The Breakfast Table

Buzzing Around Flytrap

Good morning Nadine.

The news this morning is dominated, once again, by zillions of stories and op-ed pieces on the Clinton/Starr tug-of-war. Even if I were free to talk about it–which I’m probably not–I couldn’t think of anything to say that hasn’t already been said several times over. But here is my suggestion: The Independent Counsel law should immediately be renamed the Full Employment for Journalists and Political Pundits Act.

Moving on, there are a few interesting stories out there–but you have to dig hard for them. The Washington Post reports on the near-collapse of the Long-Term Capital Management Co. hedge fund because it lost “more than $100 billion of bets it made in financial markets around the world.” The collapse was averted (or postponed) when top officials from two dozen of the world’s largest banks and brokerage firms hammered out an agreement for a $3.5 billion rescue plan. To tell the truth, I’m not sure I understand how all of this financial stuff works. Have you noticed that when things go badly in our economy we expect the Fed to reduce interest rates and (if things get bad enough) the government to increase spending to fire up the economy. But when things go badly in other countries, we insist that they tighten their belts by raising interest rates and cutting government spending. How can something that’s good for us be bad for them and vice versa?

The New Republic carries a lengthy article by MIT economics professor (and frequent Slate contributor) Paul Krugman, exploring this very subject. Krugman argues that the mobility of capital across national borders forces less developed countries to adopt the kind of austerity policies that once drove the United States into the Great Depression. He suggests as a solution that international capital mobility be reduced. The massive overseas losses suffered by the Long-Term Management fund may actually solve this problem as investors become far more wary of international investments.

Technology of all sorts continues to be a hot item. Wired News reports on a phenomenon called Hacktivism–electronic sabotage as a means of political protest. The story features “the Hong Kong Blondes, a near-mythical group of Chinese dissidents that have been infiltrating police and security networks in China in an effort to forewarn political targets of imminent arrests,” as well as an organization known only as the Cult of the Dead Cow whose spokesman (a former United Nations consultant) goes by the moniker Oxblood Ruffian. (I’m not making this up, honest.) In response to this threat, the FBI is establishing a cyberwarfare center called the National Infrastructure Protection Center which will involve the intelligence community and the military. Sounds like more tightrope walking for you and the ACLU.

The Kansas City Star and the Boston Globe carry lengthy and informative articles about genetic engineering. The Globe focuses on the activities of the Monsanto Life Sciences Research Center in developing vegetable strains that are resistant to various attacks, including Monsanto’s own pesticides. The Star picks up a story I had missed in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times about gene-therapy experiments in the womb designed to cure two genetic diseases. The story reports that gene therapy has been performed on some 2000 adults and children, but points out that performing the same therapy in the womb carries special risks because the engineered gene could be passed along to the patient’s descendants.

Finally, the New York Times has a story–quoting no fewer than 5 current, former and future deans of major law schools–lamenting the likely fallout from the “legal gamesmanship” carried on by both sides in the Flytrap scandal. As I suggested yesterday, this is an entirely legitimate concern.

I’m off to do justice. Have a good day.

Ciao. AK