Friday, December 31, 2010

Toast to America 2011

The year 2010 went like a flash. I began the year with high hopes for the beginnings of a robust economic recovery and a tangible decrease in the nation's unemployment. But I also began the year thinking the Chicago Cubs would go to the World Series for the first time in more than 100 years!

The weak economic recovery was the most significant story this year. Unemployment hovers around 10%, and millions more Americans are so discouraged they have stopped looking for a job. While there are some positive signs, foreclosures, personal bankruptcies and poverty are growing. There is so much debt in the American economy that a full recovery will be a slow and painful process. Further, the U.S. government is funding its booming deficits with bonds purchased by China and other countries. The national debt is now at about $45,000 per citizen, and it is growing at about $4 billion daily.

The most important political story this past year was the rise of the Tea Party movement. The movement grew out of citizen discontent with America's government exacerbated by a struggling economy. Although primarily a conservative, "smaller government-less taxes" movement, Tea Party attacks were directed at both sides of the aisle. As a result, the Republican Party has been pulled to the right, and President Barack Obama has been pulled more to the middle.

The repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was the most significant story from the perspective of a social issue, perhaps in decades. No longer will heroic Gay and Lesbian Americans have to hide their sexual orientation while risking their lives for the country they love.

The most important environmental story this past year was the BP oil spill in Gulf of Mexico. At first, the nation seemed paralyzed with uncertainty about the outcome of this unprecedented environmental disaster. The country came face to face with the consequences of not reducing its dependency on fossil fuels, and Gulf Coast residents suffered severe financial consequences. Yet, in the end, BP CEO Tony Hayward got his life back (and more), while Americans seem to have moved on with their lives. The importance of this story may be that it will take a more significant disaster in order for America to change its ways.

On the international front, America's engagement in two controversial wars is the top story. While U.S. combat troops have now departed Iraq, thousands of soldiers have remained behind as that country struggles with its uncertain future. Neo-conservative dreams of creating in Iraq a "Democratic Arab State" appear unachievable.

Meanwhile, Americans are growing increasingly weary of the war in Afghanistan. The late Richard Holbrooke, perhaps one of America's most brilliant diplomats, who served as America's special envoy to this region, reportedly made the following deathbed plea: "You have got to stop this war in Afghanistan." He knew that a weak and corrupt Kabul government would never be able to rule the whole country. Nearly 500 U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan this past year, as well as hundreds of hundreds of coalition soldiers and thousands of civilians. To date, the U.S government has spent a total of about $1 trillion dollars on these two wars.

As we ring in a new year, there are many dark clouds hanging over this country. Citizens are concerned about the uncertain future. Yet, America has overcome adversity many times before in its history. It has always done so because the nation is strong and its people are resilient. That is true as well today. America is the world's leading nation, and a beacon of hope for the entire globe. So, let us drink a New Year's toast to America.

As for the Cubs in 2011, "Wait till next year!"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Persistent President

For a man who said he suffered a "shellacking" at the polls and an elbow to the lower lip in a basketball game, President Barack was standing tall today. The "lame duck" session of the 111th Congress will go down as one of the most productive sessions in history, but this just may be the calm before the storm.

The president's legislative accomplishments this past month are truly remarkable. Many initiatives thought to be beyond reach passed in a legislative flurry. The START Treaty, repeal of "Don't Ask Don't Tell", which the president signed today in an emotional ceremony at the White House, a continuing resolution to extend government financing to March 4, and the extension of unemployment benefits, were among the measures pushed through Congress at the end of their term. Many members of Congress deserve credit but the brightest light shines on President Obama.

President Obama has accomplished an amazing amount during his first two years in office. The "Recovery Act" saved more than 3 million jobs from being lost. The auto industry bailout has helped the U.S. auto industry regain its footing. Banking reform will make it harder for financial institutions to lead this country to the precipice of economic failure. Historic health care reform will expand coverage to millions of Americans, preventing those with a pre-existing condition or those who lose their jobs from being dropped by insurance companies. It will also help control health care costs and allow parents to keep children up to 25 years of age on their policy. Also among his achievements, the appointment of Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

In a few short weeks the president has positioned himself as more bipartisan than the Republicans. A new CNN poll shows voters approve by a margin of 56 to 42 percent the president's handling of this Congressional session. Only 42 per cent approved the Republicans' handling of the session. The poll also overwhelmingly found that the president did enough to compromise with Republicans, a 59 to 37 per cent margin.

But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed as his top priority to make President Barack Obama a one-term president. And, when Congress starts its new session, Rep. John Boehner will take the Speaker's gavel and the leadership of the new Republican majority in the House. Together they will do all they can to repeal health care reform and many other progressive initiatives. First they will have to reconcile their agenda with that of their Tea Party wing.

The president is correct to state that the newly empowered Republicans will have to take some responsibility for governing. No more "no". But with unemployment hovering around 10 per cent, a burgeoning deficit and the certainty of numerous Congressional investigations by the House Oversight Committee, led by GOP Congressman Darrell Issa, the next Congressional session promises to be rocky for the White House.

Nonetheless, President Barack Obama is in a good place right now, better than anyone would have imagined just six weeks ago. He has succeeded by leading. He has succeeded, in his own words, by being "persistent" about the things he cares about. If he stays the course, he will likely prevail in the 2012 presidential election.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Obama Compromise

Progressive Democrats are throwing down the gauntlet, angered that President Barack Obama has approved a two year extension of the Bush tax cuts to America's wealthiest 2% income earners. But his acquiescence, in exchange for extended unemployment benefits and other goodies, averts a painful political battle just in time for the holiday season.

There is a lot not to like in the Obama compromise. First and foremost, tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans will add $70 billion to the burgeoning national deficit each year. In effect, America is borrowing $70 billion dollars each year from the Chinese government and handing it to this country's richest citizens.

Most economists point out that, when it comes to creating new jobs, this is the least effective way of lowering unemployment. Nonetheless, conservative Democrats feared that allowing the Bush tax cuts to lapse for incomes above $250 thousand, or even $1 million, would enable Republicans to claim to voters that Democrats raise taxes.

Of course, neither party can be accused of fiscal responsibility. If hypocrisy is not the highest form of American politics, it may be close. The full impact of extending the unfunded Bush tax cuts an additional four years is another $4 trillion dollars added to the deficit.

Since their enactment nearly a decade ago, these unfunded tax cuts have already caused the deficit to balloon while creating very few jobs in return. Therefore, that Republicans would insist on offsetting the costs of extending unemployment benefits for 2.5 million needy Americans is almost inhumane. Especially since this money will immediately be plowed back into the ailing economy by its recipients.

Democrats were so fearful of the potential political fallout of dealing with this tax issue prior to the Midterm elections that they deferred it until the lame duck session. Nonetheless, Democrats suffered a "shellacking" on Election Day and found their negotiating position on a myriad of issues weakened. President Obama campaigned in 2008 on ending the Bush Tax Cuts for the richest Americans. But failing to compromise on the tax extension would have had devastating consequences on the millions of Americans in need of unemployment benefits.

Since taking office, President Obama has enacted historic health care reform, meaningful financial reform, consumer protection and his stimulus package kept many state governments afloat, gave tax breaks to Americans and helped avoid an economic depression. This is a record for which Democrats should be proud.

This latest compromise may not be ideal for Democrats. But it gives most struggling Americans some economic certainty for another year. And it includes a payroll tax deduction, which should help spur the anemic economy. It may also clear way for Congress to deal with ratification of the START Treaty, the "Dream Act" and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" this lame duck session.

Democrats will be better served to accept the compromise and come together. Their message to voters can be "we stand for 98% of all Americans." The Republicans have once again shown that they are fiercely loyal to the wealthiest Americans and big business.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Christmas Lights

Today is the first Sunday in December and a time when thousands of carolers gather at New York's Brick Church. The music warmed the hearts of the young and old who gathered in the 30 degree weather.

The annual Park Avenue tree lighting ceremony is in its 66th year. It is a time to remember, to the stirring sound of taps, those brave Americans who have fallen in this nation's wars. And shortly after a prayer Christmas lights on trees filling the center island of in the Park Avenue for 50 blocks are illuminated. Toddlers perched on their parents shoulders, extended families and dozens of onlookers from apartment building windows all join in the singing and gaiety.

But as enjoyable as the tree lighting was, I found myself still laughing at the story Father Thomas Shelley told at mass earlier in the day. "An Irishman went into a bar and ordered three beers, at the same time. The bartender set them up and the man then moved from chair to chair taking a sip out of each glass. This had happened for several days when the bartender had to ask, 'I noticed you order three beers at one time, why?' The man answered, 'You see I recently moved here from Ireland and I have no friends. And I miss my two brothers, one who went to Canada and the other Australia. So I do this to be with them, if you know what I mean.' The bartender said he understood. But then a couple weeks later the man showed up and only ordered two beers. As the bartender set them up he said to the man, 'Oh, I am sorry for your loss.' But the man said, 'Oh no, I didn't lose anyone. No, I just gave beer up for Lent.'"

Of course, in the Catholic Church's calendar this is Advent, the time leading up to the birth of Jesus. Nonetheless, I'm sure Father Shelley wouldn't mind if you use this story come Lent.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Keith Olbermann Suspension

The fact that Keith Olbermann is a progressive liberal Democrat should come as no surprise to American news viewers. Nonetheless, NBC News policy, which also applies to MSNBC, clearly says that donating money to any candidate is a violation, as, "these activities jeopardize his or her standing as an impartial journalist because they may create the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

Olbermann's political contributions reflect badly on all of NBC News. Therefore, his suspension without pay is necessary. It sends an important message to the public, as well as to the entire NBC News organization that they must adhere strictly to the organization's news standards. It also underscores that Olbermann’s violations were the act of one man and not representative of NBC News, NBC Nightly News or the Today Show.

It is paramount that each news organization avoids even the appearance of a conflict of interest when reporting the news. If a story presentation is unfair, without all sides of the argument, or takes a political point of view, viewers may no longer trust the news organization. A news division's credibility is its bond with the audience.

Most major news organizations have a book of "standards and practices" that is distributed to each employee. It is more of a bible than a handbook. It covers conflict of interest, staging, production standards, use of anonymous sources or third party material, investigative reporting and other important questions. Most organizations require that their employees read the book, and many, like NBC News, hold regular seminars to maintain awareness.

However, in an era of dueling 24–hour news channels, objectivity is often tested and frequently blurred. Opinions and political punditry have become a primary source of content for cable news channels. It is less expensive than covering news stories around the world, and it attracts viewers who are heavy news consumers.

Is there any question where Fox News comes from politically? The daily denunciations of President Barack Obama and Democrats are on overdrive. For Fox News two sides of the story may be “he’s incompetent” versus “he’s totally incompetent.” Not to mention that Fox News’ parent company, the Rupert Murdoch led News Corp, donated millions to Republicans this last election.

But MSNBC has found success appealing to progressive and Democratic viewers. Its anchors frequently go into temper tantrums over Republican tactics and Tea Party candidates. At times it gets downright mean, with regular vicious personal attacks on people like former President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. “Idiot,” “clown” and “fool” are adjectives that are frequently heard during “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.” Of course, the word “civility” seldom appears in news standards books.

Most “news” organizations work hard to be fair and preserve balance in their reporting. Yet truth is often in the eye of the beholder. And even the most respected news organizations will come under attack for bias, especially if a candidate or cause can gain favor with his or her base. “The lame-stream media” is one of Sara Palin’s favorite talking points. And Delaware GOP candidate Christine O’Donnell blames the media for her downfall. These are volatile times.

As for Olbermann, he has worked for news organizations most of his professional career. He knows the rules. He knows campaign contributions are disclosed. One can only conclude that his political donations were a selfish and arrogant act. Perhaps during his self-inflicted "time out" Olbermann should reflect on the words of James Thurber, "We all have faults, and mine is being wicked."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Political Ad-Sanity

I don't know about you, but I have nightmares about Rand Paul, Sharron Angle and Jerry Brown as a result of the onslaught of political ads on television these past few weeks. And, with less than a week to go, there literally isn't enough time in the day on some television stations to meet the demand for political advertising.

The din of democracy must have the Founding Fathers rolling over in their graves! TV Ad Week, a trade publication, estimates that $2 billion dollars will be spent on political ads that air on local television stations throughout the country. And, in many cases, they have generated a great deal of buzz among possible voters. The 2010 midterm elections appear to be this year's break out hit "Reality Show."

Elections will be held for 37 Senate and 37 Gubernatorial seats, and the entire House of Representatives, 435 seats. No one seems immune from the reach of political advertising this year. This is especially good news for TV stations that were clobbered by the economic downturn and are now making out like bandits. Especially since TV Ad Week estimates another $1 billion will be spent on so-called "issue" advertisements.

No doubt reflecting the polarization of the country, many campaign commercials have taken on a more negative tone this election year. In fact, there is a consistency in messaging across the country for candidates from each party. "ObamaCare is socialized medicine,” a Republican claim, while many Democrats say that their opponents want to "privatize Social Security."

What is most alarming it the trend toward personal attacks. For instance, one ad attacked Rand Paul for "worshipping the god Aqua Buddha," while another questioned how Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid earned his wealth. There is no such thing as "you went too far" in political advertising.

Of course, political advertising has gone viral, and it is paying off big time for Internet companies. Whether on TV or on You Tube, candidates want a message that breaks through the political noise and connects with voters. The results can be a bit outrageous.

For instance, West Virginia's Democratic candidate for the Senate, Joe Manchin, fired a bullet through "Obama's Cap-and-Trade Bill." Nevada's Republican candidate for the Senate, Sharron Angle, has an ad that shows evil looking young men when complaining about Senator Harry Reid's position on immigration. Pennsylvania's Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak, holding a bag of dog poop, compares cleaning up after his dog to cleaning up his opponent's economic mess.

Polls indicate that most Americans say they are against negative ads. In fact, a recent Rasmussen poll shows that 58% of those surveyed said they would “vote for the other candidate” because of a negative poll. But political consultants know that negative ads do work. And these ads can be a decisive blow in a close race. One pundit quipped, “Every dollar spent on a positive ad is wasted!”

Come Wednesday the intensity, the insanity, of political advertising will go into hibernation. Viagra and Tums will return to prominence, a welcome relief. But, with the explosion of media outlets across all platforms, and the increasingly enormous amounts of money pouring into political campaigns, get ready for the 2012 elections!


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Read Before Voting

With the midterm elections one week off, it appears Republicans will take control of the House of Representatives and come close in the Senate. While such an outcome would be bad news for the Democrats, it could also trigger a fight for control of the Republican Party between traditional party members and the "Tea Party" wing.

The Republican leadership is so confident of a sweeping victory that they have already shifted their focus on to the 2012 presidential election. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell bluntly told the National Journal, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” So defeating President Obama is more important to Republicans than "jobs, jobs, jobs" and improving the economy. It is more important to Republicans than immigration reform, the threat of terrorism against America, its burgeoning deficit or its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Republicans have the "Tea Party" to thank for a large part of their success this midterm. The newly constituted Republican Party will populate Congress with some very interesting characters, to put it mildly. The good news is that it will be a windfall for stand up comedians.

But most Americans may not be laughing when they come to realize exactly what's on the Republican agenda. Of course, the newly constituted Republican Party will want less government. For instance, they want to privatize Social Security, Medicare and Veteran's care. They also want to end the federal minimum wage.

Republicans will immediately push to overturn Health Care Reform legislation passed earlier this year. This would free health insurance companies to deny coverage to people with "pre-existing" conditions, deny coverage for those who lose their jobs and to deny coverage to 30 million Americans who do not currently have health insurance. It would mean an end to controlling health care costs. Health companies would again be able to rapidly raise premiums and exclude their coverage to all but the healthy and wealthy.

Republicans will want to deregulate banking and financial companies. Important financial reform legislation passed by Congress would be overturned freeing bankers to return to their old ways of making money. Remember how that movie ended last time?

Republicans probably couldn't do much to undo the help President Obama gave to the American auto companies now that they have found new life and are adding jobs. And the GOP will not be able to get back "Stimulus" money that went to preserve tens of thousands of jobs across the country and help states through their financial crises. But Republicans would try to shut down the Department of Education, and shift the responsibility to the states. So much for America achieving uniform educational outcomes.

Republicans will want to extend to all Americans the Bush Tax cuts, scheduled to lapse at the end of the year, even though it will add $4 trillion dollars to the deficit over 10 years. Of course most Americans agree with President Obama that the cuts should apply to only to the first $250,000 of an individual's income. That would reduce the impact on the deficit by $700 billion over the next decade. But the Republicans want to make sure the rich get every penny possible to avoid class warfare.

Of course, a few dozen of America's richest oilmen, bankers and business leaders have been anonymously pouring record amounts of campaign money into the GOP, targeting close races and underwriting continuous attack ads. One Republican called it carpet-bombing and sniper attacks.

But for Republicans, victory in one or both houses of Congress will mean increased responsibility. It will mean they will have to actually declare specifically what their legislative agenda is for next year. It will likely also ignite a fight for control of the party between the center and the far right. These factors will open up opportunities for Democrats and make Senator McConnell's one stated goal, the defeat of President Obama, impossible in 2012.

Go San Francisco Giants!

One year ago July, Zoe and I were given the opportunity of a lifetime by San Francisco Giants' president Larry Baer.

Susan and I eloped at San Francisco's city hall in 1984 immediately following the Democratic Nation Convention. Susan and I were covering the convention for CBS News.

In July 2009 I arranged to take Susan and Zoe to San Francisco for a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary celebration. I contacted a former CBS colleague of mine, Larry Baer, who is now president of the San Francisco Giants. He arranged for me to buy three second row box seats right next to the Giants dugout.

The night before the game Susan was recalled to New York by CBS News to produce an instant "Michael Jackson Special" on the singer's life and very sudden and suspicious death. So Zoe and I attended the game, along with our friend Mark Larkin. We all ended up sitting in the front row for several innings.

Suddenly, in the middle of the fourth inning, the scoreboard revealed the following message, "Happy Anniversary to Joe and Susan Peyronnin from Your SF Giants!" I was able to capture and email Susan a picture of the scoreboard. What a thrill for all of us.

So this is a brief explanation of why I, a lifelong and much suffering Cubs fan, am pulling for the Giants to win it all. I have seen Willie Mays, Willie McCovery and even Bobby Thompson play in Wrigley Field. What a great tradition.

We are big fans of Larry Baer, the Giants organization and beautiful San Francisco. Go Giants!

Friday, October 8, 2010


This one hits home!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dysfunctional Democrats

Congress is fleeing Washington for their local districts to campaign for the upcoming Midterm elections. But an overwhelming majority of Americans are not likely to vote November 2, despite the fact that the outcome will have serious consequences for them.

Republicans are counting on the Tea Party movement to put them over the top in many key races. They are embracing so-called Tea Party candidates who believe evolution is a myth, float "second amendment remedies" to win back government and talk of repealing the Civil Rights Amendment. "The political class is really dysfunctional," former Florida Governor Jeb Bush observed in an interview on MSNBC. Well governor, if Democratic voters sit out this Midterm election, the young, Hispanic, African American and blue-collar workers, you haven't see anything yet!

Should Republicans gain control of one or both houses of Congress they will set about to dismantle President Obama and all of his legislative achievements. They will work to unwind regulatory reform and oversight so that Wall Street firms and the banking industry can return to their profitable practices of the past.

Republicans will immediately attempt to repeal the historic Affordable Care Act and bring and end to health care reform. That means insurance companies will again be able to set lifetime caps, will be able to deny coverage to children with pre-existing conditions, and will be able to bar parents from keeping their children on their health care policy until they are 26. That also means that more than 30 million uninsured Americans will have no health care coverage, other than the local emergency room. And it means that health care costs will continue to skyrocket for all Americans.

Republicans will bring a halt to stimulus spending, much of which went to help states keep teachers, policemen and firemen employed. And Republicans will attempt to make major cuts in education spending, just at a time when America's students are falling behind many of those in other countries.

How will Republicans turn the American economy around? Start with extending all of the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of the year. Doing so will add $4 Trillion to the US deficit over the next decade. President Obama proposed not extending the tax break for the wealthiest 3% of Americans, families with more than $250,000 in income, which Republicans opposed even though it would have saved $750 Billion over the decade. Yet the GOP continues to blame Democrats for the deficit. Meanwhile, Republicans have proposed building an expensive missile defense system which would set off another costly arms race with the Russians.

Republicans will roll back more than just banking reform. They will work to overturn government supported environmental regulations and initiatives, as well as efforts to develop alternative fuels. Instead, it will be "drill baby drill." They will also seek to restrict or overturn social reforms, including such controversial issues as immigration, civil rights, "don't ask-don't tell" and Roe vs. Wade. And many Republicans are on record for privatizing Social Security and altering Medicaid and Medicare.

If that is not enough incentive for Democratic voters, GOP control of the House will lead to several expensive committee investigations into a whole range of issues. For instance, whether President Obama was actually born in America, whether the 14th Amendment should be repealed and whether Congressman Joe Sestak was offered a job to stay out of the Pennsylvania senate race.

For sure, President Obama has made some mistakes. But he has also had several meaningful legislative victories. Some in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are unhappy that President Obama's reform measures did not go further, so they have threatened to sit out the Midterms. This spurred Vice President Joe Biden to ill advisedly call them "whiners." But if these dysfunctional Democrats fail to vote this Midterm, they will only have themselves to blame for the chaos that will ensue to the detriment of the American people.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

2010 Football

It is no secret that I have been a Chicago Bears fan all of my life, and a Louisiana State University Bengal Tiger fan since I can remember.

I went to some Bears games at tiny Wrigley Field, even when the crossbars were placed at the back of the endzone. Of course, looming just a couple feet away was the solid brick left field wall covered with dead ivy. There Gayle Sayers, Willie Galimore, Doug Atkins and Dick Butkus toiled under the demanding leadership of Bears founder and coach George Hallas. These were the "Monsters of the Midway!"

I attended LSU Tiger games in the 60's. I lived in the Stadium dormitory when I attended the school. The team had suffered several poor seasons after winning the national championship in 1958 with the help of Bill Cannon. He was the fleet-footed running back who once bulled over eleven Ole Miss players to score a game winning touchdown, and event that is repeated every year on local radio. In the past decade, however, LSU won two BCS championships.

Here's the deal, so far this season LSU is 3-0 and the Bears 2-0. I just want you all to know that I am NOT getting my hopes up. In both cases I feel like I am standing on thin ice and the temperature is rising. In both cases I see real issues on both sides of the ball. In both cases the QB is not consistently good. In both cases I see plenty of tough competition ahead. In both cases I do not see a head coach who will make winning an imperative.

LSU will lose 5 games, Arkansas, Alabama and Florida for sure. The Bears, well, I say they lose 6 games. In both cases, pretty good years. But Les Miles may be looking for a new job.

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Twin Towers

Terrorists struck a staggering blow at the heart of America when they attacked New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. In a moment the whole world changed.

On 9/11, terrorism became a global threat against all humanity. Terrorism transformed itself from an insidious disease affecting a single country or region, into a life-threatening cancer that would quickly metastasize across all borders to other countries in the form of "sleeper cells."

America did not see it coming. New York City had never seen an attack of this scale. Suddenly this horrifying act shook and stunned the city, the nation and the world. It was the worst of times that brought out the best in people. New York City firemen and policemen flew into the face of danger and uncertainty to help innocent victims from all walks of life. In the end more than 3000 people perished as a result of the attacks and the subsequent collapse of the Twin Towers.

There is now a construction site where the Twin Towers once stood. It is still a nasty scar near the center of the financial district. Thousands of tourists walk by every day to match the present site with indelible images of the burning buildings locked in their memories.

People who worked and lived in the area then will carry the emotions of that day forever. Tens of thousands still have trouble sleeping. They are haunted by the sounds of bodies crashing to the ground; victims who chose to jump rather than burn to death. Or the unimaginable sounds of the towers collapsing to the ground. Thousands of "heroes" suffer from lung diseases and other life shortening illnesses. The human toll is staggering.

As a result of these attacks, security at airports and other transportation hubs throughout the world has been greatly heightened. Homeland security is now an important concern for every nation and a major global industry. Suspicions have been elevated as most everyone casts a wary eye on those around them. Uncertainty and fear have heightened divisions and mistrust among religions and peoples. The extreme voices are wreaking havoc on sanity and stability.

The terrorist attacks led to costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians have died in these conflicts. The wars are draining America and are being used to fuel hatred among Muslims against the US and its allies. Never mind that terrorists have killed perhaps millions more innocent Muslims in the name of Allah than anyone else. Meanwhile, the terrorists have been wounded but they have not been stopped.

For decades the Twin Towers dominated the Manhattan's skyline like two centurions guarding over the city's financial district. These towers symbolized the power of America's free-market system and the strength of its Democracy. They reflected the energy, optimism and ambition of New York City and its diverse people. New Yorkers are resilient. But they will never forget.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Failure to Communicate

It is likely that most voters will, in Sara Palin's own word, "refudiate" Democrats in November's midterm elections. According to the latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans think their country is heading in the wrong direction, and only one quarter believe the economy will improve during the next year.

The fact is most Americans have not recovered from the recession brought about by the disastrous economic policies of President George W. Bush. One in six Americans is looking for a job, and the average time needed to get a job has ballooned to a record six months.

President Obama was elected to put America back on the right track and to fix America's ailing economy. So much for the "Change You Can Believe In" promised by presidential candidate Barack Obama. And the Obama White House has made their share of mistakes. As a result, it is likely that both houses of Congress will undergo a change in control this November as Republicans sweep Democrats out of their leadership positions.

Meanwhile, the White House has tried to pin blame on obstructionist Republicans and failed Bush economic policies. But the charges are not swaying the public. In fact, 58% of those polled by NBC/WSJ believe that, when it comes to the economy, Republicans will do things differently than Bush. And likely voters from the generic poll favor the GOP over Democrats by 49% to 40%. Even though President Obama's personal approval rating is okay, he clearly is not an asset in many Congressional districts where his presence on the 2008 ballot helped sweep many Democrats into office.

For sure Republicans have been playing with a weak hand. But they have been disciplined in their efforts to stall any Obama initiatives simply by saying "no" and to fan the flames of discontent through distortion and misinformation. They have helped feed a narrative that President Obama is a disengaged elite socialist in favor of more government, more debt and more taxes. Some have even questioned whether the president is a natural born American or a Christian. And the GOP's efforts are paying off.

But this is big league, rough and tumble American politics. There are no surprises here except that the White House has consistently failed to communicate effectively with Americans. For instance, the White House assured Americans that passage of the "stimulus" package would keep unemployment from going above 8.5%. They handed Republicans a metric by which to deem the measure a failure and a waste of money. Yes, most economists believe the stimulus package prevented unemployment from getting worse, but most Americans have not benefited from it and therefore believe Republicans.

The president used enormous political capital and resources to get historic health care reform passed. But to this day most Americans do not understand what is in the bill or what it will mean for them. This lack of clarity, and the fact it will not be fully implemented for years, has created an information vacuum easily filled with fear tactics and distortion. And since the political battle for passage was more unpleasant for most Americans than a root canal, today many view health care reform as a negative!

The Republicans are staunchly defending the so-called "Bush tax cuts" which are scheduled to lapse at the end of the year. The cuts are funded entirely by taxpayer debt, more than $3 trillion worth since they were enacted. President Obama wants to let the portion of tax breaks going to the wealthy lapse to lessen the government deficit, but Congress will have to sign off on this proposal. Republicans have convincingly responded that President Obama wants to increase taxes and stifle the economic recovery.

Thirty years ago President Ronald Reagan survived a recession, major losses during his first midterm elections and a lower approval rating than President Obama at a similar time in his first term, to be reelected. But President Reagan had an outstanding team around him that understood the importance of clearly communicating to the American public and how to leverage the media. Of course, an economic recovery helped lift President Reagan to victory.

Today it appears that the American economy will take years to recover. And, with Republicans controlling at least one chamber of Congress, Washington is likely to be in massive gridlock. A failure to immediately communicate clearly and effectively to the American people will assure a one term presidency.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Thankfully, First Lady Michelle Obama is back safely from her personal trip to Spain's Costa del Sol over the weekend. Sadly, a few vocal dissenters did all they could to stir up a controversy.

The criticism came despite the fact that it was a personal trip and the Obamas paid all of their own expenses. The American taxpayer paid for her security and staff costs, as is true with every First Lady's travel.

So what is to be gained from such strident attacks? Perhaps it furthers a make-believe narrative that the Obamas are out of touch with real America. Yes, Michelle Obama grew up in Chicago's inner city, but she went to Princeton and Harvard Law! Perhaps opponents are not happy with the First Lady's relatively high approval ratings. For them it is better to attack all things Obama!

Is Spain such an inappropriate place to vacation? Having just taken my daughter to southern Spain I can attest to its beauty, its glorious culture and its amazing history. We, however, did not get to meet the King!

Spain is a reliable supporter of the United States. They have deployed 1,500 troops in Afghanistan. They recently took five of America's toxic Guantanamo prisoners off our hands.

Meanwhile, Spain's economy is struggling. Their unemployment rate is nearly 20%. The government is under attack for alleged corruption. Some of these charges are related to Spain's southern coast, which is burdened with a glut of condominiums, many of them empty and teetering on bankruptcy.

For this reason most Spaniards were thrilled to have the American First Lady in their country. August is usually a busy time for the tourist industry. But even the popular Costa del Sol has felt the impact of the economic downturn. Restaurants are not full, stores are not doing the business they had hoped and some foreign visitors have not come this year. Residents hope that the First Lady's visit will serve as a catalyst for tourist traffic.

The First Lady went to Spain knowing full well that some critics would squawk. Perhaps that is why she did not bother to explain to these critics that her original motive was to comfort a good friend who had recently lost her father, according to the Chicago Tribune. But wait, why should she have to explain everything she does?

The First Lady was unable to attend the July funeral of Chicago physician and best friend Anita Blanchard's father. Blanchard had planned a Spanish vacation with her daughter and asked the First Lady to come along with her daughters. Mrs. Obama only took Sasha because her older daughter is away at camp. The Secret Service decided on the exclusive hotel for security reasons.

Of course, those who are critical of the Obamas will doubt this explanation and will continue to stir the pot.

And most of us will be reminded of that old maxim: No good deed goes unpunished. Especially if you are the First Lady!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Midterm Referendum

The Senate passed financial reform legislation that President Barack Obama will sign into law next Wednesday. This legislation will address many of the problems that led to the near total collapse of the American economy.

This is the latest in an impressive list of successes by President Obama, which should be winning him praise from Americans and political pundits. Yet the President continues to struggle in national polls and his party's control of Congress is threatened.

Just look at the huge legislative victories the Obama White House has had since taking office. Last year Congress, over fierce Republican opposition, passed a $787 billion stimulus package that has saved or added more than 2.5 million jobs since it was enacted according to many estimates. The president continued the TARP program for ailing banks and invested in the failing American auto industry. The large banks have now repaid their loans with interest and are experiencing robust profits, and the U.S. auto industry is surging back as well.

In an historic move, and following a brutal battle, President Obama was able to sign major health care reform legislation into law, which extends coverage to 32 million uninsured Americans and eliminated pre-existing conditions as an insurance loophole. President Obama also appointed the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that will enable women to be paid equally to men for their work.

Nonetheless, a stubbornly high unemployment rate and slowly recovering economy, a burgeoning national debt, a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and two wars, Afghanistan and Iraq, continue to weigh heavily on the Obama presidency. And Republicans are doing all they can to focus the attention of Americans on these issues despite the fact that they had a major hand in creating the mess.

As a consequence, Democrats face the real prospect of losing control of the House of Representatives during this fall's Midterm elections. Of course the party in power usually does suffer loses during these elections, but many Democrats who won in Republican districts because of Obama are now vulnerable.

The Republican agenda is to make this coming election a referendum on President Obama. For sure the president's approval ratings are down. But the Republican Party's approval ratings are significantly lower. And it is no surprise because, other than saying no to health care reform, to financial reform and apologizing to BP for the way it has been treated by the White House, it appears that their big idea is to extend the Bush tax cuts to the wealthy. They do not offer a "Contract with America" that helped them win the 1994 Midterms.

The White House and the Democratic Party must energize voters this November, especially independents, to retain control. This will be a major challenge with unemployment at nearly 10%. It must also get members of the progressive wing of its party to enthusiastically embrace the president's achievements even if they view them as not going far enough.

Democrats, the White House and President Obama must more effectively and passionately communicate to the voters that under their leadership the country is moving in the right direction again. And the focus of their agenda must be to create jobs.

Friday, July 9, 2010

French Holiday

France is especially beautiful this time of year and teeming with vacationers and tourists. But here it is easy to see the impact of the ongoing economic turmoil that is roiling Europe. This is not to say the French people are despondent, after all it is holiday time in France.

Paris is alive with energy and passion. The banks of the Seine are populated in the evenings with picnickers and young lovers. The sidewalks of Boulevard Saint Germain as well as the Avenue des Champs-Élysée are bustling, even though their stores are not. Boats laden with sightseers slowly make their way past the Ile de la Cite where the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris towers above an endless stream of tourists from around the world. There are also lengthy lines of visitors waiting to ascend to the top of the Eiffel Tower. The World Cup matches in South Africa have captivated the attention most Parisians. Tens of thousands of young men and women gather in a park to watch the matches on a huge television screen regardless of who is playing.

In the richly colorful Provence, with its uniquely blue skies, vibrant trees with varying shades of green and an abundance of pink, purple and yellow flowers, the crowds seem smaller than usual. Clothing and jewelry stores are not full and many display sale signs. Many of the restaurants are not doing well.

In the Cote d'Azur, also known as the French Riviera, carefree crowds fill the beaches from Nice to Monaco and romp in the cool sea. Nonetheless, this wealthy region is not immune to the economic downturn. Many hotels, stores and restaurants are struggling even though this is their most important season for business. Thank goodness for the Russians, they are everywhere. In fact, one hotel employee observed that his hotel is fully booked between June and the end of August and 40% of the bookings are Russians. But, he quickly noted with a smile, "The Americans are coming back!"

France is always wonderful to visit. But some things are a bit annoying. For instance, when are these people going to get the memo about smoking? To France's credit, many cities forbid smoking inside a restaurant, unless you are a star or celebrity. Why don't bathtubs have better drains? Perhaps it is because the local population does not as frequently use showers. Why does it take so many people to get anything done? At one hotel it appeared that a full time person was assigned only to staple documents together, like the final bill.

Of course, you should know that according French law the tip is built in to your restaurant or hotel bill. Yet on credit card receipts the word "tip" appears just below the subtotal. If one asks the waiter whether the tip is included the answer may very well be "no", or the waiter may act as if he has just forgotten his English. He may be thinking, “Thank God the Americans are coming back!”

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Presidential Leadership

He is not going to be dramatic or emotional, just accept it. He is not going to pound his fists on the table or rant and rave. He is not going to suddenly change course in reaction to daily tracking polls or political pundits. Rather, he thinks long term, listens carefully to diverse opinions, gets information first hand, ponders deeply all of the possible outcomes and implications, and he will always apply a thoughtful process to difficult problems.

It is striking that, for someone who is so addicted to his BlackBerry, President Barack Obama seems to be unmoved by nattering commentators and partisan pundits who are ubiquitous in a multi-channel media world. They fling pithy comments, blog pointed barbs, always with their own spin, in hopes of being the one to get a rise out of the president. The fact that he doesn't lose his cool, or he doesn't raise his voice, drives even his most ardent supporters a little crazy. For sure, the president has had missteps, miscalculations and misjudgments. But in the end he believes all that matters are results.

And what a difference a day makes. President Obama was widely criticized by pundits for delivering an address to the nation Monday night that was "lacking in details." Yet this speech, Obama's first from the Oval Office, crisply covered what had happened, what was being done to fix the problem, and what America has to do to end its dependency on foreign oil. It was a very good speech.

Within hours most of those same critics were praising the president for major concessions he had negotiated from BP. The company has agreed to put $20 billion into an escrow account to be used to pay claims and the cleanup associated with the reckless oil spill that is still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Further, BP will put aside $100 million to be used for oil workers idled due to the six-month moratorium on deep-water oil drilling ordered by President Obama. BP also announced that it will not pay its shareholders dividends this year. Together these are significant steps by BP that came together as a result of the president's leadership.

Remarkably, now some Republicans are critical of these concessions. Republican Representative Joe Barton of Texas actually apologized to BP saying, "I'm ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday." Of the escrow fund Barton said, " I think it is a tragedy in the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown -- in this case a $20 billion shakedown." And Mississippi's Republican Governor Haley Barbour criticized the fund because he feels the $20 billion would be better invested in more off shore oil drilling and new jobs. Republicans could find themselves backed into a corner if they continue to take positions like these.

Meanwhile the president continues to pressure BP to stop the leak and to focus on the cleanup and claims process. Nothing BP does can bring back the eleven oil workers killed in the initial explosion. Perhaps the oil industry, the regulators and the federal government all can begin to make amends by implementing meaningful regulations for oil drilling and by innovating new sources of energy that would be the beginning of the end of America's dependence on fossil fuels.

President Obama enters the final lap to the 2010 mid term elections with an enormous amount on his plate, both foreign and domestic. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars continue overseas; Iran and North Korea and the threat of nuclear weapons; Israel's security and the Gaza blockade; the growing economic crisis in Europe; America's stubbornly high unemployment rate; the national debt; financial reform; the looming entitlement problem; immigration legislation and security on the border all remain top priorities for the president and his time. Now, because of what may be the greatest man made disaster ever, energy legislation has moved to the head of the line, although there may not be enough time left on the Congressional calender to pass something this year.

The president knows that, just as with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a major crisis can occur at any moment. In such times Americans look to the president for leadership. President Obama has done just about all he can do within his power to take on the Gulf oil spill. No amount of theater and atmospherics would change the reality of the situation. Fixing the problem, compensating all of the victims and cleaning up the mess are the top priorities. So, as we enter the third month of this crisis, President Obama finds himself fully engaged in a crisis that may define the future of his party.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Blackhawks Win the Stanley Cup!

"Shot and a gooooooaaaal!"

The Chicago Blackhawks' Patrick Kane wristed a shot under the stick of the Philadelphia Flyers' goalie Michael Leighton for the sudden death victory in overtime Wednesday. With that the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup Trophy for the first time since 1961.

Kane and Jonathan Toews, the series MVP, and their teammates outmatched the Flyers with speed and talent. The Flyers were tenacious, but they could not overcome the unrelenting Blackhawk offense and strong defense.

Chicago is one of the original six franchises of the National Hockey League. It had been in decline for the last forty years primarily due to stingy ownership. But Rocky Wirtz became owner a couple years ago, taking over for his father, and pledged to bring a trophy to Chicago.

Wirtz focused on bringing in a mixture of proven veterans and a lot of youthful players. This team is deep, every line is loaded with talent. Fast, quick, big bodied, the Blackhawks can be physical as well as graceful. This is the NHL 2010.

The "Golden Jet" Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita led the Blackhawks to their 1961 victory. Hull was a superstar then, fast and quick, he could split the defensemen and then blow a slapshot by the goalie. Today Hull would be just another of the star players on the Blackhawks' roster.

In 1948 my grandmother attended a Blackhawk game during a visit from her home in New Orleans. She loved it so much she reportedly told my dad, "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out"

Last night I watched a hockey game and history was made.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Lady Gaga Goes Gaga

Lady Gaga attended her sister's high school graduation ceremony at the prestigious Sacred Heart Catholic girl's school Tuesday wearing a very revealing gown. Our street was closed because a part of the ceremony took place at the Brick Church which is right across from our house.

Now I ask you, is this dress a bit too much? Does Lady Gaga like being the center of attention? After all, it was her sister's day to bask in the glow of the sun.

And another thought, was this dress cleared in advance by the Bishop or the Vatican? What did the Nuns think of this dress? Perhaps that Lady Gaga has some bad habits?

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Perfect Game

It is a shame that Detroit Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga was not able to enter the record books for one of baseball's rarest feats. But I cannot recall the names of but a couple of those pitchers who recorded a perfect game. I will always remember how Armando Galarraga handled the blown call.

To err is human. But to immediately admit a mistake, especially one of such historic meaning, is almost against human nature. I will always remember American League umpire Jim Joyce for how he handled his blown call.

To those who say the call should be over turned, I say don't change a thing, do not rewrite history.

This was the ultimate teaching moment. This is the ultimate meaning of sportsmanship. This is one of the greatest moments in any sport, ever.

This was the perfect game.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"W" on Facebook

Perhaps President George W. Bush now thinks it's safe to raise his profile again. He has allowed his team to create a Facebook page in his name. While it is not possible to "friend" him, it sure is possible for supporters to rave enthusiastically about how they miss him.

What's this all about? Perhaps it has something to do with the gushing oil leak that is likely to continue uncontrolled in the Gulf of Mexico until September? Perhaps it has something to do with the stubborn unemployment rate? Perhaps it has something to do with the midterm elections? I would guess it is part of a GOP strategy to tippy-toe "W" into the spotlight and allow him to help out where he remains popular. Especially since President Barack Obama's personal popularity is sliding because of the ceaseless problems popping up almost daily.

Take a look:

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


A picture is worth a thousand words. Reflect for a moment on the image of a rain drenched President Barack Obama holding an umbrella during a driving rainstorm while guiding Illinois Memorial Day attendees to head for cover. When it rains it pours.

Of course, had the President Obama decided to visit Arlington National cemetery he would have been bathed in sunlight and avoided any criticism. Never mind that other presidents have chosen not to lay a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day. The point is the president left himself vulnerable to attack from detractors who have a political or personal interest by furthering negative perceptions of the president.

This is playing itself out on the Gulf Coast too, where an oil gusher continues to spew crude into the Gulf of Mexico. BP's deep-water drill explosion, which took 11 lives, may very well become the subject of a criminal investigation. It appears that short cuts were taken, less expensive methods were implemented and BP ignored regulations. This is a recurring pattern for BP, the most fined petroleum company ever.

From the beginning, the U.S. government has been managing BP's efforts to stop the leak. It appears that BP is way over its head as every approach has so far failed. The U.S. government does not have the equipment or expertise needed to stop the leak, which emanates from a well nearly one mile under the sea. The government is left to focusing on containing the spill and beginning the clean up.

Nonetheless, the president and the White House are coming under increased attack from all sides for their handling of the disaster. Yes the president should not have relied on the BP estimates of leaking oil; after all they want to minimize the damage out of business motivations. Yes the president could have spent more time on the Gulf Coast rather than head off for a family holiday in Chicago. Yes the president could have sent in General Colin Powell and several thousand troops in a massive show of force. But none of these steps would have stopped the leak.

The primary criticisms of the president have to do with "optics." He "looks like" he isn't passionate. He "looks like" he isn't engaged. So a narrative is beginning to be promulgated among conservative critics that the president is not competent. But this is like calling the Los Angeles Lakers losers because they get out scored in the first quarter.

The president got a stimulus package passed and it has been credited by most economists as stemming the loss of U.S jobs. The president supported further bailouts to the ailing banks that are now stabilized and have repaid much of the taxpayer loans with interest. The president stood behind the American auto industry to the tune of billions of dollars and now the car companies are well on the road to recovery, which preserves thousands of jobs.

Healthcare reform expended a lot of energy and political good will, but now 31 million more Americans have health care, no one can be eliminated from coverage due to a prior condition, and the spiraling costs of health care now have more controls. The president and Congress are nearing completion of financial reform, which will be an important first step to avoiding another devastating financial collapse. The president appointed the first Hispanic to the Supreme Court, and he will soon get Congressional approval for his second court appointment.

Sadly the 1,000th American soldier died in Afghanistan. Soon this will be America's longest war. The president, following the recommendations of his military, authorized a huge buildup to give our mission the best chance of success. Had he pulled out he would have faced withering criticism from the right and center. There are now more troops in Afghanistan than in Iraq, where American troops are being drawn down.

The president is working hard with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deal with the North Koreans, a nuclear power, through diplomatic channels using tough sanctions. The American government outed North Korea for its sinking of a South Korean vessel. Meanwhile, President Obama is trying to rally all major powers to crack down on Iran's nuclear program. A military attack on these installations would likely result is heavy civilian casualties and turn most of the population against America. Diplomacy must be allowed to run its course.

This is a particularly complex and sensitive region. Israel's attack on a flotilla of relief ships intended to break the blockade on Gaza instantly led to international condemnation. Israel's General Counsel said that terrorists on one of the ships attacked Israeli commandos who were acting within international law in boarding the ship. The United States has now drawn fire because it has supported Israel. Meanwhile hundreds of thousands of anti-Israeli protestors took to the streets in many European and Middle Eastern cities. President Obama will have to walk a fine line as more facts from this incident become known.

With growing deficits, slow economic recovery, a constant threat of terrorism and the imminent need for immigration reform, there are plenty more challenges for the Obama administration. For Republicans it may seem productive to turn political disagreements and past battles lost into questions of this president's competency. The president's record of achievement will speak for itself. In the end, however, all Republicans will do is remind American voters who got us into this mess in the first place.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I was "Lost" but Now I'm Found

Several years ago I gave up on ABC's "Lost". In a couple seasons "Lost" had devolved into a most enigmatic and unsatisfying series. Last night's concluding episode left me confused and most grateful that I did not waste more time on the program.

I applaud innovation. I am attracted to strong story lines, great writing and powerful characters. But following a strong start "Lost" veered off the road into the marshes. There the program became mired in absurdity, ambiguity and obfuscation. It is unclear whether the show rigidly followed the producer's original outline. Whatever the circumstance, it always felt like it was being thrown together on the fly. Worse, its twists and turns truly challenged even its most ardent fans.

The concluding episode felt self-indulgent. I would have never in a million years guessed that "Lost" would have ended that way. All dead? All reunited? In a church? So this got me to thinking, what would I have done?

Locke, Desmond and Jack enter the cave and find Marlon Brando, reprising his role as Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, sitting on a rock sipping on a bowl of Vietnamese soup. Brando says, "I expected someone like you. What did you expect? Are you an assassin?" "Yes," says Locke, "I have been sent to free the island." With that he stabs the Kurtz character and frees everyone on the island.

Or Locke, Desmond and Jack enter the cave, attracted by the bright light visible from miles away. Inside they come upon a waterfall and drop Desmond down by rope. There Desmond encounters Morpheus who says, "We've survived by hiding from them, by running from them. But they are the gatekeepers. They are guarding all the doors; they are holding all the keys. Which means that sooner or later, someone is going to have to fight them." Desmond's face turns ashen as he responds, "Good luck with that," and scampers back up the rope. Then a huge explosion destroys the island.

Or Hurley enters the cave with Locke, Jack and Desmond. They decide that since Hurley won millions at the lottery he should be the one remove the rock plugging the light below. All three of them strain to lower him by rope. Hurley wades through the pool of water, pulls the plug and is sucked into the hole. Then Hurley is awakened from a deep sleep thanks to a friend who splashes cold water on his face. Hurley is sprawled on the ground in an alley. The friend says, "Hurley, Hurley, I am sorry you didn't win the lottery." Without missing a beat Hurley says, "Dude, you won't understand, but I am thrilled I didn't win the lottery!"

Or Locke, Jack and Desmond enter the cave and are greeted by Jimmy Hoffa and Judge Crater who instruct them to take a seat. Suddenly the music begins and Elvis walks out into the bright lights, his sequined jacket ablaze, singing "Amazing Grace".

To paraphrase the final words of Jack's father, "It's time to move on."

Friday, May 21, 2010

48 Hours Update

48 HR Magazine has indicated it will cease and desist from using the name 48 Hours. Details are to be worked out, but their next issue, which is released in August, will have a different name. Meanwhile, don't forget to watch 48 Hours/Mystery Saturday nights on CBS.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"48 Hours" Infringement

There's a new web-a-zine on the Internet called "48 HR Magazine". But CBS is already claiming title infringement because the creators of the new site have chosen the name of CBS News' long time Saturday night news magazine "48 Hours".

Amazingly, one of the web magazine's founders, Mathew Honan, said, "To be honest, none of us even knew that there was still a program called '48 Hours", so it never crossed our mind."

Ever heard of Google? Search "48 Hours" and most of the top results are the CBS News magazine "48 Hours". (By way of full disclosure, my wife, Susan Zirinsky, is the program's executive producer, and I used to oversee the program when I was an executive at CBS News in the early 90's.)

When launched in January 1988, "48 Hours" was the innovative idea of Sony's CEO Sir Howard Stringer, who was then President of CBS News. His concept was to assign reporters and cameramen to follow a subject for 48 hours and then produce a compelling and vividly real one-hour news program on a topic. These teams would capture all the energy, drama and tension while recording dynamic and powerful video from which to produce a riveting hour. Hence, "48 Hours on Crack Street" was the premier episode. Other subjects included life in a hospital emergency room or with the police out fighting crime.

Over time the producers found the program would be more complete if they did not have to limit themselves to a rigid 48 hour shooting schedule. That is because some aspects of a story, or crucial interviews, could not be acquired in that tight a window. Having more time to produce an hour meant producers could choose from a broader array of topics and could reduce costs by minimizing overtime.

The program was originally hosted by the CBS News anchorman Dan Rather and then "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl. An ensemble cast currently presents each hour. Now known as "48 Hours/Mystery", it is also frequently the most viewed television program on Saturday nights with about 6 million viewers.

The program has had an important influence on how video news magazines are shot and edited. "48 Hours" reruns have been appearing on cable for many years now, with a version currently on Discovery. And "48 Hours" spun off a website last year called "Crimesider". In fact, it is pretty hard to miss "48 Hours".

So San Francisco freelance writer Mathew Honan is either disingenuous, lazy or amazingly naive. However, here's a suggestion, how about calling the new site "2880 Minutes"?

By the way, CBS has just announced that "48 Hours/Mystery" will be on the schedule again next fall, for its twenty-third season, right there in its regular Saturday night time slot.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Offshore Reform?

"I will not tolerate more finger pointing or irresponsibility," an angry President Barack Obama said at the White House Friday, following a meeting on the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The president said all parties, including the federal government, should accept responsibility. President Obama also announced steps he was taking to end the "cozy relationship" between the oil companies and the regulators.

The president's frustration was a stark contrast to earlier comments made by the head of British Petroleum, appearing in today’s Guardian newspaper. "The Gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean," observed Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP. "The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume," he said. Mr. Hayward should be fired.

The Gulf oil disaster resulted in the deaths of eleven workers and untold damage to the region, its wildlife and small businesses along the coast. Not to mention that the spill, which began three weeks ago, continues unabated to wreak havoc on the region because BP can't find a way to stop the leak. In fact, BP doesn't even know how much oil is pouring into the Gulf each day.

One estimate is that the total oil spilled into the Gulf exceeds by five times the magnitude of the Exxon Valdez spill off the coast of Alaska. Damage from the Exxon Valdez disaster is still visible twenty years after the incident. And many claims made against Exxon resulting from that incident took twenty years to settle.

Mr. Hayward notes, "Apollo 13 (the aborted lunar landing) did not stop the space race. Neither did the Air France plane last year coming out of Brazil (which crashed) stop the world airline industry flying people around the world. It's the same for the oil industry."

The Apollo flight was known as a "successful failure" because its crew returned safely to earth. But there is no way that BP's failures in the Gulf will be characterized as successful. The same applies to its failures in 2005, when fifteen of its workers died in an explosion at BP's Texas refinery.

Representatives from three companies involved in the accident appeared at Congressional hearings earlier this week and each of them tried to shift blame elsewhere. Today President Barack Obama slammed the companies for what he described as a "ridiculous spectacle" of representatives of BP, Transocean and Halliburton "falling over themselves pointing fingers at someone else."

A deeply infuriated President Obama nine times called for the leak to be stopped during his brief remarks. He reaffirmed that "BP is responsible for the leak and it will pay for these spills, not the taxpayers." He estimated that one million feet of barrier booms have been deployed, four million gallons of oily water have been collected and 13,000 people are working on the spill.

Of course, today oil is an important commodity for all Americans. But the Gulf of Mexico and the life it sustains are not commodities. So while the president reaffirmed his commitment to offshore drilling as part of a comprehensive energy policy, he most urgently called for top to bottom reforms of the industry and its regulators. Even as the leak continues, several important investigations are underway and many more will follow.

Meanwhile, in his remarks President Obama said, "I will not rest until the leak is plugged and the oil spill is cleaned up." BP CEO Tony Hayward seemed more confident in his Guardian interview, "We will fix it. I guarantee it. The only question is we do not know when."

As a sign of good faith and its recognition of BP's full responsibility, Mr. Hayward should put BP's first quarter profits, $5.6 billion, in a special "Gulf Oil Spill Cleanup" account. After all, there are plenty of reasons not to trust BP.

The Gulf oil spill of 2010 is certain to change the oil industry forever. But oil company lobbyists are already busy working hard to mitigate future damage to their businesses by courting elected officials in response to this crisis. So the question is, just how much change is really in store for the oil industry?

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Closing Bell

The anticipation was electric. A surge was building; the pressure was growing as the opening bell approached. Suddenly with a resounding clang the market took off like a rocket, rising more than 3% in minutes. And in short order the market regained loses incurred on Friday due to still inexplicable market glitches. Market leaders and regulators were in the process of putting measures in place to avoid such hazards in the future.

Meanwhile, across the pond, this rebound was also being driven by global confidence. The European market countries raised a trillion dollars to backstop Greece, whose economy teetered near default. Portugal, Spain and Italy also were hanging on by a thin margin, and this fund would if needed keep them above water.

Near the end of the day the Dow Jones Industrial average was up more than 4% and the mood on the floor was surreal. I know because I arrived with a team from the Mental Health Association of New York City, where I am a chairman of the board. I was joined with representatives of C.B. Richard Ellis, a powerful commercial real estate company based in New York. CBRE had made a generous donation to the MHA-NYC for its annual gala, which was being held at the NYSE that evening.

The rooms of the NYSE are all ornate, grand and large. The floor is massive, filled with cubbyholes and monitors. I saw mostly men dressed in blue trading jackets and wearing badges often on their toes poised to leap into action. The pace is intense, as traders are either on the phone, scanning terminals or viewing monitors. There is no rest here.

We crossed the floor and ascended a rear stairway up one flight and turned to our right and walked through a worn wooden door. Suddenly we emerged onto a narrow balcony overlooking the floor where scanned the traders and MHA-NYC staff members below. Here's the drill. We arrived at our position at 3:57, or three minutes to closing. One of our party of five was to ring the bell and the other was to pound the gavel. There were five of us crammed onto the small balcony, which was made smaller by the console housing buttons and the gavel.

At 3:59:20 we were instructed to start clapping, and our audience below joined in. At 3:59:45 we were instructed to press the button that rang the bell. As the clanging continued, at 4:00:00 we were instructed to pound the gavel closing the exchange. We lingered for a moment more on our perch and then descended. It was a pretty exciting day because the Dow Jones Industrial average closed up more than 400 points! And MHA-NYC not only had a wonderful and financially successful gala.

Take a look:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Oil Exploitation

British Petroleum's Chief Executive, Tony Hayward, was all over the airwaves saying his company accepts responsibility for the disastrous oil leak off the Gulf Coast. At the same time there is a growing chorus of irresponsible and absurd comments from the far right linking the oil leak to possible sabotage.

First, President Barack Obama basher and radio blowhard Rush Limbaugh pointed the finger at "environmentalist wackos." He opined, "What better way to head off more oil drilling, nuclear plants, than by blowing up a rig? I'm just noting the timing here." Then Dana Perino, the former White House Press Secretary under President George Bush, said on Fox News, "You have to wonder whether there was sabotage involved." No Ms. Perino, Americans wonder why you and Limbaugh are so reckless with your comments.

Maybe Americans should wonder if Halliburton had a hand in this "sabotage." You know, the very same company where Vice President Cheney served as Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer from 1995 to 2000. The Wall Street Journal reported, "Scrutiny on cementing will focus attention on Halliburton Co., the oilfield-services firm that was handling the cementing process on the rig, which burned and sank last week." The company says, "It is premature and irresponsible to speculate on any specific causal issues." Apparently Perino and Limbaugh didn't get the memo.

Or maybe Vice President Dick Cheney himself played a role when his energy task force decided against requiring remote-control shut-off switches, at $500,000 apiece, because they are too costly, ineffective and the rigs had other backup plans. Brazil and Norway require the switches. But the United Kingdom, where BP is based, doesn't require the devices.

Were it not for the oilrig disaster, BP would have had a fabulous first quarter. They reported their profits had risen 135% from the same period a year earlier, to about $6 billion. With 11 oilmen dead and almost unimaginable destruction to wildlife, coastal areas and the devastation to fragile businesses that rely on the Gulf, BP may need every penny.

In a statement BP said it is "Committed to pay legitimate and objectively verifiable claims for other loss and damage caused by the spill - this may include claims for assessment, mitigation and clean up of spilled oil, real and property damage caused by the oil, personal injury caused by the spill, commercial losses including loss of earnings/profit and other losses as contemplated by applicable laws and regulations."

But one has to wonder just how much BP will actually pay in the end to the families of the dead, to small businesses, to the citizens who live on the Gulf Coast and to the American taxpayers. Especially considering that, while they have publicly accepted responsibility, they have said the accident is not their fault because they contracted with other companies to do the work.

Countless Congressional hearings, investigations and lawsuits will likely drag on for years. But corporate greed, lax regulations, transparency, oversight, and powerful political connections are likely to be at the bottom of this calamity. Sound familiar?

This massive disaster is far from over. The gravity of the destruction has yet to be fully realized. The people of the Gulf Coast are desperate for answers and an end to this nightmare. They must not be exploited for political and personal gain.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Shame On Eliot

Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in disgrace in 2008 after being caught in a prostitution scandal, is trying very hard to reemerge on the public scene. But he made too many powerful and wealthy enemies who will stop at nothing to keep the "Luv Gov" down.

The "Untitled Eliot Spitzer Film" was shown Saturday night at the Tribeca Film Festival before a nearly full auditorium that included some of New York's leading figures. Notably absent were Eliot Spitzer and Ashley Dupre.

This important film is the work of Academy Award winning documentary director Alex Gibney, who announced that he was still tweaking the movie. The film is being portrayed as sympathetic to Spitzer by those whole disliked him. Nonetheless, it candidly tells the story of a brilliant man with great potential who attacked corruption and cronyism on Wall Street and in Albany. But Spitzer was a brash and arrogant bully who tried to steamroll his opponents before suffering a humiliating downfall.

Perhaps the fact that Spitzer participated in the film, he was interviewed four times, is a sign of how desperate he is to put his sins behind him. And in a surreal twist, Spitzer call girl Ashley Dupre did not participate in the documentary because she wanted “total editorial control,” according to Gibney. Of course, Dupre is now a New York Post columnist, a frequent guest on the Fox News Channel and she will be featured in the May edition of Playboy Magazine.

One of Spitzer's powerful enemies who did appear was former Republican Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno, who is facing federal corruption charges. Another, billionaire businessman and former New York Stock Exchange Board member Ken Langone, who was targeted by Sptizer for giving Dick Grasso, the former head of the NYSE, a giant pay package in 2003. Langone has relished in Spitzer's fall, once saying, "We all have our own private hells. I hope his private hell is hotter than anybody else's." It is clear he will do all he can to stop Spitzer from rising out of the ashes.

The movie raises questions about why the United States Attorney focused so heavily on investigating Spitzer. Could it have been because the Bush Justice Department was under attack from Democrats for earlier firing several U.S. attorneys for political reasons? Did Langone have then Governor Spitzer under private surveillance? Or was it really a coincidence that Langone knew someone standing in line at the post office while Spitzer purchased $2400 in money orders? Is News Corp's Rupert Murdoch doing all he can to counter program Spitzer's comeback efforts? What role did Republican strategist Roger Stone have in Spitzer's fall? After the screening Stone said, "It's completely biased, the filmmaker has a number of key facts wrong."

Throughout the movie one can't help but feel sympathy for Spitzer's family. His wife Silda has shown enormous courage and strength throughout this painful ordeal. When the former governor resigned he vowed to turn his focus to his family. Yet, barely two years after dragging his family through such a difficult and embarrassing period, why is Spitzer increasing his public exposure? He would certainly say he is qualified to make a contribution to reforming Wall Street. But isn’t there a less public way to make a difference?

At one point Spitzer says, “Not to mince words, my view is I brought myself down… I did what I did, and shame on me.” Are these the words of a man who has learned from his mistakes?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Get Over It Bernie

Former CBS News correspondent Bernie Goldberg is still bitter about the way he was treated by CBS News. A talented writer and skilled broadcaster, he had a severe falling out with former CBS News President Andrew Heyward and anchorman Dan Rather. Even more painful for Goldberg was the fact that 60 Minutes did not want him. He was too volatile, too temperamental and too much of a self-promoter for journalism's greatest news magazine. You see, despite what Goldberg claims, politics didn't enter into any decisions about his career. Now, nearly twenty years later, he continues to bear a grudge against CBS News.

Here are Goldberg's comments from his appearance on the Fox News Channel Monday night: "I worked with these liberal elites for 28 years at CBS News, and they were always throwing around the term white trash, by which they meant poor southerners who didn't go to Harvard. I'm not sure why that makes them trash. As far as the middle of the country is concerned, you know, this was flyover country where people flew the flag on the Fourth of July and went bowling and ate at Red Lobster. You know, they were a bunch of hicks. But even all liberal elites don't think that. So I am saying I was wrong, Jon Stewart is right."

Goldberg's rant was part of a counter attack against Comedy Central anchor Jon Stewart who had earlier surprised Goldberg with an attack on him. Goldberg has very thin skin, so he quickly snapped back at Stewart and dragged CBS News into the argument. Goldberg is a terrific writer; he is clever and witty. But his specialty is anger and hate, and he has made a lot of money off of his bile.

CBS News and elite are not really congruent. The late CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite was born in St. Joseph, Missouri, and dropped out of college to cover World War II. Dan Rather came from a small town in Texas, and attended a nearby teacher's college. CBS Newsman Bob Schieffer is from Ft. Worth. The late former CBS News President Fred Friendly was a Nichols Business College graduate. His successor, the late William Leonard, attended Dartmouth College during the Great Depression and served in the Navy during World War II. Former CBS News President Van Gordon Sauter is a native of Ohio and graduate of Ohio University. Former CBS News President Ed Joyce attended the University of Wyoming. Former CBS News President Sir Howard Stringer came from Wales and Oxford and left CBS News for a while to serve a tour of duty in the U.S. Army in Viet Nam. Former CBS News President David Burke graduated from Tufts, and former CBS News President Eric Ober Yale. Yes, Andrew Heyward is a Harvard graduate.

I met and worked with every one of these men. None of them used the term "white trash." None of them ever disparaged the middle of America or the South. These men were hard working, self-made professionals, who became respected journalists. The fact that Goldberg is not qualified to walk among them does not make them elite.

In fact, CBS News is not made up mostly of "liberal elites." CBS News has always been a collection of Americans from all around the country who are passionate about journalism. Some hail from small Southern towns, some went to Midwestern colleges, some served their country in war. They are Americans, they are parents, they coach little league, many bowl and many even go to the Red Lobster. The many thousands of people who have worked for CBS News over the decades have been motivated by their desire to provide an important public service.

Of course, no institution is perfect and CBS News has made a few mistakes along the way. But its employees have always worked hard to maintain the highest standards of journalism and quality story telling.

Bernie, get over it, please.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Chicago Sports Woes

Well Chicago teams are struggling in all sports. The Cubbies are off to a slow start because of a lack of hitting and inconsistent pitching. The White Sox are making the Cubs look good. The Bulls just dropped their second game to the Cleveland Cavaliers and now return home for game three. The Black Hawks, who dominated most teams during the regular season, are getting a tough fight in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Solution: don't look at the sports pages again for a couple weeks. Prediction: Bulls out, Black Hawks advance, and the Cubs and Sox still can't hit!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Obama the Thinker

President Barack Obama has been the target of endless attacks and tirades from the Republican opposition, nonetheless, the president has remain poised as he has made progress on a wide range of important issues. But will the "Yes we can!" voters of 2008 be energized enough this fall to overcome those whose rallying cry is "Hell no!"?

The incumbent party almost always loses House and Senate seats in a midterm elections, and that will certainly be the outcome this coming November. While the president's decline in popularity may be a factor, these races are largely decided on local issues. Also, it appears that an "anti-Obama" spirit, especially in the South, has galvanized Tea Party members and conservatives.

Conservative leaders, like Mississippi Governor Haley Barber, know just how to tap into the emotions of their state's voters. Take the controversy over Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's declaration of "Confederate History Month" without mentioning slavery. Governor Barber was blunt; "It's trying to make a big deal out of something that doesn't matter for diddly." Count secessionist Texas Governor Rick Perry's cries for "limited government," and maybe it's time to dig that Confederate money out from under the mattress because the South will rise again!

The Republicans, supported by right-wing talk show hosts, are accusing the president of a government takeover, socialism, and, even worse, arrogance. The deep hatred of President Obama seems largely personal and is often based on lies and deceit and not facts. Regretfully, some Americans don't want to know the truth, they only want to hear what they want to believe. This is great for entertainers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh who can make big bucks fanning the flames of divisiveness.

Yes, President Obama's popularity has fallen below the 50% mark, as those who disapprove of his performance are now at about an equal number. But polls are a snapshot of feelings over a finite time period, and they often lag behind reality. At a similar time in his presidency Ronald Reagan had about a 35% approval rating. Further, how would President Obama do today if he were placed up against former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, Texas Congressman Ron Paul, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich? In fact, by Republican standards, Romney's pro-choice and universal health care record makes him a socialist!

On the positive side, President Obama's base has reason to be happy. The president courageously enacted a federal stimulus bill that slowed job loses. For the first time in nearly two years Americans have some hope the economy will get better. President Obama also continued government intervention in the banks that has stabilized the financial markets and earned the feds a profit. The president also intervened in the failing auto industry with generally positive results.

President Obama scored a historic victory with passage of health care reform legislation. Here he did what every president since Roosevelt failed to accomplish, and he has put in place a good package that will cover thirty-two million more Americans and will be further improved in the years ahead.

President Obama has taken the lead on the global stage as well. The president has implemented a well thought out plan to deal with Afghanistan and its erratic leader that has shown some promise. President Obama has intensified drone attacks on al-Qaeda bases. He is also continuing to draw down American troops in Iraq.

This week President Obama convened a meeting of leaders from 47 nations in Washington D.C. to deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. President Obama warned the possibility of a terrorist organization obtaining a nuclear weapon is, "The single biggest treat to U.S. security." He went on to say that al-Qaeda would have "no compunction against using them." In an important step the Ukraine said it would give up nuclear material, a long sought after goal of the United States.

In a major breakthrough, the White House announced that China would support tougher sanctions against Iran for its nuclear policy. The president had earlier negotiated the support of the Russians. Now a new set of U.N. Security Council sanctions could be ready within "a matter of weeks." This comes days after the presidents of the United States and Russia announced further reductions in their existing nuclear arsenals.

President Obama faces many difficult challenges, including an exploding federal deficit, high unemployment and the threat of a terrorist attack on American soil. He will also have to deal with financial and immigration reform in the coming months as well as the incoming fire from the right. Nonetheless, President Obama's accomplishments to date are laudable.

Is this the work of an arrogant man? Hell no! To quote Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, "The most important thing that distinguishes him from many other people, I won’t name anyone by name, he’s a thinker. He thinks when he speaks."

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cubs Bat-less

Cubs need a few bats if they expect to win. Once again it appears that the Cubs lack of hitting will cost them a pennant. Soriano, Ramirez, and Byrd, what's up with you guys? Lou, play Colvin, a rookie with great promise, and sit Soriano or Byrd. That'll get someone's attention.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Opening Day

It's been more than 100 years since the Chicago Cubs won the world series. Yet the team has remained one of America's most storied franchises.

If you are a Cubs fan you don't expect too much each season but you hope for the best. There is no reason, on paper anyway, that the Cubs shouldn't win their division this year. No billy goat or black cat should stand in their way. Sure, a couple early season injuries may slow their step a bit but they should prevail.

Do you believe in omens?

Yesterday was opening day for the Cubs and the Atlanta Braves. The Cubs were in their familiar travel blues and the Braves their home whites. The Atlanta stadium was packed, the largest opening crowd in memory for the Braves.

The Cubs jumped off to a 3-0 lead in the first inning thanks to two home runs. But in the bottom of the opening frame Atlanta struck, make that blooped and blasted their way back. Cub ace Carlos Zambrano gave up a walk and then several bloop hits. And Atlanta's rookie young phenom Jayson Heyward cleared the bases with a blast over the center field wall. Zambrano gave up 8 runs in the first inning.

Later in the game the Cubs had a runner on first when newly acquired center fielder Marlon Byrd, who homered in his first Cub at bat, drove a line drive to center field. In a diving attempt the Braves center fielder grabbed the ball in his glove but dropped it as he hit the ground. The center fielder then quickly retrieved the ball and threw it into the infield. The Umpires ruled the error a catch and the Cubs were doubled up. Their manager Lou Piniella put up an mild arguent but the umpires stood by their mistake.

Cub relievers went on to give up 8 more runs, and a lot of walks, as the game ended in a 16-5 rout at the hands of the Braves. Oy, this will be a long season.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

I-Pad mania

It is not the same craziness as when the I-Phone came out. We have already gone through a few of those.

But delivery of our I-Pad has caused quite a stir in out house as we are all crowded over this device. It's kind of like having a new baby. I mean everyone is ooohing and aaahing, even our dog Cleo.

Bigger then a Kindle, the I-Pad is about 91/2" by 7" and weighs a couple of pounds, but the screen is much brighter and in color. It will be interesting to see how this latest bit of technology integrates into our family.

I gotta go now, it's my turn!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Carrie Underwood

I met Carrie Underwood at Fox News yesterday. I found her to be a most delightful person with a warm and friendly demeanor.

It turns out she was traveling with a "decoy," a body double, who apparently goes on public events with her. Not that Fox News isn't a safe place for a beautiful blond superstar. She also had a small security contingent and a PR team along for the visit, they were constantly coordinating logistics. Carrie is so well-known I doubt if she can ever walk on the streets of New York alone.

We spoke about my daughter, the superstar of my life: Zoe. Small talk, yes. But she seemed engaged. And as she parted she said, "Give Zoe my best wishes." Zoe loved hearing that! Now we are buying every song Carrie Underwood has ever recorded!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Church

Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week in the Catholic Church. Yet this week the dark cloud of scandal once again hangs over the church as millions of Catholics gathered for services throughout the world.

Pope Benedict XVI did not address the growing scandal surrounding pedophile priests in his Palm Sunday mass at St. Peter's Cathedral, other than an indirect reference. The pope prayed in Portuguese, "For the young and for those charged with educating them and protecting them." Yet in his homily the pope said that Jesus Christ guides his faithful, "toward the courage that doesn't let us be intimidated by the chatting of dominant opinions, towards patience that supports others."

No doubt many of the parishioners who crowded into St. Peter's were disappointed that the Pope didn't address the issue head on. But this has often been the failing of the church since this crisis first broke eight years ago. Then it was an "American problem" that church officials at first tried to minimize. The result has been damaging to the church and undermines the institution's "moral credibility," in the words of one Vatican official. Perhaps it is Christ's words, from St. Luke's "Passion," that ring true for many Catholics: "Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing."

It has been reported about 4% of American Catholic priests were accused of abuse between 1950 and 2000. In 2003, a group of lay people reported to the U.S. Conference of Bishops a number of possible reasons for the scandal. These included improper screening of candidates for the priesthood, poor training and a pervasive attitude among some bishops that the needs of the Church come ahead of the needs of individuals.

Yet while some measures were put in place to address the underlying problems in the American church, recently more incidents of priestly pedophilia have become public, including in Europe. A priest in Wisconsin abused 200 deaf students and the church hierarchy quashed efforts to give him a trial. Now the Vatican finds itself defending the pope's handling of sex abuse cases both when he was archbishop of Munich, Germany, and when he headed the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The Catholic faithful are being truly tested this week, but so too is the church leadership. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan spoke about the accusations on Palm Sunday, "Sunday mass is hardly the place to document the inaccuracy, bias and hyperbole of such aspersions." Archbishop Dolan noted that Pope Benedict had done more than most to address the problem, "Palm Sunday Mass is surely a fitting place for us to express our love for and solidarity for our earthly shepherd now suffering from the same unjust accusation and shouts of the mob as Jesus did."

In many local parishes priests addressed the scandal. One courageous priest, speaking in a voice filled with sadness and frustration, warned that there are no "short cuts to resurrection." He observed that the scandals were "poorly handled by church management," and called for truthfulness and a "searing admission of past wrongs." Innocent lives have been damaged, and in some cases destroyed, by the appalling sex abuse scandals involving Catholic priests. While such repulsive behavior has been reported in other religions and cultures, it must not be minimized by this church.

The church's scandals are a difficult and complicated challenge for the world's most populous religion, but there is no more urgent issue facing Catholicism. Perhaps its leaders should reflect in deep prayer on Christ's journey; from his conviction, to his crucifixion, burial and then his resurrection.