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Jan 23, 2012
via The Great Debate

What is American exceptionalism?

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney, although they spend a lot of time these days at one another’s throat, appeared on the night of the South Carolina primary to agree on at least one thing: Each believes in “American exceptionalism,” and, they say, Barack Obama does not. Gingrich has already devoted an entire book to the topic, and in an interview with my colleague David Rohde, a top foreign policy adviser to Romney made it clear that American exceptionalism is a theme that Romney intends to stress throughout the campaign.

It’s easy to see that these candidates view their own ideas about American exceptionalism as a strong opportunity to contrast themselves with the incumbent. It’s harder, though, after sifting through the various ways the term is used, to establish what it actually means. Far from being a simple concept that one can easily endorse or reject, American exceptionalism is a loose skein that uneasily unites many different strands of thought, faith and ideology.

Jan 4, 2012
via Tales from the Trail

How did Tim Pawlenty spend Iowa caucus day?

Ah, Tim Pawlenty.

The onetime Minnesota governor seemed for a little while like a promising candidate for the Republican presidential nomination. And then came the deadly Iowa straw poll last August, a contest whose meaninglessness has been confirmed by the fact that Michelle Bachmann won it, only to come in basically last–in her home state!–yesterday when the votes actually mattered (as much as they ever do in Iowa).

It’s safe to say that, while CNN sought the wisdom of departed candidate Herman Cain, and Fox the wisdom of not-quite-candidate Sarah Palin, T-Paw was not exactly overexposed on TV during the voting and counting.

Dec 27, 2011
via The Great Debate

Hitchens was an atheist who believed

By James Ledbetter
The opinions expressed are his own.

It seems entirely possible that Christopher Hitchens will be primarily remembered in America for his public atheism. I suspect Hitchens himself was surprised at how wildly popular God Is Not Great became, giving much-needed voice and ammunition to thousands of godless heathens in the land of the drive-through church.

Yet it’s an inadequate way to remember the man, and not because Hitchens did little more in that book than to lay some tracing paper on the Enlightenment’s best thinkers and draw giddily (though with acidic and often very funny ink), or because—this is not an exaggeration—the American public regards atheists on about the same level as rapists.

Dec 13, 2011
via Tales from the Trail

Is Rick Santorum’s favorite Marxist quote for real?

By James Ledbetter
The views expressed are his own.

Which is stranger: the idea that on the campaign trail GOP presidential longshot Rick Santorum cites favorably a quotation from a quasi-Marxist social critic? Or that the quotation itself might be spurious?

For years, Rick Santorum has said that one of his favorite sayings is: “We all get up every day and tell ourselves lies so we can live.” He attributes it to the iconoclastic historian and social critic Christopher Lasch, best known as the author of The Culture of Narcissism, a hugely popular jeremiad against modern American capitalism published in 1979.

Nov 14, 2011
via MediaFile

Perrier wants to tell you where to go out tonight

By James Ledbetter
The views expressed are his own.

Last year on a drizzly Seattle morning I visited the corporate headquarters of Starbucks to talk about social media. At the time, Starbucks had about 2 million of what were then called “fans” on its Facebook page. That audience was both large and engaged enough, a company representative said, that Starbucks had recently been approached by another firm that wanted to advertise specifically on the Starbucks Facebook page. Starbucks declined the offer, but only after serious consideration. “We had to decide if we really wanted to be on that side of the publishing business,” the representative told me.

It’s a striking reminder that in the Twitter-and-tablet age, not only can anyone become a publisher, but for big consumer-facing companies, the real question is: how much of a publisher do you want to be? The question carries an added weight when you consider how many traditional publishers these days are trying to exit that business.

Oct 13, 2011
via Newsmaker

Wait, now the right hates General Electric?

By James Ledbetter
The opinions expressed are his own.

For many years, the River Café, an elegant restaurant that sits just below the Brooklyn Bridge, had a plaque on its wall declaring, in effect, “If you work for General Electric, go eat somewhere else.”

This unusual exclusion policy had a simple explanation: for three decades, two GE plants in upstate New York dumped as much as 1.3 million pounds of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the Hudson River, poisoning the fish supply that River Café depends on. The effect that this contamination had on wildlife—and on anyone who ate too much fish caught in the Hudson—was severe enough to create one of the largest Superfund projects in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Sep 16, 2011
via From Reuters.com

A belated disclosure

On August 22, Reuters.com published a video entitled “Twitter through the eye of an artist,” a profile of the New York-based artist Michelle Vaughn. Vaughn is married to Reuters blogger Felix Salmon; although Salmon played no role in producing the video, that relationship should have been disclosed in the video. Reuters apologizes for the omission.

Aug 29, 2011
via The Great Debate

Brill versus Winerip, continued

The debate around Steven Brill’s new book “Class Warfare” continues to swirl. A review/essay in Monday’s New York Times by Michael Winerip accused Brill of largely ignoring the views and experiences of teachers. Like some other Brill critics, Winerip accused the book of overstating the success of charter schools, and overallocating blame for failed schools to teachers’ unions where other factors–such as poverty–may be at work.

Brill felt Winerip’s criticism was misguided and had a bit of a personal attack in it. He attempted to post a response Sunday night to the Times‘s Web site. When, Monday morning, that response remained unposted (despite more than a dozen later comments going up), Reuters.com published it. He said it felt “almost as if [Winerip had] been waiting to unload on me for years,” and in turn accused Winerip of not using proper data to understand charter school performance in Harlem.

Aug 8, 2011
via The Great Debate

Is the debt-ceiling deal hated because it will work, or won’t work?

By James Ledbetter
All views expressed are his own.

As is so often the case when markets drop vertiginously, the explanation you get for what is happening depends almost entirely on whom you ask. There is, for example, a broad consensus that the debt-ceiling deal was a major contributor to the market plunge that kicked in last week.

But, what, precisely, are investors objecting to when they sell in reaction to the debt deal?

Aug 8, 2011
via David Cay Johnston

Think Singapore is a “low-tax” haven? Think again

In this recent video, David Cay Johnston examines the notion, often heard from U.S. politicians, that Singapore is a model of low taxation:

    • About James

      "James Ledbetter is the former op-ed editor of Reuters. He is the author, most recently, of "Unwarranted Influence: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Military-Industrial Complex," published in January 2011."
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