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Aug 6, 2011
via David Cay Johnston

Forget taxes, it’s wages that plague Americans

By David Cay Johnston
All opinions expressed are his own.

Here is how much economic progress America has made in the 21st Century: the average taxpayer’s 2009 income was at the same level as 1997.

Average 2009 income was $54,283, just $18 more than in 1997 when you adjust for inflation, not that anyone would notice a difference of $1.50 a month in their pocket.

Aug 1, 2011
via The Great Debate

Three reasons conservatives should oppose a balanced budget amendment

By James Ledbetter
The opinions expressed are his own.

One of the crucial lubricants allowing Congress to resolve the debt-ceiling friction was, apparently, the inclusion of a provision to vote on a balanced-budget amendment. Assuming this version of the deal passes, then at some time between September 30 and December 31 of this year, both houses of Congress will be required to vote on a  ‘‘joint resolution proposing a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution of the United States.’’

Whatever the political expediency of this provision may be, a balanced budget amendment is a bad idea from a conservative point of view, for at least three reasons.

Jul 26, 2011
via MediaFile

Can the feds do an Al Capone on News Corp?

By James Ledbetter
The opinions expressed are his own.

I wrote last week that using the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) to charge News Corp over allegations that officials at the now-shuttered News of the World bribed police officials would be an “enormous, unprecedented stretch…which seems unlikely to stand up in court.” There are two qualifiers to this; first, the column was referring to Guardian reports about payments to police supposedly made in 2003, which appear to have been for tips leading to stories for the paper. If it could be shown that subsequent sums to police were made to delay or thwart investigations into News Corp activity—a very big if—then those payments might come a little closer to the types of bribes historically punished under the FCPA. (Even there, however, U.S. authorities would still be reluctant to jump into such a case unless British prosecutors abandoned such an inquiry, which seems unlikely to occur any time soon.)

I also hinted at a second possibility, both more intriguing and more likely: a different part of the FCPA could apply to any police bribes News Corp paid. This is the “books and records” provision of the FCPA; ProPublica’s Jake Bernstein summarized its potential use in this case succinctly: “If you pay off the policemen and you don’t write it down in your company ledger as ‘Bribe two policemen,’ then this can be a problem because you haven’t accurately kept your books and records.”

Jul 22, 2011
via MediaFile

The case against the bribery case against Murdoch

By James Ledbetter
The opinions expressed are his own.

Ever since reports surfaced that executives at News of the World paid bribes to members of the UK’s Metropolitan Police, there have been lots of people in the United States who would like to see News Corp and/or its top executives prosecuted under American laws. News Corp is an American company, goes the argument, and paying bribes abroad is explicitly prohibited by the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

Those observations are true as far as they go, and they appear bolstered by reports Friday morning that the Justice Department is preparing subpoenas as part of a preliminary investigation into News Corp. But the argument that a successful U.S.-based bribery case can be built against Murdoch’s company involves at least as much wishful thinking as it does legal acumen. There may be some effective ways to use the FCPA against News Corp, but nailing News Corp executives in the U.S. for police bribes in the UK requires an enormous, unprecedented stretch of the FCPA, and one which seems unlikely to stand up in court.

Jul 7, 2011
via Ian Bremmer

An interview with Ian Bremmer

Bremmer spoke to Reuters correspondent Kyoko Gahsa about Japan’s recovery, the lessons of the Europe crisis, and the new leadership at the International Monetary Fund.

Jun 30, 2011
via MediaFile

Hear the plea of the Kindle orphans

By James Ledbetter
The views expressed are his own.

I bought a Kindle in early 2009, which makes me an “early adopter” of tablet e-readers (translation: I overpaid).  In addition to downloading books, I eagerly signed up for some heavily discounted subscriptions: The New Yorker, $2.99 a month; Fortune, $2.49 a month; New York Times, $13.99 a month (it later went up); etc. I did this knowing that most of the time the content was free online. But the digital subscriptions were often much cheaper than print and the Kindle provided many conveniences, particularly when traveling.

This year, my wife bought me an iPad2, and my Kindle now feels like a cassette tape in a CD world; I think I last spotted it gathering dust on my desk a few months ago. You might think, though, that years of paying for digital content from America’s publishers would translate into goodwill on the shiny new platform. I envisioned publishers leaping at the opportunity to help me make a seamless transition from the Tablet 1.0 era, especially because they know I’m already a paying customer.

Jun 15, 2011
via MediaFile

Is Groupon a savior or a destroyer?

By James Ledbetter

The opinions expressed are his own.

You could hardly imagine a starker contrast. The Wall Street Journal this week portrayed Groupon and rival group-purchasing sites as the ultimate friend of the small business owner. The Journal interviewed Cynthia Yee, who runs a Chinatown walking-tour business in San Francisco. Yee told the paper she’d participated in at least 7 “deal of the day” promotions in the last 18 months; Groupon alone sold a whopping 1700 vouchers for Yee’s service. Yee estimates that the deals brought in $25,000, and her trade has exploded to the point where she’s had to hire two assistants.

But that was not how things went for Posies Cafe in Portland, Oregon. In a lengthy series this month on TechCrunch, entrepreneur Rocky Agrawal has used Jessie Burke’s nightmare experience to paint Groupon not only as an unscrupulous exploiter of small business, but as a company built on a house of cards. (A lengthy video interview with Burke is below, and you can also read her blog account.)

Jun 7, 2011

Must we always try to grow the economy?-Ledbetter

NEW YORK, June 7 (Reuters) – In one chapter of his sharp
new book “The Next Convergence,” the economist Michael Spence
asks a simple yet evocative question: Why do we want our
economy to grow?

Spoiler alert: He does find a few good reasons. It’s rare,
though, to hear an economist raise even theoretical doubt over
such a deeply ingrained assumption in Western economies; one
may as well ask why we want electricity.

Jun 7, 2011
via MacroScope

Must we always try to grow the economy?

In one chapter of his sharp new book The Next Convergence, the economist Michael Spence asks a simple yet evocative question: Why do we want our economy to grow?

Spoiler alert: He does find a few good reasons. It’s rare, though, to hear an economist raise even theoretical doubt over such a deeply ingrained assumption in Western economies; one may as well ask why we want electricity. In the United States, we hear that economic growth should trump nearly all other social and political considerations (a position held by some on the right), or that growth should be tempered by other important values—environmental protection, health and safety, wealth redistribution—which is widely believed on the left. But almost no one anywhere on the modern political spectrum argues that we should try not to grow the economy, or that never-ending growth is impossible.

May 23, 2011
via Berlin 1961

President Kennedy’s amateur hour

The Kremlin, Moscow

April 20, 1961

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev could hardly believe his good fortune.

He had known from his intelligence that Kennedy was planning some sort of Cuban operation aimed at unseating Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Yet never in his fondest dreams had he anticipated the incompetence of the botched Bay of Pigs invasion.

When it was all over, Castro had killed 114 of the CIA-backed exile force and had taken 1,189 prisoners.  He had gained his enemies’ surrender after three days of fighting.  Kennedy, by refusing the direct U.S. military involvement that might have ensured the action’s success, had avoided giving Khrushchev a pretext for a tit-for-tat response in the Berlin.

    • 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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