US press: pick of the papers

The ten must-read opinion pieces from today's US papers.

1. Pink slime economics (New York Times)

On Thursday Republicans in the House of Representatives passed what was surely the most fraudulent budget in American history, writes Paul Krugman.

2. Energy "independence," after all? (Washington Post)

Getting to Nixon's no net imports is not necessary if most imports come from Canada and other friendly countries. The true foolishness of Obama's rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline was to encourage Canada to look elsewhere to sell its surplus oil, says Robert Samuelson.

3. Can Richie Rich get to the White House? (Politico)

David Stewart says the rich are supposed to have the same chance of entering heaven as a camel has of passing through the eye of a needle. He asks: How do the odds work when it comes to entering the White House?

4. Maikel Nabil Sanad draws back the curtain on Egypt's military (Washington Post)

U.S. aid -- especially when granted unconditionally -- simply reinforces the military's position and encourages the persecution of genuine pro-American liberals, writes Jackson Diehl.

5. The politics of going to college (New York Times)

Romney's refusal to promise that he will "give you government money to pay for your college" is a risky approach to courting ambitious lower income voters. Democrats see Romney setting a trap for himself and have already begun to lay the general election groundwork, says Thomas Edsall.

6. Supreme Court should support health care act (SF Gate)

The idea of roping in everyone to pay the health care bills is the center point of the law... It's not a single-payer, government-run system, instead obliging everyone to find coverage, says this editorial.

7. My plan offers a better way than ObamaRomneyCare (USA Today)

Rick Santorum says Republicans need a nominee with the credibility to take on President Obama on an issue vital to voters, and a president who will repeal ObamaCare.

8. An exciting VP? Don't go for it, Mitt (Boston Globe) (£)

For all of the discussion about playing to key states, adding foreign policy experience, or balancing a ticket's ideology, the stark truth is that none of it really matters. In the end, there is only one imperative: don't blow it, says this editorial.

9. Obama's flexibility doctrine revealed (Chicago Tribune)

You don't often hear an American president secretly (he thinks) assuring foreign leaders that concessions are coming their way, but they must wait because he's seeking re-election and he dare not tell his own people, writes Charles Krauthammer.

10. The right budget? GOP wants to kill the "New Deal" (Philadelphia Inquirer)

FDR gave Americans a much better deal. Let's not ditch it now, says this editorial.

The United States Capitol on 19 March, 2012. Credit: Getty Images
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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.