Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ignore Limbaugh

America, can you trust a man who says he wants President Obama to fail?

President Barack Obama should not have referred to radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh in his recent remarks directed to Republican Congressional leaders. Why elevate Limbaugh's status and give him more to talk about? His twenty million weekly listeners are largely on the far right of American politics and Limbaugh needs to continuously feed them fresh meat.

On Capitol Hill, Republicans are dead in the water on all fronts, foreign and domestic. Their leadership is weak and shaken. They are struggling to come up with an issue, a cause and a reason to rally their troops. Yes, you won Mr. President. But history's battlefields are littered with the armor of once victorious leaders.

Limbaugh is a successful entertainer who is enormously well paid to spin stories, twist facts and turn clever phrases aimed at his loyal following. Shinning a light on him is counterproductive; besides he thrives on being at the center of attention. And, sure enough, now that you have shined the spotlight on him he has responded with a plan.

The "Obama-Limbaugh" stimulus package would divide up $1 trillion dollars of U.S. taxpayer's money along the lines of the percentage of the vote in the national election. Obama got about 54% of the vote and Senator John McCain about 46%. Therefore, $540 billion would go to rebuild infrastructure and invest in new technologies as Obama wants, and $460 billion would go to reduce taxes on businesses. Limbaugh and many Republicans argue that reducing corporate taxes, among the highest in the world, would free up money sooner for businesses to invest in jobs. He calls the "Obama-Limbaugh" package a truly "bipartisan" approach and concludes, "We'll see which stimulus works best."

No doubt Limbaugh and his economic advisers have spent a considerable amount of time studying all the relevant research and economic models to devise this well thought out plan. And no doubt millions of Americans and the Republican leadership in Congress will seriously consider enacting the "Obama-Limbaugh" package. Or, possibly, most people will come to realize that Limbaugh is just making a mockery of our nation's problems, and of the people charged with the responsibility of digging America out of its huge debt and deep recession.

Republicans had their chance these past eight years to perfect America's democracy and reduce its debt. They failed and the American electorate voted for change. Now the challenges are enormous and time is of the essence. Obama is moving swiftly, but there are questions about some of the infrastructure expenditures. And while he has reached across the aisle to partially accommodate Republican wishes for tax relief, they want more. This goes to underscore the fact that there are no easy answers to the myriad of complex problems facing this country on all fronts.

After one week as president, Obama enjoys the good will of most Americans who want the severe financial crisis ended and their country to succeed. Most Americans, that is, except for Rush Limbaugh, who says he wants Obama to fail, even though it would mean more suffering for Americans.

Mr. President, please do what most Republicans can't do, ignore Rush Limbaugh.

Institutional Respect

In a New York Times op-ed piece today, columnist David Brooks warns "institutional thinking is eroding." It is being pushed aside by "individualism", where individuals are skeptical of past practice and discover their own values.

Institutions are defined as anything from a family and a school, to a profession or craft. And each comes with rules and obligations that tells us how and what we are suppose to do. They evolve over generations and are "deeply woven" into the the identities of the people who practice them. Practitioners are not defined by "what we ask of life...We are defined by what life asks of us."

The loss, Brooks observes, affects all institutions, including charities. "Lack of institutional awareness," he charges, "has bred cynicism and undermined habits of behavior." As an example, Brooks points to the erosion of the "the banker's code" which has recently led to financial turmoil.

In the column, Brooks quotes former Chicago Cubs second baseman Ryne Sandberg, who spoke of his love for the institution of baseball when he was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in 2005:

"I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That's respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. You make a great play, act like you've done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases." He went on, "Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn't work hard for validation. I didn't play the game right because I saw reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that's what you're suppose to do, play it right and with respect...If this validates anything it's that the guys who taught me the game...did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do."

Individualism, for sure, can lead to innovation and personal acclaim. But it can also be harmful when it is practiced without respect and with little regard for basic core values. I hope that a lasting benefit from the collapse of global financial markets will be the universal renunciation and repudiation those who would profit from the destruction of others. Play it right.

(Disclosure: The author of this article is a life-long Cubs fan.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Air Force One

The National Geographic Channel has produced an outstanding one-hour program on the President's plane, Air Force One. It brought back some warm memories of my time working with CBS News in Washington.

President Barack Obama will be flying a cutting edge, blue and white Boeing 747 with tail number 27000. The plane was updated after the 9/11 terrorist attack because many limitations where revealed during the immediate post crisis management. Remember, President Bush was in Sarasota, Florida, when the terrorists struck. Fearing the president was also a target, White House staffers quickly got him airborne while at the same time all US airspace was shut down to commercial air traffic. The president could go anywhere. The problems included the fact he could not address the nation from 35,000 feet, nor could he convene or participate in important strategy meetings with his top aids. Consequently, the president had to put down in Kansas to address the nation. Further, he felt so out of touch he instructed his pilot to take him to Washington even though some felt the threat hadn't passed.

The new plane will has the most advanced communications and weapons technologies. A backup plane has been built, and both are identical. Only the one carrying the President is Air Force One. Each plane carries about 70 passengers and is built to be the president's "airborne bunker". The president's quarters are spacious, and include an office, bedroom, full gourmet kitchen and dining room with custom china. It appears that even the traveling press pool has comfortable seating.

I remember traveling on Air Force One as a guest of Ronald Reagan. He was returning to Washington from his beloved ranch near Santa Barbara, California. CBS News had assigned me as a producer on several presidential trips. Over a short time covering the White House I developed a good relationship with the White House staff.

This plane was a blue and white Boeing 707, tail number 27000, first used by Richard Nixon on his trip to China. I flew on the plane as part of the small press pool; it was quite an honor. We were jammed in the tail section of the aircraft, along with military support. We were near the kitchen and our seats seemed smaller than those in the coach section of a commercial airliner. As on a railroad train, some rows faced each other and were divided by a table. We ate reheated airline meals, peanuts and we were able to drink alcoholic beverages.

Apparently restless on our five-hour flight, Reagan stuck his head back into our compartment. He just smiled and waved and slipped out of site. We were not allowed to pursue him because most of the airplane was off limits.

We arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, where the Reagans transferred to a waiting helicopter, "Marine One", and took off for the 10-minute flight to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Before disembarking from the aircraft I scooped up matchboxes, cigarette packs and napkins all stamped "Air Force One". They have since been stored somewhere in my house for a quarter of a century.

A couple months later I got a very personal delivery from the White House. I received an already framed certificate with a color drawing of AF-1 and the words "This is to certify that Joseph Peyronnin has flown on Air Force One as a guest of President Ronald Reagan".

Pretty cool.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dream Big Dreams

Earlier this week President-elect Barack Obama sat down for an interview with Katie Couric at his transition office in Washington DC. The interview is part of an inauguration news special on CBS Tuesday evening, which is being produced by Susan Zirinsky. And Susan was at the interview, met Obama and she was very impressed with his intelligence and his manner.

Following the interview Susan asked Obama to sign an autograph for Zoe Peyronnin, our 12 year old daughter. He did so without hesitation, writing "To Zoe--Dream big dreams! Barack Obama." SEE BELOW:

President Barack Obama is a nice man.

You're No Harry Truman

In his speech to the nation Thursday evening, President George Bush defiantly asserted his list of accomplishments during his eight years in office. But there were hints of wistfulness and melancholy in his tone. And he admitted a few setbacks while in office conceding, "There are a few things I would do differently if given a chance. Yet I have always acted with the best interest of our country in mind."

In February 2003 I traveled with a Telemundo news team to the White House to interview President Bush, one month before the Iraq invasion. War fever had built to a crescendo in Washington, and the White House wanted to make its case to Hispanic Americans.

President Bush entered our interview location, a room on the ground floor of the White House, with swagger and a smile. He was imperious and proud. During the interview he went through his justifications for an invasion, but said the final decision had not been made.

Following the interview the President Bush hung around for a few minutes of banter. I raised the issue of opposition to the pending war from the French, asking him, "What about President Jacques Chirac?" President Bush slapped me on the shoulder with the back of his hand, cocked his head and said, "Don't worry, he'll come around." With that, he quickly said his goodbyes and confidently departed. I turned to my team and said, "We're going to war."

In his speech last night, President Bush said, "I hope you can agree that I was willing to make tough decisions." Well, yes, he has made tough decisions. The problem is that he often made the wrong decisions. And worse, once decided, the decisions he made were poorly executed.

The Iraq war is a classic case of the wrong decision that was also poorly executed. Deregulation of the financial industry is another example. And, in the aftermath of Katrina, wrong decisions were made and the execution was painfully inept. The violation of civil liberties and his authorization of harsh interrogation techniques were terrible decisions that have undermined America's core values and founding principles. These are but a few examples.

"There is legitimate debate about many of these decisions," President Bush said, "but there can be little debate about the results, America has gone seven years without another terrorist attack on our soil." I felt a back handed slap against my shoulder as he spoke these words. President Bush seemed to be saying, "let's see what the next guy can do."

Today there is much debate about America's future. The country is mired in two wars, a devastating financial collapse, a recession, the Middle East is in turmoil, Osama bin Laden is still loose, and America's moral standing in the world has been severely eroded.

Most Americans support President-elect Barack Obama. He has already displayed intelligence, thoughtfulness, and a willingness to listen to strong voices and diverse opinions. His calm and cool style of leadership is reassuring. Hopefully we are entering a period of smart decisions, accountability and well-executed management. America's future is at stake.

President Bush apparently wants to be compared to President Harry Truman, who was also very unpopular when he left office. Yet after his retirement scholars came to judge Truman more positively. He made tough decisions and, as a result, he is now considered one of America's finest presidents.

Mr. Bush, you are no Harry Truman.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Frog and the Scorpion

The Israeli Army is pummeling Hamas in Gaza with heavy aerial and artillery bombardments in an effort to eradicate them from the region.

Hamas fighters hide among innocent women and children, in schools, and in tunnels deep underground. Supported by Iranian and radical Muslim organizations, and wanting the destruction of the Jewish state, Hamas will continue to shell and attack Israel until their last breath.

Israel went on the offensive after being shelled several thousand times over the past couple years. The Israeli army does not care about world public opinion. And public opinion in Israel is overwhelmingly behind their effort, no explanation needed. Further, the American government is going through a transition to a new president and new party. This was their time to act to attempt to destroy Hamas and send a strong message to its supporters.

The Middle East is a very complicated weave of religions, ideologies and interests. This is why there hasn't ever been a lasting piece in the region. Hamas is just one faction, albeit the most radical and violent in the region. In fact, none of the moderate Arab governments likes Hamas. More radical governments, such as Iran, think they are useful, and it uses them effectively. Iranian elections are around the corner and its leadership has been unpopular, oil prices are sinking, Iran is trying to expand its influence in the region. This dispute improves Iran across the board.

Soon world pressure will be too much for Israel because of civilian casualties and a new American president will take office. The result will be a cease-fire. Then the US will begin a new initiative, perhaps led by the very capable Richard Haas, who was instrumental in bringing an end to violence in Northern Ireland.

I covered 1983 Israel invasion of Beirut, it was bloody, dangerous and noisy. The Israeli army was heavy handed and brutish.

We members of the press stayed in a hotel that was off limits to military and attacks from both sides. The Israelis pounded the Palestinians. They hated, hated American press coverage.

Why? American (especially New York) supporters were watching video nightly of Israeli guns pounding the Palestinians, many of the victims being innocent woman and children.

A couple lower ranked generals called me in to complain. I defended our coverage.

A couple weeks later a military motorcade carrying General Ariel Sharon arrived at our hotel. He had breakfast with his staff and left one hour later.

Within minutes our hotel was shelled and shelled hard by the PLO. There were a few injuries and a lot of damage. Sharon had put a target on the press hotel. I am sure he knew exactly what he was doing.

When I first arrived in Lebanon I heard a riddle about the frog and the scorpion. The scorpion asks the frog to carry it across the river because it can't swim. The frog says, "but you will bite and poison me." "No, no," says the scorpion, "I would drown too." So the frog agrees and, sure enough, halfway across the river the scorpion bites the frog. As they are both sinking to certain death the frog asks the scorpion," why did you bite me?" The scorpion shrugs its shoulders and says, "It’s in our nature."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Global Dimming

The United States is running up record deficits and the world environment is in great peril. This is what my twelve year old daughter will face as an adult, long after I am gone from this earth.

On Wednesday it was announced that the United States budget deficit for fiscal year 2009 is projected at nearly $1.2 trillion; that is t-r-i-l-l-i-o-n. This is almost three times the previous record, also held by President George W. Bush. When President Bush took office the total U.S. debt was about $5.7 trillion. Just eight years later it is now about $10.6 trillion, due to increased government spending (including two wars), tax cuts and the recession.

If you remember, President Bush pledged to balance the budget by 2012. Now, if the Bush recession eases, economists are projecting a $775 billion budget deficit in fiscal 2010. And they don't project a balanced budget until 2019. That's another decade of deficits!

The sizable deficit means that the government has to borrow an enormous amount of money to keep the lights on. Of course, credit markets are such that it is harder and more expensive for the government to raise money. In the past foreign governments and wealthy investors filled the gap, but the worldwide economic collapse is now a major impediment. And the more money we borrow, and the more the deficit grows, the larger the burden for my daughter and her children. Today her share of the deficit is about $35,000!

So, as hard as it is to swallow, Congress has no choice but to pass a stimulus plan to end the recession. The cost will be added to the already approved government bailouts that targeted certain key financial institutions and industries. It is encouraging that President-elect Barack Obama has appointed a "chief performance officer" to look for savings and budget cuts. Nancy Killefer is an experienced hand from the highly regarded corporate consulting firm McKinsey & Company, where they know how to streamline companies and cut waste and fat. Nonetheless, Americans will face a severe challenge for decades to come.

While the world is roiling in the midst of a financial crisis, I recently saw some news that only compounds global problems exponentially. In an outstanding documentary, PBS's science series, called Nova, provided insight into a phenomenon called "global dimming" and its affects on global warming. Global dimming occurs when the sun's energy is partially blocked largely by man-made particulates and then reflected back into space. This reduces water evaporation, alters weather patterns and lowers the earth's surface temperature. Global dimming has accelerated over the past three decades, and now leading developed countries have taken measures to reduce particulate so this growth trend is flattening out.

Meanwhile, most scientists agree that so-called greenhouse gases are causing the earth's temperature to dramatically rise. Greenland's glaciers are melting and the seas are rising. By combining the affects of global warming and global dimming scientists have come to an alarming conclusion. It appears that global dimming has been "masking" the global warming problem, that the earth's surface temperature would be much higher were it not for global dimming. And the more we solve the first problem, the more we may contribute to the other unless both are dealt with equally and urgently. If nothing is done to save the climate, some scientists warn that much of life will be destroyed and the earth will be a very different place by the time my daughter reaches my age.

Up to now long term well-being has taken a back seat to short term gains when it comes to the economy and the environment. Man has played a Ponzi scheme with our children's lives. We are borrowing against their future and quickly destroying their world. Instead of wondering how they will deal with all these problems, today we should be acting with great urgency and courage to assure their survival and happiness. Indeed, this is the time, this is the moment Mr. Obama.

Monday, January 5, 2009


Hey Barack,

Welcome back to Washington, sorry about that Blair House situation. But how about the airplane Laura and I sent you, pretty nice, yes?

It's been a remarkable eight years for me. My staff tells me I have left a great legacy. It's all there in those talking points they gave me for my round of exit interviews with the various news organizations.

I thought I would take time away from reading books to offer you some advice. You know, I did read 95 books last year, just ask my book club buddy Karl Rove. That's a pretty amazing accomplishment considering I had so many important issues competing for my time, like the economy, the Iraq War, Russia and Georgia, the annual turkey pardon and my 10pm bedtime. That's lights out at 10pm. A president has to get his rest.

Now as good a legacy as I have as president, I have learned a few lessons I'd like to pass on to you. You know, in the spirit of bipartisanship and all that.

When it comes to the economy, don't get too involved. Let your treasury people handle it. We had record economic growth for seven years and I was totally hands-off. Only recently have problems befallen our great nation, but that was not my fault. It was due to decisions made a decade ago, before I took office. Meanwhile, keep an ear to the ground for someone named Madoff, as in he "made off" with my money, because I hear he's a real fraud.

Give your vice president plenty of running room, especially if you trust him. It always worked real well between Dick Cheney and me. You know, bad cop and good cop. By the way, check to see if Joe Biden hunts.

Be strong on terrorism. Because of my leadership terrorists have not attacked the U.S. since September 11, 2001. Yes terrorism has dramatically increased around the world, but I can only be president of one country at a time. One of the reasons for my success is we have killed or captured all the top Al-Qaeda terrorists. Yep, we really stuck it to them. Using my aggressive approach you should be able to capture bin Laden and al-Zawarhi. I have teed it up for you.

And don't be afraid to suspend individual rights in this country. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson did just that and history has smiled down on them too!

Watch out for those guys in intelligence. They only tell you what you want to hear. Those WMD's were supposed to be a slam dunk. Well, the good news is we got Saddam and liberated Iraq from his tyrannical rule. And now, just five years later, things are so safe for everyone in Iraq that al-Qaeda has moved its training bases there.

Support the democratically elected president in Afghanistan because he's a good guy. Sure his government is somewhat corrupt, but cut him some slack. I mean look at Blagojevich for God's sake. He is more corrupt than any Afghani, and Illinois seems to be doing just fine. No matter, the Afghan economy has been great, even after you take out those booming opium dollars.

Continue to garner worldwide respect by providing food aid for natural disaster relief; I have led in this area. On a related note, should you encounter a disaster in the United States, such as a hurricane, make sure you have someone qualified running disaster relief. Unfortunately, my staff misled me on this a few years ago. But I acted decisively and got rid of those who were responsible for the mistakes.

Don't hesitate to take plenty of down time. It will help you think more clearly, at least that's what it did for me. The results speak for themselves. Maybe we'll have you down to Crawford after you get settled in.

I'd give you more insight but I want to make sure Laura has plenty of material for the new book she is writing. She will soon be the big breadwinner in our family, if you get my drift.

But here are a few simple principles I followed and can share with you.

1. Never apologize.
2. Never look back, only look in front of you.
3. Don't pay attention to your critics.
4. Reward those who tell you what you want to hear.
5. If they are wrong immediately turn on them.
6. Don't ask questions, don't be curious, it may make you look uninformed.
7. Never have any regrets.
8. Never say you're sorry.

It's called survival of the fittest, or politics as usual.

When you are sworn in, to quote Colin Powell in a different context, "you will own it." It will be your recession, your housing crisis, your banking collapse, your do-nothing Congress, your Israeli crisis, your Russian resurgence, your international disaster, your Katrina clean-up.

What do you mean you can't do miracles? That's not what the world thinks. Good luck!

Of course, I checked out a long time ago. But let me leave you with these final words:

Mission accomplished, I'm out of here!

Yours truly,

President George Bush
Dallas, Texas