Friday, July 24, 2015

A Rubio Rebuke

Senator Marco Rubio, the Republican presidential candidate from Florida, may be frustrated that his campaign is lacking traction, but there is no excuse for him to say that the president has "no class."  His comment is a feeble attempt to get attention because he is lagging behind the frontrunners, especially Donald Trump, in the polls.

Rubio made the comment on Fox News this week in the context of an answer about Donald Trump's campaign.  "It’s important we have– to conduct the presidency, it has to be done in a dignified way, with a level of class,” he said. “I don’t think the way he’s behaved over the last few weeks is either dignified or worthy of office he seeks.”  

But then Rubio continued with an attack on President Barack Obama.  “We already have a president now that has no class,” Rubio sputtered.  “I mean, we have a president now that does selfie-stick videos, that invites YouTube stars there, people who eat cereal out of a bathtub… he goes on comedy shows to talk about something as serious as Iran. The list goes on and on.”

Rubio sounded more like a high school freshman with an inferiority complex, or, at least, a candidate who is deeply discouraged with his poor performance among Republican presidential candidates in recent polls.  The fact that he would say such an outrageous thing about President Obama shows that he is only interested in scoring political points.

When it comes to scoring political points among Republicans, nothing is an easier target than the nuclear deal with Iran that Congress is in the process of reviewing.  At a hearing on Capitol Hill Thursday, Rubio took an aggressive tone with the lead U.S. negotiator, Secretary of State John Kerry.  Rubio said that a new president would be in his or her rights to rip up the whole agreement.  

“It’s important for the world and especially Iran to understand that this is a deal whose survival is not guaranteed beyond the term of the current president,” Rubio said--clearly threatening what he may do should he become president.  "Even if this deal narrowly avoids congressional defeat, the Iranian regime and world should know this deal is your deal with Iran, meaning yours — this administration — and the next president is under no legal or moral obligation to live up to it,” Rubio continued. “The deal can go away the day president Obama leaves office.”

The Iran nuclear deal, agreed to on July 14 by the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, plus Germany (P5 Plus 1), calls for Iran to roll back its existing nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions.  The UN Security Council approved the agreement last week, which puts in place a rigorous verification process.  If Iran violates the agreement, an automatic "snap back" provision kicks in that would reinstate sanctions on Iran.

While Americans are skeptical about Iran, a majority of those asked in a recent Washington Post/ABC poll support the agreement.   But in calling for Congress to vote against the agreement Rubio says that a majority of Americans are against it.  Oops.  Congress may vote the agreement down, but the President has said he will veto such a congressional action.  In the end, it is likely the president will eke out enough votes to uphold the agreement.

Rubio's position that "The deal can go away the day President Obama leaves office" is silly, presuming Iran lives up to its side of the bargain.  Why would a President Rubio cancel an agreement that is working and risk alienating the U.S. from its allies?  It would be far better for him to take the position that, if elected president, he would do a better job of enforcing the agreement than his Democratic opponent.  Of course, saying he'd rip it up makes a better soundbite that appeals to the conservative base of the party.

Rubio has stumbled before.  In March of this year he told Fox News that it was not a mistake to invade Iraq in 2003, noting, "the world is a better place because Saddam Hussein doesn't run Iraq."  But when asked in a May interview at the Council on Foreign Relations if he would have favored the Iraqi invasion if he knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, Rubio replied, "not only would I have not been in favor of it, President Bush would not have been in favor of it."  Two different audiences, two different answers.  And Rubio has also changed his position on immigration under pressure from conservatives. 

Perhaps realizing that his ridiculous slander that President Obama has "no class" was a bit too much, Rubio backtracked a bit in an interview Thursday with Fox News' Bret Baier.  After Rubio noted that the president is a great father and husband but was divisive, Baier asked, "So you stand by that statement that the president has no class?"

Rubio responded, "I think, on the major issues of our time, he has not conducted himself of the dignity of worthy of that was office. Demonization of political opponents and divisions in America which have made it harder for us to solve our problems, and have poisoned the political environment as a result."  Does Rubio think most Americans are fools?  

Republican leaders met on the day of President Obama's first inauguration and plotted how they were going to make him a one-term president.  Republican Congressman Joe Wilson, of South Carolina, yelled "you lie" to the president in a speech before a joint session of Congress nine months after he took office.  For years Republicans questioned whether the president was born in the United States.  Republicans attacked the president's health care law with distortions and lies, like saying it called for death panels.  In 2009, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich denounced what he called Obama's "Kenyan anti-colonial behavior."  Tea Party inspired Republican members of Congress shut the federal government down in 2013 because they wanted deeper budget cuts and the repeal of Obamacare.  Arizona's Republican Governor Jan Brewer waved her finger at President Obama on an airport tarmac in early 2012.

Throughout his tenure President Obama has been subject to disrespectful, and sometimes racist, attacks from the right.  A recent example is Rubio's swipe against the president that he has "no class."  But all this attack does is reveal that Rubio is a sanctimonious hypocrite who will say anything to get ahead.  

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Donald Speaks!

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has sucked the oxygen out of the Republican Party by dominating media coverage since he announced his presidential candidacy last month.   As a result of his brash and often outrageous statements he has soared in the polls to the top of a crowded field of candidates.  Meanwhile, Trump's theatrics have exposed the weaknesses in the Republican Party.

Trump strongly appeals to a core group of Republican voters who are anti-immigrant and anti-Washington.   His comments last month about Mexicans resonated with this group.  “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”   

Never mind that this statement is not true, it is what some Republicans strongly believe.  In fact, the Republican Party has long struggled with the immigration issue.  Following their loss in the 2012 Presidential Election, the party released an autopsy report with its analysis of what went wrong.  It noted that candidate Mitt Romney received only 27 percent of the Hispanic vote and recommended increasing the party's appeal to Latinos.  GOP party chairman Reince Priebus said at the time, "The question is: instead of getting 27 percent of the Hispanic vote, can I get 35?"  

Yet, knowing the increasing numbers of Hispanics in the American electorate, most of the announced Republican candidates failed to aggressively challenge Trump's ridiculous comments about Mexicans.  Now the party is on the defensive about immigration reform.  The 2013 Republican autopsy report concluded that the party "must embrace and champion immigration reform."  It warned,  “If we do not, our party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

When it comes to other important issues facing America Trump speaks as a man who is never in doubt, although he is frequently wrong.  For instance, he has claimed he has a plan to defeat the terrorist group ISIS, which now controls oil fields in Iraq.  "I would bomb the hell out of those oil fields," he told CNN earlier this month, "I wouldn't send many troops because you wouldn't need them by the time I got finished."  Many military experts agree destroying the oil fields would do little to slow ISIS, but it would damage Iraq's future source of revenue.  But this kind of muscular, shoot from the hip approach to foreign policy appeals to a segment of the Republican base.

Trump claims he will put unemployed Americans back to work, explaining,
"They can’t get jobs, because there are no jobs, because China has our jobs and Mexico has our jobs."  He claims that he will be a tough negotiator with China, and he blames the fact that Trump branded shirts and ties are manufactured in China on the Chinese!  “Quite frankly, I was never satisfied with manufacturing my product in China, but because of what they’ve done in terms of devaluing their currency, it is very hard for other companies to compete and make such apparel in the United States."  If he was never satisfied with making apparel in China, why did he do it?  

Trump has joined the chorus of Republicans who attack Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton.  In an interview this week with NBC News, he said, “Hillary Clinton was the worst secretary of state in the history of the United States.”  He continued, “There’s never been a secretary of state so bad as Hillary. The world blew up around us, we lost everything, including all relationships. There wasn’t one good thing that came out of that administration or her being secretary of state.”  He concluded, "I think she would be a terrible president." 

While most Republicans agree with Trump, they may be surprised to hear that he praised her in a 2012 interview with Fox News.  "Hillary Clinton I think is a terrific woman...I think she really works hard and I think she does a good job."  In fact, Hillary and Bill Clinton had a front row seat at Trump's 2005 wedding to supermodel Melania Knauss.  

Trump is attracting support among many Republicans because he has a well-known name and he is saying things many party members feel.  He will no doubt be formidable in the upcoming debates.  But his ad hominem attacks, his insults, his bombast and attacking tirades are only hurting a Republican Party that is deeply divided and struggling to find its way to the White House. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

Christie for President

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the latest Republican to announce he is running for president.  He joins an already overcrowded field of candidates seeking their party's nomination.  But Christie stands out because an overwhelming majority of his own state's registered voters disapproves of his performance in office. 

His announcement speech, which will take place Tuesday at his former high school, will be given without the aid of a teleprompter.  It will reflect his campaign theme, "Telling it like it is," and be targeted to Republican voters in New Hampshire, where he will go next to begin campaigning.  He will highlight his middle-class upbringing, his family values, and his willingness to make tough decisions on entitlements and government spending.

But many Republicans have not forgotten Christie's post Hurricane Sandy walking tour in 2012 with then candidate President Barack Obama, which came in his closely contested state at the expense of GOP candidate Mitt Romney.  Teachers in the state have not forgotten his harsh attacks on educators and college administrators in his effort to reform the education system.  Public sector unions have not forgotten that the governor has run roughshod over their pensions.  And commuters have not forgotten that it was Christie's appointees who shut down lanes of the George Washington Bridge, aka Bridgegate, as political retribution against those who did not support the governor's reelection.

In his announcement Christie is expected to point to his governance of a blue state as an example of how he can work with both sides of the political aisle.  But state Democrats would argue differently.  Christie will say he can make the tough decisions, but many of his opponents will criticize his tough tactics.

Christie's brash and in-your-face style will win him supporters among Republican voters seeking a candidate who seemingly has strong leadership skills.  He will stand out among the field of announced Republican candidates, and will likely do well in the upcoming party debates.  

But this self-described pragmatic conservative Republican is thought by many in the party to be too moderate to win the nomination.  While he has raised a lot of money as the Chairman of the Republican Governor's Association, more than $100 million, some of his political positions are not in sync with the Republican base, including immigration and gun control.  

Governor Christie was reelected to a second term in 2013 with 60.3 percent of the vote, which was driven largely by his leadership in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.  Because he is term limited he will not be able to run for governor again in 2017.  But even if he were eligible then it is unlikely that New Jersey voters, who have soured on his act, would reelect him.  So for him a run for the presidency is his next best option to be elected to public office.  

The fact is Christie has nothing to lose and everything to gain by pursuing the White House.   He has said, "I think what the American people want more than anything else right now is someone who's just going to look them in the eye and tell them the truth, even some truths that they don't like."  But the reality is do enough Republicans trust Christie enough to nominate him as their standard bearer in 2016?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hillary Clinton Speaks

“I’m not running for some Americans,” Hillary Rodham Clinton said Saturday in her first major campaign rally, “I’m running for all Americans.”   Her speech was populist in tone as she promised that if elected president she would close the income gap between rich and poor.

Several thousand enthusiastic supporters gathered on a picture perfect day to hear the Democratic frontrunner speak on New York City's Roosevelt Island, located between Manhattan and Queens in the East River.  But this speech would have better timed had it been scheduled two months ago when she officially announced she was a candidate for president.  

Instead, she went on a closely guarded listening tour of voters and dodged press questions about controversies swirling around her campaign.  In that time she was subject to Republican attacks related to her private email server, her role in the Clinton Foundation and potential conflicts of interest while serving as secretary of state.   As a consequence, polling around her likability and trustworthiness has gone negative.

While Republicans have been attacking Clinton, populist Democratic candidates have been critical of her campaign as well.  Senator Bernie Sanders, a distant second to Clinton in the polls, has been particularly aggressive.  "I don't have a super PAC. I'm not going to be getting huge sums of money from millionaires and billionaires," Sanders told MSNBC last week when asked to explain how he is different than Clinton.  "So, working families all over this country are saying, Bernie, we want to stand with you, take on this billionaire class who are dominating our economics and our politics," he concluded. 

In her speech Sunday, Clinton reached out to the party base by quoting Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt.  "He said there's no mystery about what it takes to build a strong and prosperous America: 'Equality of opportunity... Jobs for those who can work... Security for those who need it... The ending of special privilege for the few...The preservation of civil liberties for all...a wider and constantly rising standard of living.'"  She then added, with a smile, "That sounds good to me." 

Clinton did offer policies she would pursue as president, including universal prekindergarten, paid family leave, equal pay for women, college affordability and incentives for companies that provide profit-sharing to employees.   She also said she would change the tax code "so it rewards hard work at home" rather than corporations "stashing profits overseas."  To achieve her goals she said, "Our next President must work with Congress and every other willing partner across our entire country. And I will do just that to turn the tide so these currents start working for us more than against us."

In a response to charges that she is out of touch with Middle America, she cited her humble upbringing and promised, "I've spent my life fighting for children, families, and our country. And I'm not stopping now."  For those who have expressed concern about her age, she said, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.”

Clinton has been a polarizing figure throughout her career, and she will continue to be the target of political attacks from all sides throughout the campaign.   In her speech, she portrayed herself as a fighter, “I’ve been called many things by many people, quitter is not one of them.’’   But, ultimately, Clinton will have to be more publicly accountable for some of the legitimate questions that have been raised around her candidacy because they are not going away.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Journalist Bob Schieffer Retires

Bob Schieffer never wanted to be the story; he just wanted to cover the news.  In signing off for the last time as anchor of Face the Nation, he made that clear.   "The news is not about the newscaster," he said, "it's about the people who make it and those who are affected by it."

Schieffer remembered that he was hooked when he saw his byline in the school newspaper when he was a ninth grader.  He grew up in Ft. Worth, Texas, and went to college locally at Texas Christian University.  He landed his first job at a local radio station, KXOL, working for $1 an hour.   In Sunday's Face the Nation he would recall, "I love the news, and, at the time, every job I have ever had was the best job in the world."

That enthusiasm soon landed him a job at the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram.  It was there he got his first big scoop.  He was working in the newsroom following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas.  In his 2003 book, This Just In, he described answering one of the ringing phones.

"A Woman's voice asked if we could spare anyone to give her a ride to Dallas."  

"'Lady,' I said, 'this is not a taxi, and besides, the president has been shot.'"

"'I know,' she said, 'They think my son is the one who shot him.'"  It was Lee Harvey Oswald's mother who had heard her son had been arrested.  

"'Where do you live?' I blurted out, 'I'll be right over to get you!'"  

Schieffer picked her up and drove her to the Dallas police station where police guided him and Mrs. Oswald into an interrogation room.  Several hours later the FBI realized they had a reporter in their midst and ordered him to leave.  But Schieffer had a great story.  

Following the Kennedy assassination, Schieffer got his first promotion from the police beat to covering the county courthouse.  Then The Star-Telegram would send him to Vietnam to cover America's growing involvement there.  The paper had promised that he would interview every Ft. Worth boy he could find.  "I have yet to match the thrill I got when I would...tell a nineteen-year-old kid, 'I'm from the Star-Telegram and your mom wrote me a letter and asked me to look in on you,'" he remembered in his book.  When his assignment in Vietnam ended, he recalled, "I had gone to Vietnam convinced the government was on the right course, and was coming home convinced the course was hopeless." 

Schieffer would be hired by a local television station, but was eager to move a network news organization.   In 1969, he took a job in Washington as a reporter with Metromedia.  His first assignment would be to cover the Nixon Inaugural.  But he still wanted a network news job, preferably with CBS News because Walter Cronkite was his favorite broadcaster.  Loaded down with tapes of his stories, he arrived one day at the CBS News Washington bureau and announced he was there to see the bureau chief.  After making his case to Bill Small, the tough CBS News bureau chief, he left thinking he had failed.  But a week later Small hired him.

In 1970, CBS News assigned Schieffer to the Pentagon beat.  He would later note that he was one of the few Washington reporters who covered all of the four major beats, the Pentagon, State Department, White House and Congress.   Washington was ground zero for news with the Vietnam War, the re-election of President Nixon in 1972, and the Watergate scandal, and Schieffer was deeply involved in CBS News coverage.  Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974.  Schieffer covered Nixon's final departure from Andrews Air Force Base on Air Force One.  One week after Nixon's resignation, Schieffer was promoted to White House correspondent replacing Dan Rather, who took over as anchor for CBS Reports.

Schieffer covered Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.  Schieffer also continued his role as anchor of the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News.  In 1979, Schieffer was asked to anchor the struggling CBS Morning News, a role he carried out for twenty-one months.  He would describe his stint as a "graduate course in learning how to handle on-the-air emergencies."  He requested a transfer back to Washington, and would soon become the State Department correspondent.  

In 1981, Dan Rather would replace the retiring Walter Cronkite as anchor of the CBS Evening News.  Schieffer found himself covering politics.  Meanwhile, CBS went through a change of ownership, which led to a round of deep budget cuts.  In the late 80's, Schieffer became CBS News' Congressional correspondent.  He later said that, "Congress had always been my favorite part of Washington."  He mastered the beat.

In 1991, Face the Nation anchor Lesley Stahl became a correspondent for 60 Minutes.  Schieffer was offered the job and responded, "When do I start."  He wrote, "It didn't take me long to realize that of all the jobs I have ever had over the years, this was the best.  I got to interview everyone who was anyone, and I didn't even have to go to them."

Schieffer anchored Face the Nation for twenty-four years.  He led the expansion of the program from thirty-minutes to an hour.  He hosted presidents and world leaders.  He asked tough questions, but was never confrontational.  He tried to make each program informative and interesting.  At the end of his tenure, Face the Nation was consistently the number one ranked Sunday pubic affairs program.  

As he began his final broadcast Sunday, the 78 year-old Schieffer, speaking with his characteristic Texas drawl, said, "Today we'll keep with that tradition set twenty-four years ago, and stay focused on the news."  While the news business has changed dramatically over the past six decades, there is much for all journalists to learn from Bob Schieffer's remarkable career. 

Thank you Bob.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Politics of War

This Memorial Day the nation remembers all those people who died while serving in the American armed forces.  More than 1,316,000 military personnel have died during military conflicts in this nation's history.  

The mission of the U.S. military is to fight and win our nation's wars.  The U.S. has the most powerful military in the history of the world, but it should not be utilized as a political tool, or for retribution.  The government and its leaders must do their best to make the right decisions, to be truthful with the American public, and to provide all the necessary support needed to fulfill the military's mission.  Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. 

Following the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush began to plan a response.  Vice President Dick Cheney and neo-con members of the administration, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, immediately set their sites on Saddam Hussein, Iraq's tyrannical ruler.  They were disappointed that Hussein had not been toppled during the first Gulf War in 1991.  Soon the administration made the claim that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, and that Hussein was linked to the terrorist group al-Qaeda. 

But the Bush administration was cherry picking raw intelligence, much of which was unverified.  The "evidence" against Hussein was presented to Congress, which on October 11, 2002, passed the Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of United States Forces Against Iraq.  In early 2003, the British and Spanish governments proposed a U.N. resolution that gave Iraq a deadline for compliance with previous resolutions on WMDs or face military actions.  The resolution was withdrawn because France, Germany, Canada and Russia were opposed to military action; instead they called for further diplomacy.  In early March, Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix said that progress had been made with the inspections and no WMD's had been found in Iraq.

The administration, which had rejected Blix's assessment, began making the case for war to the American people.  In February, President Bush conducted a series of interviews with news organizations, including the Spanish language channel Telemundo.  I was the head of news for Telemundo at that time, and I was present for our session.  The president told Telemundo's Pedro Sevcec that he had not made a decision to go to war.  Following the interview, I asked the president, "What about Jacques Chirac," referring to the French president.  President Bush swatted me on the shoulder with the back of his hand and said dismissively, "Oh, he'll come around."   "We're going to war," I thought.  
White House Photo

The American invasion of Iraq began on March 20.  Vice President Cheney had predicted we would be greeted as liberators.  He was wrong.  The Iraqi forces were quickly defeated but the administration mismanaged the occupation.  The Ba'athist government had collapsed, Hussein's military was disarmed, and a power vacuum ensued.  Sectarian violence broke out between the Shias and the Sunnis.  U.S. backed Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, became Prime Minister in 2006, but his government alienated the country's Sunni minority.   
In 2007, President Bush implemented a troop surge in Iraq.  By adding 20,000 additional U.S. troops, primarily in capital city Baghdad, the president hoped to buy time for reconciliation among the factions.  The situation on the ground stabilized, but Sunnis still distrusted the Maliki government. 

In 2008, the Bush administration negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq granting U.S. troops in the country legal immunities with the understanding they would be withdrawn by 2012.  When negotiations began to extend U.S. military presence, only a smaller number, Maliki and various Iraqi party leaders agreed to the extended troop deployment, but did not want to continue the legal immunities.  These immunities are a condition everywhere U.S. troops are based.   

Some critics said President Barack Obama could have done more to secure the legal immunities, but that is debatable.  In an interview on CBS News' Face the Nation Sunday, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) once again claimed an agreement could have been reached with Maliki through negotiations.  Nonetheless, President Obama withdrew American combat troops and fulfilled a campaign promise.

The Maliki government collapsed in 2014.  In the summer of 2014, ISIS, an Islamic terrorist group that had been incubating for more than a decade in Syria, launched a military offensive in Northern Iraq and declared an Islamic caliphate.  ISIS, which is Sunni, has slaughtered thousands of people in its expansion in the region.  Many Iraqi Sunnis find it preferable to the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Iraq under Hussein had served as a counter balance against Iran, its bitter enemy.  With Hussein gone Iran, a Shiite country, was working closely with the Shiites in Iraq.  Iran's influence in the region had grown, especially with the spread of ISIS.   Iraq is in turmoil and it is unlikely all of the factions, including the Kurds in the north, will come together again.

The Iraq War has been costly.  More than 4,500 members of the U.S military have been killed since the invasion.  Hundreds of thousands of casualties have been suffered by Iraqis.  Two years ago the "Costs of Wars" project, part of the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University, estimated that the Iraq War had already cost America more than $2 trillion.  And many veterans of Iraq, who have returned home, are unemployed, suffering from postraumatic stress disorder, or have committed suicide.  

Former Vice President Dick Cheney and many Republican presidential candidates blame President Obama for today's chaos in Iraq and the region.  Yet these candidates do not offer a plan or a solution.  In fact, former Senator Rick Santorum recently said, "If these folks (ISIS) want to return to a 7th-century version of Islam, then let's load up our bombers and bomb them back to the 7th century."   ISIS and Iraq have turned into political fodder for the Republican base.  

The 2003 invasion of Iraq, and subsequent mismanagement by the Bush administration, is the biggest mistake the U.S. has made since Vietnam.  It has led to a series of unintended and disastrous consequences.  And there is no light at the end of this tunnel for America.  

Perhaps the architects of the Iraq War should have heeded the counsel of their spiritual leader, President Ronald Reagan.  In a 1985 Veterans Day speech he said, "We endanger the peace and confuse all issues when we obscure the truth."