The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

Antitrust enforcement goes global

As one of the world’s top cops on the antitrust beat, the U.S. has long led the fight to curtail price-fixing, collusion, and other anticompetitive behavior in global commerce. And the Justice Department’s antitrust division has wielded an especially big club of late.

In each of the past two years, criminal penalties in antitrust cases have exceeded more than $1 billion, thanks to groundbreaking settlements with DOJ following investigations into collusion in interbank lending rates among banks as well as price-fixing in the global auto parts industry. The $1.4 billion in fines collected in fiscal year 2012 was the largest recovery ever for the antitrust enforcement division in a 12-month span. Fiscal 2013 wasn’t far behind, hitting $1.02 billion.

Now that sequester-mandated budget cuts have taken hold, it may be tough for Justice to score another billion-dollar bounty in the year ahead. With fewer staff and tighter resources, trying existing cases and getting new investigations in the pipeline could be a challenge for U.S. antitrust enforcers.

That said, companies engaged in international commerce should by no means slacken up on competition compliance, given all the new watchdogs on the beat worldwide. In recent years the number of anti-cartel and fair competition authorities globally has soared as a host of new countries -- including China, Mexico, India, and South Korea, to name a few -- have joined the U.S., EU and other established players in going after violators of antitrust laws.

from The Great Debate:

Can Obama ever close Guantanamo?

Twelve years ago this month, President George W. Bush issued an order authorizing the U.S. military to detain non-U.S. citizen “international terrorists” indefinitely, and try some of them in military commissions. Within two months, those seized in the “war on terror” following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan were being sent to Guantanamo Bay.

A dozen years later, the United States is preparing to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, ending “the longest war in American history,” as President Barack Obama observed on Veteran’s Day. Yet the Guantanamo prison -- now notorious as the site of torture and other abuses -- remains open.

from The Great Debate:

Kennedy’s assassination, from the eyes of a British newspaperman

I heard the first uncertain fragment on BBC Radio. I was wearing a dinner jacket, driving in the dark to a press ball in Teesside in the industrial northeast of England. This dinner dance was quite an occasion for me. I was the new boy, early thirties, putting in a first appearance as an editor at a big social event where all the rival purveyors of news hobnobbed with mayors, MPs, police chiefs, bosses of the coal mines, steel mills and shipbuilding yards: in short, all the news sources of the entire northeast we covered.

I guess it was near 7 p.m. UK time when I heard the flash. President John F. Kennedy had been shot at 12:30 p.m. Texas time. I was 20 miles from the offices in Darlington where I'd just been entrusted with the editorship of the Northern Echo (circ. 100,000). It was, and is, a regional morning daily with a glorious heritage going back to the sensational editorship of W.T. Stead in the 1870's (he died on the Titanic), but with its circulation of 100,000 ebbing before the challenge of nine national dailies, two rival regional dailies, three city papers and TV and radio.

Egypt’s treatment of women is a social nuclear weapon

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There was widespread dismay at a recent survey that ranked Egypt as the worst Arab country to be a woman. The poll, conducted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, found that an astonishingly high 99% of women and girls experience sexual harassment, and worst of all the perpetrators of this abuse often go unpunished. Egypt scored poorly in every category of the poll including violence against women, reproductive rights and their inclusion in politics and the economy.

The poll surveyed 366 respondents – aid and healthcare workers, policy makers, journalists, academics and lawyers – and asked their opinion on women across Arab League countries. Although this is a perception poll, it is useful to get an idea of how the outside world view women’s role in society, politics and the economy. Perhaps the most interesting finding is that three out of five Arab Spring countries were ranked at the bottom of the pile. Discouragingly, it looks like revolution has not brought women the freedom they campaigned for in Tahrir Square in 2011.

from The Great Debate:

Too many cooks in the Iran nuclear kitchen

Last weekend, after years of failed negotiations, the “P5+1” nations -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany -- finally appeared to be on the verge of a deal with Iran regarding curbs on its nuclear program.

All except France were ready to sign a stopgap agreement that would offer Iran limited sanctions relief in return for a freeze in its nuclear program. But Paris torpedoed the arrangement at the last moment -- denigrating it as “a sucker’s deal.”

from The Great Debate:

What we learned from the BlackBerry era

BlackBerry changed the world. It made wireless email a killer app that every salesperson and traveling executive absolutely needed to have to get their work done. It gave us devices with batteries that lasted a full week, connectivity that made email feel real-time even over very slow networks, and a user experience that everyone LOVED. And, for IT departments, BlackBerry established a standard of security that protected even the most sensitive information with comprehensive policy support from a central management console.

Great email and great security were the hallmarks of the BlackBerry solution and no one else in the first decade of this millennium even came close to matching them. The term “Crackberry” became so popular to describe the addictive nature of the service that it was selected as the 2006 Word-of-the-Year by Webster’s New World College Dictionary.

Regulatory convergence is inevitable for global markets

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–Gregg Beechey is a Partner in the Financial Institutions Group at law firm King and Wood Mallesons SJ Berwin. The opinions expressed are his own.–

One of the great disappointments in the raft of regulatory changes coming out of the financial crisis of 2008 has been the failure of regulators to work together to agree a common framework and, perhaps, the lack of a greater role for the International Organisation of Securities Commissions (IOSCO).  There seems to be a significant disconnect between the rate at which political agreement has turned into regulatory reality in Europe, the U.S. and other parts of the world.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

No, austerity did not work

There have been a lot of sighs of relief in Europe lately, where countries like Britain and Spain, long in recession, have finally started to grow. Not by much, nor for long. But such is the political imperative to suggest that all the misery of fiscally tight economic policies was worth the pain that there are tentative claims the worst is now over and, ipso facto, austerity worked.

Hold on a minute. Growth is good. Growth is what allows countries to pay down their national debt by increasing economic activity, putting the unemployed to work and making people prosperous enough to pay taxes. But gross domestic product growth alone is not enough to provide adequate sustained prosperity if it does not also lead to significant job growth.

from The Great Debate:

Will a minimum wage destroy German jobs?

Germany has once again become the world’s favorite whipping boy, roundly criticized over the past few days by the U.S. Treasury, a top International Monetary Fund official and the European Commission president, among others, for running record trade and current account surpluses that are supposedly detrimental to the European and global economy.

The arguments continue, with the Germans themselves saying that the surpluses are simply the happy result of the nation’s industrial competitiveness and don’t hurt anyone else. Lost in the debate, however, is what’s happening in Berlin right now. As Chancellor Angela Merkel seeks to form a new coalition government, she appears to be on the verge of throwing out some of the very policies that underpin the export boom of the past decade.

from The Great Debate:

Should we believe more in Big Data or in magic?

One year I spent a lot of time with professional magicians. A few showed me the secrets to their tricks. Whenever they did, the skill and dexterity required for sleight-of-hand struck me as far more impressive than the idea that magic had been performed. It reminded me of my own experience with statistics.

Data analysis is very similar to performing magic. With great skill you can pull things together and create the perception of surprising relationships. Often the magic is getting people to look at one thing, when they should be seeing another. Similarly with statistics, it’s often not the correlation that’s interesting but what you did to find it.

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