Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cheney's Legacy

Former Vice President Dick Cheney is clearly more concerned with his own legacy and political partisanship than with the well being of America, even though his actions bring attention to his own devastating failures in office and undermine this nation's president.

Take the most recent attack on President Barack Obama's initial handling of the nearly catastrophic attempt to blow up an airplane over Detroit. "He seems to think if he closes Guantanamo and releases the hard-core Al Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won't be at war," Cheney said in a written statement. "But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe." This is an amazing statement coming from the man who, while serving as vice president, personally authorized the release of more than 500 Guantanamo prisoners, dozens of which are reported to have reengaged in terrorism against the United States.

As vice president, Cheney played a key role in undermining the civil rights of Americans through the Patriot Act, and authorizing the use of illegal torture, such as waterboarding, in interrogations. Cheney's statement about President Obama continued, "He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won't be at war." Perhaps waterboarding passengers before they board a plane will mollify Cheney?

The former vice president's chutzpah and outspokenness is especially remarkable considering all that went wrong during his term. There was the Iraq War, poorly justified and badly executed by the Bush/Cheney administration. There was also the failure to find even one weapon of mass destruction in Iraq, the single most urgent reason cited for going to war. And there were no Al-Qaeda training camps in Iraq either. Yet thousands of brave American soldiers have died or been injured, and billions of dollars have been spent in this war which America is committed to for years to come.

The former vice president also took his eye off the ball in America's war on terror. The Bush/Cheney White House failed to close the deal in Afghanistan eight years ago, and rid the world of Osama bin Laden. Instead they allowed the problem to fester and grow until their last day in office.

Following the ghastly terrorist attacks on America September 11, 2001, President George Bush set up a commission "to provide recommendations designed to guard against future attacks." On July 22, 2004, that commission made its findings public. Yet to this day America has not successfully implemented all of the commission's recommendations. Perhaps doing so would have "connected the dots" between a father's warnings to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, his son's failure to get a visa for Great Britain, and his attempt to buy an airline ticket to Detroit for $500 cash while carrying no luggage.

Cheney and some ambitious Republicans are critical of President Obama for taking so long to respond to the attack. But where were these same critics when it took President Bush six whole days to comment about Richard Reid's failed attempt to blow up an airliner with a shoe bomb? And did these same GOP critics rush out fundraising letters to their constituents warning of America's safety immediately following the Reid incident as some have done this time around?

In his written statement Cheney identified President Obama's "goal of his presidency--social transformation, the restructuring of American society." Well, after the Bush/Cheney administration, what choice did he have? Sure, the issue of national security is critical. But the new president inherited a near economic depression, record job losses, huge government deficits that will be damaging to our children's future, failed oversight of the nation's financial institutions, more than 40 million Americans without health insurance and rapidly increasing medial costs.

The failure to stop the Detroit "underwear bomber" is unacceptable. There is plenty of blame to go around. But it is time to stop scapegoating; it is time to fix the systemic problems. It is time to knock down walls and jealousies between the appropriate government agencies, to leverage existing technologies to centralize and track important information. As an example, if Google can create a technology to prioritize a search, or send out Google alerts or can place a targeted advertisement on a Blog, why can't the U.S. government create a software program to track terrorism suspects? So that if England puts someone on its "no-fly" list an alert is sent to the TSA and its counterparts worldwide.

It is time to stop politicizing America's safety; to stop all the national bickering and backbiting. The war with Al Qaeda needs everyone's total focus. There is too much at stake!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The American Rockies

The Rocky Mountains majestically tower into the winter sky. Proud and beautiful, they command respect from every direction.

The Rockies have endured centuries of rapidly changing weather patterns, which often batter these behemoths with fierce gusts and slashing storms only to give way to intense sunlight and heat. They are unmoved by wind whipping down narrow passes and valleys. Sleet, ice and freezing rain do not faze them. Clouds often embrace the highest peaks and are visible for a hundred miles. The sun illuminates their grandeur. The blue and white sky provides a glorious backdrop.

Pine trees and Aspens wash across the face of these great mountains, providing a green and white blanket interspersed with rocks and crags. Snowballs, clinging to a million tree branches, hang as seasonal ornaments. Steams, clogged with ice, gurgle and snake downward to lakes and reservoirs. Life here is rough, stoic and real.

In a century the world around the Rockies will have evolved. One hundred winters and untold blizzards will have come and gone. Yet these mountains fear nothing; they demand awe. They are constant. They are the inner strength of America.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Change? What Change?

Remember just a few weeks ago when political pundits were declaring the demise of the Republican Party? That Republicans were teetering on the edge of insignificance; remember? Well, not to be outdone, Democrats have now stolen the show!

Former Democratic National Committee Chairman, and Vermont Governor, Howard Dean has counseled senators to vote no on the latest Senate health reform proposal. As he explained in a Washington Post op-ed piece, "I know health reform when I see it, and there isn't much left in the Senate bill...this bill would do more harm than good to the future of America." Democratic Congressman Dave Obey, of Wisconsin, was quoted by Politico as saying, "It's ridiculous, and the Obama administration is sitting on the sidelines. That's nonsense." Powerful Democratic Congressmen John Conyers, of Michigan, said, "No public option, no extending Medicare to 55, no nothing, an excise tax, God...The insurance lobby is taking over."

While everyone pretty much agrees health care reform is needed, Democrats have not been able to garner support of the 60 members required to assure passage. Meanwhile, President Obama has been singularly focused on supporting any bill that could be labeled health care reform, but to no avail. Senator Joe Leiberman, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said no to extending Medicare benefits just three months after he proposed the very same idea. Of course he almost was Republican Senator John McCain's running mate in 2008. Nebraska Democratic Senator Ben Nelson has rejected the public option and wants tighter restrictions on abortion.

President Obama has found himself in the position of catering a handful of moderates at the expense of his core supporters. But is any win on health care reform a win? No say liberal members of Congress who are furious. For instance, Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner of New York said, "Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise. We need the president to stand up for the values our party shares."

So the White House has found itself deflecting criticism from its own party. White House adviser David Axelrod responded to Howard Dean's attack, "I saw his piece in the Post this morning, and it's predicated on a bunch of erroneous conclusions. White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said of Dean's charge that the bill was good for insurance companies, "if this is such a great thing for the insurance companies, why are they spending hundreds and millions of dollars every day to attack it?"

Meanwhile, the president began employing some scar tactics, telling ABC Newsman Charlie Gibson, "If we don't pass it, here's the guarantee....your premiums will go up, your employers are going to load up more costs on you." And he said the costs of Medicare and Medicaid are on an "unsustainable" trajectory, and if not dealt with, "the federal government will go bankrupt." As the president ratchets up his rhetoric, his job approval rating has slipped to a new low, 47% according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. The president can find some comfort in the fact that the Congress, the Democratic Party and the Republican Party all do worse in the polls.

But Republicans are beginning to build a narrative of a president who is not a leader. And it just may be sticking. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough observes that "No one fears of President Obama." And conservative columnist Peggy Noonan asked Axelrod, "You are losing the left, you are losing the right, you are losing the center. That looks to me like a political disaster." Even Democrats like Representative Weiner are calling for leadership; "It's time for the president to get his hands dirty."

Even if House and Senate conferees are able to hammer out a health care reform bill that passes Congress, its impact is not likely to be felt on Main Street for some time. Meanwhile the president's image will have been damaged by the lengthy debate, and he will have spent an enormous amount of good will with the public no matter the outcome.

This is now President Obama's ecomony, Obama's unemployment problem, Obama's housing crisis, Obama's deficit, Obama's wars, Obama's banking regulatory problem and it will remain Obama's health care reform problem. Fortunately for President Obama, the party of "no" has weak national leadership. Governor Sarah Palin's magical book tour has made her a lot of money but it hasn't converted many voters. However, Republicans will be competitive in Congressional districts across the country. And as the 2010 midterm elections approach, Americans will be asking themselves, "Is this change we can really believe in?"

Thursday, December 10, 2009

War and Peace

President Barack Obama said he was grateful and humbled to receive the Nobel Peace prize, and acknowledged his accomplishments are slight when compared to past honorees. But in his acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, President Obama had to balance the role of a wartime president with his recognition as a man of peace.

The United States is engaged in two wars and President Obama's appearance comes days after he announced a military buildup in Afghanistan. He deftly addressed several audiences, including the American public and European nations both wary of the continuing Afghan War. His speech amounted to a declaration of an Obama Doctrine, "I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people."

He eschewed idealistic passages of peace for the hardened rhetoric of war, "There will be times when nations - acting individually or in concert - will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified." He then warned, "Evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms."

President Obama, who has been criticized by conservatives for being too apologetic in past speeches overseas, made no apologies in Oslo. "Whatever mistakes we have made," he said, "The plain fact is this: the United States of America has helped underwrite global security for more than six decades with the blood of our citizens and the strength of our arms."

He noted that, while there was no longer fear of a nuclear war between two superpowers, "The old architecture is buckling under the weight of new threats." He continued, "Modern technology allows a few small men with out-sized rage to murder innocents on a horrific scale."

He said there have to be new standards for the use of force that apply to all nations. "I - like any head of state - reserve the right to act unilaterally if necessary to defend my nation," he said. "Nevertheless, I am convinced that adhering to standards strengthens those who do, and isolates - and weakens - those who don't." President Obama also said that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, saying, "Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later."

President Obama, who expressed concern about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, called out Iran and North Korea. "Those who claim to respect international law cannot avert their eyes when those laws are flouted" he said. "The same principle applies to those who violate international law by brutalizing their own people." The president noted that he had prohibited torture, ordered the prison at Guantanamo closed and reaffirmed America's compliance with the Geneva Convention.

The president did speak of alternatives to violence in dealing with nations that break rules and laws. He said that the international community must stand together as one against rogue nations; that their words must be backed up by tough sanctions. “Intransigence must be met with increased pressure,” he said, “and such pressure only exists when the world stands together as one.” He praised NATO for its support in Afghanistan and called for a strengthening of UN and regional peacekeeping.

President Obama was fond of saying "dream big dreams" during his presidential campaign. But after nearly one year as president his outlook has been tempered by his deliberations over worldly problems such as war and human suffering. Now a more pragmatic and realistic man has stepped forward onto the world stage.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lighting Up The Town

On this the first Sunday in December, thousands of Carnegie Hill residents gathered in front of the historic Brick Church to carry on a New York tradition. It is from this location, amid carols and good cheer, that Park Avenue's Christmas lights are turned on each year.

Children teetered on parental shoulders as young and old huddled in the chilly evening air. A program with traditional carols numbered from one to twelve was distributed to many attendees. At times all would sing, at others women or men were challenged to take the lead. The voices were as varied as the diverse crowd. Some sang beautifully while others, well this is the season for hope. Some of those residents not willing to test the cold air looked down from windows in towering Park Avenue apartment buildings overlooking the scene.

The first Park Avenue tree lighting took place in 1945 at a time when this country was recovering from World War II. Today our country is at war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The church pastor spoke of those currently stationed on the war front as well as the memory of those who have lost their lives in past wars. A trumpeter played "Taps" for those tens of thousands of brave American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who gave their lives in service of this country in the time since the ceremony first took place.

"Let there be light!" were the magical words spoken by the pastor. The crowd gasped with approval as the lights on the pine trees located in the center of Park Avenue's median illuminated. Gradually, the remaining Park Avenue trees located to the north and south illuminated. With that the crowd returned to a rousing rendition of "Jingle Bells."

It is times like this that make the neighborhoods of New York so special, especially this time of year.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Season for Hope

Amid hopeful signs that the U.S. economy is slowly improving, President Barack Obama called today’s report of a decline in unemployment “good news for the season of hope.” But House Minority Leader John Boehner charged that the president’s policies “had nothing to do with putting Americans back to work.” Bah! Humbug!

With the all-important Congressional midterm elections just eleven months away both political parties are jockeying to win the perception battle among potential voters. So this is the season of hope at the White House, for sure, as the president pushes his agenda on several important fronts.

Take the all important counter insurgency buildup in Afghanistan, known as “COIN” among the 68,000 American troops based in that country. After an in-depth review with his national security team and other important stakeholders, President Obama announced he will add about 30,000 troops to the cause, and he said he will begin a drawdown in eighteen months. Given Afghanistan’s history, rugged terrain and largely illiterate population there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic. But the Obama administration has received support from many allies, and today NATO, which has 48,000 troops there, announced it would send in 7,000 more.

General Stanley McChrystal has devised a comprehensive and complicated strategy to defeat the Taliban and terrorists that includes efforts to help train local police and military, and teach the population to take control for themselves. The drawdown date is when the first troops will be withdrawn not when all American troops will come home. But this timetable puts real pressure on President Hamid Karzai’s government to strengthen his country’s military and reform his government. Afghanistan is not likely to be a deciding factor in the Midterms unless there is a sharp increase in deaths among American soldiers.

Meanwhile Congress is slowly moving toward passing health care reform legislation. It seems there will be some form of public option, maybe an “opt-in” or “trigger” mechanism. Health care lobbyists have spent millions of dollars trying to derail reform and their efforts have watered down the impact of the bill. But early next year President Obama will likely sign a health care reform bill, something no other American president has ever been able to achieve.

Earlier this week the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its third quarter 2009 estimates showing that “an additional 600,000 to 1.6 million people were employed in the United States, and real gross domestic product was 1.2 percent to 3.2 percent higher, than would have been the case in the absence of the (government stimulus package).” Today it was announced that the nation’s unemployment rate dipped two-tenths of a percent to 10%. Meanwhile, Bank of America has said it will return to the government $45 billion in TARP money, giving reason for further optimism in the nation’s banking sector. Of course, much needed banking reform is still needed and Wall Street is not Main Street.

President Obama will focus on cutting the deficit in his January 2010 State of the Union address. No Congressmen favors cuts in the funding going to his district, so political battles are certain to ensue. Republicans have already attacked the president and Congressional Democrats for the growing deficit. Take Leader Boehner’s recent barrage, "Washington Democrats' so-called 'war on deficits' is about a year late and more than a trillion dollars short.” But where was Leader Boehner during the Bush Presidency when deficits exploded?

The dominant party always loses some Congressional seats in the Midterm elections. But this year the Republicans lack strong leadership, a clear vision for America and a unified strategy. They also may be losing the all important perception battle. With an improving economy, a plan to deal with deficits, health care reform and a reasonable strategy for victory in Afghanistan, this may indeed be the season of hope for President Obama.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Bernie Birnbaum

News anchors often speak about the people who work behind the scenes and make it all possible. Well, for most of his life, CBS News producer Bernie Birnbaum made it all possible for hundreds of people at CBS News. In a business filled with legends, Bernie was a legend.

Everyone loved and respected Bernie. He worked with all the greats, especially when CBS News was the most powerful broadcast news organization in the 60's and 70's. A former Fulbright scholar, he produced for Walter Cronkite, Charles Kuralt, Roger Mudd and worked with Fred Friendly, Howard Stringer and Don Hewitt.

While not great in stature, barely five-feet tall, he was a great person. He said hello to everyone, often with a smile and a quip,; he frequently had a devilish look on his face. He knew just about everything about everyone. He certainly knew where to find every piece of video ever shot by CBS News.

Yet he was a whirlwind of ideas and enthusiasm. He understood the fundamental principles of journalism, in fact he probably helped write them. Yet while he was a traditional journalist, he quickly and easily embraced change in technology and program requirements. He was honest, decent, a man of enormous integrity and a gigantic heart.

Bernie died at the age of 89 on this past Thanksgiving Day. He certainly had a wonderful lifetime to be thankful for. But those of us who worked with him are equally thankful for his friendship and support. He was a true legend.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Some Final Thoughts on Thanksgiving 2009

Happy Thanksgiving. On this day I am truly grateful for all of my many blessings. I am thankful for my wonderful family. I am grateful for a lifetime of terrific friends. I am thankful to our military for their courageous service. And I am thankful to be an American, the greatest country on earth.

I am grateful that I chose to be a journalist, and for my former colleagues at CBS News, Fox News and Telemundo/NBC News. I am grateful to have an opportunity to teach journalism at New York University, the students are all great. I am grateful to have worked with and known Walter Cronkite, Don Hewitt, Ron Silver, among those friends who died this past year.

Yet while I am so grateful I can't help but be reminded of those who are not so lucky, especially this year.

About one in five Americans were hungry at some point this year. On the Upper East Side of New York City homeless people sleep every night in the entryway of a famous church surrounded by multi-million dollar condominiums, coops and townhouses. Wealthy people frequently pass by while walking their dogs after dinner.

About 40 million Americans do not have health insurance. I know of someone who contracted cancer and now is having difficulty getting health insurance because she has a preexisting condition. I know of someone who left a job and started his own business that is struggling to get health insurance. I know a young boy who has brain cancer. His family's efforts to find a cure for him have been slowed by insurance companies.

It is estimated that more than 10% of eligible Americans cannot get full time work. I know some people who have been out of work for a long time. They are smart and skilled at their profession yet they were laid off because of the economic downturn and changes in business models and technology. The unemployment rate is still increasing at an alarming rate throughout the country.

Millions of Americans have either defaulted on their home mortgage or are on the verge of doing so in the next few months. Many more are "under water" as the value of their home is well below the amount of their mortgage. Little is being done to slow this serious problem. Of course, credit card companies with high interest rates and penalties are hosing many of these same Americans.

While a few powerful investment banks are setting record profits and paying huge bonuses, dozens more are near bankruptcy. Banking regulations have not been improved, and the fat cats are not loaning money to average Americans. Rather they are making money off financial investments, many of which are financed with government loans at zero interest. Wall Street and Main Street are worlds apart.

Our country is involved in two wars, where thousands of American soldiers have died or been injured. While there is a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, billions of taxpayer dollars are being spent for uncertain long-term gain. Meanwhile, the threat of terrorism is ever present.

The country remains polarized, and the shouting is louder than at any time in recent memory. Short-term political gain and local agendas have paralyzed our government.

So while I have plenty to be thankful for, on this great American holiday I can't help but wonder about the future for my daughter and my country. Yet I remain optimistic that the very characteristics that have made our country great for more than two centuries will lead us to even brighter days ahead.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Rogue Review

I couldn't resist reading former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's book, especially after viewing excerpts of her television blitz on Oprah and Barbara Walters. The book is Palin's effort to reintroduce herself to America, as well as to cash-in on her popularity.

I found the first half of the book to be an interesting account of her childhood in Alaska. I could hear her voice as I read about hunting trips, like one where her father bagged a moose and offered his young daughter the animal’s still warm eyeballs. Outdoors is a vital source of food and entertainment in the largely rural Alaska. National network television programs were not aired live in Alaska back then, rather they were delayed as much as a week. Palin's father didn't want to know the final football scores until he had seen the tape-delayed game. Palin says she developed a love for books because of her mother, reading Jack London's "The Call of The Wild" and "The Wizard of Oz."

When Todd Palin and his family moved to town during high school, she was immediately attracted to him. At one point he tried to kiss her and she ran away. She was embarrassed when Todd told all his friends about the incident. They talked to each other each night via hand held two-way radios until truckers began interrupting their conversations. Todd worked hard to earn money and landed a position in the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay, several hundred miles from Wassila.

On August 29, 1988, they decided to elope, recruiting two residents from an old people's home to witness the ceremony. Palin writes that she and Todd could not stand being away from each other anymore. They celebrated at a nearby Wendy's, and later informed their parents. On April 20, 1989, 7 months and 21 days after they suddenly were married, baby Track was born. Track was named after track, as in Palin was on the track team.

The book begins to shift to her life in politics, starting with council member and later mayor of Wasilla. This is when she says she began knocking heads to hold down costs, wipe out corruption and help small businesses. She began developing enemies who would later come back to haunt her in 2008. She failed in a run at lieutenant governor and then later she was elected governor in a surprise result. As governor she says she continued her focus on costs, reform and investing in energy.

Governor Palin devotes much of the rest of the book to telling her side of the 2008 election; it is payback time. She blames McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt, advisor Nicole Wallace and her husband, Mark (she says he has a terrible temper), and other staffers for most of her problems. She says Nicolle Wallace pushed the Katie Couric interview because the CBS News anchor suffered from low self-esteem. She blames Couric for "gotcha" questions, asking her views of abortion again and again, and leaving her substantive answers on the cutting room floor. "Couric wasn't interested in substance," she wrote. She accuses Couric and the mainstream media of bias.

Palin blames the controversy over her wardrobe on McCain campaign staffers. She insists they wanted her to dispose of her usual outfits and wear expensive designer label clothes. The campaign supplied hair and makeup that she was ordered to undergo, "I always did my own makeup." Her new makeup and wardrobe team had worked with Katie Couric. Press releases went out in her name that she did not write and did not agree with. For instance, the first press release issued after their daughter Bristol's pregnancy became public. Further, she didn't like the responses the McCain campaign prepared for her to rehearse in advance of her debate appearance.

Palin did not agree with McCain's strategy to suspend his campaign for the crashing economy, "that's a strategy the vice president's team didn't agree with." She attacks the campaign team for micromanaging her campaign and making too many mistakes. It should be noted that Schmidt and Wallace deny Palin's charges and Senator John McCain has come out in support of his former staffers.

What is missing in this book are serious in-depth proposals for dealing with foreign policy, or the complicated economic mess the previous administration got this country in to, or how she will significantly reduce unemployment, or cut trillions from the nation's deficit, or reform health care or reduce hunger in America. Instead, what passes for policy with Palin are the standard conservative talking points--lower taxes, lower deficits, less government and a strong defense.

Her bitter sniping throughout the book makes her seem more like a diva than a humble everyday small town girl. She comes off as ambitious and self-consumed, more like Paris Hilton than Clara Barton or Pearl S. Buck, both of whom she admired. Yet there is a populist streak in Sarah Palin that many conservatives embrace. After all, going rogue does have its appeal. And, while Palin is very polarizing, this book does give conservatives hope that she will be a powerful voice on their behalf for years to come.

Yet it will take more than whining for Sarah Palin to begin winning over the rest of America.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Betcha Gotcha

Never underestimate how much shear chutzpah, ambition and attractiveness can get a person in this day and age. Try at least $1.2 million.

Take former Republican vice presidential candidate and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin who stands to make a fortune from her personal memoir, "Going Rogue." Meanwhile, a lot of media personalities are capitalizing on her box office drawing power for their own benefit. Only in America!

Palin's 413 page memoir was written at break neck speed with ghostwriter Lynn Vincent, who also helped write “Donkey Cons: Sex, Crime, and Corruption in the Democratic Party.” HarperCollins, owned by Rupert Murdoch, will publish a first run of 1.5 million copies.

The Associated Press bought a copy of the book and has printed some of the book's most controversial content. This led Palin to criticize AP for "erroneously reporting the contents of the book" in a Facebook sales pitch Friday, and to ask her fans to "keep your powder dry, read the book."

In “Going Rogue” Palin writes about her childhood, her family, Alaska and the 2008 presidential campaign. Palin says she did the interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric as a favor to her because she felt sorry for Couric’s low ratings. She was asked to do so by Nicole Wallace, a senior John McCain presidential campaign adviser and former CBS News consultant.

The Couric interview took place over several days and covered a wide range of topics. In her book, Palin now describes Couric as condescending, biased and "badgering." And she says CBS News left the most substantive content from the interview on the cutting room floor. Palin says she was taken aback by what she calls Couric's "gothca" questions. For instance, this exchange:

"COURIC: And when it comes to establishing your world view, I was curious, what newspapers and magazines did you regularly read before you were tapped for this — to stay informed and to understand the world?

PALIN: I’ve read most of them again with a great appreciation for the press, for the media —

COURIC: But what ones specifically? I’m curious.

PALIN: Um, all of them, any of them that have been in front of me over all these years.

COURIC: Can you name any of them?

PALIN: I have a vast variety of sources where we get our news."

This interview was widely viewed, including by members of the McCain/Palin campaign, as devastating for Palin. Since her selection at the Republican convention her popularity had been soaring. The Couric interview was a turning point in the 2008 presidential election.

Friday, CBS News President Sean McManus reacted to Palin’s charges, "In this case, I really do think that the quality of the interview and the quality of the questions speak for themselves." He went on, "It's really difficult for me to think that any of the questions were unfair or any of them were questions that a vice presidential candidate shouldn't be expected to receive."

Palin also criticizes ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson for his arrogance and line of questioning. For instance:

"GIBSON: Do you agree with the Bush doctrine?

PALIN: In what respect, Charlie?

GIBSON: The Bush -- well, what do you -- what do you interpret it to be?

PALIN: His world view.

GIBSON: No, the Bush doctrine, enunciated September 2002, before the Iraq war.

PALIN: I believe that what President Bush has attempted to do is rid this world of Islamic extremism, terrorists who are hell bent on destroying our nation. There have been blunders along the way, though. There have been mistakes made. And with new leadership, and that's the beauty of American elections, of course, and democracy, is with new leadership comes opportunity to do things better.

GIBSON: The Bush doctrine, as I understand it, is that we have the right of anticipatory self-defense, that we have the right to a preemptive strike against any other country that we think is going to attack us. Do you agree with that?

PALIN: Charlie, if there is legitimate and enough intelligence that tells us that a strike is imminent against American people, we have every right to defend our country. In fact, the president has the obligation, the duty to defend."

Of course, the "Bush doctrine" was well covered by all the newspapers and news magazines for weeks before and after the Iraq war. This wasn't a trick question, nor was the question he asked that led her to observe you can see Russia from Alaska. Nor was the question two weeks later by Couric asking what newspaper's Palin read "to understand the world."

In "Going Rogue" Palin also criticizes the McCain campaign for keeping her bottled up, for making her pay $50,000 in "vetting" expenses, making her wear fancy clothes and mishandling her teen daughter's pregnancy announcement. Particularly noteworthy is that her almost son-in-law, Levi Johnson, is not mentioned in the book.

Now Governor Palin takes her book campaign on the road. Beginning with Grand Rapids, Michigan, she will visit states that any aspiring Republican presidential candidate would target. She has television interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters and Rush Limbaugh. And then she runs the gauntlet on Fox News (owned by Rupert Murdoch), Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Greta Van Susteren.

Remember, no gotcha questions, please!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veteran's Day

Today our nation pays tribute to those brave American soldiers who have defended and are defending our freedoms and rights. America is an idea and it is also an ideal.

Americans fought in Lexington and Concorde, west of the Mississippi and in Mexico, at Bull Run and Gettysburg, at Cantigny and the Marne, at Iwo Jima and Northern Africa, at the 37th parallel, at Saigon and Vientiane, in Beirut and Panama, and in Iraq and Afghanistan. They fought on the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, they fought in the air. They came from different social and cultural backgrounds, the consisted of many different religions and races, and their ancestors came from every corner of the world. Each war was fought against those who wished to destroy this country and for the preservation of American ideals. Because of their heroic sacrifice and courage America has prevailed for more than 200 years.

These soldiers, sailors and airmen, as well as their families, make huge personal sacrifices in order to defend our ideal. Deployment weighs heavily on these families, whether its Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe or the Far East, especially when tours of duty are extended. The military is a very special community that pulls together and endures in a time of crisis. Still the heinous and callous acts of murder committed by a gunman last Thursday at Ft. Hood were shocking and nearly too much to take.

"No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor," President Barack Obama told the crowd gathered yesterday at Ft. Hood for a memorial service. "And for what he has done, we know that the killer will be met with justice -- in this world and the next." These reassuring words did provide some comfort for this special community has been though so much.

In President Obama's words, "I think all of us - every single American - must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who have come before. We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes."

Thank you

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Election Day 2009

The Republican Party enjoyed two key victories in the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races thus halting the Democrat's momentum. While the results should concern the White House, Republicans have plenty to worry about as well.

It is a truism in politics that after a party wins the White House it loses ground in midterm elections. For example, take New Jersey. Democrats had hoped that President Barack Obama's continued popularity would lift Governor Jon Corzine across the finish line. But Gov. Corzine was a weak candidate who spent a personal fortune on a largely negative campaign. Exit Polls indicate that 60% of those interviewed said President Obama was not a factor in their decision. And those who said he was a factor split evenly on the question between negative and positive.

It was just one year ago that young as well as minority voters poured into voting booths in record numbers across the nation inspired by a very special candidate with a powerful message of change. Yesterday, according to exit polls, a majority of voters in both New Jersey and Virginia said President Obama had no impact on their vote. In fact, turnout was low in most of the elections yesterday. The young and minority voters were not motivated enough to come out and vote. Is this a symptom of a bigger problem for Democrats in 2010? Could the president have had a favorable impact had he delivered on his pledge to change Washington, even just a little?

Many Americans voted for President Obama because they wanted change. The economy had been nearly destroyed by financial institutions that were running up record profits on questionable and unregulated trading practices. Now some of these surviving financial institutions, backed taxpayer money, have returned to business as usual. There has been little or no new regulation for this system. Yet millions of Americans are still hurting. Foreclosures continue to increase and unemployment is stuck around an unacceptable 10%.

Many Americans were looking for change in Washington, an end of politics as usual. Yet the raucous debate over health care, the powerful role of special interests and the focus on short term political gains these past few months proves Washington is not ready for reform. Hope for change has been doused with a bucket of cold reality.

Deficits are climbing at record levels and will be passed on to our children. And Americans fear that tax increases and terrible inflation lurks right around the corner. This as they cope with the nightmare of two wars. US soldiers are dying in Iraq, an unnecessary war, and Afghanistan, where there is still no clear strategy for victory or a respectful withdrawal. Today most Afghans view Americans as occupiers, just as they did the Soviets and the English.

Meanwhile, the far left and the far right have become more intense and much louder. The differences have sharpened; the knives have been drawn. It is more than political; it has now become personal. The vast middle, teeming with independents who had sided with President Obama, are being tossed about the main deck as the ship of state is being buffeted by the bluster of partisanship. All of this is being intensified by cable news and bloggers.

The Republicans should be sitting in the catbird seat. Except they have become the party of no, and are now embroiled in their own civil war. Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steel and some moderates are now up against the conservative wing led by Former Governor Sarah Palin, Governor Tim Pawlenty and Rush Limbaugh. Never mind that President Ronald Reagan's success was the result of a broad coalition of traditional Republicans and independents. The party came apart in New York's 23rd Congressional District, where conservatives threw their support to a conservative who doesn't even live in the district. The result was a nearly unprecedented win for the Democrats.

There are a few takeaways from yesterday's election. First, for the White House: focus on the economy. Where are the jobs? Where is the financial regulation? Where are the promised budget cuts to lower the country's deficit spending? If there is not some tangible progress with America's economy by 2010 President Obama will be a drag on many Democrats in tightly contested districts.

Second, Governor Corzine: you can't win an election with negative ads when you have nothing positive to say about your own record. In fact, negative ads never work in the long run, even when you do outspend your opponent three to one. It is possible that you will be best remembered as the Governor who attacked his opponent's waistline.

Third, Republicans: what were you thinking in New York's 23rd Congressional District. You managed to cause a backlash in a predominantly Republican district, called national attention to your inept management and brought light to your internal battles.

And finally, no wonder most eligible voters decided not to participate on election day.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Halloween is a couple days away, but my New York City neighborhood has been ready for weeks! Townhouses and apartment buildings have taken on the orange and black hue of eerie decorations that are sure to scare young "trick-or-treaters" and maybe even their parents.

Halloween is a very special night for many children and a real custom for most American families. So, of course, these decorations have become a neighborhood tradition in our part of town. Jack o' Lanterns have taken their places on doorsteps and in windows. Their faces raggedly carved into place, some with smiles and some scowls, and illuminated by a burning candle hidden deep within. These are meant to keep away evil spirits and ghosts that seem to gather each year on Samhain, "end of summer." In fact, ancient Celtics also wore masks while walking around on this night each year so as not to be identified as human.

Spider webs are draped from doors and windows where an occasional spider can be seen standing in wait for visitors to arrive. But these spiders are frozen for all time, or until they are discarded. Witches, each with a pointed hat and a broom, lurk in doorways, while skeletons skulk in the bushes flashing their teeth and bones. Bats hang from ceilings and chandeliers. So can the vampires be far behind?

Halloween is the second most commercially successful holiday in the U.S., next to Christmas, with more than $2 billion spent each year just on candy. Tootsie rolls were the first penny candy handed out, but chocolate is the most popular candy today, especially Snickers. It is easy to go through several hundred New York dollars worth of candy by the time the crowd tapers off on our street. Some parents bring their toddlers as early as 4pm, while teenagers will still be out patrolling well past 10pm.

Over the years several neighborhoods in New York have emerged as the place to go trick-or-treating. Carnegie Hill, on the upper east side of Manhattan, has become ground zero for kids from throughout the region. Cars with New Jersey license plates and buses from the Bronx drop costumed children off at the end of the block and come back an hour later to pick up their passengers loaded down with candy. Television and movie stars, who are seldom costumed, are always very nice when they drop by with their children. For instance, Alex Baldwin came by one year with his daughter.

Not every townhouse welcomes trick-or-treaters. They are the homes with their shades down and lights off. Meanwhile, apartment buildings frequently post a list of apartments that will receive trick-or-treaters. This is usually a "residents only" arrangement where parents can go up and down elevators with their devilish flock and have a successful evening without leaving the building.

For many, Halloween is party night. And if you are a thirteen-year-old girl in Manhattan it may be a chance to invite your costumed friends over and listen to music and watch scary movies. Then, at some point, this bevy of beasts and ogres goes door to door in search of candy. Later they return to the front stoop to assist in the distribution process.

At its peak, hundreds of people, moving in all directions, squeeze onto the sidewalk in front of our home where we are encamped with baskets of goodies. This year we are looking forward to seeing werewolves, ghosts, devils and even a dithering President Barack Obama (or two). Last year we were visited by a Dick Cheney, including a cowboy hat and fake shotgun. But a return visit is unlikely as he and his cast of characters are thankfully only a haunting memory. Anyway, there is more optimism this year than last Halloween.

And remember, tradition says if you see an actual spider on Halloween night, it is the spirit of a loved one looking over you. Eek! That's one tradition I am never going to get my daughter to believe!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Soupy Sales (-:

Comedian Soupy Sales left an indelible image in my memory when I was a teenager growing up in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield during the 60's. He died Thursday in New York at 83.

Then my family still had a black and white television, which sat in the living room of our typical one level suburban house located a stone's throw from my elementary school. It was on that television I had watched President John Kennedy's funeral and film of the escalating Viet Nam War. At the time I was one of those many teenagers searching for an identity in the midst of a Cold War and a Civil Rights movement. I turned to Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley to narrate the complicated and confusing events on the world stage.

But whenever possible I made it my business to watch The Soupy Sales Show. Maybe it was the regular pie in the face routines that made it funny. It was never a surprise, but it always gave me a giggle. Maybe it was White Fang, the meanest puppet in the United States, or Black Tooth, the nicest puppet in the United States. Or maybe it was the "nut at the door," and puppets Pokie the Lion, Hobart and Reba. Maybe it was Sales facial contortions, his eyes pooping out while his mouth twisted. Crazy things happened all the time, as Sales frenetically bounced around on the set carrying out unscripted but well thought out routines that seemed spontaneous.

I will never forget New Year's Day in 1965. I was sitting on our sofa watching The Soupy Sales Show when he said, "Okay kids, I want you to go into your parents bedroom and find your mother's purse." Where's this going? "Then I want you to reach in and take all that green paper, the ones with the pictures of the presidents on them." Huh? "Then I want you to send them to me!" Sales claimed he only received a few dollars in the mail but he was suspended for the episode because he was encouraging children to steal.

Soupy Sales perfected the, eh, art of slapstick silliness on television. What made him so appealing was his fresh, unpredictable and downright funny approach. In fact, his show attracted large numbers of adult viewers as well.

The Soupy Sales Show would probably not make it on television today. But Sales did play a meaningful role on television at a time when the medium was finding itself. (By the way, I did not send Soupy Sales my mother's money.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Don Hewitt

Today Don Hewitt was remembered as a true pioneer of broadcast news in a touching ceremony at the Rose Hall in New York's Time Warner Center. It was a truly poignant event that Don himself would have raved about for weeks.

The gathering included a collection of current and former 60 Minutes employees and many television legends in their own right. Producers, cameramen, editors and staff helped fill the theater to capacity. Don's wife, journalist Marilyn Berger, and his family sat in front.

Current 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager served as the master of ceremonies. He seamlessly and gracefully took the helm of 60 Minutes from Don in 2004. Jeff acknowledged the presence of Mike Wallace, who, at 91 years old and in failing health, was seated in a wheelchair. Jeff then recounted how difficult it was for Don to step down from the program he had created 40 years ago, but pointed out in recent years he accepted his retirement and visited the offices regularly.

Excerpts of a 60 Minutes program that aired shortly after Don's death in August were played throughout the tribute. CBS CEO Les Moonves described his first meeting with the legendary producer and Don's subsequent calls to pass on programming ideas, "I still wait for the phone to ring and hear these words, `Kid, I got a great idea for you,'" Les proclaimed 60 Minutes to be the single most important program ever for CBS. He was proud to announce that 60 Minutes had again finished among the top ten rated shows this past week. In fact, 60 Minutes was television's top rated program a record five times.

Morley Safer, one of the show's first correspondents, compared Don to the great fictional character Bugs Bunny, cunning, smart and always one step ahead of everyone else. He highlighted Don's temperament and well-known impatience, "He had the attention span of a fruit fly on acid." His respect and love for Don resonated in his remarks.

Phil Scheffler, former long time number two to Don and now retired, talked of the old days. In 1950 CBS News had nine employees, one camera and small offices. The evening newscast was broadcast three nights a week, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Because reports were filed in film, domestic reports took about one day to complete while foreign reports could take three to four days. The visual production of each newscast consisted primarily of UPI still photos. Douglas Edwards was the anchor although he was not a journalist, and Don was the producer. They were inventing television every day. It turns out that the writers and anchors of the powerful post war CBS News Radio operation refused to work in television, they thought it was a fad.

CBS News management removed Don from the evening news, reassigning him to cover special events. Don was the boy wonder and had already successfully produced the presidential debate between Senator John Kennedy and Vice President Richard Nixon. Don was bored in his new assignment so he created a pilot for a new program. This program would be made up of three twelve-minute mini documentaries. It was a news magazine and Mike Wallace and the late Harry Reasoner anchored the pilot. Don pushed and prodded and at last won 60 Minutes a prime time slot twice a month against the number one rated Marcus Welby M.D. Soon it was moved to Sundays at 7PM and the rest is history.

Joan Ganz Cooney, the co-creator of Sesame Street, spoke of her friend of forty years in endearing terms. She declared there were four great pioneers of news, Edward R. Murrow, Roone Arledge, Walter Cronkite and Don Hewitt. Then son in law Bill Cassara, married to Don's daughter Lisa, talked about Don's personal side. He played a clip of Don driving his car singing along to one of Frank Sinatra's great hits. Don had produced a brilliant special on Sinatra 40 years earlier.

Robert Fishman, who called Don his great uncle, recounted the last few months of Don's life. Following Don's heart operation he met with a psychologist, and that night Robert found him sitting alone at home in the dark with the television off and a remote in his hand. "Robert, the doctor says I am depressed." Robert then recounted how Don cited all he had done, his achievements and family, and couldn't understand how the doctor had come to that conclusion. Don was not depressed at all.

Alan Alda was the final speaker. He had gotten to know Don really well in the Hamptons, where they each had weekend homes. Alan talked about Don's very early morning trips to the Candy Kitchen, a corner restaurant in the village of Bridgehampton. There Don spoke to the people and swapped stories for hours. Alan observed, "He never lost touch with simple humanity."

As it happens, last Memorial Day I met with Don at the Candy Kitchen at 6am three days in a row. Don looked weak, his body had been ravaged by pancreatic cancer, but his mind was as sharp as ever. He still had a million ideas and would light up as he talked about each one. In our last meeting I thanked him for all he had done for me when I was overseeing 60 Minutes nearly twenty years earlier. "Oh kid, you don't have to thank me." I was glad I did. I next saw him at Walter Cronkite's funeral. He was near death.

Today's memorial was a wonderful tribute to a true pioneer. There sat Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft, Lesley Stahl, Scott Pelley, Andy Rooney, Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amapour and dozens of other executives, correspondents, producers and editors whose lives Don had impacted. His credo was simple, "Tell me a story." In the end, it was his life story that was celebrated. There will never be another Don Hewitt.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Goldman Rule

So Goldman Sachs is now concerned its company has a perception problem? They are even going to undertake a huge public relations offensive to turn things around? Well they sure have plenty of money to throw at this problem.

Goldman Sachs posted near record trading profits this past quarter, just a year after the near total collapse of the American economy. Net profits were $3.19 billion in the third quarter, up 105% over last year's third quarter. Goldman Sachs made all the right moves, including repaying the $10 billion in TARP money it received from the US Government with more than $400 million in dividends.

Goldman's recovery, along with that of other financial institutions, can in part be credited to government subsidies backed by the taxpayers. And Goldman Sachs undertook a riskier investment strategy, with overall leverage at about 17 to 1 versus about 28 to 1 before the crisis.

For sure, Goldman Sachs bankers work hard at creating value for their customers and shareholders. And their success should be rewarded. But a report that the firm had set aside about $20 billion for employee bonuses has caused a backlash. Critics say that Goldman Sachs is just back to its old money making ways.

Sadly Goldman Sachs doesn't really care what Main Street thinks. Rather they are concerned what Congress or the U.S. Government might do. This time, rather than insensitively and arrogantly dismissing complaints of excessive pay, the firm is now concerned that humongous bonuses may impact future profits. Even Goldman Sachs can be hurt by too much success. Especially when unemployment is above 10%, foreclosures are at a record high, deficits are unprecedented and the gap between the rich and poor has never been wider.

So a new lobbying initiative is underway in Washington along with major television interviews targeted at key decision makers in DC. Reports also say Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein will talk about his first job as a 13-year-old -- selling peanuts at Yankee Stadium. So what, Blankfein once worked for peanuts.

The projected 2009 Goldman Sachs bonus pool will be around $20 billion, a near record amount. Therefore the average pay out per employee could be more than the $661,490 given in 2007. Memo to Goldman Sachs: most Americans don't make that much in a lifetime of working.

This year Goldman Sachs should tithe. Take 10% right off the top of the bonus pool, or $2 billion, and donate it to rebuilding New Orleans and the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and Alabama. Tap into their own brainpower to develop a plan to target the money on specific worthwhile projects so it does not get diverted to corrupt contractors and politicians. For starters, money could be used to rebuild the 9th ward of New Orleans, and devastated sections of Biloxi and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Subsequently, Goldman Sachs should donate 10% of their bonus pool each year to a particular cause, helping injured and needy US military veterans, underwriting national after school programs designed to keep kids off the streets and out of trouble, curing diseases and the list goes on.

The US taxpayers supported the financial community when its collapse was imminent. Now it is time for financial institutions to help their country in its time of need.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nobel Deeds

When the Nobel committee awarded President Barack Obama its Peace Prize a gaggle of right wing conservative critics screamed bloody murder. They sounded like a bunch of eighth graders, "Oh how come he won, he's an idiot."

One thing for sure, none of Obama's critics could, even in their wildest dreams, ever be recognized for such an award. Rather, they could best qualify for a Nobel Prize for "Snarkiness," or "Divisiveness," or "Destructiveness," or even the "Just Say No" prize.

Obama is ushering in a new era for America, one of global partnership and diplomacy. His foreign policy is about collaborating not being a cowboy. He has set the right tone and the foreign policy wheels are slowly turning in our favor. American exceptionalism is being replaced by US leadership through well thought out actions. This leadership is especially important in the areas of nuclear nonproliferation, the global economy, the environment and human rights.

Just look what the contrary tactics hath wrought. An invasion of Iraq by President George Bush, and his trusty side kick Dick Cheney, based on faulty and overblown assumptions. One blowhard dictator down, making it all better, priceless (literally). Add to that a failed Afghanistan policy and the failure to stem Al Qaeda and capture Osama bin Laden, all while compromising basic constitutional rights for American citizens. And then there is the collapse of the US economy which had world-wide repercussions and led to enormous American deficits.

I will never forget a pre-Iraq War session my Telemundo news team had with President Bush. The public was being told that no decision had been made to go to war. Many Europeans, especially the French, had been outspoken in their concerns about US threats to invade Iraq.

Upon completing our interview we all stood around and chatted with President Bush. Iraq and possible military action again came up. I asked President Bush, "What about Jacques Chirac?" I was referring to the French President and his vocal opposition to war.

President Bush slapped me on the shoulder with the back of his right hand and said, "Don't worry, he'll come around." My jaw dropped. Immediately I thought to myself, "We are going to war." No wonder many world leaders thought our president was a cowboy. No wonder the global perception of America was seriously damaged during his presidency. He had made a gut decision and there was no one was going to talk him out of it.

In a short period of time President Obama has changed the tone of international diplomacy. Arms control, human rights, immigration, the environment, the global economy, trade and terrorism are complicated issues. For sure, progress will be slow as each country has its own interests. And there will be fits and starts. But progress and solutions will best come through meaningful dialog and understanding.

The Nobel committee clearly believes President Obama's change of approach is critically important and is more likely to pay great dividends in the long run for the well-being of our children and the people of the world.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Clean House USOC

Some conservatives cheered after the International Olympic Committee eliminated Chicago as host city for the 2016 Olympics on the first round, their disdain for President Barack Obama was so palpable. But most Americans were surprised and embarrassed that Chicago got crushed. Now comes the fallout.

The United States Olympic Committee's acting CEO Stephanie Streeter revealed Wednesday that she'll leave her post within the next five months. Streeter says she decided to withdraw her name as a candidate for the USOC CEO long before the IOC's disastrous vote. Now the USOC will retain a search firm to identify candidates. But first the committee should undertake a serious review of what went wrong with Chicago's bid, why its inside intelligence failed and why public expectations were allowed to soar.

Chicago's presentation was very strong and well polished, that is not in dispute. The Obamas did a very fine job making their pitch in person. And Chicago had put together a powerful package for the IOC. Yet after the first round Chicago received only 18 votes from the 110-member committee. Clearly this result reveals that there are many underlying issues facing the USOC. Especially considering that New York got only 19 votes when it made its last bid to host the Olympics.

Many International Olympic Committee members deeply resent the fact that the U.S. organization gets such a large share from the Olympic television licensing deals. So says Dick Ebersol who is Chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics. NBC currently has the exclusive rights to carry the Olympics in the United States. Ebersol points out that the USOC gets 13% of all the TV rights fees and 20% of all the sponsorship revenues from the Olympics. This is a legacy arrangement based on the fact that at one point the U.S. brought in about 90% of the sponsor money, now it is about 40%. Further, the USOC CEO is paid more than $1 million, which is another source of resentment.

Another issue may be that there are about 110 members of the IOC and more than half are European. These members are made up of sports administrators and ex-athletes. They all know each other very well. The USOC, inexplicably, has had several CEO's over the past few years and none has been full time. Therefore relationships between the American and her counterparts are mostly superficial. And she and members of the US committee didn't seem to understand the role of bloc voting. For instance, committee members from Spain, the home of the influential former IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch, and whose capitol Madrid was a contender, favored Rio de Janeiro as a second choice.

Poor execution could have hampered the US's bid as well. The USOC had a chance to make a presentation to the IOC this past June but they failed to do so. Brazil, on the other hand, sent a high level delegation to make its case. No wonder Rio was the clear front-runner going in to the voting. Their arguments were compelling including awarding South America its first Olympics. How could the USOC not have known that their bid was in deep trouble?

President Obama had to go to Copenhagen to make the case for Chicago and America. It was one of those "no-win" situations where he would have been subject to criticism no matter what he did. Of course, had America won he probably would have been criticized as well. Yet the big question is why were expectations allowed to swirl out of control. Why didn't someone in the White House, or one of the president's Chicago friends, provide a more realistic assessment to the world press?

The USOC needs to clean house. It needs to appoint a powerful and experienced new leader who knows the IOC, its culture and its people.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Graham Crackers

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina, finally spoke wise and encouraging words about the tenor of our national dialog. At last a powerful Republican voice is calling for an end to the insane insults and lies that permeate today's political debate. But will his colleagues accede to his entreaty or will they continue their mischief? What, are you kidding?

Speaking before a conference last week sponsored by The Atlantic, The Aspen Institute and The Nuseum, Senator Lindsey Graham said, in answer to a question, "I'm here to tell you that those who think the president was not born in Hawaii are crazy, he's not a Muslim, he's a good man, and let's knock this crap off and talk about the real differences we have."

Senator Graham expressed frustration with both extreme Republicans and Democrats who disseminate misinformation and personal attacks. He went on to blame the lack of civility in today's political arena in part on the voters who elect confrontational representatives to Washington. Senator Graham also blamed the 24-hour news cycle, talk radio and organizations like

He was particularly harsh toward Fox News entertainer and gadfly Glen Beck, saying "Only in America can you make that much money crying." Declaring Beck does not speak for the Republican Party, he continued, "He is aligned with cynicism and there has always been a market for cynics. But we became a great nation not because we are a nation of cynics. We became a great nation because we are a nation of believers."

However, Senator Graham's criticism of Beck on Fox News Sunday yesterday had a different slant. "I'm not saying he's bad for America," the senator said, "You have got the freedom to watch him if you choose. He did a pretty good job on ACORN. What I am saying is he doesn't represent the Republican Party."

Then he referred to comments Beck made last week to CBS News anchor Katie Couric that he would have voted for Obama over Senator John McCain. "But at the end of the day," Graham said, "when a person says he represents conservatism and that the country is better off with Barack Obama than John McCain, that sort of ends the debate for me as to how much more I'm going to listen."

Pardon me Senator, I hate to be cynical, but where were you during the silly season this past summer? You know, when Governor Palin accused the president of wanting to create "death panels?" Or when Beck ranted his ridiculous claims about eugenics? Or Rush Limbaugh called the president a Nazi? Or when the "birthers," fanned by some conservative members of Congress, accused the president of not being a naturalized American? Or, perhaps worse, the president was a Muslim born in Kenya?

Senator, why the sudden urge to take the high road? Do you think these senseless attacks are hurting the Republican Party more than President Obama? Or are you now speaking up because Glen Beck has insulted your best friend, Senator John McCain. Whatever your motives senator, I agree it’s time to knock this crap off.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Chicago Blues

Rio de Janeiro’s selection to host the 2016 Olympics means the games will take place for the first time in South America. Meanwhile the surprise of the day was that Chicago was eliminated on the first round, perhaps due to bloc voting or anti-American sentiment.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva made a powerful pitch to the International Olympic Committee, "Rio will deliver an unforgettable Games. You will see for yourselves the passion, the energy and the creativity of the Brazilian people." He stressed that South America had never hosted an Olympics and, "Rio is ready. Give us this chance and you will not regret it."

Chicago's elimination on the first round elicited a huge gasp from the thousands of Chicagoans gathered downtown to watch the announcement. The Chicago team worked years preparing a thoroughly detailed and imaginative proposal. All of the Olympic venues would have been located near each other in the heart of the city, many along the spectacular lakefront. The government would back all of the costs associated with presenting the games. An outstanding array of corporate sponsors had been lined up, many of them global powerhouses. Central transportation, hotels and infrastructure were unsurpassed by the other bidders.

The Chicago delegation delivered a very strong and polished presentation. First Lady Michele Obama spoke from the heart about the city of her birth, "I never dreamed that the Olympic flame might one day light up lives in my neighborhood...But today...I am dreaming of an Olympic and Paralympic Games in Chicago that will light up lives in neighborhoods all across America and all across the world." President Obama, whose Chicago home would have been a short walk from the games, said, “To host athletes and visitors from every corner of the globe is a high honor and a great responsibility...And America is ready and eager to assume that sacred trust.”

But apparently the Olympic judges were not eager to give their trust to the Americans. And there were signs that the American delegation may have been over confident. In the official question-and-answer session following the Chicago presentation, Syed Shahid Ali, an I.O.C. member from Pakistan, asked how smooth it would be for foreigners to enter the United States for the Olympics because doing so can sometimes, he said, be “a rather harrowing experience.”

President Obama had no choice but to travel to Copenhagen. To not do so would have opened him up to criticism as the leaders of the other contending countries made the trip to make their pitch in person. By most accounts the Obamas were well received, "There is no evidence other than a positive reaction to their presence." said one official. But immediately following the announcement right-wing commentators and web sites in the U.S. attacked Obama. The Drudge report headline read, "THE EGO HAS LANDED, WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND."

The fact that a South American country has never hosted an Olympics was a very compelling argument. And Rio is one of the world's most beautiful and romantic cities. There was plenty of reason for judges to be sentimental about Rio. On the other hand, no doubt many judges probably savored having the opportunity to reject America's bid. Despite President Obama's popularity there are strong anti-America feelings around the world based on its perceived role in the global economic collapse, its invasion of Iraq and the previous administration's “go it alone” policies.

Ironically, the city most known for its hardball politics couldn’t overcome the internal politics of the Olympic Committee to make it past the first round. As one IOC member said, “The whole thing doesn't make sense other there has been a stupid bloc vote."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fox News Snub

President Barack Obama seems to be just about everywhere selling his presidency in response to sagging poll numbers. Everywhere, that is, except Fox News, where Obama's snub has caused a stir.

Throughout the summer months the president pretty much stood on the sidelines during the health care debate as House and Senate committees battled over the shape of the bill. The president's posture left an opening for those opposing proposed changes in health care to loudly speak out. And the insurance industry and other interest groups joined in the fray in an effort to rile up Americans against reform through advertisements and an aggressive PR campaign. Town hall meetings disintegrated into shouting matches by interest groups. Ridiculous claims like "death panels" were spread with jarring effect.

But make no mistake about it, the shouting also reflects the general frustration many Americans have with their government, period. An economic collapse, huge unemployment, financial and automobile bailouts and deep American involvement in two wars certainly are enough to get most people's ire up. As Rodney Dangerfield might have said, "take my government, please!"

So over the past few days the president began an all out effort to regain control of the debate. His approach was a media blitz of appearances on the Sunday morning talk shows and David Letterman. The approach is intended to counter the endless chatter on cable news, blogs and tweets that make it hard for any message to break through the din of democracy. An axiom among marketers is, "When you are tired of seeing your own advertisement, most of America is just becoming aware of it." This morning polls indicate that President Obama's blitz may have bumped up his numbers. To quote NBC's Chuck Todd, "If you voted for Obama, it helped, and if you voted for McCain, you didn't change your mind." Welcome to the fast paced, dynamic and ever changing world of politics 2.0.

But there was one notable exception to the president's news blitz: Fox News. The White House say that Fox News has been more than an adversary to Obama, it has very much had an anti-Obama agenda. The president's advisers complain about its one sided coverage especially on commentator Sean Hannity's show, or the charges of racism and "eugenics" coming from entertainer and host Glenn Beck. Or they were unhappy the Fox network did not carry President Obama's recent speech to a joint session of Congress.

Advisers to the president no doubt made the calculation that there was no upside in appearing on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace. Wallace's recent interview with former Vice President Dick Cheney was likened to "teenage girls interviewing the Jonas Brothers" by a prominent conservative columnist. Furthermore, most of the Fox audience doesn't believe in the president and his policies, so he is unlikely to get any converts.

As a senior executive for CBS News, I remember being caught in intensive discussions with White House officials working for Presidents Reagan and Bush '41, who were against Dan Rather interviewing their president. In those days Rather was the top anchor, CNN was new and the only cable news outlet and there was no Internet. So suffice it to say that it is not unprecedented for a White House to ban a network for unfavorable coverage. But it is not a good tactic.

President Obama was wrong not to appear on Fox News at the same time he appeared on every other Sunday talk program. Press bans are a slippery slope and are not healthy to our democracy. Limitations or bans against news organizations by the White House runs counter to the spirit and intention of our founding fathers. While many Fox viewers may not agree with the president's policies, they are Americans too. So, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Cherish... the spirit of our people, and keep alive their attention. Do not be too severe upon their errors, but reclaim them by enlightening them."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Mary Travers RIP

I am sad to hear that Mary Travers has died after a long bout of Leukemia. In the early 60's the folk group Peter Paul and Mary sang against war and inequality. They followed in the footsteps of Pete Seeger and sang protest songs penned by Bob Dylan. They briefly became the voice of a new active generation, and bridged the hip swiveling era of Elvis rock to the British invasion and Beatlemania.

"If I had a Hammer" spoke of the bell of freedom and the hammer of justice. "Blowing in the Wind" asked, "how many times must the cannonballs fly before they're forever banned," and "how many years must some people live before they're allowed to be free." Travers' beautiful voice blended smoothly with those of Peter Yarrow and Noel "Paul" Stookey and was complemented by their folk guitars. "Puff the Magic Dragon" became an international hit, in part because it was rumored to have been about marijuana which was becoming widely popular in the early sixties. And "Lemon Tree" was very pretty indeed.

I went out on my first official date to a Peter Paul and Mary concert in Chicago in 1963. I was able to secure pretty good seats, especially for a high school junior, because they were my date's favorite group. Even more, like Mary Travers, my date had long straight blond hair, played the guitar and bobbed her head to stress certain words as she sang. But she was no Mary Travers. Yet she seemed truly impressed with me that night. Alas, nothing came of the relationship except a truly magnificent memory.

Mary Travers will always have very special meaning in my life. My most vivid memory will be her appearance fifty years ago on that Chicago stage. I can still clearly hear her voice plaintively yet powerfully above Peter and Paul's invoking a call to action, "It's the hammer of justice, the bell of freedom, it's the song about love between my brothers and my sisters, all over this land."

Mary Travers RIP

Anger Management

Former President Jimmy Carter has always had a knack to say things that are uncomfortable and ill timed. With his remarks to NBC News, and repeated yesterday, he has highlighted a problem as old as America itself and, in so doing, has complicated the debate over President Obama's agenda.

At issue has been the growing lack of civility in protests across the country and before a joint session of Congress directed at President Obama and the U.S. Government. Most appalling examples include signs carried by protesters comparing President Obama a monkey or a Nazi, or Congressman Joe Wilson's inappropriate outburst on the floor of the House calling the president a liar. They also include multimedia entertainer Glenn Beck calling Obama a racist toward whites, or radio show host Rush Limbaugh saying the president's birthplace is Kenya. Some of these acts and comments are so outrageous that they turn off many Americans, even conservative Republicans. So to broadly paint all dissenters with the malignant brush of racism will only drive the country further apart.

"I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man, that he's African American," President Carter said. "And I think it's bubbled up to the surface, because of a belief among many white people, not just in the South but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country."

Sadly there remain plenty of people in the United States who are racists. And the fact that President Obama received less that 15% of the white vote in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama is troubling. But it is a mistake to suggest that most of the 75,000 protesters who gathered in Washington last weekend were racists. It is equally wrong to say that most protesters who attended the recent "tea parties" were all racists.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell also sees it differently than President Carter. "The issue is not race, it's civility," Powell said, "This is not to say that we are suddenly racially pure, but constantly talking about it and reducing everything to black versus white is not helpful to the cause of restoring civility to public dialog."

President Obama made history when he became the first African American elected to the nation's top office with 53% of the vote, or nearly 67 million voters. Early on in his presidency he enjoyed a 70% approval rating. That number has now fallen to about 50%. Is President Carter suggesting that the defectors are largely racists?

The simple fact is that there is a lot of anger and frustration out there aimed squarely at Washington, and with good reason. Unemployment continues to grow, although the rate of increase is slowing. But unemployment is on track to surpass 10% in the very near future and many economists predict the nation is most likely to have a "jobless" recovery. At the same time the government has rescued the U.S. automobile industry with billions of American taxpayer dollars.

One year ago Lehman Brothers was allowed to fail and then the world economy collapsed. Government regulators missed all of the obvious warning signs, as bankers over-leveraged their companies and were richly paid in return. This forced the government to pump billions of taxpayer dollars into the financial industry. Today the financial industry is stable, bankers are being paid bonuses (Goldman Sachs paid out $11 billion) and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is approaching 10,000. But most banks are sitting on their toxic assets, there has been no meaningful regulatory reform and some experts warn we a poised for another economic crisis. Meanwhile, comparatively little help has made it to the people on main streets where stores are boarded up and business is awful. And a frighteningly huge number of homes face foreclosure across the country. Millions of Americans are "under water."

As Rome burns members of Congress are mud wrestling over health care. Many proposals are confusing and complicated; take end of life counseling or a "public option." They lend themselves to demagoguery and preposterous claims, like "death panels," government run health care and cuts in Medicare services. Everyone agrees that health care costs are out of control, but insurance companies and their lobbyists are fiercely fighting to protect their profit margins. Adding to the noise and mendacity Glenn Beck accuses President Obama of favoring "eugenics" and Rush Limbaugh calls him a "Nazi.

But it is "the economy stupid." Deficits from growing health care costs, government stimulus packages, bank and auto bailouts, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are adding trillions to the national debt. The last President to have a budget surplus was Bill Clinton and it there is no plan in place to repeat that rare feat.

Can you name a single president who has actually made substantial cuts to the federal budget? They always speak of "waste, fraud and abuse" but nothing happens. Why do we still have troops based all over the world? Why do we still pay out so much in foreign aid? Huge deficits are likely to lead to serious inflation and higher taxes. They are being underwritten by China and Japan, and threaten to severely weaken America globally. Our children and grandchildren will be left with a legacy of debt and serious problems.

"The gap between our citizens and our Government has never been so wide. The people are looking for honest answers, not easy answers; clear leadership, not false claims and evasiveness and politics as usual." So said President Carter in a speech to the nation in July 1979. It was his so-called "malaise" speech, a word he never used but was successfully pinned to it by candidate Ronald Reagan. Nonetheless, rather than talking about racism, President Carter might have been more constructive if he pointed to his comments given in that summer of long gas lines and high inflation. For instance:

"What you see too often in Washington and elsewhere around the country is a system of government that seems incapable of action. You see a Congress twisted and pulled in every direction by hundreds of well-financed and powerful special interests. You see every extreme position defended to the last vote, almost to the last breath by one unyielding group or another. You often see a balanced and a fair approach that demands sacrifice, a little sacrifice from everyone, abandoned like an orphan without support and without friends."

Yes, sadly racism is alive in America and we have a long way to go, but conditions for most people of all races have improved and, with more minorities achieving influential positions, it will thankfully continue to do so.

On the other hand Washington hasn't changed. It's the same old smash mouth politics. In fact, the explosion of media outlets, multi-platform distribution and instant bloggers and Twitterers has exacerbated the problem. Politicians are too focused on scoring short term political points and securing corporate donations for their campaign. This is the most serious political problem facing our nation today, and there is no incentive or willingness to change the status quo. No wonder everyone is so angry.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

The Din of Democracy

It is hard to believe that it has already been eight years since terrorists attacked our nation. It was a most unimaginable and horrific tragedy that killed thousands of innocent people and has left a gaping scar in our hearts.

But on that day, at that moment, our nation instantly came together as one people to mourn our dead and take action. We rose above partisan differences and geographical divides to unite in defense of our country and heal our wounds.

Today our nation remembers that day, that act, the victims and their families. But at the same time many of our leaders and pundits have retreated to their respective corners. They resort to mindless shouting; mudslinging, distortions and lies all for short term political or financial gain. They choose to divide America by attacking their opponents, after all "It's my way or the highway." They do not see good will in those with differing opinions, only malice and a lack of patriotism. They spout irresponsible and preposterous claims of "eugenics" and "he's a Nazi." They play to biases, prejudices and fears. They stoke the flames of hatred.

They include those who called former President George Bush an "idiot" and a "drug dealer," as well as those who say President Barack Obama is a "liar" and charge he is not even a natural born American. The recent furor by some on the right over President Obama's address to students was just as silly as similar protests two decades ago coming from the left directed at a speech to students by the first President George Bush. For goodness sakes, it's the President of the United States. Washington has become one big schoolyard filled with silly taunts and screams, like "The president is trying to control our children!" Or, "They did it to us first, so there!"

For sure we are blessed to live in a country where free speech is a founding principle. But one has to wonder just how appealing the din of American democracy is when heard from across the ocean. Rather than a "beacon of hope" it may seem more like the "battle of the bands." In an effort to get noticed, bloggers, cable pundits and talk show hosts magnify the already disruptive cacophony of criticism and discordant voices coming from the far right and left.

Certainly the clamor and chaos of politics has been very much a part of our democracy since its founding. Divisions have run deep in our nation before, such as leading up to and during the Civil War, the anti-war movement and civil rights era in the sixties and seventies, and during Watergate, to name a few. But our ship of state has always weathered the storm intact and often even stronger. That is my hope today.

Yes we are involved in two wars, we face a health crisis, unemployment is increasing and the deficits are overwhelming. Already our children will inherit an enormous national debt, which most every recent president has contributed to. Despite all the bitter backbiting I am sure that President Obama will sign some health care legislation by the end of the year. And no matter what that legislation calls for the American people will have a say. The beauty of our system of government is that every two years there is a mid-term election, and every four there is a presidential election.

Nonetheless, it is my hope that our elected officials and pundits lower their voices; that they treat fellow citizens with civility and decency; that they carefully listen to each other. Most of all, that their first priority be what is best for all of the American people.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cronkite, Hewitt and Kennedy

The recent death of three giants in my life is sad as well as cause for reflection. Walter Cronkite, Don Hewitt and Senator Ted Kennedy each made an indelible mark on their vocation as well as this country. Their legacies stand out for all who follow.

Walter Cronkite was an icon in his industry. He achieved greatness because of his principled and resolute commitment to accuracy, fairness and decency. He reported the news as it happened. No ruffles and flourishes, rather a straight and unadorned presentation of the facts as he knew them. His approach was the same for Watergate and the Vietnam War as it was for a local fire. He loved a good story. His competitive juices drove him to seek the truth and impelled all those who worked with him. This was most apparent during his historic coverage of the assassination of President John Kennedy and man's first landing on the moon. Sure he suffered ratings setbacks along the way, especially early on to NBC's Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, but, as any good sailor, he stayed on the right course. He was the reason I went to work for CBS News.

Don Hewitt created the most successful television news broadcast ever, 60 Minutes. His formula was simple: "tell me a story." He entered television when the medium was in its infancy. "We were just making it up," one of his colleagues would say of those times. Don's creativity, kinetic personality and youthful exuberance were instrumental in building the foundation, the approach and lingo that are still today television news. His flair and brashness got him fired as executive producer of the CBS Evening News in the early sixties. He was devastated but he was not defeated. He took some time to pursue his idea of creating a "Life" magazine for television that included three fifteen minute pieces. He persuaded Mike Wallace and Harry Reasoner to do a pilot and then spent weeks trying to get CBS to air the program. His force of personality and tireless devotion to this project got him a time slot and the rest is history. I was fortunate to work closely with this human dynamo for many years.

Senator Edward Kennedy was the youngest brother in a family filled with ambition and promise. And after the tragic deaths of his brothers, Joe in World War II, and Jack and Robert at the hands of assassins, the torch was passed to Teddy. He became a father figure to all 13 of their children. But the burden of expectation wore heavily on his shoulders. And he feared assassination, once reportedly saying, "I know that I'm going to get my ass shot off one day, and I don't want to."

Senator Kennedy became more reckless and wild, as amplified by two headline grabbing events. In 1969 he drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island leaving 28 year old Mary Jo Kopechne dead. He did not report the incident for several hours, later saying he made a mistake. And in 1991 his nephew William Kennedy Smith was charged with raping a woman after a night out with the Senator during Florida's spring break. Smith was acquitted, but Kennedy was damaged.

In 1980 Senator Kennedy tried to unseat incumbent Democratic President Jimmy Carter. I remember covering the rugged campaign and witnessing the Senator's erratic performance from stop to stop. Reporters called it "The Bozo Zone." And the end came when Kennedy stumbled through an answer to CBS News correspondent Roger Mudd's question, "Why do you want to be President?" He could not clearly and resolutely state a reason. And I believe he really never wanted to be president.

In 1991 Senator Kennedy met his beloved wife Vicki and settled down. At the time of his death he was one of the most prolific and respected people to ever have served in the United States Senate.

Each of these men made history, made a difference with their lives. Each of them sailed into the wind. A long the way the faced unimagined challenges. Each of them overcame failure with great success. We owe each of them our thanks and we can learn a lot from each man's journey.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care at the Forum

There isn’t a more striking symbol of America’s health care crisis than the thousands of people who are lining up this week outside the Los Angeles Forum waiting for treatment. One patient put it succinctly, "If everybody in this country were in the situation my daughter and I are in, they would have a whole different view of (the health care debate)."

Many of those in the queue have jobs but they do not have adequate health care. In many cases the employer does not provide enough coverage. Still it seems a bit ironic that the nonprofit Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corp (RAM), whose mission is to provide free health, dental and eye care to poor or under served areas around the globe, is turning people away in Los Angeles. This is because of the heavy demand, and because RAM does not have enough volunteer doctors. One RAM worker compared the need in Los Angeles to the poorest parts of India.

Yet this unfortunate scene is far from an antidote for the radical and misleading assertions being screamed aloud at town hall meetings across the country in the health care debate. “Death panels” and “eugenics” are among the outrageous lies being spun by those seeking to benefit, either politically or financially, by killing health care reform.

In a country of more than 300 million people there is bound to be a small fraction that absolutely believes President Obama wants to kill grandma, or that the president is a Nazi. These are the kind of folks who make up the core audience for Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin, all of whom everyday feed their loyalists the red meat of socialism and government gone wrong. Beck's and Limbaugh's few million loyal listeners never miss a minute of their shameless diatribes. After all, these radio commentators get paid an enormous amount of money to incite a national ruckus, and their audiences love it. You are right Mr. President, it sure plays well on television.

Protesters don't want to hear the truth. Like that there are no death panels in the government's health care reform proposals. They believe that government gotten too big and is not true to the wishes of our founding fathers. In fact, some of these folks are joining local militias perhaps with an eye to "one day taking our country back!" From whom? It's very scary.

For the past decade America has been caught up in a great ideological feud between left and right that has perhaps been more polarizing than at any time in our history, except for the period leading up to and during the Civil War. The feud is being amplified and accelerated by technological advances.

At the core of the feud is the role of government in each American's life. And a wasteful, inefficient and bloated government is easy to criticize. It is also easy to criticize those elected officials who lie and cheat. Or those who want to spend taxpayer money on corporate jets. And what of a government that mishandles the economy and yet saves the rich bankers during the worst economic downturn in decades? One Wall Street banker made more than $700 million, yet the unemployment rate is unacceptably high and foreclosures are too.

A large number of well-intentioned Americans are "mad as hell" and say they are not going to take it anymore. There is a lot of pent up emotion and concern in our populace. They feel no one has been listening to them, and hot August days are especially conducive to raising the heat in town hall meetings across the nation. The complaints and cries for help have become louder, especially at the extremes. But there is nothing to fear. This is American Democracy at work.

Most Americans are smart enough to see through the fog of distortions, fabrications and flat out lies being offered up about health care. They know that all politics is local and that hypocrisy runs deep in DC. They know that many Senators and Congressmen are being well funded by the health industry. That many elected officials will do what is best to assure their own survival.

Most Americans agree that this country's health care system is broken. There are 46 million uninsured people in the U.S., and that number is growing every day. They know that health insurance companies have enjoyed record profits while co-payments have gone up and “pre-conditions” and other loopholes are impeding access to quality care. They see it every time they need care.

President Obama must continue to aggressively push his agenda and highlight its benefits. They include making health care accessible to all, making it affordable for everyone and "bending the curve" of health care costs, which are out of control and are a tremendous drain on our economy. Proponents must also speak out with a clear voice.

Few Americans are happy with our current system. Just ask anyone standing in line at the Los Angeles Forum.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Catfish Sweepstakes

We have reached an important crossroads in our household and I am caught in a dilemma. We have only one fish remaining in Zoe's fish tank.

There was a time when this tank was the center of her universe. It was a mini-metropolis of sea life swirling and and splashing amidst the fake seaweed and ceramic castles. We always had tropical fish, but for a couple exceptions never any goldfish. We had every kind at one point or another, and many had names along the way.

Like many families we began by overfeeding the fish. The water would turn foggy and little particles would float around stirred up by the electric filter. After a week great algae would grow all over the tank fed by overly abundant food and light. All that is necessary is a pinch of food every other day and a moderate amount of light.

The water filter continuously buzzes and hums around the clock. Our guests stay downstairs, one floor below our bedrooms, and often ask to turn the filter off when they go to bed. It's okay with us as long as someone remembers to turn it back on in the morning.

Before long, Zoe's interest in the fish began to diminish. She had moved on to hamsters and guinea pigs. By the time we got Zoe a dog, she wasn't ever visiting the tank. That left it to me to maintain the tank, change the filters and wipe off the algae. Life sure is resilient! The algae just keeps coming back.

This past weekend I found the silver fish dead, stuck in the seaweed. That means a 4 inch long catfish is the sole (sorry for the pun) resident. All the rest have gone on to their final resting place at the end of the sewer pipe. But Nanny Karen says catfish can live to be 15 years old. Considering we have had this one for maybe 6 years, we still have a decade ahead of us with the catfish. That means cleaning tanks with filters that buzz and make overnight guests want to hit the switch.

Don't get me wrong, the catfish is just fine. It sticks to the side of the tank and minds its own business. Of course, it has no competition. We feed it every couple days, and I clean the tank every two weeks.

So what do we do? Anybody want a really sweet catfish as a starter for your collection, or a partner?

Dear readers: Should the catfish LIVE or DIE? Post your answer as a comment. Thank you