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Swiss Mess

Newsweek on the shady inner workings of UBS.

Newsweek, March 23 An article tries to demystify the inner workings of Swiss bank UBS, which sent its bankers on secretive missions to America to hunt for rich clients. Internal UBS documents warn its bankers to “always maintain ‘clear desk policy’ in hotel rooms; use secure infrastructure (travel notebook, PDA); be aware that cell phones are prone to eavesdropping; cross borders without client-related documents.” Federal authorities have swooped in, winning $780 million from the bank and obtaining bank information for 250 American clients. Dinosaur bones can fetch a pretty penny, as one freelance fossil hunter discovered when a “bambiraptor” skeleton he lifted from a Montana ranch was valued at up to $400,000, an article reports. In America, the ownership of these “gnarled, inanimate lumps of calcite” is often unclear: Is it finders keepers? Or is the landowner, the government, or the museum footing the bill for the dig?

New Republic, April 1 An article casts a critical eye on America’s business schools for churning out graduates who, taught to worship unregulated markets in the classroom and on Wall Street, did their part to ruin the global financial system. While schools earlier in the 20th century taught future executives to act as “elder statesmen” and work with civil society, students recently have been taught to focus on pumping the market for short-term profits. “Many of the financial tools that played a starring role in the current crisis … were taught and developed in business schools without, often, a full appreciation for how they could go sour.” Noam Scheiber pens a glowing profile of Larry Summers, the notoriously blunt head of the National Economic Council. The author wonders why he is not spearheading the economic recovery himself. “If the Obama administration fails to revive the economy, will it be because Summers is too influential over economic policy, or not influential enough?”

Weekly Standard, March 23
P.J. O’Rourke declares that Obama went from being “wrong to being damn wrong” when he signed an executive order to allow federal funding for stem-cell research. “If you want to kill little, bitty babies, get Congress to pass a law to kill little, bitty babies, if you can,” O’Rourke writes. At Gen. David Petraeus’ invitation, three reporters traveled to Afghanistan for the cover story and found the war there is winnable. Reporters who carp about the country being the “graveyard of empires” are just pessimists, they write. The violence in Kabul today is minimal compared with attacks in Baghdad at the height of insurgency. The ground commanders they spoke with were confident that incoming U.S. troops would give them the manpower to push back against the insurgents across the country. “For all their ferocity and cunning, the insurgents in Afghanistan do not offer a viable alternative that can win widespread acceptance.”

The New Yorker, March 23 Keith Gessen files a dispatch from Moscow on the trial of the brothers Makhmudov, who were acquitted after evidence connecting them to the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya unraveled. Dzhabrail Makhmudov, the alleged getaway driver, had written a 300-page thesis on the Chechen refugee problem. “If he was not innocent, it meant that the organizers had involved in their plot a young man who shared Politkovskaya’s beliefs, had worked on the same issues; who was bright, eager and extremely sweet and personable,” Gessen writes. The prosecutors didn’t go after the real killers but instead “the ones the authorities could spare.” Jeffrey Toobin profiles Roland Burris, the junior senator from Illinois appointed by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich. “Few senators in history have made a more ignominious national début than Roland Burris,” Toobin writes. Despite this, Toobin finds Burris to be a conventional politician, “one guided far more by cautious self-interest than by ideological passion,” who just wanted to add senator to his list of accomplishments.

New York, March 23 A collection of short pieces extols the virtues of Michelle Obama and wonders what kind of legacy she will have within the “pantheon of powerful women.” One piece hopes that Obama will show the world a “third way” outside the “false dichotomy” of first ladies, proving that one does not have to be “either Hillary Clinton or Laura Bush.” Another story, featuring a sweet photo of the Obamas almost touching foreheads on inauguration night, remarks that the first couple seems very much in love. “Only now are we discovering what a functioning marriage between equals actually looks like,” the author writes. A profile of nonagenarian playwright and screenwriter Arthur Laurents—“one of the few left standing from the theater’s golden age of bad behavior”—celebrates his return to Broadway with a revival of West Side Story. Laurents, prickly from his youth, has a complicated relationship with Broadway, often referring to it as “Chernobyl.” He lost many famous friends over the years because of his penchant for “telling the truth unguardedly,” he says.