Opinion

The Great Debate

Benghazi: The zombie scandal

Former U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton speaks to members of the World Affairs Council in Portland, Oregon

We’re not making scandals the way we used to.

The House of Representatives has now voted, virtually along party lines, to create the Benghazi Select Committee that conservatives have long called for. The atmosphere of scandal that has surrounded Bill and Hillary Clinton for decades has gotten, at least temporarily, a renewed lease on life.

Will the committee produce enough news to revive the idea of the Clintons’ dubious past and inject the poison of illegitimacy into Hillary Clinton’s much-speculated 2016 presidential campaign?

Not likely. Today’s political scandals seem unable to develop the momentum needed to exert real political influence. There’s sound and fury — adding up to an electoral and prosecutorial nothing.

But does this mean the newest Benghazi investigation will end the scandal, one way or another? That’s even less probable. It’s more likely that Benghazi will join the parade of zombie scandals that hover between life and death for what seems an eternity.

boehnerFor months House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) resisted conservative calls to appoint a select committee. Then the conservative monitoring group Judicial Watch got hold of an email showing that a White House official had told then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, before she appeared on the Sunday talk shows to discuss the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Libya, to portray it as “rooted in an Internet video, and not a broader failure of policy.”

To fight global warming, Stanford should have kept its coal

 coal88

On Tuesday, Stanford University announced that its endowment will not make direct investments in coal companies. Anti-fossil fuel campaigners declared victory.

But is divestment the right move if the goal is to compel companies to alter what they do? Divestment campaigns are great for raising awareness and sparking debate — but not for getting companies to change their practices.

In 2002, the Canadian company Talisman Energy divested from an oil project in Sudan under pressure from campaigners concerned about foreign investment propping up a repressive regime. ONGC, India’s state oil and gas company, bought Talisman’s stake in the project, stopped all communications with stakeholders interested in monitoring the situation there, and ended the community investment programs that Talisman had set up. Some activists cheered Talisman’s departure, but oil production increased — which was probably not the original vision of those calling for divestment.

from Jack Shafer:

Heaven forbid journalists ask questions!

 newsconference

Cass R. Sunstein emptied his digestive system of a steaming wad of press rancor Wednesday in his Bloomberg View column titled "Why Officials Don't Tell the Media Everything." Sunstein -- a legal scholar who served as the Obama administration's regulatory czar for three years and more recently sat on the panel that reviewed U.S. surveillance programs -- phrases in his usual genial but condescending fashion his objections to journalism as practiced in Washington.

First, Sunstein chides reporters who are "disturbed" by government officials who stiff-arm them. Then he complains (from his own personal experience) about the four common requests journalists make of government officials. They ask 1) for information about policy decisions before they're finalized or announced; 2) about internal conversations, including high-level conflicts; 3) to "say something spicy about the president"; and 4) to respond to recent allegations to help journalists determine who is right or telling the truth.

Oh, the effrontery, the chutzpah, the nerve of reporters who ask government officials pesky, premature questions to obtain news! But that's not how Sunstein sees it, explaining that 1) it is generally not the place of an official to "make the announcement ahead of time"; 2) confidential remarks should remain confidential; 3) sharing sauciness is disloyal; and 4) if nobody in government is wrong or lying, a response will only garner the allegation more attention.

Why India has less inequality than U.S.

Voters line up to cast their votes outside a polling station at Wadipora in Kupwara district

The outcome of India’s general election may have dramatic consequences for the nation’s economic health.

India now has more equal wealth distribution than the United States. Steven Rattner, a Wall Street financier and former Obama administration economic adviser, recently announced this on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, while discussing Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century.

It sounded unlikely, but Rattner’s charts and statistics showed that India is indeed a more equal society. The top 1 percent of Americans earn more income and hold more wealth, compared to the nation’s poorer citizens, than their Indian counterparts.

Bring GOP convention back to Kansas City — and Reagan

ford -- crunched

The Republican Party is now going though its quadrennial debate to select a city for its presidential nominating convention. The finalists are likely to be named next week. The site selection committee has reportedly narrowed the choices to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dallas, Las Vegas and Kansas City.

This decision is important because it helps set the theme and encapsulate the philosophy that the party wants to communicate to voters across the nation. Stagecraft often becomes statecraft.

As a longtime foot soldier for the GOP’s conservative movement, I have visited all these cities. Each has a case to be made, but none possesses the symbolism or history of Kansas City. (Besides being the best place in the country to get a good steak.)

For a new GM culture, pinpoint responsibility

GM Chief Executive Officer Barra testifies during a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington

For more than 10 years, scores of General Motors engineers, inspectors and other employees engaged in a deadly cover-up over an easily fixable ignition-switch defect. An estimated 13 to 300 people lost their lives when their car suddenly shut off, disabling  their power brakes and airbags.

GM discovered the problem in 2001 with its Saturn ION, according to documents the company belatedly sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Though the defect was evident in other models, GM did not notify the federal safety agency until 2006. The company then sent its dealers a service bulletin to look out for but not recall the cars.

GM finally declared a recall this February. It was just days before the new chief executive, Mary Barra, says she was told about the millions of cars containing the faulty switch.

from Breakingviews:

Rob Cox: Solving America’s homegrown Putin dilemma

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

As the eagle flies, it's a long way from Bunkerville, Nevada to Slovyansk, Ukraine. Right now, though, the two places have something insidious in common: armed vigilantism. That parallel sadly seems to escape the many American policymakers who have accused President Barack Obama of adopting the logic of appeasement in his dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. They're missing a big point. If the United States can't uphold the rule of law at home, it can have no credibility abroad.

Over the weekend, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham joined the chorus of Republicans branding Obama the new Neville Chamberlain. He told CBS's "Face the Nation" that the president is "delusional" and his latest economic sanctions "should have been called the Russian economic recovery act" for helping bolster the Russian stock market and rouble last week.

Elites focus on inequality; real people just want growth

kochs & warrenThe economic debate is now sharply focused on the issue of income inequality. That may not be the debate Democrats want to have, however. It’s negative and divisive. Democrats would be better off talking about growth — a hopeful and unifying agenda.

Democrats believe income inequality is a populist cause. But it may be less of a populist issue than an issue promoted by the cultural elite: well-educated professionals who are economically comfortable but not rich. There’s new evidence that ordinary voters care more about growth.

Growth and inequality are not separate issues. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph E. Stiglitz wrote, “Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena when they are in fact intertwined.  Inequality restrains and holds back our economic growth

Theodore Roosevelt on net neutrality

tr & crowd

“Above all else,” President Theodore Roosevelt admonished Congress in 1905, “we must strive to keep the highways of commerce open to all on equal terms.”

Roosevelt could not have imagined digital computers and fiber-optic cables. He was talking about railroads, the highways of commerce in his day.

But though the technology has changed, the principle TR expressed remains as essential as it was a century ago. We ignore it at our peril.

Boehner: The fight to hold the party line

U.S. House Speaker Boehner holds a news conference at the Republican National Committee offices in Washington

In his latest attempt to impose discipline on his famously disorderly Republican caucus, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) chose the soft power of public mockery over the more militant promise of private retribution. Speaking at an event in his home state, Boehner lashed out at fellow Republicans who have stymied immigration reform. “Here’s the attitude,” Boehner said of his recalcitrant colleagues. ‘Oooh, don’t make me do this. Oooh, this is too hard.’ ”

He spoke not in his usual solemn tones but with a high, child-like pitch, suggesting that his tormentors were in need of adult supervision.

Back to Baker

Boehner is hardly the first legislative leader to reach that conclusion. Howard Baker, the Tennessee Republican who served as Senate majority leader in the early 1980s, famously said that rounding up votes was like “herding kittens.” But during Boehner’s three-plus years as speaker, he has been notably unable to prod his colleagues in a productive direction. Earlier this year, Boehner was forced to withdraw his own debt-ceiling bill after realizing that, despite being speaker of the House of Representatives and commander in chief of his fellow House Republicans,  he didn’t have enough GOP votes.

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