Tuesday, December 8, 2015

GOP: Fire Trump!

How far will Donald J. Trump have to go before Republicans disqualify him from their party?  Trump is the leading candidate to become the party's nominee for president.   Therefore, what Trump says, what he does, and the positions he holds, are a reflection on the Republican Party.   

Trump has called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."  This ban includes American citizens who are Muslim and are out of the country.  Trump explained, “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”

The Republican frontrunner has suggested closing mosques, requiring Muslims in America to register with the government, and banning Syrian refugees from entering this country.  Previously, Trump has said he will build a wall along the southern border with Mexico to stop illegal entries.  His rationale is, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best...They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” 

In the past, Trump has been an outspoken leader of the so-called "birther movement" that believes President Barack Obama is not an American by birth.  43% of all Republicans polled believe the president is a Muslim, which is in sync with what Trump says about the president.  In 2011 Trump told Fox News, "He doesn't have a birth certificate.  He may have one, but there's something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim."  Trump also disparaged Obama's 2008 presidential opponent by suggesting that Arizona Senator John McCain is not a war hero. 

Yet, no matter how harsh or outrageous Trump's comments, according to recent polls he remains a strong as ever.  The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Trump had picked up the backing of "neo-Fascists" in an article headlined "The New Furor."  Meanwhile, Trump's plan to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. plays right into the hands of ISIS and other Islamic radical groups seeking to recruit new members from around the world.  

Many Western leaders have spoken out against Trump's plan.  French Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Tuesday tweeted that, "Trump, like others, stokes hatred and conflations: our ONLY enemy is radical Islamism." British Prime Minister David Cameron, through a spokesperson, said that Trump's plan is, "divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong."  A German newspaper editorial headline read: "How Donald Trump is betraying America."  "For some Jews, the sight of thousands of supporters waving their fists in anger as Trump incited against Muslims and urged a blanket ban on their entry to the United States could have evoked associations with beer halls in Munich a century ago," Chemi Shalev wrote in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.

Some of Trump's opponents, who have to date been fairly reticent about his previous comments for fear of alienating his supporters, have been moved to speak out.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said, "This is the kind of thing that people say when they have no experience and don't know what they are talking about. We do not need to resort to that type of activity nor should we." Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush tweeted, "Donald Trump is unhinged. His 'policy' proposals are not serious."

House Speaker Paul Ryan made a rare comment on the presidential campaign from Capitol Hill.  "Freedom of religion is a fundamental constitutional principle," he said.  "This is not conservatism.  What was proposed yesterday is not what this party stands for and more importantly it's not what this country stands for."

But Trump is the leading Republican candidate for president so his comments might be what the party stands for.  In fact, Trump is not going away unless the party intervenes.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party has made its own bed.  It has done nothing to reign in hateful and personal attacks that have characterized the national political scene for the past two national elections.   The Grand Old Party, which has divided the country for political gain, now finds itself in a meltdown.

The only way the Republican Party can save itself is to tell Donald J. Trump, "You're fired!"  

Friday, November 27, 2015

CIA in the Crosshairs

"The world is on the edge of eruption," former CIA Director George Tenet recalls as he arranged for an emergency meeting at the White House with National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice on July 10, 2001. Cofer Black, the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and Rich Blee, accompanied Tenet. Tenet recounts Blee's warning to Rice, "There will be significant attacks against the United States in the coming months." He continued, "Al Qaeda's intention is the destruction of the United States." Black then adds, "This country has got to go on a war footing now," as he slams his hand on the table.

Following the meeting Black tells Blee, "I think we've finally gotten through to these people." But later he realizes that essentially nothing happens. Rice later said she did not recall the meeting and wrote, "My recollection of the meeting is not very crisp because we were discussing the threat every day." Having raised the alert levels for personnel abroad, she added, "I thought we were doing what needed to be done." But on September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda struck a coordinated blow against the United States, killing nearly 3,000 people.

This dramatic episode in the CIA's history is told in detail in the Showtime documentary, "The Spymasters: CIA in the Crosshairs," which will air Saturday night. The program pulls the curtain back on America's most secret agency and sheds light on its successes and failures. Actor Mandy Patinkin, who plays CIA operative Saul Berenson in the series Homeland on Showtime, narrates it.

The Spymasters includes interviews with all 12 living CIA directors and their operatives. They talk about their convictions, "and, for the first time, their passionate disagreements about the agency's past, its current mission, and its future." The documentary lays out the complexities, the growing threat, and the controversies that been laid at the doorstep of the CIA. Did the CIA fail in 2001? Did the White House ignore the CIA's warnings about 9/11? The 9/11 Commission Report, released in July 2004, concluded, "This was a failure of policy, management, capability, and, above all, imagination."

The failure for the U.S. government to keep America safe led to a series of controversial decisions. Rendition was an intelligence-gathering program involving the transfer of foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism to countries for interrogation and detention in "black sites" in countries where U.S. safeguards did not apply. The use of torture, known as the enhanced interrogation program, used techniques like waterboarding, in order to gain crucial information from suspected terrorists. Former director Stansfield Turner says, "I don't think a country like ours should be culpable of conducting torture." Tenet, on the other hand, says the U.S. Justice Department ruled the techniques were not torture, and President George Bush approved them.

Another consequence of the 9/11 attacks is the use of drones to strike back at terrorists. The Pentagon's use of drones is public, but the CIA has never acknowledged it also uses them. Yet President Barack Obama's former CIA Director Leon Panetta recounts a time the CIA had located a "bad man" who was responsible for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan. But the terrorist was with his family, which made the use of a drone strike problematic. "One of the tough questions was what should we do?" Panetta recalled. He said he called the White House and they said, "Look, you're going to have to make a judgment here." Panetta said, "I found I was making decisions on life and death as director, and those decisions are never easy, and frankly they shouldn't be easy." He added, "I thought it was really important in that job to do what I could to protect this country." The CIA struck, "And it did involve collateral damage, but we got him," Panetta concluded.

Following 9/11 the CIA scored an early victory in Afghanistan driving the Taliban out and destroying Al Qaeda's sanctuary, but Osama Bin Laden escaped. This victory was followed by one of America's most controversial wars. "Neither the CIA or any other or any other government agency ever found any evidence that Iraq played any role at all in 9/11," former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell recalled. Yet former Vice President Dick Cheney was speaking out publicly about Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's connection to Al Qaeda. Tenet told the President Bush that Iraq possessing weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk." The U.S. invaded Iraq and more than a decade later it is still paying the price for this bad decision.

CIA in the Crosshairs is directed by Gedeon and Jules Naudet, who were responsible for the most powerful documentary ever produced of the 9/11 attacks. It is written by Chris Whipple, a skilled investigative journalist, and the executive producer is CBS News' Susan Zirinsky. She is also my wife.

Americans are on edge following the horrifying November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris. Questions are being raised about where the line is drawn between what techniques the CIA can use to defeat the terrorists, especially those that are home grown, and every American's right for privacy. 

Panetta says, "We may have to use these kinds of weapons. But let me tell you something, if we fail to do this, and God forbid this country faced another 9/11, you know what the first question would be, 'Why the hell did you let this happen?'"

Friday, November 20, 2015

Trump Playing Politics With Fear

Fear is a powerful motivator that is sadly all too often exploited by politicians. No one is more adept at doing so than Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Now Trump says he "would certainly implement" a data base for tracking Muslims in the United States.
Trump spoke Thursday in Newton, Iowa, in between campaign events. "I would certainly implement that. Absolutely," he said, "There should be a lot of systems, beyond databases." Later Trump was asked how his plan would differ from the Nazi's requiring Jews to register. "You tell me," Trump responded to a reporter. When asked where he would register Muslims he said, "Different places," not ruling out mosques. "It's all about management," he said. "Our country has no management." He was asked if Muslims would have to be legally obligated to sign into a database, "They have to be--they have to be," he responded.
Trump has often resorted to demagoguery to drive his poll numbers up. But these remarks are the height of religious bigotry and un-American. Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told NBC News, "What else can you compare this to except to prewar Nazi Germany." There are 2.6 million Muslims in America, and a bill severely restricting the admission of Syrian refugees into the U.S. has passed the House of Representatives. This action follows terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and Egypt that the Islamic State has claimed credit for. ISISmay have embedded terrorists with refugees fleeing into Europe from Syria and Iraq.
The Syrian refugee crisis has become a big issue in the Republican primary. But Trump's plan for a Muslim database intensifies the debate. Friday morning former Florida Governor Jeb Bush called Trump's remarks "just wrong." The GOP presidential candidate told CNBC, "You talk about internment, you talk about closing mosques, you talk about registering people, That's just wrong." He added, "It's not a question of toughness. It's to manipulate people's angst and their fears. That's not strength, that's weakness." But over the weekend Bush told CNN that Christian refugees could be admitted to the U.S. "There are a lot of Christians in Syria that have no place now," he explained. "They'll be either executed or imprisoned, either by Assad or by ISIS. And I think we should have -- we should focus our efforts as it relates to the Christians that are being slaughtered."
Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson, who has been losing ground in the polls, compared the process of admitting Syria refugees into the U.S. with parents trying to protect their children from a rabid dog. "If there's a rabid dog running around in your neighborhood, you're probably not going to assume something good about that dog," Carson said during a campaign stop in Alabama. "And you're probably going to put your children out of the way. That doesn't mean that you hate all dogs." He said it would be "foolish" to admit Syrian refugees without a thorough vetting process. "We have to have in place screening mechanisms that allow us to determine who the mad dogs are."
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, also a GOP presidential candidate, has been on both sides of the Syrian refugee issue. In February 2014, when compassion was what most Americans were feeling, Cruz supported allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S. "We should continue to do so....We have to continue to be vigilant to make sure those coming are not affiliated with the terrorists, but we can do that." But now that Americans are fearful of terrorists Cruz has changed his stance. "It makes no sense whatsoever for us to be bringing in refugees who our intelligence cannot determine if they are terrorists here to kill us or not," he said. "Those who are fleeing persecution should be resettled in the Middle East in majority Muslim countries."
The White House has said it wants to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States out of the more than 4 million Syrian refugees who have been displaced by that country's civil war. The vetting process currently in place is rigorous and can take 2 years to complete. The bill that passed the House of Representatives with the support of many Democrats would require that all the nation's top national security agencies sign off on each Syrian refugee.
The president has said he will veto the bill. But President Obama did not dignify himself when he lashed out at Republican members of Congress Wednesday from the Philippines. "We are not well served when, in response to a terrorist attack, we descend into fear and panic," he told reporters. "We don't make good decisions if it's based on hysteria or an exaggeration of risks." A better approach would have been for the president to recognize that Americans have legitimate concerns about terrorism, and to promise to make the refugee vetting process as rigorous as possible.
ISIS has been using anti-Muslim sentiment in the West as a recruiting tool. It has had limited success with young disaffected Americans, and authorities are working hard to keep track of possible terrorists in this country. But Trump's outrageous idea of creating a Muslim database, Carson's ridiculous comparison between Muslims and dogs, Bush's Christian litmus test for Syrian refugees, and Cruz's politicization of the issue are all empowering ISIS.
The terrorist attacks in France were horrific. But Americans should not react out of fear. The great Madame Curie, who spent most of her life in France, once said, "Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less."

Friday, November 13, 2015

Immigration By The Numbers

The immigration issue has roiled the Republican Party as its presidential candidates attempt to appeal to the conservative, anti-immigration wing of their party in order to win their party's nomination.  But the GOP is going to pay a heavy toll in the 2016 national elections.  

Businessman Donald Trump fired the opening salvo last June when he announced he would run for president.  "When Mexico sends its people they're not sending their best," he said. "They're sending people that have lots of problems, and they're bringing those problems with us.  They're bringing drugs.  They're bringing crime.  They're bringing rapists.  And some, I assume, are good people."  Trump has proposed building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico (with a nice door) and promises he will get Mexico to pay for it.   

Trump raised the stakes this past Wednesday on MSNBC when he said, "You're going to have a deportation force, and you're going to do it humanely."  But he has yet to offer any specific details on how he will send an estimated 11 million undocumented workers out of the country.  It is hard to picture a "deportation force" humanely separating a Latino mother from her American born children.   

Nonetheless, Trump's position on immigration has resonated with party members.  In a national poll published in Roll Call, 49% of those identifying themselves as Republican agreed that Trump would best handle the immigration issue.  Trump's percent was five times higher than the second place finisher, Sen. Marco Rubio.  Trump has been so successful exploiting immigration to the Republican Party base that Rubio and Sen. Ted Cruz are now publicly quibbling over each other's prior positions on the issue.  

The Republican National Committee following Gov. Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 national election identified immigration as a critical issue.   Romney had received just 23% of the Latino vote in his defeat.  By contrast, President George W. Bush received 44% of the Latino vote in his 2004 re-election.  The RNC released an autopsy report in early 2013 that called on Republicans to reach out to Latinos.  "Among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform," the report stated. "If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all."

Many Republican strategist have amplified this position.  Steve Schmidt, who ran Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2008, has observed, "The long-term problem for Republicans is that in every demographic that is growing in the country, Democrats are gaining market share," he said last year in the Los Angeles Times, and "in every demographic group in the country that is shrinking, Republicans are gaining market share."

Romney beat President Barack Obama by 20% among white voters according to exit polls.  A Gallup Poll, released just ahead of the GOP autopsy report, showed that Non-Hispanic whites made up 89% of Republican self-identifiers, while Hispanics were only 6% of that group.   The problem for the Republican Party is that the Non-Hispanic white population is shrinking.  Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that here are more than 55 million Hispanics and their number is growing.  

The GOP may think that Senators Rubio and Cruz, both Cuban Americans, can help the party appeal to more Latinos, but each of their stands on immigration has hurt them among this voting segment.  Further, nearly 65% of the Latino population is Mexican American, while only 4% is Cuban American, and most live in Florida.  Nationally Latinos, especially Mexican Americans, prefer Democrats over Republicans.  And 81% of Latinos believe that unauthorized immigrants should not be deported.  As Gov. Rick Perry once said, "Oops."

Donald Trump's talk of a border wall and deportation squads may play well with conservatives in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, but it has seriously damaged the Republican brand with most Latinos.   It is likely that the Republican candidate will have to receive 40% of the Latino vote in order to be elected president.   

So don't count on the ultimate GOP standard bearer to maintain the hard-line position on immigration in the general election that was needed to win the nomination.   For instance, over the last few years both Rubio and Cruz have each changed their prior position on immigration for political expediency.   

Unless, of course, that nominee is Donald Trump.  Then who knows what will happen?  Except it will be humane and huge!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Jeb Bush's Last Stand?

Perhaps no candidate needed a strong performance in Wednesday's CNBC's Republican Presidential debate more than former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.   However, this one-time front-runner's poor debate performance may have devastating consequences for his struggling campaign.  Once again, Bush often appeared ill at ease and self-conscious, even when he mustered an attack on an opponent.  

Take the sharp exchange over Florida Senator Marco Rubio's poor Senate voting record.  CNBC's Carl Quintanilla raised the issue concluding his question, "Why not slow down, get a few more things done first or least finish what you start?"  Rubio was ready with a well-rehearsed answer, "That's exactly what the Republican establishment says too. Why don't you wait in line? Wait for what? This country is running out of time. We can't afford to have another four years like the last eight years."

Quintanilla pointed out that a Florida newspaper, The Sun-Sentinel, had called on Rubio to resign his Senate seat.  Rubio cited precedents, "Back in 2004, one of my predecessors to the Senate by the name of Bob Graham, a Democrat, ran for president missing over 30 percent of his votes. I don't recall them calling for his resignation."  He then added, "John Kerry ran for president missing close to 60 to 70 percent of his votes...the Sun-Sentinel endorsed him."  He continued,  "In 2008, Barack Obama missed 60 or 70 percent of his votes, and the same newspaper endorsed him again. So this is another example of the double standard that exists in this country between the mainstream media and the conservative movement."  

Bush jumped in, pointing out that the Sun-Sentinel endorsed Rubio for the Senate.  "But Marco, when you signed up for this, this was a six-year term, and you should be showing up to work," Bush asserted. "I mean, literally, the Senate -- what is it, like a French work week? You get, like, three days where you have to show up? You can campaign, or just resign and let someone else take the job."  

But Rubio turned the tables on Bush, sharply responding, "Well, it's interesting. Over the last few weeks, I've listened to Jeb as he walked around the country and said that you're modeling your campaign after John McCain, that you're going to launch a furious comeback the way he did, by fighting hard in New Hampshire and places like that, carrying your own bag at the airport. You know how many votes John McCain missed when he was carrying out that furious comeback that you're now modeling after?"  

Bush's feeble response was brief, "He wasn't my senator."  The man he had mentored had upstaged the former governor.   Bush, who has slipped into the single digits in the polls, needed a strong debate performance, but he failed to deliver.  The top debate performers were Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Donald Trump and Dr. Ben Carson did well enough not to disappoint their followers.

Bush has seemed uncomfortable since the beginning of his campaign.  His body language and frequent gaffes have consistently betrayed a politician who wasn't fully committed.  He has been easily rattled throughout the campaign by taunts from Trump, like calling Bush a "low-energy" candidate.  Last week, Bush expressed his frustration for the current state of partisan politics.  “If this election is about how we’re going to fight to get nothing done, then I don’t want any part of it.”  He continued, “I’ve got a lot of really cool things I could do other than sit around, being miserable, listening to people demonize me and me feeling compelled to demonize them. That is a joke. Elect Trump if you want that.”

The fact that Trump and Carson have such a large lead in recent polls of likely Republican voters strongly indicates that they are looking for an outsider to lead their party to the White House.  Wednesday's debate was a must win for Jeb Bush, an opportunity to prove his critics wrong, to seize momentum by demonstrating he could lead the party to victory next November.  Instead, his puzzling debate performance lacked passion, fight and self-confidence. 

Perhaps Bush was just too preoccupied thinking about all the other cool things he could be doing?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Carson Plays Politics

Dr. Ben Carson, the Republican candidate for president and former neurosurgeon, says, "I am not politically correct.  I will not be politically correct."  This approach to his campaign has helped him secure second place in polls taken of likely Republican voters, trailing only Donald Trump.  But will it play well in a national election?

Carson recently explained his non-PC attitude in an interview with The Hill.  “I want people to see me as an honest person, a person who is actually willing to express what they believe” Carson said. “The way I look at it, if people don’t like that, I’d rather not be in office."  But are the things Carson is saying really what most Americans believe?

For instance, Carson drew criticism for remarks he made about the Nazis.  In his new book, Carson writes that the Holocaust would have been less deadly had the German citizens been armed.  Last week, he told CNN,  "The likelihood of Hitler being able to accomplish his goals would have been greatly diminished if the people had been armed."  And, this past Sunday on CBS' Face the Nation, he explained his remarks were not "hyperbole at all."  He continued, "Whether it’s on our doorstep or whether it’s 50 years away, it's still a concern and it’s something that we must guard against. That’s one of the real purposes of having a constitution. I think the founders were really quite insightful into looking at possibilities and understanding what has happened in other places and trying to put together something that would prevent that from happening here."

The Nazis slaughtered more than six million Jews, and no group would be more sensitive to such a threat than the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors anti-Semitism.  But they oppose using the Nazis in America's gun control debate.  The organization's director, Abe Foxman, said in 2013, "The idea that supporters of gun control are doing something akin to what Hitler’s Germany did to strip citizens of guns in the run-up to the Second World War is historically inaccurate and offensive, especially to Holocaust survivors and their families."  

Apparently, the Nazis are Carson's go-to metaphor.  In March, 2014, he was asked by Breitbart News about his claims that Americans are living in a "Gestapo age."  He responded, “Very much like Nazi Germany - and I know you’re not supposed to talk about Nazi Germany but I don’t care about political correctness - you had a government using its tools to intimidate a population,” he said.  “We now live in a society where people are afraid to say what they actually believe.”   Is Carson really being honest, or is he pandering to an audience?

Carson got headlines when he said a Muslim should not be elected president of the United States.  "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that," he told CNN.  He further explained that Islam is not compatible with the Constitution, saying that a president's faith should matter depending on what that faith is. 
"If it's inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter," he clarified.  But Article VI of the U.S. Constitution specifies, "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."  Is Carson being honest, or is he playing on people's fears?

Earlier this year Carson said on CNN he "absolutely" thinks being gay is a choice.  He further explained, “A lot of people who go into prison go into prison straight and when they come out, they’re gay.”  A few days later Carson apologized for his response, saying,  “I do not pretend to know how every individual came to their sexual orientation. I regret that my words to express that concept were hurtful and divisive. For that I apologize unreservedly to all that were offended.”  Is Carson's apology honest, or is it disingenuous?

On marriage equality, Carson wrote in his book, America the Beautiful, “if we can redefine marriage as between two men or two women or any other way based on social pressures as opposed to between a man and a woman…(it) is a slippery slope with a disastrous ending, as witnessed in the dramatic fall of the Roman Empire.”  Of those ten million Americans who have enrolled in the Affordable Care Act, Carson has said that Obamacare is “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”  And when asked what he would have done to keep a gunman from going on a killing spree, he said, "Not only would I probably not cooperate with him, I would not just stand there and let him shoot me."  Carson continued, "I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me, but he can't get us all.'"  His remarks understandably offended some family members of the recent mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.  Is Carson truly being honest with these comments?

Carson has attacked the press for the criticism he has received for his controversial remarks, observing, “It seems like the more they attack me, the better we do.”  Last week he told journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, “I will continue to expose them every time they do something, so that as more people understand what they are and what they’re doing, it will negate their affect.” He concluded, “Until they have the kind of transformation that’s necessary for them to become allies of the people, we have to know what they’re doing.”  Is Carson being honest, or is he just blaming the messenger?

Dr. Ben Carson has said, "I don’t want to be in office under false pretenses, just saying things people want to hear so I can get elected.”

 But isn't that exactly what he has been trying to do?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Putin on Syria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Smith School: Making a Difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 14, 2015

GE Cares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Run, Joe, Run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Media Appearances

View my appearances this week on:

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

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Trump vs. Ramos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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