Opinion

The Great Debate

Eurovision’s Conchita brings out Russia’s worst and Europe’s best

The most complicated thing said over this past weekend by a public figure came from the perfectly rouged lips of the winner of the Eurovision song contest, Conchita Wurst. “I really dream,” she said, “of a world where we don’t have to talk of unnecessary things like sexuality.”

That’s silly on two levels and deeply idealistic on a third.

It’s silly, first and most evidently, because sexuality won’t be unnecessary for a long while, and may last as long as this world does.

It’s silly, second and most personally, because Wurst (her second, adopted name means “sausage” but apparently is also Austrian German slang for “whatever…”) had just won the first prize in the world’s wackiest tournament ­– the Eurovision Song Contest held this year in the Danish capital Copenhagen. She was dressed in the slinkiest of gowns hugging a perfectly sexy figure, the perfectly rouged lips set off by a perfectly trimmed black beard. ‘Unnecessary’ had nothing to do with it.

The statement is deeply idealistic because what she was saying was: it’s time we stopped thinking that it’s necessary to make a fuss about a man who’s become a woman and grown a beard. I have my thing and you have yours and if we don’t hurt each other, who is to say who’s better? It’s like … whatever.

Conchita, born Thomas Neuwirth in a small Austrian town is a kind of mascot for the European Union, which takes pride in being neither one thing nor the other – it passes laws, but is most definitely not a single state.

Fed tightening will help stem inequality

The Federal Reserve Building is reflected on a car in Washington September 16, 2008. REUTERS/Jim Young

Just as quantitative easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve has inadvertently increased the country’s wealth gap, so should tapering limit its rise.

Under the central bank’s program of pumping money into the economy, purchases of financial assets have enriched the 10 percent of Americans who hold four-fifths of the country’s stocks and bonds. With the Fed’s liquidity being withdrawn, the whole effect should be more muted. And absent such underpinning for equities, corporate executives will be much more likely to invest to improve returns. This should involve more hiring and a better outlook for those outside the top decile.

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.

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

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