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What Boeing’s humbling means for America

Rarely has a global corporation as respected and powerful as Boeing been so humbled.

Deep political connections that normally grease the airplane maker’s way in Washington meant nothing on Tuesday, as its CEO endured a fearsome dressing-down on the anniversary of last year’s Lion Air crash. For once, the US Congress did its job famously, as lawmakers finally stumbled on an issue that both Republicans and Democrats care about, not to mention millions of airline passengers around the world.

Watched by bereaved relatives in a Senate committee room, CEO Dennis Muilenburg gave the clearest mea culpa yet for crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia — both involving Boeing’s 737 Max jet — that killed 346 people. “We understand and deserve this scrutiny,” said Muilenburg, who insisted he wouldn’t resign.

The impact of the twin disasters went beyond the human toll. Faults in Boeing’s safety record were exposed by the jet’s new anti-stall software, as were revelations it had known about problems and failed to properly alert airlines and pilots. The Federal Aviation Administration’s failure to catch glaring issues has also rocked confidence in what were once the gold standards of global flight safety.

American presidents often preside over huge airliner deals during foreign trips, and the Seattle-based firm was once a tool of US soft power. Now its woes are dragging American economic growth and boosting European archrival Airbus. And whenever Boeing’s fixes allow the 737 Max to take wing again, foreign regulators won’t rely on the FAA to certify it as airworthy — another blow to US prestige.

Can the ill-fated jet, the people who made it and the American institutions behind them win back global public confidence? As Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana put it: “I would walk before I would get on a 737 Max.”

Impeachment today, in brief

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Today was a blockbuster day in impeachment.

Democrats think they have a killer witness. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the first current West Wing official to testify, was on the now-notorious call between Trump and Ukraine’s President, and said he was so alarmed by what he had heard that he twice tried to warn superiors.

One way to tell Vindman’s testimony was significant: Conservative media commentators launched a smear campaign. Several questioned the patriotism of the wounded Iraq War veteran, who was born in Soviet Ukraine before fleeing to the US as a refugee.

Democrats unveiled a resolution setting down the rules and future scope of their investigation ahead of a Rules Committee vote on Wednesday, to send the measure to a historic full House of Representatives vote the next day. It’s the first formal move towards impeaching Trump.

Meanwhile in Beirut

CNN’s Ben Wedeman writes to Meanwhile from Beirut:

“Anti-government protesters cheered the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri’s government on Tuesday. Hariri had been caught between the rock of mass, nationwide demonstrations and the hard place of his (barely) unity government — and when promises of reform didn’t take the edge off the protests, he saw no other way out. With no clear successor in place, Hariri will now likely lead a caretaker government, which will be hobbled in its ability to deal with the country’s impending economic collapse.

“Meanwhile, Hezbollah supporters have attacked Beirut’s anti-government protesters twice in the past five days. Already feeling the pinch from US sanctions on Iran and itself, the party is believed to have been alarmed to find that many of its working class Shia constituents joined the anti-government protests. Last week, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah called upon his supporters to leave the demonstrations.

“Two weeks of protests, sporadic violence and mounting tensions have already closed banks, schools and universities, creating a sense that Lebanon has entered a period of profound volatility.”

‘I am happy — and yet’

Lebanese activist Rana Khoury told CNN’s Becky Anderson that Hariri’s resignation may show that the government can bend to popular demand. “We were used to Arab governments or Arab regimes not letting their people win, or be happy, but this revolution has proved that it’s possible,” she said, later adding: “I am happy — and yet, I don’t have the trust that they will let us be happy.”

Number of the day: 21%

That’s how Bernie Sanders is polling in CNN’s latest survey of support for Democratic candidates in New Hampshire (the second state to vote). 21% is good enough for the lead — but in a sign of how open the race remains, the Vermont Senator also the weakest front runner at this stage of the primary in 47 years.

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