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Five Best Wednesday Columns

Holman W. Jenkins Jr. on Wal-Mart's bribes, John Dickerson on Marco Rubio, Maureen Dowd on John Edwards, Peter Orszag on 'taxmageddon,' and Dana Milbank on Romney's immigration policy.

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Holman W. Jenkins Jr. in The Wall Street Journal on Wal-Mart's Mexico scandal Last weekend, The New York Times published a lenghty expose on Wal-Mart's Mexico operation, where executives paid huge bribes to smooth their path as they made an enormously successful rise in the country. The case raises difficult questions for businesses operating in cultures with rampant corruption. "It's a world that economists, being economists, have investigated with theories and models exploring when and how corruption might be 'efficient,'" Jenkins writes. That "efficiency" Jenkins says, comes from the jobs Wal-Mart created and the corrupt businesses it disrupted. Bribery was an ambiguous price they paid for this efficiency, Jenkins says. "After heads have rolled, after careers have been ruined, will Wal-Mart shareholders be secretly thankful that Wal-Mart executives sacrificed themselves in order to secure a winning place in Mexico?  That's one of the interesting, unmentionable questions raised by this ambiguous and disturbing affair."

John Dickerson in Slate on avoiding Marco Rubio Florida Senator Marco Rubio is often suggested as Mitt Romney's vice presidential pick, but he'd be a bad one, Dickerson argues. "Romney’s key critique of President Obama is that he lacks [...] experience. In evaluating possible veeps, Romney has said, above all else, he wants to pick someone who can step into the job if necessary. That means Romney’s No. 2 must have the same kind of experience—or at least some of it." John McCain picked Sarah Palin although he campaigned on his own foreign policy experience and she had none. But Romney has less leeway to deviate from his message, given his history of shifting political views. "Romney has shown a laudable ability to ignore the day-to-day madness of the presidential cycle, keep his eye on what’s important. Romney may face his toughest test yet in avoiding the allure of Marco Rubio."

Maureen Dowd in The New York Times on the Edwards trial This week John Edwards stands trial for allegedly accepting illegal campaign contributions to pay off Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a child. Former aide Andrew Young is the prosecution's lead witness. "It's a trial without heroes, just liars and an abhorrent trio of selfish people trying to spin the story their own way," writes Dowd. She describes the events as they unraveled years ago when the affair first became public and wealthy donors arranged payments to keep Hunter quiet. The actual verdict will hinge on whether those payments violated campaign finance law. "Everyone's arguing whether Edwards is a swindler or merely a swine. He’s certainly the latter," she writes.

Peter Orszag in Bloomberg View on 'taxmageddon' At the beginning of 2013, both the Bush tax cuts and the payroll tax cut extension are set to expire, in an event Orszag calls "taxmageddon." "No one can yet see a plausible way through the coming storm. But even though they are not particularly inspiring, paths away from catastrophe do exist," he writes. He warns that allowing the tax cuts to expire could send us back into a recession, but with a lame duck Congress as the deadline nears, it's the likeliest outcome. Still, resetting the terms of debate could be good for Democrats, who can argue for tax cuts that are more progressive than Bush's, even while they negotiate another debt ceiling increase.  "The coming debate thus shows, once again, the benefit of a dual strategy in which we continue to provide stimulus to the economy in the short run but enact substantial deficit reduction that takes effect down the road."

Dana Milbank in The Washington Post on Romney's immigration problem With President Obama leading Mitt Romney among all-important Hispanic voters by a huge margin, the Republican candidate will have to "shake his Etch-a-Sketch" to shift focus from some of the more severe immigration stances he took during the primary, an effort that might prove difficult. "[H]e just can't shake away the image of Russell Pearce," Milbank writes. Pearce, the former Arizona Senator who sponsored Arizona's immigration law, has spoken highly of Romney's immigration policies. The focus is still on him as his law gets tried before the Supreme Court and lawyers argue that it encourages racial profiling. Pearce isn't advising the Romney campaign, but his presence makes it harder for them to move away from the immigration debate. Pearce "argued, correctly, that the law reflects 'by far the majority opinion of my party.' This is why Romney will have trouble making it disappear," Milbank writes.
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