Can the United States' refugee vetting process catch terrorists? Is it even practical or even possible? Syrians have to be "vetted" for two years before getting permission to come to America. President Obama vowed to veto a GOP-drafted bill that would suspend the program that allows Syrian & Iraqi refugees into the U.S. until key national security agencies certify they don't pose a threat. But what exactly is the vetting process?
To answer this important question I invited immigration attorney Malvern Burnett onto the program this morning.
"First, let me tell you, we take in 85,000 refugees in the fiscal year '16, and of those 85,000, President Obama has dedicated 10,000 slots to Syrian refugees. Those Syrian refugees have to be outside of the country to apply for refugee status, and they have to go to refugee centers in Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, or Iraq. They are interview there primarily the United Nations High Commission Refugee Office," Burnett explained.
"They go through a rigorous process with the UN. They sit down and perform biometric and biographic scans, they do iris scans, fingerprints, take extensive biographic information from the applicants, they determine if there are any known associations with the Syrian government - that's a disqualifying factor, by the way - as is a criminal background. The UN will refer to the US for further process applicants they deem to be a good fit with the United States."
What does that mean, a good fit for the United States?
"We're looking for individuals who do meet the definition of a refugee, someone who is fleeing a country who has a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinions. Typically the UN will refer to the US applicants who have some ties to the United States. Once the UN refers the applicant to the US for further processing, that starts a completely new process of vetting procedures.
What does the US process look like?
"Initially, what will happen at the US refugee office is a member of DHS will sit down and interview the applicant and will go over the information provided by the UN. This typically involves a very careful consideration of any known associations the applicant may have with governments or terrorist organization. They'll review the qualifications that this person may have regardless of any education or language ability or religion. This is not even brought into consideration."
Why isn't religion a consideration?
"That's part of our process, we keep a blind eye to that. There's also health screenings performed, applicants that have certain health issues, tuberculosis for example, if they can be placed in any kind of treatment program, that would be done. Not all refugees referred by the UN are accepted by the US... there were 20,000 applicants referred by the UN and of that amount only 1800 were actually accepted. It's a very rigorous process."
To hear the full conversation about the refugee vetting process, click the link below.
More and more Americans are rejecting religion, especially the Millennial generation - people born after 1980. A new poll from the Pew Reseach Center gives us the following results to pick over:
The share of Americans who say they are "absolutely certain" that God exists has dropped 8 percentage points, from 71 percent to 63 percent, since 2007, when the last comparable study was made.
The percentage of adults who describe themselves as "religiously affiliated" has shrunk 6 points since 2007, from 83 percent to 77 percent.
The shares of the U.S. adult population who consider religion "very important" to them, pray daily and attend services at least once a month have declined between 3 and 4 percentage points over the past eight years.
To better understand the implications of this study, I invited theologian Timothy Muldoon and author Tom Gjelten on the show to help explain what how to contextualize those numbers.
I asked Mr Muldoon right away if he thought the Pew study was accurate and if he agreed with the findings. "There's nothing entirely surprising in the numbers," he said. "I think what catches people's attention - people see religious decline, they see young people no longer practicing the faith of their parents and grandparents, and clearly that's a change."
What does he think is really going on behind the numbers? "The story is not so much that a person belongs to this religion or doesn't belong tot that religion, it's that this person goes through many phases of religious belonging and not belonging over the course of a lifetime, and even among young people, that's born out. You may have an avowed atheist at 16 who becomes a pretty strong evangelical at 21 and a Catholic at 28 and an Episcopalian at 35. Movement seems to be the order of the game, whereas in earlier generations, there was more stability, in families especially."
In the later half of the hour, I asked Mr Gjelten what he thought these declining numbers. "Well, the declines are slight, but I would agree that they are statistically significant for two reasons. One, it is a continuing decline - this same exact study was done in 2007, so the declines that we've seen have only come in the last seven or eight years, and considering that the declines are noticeable, that's a fairly short amount of time to see them. The second reason the numbers are significant is that the survey sample was very large - 35,000 people responded to this survey, and from a data point of view, that makes them statistically significant. It makes sense to take these findings pretty seriously."
To hear the rest of our conversation, click the link below.
Are crimes going undocumented because police response times are so slow? Are NOPD crime numbers “artificially low” because crimes are labeled “unfounded.” Who should bear the brunt of responsibility for the problems with the NOPD? Mayor Landrieu? Chief Harrison? The former Chief? Tax payers?
The brutal attack on a tourist left paralyzed from an apparent road rage incident in the Marigny has exposed major cracks in the NOPD like slow response time, lack of officers, lack of communication between NOPD & EMS all resulting in crime stats that may be “artificially low.” Many citizens say crime is worse than the stats show. Could that be true?
I had Mayor Landrieu on my show today to discuss a New Orleans Advocate/WWL-TV story that features quotes from city officials decrying the long response times for citizens who call the police to report crimes.
"It's not unacceptable; those times are not acceptable but they're not a surprise. My only quarrel with the story is that people are asking like it's a surprise," he said. "When we have a manpower shortage.. you can expect the response times are going to get slower. It's not as though we need somebody to help us diagnose that problem. We know that. We knew that, which is why we have a plan to fix it."
What is the plan?
"One of the things we need is more people in the police department. We've been working on this really hard, and today, just this morning we inaugurated our third recruit class of this year and our seventh recruit class that we've had in the last couple years, and for the first time in the last five years, we now have more people coming in than leaving. That is going to help with the response times."
The Mayor didn't stop there, boasting that "on top of that, we've been working on a plan that would put in place that would take the FOBTF of 16 officers and put them in hot spots around the city; we're reallocating reserve officers; I've authorized unlimited overtime in the police department; our relationship with the FBI, the DEA, the ATF, the State Police is as strong as ever. Just this weekend, the folks in the French Quarter passed a quarter percent sales tax which will allow state troopers to stay in the French Quarter which has reduced crime there by 35%.
"So we keep doing all of these things, and what's gonna happen is that response times are going to get better. And crime by the way, year to date, is down betwen 5 and 7 percent, and for this month of October, knock on wood, we could potentially have the lowest number of murders in the month of October that we've had in the 55 years since 1960.
"We know its a problem, a result of the cataclysmic financial problem the city was in after Katrina and we're digging our way out of it. While I appreciate Mike Glasser and R Goyeneche and all those professors who sit in the peanut gallery and look down on us, what I don't need is diagnosticians... I need is people putting their shoulder to the wheel helping to solve problems by getting us more police officers and then helping us get on the front side of crime."
To hear my follow up questions and the rest of my conversation with Mayor Mitch Landrieu, click the link below.
Jurors ordered a gun shop owner to pay nearly $6 million to police officers wounded by a gun bought at his store. You agree with that?
The case involves a negligence lawsuit filed by officers against Badger Guns, a shop in suburban Milwaukee that authorities say is linked to hundreds of firearms found at crime scenes. The lawsuit alleges the shop ignored several warning signs that the gun used to shoot the officer was sold to a "straw buyer" - someone who buys the gun for someone who can't legally do so.
In 2009, Officer Bryan Norberg & retired officer Graham Kunisch were both shot in the face after they stopped the alleged shooter (Julius Burton) for riding his bike on the sidewalk. Surveillance video shows the officers scuffled with Burton and pushed him into a wall before he shot both officers. Investigators say Burton got the weapon a month before the incident, after giving $40 to another man to purchase it.
One bullet shattered 8 teeth of one officer & blew through his cheek & lodged into his shoulder. The other was shot several times and he lost his eye and part of the frontal lobe of his brain. Based on what you know and what you believe, if you sat on that jury, what would you decide? Is it fair or unfair to hold a gun store owner accountable for poor judgment when it comes to an illegal firearm sale? Comment on our Facebook post:
Is it fair or unfair to hold a gun store owner accountable for poor judgment when it comes to an illegal firearm sale?
Could Donald Trump’s tax plan get him elected? "It's a tax reform that I think will make America strong and great again," Trump said Monday.
Trump’s tax plan calls for the rich to pay more, corporations to pay much less, and some Americans to pay nothing at all. It offers huge big tax breaks to the middle class. Can he actually make it happen? Would it stimulate the economy, help the middle class & make America great again? And, would it be a catalyst for your vote?
To try to answer some of these questions I invited two experts on to the show today to explain in layman's terms what people could expect from Trump's proposals. The first was Harry Stein, the Director of Fiscal Policy at the Center for American Progress.
Is it true that Trump's tax reform plan would cost the American government trillions of dollars? "That's definitely true, we've seen already two different analyses of the proposal; one from the Citizens for Tax Justice, which is generally seen as coming from the more liberal side of the spectrum, and the another from the Tax Foundation, which is generally seen as coming from the right side of the spectrum," Mr. Stein told me.
"They both came out with a pretty similar estimate, that the plan will cost about $10 trillion dollars the first ten years in effect. When you look at the Federal government and what that would mean, that's roughly give or take the same amount the Social Security costs. Both the left and right seem to agree that this would blow a huge hole in the Federal budget."
I also spoke to Bob Williams, Sol Price Fellow at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute and I asked him what he thought about Trump's plan to cut deductions and loopholes for higher income people, but lower earners would keep all or most or their current deductions.
"Trump is very lacking in details on exactly what he would do there," Wiliiams said. "he says he's going to take away tax breaks for the rich but not for the poor, but doesn't give any specification of methodogy. He says he's going to continue to let people deduct their charitable contributions and mortagage interest payments, both of which are big benefits for very wealthy people. They're the ones that give away a lot of money and save a lot of taxes by giving away money and having large mortages.
"It's hard to imagine that taking way the tax breaks he is talking about, that it would be anything but a very large tax cut for people at the top, and would leave a lot of people at the bottom end, the poor, unaffected. It wouldnt really cut their taxes at all in many cases," he continued.
There's a lot more to the conversation - click the link below to hear the full interviews with Harry and Bob.
In telling the story of the recovery of New Orleans after the biggest disaster in the history of America, we had to talk about the great healer in our community – sports! The focus of our conversation was a symbol of Katrina destruction, now a signal of New Orleans’ rebirth—the Mercedes Benz Superdome. We also talked about the economic, social & spiritual impact of Saints football, the expansion of New Orleans sports footprint & NOLA’s return as a concert destination. Our guests (the father of the rebirth of the dome) Doug Thornton, Executive Vice President of Stadiums & Arenas with SMG...and Jay Cicero, President & CEO of The Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation.
We also get a different perspective on Katrina, when we visit with BBC reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan. She gives us to the view across the pond. The British Broadcasting Corporation tells the Katrina story through the voice of WWL radio. The story, titled “The Hurricane Station,” is a captivating 6-chapter web magazine story - a powerful tribute to the station & its staff that helped save New Orleans when it was down on its knees. BBC reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan, @BBCRajiniV ... documents WWL’s coverage in a personal & authentic way, zooming in not only on the station's role as a lifeline to a desperate community, but also exposing the personal impact on journalists covering a monumental disaster, while experiencing the catastrophic affects personally.
I was back at the Katrina 10 Media Center at the Sheraton this morning with another show full of people I really respect and think have done great work not just for themselves but for the whole city of New Orleans. In one hour today, I spoke to Lt. General Russell Honore, former Mayor Marc Morial and Liberty Bank CEO Alden McDonald. I didn't know who to call a hero first.
I asked each of them: ten years later, how are we doing?
"We are doing well, but we could do better," General Honore said. "We've gone through ten years of recovery, and that we all need to be proud of. This is a destination city. We gotta make sure the rest of the world knows this place is open of business. On the other hand, we need to do the rest of the work, we've got bout half of it done. It might take us another ten years to get to the rest of the city. Your revocery is measured by how you resolve issues that were going on in the community before it happened. We had significant issues in economic disparityy, education, and infrastructure... and if you were doing well beofre Katrina, you probably did a lot better after, but if you were stuggling, poor, disabled, elderly, its likely the data will show you're not going as well ten years later. We've got to make sure we understand that up to 30% of the city is not participating at the level we need them to."
Former Mayor Marc Morial had this to say: "I view this time as a commemoration and continuation. What people should be proud of is this - when people asked 'should you rebuild New Orleans, should you rebuild this neighborhood,' the citizens rose up with a sense of civic determination, perserverance and pride and said 'we don't care if the govt is stumbling, fumbling, bumbling, we are going to rebuild this city.' Ten years later, continuation is the key word, because of the work yet to be done. We dont have to buy into 'is the job done,' we don't have to buy into 'it's all good.' We have to look at this as halftime, when you take inventory, look at the scoreboard, and ask yourself what is necessary in the second half to make this recovery complete?"
Alden McDonald, who opened his bank at 29 years old as a college dropout, and then rebuilt the whole thing from scratch after the flood, agreed with the metaphor used by Morial. "When you really look at the devastation that took place here, it's really about truly rebuilding a city - we lost everything at Liberty Bank, files, customers, employees. We had to rebuild a bank from ground zero, and New Orleans had to do the same thing, people took the opportunty to work and makes things better. Are we done? No. We're halfway."
It was a great conversation about the future of New Orleans and the work still to do - click the link below to listen.
People hear radio and news people and they think you're in a bubble when you go through something like Katrina. They think these guys are in private jets and limosines. During Katrina, Dennis Woltering, Norman Robinson and Dave Cohen were neither protected nor comfortable.
I asked these men to tell us what it was like for them during and after Katrina hit New Orleans. I started with former WWL-TV anchor Dennis Woltering.
"We started out in the studio, Mike Hoss and I, before we had to move over to the Hyatt, and eventually they said you've got to move out of here. We go to the Hyatt that night and everyone is camped out on the third floor, with sleeping bags... you hear noises outside.. we each had rooms in the Hyatt, and at one point a photographer and I went up to my room. The windows were blown out, and he wanted to go in and get a shot of it. We opened the door and it was like the wind was sucking us out, so I had to hold on to him while he got his shot. It was just unbelievable!"
I asked former WDSU anchor Norman Robinson the same question - what did you go through, trying to manage your personal life and work life at the same time?
"It was surreal Garland. It was like an out-of-body experience... this was an experience for the first time in my life as a journalist where I experienced what everyone else was going through. It got personal immediately. And the trauma kind of set in early, as you could see the storm forming out in the Gulf. It was bigger than the entire Gulf of Mexico, and that's when it became real - this was the one we'd all been afraid of, this was finally going to happen. The most poignant moment of my coverage came during my interview with Max Mayfield, who was the director of the NHC at the time. We were interviewing him in our 10 o clock newscast and asked him, Would you think that this is time to call an evacuation? He said, I cant give you advice because that's outside my purview, but if I were in New Orleans, I would be thinking it. This is the storm we've all feared."
Our own News Director Dave Cohen knew what it was like to have to play a different role than he otherwise might have expected.
"As journalists, our job is to tell the story, to deliver the news, to take a step back and tell people what was going on without being involved - but we were all using words like I and me and our city and us when describing what was happening because we were all living it. To me, the biggest moment when that was so crystal clear was when we had confirmation that the levees had broken and we had just talk to the Corps of Engineers the day before, they had showed us where the water would go if the levees were overtopped or breached. They talked about the toxic soup that would fill the city for six months before they could drain it clean. I remember getting on the radio and begging, pleading for anyone still in New Orleans to get to some elevated roadway and find some way to get to the Crescent City Connection because there was no other way out and we knew the water wasnt going to stop. At that time I wasn't worried about reporting the facts and figures and humanizing the story, I was worried about begging these people to get out before they all died."
Take a listen to the full hour of conversation with Dennis, Norman and Dave - I think you'll hear some stories you've never heard before.
How close are we to World War III? More & more foreign policy experts see what Russia is doing in the Ukraine and Baltic States and say it mimics the start of both World Wars. Are Russia and the world miscalculating the danger?
I invited Peter Brookes, a Senior Fellow in National Security Affairs for The Heritage Foundation, to come on and help make sure that any discussion is rooted in fact and not hyperbole. Is there real reason for concern?
"Obviously, our relationship with Russia is of concern. The adminstration started 6 years ago this idea they were going to reset relations with Russia. I think that's pretty much a failure, it's done with. We've gone from reset to regret. There are a lot of Cold War-like tensions with Russia. Russia is a major power and crises can spin out of control and escalate, so I don't think we can write it off... I think anything is possible. We're living in a very difficult security environment so I wouldn't write it off, but nor would I say that war is imminent."
Some studies I'm looking at quote a Russian policy expert who says Putin and the Russian policy makers believe that war is not something that is impossible any more and that they are moving low-yield nuclear weapons to the borders in the Baltic states that would frighten the US into a response and therefore break NATO. Could that happen?
"The Russians have relied on the threat of nuclear weapons for a long time. While war is certainly possible, it's not inevitable, and they're sending signals. They're sending signals; Russia is unhappy about the situation in Ukraine, beyond it's taking of Crimea - Russia really wants Ukraine in their orbit, they consider that to be non-negotiable. They're signaling to the West that they do not want the West to jump in and support Ukraine to the extent that would keep them from coming back into Russia's orbit."
To listen to the full interview, click the link below.
Why is there still a debate on gun control? It makes NO sense. Can we not just move on and admit that mass shootings in America are not something we can eliminate?
Consider the numbers. Americans own between 300 and 310 million firearms. Granted, no organization has a comprehensive number, but the smallest estimate is 270 million weapons - that comes from a 2007 Geneva Small Arms Survey.
Again, it makes no sense. How in the world do you seize, buyback or ban hundreds of millions of guns? If you think the solution is to just pass a law that allows police to enter your home or business and seize the weapons (that you would of course, not hide)… think again. Take a look at any of these headlines:
Some will point to Australia as bell-weather proof of gun control that works. After a 1996 massacre in Tasmania, the federal government banned the importation of all semiautomatic and automatic weapons and anything considered an assault weapon. National buyback programs were instituted, and states banned the weapons outright. There was a slight drop in homicides, but researchers labeled that reduction “not statistically significant.” The only true drop was a lower rate of suicides, not mass slaughter.
Plus, according to Pew Research conducted in 2013, 52% of Americans want to protect their right to own a gun. The numbers began to creep up after the Newtown school slaughter of children.
Even Karl Rove got it wrong. In a post in the Daily Caller, Rove said, “the only way to stop the violence is to repeal the second amendment.”
Here’s a crazy idea. How about instead of planning how to stop the next mass killing, we strategize how to STOP THE CRAZIES! We used to try to control the mentally ill by building hospitals to house and treat them before they killed us. Instead of spending $40,000 a year jailing a 3-time pot smoker, how about we spend that money trying to stop the slaughter.
The sun knows how to produce nuclear fusion. It works, but we don’t know how to do it. If no one had guns, gun control would work. It would work, but we don’t know how to do it.