Opinion

Stories I’d like to see

Timing the capitol bloviators, the French as the tough guys, and Wal-Mart’s reputation

Steven Brill
Nov 19, 2013 12:21 UTC

1. Timing the capitol bloviators:

Watching the spate of committee hearings on Capitol Hill related to the Obamacare launch debacle reminds me of a story — or, rather, an ongoing type of coverage — that I wish the Washington Post, Politico or even C-Span would do: Keep count of the percentage of time each senator or congressman talks versus the amount of time the witnesses, whose appearances are ostensibly the purpose of the hearings, get to talk.

A sub-tally might also be done of how much of the committee member’s time is spent even asking a question, as opposed to giving a speech.

At most hearings each committee member is usually allotted five minutes to question the witness. My informal count of what I’ve watched over the past few weeks had the members hogging three to four minutes each, sometimes more.

This would make a nice sidebar to any story about a hearing. And perhaps an award could be given out at the end of the year for the member of the Senate and the House who took up the most time. Who knows? Keeping a visible count like this might even turn the hearings into hearings.

2. The French as the tough guys:

I may have missed this because I don’t follow foreign affairs as much as I should, but it would be great to read an explanation of how France — in fact, France run by a Socialist — has become the toughest member of the NATO alliance. Whether it’s Mali, Syria and now the Iran nuclear negotiations, the country that former George W. Bush defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed as part of a timid “old Europe” now seems to want to be the West’s leading hawk.

A working legislature, post informant life and Wal-Mart’s guns

Steven Brill
Jan 15, 2013 04:30 UTC

A legislature that works:

Maybe it’s because I live in New York and have to read all the time about what may be the world’s two most dysfunctional legislative bodies – in Albany and Washington. But I wish a reporter for a national news organization would try to find the country’s best state legislature. A place where Democrats and Republicans actually work together. A place where money isn’t everything, and where everything isn’t done at the 11th hour, or later, followed by an orgy of self-congratulation.

We’ve got 50 states. They can’t all be governed by lawmakers who embarrass their constituents. Which ones function well, and why? What conflict-of-interest, campaign-spending or other rules do they have that help keep things in line? What makes them different, and how can we export their success to the rest of our capitals?

The afterlife of a Wall Street rat:

“Mr. Wang’s lawyer said his client is ‘isolated and broke’ following his cooperation.”

Drachma redux, Hoffa’s killers, besting JPMorgan

Steven Brill
May 22, 2012 12:47 UTC

1. Printing drachmas?

What actually will happen if Greece leaves the euro zone and goes back to its own currency? How would that work? Is there a printing press somewhere busily churning out drachmas just in case? Or did they keep the old ones in storage? How will Greeks get new drachmas? Will they exchange their euros for them? How will the exchange rates be determined? How will all the software for cash registers and credit card and e-commerce transactions be reprogrammed?

2. Searching for Jimmy Hoffa’s assassins:

We’re approaching, in two months, the 37th anniversary of the disappearance of Teamsters Union leader Jimmy Hoffa. I wrote a book about the union three years after his disappearance that pinpointed how he was murdered and who did it. Although the FBI spelled out in an internal memo and in various affidavits seeking search warrants pretty much the same scenario and suspects that I reported, the feds were never able to make a case because no one would talk and Hoffa’s body was never found. (It was probably incinerated in a mob-connected sanitation plant near Detroit.)

However, the case is still officially open. In fact, I’m told there is at least one FBI agent still assigned to it. With almost all of the people involved in taking out Hoffa now dead, what does that agent do all day? A great story commemorating the anniversary would not only spend a few days with that agent but also check in on Hoffa’s son, James, who is now the Teamsters president. Portrayed in my book as a completely clean lawyer who did some union-related legal work, James took over his father’s old job in 1999. When I spent time with him in the years just after his father’s murder he was seethingly bitter about how the mob element that controlled the union in partnership with his father had turned on the elder Hoffa. But he was also understandably afraid to say much about it publicly. What’s he got to say all these years later?

Homeland loses focus, ditching the filibuster, unions that own big business

Steven Brill
May 8, 2012 13:59 UTC

1. Protecting the Homeland….in New Zealand

Is Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano completely on the sidelines? And has she not gotten the memo about limiting government travel? How else to explain that on May 2 she began a trip to New Zealand and Australia? May 2 was the anniversary of Osama bin Laden’s death, when we were supposedly on high alert for possible al Qaeda attacks; and it was also when the prostitution scandal involving the Secret Service – which is part of Napolitano’s department – was raging. A Department of Homeland Security press release described the trip this way:

In Wellington [New Zealand], Secretary Napolitano will meet with Prime Minister John Key, and participate in bilateral meetings with New Zealand counterparts to discuss a variety of issues including information sharing, combating transnational crime and human trafficking.

In Australia, Secretary Napolitano will lead the Presidential delegation to the 70th Anniversary Commemoration of the Battle of the Coral Sea, the World War II battle that marked the start of the U.S.-Australia security partnership. While in Canberra and Brisbane, Secretary Napolitano will deliver remarks on security, privacy, and strong international partnerships at the Australian National University, and meet with Australian counterparts to discuss the ongoing partnerships to combat transnational crime, counter violent extremism, enhance information sharing, and work to ensure a more safe, secure, and resilient global supply chain.

Cheney’s heart, CVS and privacy, and Wal-Mart’s guns

Steven Brill
Apr 17, 2012 13:11 UTC

1. Who gives out hearts?

In exploring whether former Vice-President Cheney might have received preferential treatment when he got a heart transplant recently, many of the reporters covering the story referred to what the New York Times called “a national system that tracks donors and recipients by medical criteria.” Two doctors were then quoted as saying, as one put it: “It is not possible to game the system.”

Fair enough, but who runs the system? Who sets the criteria, and who signs off on who has met the criteria? Who decides close calls? Is there a form that gets signed by a majority of some committee, or is there one king of hearts? And are actual names attached to the patients, so that whoever was making the decision could have seen that Vice-President Cheney was an applicant for the heart in question?

Because transplants are done urgently once a donor becomes available – often after his or her sudden death in an accident, when apparently there are only hours to spare before the heart is no longer viable – is there some kind of operations center, where these decisions are signed off on and coordinated? Can’t some reporter take us there and have us meet the people playing God?

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