Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

A follow-up on Dasani, fitting Credit Suisse punishments, when Hollywood meets Beijing

Steven Brill
May 28, 2014 05:00 UTC

credit suisse

1. What happened to Dasani?

Remember Dasani Coates?

She’s the homeless Brooklyn girl whose plight the New York Times’ Andrea Elliott chronicled in a moving series of Times features last December. The last we heard about Dasani in the Times was this February 21 follow-up by Elliott and Rebecca R. Ruiz. They reported that New York City officials had decided to move 400 families, including Dasani’s, out of the squalid shelter where she had been living and into rent-supported apartments.

What’s happened since? One would think that with all the attention Dasani received — much of it focused on how intelligent, articulate and determined she was in the face of unspeakable adversity — that she might have been recruited by now into a prestige private school or otherwise showered with attention and even donations that would have dramatically improved her circumstances.

Is that true? What about her parents and siblings? And what about the trust fund established for the family following Elliott’s series?

2, Credit Suisse and corporate guilty pleas:

I’ve never been able to understand how corporations can be convicted or allowed to plead guilty to a crime. Corporations don’t do good things or bad things. People, including people running corporations, do.

credit suisse -- ceoAnd the fundamental purposes of a criminal justice system are deterrence and punishment. Only people, not corporate seals or buildings, can be deterred. And the only people punished when a corporation is fined are the shareholders — who presumably had nothing to do with the crime

How to answer the Jill Abramson equal pay question

Steven Brill
May 16, 2014 18:57 UTC

abramson

With the firing of New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson last week, a dispute broke out over whether her ouster by publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. had anything to do with a complaint she reportedly made to Times executives that she had not been paid the same as Bill Keller, the man she succeeded.

Disclosure: Abramson is a good friend, so I have a favorite in this dispute. But I do know a way to figure it out objectively — with some simple reporting by a competent business reporter. The result would be a story that I’m sure many people would like to see.

The New Yorker’s longtime media writer Ken Auletta reported in two web dispatches (here and here) this week that, shortly before her firing, Abramson had complained to Times executives — and even hired a lawyer to discuss the complaint for her – about her compensation. She reportedly discovered that her salary in 2013 (and through this year) was significantly less than Keller made during his last year on the job in 2010 — $503,000 for Abramson in 2013/2014 and $559,000 for Keller in 2010.

Streamlining the Postal Service, when a merger fails and ‘Who lost Ukraine?’

Steven Brill
May 13, 2014 05:00 UTC

U.S. postal service trucks sit parked at the post office in Del Mar, California

This piece has been updated with a postscript at the end.

1. Postal Service blues:

Last week’s report that the U.S. Postal Service lost another $1.9 billion in the last financial quarter made me yearn for a story detailing the cost constraints afflicting this largest and most hidebound of government services. Everything from union restrictions, to legacy pension obligations, to congressional pressure that keeps even the smallest rural post office not only open but open on Saturdays, to lobbyist strong-arming that keeps the service from using its 32,000 retail footprints to offer other services.

Here’s the way for a reporter to write this: Completely reimagine the Postal Service by supposing it was sold to a private company. In fact, suppose the uber-opposite of a government agency — Amazon — bought it.

What would the real estate be worth if a more efficient company, freed from congressional oversight, bought the agency and slimmed down its holdings, cashing in on some of the premium properties scattered through every town, while using those that remain to offer all kinds of additional retail services?

Value of big data, news on Newsweek, White House Correspondents Dinner’s costs

Steven Brill
May 6, 2014 12:46 UTC

U.S. President Barack Obama is shown on a screen as he speaks during the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner

1. What’s the real value of big data?:

The Obama administration’s report last week on the need to consider restricting how Google, Facebook and other Internet powerhouses collect and use big data reminds me of a story I’ve been hoping to see for a while: How much does this collecting and slicing and dicing of big data actually help advertisers and marketers?

I get the idea that a woman who lives in New Jersey and has accessed information online about baby carriages makes a great target for advertisers selling other baby or maternity products. But do marketers really benefit from data that they buy that goes way beyond that — that zeroes in on what other websites she has been to, where she buys what online, where a location service says she has physically been lately or whether her Gmails refer to different products or subjects?

Two years ago, I was in an audience of media and marketing people mesmerized by a presentation from a Yahoo data expert who promised that his firm could target, to take one example, “men who had shopped online for a BMW and also been to a New York Giants football game in the last year.”

Regrouping for Detroit, GM’s bankruptcy evasion and Chinese corporate records

Steven Brill
Apr 29, 2014 05:00 UTC

1. Kevyn Orr and a Detroit rebound?

Last Friday, I happened onto a C-Span broadcast of a speech to a national group of bankruptcy lawyers given by Kevyn Orr — the emergency manager who Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appointed to take over Detroit’s finances and guide the fallen city through bankruptcy. Since I couldn’t stand watching the Yankees get slaughtered by the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, I stopped on the Orr speech for a minute. I stayed 45.

I had never seen Orr speak or paid much attention to Detroit’s troubles and his efforts to dig the city out from under. But if his talk — riveting, funny, emotional, self-effacing, forceful, fact-filled, wholly convincing and seemingly off the cuff — is any indication, both Orr and Detroit 2014 are big national stories.

They are worthy of coverage beyond the good work that’s been done by, among other local outlets, the Detroit Free Press, which ran this comprehensive story  last month, on the one-year anniversary of Orr leaving a lucrative partnership at the Jones, Day law firm to take on the rescue job.

Obama’s unaccountable briefers, pipeline bribery, and economic woes at Yankee Stadium

Steven Brill
Apr 22, 2014 14:38 UTC

 

1. Obama’s unaccountable briefers:

Here’s a key paragraph in Saturday’s New York Times report explaining the Obama administration’s decision to delay yet again a decision on the Keystone pipeline:

’The Nebraska Supreme Court decision could lead to changes in the pipeline route, and it’s important to have that information and better understand that route, because it could have implications for environmental, socioeconomic and cultural impacts of the pipeline,’ a State Department official said Friday in a conference call with reporters that was conducted on the condition that the official not be named.

Why did this official have to remain anonymous? Was he or she providing a national security leak? Was he or she blowing the whistle on some government wrongdoing?

Sealing deadly court files, and Obama and his Cabinet

Steven Brill
Apr 15, 2014 04:44 UTC

1. Sealing deadly court files:

In the wake of continuing disclosures about General Motors’ failure to acknowledge critical safety issues related to faulty ignition switches, there’s a looming issue that has not been addressed: How litigation settlements negotiated by private parties can result in court-sanctioned cover-ups that endanger the public.

We now know that there were several cases in which the families of people who died in crashes after ignition switches failed quietly received cash settlements from GM.

In return for the cash, the plaintiffs not only promised to withhold the settlement details but also agreed with GM that the court files would be sealed. In some cases, those sealed records included documents and transcripts of pre-trial deposition testimony that contained evidence gathered about the dangers of the faulty switches.

America’s biggest boondoggle and ‘REAL’ voter ID

Steven Brill
Apr 1, 2014 15:05 UTC

1. The book on America’s biggest boondoggle:

Last week, the Government Accountability Office issued the latest report on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, warning that “delays in testing of the jet’s software may hinder delivery of the warfighting capabilities the military services expect” for an additional 15 months. This means that the jets are unlikely to be ready until August 2016, at the earliest, instead of what had been a July 2015 deadline.

This GAO report was the latest of 15 issued by the government watchdog since 2001. They catalog a mind-boggling series of cost over-runs, delays and denials of reality that make the F-35 a parody of defense contractors (led in this case by the Keystone Cops at Lockheed Martin), Pentagon and Washington dysfunction.

The plane was supposed to begin being delivered in 2010, with the total cost projected at a record-shattering (and much attacked) $233 billion. By last year the official acquisition cost was estimated to be $390 billion — though that is likely to rise with this latest delay.

A fair view of the Koch brothers, and explaining bitcoin

Steven Brill
Mar 25, 2014 04:57 UTC

1. Getting a full, fair view of the money behind the Democrats’ prime enemies:

Their company makes everything from Dixie Cups to Brawny paper towels to Lycra swimwear to a huge share of the plywood, lumber and other products used in construction. It operates 4,000 miles of energy pipelines, according to its website, and an array of oil refineries that can process 670,000 barrels of oil a day.

Other subsidiaries are leading producers of chemicals, fertilizer and electronic and fiber optic systems. Still another unit trades energy products such as crude oil and natural gas. Apparently (the website is vague) it even has a business buying and selling the emission allowances related to pollution control efforts throughout the industrialized world.

Amazon’s price increase, Congressional whistleblowers, and a question for President Obama

Steven Brill
Mar 18, 2014 04:34 UTC

1. Are customers really upset at the Amazon Prime price increase?

The day after Amazon raised the annual subscription price for its Prime service from $79 to $99, the New York Times ran a story headlined, “Complaints As Amazon Raises Cost of Prime.” I found the reporting lacking and the headline unfair.

I imagine if I were reporting the story, I could find people to quote grousing about the 25 percent increase. Indeed, Times reporter David Streitfeld did it the easy way, going on Amazon’s own customer comments page.

But everyone I’ve talked to who subscribes to Prime — membership not only delivers everything from a book to a flat-screen TV to your doorstep for free, but also provides free movies and TV shows and a free book-lending library — thinks it is a hard-to-believe bargain at $99 or $79. (One happy customer in my office thought the price had gone from $179 to $199.)

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