Opinion

The Great Debate

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.

In Schuette, the court upheld a Michigan referendum that changed the state constitution to bar consideration of race in decision-making, including admission to state colleges and universities. White voters voted overwhelmingly to deprive minorities of a benefit that was lawful and that the state’s universities wished to continue. Minority voters overwhelmingly opposed it. Yet their strong opposition did not matter because the referendum process is designed to trample minority interests.

scotus -- perspectiveThe decision’s most revealing aspect, however, was the spat between Justice Sonia Sotomayor and a thin-skinned Chief Justice John Roberts. Sotomayor wrote a long, biting dissent in which she took on the chief justice’s inane comment in his 2007 decision invalidating voluntary efforts to desegregate schools. “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race,” Roberts opined, “is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

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.

from Breakingviews:

Europe slides towards the next Minsky Moment

By Neil Unmack

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

There’s little doubt that markets think the euro crisis is over. Bond yields have fallen below pre-crisis levels for most of the countries formerly known as peripherals; the grab for southern European assets is a crowded trade. Could this be the prelude to the next Minsky moment?

The last crisis fit perfectly the pattern described by the American economist Hyman Minsky. Investors’ exaggerated belief in stability leads them to price assets for perfection - for example no defaults by euro zone sovereigns. Then some imperfection arrives - a serious possibility of default - and there is a violent outbreak of instability - the euro crisis.

The best role for Kiev provisional government? Exiting.

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Successful provisional governments are quickly forgotten. Failed provisional governments, like the one during the 1917 Russian revolution, can be remembered forever.

Ukraine’s current provisional government already has, in many ways, outstayed its welcome. If the May 25 presidential election produces a definitive result, however, it still has a chance of quietly leaving the stage.

Provisional governments have one essential task: restore legitimate rule. In virtually all cases, it is a race against time. Indeed, the designation “provisional” carries a lame-duck status, since it conveys a sense of temporariness that undermines the stability of a regime.

Why is the West betting against climate change?

The Las Pulgas Fire is seen burning near military structures at Camp Pendleton, California

With wildfires ravaging San Diego County, this year’s fire season is getting off to an early — and destructive — start.

A hotter and drier Southwest may result in the loss of the lion’s share of its forests to fire before this century is done, if extraordinary measures to protect them aren’t soon undertaken. Instead of extraordinary measures, however, Washington has made only token efforts to address this looming crisis.

That danger is already here for much of the West. Drought in Southern California and Texas, and near-drought elsewhere, means that forests are tinder-dry and expected to get even drier during summer. Which is scary — considering so many Americans now live or spend their summers in the “wildland urban interface,” the wooded areas in the West where fire danger is the greatest.

from Breakingviews:

Review: Brazil’s toughest tests lie off the pitch

By Dominic Elliott 

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

Michael Reid’s astute new book has a stark warning: the country of samba, sex and soccer is teetering on a knife-edge. “Brazil: The Troubled Rise of a Global Power” explains why protests against this year’s World Cup are turning increasingly violent. Reid, a journalist for The Economist, persuasively urges a return to the broad liberal consensus that served Brazil so well between 1994 and 2006.

Brazil taxes and spends like a European country and shares other bad habits with the West. Yet it produces “distinctly Latin American” results, says Reid. GDP per person is still a disappointing $12,000, about two-thirds of the level of Argentina, and it remains the world’s twelfth most unequal country. The masses understandably want more opportunity, as well as better hospitals, schools and public transport.

Fires in Vietnam could ultimately burn Beijing

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The spilling of blood and burning of factories by anti-Chinese rioters sweeping across Vietnam reinforces Beijing’s message to other countries claiming territory in the South China Sea: resistance is costly and ultimately futile.

But a region in which anti-Chinese sentiment grows and where sovereignty disputes disrupt trade and economic growth will burn Beijing as well. Over the long term, a commitment to peaceful dispute resolution in accordance with international law, including some concessions on historic claims, would serve China better than its current path.

China made the provocative first move in this latest incident by deploying a massive oil rig to the contested Paracel Islands. There was no doubt that Vietnam would respond, and China prepared by sending an armada of 80 ships — including seven naval vessels along with the rig. The two countries’ maritime forces are now locked in a standoff with aggressive and dangerous maneuvers, water canons and collisions at sea.

from Breakingviews:

Modi’s big win gives India way out of policy limbo

By Andy Mukherjee 

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

Indian voters have just handed Narendra Modi their most decisive mandate in 30 years. The opposition politician’s landslide win ends a tortuous era of coalition politics that has stymied policymaking. It also offers India a way out of its current limbo.

Though all the votes have not yet been counted, Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party is on track to capture a few more seats than the 272 it needs for a simple majority in the lower house of parliament. No single party has managed to do that since 1984, when Rajiv Gandhi won a landslide victory following his mother Indira’s assassination. The BJP-led coalition’s tally will likely cross 325.

To police Wall Street, go after the little guys

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On Friday U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan will sentence former SAC Capital Advisors hedge fund manager Michael Steinberg for his conviction in December on five counts related to insider trading. Steinberg is one of two former SAC employees whom federal prosecutors believe have firsthand knowledge of insider trading by SAC’s founder, Steven Cohen. Cohen has not been charged with any crime. Though Steinberg will likely receive a lengthy prison term, neither he nor Mathew Martoma, an SAC colleague convicted in January, is — at least publicly — cooperating with the government.

Prosecutors have been targeting Cohen in their sweeping crackdown on insider trading. Yet as a deterrent against future crimes, Steinberg’s conviction — like scores of others in the past several years — is even more valuable. Conventional wisdom holds that landing the big fish in high-profile white collar cases is the best deterrent against other people breaking the same laws. Yet for would-be criminals, the arrest of a colleague or a peer at another fund has a more personal, harrowing effect than the takedown of a less-relatable outlier like Cohen.

This generation’s insider trading crackdown is different from the one in the 1980s, when prosecutors punished big names like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken — and in doing so, sent a message. While a handful of crooked investment bankers helped bring down Boesky and Milken — though Milken for crimes other than insider trading — those investigations didn’t expand like they have today.

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