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AN OPEN LETTER TO BUSH

In the Atlantic, senior editor Andrew Sullivan writes an open letter to former President Bush, asserting that "the best way to confront the crimes of the past is for the man who authorized them to take full responsibility." Read it in full at theatlantic.com. Here is an excerpt:

The war was compromised, not by occasional war crimes, or bad snap decisions by soldiers acting under extreme stress, or the usual, ghastly stuff that war is made of. All conflicts generate atrocities. Very few have been without sporadic abuse of prisoners or battlefield errors. As long as these lapses are investigated and punished, the integrity of a just war can be sustained.

But this war is different. It began with a memo from your office stating that - for the first time - American service members and CIA officers need not adhere to the laws of warfare that have governed Western and American war-making since before this country's founding. The memo declared that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to captured terror suspects but that all prisoners would be treated humanely unless "military necessity" required otherwise.

This gaping "military necessity" loophole - formally opposed in a memo by the member of your Cabinet with the most military experience, Secretary of State Colin Powell - was the beginning of America's descent into the ranks of countries that systematically torture prisoners. You insisted that prisoners be treated humanely whenever possible, but wars with legal loopholes for abuse and torture always quickly degenerate. In its full consequences, that memo, even if issued in good faith, has done more damage to the reputation of the United States than anything since Vietnam. The tolerance of torture and abuse has recruited more terrorists than any al-Qaida video, and has devastated morale and support at home.

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How economists got it so wrong

Even if you missed last week's big piece in the New York Times Magazine, "How did economists get it so wrong?" by Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, it is still well worth your time. (Read it in full at tinyurl.com/lwtpaz.) Here is a taste:

As I see it, the economics profession went astray because economists, as a group, mistook beauty, clad in impressive-looking mathematics, for truth. Until the Great Depression, most economists clung to a vision of capitalism as a perfect or nearly perfect system. That vision wasn't sustainable in the face of mass unemployment, but as memories of the Depression faded, economists fell back in love with the old, idealized vision of an economy in which rational individuals interact in perfect markets, this time gussied up with fancy equations. The renewed romance with the idealized market was, to be sure, partly a response to shifting political winds, partly a response to financial incentives. But while sabbaticals at the Hoover Institution and job opportunities on Wall Street are nothing to sneeze at, the central cause of the profession's failure was the desire for an all-encompassing, intellectually elegant approach that also gave economists a chance to show off their mathematical prowess.

Unfortunately, this romanticized and sanitized vision of the economy led most economists to ignore all the things that can go wrong. They turned a blind eye to the limitations of human rationality that often lead to bubbles and busts; to the problems of institutions that run amok; to the imperfections of markets - especially financial markets - that can cause the economy's operating system to undergo sudden, unpredictable crashes; and to the dangers created when regulators don't believe in regulation.

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700 million cell phones in China

China now has more than 700 million cell phone users, according to data published by China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. That means roughly half the population has one.

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Bangladesh bans workers' suits and ties

The Christian Science Monitor reports that the prime minister of Bangladesh has ordered male government employees to stop wearing suits and neckties. The country is suffering an energy shortage and endures daily blackouts, so comfort is now king.

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Male students best take note

Among first-year college students, women are much more likely than men to report having frequently taken notes in class in high school (78 to 51 percent) and revised papers to improve writing (55 to 37 percent), the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

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The value of cleaner air? $40 a person

It is hard to put a price on a clean environment or happiness. But a Georgetown economics professor has tried. In "Happiness as a tool for valuing public goods," he correlates happiness and air quality, and estimates that people think it's worth $40 to have a reduction in pollution equivalent to being in a county of average air quality instead of one of the worst-polluted ones. Read his work at tinyurl.com/mvxg4e.

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