Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

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.

Meantime, reports persist, from the GAO and elsewhere, that the plane has bugs that still haven’t been fixed and that it will never deliver all the capabilities promised.

Because the Pentagon has now decided to purchase 14 percent fewer planes than first planned (down to 2,443 jets from 2,852), the cost per plane — not counting amounts to be added by these new delays — is now $159 million. That’s almost double the original $81 million per plane.

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.)

The mysterious allure of cruises, Al Sharpton conflict check, and doing the math on Ukraine bailouts

Steven Brill
Mar 11, 2014 15:00 UTC

1. Why do people take cruises?

A few weeks ago, USA Today reported that “More than 160 of 3,104 passengers on Princess Cruises’ Caribbean Princess “had fallen ill with a gastrointestinal illness that the cruise line suspected was norovirus — a highly contagious infection that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea.”

That incident, USA Today noted, came “just days after a massive outbreak of a norovirus-like illness forced an early end to a sailing of Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas.”

Yet a January 25 Associated Press story reported that the leading cruise lines trade association expects that 21.7 million people will take cruises in 2014, up from 21.3 million in 2013.

Ambassadors astray, the Federal Reserve Board’s minutes, and conflict recusals in the Valley

Steven Brill
Mar 4, 2014 06:55 UTC

 

1. Ambassadors without portfolios?

What happens when you’re an ambassador whose government has been overthrown?

With the Ukrainian government being deposed last week, I’m wondering about the fate of the country’s envoys and their families. As key appointees of President — now fugitive — Viktor Yanukovich, have they been replaced and evicted from their embassies in Washington, New York (the United Nations ambassador), London or Paris? Or are they all professional foreign service officers, able to roll with the punches?

Who at the new regime in Kiev would assert to whom in the host country that the incumbent ambassador no longer represents Ukraine and should be evicted from the embassy, if that is to be their fate? Where would they and their families go? What about the staffs and their families?

In the particular case of Ukraine, is the fate of its ambassador in Moscow different from that of his colleague in Washington because Russia still supports Yanukovich?

Cigarette companies’ final days, high-speed trading, and how rich is Ringo?

Steven Brill
Feb 18, 2014 16:16 UTC

1. Cigarette companies’ final days:

This article last week from the Associated Press, “U.S. health experts predict…a cigarette-free America,” highlighted the release of a 900-page report on smoking from the U.S. surgeon general. “Though the goal of a cigarette-free America has long seemed like a pipe dream,” the AP noted, “public-health leaders have started throwing around phrases like ‘endgame’ and ‘tobacco-free generation.’”

Smoking has declined significantly in the United States in the five decades since the surgeon general’s first report pinpointing the dangers of cigarettes. It is still a multibillion-dollar industry, however, that sells more than 300 billion cigarettes a year here.

Yet smoking rates continue to decline as the evidence of tobacco’s lethal effects becomes accepted wisdom. At the same time, venues forbidding smoking have become nearly universal, even as the sale of smoking products becomes more constricted. CVS’s decision two weeks ago to stop selling tobacco is the latest example. (I wrote about that here.) Several states are now considering raising the legal age for buying cigarettes to 21.

CVS and the doctoring business, Sochi consequences, and getting Cohen’s side of the story

Steven Brill
Feb 11, 2014 05:00 UTC

1. How far can CVS and other pharmacy chains get into the doctoring business?

In announcing Wednesday that CVS Caremark would stop selling tobacco, chief executive officer Larry Merlo said selling cigarettes would be, according to a company press release, “inconsistent with our purpose.” He explained, “As the delivery of health care evolves with an emphasis on better health outcomes, reducing chronic disease and controlling costs, CVS Caremark is playing an expanded role in providing care through our pharmacists and nurse practitioners.”

I’d like to know more about what Merlo has in mind vis a vis that “expanded role in providing health care.”

Drugstore chains like CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens already offer flu shots. How is that regulated? Is it allowed in all states? Do licensed nurses have to provide them? Did doctors’ groups or health clinics lobby against it?

Is NBC soft on Sochi terror threats, political stalling, and the lawyer who could nail Christie

Steven Brill
Feb 4, 2014 05:00 UTC

1. Is NBC soft on Sochi terror threats? Or are its rivals overdoing it?

I may be imagining it, but while the other network news organizations are giving full, even avid, coverage to the threat of terrorism at the coming Sochi Olympics, NBC — which is televising the games — seems to be playing it down. Or at least not playing it up.

It’s no surprise that NBC has been full of segments featuring the arrivals or practice sessions of members of team America, especially the good-looking ones. That’s a time-honored, if cheesy, effort to use ostensible news shows to boost the games’ ratings.

But it also seems that its coverage of the security threats and accompanying precautions is nothing like what we’re seeing on CBS, ABC, Fox or CNN — where images of barb wire-encased arenas and helmeted Russian security forces abound.

Christie’s legal bills, who profits from retailer hacking, and Davos economics

Steven Brill
Jan 28, 2014 16:46 UTC

1. Christie’s legal bills and lawyers’ conflicts:

When it was announced earlier this month that Governor Chris Christie had hired Randy Mastro, the New York litigation head of California-based Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, to represent the Christie administration in dealing with all of the investigations involving Bridgegate, some observers told reporters that signing on Mastro signaled that Christie and his team might be gearing up to take an aggressive posture that is inconsistent with the governor’s initial promise to cooperate fully in all investigations.

That’s a logical assumption: Mastro, a former protégé of tough-guy New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, is a notoriously hard-nosed litigator.

But what’s also intriguing is that Gibson, Dunn is one of the country’s most expensive law firms. Which raises the question of how much the state is paying to bring in this non-New Jersey team to represent the New Jersey governor’s office? And what is Christie’s rationale for passing over the local talent in a state full of terrific lawyers and law firms?

Why isn’t Chuck Todd anchoring ‘Meet the Press,’ how Sochi happened, and watching LGA crash

Steven Brill
Jan 21, 2014 15:22 UTC

1. Why isn’t Chuck Todd anchoring “Meet The Press”?

NBC’s “Meet The Press” is not simply mired in third place behind “Face the Nation” (CBS) and “This Week” (ABC). It has also become a boring hour weighed down with predictable guests answering bland questions from anchor David Gregory.

So can someone please do a story explaining why NBC chief White House reporter Chuck Todd hasn’t replaced Gregory?

Todd — who is also the host of MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown” — arguably should have been chosen in the first place as the successor to Tim Russert after Russert’s untimely death. In terms of political smarts, enthusiasm for political horse races, and instinct for asking the right follow-ups, Todd was Russert’s natural heir.

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