Opinion

The Great Debate

To help injured veterans, bring in private sector help

VA BACKLOG

In all the brouhaha about the Veterans Administration — the alleged misconduct and malpractice in Arizona, and the ensuing calls for the head of Secretary Eric Shinseki — it is crucial that the issue not be treated solely as a referendum on Shinseki, and on the Obama administration generally.

The VA system is far too reluctant to ask for help from the private sector in caring for the hundreds of thousands suffering from the signature injuries of 21st century war: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI).

This is ironic, since it has been increasingly successful in getting veterans themselves to seek help with these challenges — which used to be so stigmatized that they often preferred to hide or ignore them.

shinseki & reportersIt is true that the medical and therapeutic services of the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration have made many advances during these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The quality of prosthetic technology, for example, and associated rehabilitative programs have been greatly improved.

But the picture with mental healthcare in particular is not nearly so impressive. Here, the VA’s bureaucracy has dug in its heels against reform proposals to offer a combination of private and public healthcare.

Poland’s example may offer Ukraine a way out

FORMER POLISH PRESIDENT AND SOLIDARITY FOUNDING LEADER LECH WALESA SHOWS V-SIGN IN 1989.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991, Ukraine has tried — and repeatedly failed — to transform itself into a stable, prosperous democracy. The presidential elections on Sunday, May 25 offers another opportunity to make that happen, for Ukraine to come out from Russia’s shadow and the shadow of its own corrupt post-Soviet limping economy.

While understandably preoccupied with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s designs on the eastern part of their country, Ukraine’s new rulers should look to their western neighbor for lessons on how to succeed. On June 4, Poland will commemorate the 25th anniversary of its historic elections that swept out the Communist regime  and produced a government led by the opposition Solidarity movement. What happened next launched Poland on the path from poverty to prosperity, from dictatorship to democracy, and from the Warsaw Pact to full integration with the West, including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and EU membership.

If all that seems like an impossible dream for Ukraine today, it’s worth remembering that after Solidarity came to power in 1989, economic prosperity and Western integration looked just as improbable.

Secrecy’s out, so here’s what Swiss banks can still offer

brady555

If Swiss banks were to cast off their usual discretion and make a marketing pitch these days, it might start off something like this:

Dear Potential Client,

While we would be delighted to open an account and manage your money for you, once you’ve complied with our anti-money laundering provisions, please be advised that we will no longer be able to help you avoid taxes back home, and in fact may soon start providing account details to your national tax authorities. Moreover, if you are American, please stay away. We’ve been so beaten up by the Justice Department that we’d rather not take your money at all.

That may not sound like a compelling proposition, but it hasn’t scared off everyone — so far. In fact, according to the latest monthly statistics published by the Swiss National Bank, foreigners have been depositing a growing volume of assets into Swiss banks. The 45 billion Swiss Francs ($50 billion) invested in Swiss savings and deposit accounts at the end of March represent an almost 30 percent increase from a year ago.

Europe is under siege from both the left and right

eu combo

Elections will begin on Thursday across the 28 European Union member states to elect national representatives to the European Parliament, which regulates trade, borders and some elements of foreign policy. Though this is a continent-wide election, voters historically use it to send a message to their own nation’s governing party. With the meteoric rise of anti-European populism on the political left and right, however, things promise to buck that trend this time.

This was not how things were supposed to be. Five years ago, at a meeting of the European Union’s heads of state and government in Lisbon, Portugal, European leaders signed a treaty that foresaw these elections as defining the political direction of the European Union. This week’s elections are supposed to mark a turning point, as competing progressive, liberal, green and conservative visions of Europe’s future vied for popular support.

Instead, Europe is in a mess — and the future of the European Union seems in doubt.

from Breakingviews:

Russia puts gas-hungry China in a bear hug

By Ethan Bilby
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Russia has signed a long-awaited gas pipeline deal with China, and it leaves the People’s Republic in a bear hug. Russia gets a new market outside the increasingly frosty European Union. Oil major PetroChina gets to balance out some losses from low regulated prices at home. But the optics of the deal shred Beijing’s pretensions to political neutrality.

Russia could use a friend. EU countries have been planning to diversify supply away from dependence on Russia, which provides a third of their energy needs – especially after a dispute in 2009 saw gas cut off. Annexing Ukraine’s southern Crimea region has raised the temperature further. New pipelines from places like Azerbaijan are designed to limit Moscow’s leverage.

How far right can Republicans go?

U.S. Senate Republican Leader Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to supporters during a campaign stop at the Lexington Airport in Lexington, Kentucky

The line between the Republican establishment and the Tea Party has blurred.  That spells trouble for the GOP in the long run.  Possibly this year, more likely in 2016.

It might not look like it right now. The Republican establishment, which has been on the defensive since the Tea Party emerged in 2009, is on a roll. Establishment candidates have won contested primaries in North Carolina, Florida and now Kentucky and Georgia.  Republican voters seem to be turning away from the kinds of fringe candidates they went for in 2010 and 2012,  like Christine O’Donnell in Delaware (“I am not a witch”) and Todd Akin in Missouri (“legitimate rape”). Candidates like that cost Republicans their chance to take back control of the U.S. Senate.

So this year, the party stands a good chance of taking over the Senate and expanding its majority in the House of Representatives.  The Obama era is over!

from Breakingviews:

Rob Cox: ITT’s ghost hangs over Silicon Valley

By Rob Cox
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

The number of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley familiar with the work of Harold Geneen would hardly fill a 140-character tweet. After all, Geneen wasn’t a technologist, the inventor of a new computing language or the founder of a seminal startup. He was the original M&A machine – the man whose deal-making 50 years ago turned ITT into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate.

As tech giants like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Alibaba, Rakuten and Google mature and canvass the globe for businesses they can buy that are a few steps removed from their core activities, Geneen’s story is becoming more relevant. These titans of the internet age are embarking on diversification strategies not entirely dissimilar from those of Geneen’s ITT and its many followers, including LTV, Transamerica and Gulf+Western.

How Supreme Court rulings encourage racial discrimination

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Recent events have driven home two stark truths: racism continues to percolate throughout our society and conservative Supreme Court justices appear determined to prevent us from doing anything about it.

The odious racism of outlaw Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is painfully juxtaposed with the Supreme Court’s decision in Schuette v. BAMN, which reinforces the message that minority interests suffer in the hands of a majority of the court.

In giving Michigan’s white majority free rein to invalidate the use of lawful affirmative action by the state’s universities, the court continues its assault on remedies to redress the enduring effects of America’s racial caste system. This string of Roberts Court decisions threatens to undermine the foundation of anti-discrimination laws.

from Breakingviews:

Alibaba tries out role of the noble monopolist

By Ethan Bilby

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist.  The opinions expressed are his own.

Alibaba is trying out a new role: the noble monopolist. With an apparent 84 percent share of online consumer goods spending, it effectively owns the country’s Internet shoppers. Its payment affiliate is the biggest game in town. Both are attractions for its upcoming initial public offering. Alibaba’s long-term challenge is to keep showing that dominance helps the market rather than restricts it.

The company isn’t like China’s traditional monopolists. It comes from popularity rather than official handouts or restrictions – unlike, say, tobacco or salt, or the oligopolies that control telecoms and banking. Where “bad” monopolists promote inefficiency, Alibaba has done the opposite, connecting buyers and sellers who would never otherwise meet.

from Breakingviews:

AT&T puts shareholders on hold for DirecTV

By Jeffrey Goldfarb
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

AT&T is putting its shareholders on hold to buy DirecTV. Its $67 billion acquisition of the satellite TV operator announced on Sunday brings with it an unexpectedly robust $1.6 billion of cost savings. Even so, these don’t quite cover the cost of the premium. In any case, AT&T says it will use the money to roll out rural broadband service. Customers and regulators are getting the first call.

A little more than three years after AT&T launched an eventually torpedoed $39 billion bid for T-Mobile US, it has found another acquisition target big enough to match its ambitions. Instead of expanding in domestic cellular, though, the $190 billion company led by Randall Stephenson is aiming to marry video and broadband as the competitive landscape for television and internet service reshapes for the mobile and digital era.

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