Opinion

The Great Debate

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.

A more effective strategy is to engage with a company as shareholders — not to divest. The Rev. David Schilling is the program director of human rights for the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), a coalition of faith-based organizations that use their position as shareholders to convince companies to improve their environmental and social practices.

“There are others that will pick up the shares; that’s pretty clear,” Reverend Schilling told me. “Then you’re left with this other set of tactics, for sure,” such as lobbying policymakers to strengthen regulation. “But direct engagement is one that we have historically affirmed.”

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.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Why the Russian sanctions don’t work

putin!!

Why did the U.S. and European sanctions against Russia earlier this week trigger a rebound in the ruble and the Moscow stock market?

To understand this paradox it is worth recalling Yes Minister, the British TV comedy about a blundering politician who stumbles from crisis to crisis with the same justification for every panic response: “Something must be done. This is something --– therefore it must be done.”

The problem with this syllogism is that doing something may be worse than doing nothing -- and the Western decision to rely on economic sanctions in the Ukraine crisis is a case in point.

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