Sunday, September 27, 2015

Putin on Syria

Russian President Vladimir Putin displayed acumen in his 60 Minutes interview on CBS Sunday evening as he ruled out sending Russian troops into Syria, saying, "Well, at least we don't plan on it right now."  

Syria was one of many topics discussed with CBS News anchor Charlie Rose in a wide-ranging interview recorded in advance of Putin's address to the United Nations Monday.  But it appears that Russia is seizing the initiative in ending Syria's civil war by throwing its support behind that country's ruthless president, Bashar al-Assad.  Putin told Rose, "Well, it's my deep belief that any actions to the contrary in order to destroy the legitimate government will create a situation which you can witness now in the other countries of the region or in other regions, for instance in Libya where all the state institutions are disintegrated."   In nearly five years of war in Syria more than 240,000 people have been killed and millions of refugees have fled the country.  

Recently Russia has been beefing up its military in Syria, where it has long had a presence, and it has delivered new arms to Assad's forces.  Putin denied that Russia is trying to establish a leadership role in the Middle East.   He explained, "More than 2,000 fighters from Russia and Ex-Soviet Republics are in the territory of Syria. There is a threat of their return to us. So instead of waiting for their return, we are better off helping Assad fight them on Syrian territory."

Iraq announced over the weekend that it would share intelligence with Russia, Iran and Syria in the fight against ISIS militants.  The Iraqi military announcement spelled out its reasons this way, "the increasing concern from Russia about thousands of Russian terrorists committing criminal acts within ISIS."

President Barack Obama and President Putin are scheduled to meet for the first time in a year in New York Monday to discuss Russia's moves in Syria.  Russia and the United States cooperated in a 2013 deal that led to the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons.  The two countries also cooperated as part of the P5 + 1 nations that negotiated the nuclear treaty with Iran earlier this year.  

ISIS controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, and have brutally killed more than 10,000 people since declaring a caliphate.  Their sophisticated social media campaign has drawn thousands of recruits from around the world, including the U.S. and Russia.  ISIS is a growing cancer that is threatening neighboring countries, including Iran, Jordan, Turkey and Israel.  They are a national security threat to Western nations.  

The United States and its allies have conducted a bombing campaign on ISIS, but it has had only modest success.  There has been much debate over how the Obama administration has handled ISIS, with some conservatives in Congress now calling for America to take the lead by sending in troops.  More than half of those Americans polled in June by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News favored sending U.S. troops to combat ISIS.   But President Obama has been opposed to such an action.

As an old Arab saying goes, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."  But even though the U.S. and its allies, Russia, Iran, Iraq, the Kurds and Syria all have an urgent need to defeat ISIS, their competing interests make a solution difficult to achieve.   And with Russia's growing military presence in Syria at a time when the U.S. and its allies are bombing ISIS positions in that country, there is an increasing chance for a larger conflict.

Putin's bold move has pushed the United States into a position of having accept the tyrant Bashar al-Assad, if only for the time being.   As he explained to Charlie Rose, "...There is no other solution to the Syrian crisis than strengthening the effective government structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism. But, at the same time, urging them to engage in positive dialogue with the rational opposition and conduct reform."

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Smith School: Making a Difference

The Smith School describes itself as a "Small School with a Big Heart."  This month it is celebrating its 25th year of making a difference for special students in New York City.

In 1990 founder and Smith School Director Karen Smith had seen many students struggle with their academics in the city's public and private schools. "I felt there was a need for misplaced students who weren't receiving the services they needed to be successful," Smith said.   Her solution was to create a school that takes into account each individual student's distinct needs and learning styles.  The school's approach is to empower good teachers "to awaken the latent potential of all our students to succeed academically, to grow emotionally, and to overcome with success the various challenges each day brings."

The Smith School provides a flexible program of academic studies for grades 7 through 12, and its curriculum focuses heavily on music, art and drama.  This is a reflection of Ms. Smith's background; she earned a Master of Arts Degree in Directing for Theater from UCLA.  Smith's theater background imbues the schools drama program with the goal of helping students to develop public speaking and acting skills, "which creates a safe a nurturing environment for growth and personal exploration." The school claims to have one of the strongest music programs among independent schools in the city, and its strong arts program benefits from the school's location near the city's great museums and galleries.   

The Smith School has helped 927 students over the past quarter century, and 173 students have graduated from the institution.  More than 90% of its students have gone on to attend a 4-year college.  The school has been granted membership in several important educational organizations, including the Board of Regents of the State of New York, the Middle States Association on Secondary Schools, and the New York State Association of Independent Schools.  

"This school is truly remarkable," one parent said.  "I had lost hope my child would ever succeed until she came to Smith."   A parent of an 8th grader said, "From the very first day of school, my daughter was excited to attend the Smith School."  A 2015 graduate observed, "My four years at Smith prepared me for the challenges I was faced with my freshman year in college."  

The school's classes are small, typically 5 students, and the learning is individualized.   Early on the Smith School recognized bullying as a devastating and painful problem for students in public and private schools.  Its teachers are alert and vigilant to the problem.  Teachers treat all students with respect and expect students to be respectful with each other.  

The energetic and remarkable Karen Smith saw an opportunity 25 years ago to make a difference for those students who are different, who struggle in today's highly competitive and socially demanding educational institutions.  Looking back over the history of the Smith School, she says, "I am incredibly proud...of keeping my promise to provide a safe and nurturing environment for students who were unsuccessful in their previous environment because of their differences."  She concluded, "While at Smith we embrace those differences."

Congratulations Karen Smith, and everyone associated with the Smith School.

Monday, September 14, 2015

GE Cares

For service, call 1-800-GE-CARES.  Those words are printed on the top of a receipt I received from a GE repairman who came to my house to fix a gas leak in my oven.  But does GE really care?

More than a week ago my wife and I returned home from vacation and detected the smell of gas in our house.  It seemed to be coming from the GE oven.  My wife immediately call our local utility provider, Con Edison.  In minutes fire trucks pulled up in front of our house and a team of firefighters entered our apartment.  The gas detector the firemen used did not register a gas leak, so they left.  Nearly an hour later two ConEdison inspectors arrived at our home and we led them to the kitchen.  Their detectors immediately picked up a gas leak.  So they shut the gas valve off and red tagged the oven for repair.

I called the GE service scheduling line to set up an appointment.  Unfortunately, the earliest time they could send someone was mid week, which meant no cooking dinner.  The GE repairman arrived and replaced a part on the oven.  He then turned the appliance on for a while and determined the leak had been fixed.  Since the oven is no longer under warranty, we paid $416.95 for the repair.  We called ConEdison to schedule an inspection, and they said they would send someone over as soon as they could.  But, the scheduler added, an inspection was not necessary as long as the repairman was certified.  We never leave anything to chance, so we reaffirmed our desire for an inspection.

Finally, several days later, Saturday morning, a ConEdison inspector came to our house.  He deployed his gas detector in the oven and the device buzzed, indicating the leak had not been repaired.  He immediately shut the gas off and red tagged the appliance.  Had we not insisted on an inspection the leak could have led to a catastrophe.   

I called GE to schedule another appointment, and complain about the poor service.  I was told that I would have to talk with GE service, and they would be open on Monday.  I pleaded my case for urgent service, but I was told nothing else could be done.  

On Monday morning I spoke with GE service.  The person I spoke with showed no emotion, no empathy when I explained that the gas leak could have led to an explosion and injuries.  The earliest she said she could get a repairman out was the next day.  "Unfortunately, the dispatcher says he has no one available."  What about the $416.95 I paid for the failed repair, I asked?  "There will be no refund, but you won't be charged for the additional service call because it is within the 30 day guarantee period," the customer service specialist said.  

GE is a global giant serving millions of customers around the world.  It has structured and staffed its many businesses so that each company it owns maximizes profits each quarter.  In short, GE cares most about profits.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Run, Joe, Run

"Run Joe Run," is the cry Vice President Joe Biden is hearing more often as he attends public events.  Few politicians are as popular as Biden is today.  But, should he announce he is running for president, he will become a target for Republicans.

Biden, 72 years old, has had a long a storied career in Washington.  He was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1972, at the age of 30, and he was subsequently overwhelmingly reelected six times by the voters of Delaware.  He served in a number of important positions while in the Senate, including Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.   His more than forty year career in elected office qualifies him to be president. 

Biden's life has been filled with tragedy.  Shortly after first being elected to the Senate, Biden's wife and daughter were killed in a car accident.  His sons Beau and Hunter survived, although they were badly injured.  He considered resigning to care for his sons, but was persuaded not to by Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.  In his memoir, Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, he wrote that he owed it to his late wife, who had worked hard to get him elected, to continue.  So he commuted daily between Capitol Hill and Delaware, a 90-minute train ride, to care for his sons.  Yet, following the accident, Biden told NPR in 2007 he had difficulty at first focusing on work.

Biden married Jill Biden five years after the accident, and, in the Senate, found himself on the front lines of many historic events, including the Vietnam War, Watergate, the collapse of the Soviet Union, America's two wars with Iraq, and the election of President Barack Obama.  In 1988, he overcame another tragedy, life threatening cranial aneurysms.

Biden was among the least wealthiest members of the Senate, and he is proud to say he has never forgotten his modest upbringing.  Loquacious and talkative, Biden is likeable and authentic.  Yet he has been prone to gaffs over his career.  When President Obama was preparing to sign the Affordable Care Act an excited Biden told the president, "This is a big deal," loud enough for microphones to capture it.  

But Biden was struck by tragedy again when his son, Beau, died of brain cancer this past May.  Biden was devastated, and he talked about it in a heartfelt interview with Stephen Colbert on CBS last week.  The impact of his son's death has weighed heavily on his decision to run for president, as he explained to Colbert.  "I don't think any man or woman should run for president unless, number one, they know exactly why they would want to be president and, number two, they can look at folks out there and say, 'I promise you, you have my whole heart, my whole soul, my energy, and my passion to do this." He then paused, and said, "And I'd be lying if I said that I knew I was there."  

With the Democrat frontrunner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, mired in controversies about her use of a private email server and her handling of Benghazi, more party voices are being raised in support of Biden entering the race.  Even some Republicans have said they would like him to run, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who told CNN, "I would love to see Joe get in the race."  

Biden is struggling with the decision at a time when his popularity is growing, according to recent polls.  Beyond the burden of his son's death, he knows as an announced presidential candidate he will come under heavy attack from Republicans.   On the Senate Judiciary Committee Biden presided over two contentious Supreme Court nominations, Justice Clarence Thomas and the Robert Bork, who conservatives believe was treated unfairly in his failed attempt to get appointed.   Biden has failed twice to be elected president, in 1988 and 2007.  Biden's missteps include plagiarism, once in law school and another in 1988, which helped cost him his bid for the White House. When Donald Trump was asked by a conservative talk show host last week how he'd do against Biden, he responded, "I think I'd matchup great. I'm a job producer. I've had a great record, I haven't been involved in plagiarism. I think I would match up very well against him."   

Another concern for Biden would be how to campaign against Hillary Clinton.  In 2008, candidate Obama contrasted his opposition to the 2003 war in Iraq with Clinton's Senate vote to authorize the war.  Biden also voted to authorize the war, although he now says he made a mistake.  And Biden's candidacy will also be viewed as a continuation of the Obama presidency, which has continually come under furious attack from Republicans as divisive and overreaching.  Without question, Vice President Joe Biden's current popularity will take a hit should he decide to run for president. 

In August, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote of a conversation Beau Biden, who was near death, had with his father urging him to run.  He knew his father always wanted to be president.  Even with all of the challenges that come with such a decision, Vice President Biden has faced more daunting obstacles many times before in his life.  Stay tuned.  

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Media Appearances

View my appearances this week on:

Access Hollywood  Discussing the Jorge Ramos -- Donald Trump confrontation.

HuffPost LIVE Discussing the media coverage of the Virginia shootings that took the lives of two journalists.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trump vs. Ramos

Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos is a most powerful force in the Latino community.  His nightly newscast, which he has co-anchored with Maria Elena Salinas for nearly 30 years, draws more than two million viewers each evening.  In 2013 he told the Los Angeles Times, "The United States gave me opportunities that my country of origin could not: freedom of the press and complete freedom of expression."  

But Ramos' views were tested Tuesday night when Donald Trump had him removed from a news conference in Iowa.  "Go back to Univision," Trump dismissively scolded Ramos for persistently asking questions about the candidate's immigration policy without being called on.  As a member of one of Trump's security escorted Ramos from the room, the journalist said,  “I am a reporter. Don’t touch me. I have a right to ask the question.”

Trump and Ramos have one thing in common, they have both appeared on the cover of Time.  But they are on the opposite sides of an important issue that has dominated this year's Republican primary campaign: immigration.  Ramos, who had been attempting to get an interview with Trump for some time, asked the candidate about his call to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and to build a wall along the Mexican border.  "Excuse me sir, you weren't called on," Trump responded.  "Sit down.  Sit down."

After Ramos had been escorted out of the room, Trump was asked why he wouldn't take a question from Ramos.  He then said he would take a question from Ramos, and soon the journalist returned to the room.  Trump called on Ramos, who asked questions about immigration.  A testy back-and-forth exchange took place between the two men.  

When Ramos pointed out that 71 per cent of Hispanics had an unfavorable view of the candidate according to a Univision poll, Trump pounced.   "How much am I suing Univision for?" he asked Ramos.  He then said, "$500 million, and you're in the suit."   He has sued Univision for cancelling its airings of the Trump owned Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants in response to his offensive remarks about Mexicans in his presidential announcement in June.   

Late Tuesday evening the National Association of Hispanic Journalists condemned Trump's treatment of Ramos at the Trump news conference.   In a statement, Mekahlo Medina, NAHJ President, said, “Ramos was simply trying to hold a candidate for president accountable for statements he made about a very important topic to the American people. Mr. Trump has avoided Mr. Ramos’ attempts for an interview to reasonably discuss Mr. Trump’s opinions and ideas about immigration and American children born to undocumented immigrants.”

Trump's actions Tuesday night were reprehensible and undemocratic.  60 per cent of the nearly 60 million Latinos in the United States were born in this country.  Hispanics make up this country's second largest voting block.  Those who only or mostly speak Spanish rely on Spanish language outlets, like Univision and Telemundo, to get their information.   Jorge Ramos is a highly respected and Emmy award winning journalist who has asked tough questions of President Barack Obama and countless other leading political figures.  He was not screaming, as Trump claimed, he was simply being persistent.

One of Donald Trump's strategies this campaign is to attack the press that he feels are not being "fair" to him.  He banned the Des Moines Register from Tuesday's press conference because it had published an editorial two months ago critical of Trump's comments about Senator John McCain of Arizona.  And he has again attacked Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly for being unfair to him at the Republican debate, including calling her a "Bimbo" on Twitter.  

While some ardent Trump supporters will no doubt support Trump's tactics against the press, over the long term most Americans will reject them because they are not good for the country.   Our democratic system will be put at great risk if candidates can ban or kick reporters out of public functions.  In 1823, Thomas Jefferson told Lafayette, "The only security of all is in a free press."  

Jorge Ramos, who became and American citizen in 2008, takes his role as a journalist seriously.  He left his job as a reporter in Mexico because he didn't want to be told what to say.  He has succeeded beyond his dreams in reporting on the issues and concerns of his audience.   He explained his interest in immigration in that Los Angeles Times interview"I am emotionally linked to this issue," Ramos said. "Because once you are an immigrant, you never forget that you are one."

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The GOP's Dissonant Campaign

As billionaire Donald Trump unleashes his barrage of sharp attacks on Fox News and its anchor Megyn Kelly, other Republican candidates have improved their chances to gain their party's presidential nomination over the past few days.   Yet, as each of the seventeen announced candidates jockeys for position, Trump still continues to be the center of attention. 

Thursday's prime time debate on Fox News drew a record 24 million viewers, and they saw quite a show.   Fox News anchors Bret Baier, Megyn Kelly and Chris Wallace asked tough questions and skillfully managed the time among the ten candidates on stage.  While all of their questions were fair, many important subjects were not raised, like climate change, gun violence and voting rights. 

Trump attempted to lower expectations for his performance in advance of the debate.  Many pundits predicted he would not attack his opponents as he has done regularly in his campaign.   Yet, Trump found himself on the defensive from the opening question.

Bret Baier began the debate by asking if all of the candidates would promise not to run as an independent candidate and support the party's nominee.  Trump would not, saying, “I will not make that pledge at this time… I have to respect the person.”  Kentucky Senator Rand Paul chimed in, “This is what’s wrong.  He buys and sells politicians of all stripes…He’s already hedging his bet on the Clintons … He’s already hedging his bets because he’s used to buying politicians.”  Trump smugly responded to Paul, “Well, I’ve given him plenty of money.”

Later, moderator Megyn Kelly grilled Trump on his comments about women.  

“You’ve called women you don’t like 'fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals,'” she said.

“Only Rosie O’Donnell,” Trump interrupted.

“For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell,” Kelly retorted.

“Yes, I’m sure it was,” Trump said dismissively.  

Kelly continued, “Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?”
Trump answered, “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.” 

Following the debate Trump went to the airwaves and Twitter to attack Kelly's questions as "ridiculous" and "off base."  He told CNN, "You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes...Blood coming out of her wherever." But the comment drew the ire of conservatives, even though Trump later said he meant blood coming out of her nose or ears and nothing more.  Trump added, "Only a deviant would think anything else."  But the conservative group withdrew its invitation for Trump to appear at its weekend gathering.  

Trump's attacks on Megyn Kelly only diminish him and makes him look overly defensive.  Meanwhile, he found himself aggressively reassuring his supporters in a round of interviews on the Sunday public affairs shows.  On CBS's Face the Nation, he said, "I will be phenomenal to women."  On ABC's This Week he said, "I have many executives that are women."  And on NBC's Meet the Press he said it would be difficult for women to criticize him, "It's very hard for them to attack me on looks because I'm so good looking."

As Trump struggles to contain the damage from his remarks, several other candidates have made headway in their campaign among conservative Republicans.  Former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was the big winner Thursday even though she appeared in the afternoon debate.  She showed she is ready for prime time and might make a strong vice presidential candidate.  

Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Governor John Kasich both did well in Thursday night's debate, and their performances could build real momentum for their campaigns.  Meanwhile, one-time front-runner Jeb Bush did not hurt himself among likely Republican voters with his debate performance, which may be viewed as a victory by those who are supporting him.

The Republican Party conducted an "autopsy" following Governor Mitt Romney's loss to President Barack Obama in 2012.  Its report said, “The Republican Party needs to stop talking to itself. We have become expert in how to provide ideological reinforcement to like-minded people, but devastatingly we have lost the ability to be persuasive with, or welcoming to, those who do not agree with us on every issue.”

Thursday night's dissonant debate once again shows that the Republican party has not changed.