Sunday, July 20, 2014

30th Wedding Anniversary

Thirty years ago today Susan Zirinsky and I were married at San Francisco's City Hall.  We eloped on a Friday, the day after the Democratic National Convention ended.  Susan and I had been living together in Washington DC for nearly five years, so the fact we got married was no surprise.  The surprise was where we married.  Nonetheless, a round of calls to Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather, our mothers and fathers were met with joy and great happiness.  

For the next decade we each continued in our roles at CBS News.  I left CBS News in 1995 to take a position as President Fox News.  I had been hired by Rupert Murdoch to begin a "proper news."  But one year later Murdoch decided to bring in Roger Ailes as Chairman of Cable and News.  Since my contract had been breached, I decided to resign rather than be part of an "alternative" news organization.  I informed Ailes of my decision in his office, and then immediately headed to the Spence Chapin adoption agency.  Susan and I decided to use the time I would be sitting out my expiring contract to adopt a Chinese girl.  China's one child policy saddened us. 

Several months later we were informed our adoption had been approved.  We were shown a picture, the size of a passport photo, and given little information.  By January of 1997 we were off to China to pick up our adoptive child.  We decided to name her "Zoe" because that means life in Greek.  We also combined "Z" from Zirinsky, and "oe" from Joe.  Zoe's middle name would be the name she was given by her Tong Ling orphanage, Tong Cao.  We were told that translates to "spring grass," which is where Zoe was found. 

We loved Zoe from the first second we set eyes on her.  Susan and I both had demanding schedules, I commuted to Miami for seven years, but weekends and nights were devoted to Zoe.  It is hard to understand how an adoptive child will adjust in life, or how a Chinese girl will adapt to a world filled with blue-eyed, blond hair girls.  The social pressures are enormous on most children in this age of social media.  Adolescence can be a difficult time emotionally for any child as the are still developing and maturing.  Of course, academics and college tests and acceptances are overly competitive.  Then, for girls, there are boys.  Having been a boy, I know they are predators.  What stress on even the most stable kids.

Throughout Zoe's sophomore and junior year all of the stress factors began to take their toll.  Zoe had to leave school weeks before the end of her junior year in order to receive proper treatment.  For the past year she as been under the care of the wonderful doctors at McLean Hospital, just outside Boston.  She has shown enormous progress, and she graduated from high school from an affiliated school. 

So it is with this brief explanation that I share with you our most wonderful 30th anniversary gift, via Facebook, the words of our only child, the love of our life, Zoe Tong Cao Peyronnin (aka Luna Feline Capello).


"alright here we go. happy thirty years you guys, as much as you piss me the fuck off, and as much as I feel like I hate you sometimes... well that's life, and you wouldn't do half the shit you do to me if you didn't love me. I know sometimes you blame yourselves for where I am now, but when it comes down to it, you've saved my life, in more ways than one and I think you guys need to realize that. I wouldn't be who I am or where I am if you hadn't adopted me and well, even though life can be a nasty son of a bitch, I'm thankful you've supported me through it all. so thank you both, you shit heads, for loving me regardless of who I am and my mistakes, I really wouldn't be alive without you and that's a fact, so give yourselves credit for once because I love you. thank you."
 
 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Cheney Doesn't Shoot Straight

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is trying hard to salvage his legacy, so he is resorting to spin, distortion and lies. By why is the media paying attention to him? Not even Cheney himself could erase from history the devastating record he has amassed, especially working with President George W. Bush. 

A 2012 New York Times report revealed all of the warnings the Bush/Cheney administration received in the spring and summer of 2001 of a terrorist threat against the United States from within. On May 1, 2001, the CIA warned Bush a "group presently in the United States" was planning an attack. In July, the CIA warned that the attacks could be "imminent." On August 6, Bush received a classified document entitled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." None of the dots were connected by the White House, which dismissed criticism by saying they were not told when or where the attacks would occur. The attacks occurred on September 11, with devastating consequences. 

In response, The Bush/Cheney White House targeted Iraq and its ruthless leader, Saddam Hussein. They built their case around alleged links between al Qaeda and Hussein, as well as allegations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD's). While Hussein was a brutal dictator, his government held together Iraq's various religious factions and served as a balance against a restive Iran. 

Cheney was among those from the administration who were speaking out publicly about WMD's in Iraq. In August 2002, Cheney told a VFW convention, "Right now, Iraq is expanding and improving facilities that were used for the production of biological weapons." Of course, there were no WMD's in Iraq. The administration had misled the American people. 

Just before the U.S. invaded Iraq, Cheney was asked on NBC's Meet the Press how long a U.S. invasion would take. He responded, "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators...I think it will go relatively quickly...weeks rather than months." The U.S. was not greeted as liberators, and the invasion proved to be poorly planned by the Pentagon and Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. 

In September 2003, six months after the invasion, Cheney said, "If we're successful in Iraq..we will have struck a major blow right at the heart of the base, if you will, the geographic base of the terrorists who have us under assault now for many years, but most especially on 9/11." But no link between Hussein and the terrorists was ever found, and Osama bin Laden was based in Afghanistan. The Bush/Cheney administration failed to focus on the war in Afghanistan.

Following the invasion, the administration implemented a policy of de-ba'athification, which rid the Iraqi government of Hussein's Ba'ath party supporters. As a result, an estimated 50,000 civil government employees were removed from their positions and the military's officer ranks were depleted. The Bush/Cheney operatives had failed to fully understand the possible implications of their policy, so the result in Iraq was chaos. Meanwhile, the Bush/Cheney White House backed a government supported by hard line Shiite religious organizations, which included now Prime Minister Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Sunnis, who are about 20% of the population, were squeezed out, as were the Kurds. 

Today's civil war involving ISIS is largely a result of Bush/Cheney policies. The Iraq War has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $2 trillion dollars and 4,000 American lives. More than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed. And to what end?

In 2005, The Washington Post editorial page dubbed Cheney "The Vice President for Torture." Cheney initiated and defended the use of torture on terrorism suspects, a violation of human rights and the Geneva Convention. In 2011 he defended the policy in an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute. "The notion that somehow the United States was wildly torturing anybody is not true," he said. "One of the most controversial techniques is waterboarding ... Three people were waterboarded. Not dozens, not hundreds. Three. And the one who was subjected the most often to that was Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, and it produced phenomenal results for us." Of course, he lied about the "phenomenal results" too.

Cheney was also behind an NSA operation to monitor the phone calls and emails of U.S. citizens without warrant, which would later become known as the Terrorist Surveillance Program. After two years of going along with "the vice president's special program" the Justice Department decided that parts of it were illegal.

The Bush/Cheney team allowed Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade Georgia and take control of two of its regions. And the Bush/Cheney team is responsible for not reining in Iran early on. Ari Shavit, an Israeli author and columnist, wrote, "The Bush administration didn't initiate a political-economic siege on Iran when it was weak, and Mr. Bush weakened America by exhausting its economic power and military might in a futile war."

On domestic policy, the Bush/Cheney team led this country into the worst recession since the Great Depression, yet Cheney refuses to take any responsibility for the policies that nearly destroyed the world's economy. They added billions to the U.S. deficit, but Cheney once said, "deficits don't matter." 

Now Dick Cheney is defending his legacy and bitterly attacking President Barack Obama. For instance, Cheney took to CNN Wednesday to say that Obama is "the worst president of my lifetime." But President George W. Bush left office in January 2009 as one of the most unpopular presidents in history. According to a CBS News/New York Times poll at the time, 73 percent of Americans surveyed said they disapproved of the way Bush handled his presidency. 

Ever since Dick Cheney shot his friend in a 2006 duck hunting accident Americans have known that Cheney just doesn't shoot straight.

Friday, July 11, 2014

LeBron Goes Home

LeBron James is going home. What an amazing story. His return is the most important thing to happen to Cleveland in 50 years. 

He made his announcement in a moving letter published Friday on Sports Illustrated's website. "Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio," he wrote. "It's where I walked. It's where I ran. It's where I cried. It's where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart... My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."

How can anyone argue with these sentiments?

At 29 years old, LeBron James is the biggest superstar in the world. Yet this kid from Northeast Ohio, who had a difficult childhood, is a doting father, a loving husband and a wonderful son. His Akron roots run deep. Located 40 miles south of Cleveland, Akron was once known as the "Rubber City," but it has bounced back from a major loss of manufacturing jobs. Like many other cities, it has struggled with crime and illegal drugs, either one of which has ruined the lives of many young men. LeBron emerged from a tough childhood because of his exceptional basketball skills. In short, he is the American dream come true, a man of great character and generosity. 

LeBron explained his decision, "I always believed that I'd return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn't know when. After the season, free agency wasn't even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown... The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy."

His departure four years ago from the Cleveland Cavaliers led to great acrimony and anger, especially from team owner Dan Gilbert. "The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned -- seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed," LeBron wrote. "But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react?" In the end, LeBron said, "Who am I to hold a grudge?"

I met LeBron Raymone James in a Ralph Lauren's men's department in Manhattan almost a decade ago. He had just completed his rookie year with the Cleveland Cavaliers. I walked over to him; he was seated with his back to me. I introduced myself and said, "I am from Chicago, I have met Michael Jordan and watched him play." As he turned to look at me, I continued, "From what I have seen, you could one day be better than Michael Jordan." LeBron stood up, as if I had mentioned God almighty, and was visibly moved by my prediction. He leaned over and said, "Thank you sir, that means a lot to me." We chatted briefly as he shook my hand.

A while later, while I was at the store's checkout counter, he walked all the way across the store, considerably out of his way, and approached me. He reached out his hand and said, "Thank you again sir for those kind words." He was already making millions as a Cleveland Cavalier and drawing accolades, but he was humble through and through.

I had no doubt over these past couple weeks that the young man I had met years ago would decide to return to his home, only now as a giant of a man. The trappings of stardom, the nightlife scene (pay attention, Johnny Manziel) or what most other people think are not a priority for LeBron. He is his own man. He is thoughtful, strategic, focused on his goals and objectives, and he is highly motivated to achieve them. He has already accumulated two championships, with the Miami Heat, two NBA Finals MVP awards and numerous other great honors.

Nonetheless, there is something even bigger in LeBron's life. In his words, "I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously... Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get...In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home."

LeBron will now carry the Cleveland Cavaliers and this community on his shoulders. While he warned that winning an NBA championship would take time, today the people of Northeast Ohio feel like they won a championship. They have their native son back home.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Palin's Prose

A dozen U.S. presidents have been threatened with impeachment over this country's history, including Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and now Barack Obama.  The House or Representatives has voted to impeach only Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, but the Senate later acquitted each of them.

Calls for presidential impeachment have increased in recent times, as the country has grown more polarized.    It is an attention-getting device for opponents to attack a president and his policies.  It can also be an effective way for politicians to pander to their base, raise money and get television airtime.

So is the case for former Alaska Governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who is a master of strident and senseless hyperbole.  Palin's latest screed, which was posted on Breitbart.com Tuesday, begins, "Enough is enough of the years of abuse from this president.  His unsecured border crisis is the last straw that makes the battered wife say, 'no mas.'"

Palin accuses President Obama of a "purposeful dereliction of duty" that has led to "an untold number of illegal immigrants...competing against Americans for our jobs and limited public services."   She adds, "Without borders, there is no nation...Obama knows this.  Opening our borders to a flood of illegal immigrants is deliberate. This is his fundamental transformation of America. It's the only promise he has kept."  Of course, illegal immigration and border security have been a daunting problem for decades.

Her conclusion is, "It's time to impeach," adding, "The many impeachable offenses of Barack Obama can no longer be ignored.  If after all this he's not impeachable, then no one is."

The man who brought Palin to the national stage as his Republican running mate, Senator John McCain, did not join her call for Obama's impeachment.  When asked, McCain told the Huffington Post, "I always respect other people's opinions."   Really?  McCain then said, "Am I proposing that the president be impeached? No."  And on Wednesday, when House Speaker John Boehner was asked if Republicans should impeach President Obama instead of suing him, as Boehner is doing, he replied, "I disagree."

There are a number of conservative Republican Congressmen who have at least suggested that Obama's impeachment be considered.  Republicans hope to gain control of the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections by capitalizing on the president's unpopularity in several key Senate races.   But an attempt to impeach the president would only strengthen the party's "obstructionist" image, and not sit well with a majority of the American public.   That would jeopardize the party's 2014 midterm results.

Of course, the chances of impeaching Obama are nil, but that doesn't matter to Palin.   Her goal is to stay in the limelight.  And she knows that her loyal following will always admire her puerile prose, whether on Facebook or cable television.   After all, in Palin's own words, "What is the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull? Lipstick."   How about, "No mas" Sarah Palin?

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Worst President?

Polls are a snapshot of how people feel at a particular moment, and many Americans aren't happy.  In a Quinnipiac poll, that was released last week, 33% of Americans rated Barack Obama the worst president since World War II.   President George W. Bush was the second worst according to 28% of Americans surveyed.   

The question posed in Quinnipiac's survey was simply, "Thinking about the presidents we have had since World War II, which one would you consider the worst?"   Americans have endured several years of dysfunctional government, primarily brought on by Republicans who vowed on the day Obama was first sworn in to block everything he tries to do.  Their tactics have led to a government shutdown, which cost the taxpayers billions of dollars, endless partisan bickering, and the least productive Congress in memory.

It is perhaps logical that Americans would hold the president responsible for the chaos in Washington, after all, he is the chief executive officer.  President Obama is almost at the midway point of his second term, a period when most two-term presidents see their popularity plummet.  And, let's face it, there are a lot of crises currently brewing, both on the international and domestic fronts.  Right wing talk radio and other conservative outlets have amped up their attacks on the president, and have linked him to several so-called scandals, most of which are not scandals.

Nonetheless, the Quinnipiac poll is a reminder how short America's memory is.  It is hard to believe that Obama would top his predecessor as worst president.  Bush gave the U.S. and the world the worst recession since the Great Depression, which resulted in record unemployment and deficits.  The economy was so badly damaged that six years later recovery remains slow and millions of Americans are still struggling. 

President Bush and his national security team lied to the American public about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as a pretext for war in 2003.  Consequently, thousands of U.S. servicemen and Iraqi civilians died, and more that $1 trillion in American taxpayer dollars have so far been wasted.  Meanwhile, Bush and his team totally dropped the ball in Afghanistan.  Further, they couldn't catch Al Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden.  Bush's foreign policy did more to diminish America on the global stage than any recent president. 

Thankfully, President Bush failed in his attempt to privatize Social Security.  But he did sign into law an unfunded prescription drug plan that has added billions of dollars to the deficit.  By the way, the plan's launch was a monumental disaster.  And, when it comes to disasters, who can forget Bush's poor handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  In Bush's own words, "Heck of a job Brownie."

Americans, inundated with an incessant torrent of partisan criticism, have forgotten that Obama has actually done a lot of good despite GOP intransigence.  Obama's 2009 stimulus plan put the breaks on the crashing economy he inherited from Bush, and put it on the long road to recovery.  Obama also supported bailing out the U.S. auto companies, which now have regained their swagger.  The president signed into law the Affordable Health Care Act, which, despite a rocky roll out and blocking tactics by Republican governors, covers millions of previously uninsured Americans.  Unemployment is now at 6.1% and the stock market is soaring to record heights. 

Obama refocused America's military on Afghanistan as he promised he would in his election campaign, and he is now implementing the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops while working to support a democratic government.  Obama ended America's war with Iraq, according to an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration, but it may be impossible for the Baghdad government to put their country back together again.  An unintended consequence of the Iraq invasion was the emergence of a stronger Iran.  The West is negotiating with Iran over the scope its nuclear program.   

His national security forces killed Al Qaeda's Osama bin Laden, and decimated their core leadership. Regretfully, terrorism cells have now arisen in other countries.  Meanwhile, ISIS is ruthlessly killing thousands of innocent people in Syria and Iraq.  Would things have been different had Obama earlier supported a moderate anti-Assad faction in Syria?  Maybe, but at the time the opposition was fractured and it was a tough call as to whom to support.  

For sure, President Obama has made mistakes in office.  However,  the pluses heavily outweigh the minuses.  But even a perfect president would be subject to endless criticism from the opposition.  And it is not easy being a president in an era of 24-hour news and social media.  For opponents, it is so easy to criticize, to pander to one's base, and to get on television with a pithy soundbite.  But, how many of those who are critical, especially with the loudest voices, actually offer solutions?   Most do not because to do so would be politically damaging to their career.  

Today, most Americans are frustrated with Washington, and this Quinnipiac poll reflects the current mood in the country.  Americans are right to demand and expect more from their government and the country's leadership.   But, sadly, there are too many political and economic factors preventing meaningful change and reform.  

Meanwhile, leave it to future historians to judge the historic Obama presidency.     

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Broadcasters Prevail

In a major win for broadcasters the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Aereo, a streaming service that provides access to programs at about the same time as they are broadcast, violates the Copyright Act of 1976.  The decision is a huge blow for Aereo, which may go out of business.  

Aereo offers subscribers broadcast television programming over the Internet for a monthly fee of $8 to $12 a month.  Its system is made up of servers and thousands of dime-sized antennas stored in a central warehouse.  Aereo's technology makes a copy of a program into a subscriber's file, then makes it possible for only that subscriber to view the program on their computer, tablet or smartphone, seconds after the broadcast begins airing.  

Aereo neither owns the copyright to the program, nor a license to rebroadcast the program.  But it argued that it is not transmitting the program, rather the subscriber is transmitting the program.  The Court's opinion, written by Justice Stephen G. Breyer, said, "We do not see how the fact that Aereo transmits via personal copies of programs could make a difference.  The Act applies to transmissions by means of any device or process."  Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito were in the minority.

Aereo launched in 2012 in its first market, New York.  Broadcasters, acting on behalf of their local New York City television stations, filed suit two weeks after the service was announced.  A federal judge ruled in Aereo's favor four months later.  Then in early 2013, a federal appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling.  Subsequently, the broadcasters petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case. In oral arguments last April the Deputy Solicitor General argued against Aereo on behalf of the government. 

Broadcast networks retransmit their programs over stations throughout the country.  They derive part of their revenue from commercials.  But cable companies pay broadcasters about $3 billion for the right to carry broadcast programming over their systems.  Aereo argued that it is not like a cable company because it is renting out antennas and cloud storage to subscribers.  Had Aereo's argument been upheld it could have undermined the current broadcast economic model.  Then the broadcasters would likely have turned to Congress for help.

Both Aereo's CEO Chet Kanjojia and investor Barry Diller, a prominent media figure, have said in the past that the service would be shut down if they lost in the Supreme Court.  A CBS Spokesperson reacted to the ruling with a statement, saying, “We are pleased with today’s decision, which is great news for content creators and their audiences.”  Nonetheless, the Court's deliberations underscore the continuing challenges broadcasters face with advances in technology and changes in viewing habits.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

OJ Chase Day

OJ Simpson's police chase captivated millions of viewers around the world twenty years ago today.  I know because I was watching the live coverage from Beijing, China.

At the time, I was vice president and assistant to the president for CBS News, the division's number two executive.  I was overseeing its news coverage and prime time news programs.  60 Minutes had aired a story called the "Dying Rooms" about China's one child policy imposed under the country's paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, to control population.

A man and his wife were only allowed to have one child, and since boys would be obligated to take care of their aging parents,  girls were often abandoned.  Orphanages became overcrowded with baby girls.  When a girl became sick, the child would be put in a closet or room and left to die.  This was an outrageous consequence of a terrible policy.  The BBC did the original report, including hidden camera video, and 60 Minutes aired its own version.

The Chinese government protested and threatened to shut the CBS News bureau.  I went to Beijing to meet with members of the information ministry to discuss their complaints.  On the morning of the scheduled meeting I went to the hotel gym and got on the treadmill next to my friend, CNN's executive vice president Ed Turner, who was there for meetings with his bureau.

As we jogged in place, we watched CNN live on a television monitor (it was still yesterday in America).  But CNN was locked on a police chase up California's Interstate 405.  Former football superstar and hollywood actor OJ Simpson was leading cops on a police chase while holding a gun to his head.  The police wanted to question him in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Goldman.  For the next half-hour Turner and I both ran in place, helplessly out of position 7,000 miles away.  As the chase continued, we each became more anxious.

I left the gym and checked in with CBS News headquarters and found out we were on the air.  I then called home, where my wife, Susan Zirinsky, was hosting a year-end party for her show's staff, she was an executive producer.  Susan took the call in our bedroom, where a two dozen employees had gathered to watch the news coverage.  In fact, staff were massed around televisions throughout our house.  Susan had called headquarters to volunteer her help, but they put her on standby and told her they would call when they needed assistance.

The end of the OJ story is well known to a whole generation around the world.  It made television history because it was the first time a police car chase had gone global.  Meanwhile, I talked the Chinese government into keeping our Beijing bureau open.  Sadly, Ed Turner, one of the architects of CNN's 24-hour news, died in 2002.  

I remember where I was when President John F. Kennedy was shot.  I remember where I was when I watched man first walk on the moon.  And I absolutely will always remember where I was when I watched OJ Simpson lead police on a wild chase up the 405--a Beijing hotel gymnasium.