′ is still around,” Mr. Bradbury says of that 1953 novel, a frequent choice of many communities’ “Big Read” and other such programs. “Last week I got a check for a hundred thousand dollars, in sales of that book!”

Mr. Bradbury continues to write each day, he says—making intuitive expeditions into inner space and returning with news of the meaning of life (celebrate it) and the secret of love (give it away). “I’m so glad you could come here and see me today,” he tells a visitor who has caught all his references to books and authors, movies and directors, old radio shows, historical events and Los Angeles landmarks, “because you are my twin.”

Mr. Nolan is the author of “Three Chords for Beauty’s Sake: The Life of Artie Shaw,” to be published by Norton in May.


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The Claim: Eat Six Small Meals a Day Instead of Three Big Ones

The notion behind eating smaller, more frequent meals is simple: spreading out one’s daily calories over six meals stimulates the metabolism, keeping it going at a faster pace and thereby burning more calories.

Some studies have found modest health benefits to eating smaller meals, but often the research involved extremes, like comparing the effects of two or three large daily meals with those of a dozen or more snacks. Six meals, according to some weight-loss books and fad diets, is a more realistic approach.

But don’t count on it. As long as total caloric and nutrient intake stays the same, then metabolism, at the end of the day, should stay the same as well. One study that carefully demonstrated this, published in 2009 in The British Journal of Nutrition, involved groups of overweight men and women who were randomly assigned to very strict low-calorie diets and followed for eight weeks. Each subject consumed the same number of calories per day, but one group took in three meals a day and the other six.

Both groups lost significant and equivalent amounts of weight. There was no difference between them in fat loss, appetite control or measurements of hormones that signal hunger and satiety. Other studies have had similar results.

For a more reliable metabolic boost, studies show, try exercise.


There is no solid evidence that six small meals a day instead of three will speed metabolism.

Anahad O’Connor, New York Times


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Forsaking ‘Authenticity’

There was a time when any self-respecting recording of early music advertised itself as “authentic.” Concerts of medieval or Renaissance music were exercises in time travel, with “historically informed” performances on “period instruments” promising to take the listener back to the way music sounded half a millennium ago, complete with quaint tunings and archaic pronunciations of Latin or French. Recently, however, some of the most innovative renditions of pre-Classical music are more likely to be found in the jazz section of a record store.

Take, for example, “The Art of Love,” a CD of songs by Guillaume de Machaut released this month by Deutsche Grammophon, otherwise a bastion of mainstream classical music. The list of contributing artists includes jazz icons Madeleine Peyroux, Brad Mehldau and Milton Nascimento, pop singer-songwriter Natalie Merchant and Moroccan sintir virtuoso Hassan Hakmoun. In their hands, Machaut’s fluid melodies sound by turn funky, dreamy or haunting. And while a certain otherworldly quality hovers over the entire album, there is little to indicate that the music was written 600 years ago.

The album is part of a recent wave of early-music recordings that show a radical disregard for concerns of historical authenticity. By reclaiming the freedom to improvise on musical texts and adding unashamedly anachronistic arrangements and instruments, they turn the music by medieval and Renaissance composers such as Guillaume Dufay, Machaut or John Dowland into something more akin to jazz or avant-garde pop. And yet, proponents of the “new early music” argue that what their art loses in authenticity it more than makes up for in fidelity to the creative ethos of the time.

“For me medieval music and Machaut in particular represent a time when classical music had not yet become classical music,” says Robert Sadin, the producer of “The Art of Love.” “There is a certain mood of intense pathos that you see in most classical-music performances, and Machaut doesn’t have that. His music seemed more in touch with the way we live; it seemed very close.”

As a classically trained conductor and a former member of the music faculty at Princeton, Mr. Sadin is not immune to the scruples that make classical-music performance an art of interpretation rather than creation. But in the music of the distant past—Machaut, a French poet, court secretary and composer, died in 1377—the extreme scarcity of written documents can be liberating. While there are recordings of pianists who had studied under Liszt and conductors who had learned from Wagner, Mr. Sadin says, in the case of very early music “you’re not going against what we know.” In the case of Machaut, “all we have is a poem and a melody—so everything else was ours.”

Another musician who has taken liberties with early music is John Potter, a tenor and professor of musicology at the University of York in England, whose recent recordings also reimagine, rather than aim to re-create, Renaissance and early Baroque music. In a series of recordings for ECM, he joins jazz musicians John Surman and Barry Guy in hauntingly beautiful renditions of songs by John Dowland and his contemporaries. Trained in the English choral tradition at King’s College Cambridge and a longtime member of the Hilliard Ensemble, Prof. Potter experienced firsthand the shift in attitudes within the early-music movement.

“The term authenticity has gradually been modified over the years as people have realized that, ultimately, you can’t reproduce anything from the past,” Prof. Potter says. “In the ’80s we were worrying about questions of authenticity partly because a lot of the driving force behind the early-music revival came from academia. Musicology is a written discipline: it looks back to documents to legitimize the way you can do certain things. But very often this gives you a very false sense of what the past was like. So over the years we have given ourselves permission to look beyond the written documents.”

Take Josquin des Prez, who at his death in 1521 was the most famous composer of his age. “All of his music survives as vocal scores, as if it were sung by choirs. But you also get enormous amounts of transcriptions, especially for lutes. The authenticity movement would have gone back to the printed [vocal] scores. But we now know that those were just the way the music was first presented, and you then used the music in whatever way you thought appropriate.”

In Prof. Potter’s musical vision, that can include the use of the saxophone alongside a baroque violin, as on the best-selling CD “Care-charming Sleep,” or fusing 600-year-old songs of love and faith with a shimmering electronic soundscape, as in “Being Dufay,” a project he recorded with composer Ambrose Field.

World music is also a strong influence, with ethnic instruments making frequent appearances in early-music performances. The music of North Africa in particular provides color on recordings such as “Siwan,” an exploration of the music of pre-Expulsion Andalucia featuring Moroccan singer Amina Alaoui alongside Norwegian jazz and baroque musicians. Some scholars believe that there was a strong Moorish influence on the Western European culture of the late Middle Ages and Renaissance, some of which can be re-created by tapping into the folk traditions of the Maghreb. The English word “lute,” for example, is derived from the North African oud.

The authenticity of sound so sought after by the first generation of early-music specialists thus gives way to a new ideal of being faithful to the creative approach of the period. “We can assume that someone performing in the 14th or 15th century would have worked much more like an improvising pop musician today than like someone from a music department,” says Prof. Potter. In any case, his own research into the history of performance has impressed upon him the inadequacy of printed sources when it comes to faithfully rendering how music used to be played. “If a Martian came down and had a look at some Duke Ellington sheet music and tried to re-create the music from that, he’d be unlikely to hit on anything remotely like what Ellington sounded like.”

Ms. da Fonseca-Wollheim writes about classical music for the Journal.


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Deciding the Arctic’s Future Behind Closed Doors

The future of the Arctic is the subject of Monday talks in Canada.

Diplomats from Finland, Iceland and Sweden are upset; indigenous groups are furious. Five countries bordering the Arctic Ocean are meeting behind closed doors on Monday to discuss the region’s future. Many of those who have interests in the Arctic have not been invited.

It is a beautiful location for a not entirely successful inventor. Canadian tinkerer Thomas Willson — who patented a design for electric arc lamps in the 1880s, built buoys and lighthouse beacons in the early 1900s and set up a plant to manufacture fertilizer shortly thereafter — built a lovely summer house in 1907 on the forested shores of Meech Lake located northeast of Ottawa.

His getaway didn’t serve him for long, however. Willson lost almost all of his money on his fertilizer business before dying of a heart attack in 1915. The summer house, located in present-day Gatineau Park, was bought by the Canadian government and is often used for official talks. In 1987, for example, it was where lawmakers gathered to hammer out a reform to the Canadian constitution.

On Monday, it is once again hosting a high-level delegation. Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon has invited his counterparts from four other Arctic countries — the United States, Russia, Denmark (representing Greenland) and Norway — to discuss the future of the far north. No other guests have been invited — a fact that has enraged diplomats from several northern countries as well as representatives from indigenous peoples who call the Arctic their home.

No Interest in a New Treaty

There is much to discuss. The Arctic is changing unbelievably quickly, with several border disputes continuing to simmer and various competing claims to undersea territories currently being adjudicated by the United Nations. Only recently, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev complained that other countries were attempting to limit his country’s access to Arctic resources. At the same time, he alleged, these countries, which he declined to identify by name, were taking “active steps” to increase both their research activities and military presence above the Arctic Circle.

It seems likely, though, that the five countries meeting in Canada on Monday will be able to find agreement on at least one issue: namely that they are not interested in establishing a far-reaching plan to protect the Arctic environment like the accord that exists for Antarctica. The Arctic is full of natural resources, and northern countries are wary of doing anything that might limit their access to those riches.

Environmental activists are concerned. Greenpeace head Kumi Naidoo has written a letter to all five countries gathered in Canada on Monday expressing his criticism. The plan to decide on the future of the Arctic “behind closed doors, is not acceptable,” the letter says.

Greenpeace activist Iris Menn would even like to see an “overarching, legally-binding treaty for the Arctic.” She demands that no further industrial mining or exploitation activities take place in formerly ice-covered regions until international agreements are in place. It is a demand that is not likely to be heard.

A Solid Reputation

In addition to giving such concerns short shrift, Monday’s meeting outside of Ottawa also ignores the Arctic Council, a group which, in addition to the five countries currently gathering in Thomas Willson’s former villa, includes several other members, including Finland, Sweden, Iceland and non-governmental organizations. There are also a number of permanent observers, including Germany. The Council is weak when it comes to political issues due to the relatively limited importance its members assign to it. But on environmental questions, the Arctic Council enjoys a solid reputation.

Council members Iceland, Finland and Sweden are all irked that they were not invited to Monday’s summit. Indeed, Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb recently filed a formal complaint with his Canadian counterpart Cannon. Ambassadors from the excluded countries have also filed protests with the foreign ministries of those countries involved in the meeting. But Canadian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Catherine Loubier insisted to SPIEGEL ONLINE that “this particular meeting is only for the (Arctic) Ocean coastal states.”

Greenpeace activist Menn is furious. Monday’s meeting, she says, “makes a mockery of the Arctic Council and its role.” Indigenous populations in the Arctic are likewise unhappy with being excluded from the gathering. “This is our homeland, why shouldn’t we have a say?” asked Gunn-Britt Retter, a Norwegian who defends the interests of the Sami people in the Arctic Council. Members of the Inuit Circumpolar Council are also displeased.

Monday’s meeting is the second time the five Arctic states have met behind closed doors. The first took place in May 2008 when Denmark invited the Arctic heavyweights for a get-together in the town of Ilulissat in Greenland. Following talks in the Hotel Artic overlooking iceberg-filled Disko Bay, the ministers released a statement saying that the existing legal framework “provides a solid foundation for responsible management by the five coastal States.” The statement also emphasized that “We … see no need to develop a new comprehensive international legal regime to govern the Arctic Ocean.”

A Polar Strategy of its Own

The text was carefully crafted. After all, interest in the Arctic has grown rapidly in recent years and is no longer limited to just those countries which border the Ocean. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently released a report documenting China’s increasing interest in the far north. The European Union has even put together a polar strategy of its own. The 27-nation bloc was not successful in its first attempt to become a permanent observer on the Arctic Council, but its application will be reviewed anew next year.

Monday’s meeting, insisted Cannon, “will reinforce ongoing collaboration in the region, including in the Arctic Council.” Those who have been excluded, however, fear that the opposite will result. “That is the very reason Iceland has protested this meeting and will continue to stress the importance of the Arctic Council in matters of the High North,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Urdur Gunnarsdóttir wrote in an e-mail to SPIEGEL ONLINE.

Indeed, those not receiving invites are left to hope that the bucolic house on Meech Lake lives up to its somewhat dubious reputation. Willson, as it happens, was not the only victim. The 1987 constitutional reform, born out of talks in the isolated villa, collapsed even before it could come into effect.


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Let the Sun Shine In

Whether or not the planet needs saving, sometimes scientists do.

You ever see those old film clips of the early days of airplane flight? Wild contraptions of mismatched parts, flapping and shuddering as they stumble down the runway toward a cliff’s edge. Bird men who want to fly like swallows, plummeting to earth like turkeys.

I always get the feeling that I’m watching those clips while reading an Ian McEwan novel. There is no getting around the fact the man writes beautifully: passage after passage of precise, closely observed prose. Comedy when he wants it, pathos when he needs it, insight when he has it. But the whole thing is too often cobbled together with baling wire and chewing gum. A typical Ian McEwan novel—from the little-noticed “Child in Time” (1988) to the all-consuming “Atonement” (2002)—is a set of gorgeous wings, flailing up and down on plot hinges that creak as the pages go by.

That is the problem again with “Solar,” a story stringing together three phases in the less-than-noble life of a Nobel Prize-winning physicist named Michael Beard. In the episodes set in 2000, Beard is a reasonably fit man in his 50s who suspects that his best scientific work is behind him. In 2005, he is overweight and over-involved in scientific politics, willing to steal, cheat and lie away what little ethics he ever had. And in 2009 he’s downright fat, and the sins he committed along the way are circling overhead, awaiting his damnation. It takes a whole lot of literary contrivance—oh, those rickety McEwan plots—to make all this come out right at the end.

Written in that compelling voice that Mr. McEwan has mastered—third-person narration, but from a single, less-than-omniscient character’s point of view—”Solar” opens with Michael Beard’s peculiar situation. He has taken a job as figurehead for “the National Centre for Renewable Energy,” despite his skepticism about climate change. Meanwhile his wife, on whom he constantly cheats, is getting her own back by having an affair. And to get away from it all, Beard goes on a junket to the Arctic to be shown, firsthand, the horrors of global warming.

The Arctic adventure is as perfect a comic set-piece as Mr. McEwan has ever written, and it raises the serious point of whether people who behave in such a silly way are really the ones to fix things. We see global-warming activists, ready to heal the planet, who can’t be trusted not to steal one another’s cold-weather gear—to say nothing of the man who goes out to relieve himself in the snow and gets frozen to his zipper. The human condition, Mr. McEwan wants us to understand, is just too slapstick for anyone to believe that humans can save the world. Too tragic, as well, as Beard discovers when his unexpected return home precipitates a violent change in his life, personally and professionally.

In the second part of “Solar,” Beard has become a believer in global warming, working on a way to get non-carbon power from artificial photosynthesis—a new application of a never-quite-explained theory that he came up with in his 20s. Unfortunately, he didn’t discover the application himself. He stole it from his dead assistant, and, in the third part of the novel, four years later, he is about to demonstrate his new solar panels and let the sunlight come pouring in—which it does, with all his misdeeds illuminated in a flash.

Mr. McEwan has always had fascination with people who know how things work—the London neurosurgeon Henry Perowne, for instance, in “Saturday” (2004), whose meticulous recollection of a brain surgery, early in the novel, sets up the question of why criminals behave they way they do, in the novel’s violent ending. If “Saturday” was the story of a good man caught up in ominous events, under pressure to do evil in spite of himself, then “Solar” might be the tale of a rotten man dabbling in the supposedly virtuous cause of climate change, under pressure to do good in spite of himself.



By Ian McEwan
Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 287 pages, $26.95

This moral arc assumes, of course, that solving global warming is a pure good—a point I’m not convinced that Mr. McEwan actually believes. In England, where the book appeared a few months ago, the reviewers—all those right-thinkers who think rightly about the apocalyptic dangers of global warming—applauded the novelist’s interest in climate-change science, but in truth the book was sadly overtaken by events.

Who could have predicted that, out in the real world, emails hacked from the University of East Anglia’s prestigious Climate Research Unit would prove so cringe-worthy—showing scientists gaming their results and suppressing difficult data and dissenting views? Who could have foreseen that the predictions of ragingly hot summers would cool so quickly? And who could have known that, by 2010, the notion of remaking society to save the world—what we might call the Al Gore conceit, for which he won his own Nobel Prize in 2007—would seem to the general public so mockable and possibly malevolent?

A novelist, alas, is who. Mr. McEwan once praised John Updike and John Cheever, the magisterial American suburban novelists, for their willingness to be chroniclers of their time—to be recorders, as Anthony Trollope put it, of the way we live now. And that’s what “Solar” is supposed to be, I think: a journal of the world as the novelist found it at a particular moment.

And Mr. McEwan does indeed offer a record of our recent worries about the weather and the high-stakes science that stoked them. But the poor man didn’t trust his suspicion that climate-change activism is not nearly as certain and virtuous as it claims to be—that the real story includes place-holders and science jobbers looking for a paycheck, backed up the do-gooders and the world-changers looking for a religion. Mr. McEwan took the correctness of global warming as read, ignoring his main character’s early skepticism, and lashed up one his typical patchwork plots to make things come out as it should. Remember those old film clips of makeshift flying machines? It’s never much of a surprise that they don’t get off the ground

Mr. Bottum is editor of First Things magazine.


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When Your Looks Take Over Your Life

Is there a part of you that you hate to look at and perhaps try to hide from others? Do you glance at your image in distress whenever you pass a reflective surface?

Many of us are embarrassed by or dissatisfied with some body part or other. I recall that from about age 11 through my early teens I sat in class with my hand over what I thought was an ugly bump on my nose. And I know a young woman of normal weight who refuses to sit down in a subway car because she thinks it makes her thighs look huge.

But what if such self-consciousness about a perceived facial or body defect becomes all consuming, an obsession or paranoia that keeps the person from focusing on school or work, pursuing normal social activities, even leaving the house to shop or see a doctor? What if it leads to attempted suicide?

Such are the challenges facing tens of thousands of Americans who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder, or B.D.D., a syndrome known for more than a century but recognized only recently by the official psychiatric diagnostic manual. Even more recently, effective treatments have been developed for the disorder, and its emotional and neurological underpinnings have begun to yield to research.

New Findings

A pioneering researcher, Dr. Jamie D. Feusner, and his colleagues at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently found patterns of brain activity in people with B.D.D. that appeared to differ from those of others. The differences showed up in areas involved in visual processing. The more severe the symptoms, the more the person’s brain activity on imaging scans differed, on average, from normal levels, the researchers reported in the February issue of The Archives of General Psychiatry.

These brain changes may help explain how people can become overly focused on a perceived defect of their face, hair, skin or facial or body shape that others may not notice — indeed, that may not even exist. Some turn to alcohol and drugs to try to cope with the extreme distress. Others seek cosmetic surgery — which fails to relieve anxiety and can even make the problem worse, leaving scars where nothing was apparent before.

Some men have a form of B.D.D. called muscular dysmorphic disorder, thinking they look puny and weak when in fact their muscles are highly developed through compulsive weight training.

Dr. Katharine A. Phillips, a professor of psychiatry at Brown Medical School, is perhaps the best known authority on B.D.D. and the author, most recently, of “Understanding Body Dysmorphic Disorder: An Essential Guide” (Oxford University Press, 2009).

In an interview, Dr. Phillips described how crippling the disorder can become for those who spend hours in front of a mirror trying to “fix” their “ugly hair” or disguise a facial blemish only they can see. Some pick at an unnoticeable mark on their skin until they do indeed have a visible lesion. Some won’t leave the house unless they can totally cover their face and hair. Those who do go out without masking the area of concern sometimes suddenly flee and hide when they think someone has noticed it or is staring at them.

Many trace their problem to a childhood emotional trauma, like being teased about their looks, parental neglect, distress over parents’ divorce, or emotional, sexual or physical abuse. But Dr. Phillips says most people survive such traumas without developing B.D.D., especially if other factors in their lives lift their self-esteem.

Rather, she explained, the disorder seems to have a combination of genetic, emotional and neurobiological underpinnings.

“It’s likely that the genes a person is born with provide an essential foundation for B.D.D. to develop,” Dr. Phillips wrote. She noted that in about 20 percent of cases, a parent, a sibling or a child also had the disorder. Imaging studies done by Dr. Feusner, Dr. Phillips and others suggest that some brain circuits may be overactive in people with the disorder.

One presumed factor — societal emphasis on looks — is far less important than you might think. Dr. Phillips said the incidence of B.D.D. was nearly the same all over the world, regardless of cultural influences. Also, unlike eating disorders, which mainly affect women seeking supermodel thinness, nearly as many men as women have body dysmorphic disorder.

Which Treatments Work?

The good news is that even though research into the causes of the disorder is in its relative infancy, treatments have been found to help a large percentage of those affected, as long as their problem is recognized and they manage to overcome their embarrassment long enough to get to a qualified therapist.

The two most effective approaches are cognitive behavioral therapy and treatment with serotonin-enhancing drugs, either alone or in combination. In cognitive therapy, patients gradually learn to reorder their thinking, expose their “defect” to others and view themselves more realistically as whole individuals rather than seeing only the presumed defect.

In studies using serotonin-enhancing drugs, half to three-quarters of people with B.D.D. have improved, although Dr. Phillips warned that it can take as long as three months to see the benefit of a proper dose. (Moreover, there is still controversy about how many people achieve long-lasting benefits from the serotonin drugs.)

What does not work is plastic surgery and other cosmetic treatments. Even if the treatments modify one presumed defect, the person is likely to come up with another, and another, and another, leading to a vicious cycle of costly and often deforming as well as ineffective remedies.

Most important, Dr. Phillips said, is not to give up. Effective treatment is out there and it can make a tremendous difference — even a lifesaving difference. Her new book lists centers around the country that specialize in treating B.D.D.

Jane E. Brody, New York Times


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After Mating, Male Pipefish Get Choosy

Researchers found that male Gulf pipefish preferred to carry eggs for attractive females.

Pipefish, like seahorses and a few other related fishes, are unusual in that it’s the male that gets pregnant. The female deposits eggs in a pouch in the male’s body, where they are fertilized and protected and receive nutrients as they develop.

Like females of many species, male pipefish are choosy about their mating partners, preferring bigger females. But in some species, females are also choosy after mating — females of some insect species will mate with several males but use only one male’s sperm for fertilization, for example. So, do male pipefish exhibit this kind of behavior — what scientists call postcopulatory sexual selection — as well?

Kimberly A. Paczolt, a doctoral student at Texas A&M University, and Adam G. Jones, her adviser, have answered this question. In a paper in Nature, they show that males will provide resources to or withhold them from developing embryos based on the female’s attractiveness.

The researchers studied Gulf pipefish, which have a brood pouch that is nearly transparent, enabling the embryos to be monitored as they develop. They bred males consecutively with two different partners, to see how one brood affected the next.

They found that if the male mated with a bigger female for the first brood, more embryos survived or were bigger. But in the second brood, fewer were successful. “If the male invests a lot in the first brood, it doesn’t have a lot of resources for the second,” Ms. Paczolt said.

Conversely, if the male mated with a smaller female first, and fewer embryos were successful, then more were in the second. In both cases, the male was making a postmating choice. “The more attractive the female, the more resources he’s willing to spend,” Ms. Paczolt said.

Henry Fountain, New York Times


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Board Members of Top German School Resign

Abuse Scandal Widens

Germany’s idyllic Odenwaldschule: Thirty-three pupils were allegedly abused by eight teachers between 1966 and 1991.

Most of the governors of the German Odenwaldschule boarding school, which is no religious affiliation, resigned over the weekend following allegations that teachers sexually abused pupils between 1966 and 1991. The principal has promised a full investigation.

Most of the members of the governing body of the Odenwald School in Germany resigned over the weekend following revelations that at least 33 pupils were abused by eight teachers at the elite boarding school between 1966 and 1991.

The school near the town of Heppenheim in the western state of Hesse is not run by a Catholic organization. The allegations first became public three weeks ago at the same time as sexual abuse cases came to light at several Catholic high schools around the country.

Five of seven members of Odenwald’s governing board stepped down on Saturday, leaving only the principal, Margarita Kaufmann, and the school’s manager, Meto Salijevic, to run the school’s affairs until a new board is elected on May 29. “The public pressure was too great,” said , Sabine Richter-Ellermannthe chairwoman of the board.

The school has said 33 pupils were subjected to abuse and that eight former teachers have been accused, including Gerold Becker, who was principal at the school from 1972 until 1985. It has so far declined to confirm information gathered by SPIEGEL that 40 pupils were abused by 10 teachers. “We are still in the process of investigation,” said Salijevic.

School Promises Full Probe

Kaufmann, the principal, said there will be “a comprehensive and transparent investigation” of the abuse cases and also promised to improve procedures for selecting teachers, enhance teacher training and reorganize its management. However, Thorsten Kahl, the lawyer of several abuse victims who were at the school, said Salijevic too should have resigned.

Salijevic was a member of the school’s board in 1999, when the first suspected abuse cases emerged. “The fact that he didn’t resign is a slap in the face for the victims,” said Kahl.

Odenwald turns 100 next month and has a long list of famous former pupils, including Greens politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the author Klaus Mann. Andreas von Weizsäcker, the son of former German president Richard von Weizsäcker, also went to the school. Andreas died of cancer in 2008. His widow, Sabrina von Weizsäcker, told SPIEGEL: “Andreas knew about the incidents but did not count himself among the victims.”

Former Principal Admits Abusing Pupils 

The abuse was first reported in 1998 when two former pupils sent the board a letter in which they accused Gerold Becker. The former principal did not deny the accusations and resigned from posts he still held in societies linked to the school.

The school admits today that it did not investigate the accusations rigorously enough. “Unfortunately we assumed these were isolated cases, appalling isolated cases,” Sabine Richter-Ellermann, the board chairwoman who has just resigned, said in a statement. The board had neglected to stay in touch with the victims “and did not look for further victims.” She added: “We are aware today that that was a mistake.”

Victims have accused Gerold Becker, who joined the school as a teacher in 1969, of waking them up in the morning by grabbing their penises and of making them masturbate him. He admits today that he “sexually pestered or hurt” pupils “through advances or activities.” A music teacher at the school also abused many pupils, witnesses say. He has since died.


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The Rules in China

After a Chinese court sentenced four executives of Australian mining company Rio Tinto to lengthy prison terms for bribery and stealing commercial secrets yesterday, Canberra was quick to respond. Foreign Minister Stephen Smith pointedly stated, “As China emerges into the global economy, the international business community needs to understand with certainty what the rules are in China.”

In the eight months since Australian citizen Stern Hu and his Chinese colleagues Wang Yong, Ge Minqiang and Liu Caikui were arrested, we’ve learned a great deal about the lack of certainty and rules not only in China, but also in the global commodities trade. Some of that is China’s fault, but hardly all of it. The Australian government and Rio Tinto must share the blame for lack of transparency and failing to play by the rules.

Foreign media coverage of the arrests and trial has focused on whether the Chinese authorities pursued this case for political reasons. Remember that early last year, cash-starved Rio Tinto angered China by inviting Aluminum Corp. of China, or Chinalco, to take a $19.5 billion equity stake and then backing out of the deal under a combination of shareholder, government and public pressure. Rio was also driving a tough bargain in iron-ore price negotiations with Chinese buyers. Many observers speculated that the four executives were pawns in a high stakes game of tit-for-tat orchestrated from Beijing.

Certainly the timing of the case makes such suspicions inevitable. But the reality is probably more complicated. The Chinese justice system may be manifestly unfair, and once it gains momentum a guilty verdict is a foregone conclusion. Yet Rio itself put forces in motion that led to four men losing their freedom.

It all started with the boom in the global iron-ore market in the early 2000s. That’s when China’s steel industry embarked on a massive expansion of capacity, turning the trade in ore from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market. China’s large state-owned steelmakers bought at the benchmark price negotiated by Japanese and Korean mills, while smaller firms had to pay the higher spot price. This created an incentive for arbitrage and corruption, but unfortunately both the Chinese government and the mining companies were slow to take account of this in their internal controls.

As demand soared, the benchmark and market prices for iron ore diverged and the system came under increasing stress. In 2008, the Brazilian mining giant Vale negotiated a new benchmark price, only to see its two Australian rivals, BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, refuse to follow it. Vale reacted by tearing up its agreed benchmark price and renegotiating with producers who were over a barrel.

Then Rio Tinto also began to back out of its contracts, for instance by invoking clauses in contracts to hold back 10% of deliveries, which could then be resold at the spot price. Since Rio was facing a hostile takeover bid from BHP, the company’s managers pushed especially hard for every last dollar at the expense of their trading partners to show that they could deliver higher returns for shareholders.

Rio’s Mr. Hu himself acknowledged the problem. In 2008, after Rio negotiated a 87% price increase, Australian reporter John Garnaut interviewed him: “He said he had no qualms with driving as hard a bargain as he could on price. But he had misgivings about whether Rio Tinto should risk its integrity in China by claiming ‘force majeure’ to wriggle out of long-term contracts to chase higher prices elsewhere. ‘We acted in accordance with the letter of the contracts, but not the spirit,’ he said.”

This weakening of the bonds of contract naturally infuriated Chinese steelmakers. So when the economic crisis hit at the end of 2008 and demand for iron ore evaporated, it was payback time. Enjoying a buyer’s market again, the Chinese firms simply walked away from contracts.

The turnabout didn’t last long. Beijing’s massive fiscal stimulus program quickly revived demand for steel by the middle of 2009, and the Australians were able to start raising prices again. Negotiations over new iron-ore benchmark prices were particularly acrimonious, given the bad blood created over the past couple years. And that was the state of play when Mr. Hu and his colleagues were arrested on July 5, 2009.

One past participant in the iron-ore business, who insists on anonymity because of the sensitivities on both sides, believes that the investigation into the Rio Tinto executives was ongoing for many months before the arrests, meaning they were not directly related to the Chinalco fiasco or the ongoing price negotiations. The authorities likely started sniffing around as a result of a tip-off from someone on the Chinese side of the industry. The ill will created by the whipsawing prices and huge losses suffered by some firms supplied plenty of motivation for someone to drop the dime on Rio.

And some dirt was found. Rio Tinto has severed its relationship with the executives, saying they engaged in “deplorable behavior,” effectively accepting the verdict that they were taking kickbacks from steelmakers to arrange preferential access to iron ore. The charges of stealing commercial secrets are much more murky, as evidenced by the fact that they were heard in a totally sealed courtroom, but these too probably originated from lower down the ladder of officialdom, rather than a Beijing-led witch-hunt against Rio Tinto.

The bosses in Australia made the mistake of leaving their Chinese executives in place for too long with too little supervision. But the bigger mistake was destroying the trust of the handshake deals made with Chinese partners in the quest for a little extra margin. That is bad practice anywhere, but especially in China.

Chinalco has not held a grudge against Rio for the failed equity deal. The two companies continue to negotiate joint projects in countries like Mongolia and Guinea. The State Council’s own post-mortem report on the affair is relatively kind to Rio and admits that the Chinese side could have handled the deal better.

However, the government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd does not come off so well. Treasurer Wayne Swan ran scared from public perceptions of being too soft on China and politicized the approval process for Chinese investments, making it clear that the Chinalco deal would not go through and future acquisitions in the natural resources industry would face strict limitations. The lack of transparency and hostility toward China came as a complete surprise to Beijing and has created lasting tension between the two countries.

It was bad luck that around the same time, Xinjiang dissident Rebiya Kadeer was invited to Australia and Canberra issued a defense white paper that singled out China as a potential threat around which to base future strategy. From Beijing’s perspective these all suggested that Australia was turning hostile and there was no certainty about the rules for Chinese companies doing business there. Had this not happened, it’s possible that greater leniency would have been shown to the four Rio Tinto executives.

Everyone doing business in China should be clear by now on the rules—there is no rule of law. Deals can be done on the basis of mutual trust, which creates some level of certainty. The four Rio Tinto executives may be guilty of corruption, but the real reason they are in prison is because that trust broke down.

Mr. Restall is a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal.


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