Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

The Russian sanctions information gap

Steven Brill
Jul 29, 2014 05:00 UTC

Emergencies Ministry member walks at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region

There are so many gaps in the reporting about the effort to use economic sanctions against Russia to get President Vladimir Putin to pull back support for the Ukraine separatists that it makes sense to devote my whole column this week to listing them.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to identify the gaps than to do the reporting to fill them. Still, many are so obvious that it suggests that for all the resources spent on getting great video of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site, interviews with the victims’ families and reports from the war front in eastern Ukraine — all important stories — there is more heat than light being produced when it comes to the most critical, long-term question related to the Ukrainian conflict: If economic sanctions are the global economy’s modern substitute for using military force in repelling aggression, how is that playing out in the first test of that strategy against a global economic player like Russia?

The Dutch:

For starters, we need to see some reporting from the Netherlands, a country that, as we have been repeatedly reminded, lost a higher proportion of its population in the missile attack on the Malaysian airliner that left from the country’s flagship airport than America lost in the September 11 attacks.

The Shell logo is seen on a pump at a Shell petrol station in LondonWhy haven’t the Dutch simply shut down all business with Russia? Why are there still nonstop flights between Moscow and Amsterdam such as this one, every day?

I’ve read references  to the fact that the Netherland’s largest company — oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, a Dutch-British corporation — has multibillion-dollar assets and operations in Russia that could be threatened by sanctions. But that’s not enough.

The facts on Iron Dome, suing over Flight 17 and reviving the VA

Steven Brill
Jul 22, 2014 05:00 UTC

An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod

1. Figuring out the Iron Dome:

As I kept reading and seeing television reports last week about how the Iron Dome missile defense system was doing such a good job protecting Israel from Hamas’ rockets, this intriguing story by the highly regarded veteran journalist James Fallows appeared on the Atlantic website.

Fallows points to other reports suggesting that the system’s success might have been greatly exaggerated and, in fact, that in the midst of war, reporters – he singles out this Washington Post story — often get seduced by military officials and weapons makers into overstating how effective some new piece of weaponry has been.

So, there is obviously a lot more work to be done here figuring out just how good the Iron Dome really is.

Streamlining the Postal Service, when a merger fails and ‘Who lost Ukraine?’

Steven Brill
May 13, 2014 05:00 UTC

U.S. postal service trucks sit parked at the post office in Del Mar, California

This piece has been updated with a postscript at the end.

1. Postal Service blues:

Last week’s report that the U.S. Postal Service lost another $1.9 billion in the last financial quarter made me yearn for a story detailing the cost constraints afflicting this largest and most hidebound of government services. Everything from union restrictions, to legacy pension obligations, to congressional pressure that keeps even the smallest rural post office not only open but open on Saturdays, to lobbyist strong-arming that keeps the service from using its 32,000 retail footprints to offer other services.

Here’s the way for a reporter to write this: Completely reimagine the Postal Service by supposing it was sold to a private company. In fact, suppose the uber-opposite of a government agency — Amazon — bought it.

What would the real estate be worth if a more efficient company, freed from congressional oversight, bought the agency and slimmed down its holdings, cashing in on some of the premium properties scattered through every town, while using those that remain to offer all kinds of additional retail services?

The mysterious allure of cruises, Al Sharpton conflict check, and doing the math on Ukraine bailouts

Steven Brill
Mar 11, 2014 15:00 UTC

1. Why do people take cruises?

A few weeks ago, USA Today reported that “More than 160 of 3,104 passengers on Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess “had fallen ill with a gastrointestinal illness that the cruise line suspected was norovirus — a highly contagious infection that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea.”

That incident, USA Today noted, came “just days after a massive outbreak of a norovirus-like illness forced an early end to a sailing of Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.”

Yet a January 25 Associated Press story reported that the leading cruise lines trade association expects that 21.7 million people will take cruises in 2014, up from 21.3 million in 2013.

Ambassadors astray, the Federal Reserve Board’s minutes, and conflict recusals in the Valley

Steven Brill
Mar 4, 2014 06:55 UTC

 

1. Ambassadors without portfolios?

What happens when you’re an ambassador whose government has been overthrown?

With the Ukrainian government being deposed last week, I’m wondering about the fate of the country’s envoys and their families. As key appointees of President — now fugitive — Viktor Yanukovich, have they been replaced and evicted from their embassies in Washington, New York (the United Nations ambassador), London or Paris? Or are they all professional foreign service officers, able to roll with the punches?

Who at the new regime in Kiev would assert to whom in the host country that the incumbent ambassador no longer represents Ukraine and should be evicted from the embassy, if that is to be their fate? Where would they and their families go? What about the staffs and their families?

In the particular case of Ukraine, is the fate of its ambassador in Moscow different from that of his colleague in Washington because Russia still supports Yanukovich?

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