...Views from mid-Atlantic
22 April 2006

Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, a former archbishop of Milan, has put himself at odds with the Catholic Church by saying that condoms, when used by married couples, were a 'lesser evil' than passing on the HIV/AIDS. The Independent notes that "the official Vatican line on condoms is that they remain forbidden to Catholics under any circumstances, even as worldwide levels of Aids continue to soar...Sexual abstinence, it claims, is the best way to fight the disease, which has claimed more than three million lives in the past year." Makes you wonder whether the Church ever quite made it out of the Dark Ages.

Nigeria deserves a big pat on the back for becoming, as the Independent says this morning, "the first African country to free itself of its debt to the Paris Club of rich nations, following the transfer yesterday of $4.5bn under a debt-relief deal that should clear the way for billions to be spent on reducing poverty. The landmark step is a sign of hope for Nigeria where 60 per cent of the people live in poverty despite the country's oil wealth."

Can't have a better demonstration of the fact that African countries can do it if they want, and of the good sense and the determination of President Olusegun Obasanjo and his government.

The Wall Street Journal notes, on the occasion of Earth Day, that since 1970, carbon monoxide emissions in the US are down by 55%. The newspaper quotes the Environmental Protection Agency as having said that particulate emissions are down nearly 80%, and sulfur dioxide emissions have been reduced by half. Lead emissions have declined more than 98%. All of this has been accomplished despite a doubling of the number of cars on the road and a near-tripling of the number of miles driven. These figures serve, it says, "as an instructive antidote for the doom and gloom that normally pervades environmental coverage, especially of late.

"This year, for example, Vanity Fair has inaugurated an 'Earth Issue', comprising 246 glossy, non-recycled pages of fashion ads, celebrity worship and environmental apocalypse. Highlights include computer-generated images of New York City underwater and the Washington mall as one big reflecting pool. The magazine also includes a breathless essay by US environmental conscience-in-chief Al Gore. The message is that we are headed for an environmental catastrophe of the first order, and only drastic changes to the way we live can possibly prevent it...

"There's no doubt the greens have succeeded in promoting higher environmental standards, which in turn have contributed to cleaner air, water and land almost everywhere you look. Today, game fish have returned to countless American streams and lakes, the Northeast has more forestland that at any time since the 19th century and smog is down dramatically in places like Los Angeles.

"But environmental activists don't want to believe their own success, much less advertise it. They need another looming catastrophe to stay relevant, not to mention to keep raising money.

"Thus the cause of global warming has come at a fortuitous moment for clean-air warriors looking for alarms to ring. It is global in scope, will take decades to come to fruition- or to be revealed as another false alarm - and provides endless opportunities for government intrusion into the economy. It is, if you'll pardon the deliberate reference to a faith-based phenomenon, the green equivalent of manna from heaven. Or would be, if the greens hadn't spent so much time over the last three decades talking up scares that never came to pass."

The CIA has apparently fired a senior staffer, Mary O McCarthy, for leaking information to the Washington Post about the agency's secret prisons overseas for terror suspects. Whether she is also to be a target of one or other of a series of criminal investigations going on at the moment into leaking from Government agencies isn't yet known, apparently. The Post described the dismissal as "perhaps unprecedented". That's crap. Those who are tempted to feel sorry for the harsh punishment meted out to this woman are invited to ask themselves what the difference is between giving secret information to a single enemy, and giving information, via a newspaper, to all of them at once. Fired? This woman should be in jail now for treason, along with the other spies.

21 April 2006

Robert Novak, who wrote the first article in which Valerie Plame and her CIA job were mentioned, has been very quiet about his role in the affair, and about what he said to a grand jury way back when. But he's loosening up a little. At the first of an occasional series of forums jointly sponsored by the Sun-Times and the University of Illinois at Chicago, he said Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has known "for years" who the source of the name was, but won't indict him because "no crime was committed". The Chicago Sun Times says Novak also suggested that he did not try to hide behind the Fifth Amendment when he answered the grand jury's questions.

It's a disturbing story, because it suggests that Fitzgerald carried on with his investigation knowing perfectly well there was no basis for it - a kind of legal fishing expedition to end all fishing expeditions. Scooter Libby, of course, is not charged with having been the source of the leak, but with having lied to the grand jury about what he did do.

This article in the London Times seems to have been written by an intelligent man at the very limits of his patience with the pulling-the-wings-off-flies mentality of Tony Blair and his Government. The author is Lord Howe of Aberavon, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the House of Commons. He's short tempered about the allegations that peerages might have been sold by the Labour Government, and by the Prime Minister's apparent attempt to deflect criticism in the wake of this scandal by doing a little more fiddling with the British upper house of Parliament, the House of Lords.

"The manner in which peerages are conferred is, of course, crucial to the perceived integrity of our House," Lord Howe says. "No one knows better than existing members how damaging to our reputation even one or two 'corrupt' cases can be. So we are anything but dismayed that current misconduct has been unveiled. And we should welcome implementation of the seven-year-old proposal, by the Wakeham Commission, that all nominations for the Lords should be made through, and vetted for propriety by, a clearly independent, statutory commission. This would certainly 'enhance the integrity' of the House.

"There are, however, two other much more substantial, and quite different, propositions, which should certainly not be accepted. First, is the introduction of elected members to the House of Lords; and second, a curtailment of the powers of that House. Neither of these ideas is in any way related to the current scandal, nor has either previously appealed to Tony Blair. They surface in this context now, one must suspect, only as a means of diverting attention from his own responsibility for the present crisis...

"Now that the historic marks of 'illegitimacy' have been removed, the arrival of elected peers could have only one result - a claim by the Lords to parity of authority with the Commons, and so to a growing risk of recurrent gridlock between the two Houses, with consequent calls for change in the present balance. Then where next? And next?

"Mr Cameron has very sensibly been making it plain that these are not issues on which he has any intention of rushing into policy decisions. We must all hope that his passionate commitment, after recent years of ill-considered constitutional upheaval, might be a six-word manifesto: 'For Heaven's sake, leave us alone.'"

The Mayor of Rome's ambitious building programme for his city has seen the opening of the first new building - a long, low steel and glass building on the banks of the Tiber that houses a museum, an auditorium and the Ara Pacis, the 13BC frieze showing the return of Emperor Augustus after kicking some serious Spanish and French ass. The Telegraph reports that what is a modernist marvel to some, looks like a a pizzeria to others.

Richard Meier, the US architect who designed the Getty Center in Los Angeles, has spent $16.5 million creating the structure. Other architectural stars who are slated to create new buildings for Rome include Waha Hadid, Rem Koolhas and Renzo Piano. I'm just surprised they found some spare land to put the thing on - you can't swing a cat on a short rope in Rome without hitting something too precious to destroy.

Here we go again - yet another author has suggested that poor old Will Shakespeare wasn't who we thought he was. This time, according to the Independent, he's the bastard son of Queen Elizabeth I.

"In Oxford: Son of Queen Elizabeth I, Paul Streitz, an American writer, makes the sensational claim that Elizabeth I produced several children, overturning accepted notions of the Virgin Queen. He further argues that the first child, secretly sired in 1548, was raised as Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford - who is one of the main claimants to the name of Shakespeare for those who do not believe a lad from rural Warwickshire capable of literary genius.

"'I have rewritten Elizabethan history,' Streitz claimed from America yesterday, prior to visiting Britain next week to lecture. 'The Virgin Queen was a myth created by the Tudor propaganda machine that was copied uncritically by the vast majority of historians in the following centuries.' He rejects this, acknowledging that academics will be 'gobsmacked' by his audacity. 'It's like the Rosetta Stone or The Origin of the Species where everything is suddenly different. You look at it from a completely different perspective.'" Uh-huh.

20 April 2006

Faced with losing the tarriff protection the sugar business in the Caribbean has enjoyed for decades, Trinidad and Tobago and St Kitt's-Nevis have announced they'll abandon growing sugar cane altogether. Other Caribbean countries may follow suit. But not Barbados, according to Caribbean Net News: "Barbados's Agriculture Minister says his country won't be giving up on the sugar cane industry as some of its Caribbean neighbours have done.

"Senator Erskine Griffith says the sector is viable and rather than abandon it, government will transform it through diversification. He said the focus will be on a sugar cane industry, rather than a sugar industry and the country will move away the export of bulk sugar to the European Union (EU) market towards producing special sugars, pharmaceuticals, electricity and ethanol.

"'In my view, if we do not grasp this opportunity to transform the industry into a viable and profitable one, we will lose it forever,' he said." Smart move.

People's Daily doesn't seem to have bothered consulting experts on what this "Peculiar spider bearing a human face on the back" might be, my guess is because it might spoil a good story. An artist with a tiny brush?

I don't quite know how a press agency in Uruguay, of all places, manages to beat the rest of the world's press, including that of the affected overseas territories, by eight hours or so, but MercoPress alone had this story out last night: "A bill to make provision for the representation of the British Overseas Territories in the European Union and in Parliament was presented this week by Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski from Shrewsbury and Atcham.

"Basically the Bill proposes that Overseas Territories be represented in the House of Lords with the appointment of 'two, three extra peers' plus extending specific help through the United Kingdom Representative Office in Brussels to overcome the European Union red tape and bureaucracy hurdles in funds allocation.

"However the Bill does not go as far as with the other European Union Overseas Territories from France and Holland who participate in the elections for their national assemblies and for the European Union Parliament and are provided all assistance possible to lobby effectively in Brussels. 'As a result, those overseas territories have far more recognition in the EU and secure far more financial assistance than do ours', pointed out Mr. Kawczynski."

The Guardian published published a little squib in its Parliamentary round-up this morning, saying Mr Kawczynski warned of a "tide of dissatisfaction" from British territories overseas. "His British overseas territories bill gained its first reading but stands little chance of becoming law," sniffed the paper.

It's HM Queen's 80th birthday tomorrow, and Britain is abuzz with chatter about how wonderful she is. Charlotte Higgins, the Guardian's estimable art critic, has a slightly more sober slant slant on this birthday business - she thinks it's high time the Queen should be giving the nation a birthday present of sorts: "First, Ma'am, would you make available the whole of the Royal Collection online, with clear indications of what works are on view and where? It is a large collection and a mammoth task, but this would help immeasurably in alleviating concerns about public accessibility. Current arrangements, showing high-lights of the collection and works on view, are wholly inadequate.

"Second, the Mantegna Triumphs of Caesar cannot fully be appreciated in the current circumstances. Please would you lend them permanently to the National Gallery (which would probably have to build suitable accommodation for them, but nothing is impossible)?

"Also, please could similar arrangements be made with other key works, such as the Rembrandts, the Vermeer and the Leonardo drawings, so that all the people of Britain (and, indeed, of the world) could benefit from enjoying them, as well as members of your own family? You will be aware that it was Prince Albert's wish that the Raphael Cartoons should go to the Victoria and Albert Museum on permanent loan for the enjoyment and education of all, and that Queen Victoria carried out this wish after his death. It was an elegant royal precedent: one that might gracefully be followed."

Peggy Noonan who, as we know, worked in the White House as a speechwriter for Ronald Reagan and Bush the Elder, thinks Bush the Younger should try being a little more pliable if he wants to emerge from the Presidential doldrums. In the Wall Street Journal, she says, among other things: "The president has taken, those around him say, great comfort in biographies of previous presidents. All presidents do this. They all take comfort in the fact that former presidents now seen as great were, in their time, derided, misunderstood, underestimated. No one took the measure of their greatness until later. This is all very moving, but: Message to all biography-reading presidents, past present and future: Just because they call you a jackass doesn't mean you're Lincoln."

19 April 2006

Nobody else is running this story, so it may or may not be true, but the Independent gossip columnist Pandora claims there've been some dodgy doings at Al Jazeera's London office: "On Thursday, intruders broke into the firm's Knightsbridge offices and pinched several items of highly sensitive computer equipment...Firstly, the items pinched were not what a normal burglar would take, I'm told. Valuable stuff was left behind, and several brand-new laptops weren't even touched. They only took the most commercially sensitive kit.

"'We lost several contacts books and hard drives containing email records and details of things like what people like (David) Frost and (Rageh) Omar will be doing, and how much they're being paid.'

"As a result, there are dark rumours of industrial espionage, and police reckon the timing of the raid, when al-Jazeera's offices were unexpectedly empty, points to an 'inside job'."

You have to admire the larger-than-life quality of the French Prime Minister, Dominque de Villepin. He's tall and good-looking, he writes poetry, he's never bothered to submit himself to the sometimes humbling experience of offering himself up for election, and he knows that sometimes, you have to dare to break the rules if you want to win. There was the time, for example, when he sent his special adviser on Latin America and a passel of French Special Forces on an unofficial run into Columbia to try to rescue politica-babe Ingrid Betancourt from the Farc rebels who had kidnapped her. It didn't work, but it was a good try. The French government doesn't like to talk about that one.

Now, he seems to have been caught up in another rule-breaking affair. Britain's Independent says "French judges have raided the offices of the Defence Minister and intelligence services in recent days and are expected to demand access to the files of the Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin, as part of an inquiry into false allegations of corruption.

"The affair has poisoned the already hostile relationship between M. Villepin and his number two, the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy. M. Villepin was damaged last week by his retreat on an unpopular youth employment law. He now faces renewed allegations that he tried to damage M. Sarkozy's political career two years ago by seizing on bogus accusations of corruption.

"The so-called 'Clearstream affair' reads like the plot of a political thriller. Two investigating judges have recently fallen out with their superiors after raiding the offices of the Defence Minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, several senior intelligence figures and those of the French equivalent of MI6, the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure. The affair has ramifications at the most senior levels of French politics and in the struggle for control of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, which makes the European Airbus."

Mark Steyn's sense of humour seems to have been reined in, somewhat (but only somewhat, I assure you), by recent world events. He has a long and serious piece in the Wall Street Journal this morning, a reprint of something that originally appeared in the most excellent City Journal: "What's the difference between a hothead and a moderate? Well, the extremist Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be 'wiped off the map', while the moderate Rafsanjani has declared that Israel is 'the most hideous occurrence in history', which the Muslim world 'will vomit out from its midst' in one blast, because 'a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel, while an Israeli counter-strike can only cause partial damage to the Islamic world.' Evidently wiping Israel off the map seems to be one of those rare points of bipartisan consensus in Tehran, the Iranian equivalent of a prescription drug plan for seniors: we're just arguing over the details.

"So the question is: Will they do it?

"And the minute you have to ask, you know the answer. If, say, Norway or Ireland acquired nuclear weapons, we might regret the 'proliferation', but we wouldn't have to contemplate mushroom clouds over neighboring states. In that sense, the civilized world has already lost: to enter into negotiations with a jurisdiction headed by a Holocaust-denying millenarian nut job is, in itself, an act of profound weakness - the first concession, regardless of what weaselly settlement might eventually emerge."

Sun Microsystems, a company which has been rather down in the dumps since the end of the dotcom boom, seems to have found a ticket back to prosperity. The Toronto Globe and Mail (whose technology section is one of the best on the continent, I'd say), reports that: "Sun Microsystems' UltraSPARC T1 chip is the equivalent of F-1 racing performance with SmartCar fuel economy.

"As innovations go, the chip, launched last December, is a breakthrough technology that the Santa Clara, California, company is betting will put it back on top as the dominant player in the server market after being kicked down badly during the dot-com crash of 2001-02."

The new chip uses about half the power other chips of its horsepower do, and Sun is calling the new chip eco-responsible, noting in its press materials that "if half of the entry servers sold in the last three years were replaced with UltraSPARC T1 processors, over 11 million tons of CO2 emissions, or the equivalent of that emitted by about 1,000,000 SUVs, would be eliminated each year...

"The low price is also a shocker. Servers have been subject to the same downward price pressure as the rest of technology, and the entry level unit retails for $3,000, compared with triple that five or six years ago."

18 April 2006

It's apparently China's first dog beauty contest. People's Daily says it was held in Hefei in East China's Anhui Province on April 16, 2006. I don't know...there's something a little bizarre about saying a dog in a dress is beautiful.

But I will say the one in the Superman costume has an admirably noble bearing, to say nothing of his most excellent nose.

The London Times thinks that "To suggest that Mr Olmert has talks with an administration that cannot bring itself to repudiate terrorism with any sincerity is utterly incredible." There will be editorials like that one in newspapers around the world, this morning. I don't suppose they'll do a bit of good, because that's how it is with Hamas. Meantime, in Israel, according to Haaretz, Mr Olmert has decided against taking any military action at all against the Hamas-led PA administration.

A victim of two accidents caused by drivers talking on cellphones has come up with a gadget that warns cellphone users when they get within 100 meters of a stoplight. Technology Review hails this as a life-saving breakthrough. I wonder. I certainly wouldn't want to try to hold a conversation on one of these things in traffic in places like New York City - it'd beep your ear off.

Crime buffs may be interested in this long and slightly confusing story in the Guardian about fingerprints. It sort of feints in the direction of fingerprint science being bunk, then seems to discover that the Scottish Fingerprints Office is incompetent or corrupt or perhaps both. In the mix is a terrific story about a policewoman who is unjustly driven from her job and, apparently, halfway out of her mind.

17 April 2006

We have been led to believe that a State Department memo outlining Valerie Plame's role in her husband, Joe Wilson's trip to Niger on the track of that yellowcake story, made it clear that her job at the CIA was classified. The memorandum, addressed to Colin Powell, was taken on an Air Force One flight carrying the president to Africa in July of 2003, and investigators have been trying to establish a chain of custody on the theory that it might help them learn who leaked Plame's identity to the press. But The New York Sun has seen the document, and says it doesn't make it clear that Plame's role was secret at all. "A Wall Street Journal article on July 19, 2005, citing an unnamed person familiar with the memo, reported that the memo "made clear that information identifying an agent and her role in her husband's intelligence gathering mission was sensitive and shouldn't be shared." The Journal account said the paragraph discussing Ms Plame's role in her husband's trip was marked in a way to indicate it shouldn't be disclosed

"A story the following day in the Washington Post, 'Plame's Identity Marked as Secret,' said correctly that the paragraph carried the mark 'S', signifying the middle level of three major tiers of classification.

"Not noted in the previous press reports was the fact that six of the seven paragraphs in the memo are marked 'secret,' while only one appears to mention Ms Plame. In addition, virtually every paragraph in the attached supporting documents from the State Department about alleged Iraqi uranium procurement in Niger carries the 'secret' designation.

"With most, if not all, of the Niger-related documents marked 'secret' in a host of places, there is no particular reason a reader would think the classification was derived from Ms Plame's status or involvement. An attorney representing a White House official under scrutiny in the investigation said yesterday that the broader context of the document undercuts the idea of a deliberate campaign to expose Ms Plame."

Daniel Hannan of The Daily Telegraph reminds us that Mr Prodi was the guy who, in 1978, told the police where the kidnapped former prime minister, Aldo Moro, was being held, having discerned the location - or so he maintains - by summoning the spirits of dead Christian Democrats with a Ouija board.

"In what other country," he asks himself, "could such a man get away with the slogan 'Seriousness in politics'?"

Anybody who has been in one of the armed forces will know that those generals who criticised Donald Rumsfeld last week broke a couple of golden rules to do it. The first is that if your opinion doesn't carry the day, you must accept it and move on. The second is that once you leave a post, you don't second guess those who are taking decisions in your absence. It might be understandable if a young, inexperienced person broke those rules, but generals? That doesn't play well.

The Wall Street Journal agrees, if for slightly different reasons: "The anti-Rumsfeld generals have a right to their opinion. But there's a reason the Founders provided for civilian control of the military, and a danger in military men using their presumed authority to push elected Administrations around. As for Democrats and their media allies, we can only admire their sudden new deference to the senior US officer corps, which follows their strange new respect for the 'intelligence community' they also once despised. US military recruiters might not be welcome on Ivy League campuses, but they're heroes when they trash the Bush Administration.

"Mr Rumsfeld's departure has been loudly demanded in various quarters for a couple of years now, without much success, and on Friday Mr Bush said he still has his every confidence. We suspect the President understands that most of those calling for Mr Rumsfeld's head are really longing for his."

And Robert Maginnes, who used to teach leadership and ethics at the US Army's Infantry Center, also agrees. In a Washington Times piece, he writes: "We taught warriors that they have a moral obligation to confront seniors with bad news and to challenge morally wrong decisions. We used historical illustrations about men of character falling on their swords over principles. Apparently, the likes of the newly retired generals - who, just now, with their pensions secured, are publicly voicing their criticisms of our president and his Pentagon appointees - didn't listen in class.

"Since 2002, I've been privileged to attend meetings with Mr Rumsfeld and his staff. As part of a group of retired officers who now work as media consultants, we have free rein to ask tough questions. Mr Rumsfeld is always frank, tough and receptive. You have to stand your ground, but Mr Rumsfeld listens and reasons.

"Typically at these meetings, I was the lowest-ranking retired officer. It was amazing how hypocritical some now-retired generals were. They had plenty of opportunity and encouragement to ask tough questions of Pentagon staff, Mr Rumsfeld included. Behind the scenes some were critical, but at our meetings, only a few shot back." He thinks there must be "something in the Pentagon water that turns star-studded generals into weak-kneed cowards."

16 April 2006

Well, if Mexico's illegal immigrants in the US actually wanted to queer their own pitch, they couldn't have found a better way of doing it than this. The Washington Times says some of them are going to try to retake the American Southwest, which they claim was stolen from Mexico. It's time for reconquista!

"There's the Mexica Movement, which wants to 'reconstruct' the United States as an 'indigenous' nation called Anahuac. Professor Charles Truxillo of the University of New Mexico envisions a sovereign Hispanic nation called the Republica del Norte that would encompass Northern Mexico, Baja California, California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

"MEChA, an acronym for the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, has come under fire for revolutionary language in its 'El Plan de Aztlan', a founding document that declares 'the independence of our mestizo nation,' decries the 'brutal gringo invasion,' and says that land 'rightfully ours will be fought for and defended.'"

Mexican community leaders are saying these people are the lunatic fringe, but...

There's a story in today's Washington Post that suggests Iraq is the cause of the "Tired of Tony" malaise that seems to have spread recently like a toxic mist over the British population. Funny how crossing the Atlantic makes stories go all one-dimensional. Michael Portillo has a piece in the London Times today that is much closer to the mark. Iraq is only a part of it. The gongs for dosh scandal is really the straw that broke the camel's back. Until then, the Brits believed Tony Blair was as advertised, despite Iraq, and despite a whole raft of other, lesser scandals. But the shock of allegations that he and Labour were selling honours has knocked those rose-coloured glasses off their collective nose. Now, everything looks different, and they're able to understand his political moves with greater clarity.

Portillo writes: "The prime minister rarely admits to having changed his mind so when he does so it should arouse our suspicion. Until the loans scandal broke he was known to be in favour of an appointed Lords. Now he wishes to see it mainly elected. A cynic might say that he used to believe that he could fill it with placemen and donors, but now he has reached the end of that road and recognises that he must accept democratic progress.

"Such cynicism falls well short of the mark. Blair is far more Machiavellian than that. After all, this is the man who massively increased the power of the parties in the name of introducing a more proportionate voting system. In elections to the European parliament the voter now has almost no influence on which people are given power. We can put our cross only against the name of a party. Those who will take the seats and claim the salaries and expenses have already been selected by the party and appear on its list. The names at the top are unstoppable. Some members of the Scottish parliament owe their positions to the same system.

"Blair now sees that the unwelcome by-product of the appointed Lords is that it allows in experienced people of independent mind. Being life peers they are not reliant on Labour for re-selection. An elected Lords will be different."

A US non-profit group, Business for Diplomatic Action, has persuaded several leading companies to hand out a World Citizens Guide to their employees, and is trying to persuade the State Department to include it with every passport it issues. The Telegraph, among others, says the goal is to transform US tourists into an army of civilian ambassadors.

"The guide," says the Telegraph, offers a series of 'simple suggestions' under the slogan, 'Help your country while you travel for your company'. The advice targets a series of common American traits and includes:

"Think as big as you like but talk and act smaller. (In many countries, any form of boasting is considered very rude. Talking about wealth, power or status - corporate or personal - can create resentment.)"

Quite how this group think it's going to make this a successful project in a country that teaches schoolchildren how to be crass is beyond me.

Hank Greenburg has been speaking to Kimberley A Strassel, a member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, about Eliot Spitzer, about his relationship with AIG and about the way US overregulation is killing enterprise.

"You couldn't build an AIG today," he told her. "'After Enron,'" he said, "'the regulators became far more aggressive, threatening boards of directors with all kind of dire things if they didn't do certain things. What happens? The board simply takes over. And when that happens you don't have a company that is thinking about innovation or risk-taking...And once you stop thinking about risk and thinking only about compliance, you are no longer going to be a growth company.'

"That's particularly a problem for the insurance industry, which is entirely 'about risk'. Of this, in particular, Mr. Greenberg knows of what he speaks. The accounting errors that Mr. Spitzer threw at AIG were related to finite risk insurance. Such products are a modern innovation, and play a vital role in managing risk and stabilizing balance sheets. Yet the rules were always murky as to how to account for the transactions. So what regulators and prosecutors may have allowed in a non-scandal era became fraud post-Enron. That sort of uncertainty is deadly for companies. Today, 'everybody is playing it close to their vest, and don't do anything. If you do something, you get slapped down, so why do it?'"

Strassel writes: "At this time last year, he was running the world's largest business insurer. Then along came Mr. Spitzer, on the prowl for another headline-generating takedown. Mr. Greenberg was certainly a ripe candidate. AIG had been swept into a separate Spitzer probe into illegal bid-rigging, but its bigger liability was that Mr. Greenberg had dared publicly criticize the almighty prosecutor.

"Not long after, Mr. Spitzer was alleging accounting irregularities at AIG and, as if to underscore the oddly personal nature of his attack, had threatened AIG with a corporate indictment if it didn't oust Mr. Greenberg. The accounting charges proved flimsy, and Mr. Spitzer later admitted he has nothing that would allow him to bring criminal charges against Mr. Greenberg; but AIG wasn't about to argue. It fired its chief, and later agreed to a $1.6 billion fine.

"The company Hank built then went after his other businesses, launching a legal campaign to block C.V. Starr from competing against it, as well as to get its hands on a Sico pot of gold that traditionally compensated AIG employees. Mr. Greenberg has a more direct way of describing AIG's litigation: 'They're trying to steal the business.'"


Art in Bermuda
Bermuda's Cuban Connection
Death of the Nation State
Helen Lives!
Joe Wilson and Michael Moore
Linton Kwesi Johnson's Dub Poetry
Me and Evergreen Review
Michael Howard's Vision
Miss Lou and Jamaican Patois
More Doomsday Nonsense
Mullah Nasrudin's Lessons
New York Dogs
OECD's Unfair to Competition
On Catullus
On Charles Ives
On Colin MacInnes
On Collecting Books
On Collecting Books - Part Two
On Gambling in Bermuda
On Napoleon
On Patrick Leigh Fermor
Race and Bermuda's Election
The Epic of Gilgamesh
The Gift of Slang
The Limits of Knowledge
The Nature of Intelligence
The Shared European Dream
The US Supreme Court's First Terrorism Decisions
Useful Yiddish
Yukio Mishima's Death

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