Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

How much money is raised and spent in fighting cancer?

Steven Brill
Sep 9, 2014 05:15 UTC

Actress Paltrow is interviewed as she arrives for the fourth biennial Stand Up To Cancer fundraising telecast in Hollywood

1. Cancer money:

The Stand Up to Cancer telethon — simulcast Friday night on all four major broadcast networks and 28 cable channels, and live-streamed on Yahoo and Hulu (available on YouTube here) — reminded me of a story I have long wanted to read: How much money is being spent on cancer research, where is it going and how well is it being spent?

This story, from the CBS Los Angeles affiliate, reports, “Stand Up to Cancer was established in 2008 by film and media leaders as a new collaborative model of cancer research.

“More than $261 million has been pledged to support its programs,” the report continued, adding that the organization “has funded 12 teams of researchers, two transnational research teams and 26 young scientists.”

A story from the Associated Press reported that organizers said $109 million was raised from Friday’s event.

Former basketball player Abdul-Jabbar poses with actress Steinfeld and television journalist Couric at the fourth biennial Stand Up To Cancer fundraising telecast in HollywoodLast weekend was also the Race for the Cure, run through New York’s Central Park, organized by the nonprofit foundation, Susan G. Komen. The group’s website says it spent $58 million in fiscal year 2012 on grants for breast cancer research. Numerous other nonprofits — such as the Lustgarten Foundation, which funded $13 million in pancreatic cancer research in 2013 — similarly target different cancers.

The cost of unlawful convictions, cable news’ sharp focus and reporting on kidnapped journalists

Steven Brill
Aug 26, 2014 05:00 UTC

Demonstrators shout slogans as they march towards the Ferguson Police Department to protest the killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri

1. Becoming a millionaire the hard way:

Last week, the New York Times published this article about a man receiving a $10 million settlement from New York City after Brooklyn prosecutors’ misconduct resulted in his spending 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

This is the latest in a series of recent payments that New York has made to settle similar claims, including those of the five men exonerated following their wrongful convictions in the infamous 1989 Central Park jogger rape case.

I’m curious about what happens to these newly minted millionaires. For starters, how much money do they actually get after their lawyers deduct fees and expenses?

What’s the real story behind the Rick Perry ‘case?’

Steven Brill
Aug 17, 2014 14:34 UTC

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By now there should have been a pile on of stories shedding light on just how ridiculous the indictment of Texas governor Rick Perry is. Perry was indicted last Friday by a grand jury in Travis County, Texas, which includes the state capital of Austin. His alleged crime: “abuse of power” – for threatening to veto a provision in a pending state law that would fund a corruption unit in the office of the Travis Country prosecutor unless the prosecutor herself resigned.

Let’s stipulate that Perry didn’t like the idea of District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, investigating public corruption in Austin, which, of course, meant she could focus on the governor’s office.

Let’s also stipulate that when Lehmberg was arrested in a highly-publicized drunk driving case (police videos showed her stumbling around and belligerently reminding the cops who she was), Perry saw it as an opportunity. He was able to say that unless Lehmberg resigned he was going to veto the bill, which he ultimately did, because he didn’t want to fund “an office…at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”

The price of life and George W. Bush post-White House

Steven Brill
Aug 12, 2014 05:00 UTC

A spectator smokes a cigarette as she waits for the start of the Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai

1. How government accountants value life:

Last week, the New York Times reported: “Buried deep in the federal government’s voluminous new tobacco regulations is a little-known cost-benefit calculation that public health experts see as potentially poisonous: the happiness quotient. It assumes that the benefits from reducing smoking — fewer early deaths and diseases of the lungs and heart — have to be discounted by 70 percent to offset the loss in pleasure that smokers suffer when they give up their habit.”

I hope editors at the New Yorker or Sixty Minutes noticed.

Did you know that a federal agency — the Office of Management and Budget, which did the cost-benefit analysis described by the Times — actually employs people who calculate how many lives will be saved by government regulations; then calculates the dollar value of the lives saved, and then weighs that value against the “cost” of the regulation?  Apparently in this case, part of the cost to be calculated was the cost of the lost pleasure from quitting smoking.

According to this report to Congress, OMB must make a cost-benefit analysis for every rule where the projected cost of compliance is more than $100 million. The agency with the most rules falling into that category has been the Environmental Protection Agency, and OMB has consistently found that the value of the lives saved exceeds the cost of compliance.

What we don’t know about Qatar and what we don’t know about key Senate races

Steven Brill
Aug 5, 2014 05:00 UTC

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry walks with Qatari Crown Prince Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Doha

1. Inside Qatar:  the terrorists’ benefactor and America’s friend

As the war in Gaza continues, we keep hearing that one pipeline for negotiations with Hamas goes through Qatar, the tiny, oil-rich kingdom in the Gulf that has friendly relations with Hamas. In fact, Qatar hosts the leaders of Hamas and provides financial support.

According to the online Times of Israel, “Qatar continues to fund the movement’s terror apparatus abroad, enabling tunnel digging and rocket launching.”

The United States, like Israel, has branded Hamas a terrorist group and, over the weekend, stepped up its criticism of the Qataris’ support of Hamas. Yet Washington maintains friendly relations with Qatar. The bond is so tight that the largest U.S. military base in the region is there.

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 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.

Google’s lost links, U.S. border crossing guards and when a Tea Party loss is a win

Steven Brill
Jul 15, 2014 05:00 UTC

A Google search page is seen through a magnifying glass in this photo illustration taken in Brussels

1. Google’s dilemma:

Writing in the Guardian last week, Google general counsel David Drummond described the trouble the European unit of his company is having trying to implement a European Union court’s decision that the search giant must eliminate links to certain web articles or postings about people that these people claim are unduly embarrassing.

The European court’s “right to be forgotten decision,” Drummond wrote, “found that people have the right to ask for information to be removed from search results that include their names if it is ‘inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant, or excessive.’ In deciding what to remove, search engines must also have regard to the public interest.

David Drummond, senior vice president of Google, attends the eG8 forum in Paris“These are, of course, very vague and subjective tests,” Drummond concluded.

How much is contraception coverage and costly violations for BNP Paribas

Steven Brill
Jul 8, 2014 05:00 UTC

justices

1. Does health insurance covering contraception actually cost anything?

In this article about a renewed fight at the U.S. Supreme Court just days after its decision about whether the owners of the Hobby Lobby retail chain had to buy insurance covering certain forms of contraception, the New York Times’ ace court reporter Adam Liptak wrote:

The majority opinion there, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., seemed to suggest that the forms could play a role in an arrangement that was an acceptable alternative to having employers pay for the coverage. Under the arrangement, insurance companies that receive the forms pay for the coverage on the theory that it costs no more to provide contraception than to pay for pregnancies.

Read the sentence I put in italics.

Obamacare was only passed after President Barack Obama and the bill’s lead sponsors in the House of Representatives and Senate agreed to a compromise to assuage religious groups opposed to contraception.

A Clinton alternative, more ABC legal woes and where’s A-Rod?

Steven Brill
Jun 24, 2014 05:00 UTC

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in "A Conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton" in Manhattan, New York1. The Hillary alternatives:

Can it really be such a certainty that Hillary Clinton is going to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016 that the media is taking the right approach in essentially ignoring other possible Democratic candidates?

In any other situation we would be seeing profiles of a half dozen or more alternatives. But not now. Yet there has to be some possibility that the former secretary of state will opt not to run and some possibility that, for a variety of reasons, she will not win the primary contest.

One reason Clinton might not be inevitable is that inevitable often doesn’t sell well. Besides, someone could emerge who Democratic primary voters decide is a better, fresher face. Which is why we should start seeing stories about those alternatives.

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