France mulls partial Olympic boycott

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This morning's Olympic torch-lighting ceremony in Greece was disrupted by protesters from the Paris-based media rights groups Reporters Without Borders. The bad publicity was exactly the kind of thing that Beijing was hoping (unrealistically) to avoid in the run-up to this summer's games, but also highlights a growing debate in France over whether the country should take action to voice its disapproval of China's human rights record.

RSF (the organization's French acronym) has proposed that France boycott the Games' opening ceremony. A poll published in today's Libération newspaper and sponsored by RSF found that 53 percent of respondents liked the idea of President Nicolas Sarkozy skipping the event. A separate poll in the sports magazine L'Equipe had nearly identical results. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he found the idea "interesting" last Tuesday but then quickly backtracked several hours later:

There are a lot of good ideas that can't be put into practice [...] When you're dealing in international relations with countries as important as China, obviously when you make economic decisions it's sometimes at the expense of human rights," he added. "That's elementary realism."

Sounds like somebody got a talking to. This isn't the first time that Kouchner's idealism has taken a back seat to his boss's more pragmatic priorities, and it raises some questions over whether the left-wing, former head of Doctors Without Borders is only in Sarkozy's government as liberal-internationalist window dressing. Sarkozy, for his part, has offered to make France a facilitator for negotiations between China and the Dalai Lama. It's a start, but as the protests inevitably grow throughout this spring, it's going to get harder to stick to the middle ground.

Update: Speaking on Tuesday, Sarkozy would not rule out the possibility of boycotting the ceremony, saying, "All options are open and I appeal to the Chinese leaders' sense of responsibility." Perhaps he's keeping an eye on the polls.


Clinton calls for panel of foxes to examine henhouse theft

When you don't have a plan, call for an expert panel:

Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton called on President Bush on Monday to appoint ''an emergency working group on foreclosures'' to recommend new ways to confront the nation's housing finance troubles.

The New York senator said the panel should be led by financial experts such as Robert Rubin, who was treasury secretary in her husband's administration, and former Federal Reserve chairmen Alan Greenspan and Paul Volcker.

Volcker is a good choice, and he has had some smart things to say of late. Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin are undoubtedly brilliant, accomplished men who know a great deal about the financial markets and are generally well-respected in Washington. But with all due respect to Senator Clinton, they're not the right people to lead such a mission. Greenspan, after all, was the one whose slashing of interest rates helped spark the housing bubble. And Robert Rubin has been on the board of Citigroup, making him neither the most disinterested observer nor a particularly prescient one. Citigroup was up to its ears in subprime mortgages.

Greenspan and Rubin still might have some good ideas for getting us out of the current mess, even if they helped to cause it. But think of it like this: If your doctor missed tell-tale signs that you had cancer until it was nearly too late, wouldn't you start looking for advice elsewhere?