Stories I’d like to see

Romney’s delegate math, BP and Bhopal, and spotlighting CEO pay

Steven Brill
Jan 9, 2012 13:26 UTC

1. How does Mitt get over the top?

This year the rules for the Republican nominating convention have been changed to tilt more toward awarding delegates proportionately rather than giving all the state’s delegates to whoever wins its primary, no matter how slim the margin. To be sure, some reports have overstated the change; the rules have never been completely winner-take-all across the country, and this year’s changes don’t affect every state. But the changes could be important in a year when national polls continue to point to front-runner Mitt Romney’s difficulty in attracting more than about 25% support.

Indeed, with it seeming clear that even in states like New Hampshire, Romney can’t seem to attract majority support in a multi-candidate race, I keep looking for a story that will explain how Romney will capture the majority of delegates necessary to get the nomination. Could one irony be that–despite the conventional wisdom that what is saving Romney is that opposition to him is split in a multi-candidate race–it is, in fact, the presence of multiple candidates that most threatens Romney’s ability to wrap up the nomination, because it allows voters to choose their favorite non-Romney from multiple flavors?

It seems possible that Ron Paul will keep enjoying 10%-20% support, while the Santorum/Gingrich/Perry conservative faction could keep commanding 30%-40% support, especially if more than one of them stays in the race (and on the television debate stage) through the spring, assuming they don’t run out of money altogether or can live on shoe-string budgets when the money gets low.

Is there enough new math at play here that this could produce a brokered convention, with the delegates turning to a Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels or Jeb Bush to break the deadlock? Or would Romney have to choose one of the right-wing candidates as a running mate (thereby weakening his November appeal to independents and moderates) to put himself over the top? And doesn’t this changed dynamic actually encourage likely also-rans such as Perry, Gingrich or Santorum to stay in the race, spending little money but not formally withdrawing and releasing their delegates, so they can be power-brokers or even the vice-presidential nominee? If not, why not? Could the fact that Perry’s Texas delegation represents more than 10% of the votes needed to get the nomination produce a re-run of the 1960 Democratic convention, when the Massachusetts nominee had to pick a bitter rival from Texas?

2. Comparing two manmade disasters – 26 years and continents apart:

As we approach the second anniversary of the April, 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, we’ve just passed the 27th anniversary of a much bigger manmade environmental disaster: the December 1984 gas explosion at a pesticide plant owned by Union Carbide in Bhopal, India, that is believed to have killed more than 25,000 people and injured more than a half-million. As with the BP spill, there were all kinds of allegations that safety regulations had been evaded, and plaintiffs’ lawyers from the U.S. arrived quickly to chase down prospective client-victims. (Yes, they got to Bhopal as fast they got to the Gulf.)

Oil spill muckraking, SEC excuses, and Gingrich’s taxes

Steven Brill
Dec 20, 2011 14:16 UTC

1. The Muck Around the BP-Halliburton Oil Spill Legal Fights

Earlier this month, BP filed papers in federal court alleging that Halliburton – which built the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon offshore well for BP – had destroyed test results showing it had used unstable cement to secure the well. The 310-page filing, filled with lurid accusations of negligence and cover-ups, is one of many such documents now sitting in publicly-available court records charging all kinds of misconduct by everyone involved in the oil spill disaster. For example, there’s also Halliburton’s suit against BP, filed in September, accusing BP of fraud and of hiding information that could have prevented the spill. A tour through all of this multi-million dollar lawyer name-calling is  bound to be fun reading, as would a highlights reel from the ton of documents produced in the dozens of suits filed by plaintiffs lawyers against both companies. It’s time that someone plow through all the mudslinging and tell us which charges, if any, seem real and what they tell us about letting either of these companies continue to operate in the Gulf or anywhere else.

2. Post-Crash Prosecutions: Excuses or Reality?

I tend to be skeptical of any government agency that cites funding shortages as an excuse for poor performance. So, as I keep reading all of those stories quoting the SEC saying that one reason the agency hasn’t been able to be tougher on those accused of violations related to the financial crash is because of budget constraints, my radar flares – especially since a quick check that any reporter could do before simply taking down those quotes reveals that the SEC’s $1.26 billion budget for the just-ended fiscal year is nearly three times its budget nine years ago. Can’t we see some reporting that details whether these supposed constraints on enforcement are real and, if so, why, given the flood of extra funding?

We also keep reading about the difficulty of proving criminal intent as the excuse for there not having been any prosecutions of major Wall Street bosses, which is the responsibility of the Justice Department, not the SEC. But I haven’t seen anything yet that actually explains why it’s harder to prosecute these securities fraud cases than others. Can’t someone zero in on those issues by talking to experienced prosecutors and defense lawyers and pinning down, with specifics, whether or why that’s true – or whether what’s more at work is some kind of failure of will, or nerve? How good a lawyer and leader is Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division? And is it he or the local U.S. Attorneys who are making these decisions not to pull the trigger?