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.
Are the big fears about legalizing medical marijuana unfounded? New studies show legalizing medical marijuana does not increase the use of teens or pose a threat to children. For those of you whoe are opposed to medical pot - does that change your position in any way, knowing that?
The bill to make medical marijuana legal in Louisiana passed, but is still waiting on the Governor’s desk. To gain a better understanding of what might happen next, I invited Raeford Davis into the Think Tank today... he's a former police officer and spokesperson for LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition).
LEAP's vision statement says "LEAP envisions a world in which drug policies work for the benefit of society and keep our communities safer. A system of legalization and regulation will end the violence, better protect human rights, safeguard our children, reduce crime and disease, treat drug abusers as patients, reduce addiction, use tax dollars more efficiently, and restore the public’s respect and trust in law enforcement."
I asked Raeford what he thought about the Lancet study.
"It's what we've been predicting would happen! As you legalize marijuana, you can begin to regulate it, and use rates actually go down," he said. "People believe that prohibition is the ultimate level of regulation - it's actually the opposite. Prohibition is the abdication of all regulation. When I was a police officer working in troubled neighborhoods - guess what? Drug dealers don't ID kids. You have to legalize it so you can regulate it, and as the study shows, you're not going to have this huge zombie force of teenagers rushing in and getting their hands on it."
In Louisiana, law enforcement is a very powerful political entity, and a lot of political power here depends on filling up jail cells. So how do we ever get to the point where the war on drugs winds down and marijuana becomes legal?
"We do have a prison and incarceration industry is huge, worth billions of dollars and has perverse incentives to incarcerate and arrest people and give them criminal records. It has nothing to do with justice, and is just a self-perpetuating, socially devastating system that we have. It's actually the enforcement of the prohibition laws, the incarceration, the indirect costs of having a family member incarcerated, and legacy costs, like if your grandparent has been convicted of a felony - that adversely affects your life."
To hear the rest of our conversation about the war on drugs and Louisiana's medical marijuana bill, click the link below.
Okay, let’s explore the latest issue of the coward commenters. You know those people…so bored/so idle because they don’t work or have mindless jobs…so on-edge because anger management failed…or so ignorant because they react/never research...follow/never lead…yet THEY decide who, what or which issue “goes viral.”
Well, this time their target…their MAJOR ISSUE is this year’s Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival poster. For anybody buried under a rock, or not exposed to the media & social media explosion the past few days, the art depicts two faceless, well-dressed African American children standing…one holding a basket of strawberries. It’s folk art to some, but an image of racism to the commenters. Let’s go in a little bit different direction at this point. Let’s say you “CC’s” are right and this art is racist. That would make you an expert. And, I (an artist) would like NOT to create racist art. But, in order to meet your demands, I need some answers.
Should non-African artists not paint black subjects? If they do, what are the measurements that say “that’s too far, now you’re becoming a racist image maker?” How much black is too black? Two thirds charcoal, one third brown? One third cobalt blue; two thirds ivory black? Give me the formula.
Non-journalists and professional photographers have been criticized for taking picture of Mardi Gras Indians and black funeral processions. They’re accused of capitalizing on rather than documenting or celebrating a unique culture. Should those images not be taken? And, if some pictures can be taken, how would one identify what is acceptable? Who decides? How do we get in touch with them?
In the not too distant future this country will be majority Hispanic. Latinos will have a long history of abuse at the hands of the majority white America. Should non-Latino artists not paint brown Americans? And if some paintings would be allowed, how much brown is too much? Can sombreros be included….tamales…donkeys?
Indians have a long history of suffering at the hands of white Americans. Should artists ask how far is too far in painting an Indian. Some Indians wear certain beads, feathers and symbols on their clothing. Should an artist avoid all Indian paintings that identify a tribe or an individual? Wouldn’t an artist’s rendering of an Indian be stealing his image? Do we have to get lawyers involved?
We already know we shouldn’t paint the Muslims’ Mohammed. Should that apply to all religions and all races? Artists should only be allowed to paint their own kind?
The basic question seems to be…if an artist begins a painting of a human being, when does he or she reach a point where the image becomes racists, derogatory, or disrespectful? And, who… under what rules…gives the approval to make those decisions?
Since you are the sentinels at the gates of racism, please let we artists know when we’ve gone too far. Do us this favor…oh wise ones…so that we may not suffer the pains and arrows of “viral crucifixions.” I know…now come the coward commenters.
What happens if New Orleans’ gigantic, billion-dollar hospital (now near completion) doesn’t open? Governor Jindal's budget proposal could leave the University Medical Center millions of dollars short of what's needed to open and stay open.
You can't drive around it without thinking 'this is transformative for New Orleans.' Through the years, as I've been talking about this new hospital with elected officials, business people, legislators... I've always asked "do we have the money to sustain this thing once it's up an running?" and I've never gotten a straight answer.
Now, as we know, Louisiana is in a real budget pickle with a $1.6 billion dollar deficit. The talk originally was to make big cuts to higher education, and there's also been talk of a $300 million dollar cut to health care.
Gregory Feirn, CEO of LCMC Health, which runs the state-owned hospital, told the New Orleans Advocate, "If the state does not restore the funding, then the state is deciding not to allow for care for the people of New Orleans, deciding not to open their state-of-the-art facility that is nearly finished and striking a crippling blow to medical education in Louisiana.”
I asked State Treasurer John Kennedy what he thought about this report. Is that quote correct? Is it hyperbolic?
"It certainly concerns me. Feirn is a very able administrator, and I think they'll be able to manage that facility better than the state could. I and others might have done things differently with some of that money, but it is what it is, we've invested and we've got to make that facility work. We do not have a choice," he told me.
There's no way the hospital doesn't open... right?
To hear my interview with John Kennedy about the future of the hospital, click the link below.
By now you've likely heard that President Obama's new budget contains plans for big new investments in infrastructure to spark new job growth and expand America's middle class. That in itself is not controversial, but I'm reading some articles from leading economists that say infrastructure spending doesn't really create many jobs or sustain local economies. So we don't really know if that's the way to go.
Much more disturbing (and clear for all to see) is that the President, in getting money for those infrastructure investments and for his $4 trillion dollar budget, has a hope to take Louisiana's oil revenue and share it with the entire nation beginning in 2017. He wants to take a big chunk of our states' local economy and give it away to everyone else because he says that coastal waters belong to the whole country and should be owned and experienced by all Americans.
It's the kind of thing that makes you sit up in your chair and say WHAT?!
I invited Sidney Coffee, Policy Adviser for America's WETLAND Foundation, into "The Think Tank" this morning to help me better understand this. Sidney had previously worked on the legislation that got Louisiana a greater share of oil and gas revenues.
"We knew, at some point, there was going to be an effort by someone to try to reverse this. These are tremendous sums, up to $500 million a year that would be calculated in 2017 and we would actually being receiving them in 2018. Our Congressional delegation, more unified on this issue than almost any other before or since, they all fought very hard for this. The State did it's part, the Congress did it's part, and now that the money is coming in a few years, and there's a money grab to try to take it back."
The Coastal Restoration Protection Authority will have to cut funds. So how do we turn to Congress and say 'we said all along that this is about whether or not we survive,' but now coastal restoration is the first thing we cut? I don't get it.
"We don't get it either. The people spoke. They want these funds, these dedicated funds, that could not go to anything more critical right now. What happens on Louisiana's coast affect every single person in this state and in this nation, sometimes in ways we don't even think about. Never has it been more critical that every penny we have goes straight into coastal restoration."
Should we feel better that Congress has a record of getting nothing done? Does this even have the possibility of getting passed?
"One light is probably that Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is chair of the Energy Committee, and her state would be affected by this too. I'm sure that she won't want this legislation to go through her committee!"
In the second half of the show, Congressman Charles Boustany of Lafayette and State Rep. Kirk Talbot of River Ridge joined the conversation. With GOP control of both Houses of Congress, is there a chance this legislation could succeed?
"No, there isn't," Boustany said. "We will block this in the House of Representatives with certainty. This is a grave threat and injustice to Louisiana. Our delegations going well over 50 years back fought to get revenue sharing... I was there in that debate and we were successful. Now for the first time the President, for the first time in six years, puts this in his budget without any real explanation. This is a gross travesty and we will do everything we can to stop it."
"We're all concerned," Kirk agreed, "but the fact that the Republicans have majorities in both Houses, it would take an act of Congress to undo this. Senator Vitter was quotes in the paper as saying this has a zero percent chance of happening. But my concern is that President Obama and his administration will find a way to do an end run around Congress, which he's done on a lot of things. That would be my fear."
To hear the entire conversation, click the link below.
There are about 7 billion people in the world. And if I understand religious beliefs, some entity that none of us have ever seen decided to make us. 2.2 billion of us were sent to specific male reproductive organs. When we came out we were Christians and we were the true religion.
Then another entity, sent down (or up, I’m not sure from where the heavenly light arrived) another 1.8 billion sperms that came out as Islamists and they were the true religion.
Then there was the arrival of another 1 billion little folks and they were Hindus and they were the true religion.
Those were followed or preceded by (I couldn’t find any witnesses to arrival times) Buddhists - 376 million of them and they were the true religion.
Another 394 million arrived as something called “Chineses traditionalist” and they were the true religion.
The Power must have been a little short on the Jewish supply, only 14 million of those, but still, they were the true religion.
Africa got a shipment of 100 million of their own “traditionalists” and they were the true religion.
If we sort through another box of arrivals, we’ll find Tenrikyos, Zoroastrianists, Rastafarians, Coa Dais, and Juches. They number in the millions and all are the true religion.
On the sideline are 1.1 billion not assigned to any “true vehicles,” calling themselves Agnostics and Atheists. They admit to having a little trouble seeing proof that the chosen came out of the right organ at the right time, on the right continent, in the right religion, convinced that they are the only “true” faithful.
And let me guess, all of this makes you defensive, angry and in many, many, many cases - violent. This makes sense to you? Really?
It’s being reported that many European cities have large “pockets” of disadvantaged, marginalized and mistreated Muslim populations. Many say that no one should blame them for the violence of a few (a few when compared with numbers of 1.5 billion), but what about perception of the group and dangers therein?
I suspect this is a poor analogy, but I’m struggling to understand my own feelings concerning a group of which I feel potentially threatened, even though common sense says the whole is not all bad.
Here is the analogy. I’m totally dog crazy. I’ve had dogs as my companions since I was 4 years old. At one point I had 5 dogs. But there is a group called pit bulls. I am told that we can’t condemn the breed as vicious because only a few are violent. And, then I’m told that’s because they have been abused (as in disadvantaged, marginalized and mistreated). But I don’t see similar vicious attacks attributed to Collies, Cocker Spaniels, German Shepherds, Dobermans, or any other breed…just as I don’t see the same level of violence in Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, or Judaism. I am afraid of pit bulls. I can’t tell the killer pit bulls from the good pit bulls and their constant appearance on the news for killing and maiming reinforces what is probably an irrational fear.
You’ve heard it a thousand times: not all cops are bad, not all media slants the news, not all priests are pedophiles and virtually every group with bad actors says the same. Were there not Germans who were Nazis just to get a paycheck to put food on the table for their families… Nazis in name only, who had no urge for war. But because of a few, pit bulls got pulled into the maw of Hitler and his disciples? Is it not always the few that harm the many? And when that happens, how can you eliminate the few without targeting the whole?
That is my fear. My fear that if Muslims don’t provide proof that the whole is working to eliminate the few, then others will attempt to eliminate the whole.
When I see thousands of Muslims lining the streets in France, Germany, England and Belgium protesting their own cancers, I think i will begin to lose my fear of the “peaceful group.” When i see the Muslim communities around the world finding and eliminating the horror within their ranks, I will begin to lose my fear of the “bad” pit bulls. Until then, the assurances that Islam is not dangerous, irrational, and violent are just words. One of the strongest vestiges of evolution is survival. Survival is often irrational.
What do we do with a flood protection bowl with a big ole hole?
Voters in St. Bernard decided they don’t want to pay for flood protection. It’s a vote that threatens New Orleans and Jefferson residents, because our $14 billion dollars’ worth of flood walls are not complete without the St. Bernard link, which makes us susceptible to flooding again. Shouldn't that worry us? And what do we do now?
As always, I turn to the experts. Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority President Steve Estopinal and Lake Borgne Basin Levee District Executive Director Nic Cali joined me in "The Think Tank" this morning.
This seems like a real problem, is it? "Yeah, it's a serious problem! I'm disappointed they didn't pass the tax. It's probably our fault, we probably didn't do as good of a job of explaining why it has to be done. We can improve on that. We're not in desparate straits yet but we're in very serious trouble," Steve warned.
When I think of the $14 billion flood protection system I think of a big wall surrounding us - if St. Bernard doesn't pay for their part of the wall, doesn't it create a hole? "No one is an island - St. Bernard is on the cutting edge of flood protection for the metro area, there's no doubt about that. We have an issue coming up right now where we're going to have to do some repairs to an interior levee in St Bernard 8 miles from New Orleans, but those repairs will directly impact flood protection for about 2.5 square miles of urban land in Orleans Parish. The way floods occur have no respect for political boundaries, and so we're struggling right now to figure out a way to pay for about $4 million of repair to a levee in a parish that doesn't have $4 million to spend on it," he continued.
So regardless of how good the rest of the flood protection system is, it's only as good as it's weakest link, right? Isn't that St. Bernard now? "That's not St. Bernard now, but if we don't provide the maintainance and improvements that are necessary in the Lake Borgne Levee District, St. Bernard will very rapidly become the weakest link, and then we're all vulnerable."
Click the link below to hear the rest of my interview with Steve Estopinal and Lake Borgne Basin Levee District Executive Director Nic Cali.
Was justice done in Ferguson? Everyone has an opinion on it, but the fact is, the system of using a grand jury to decide whether or not to bring charges is not a popular system - so much so that half the states in the US don't use them at all.
In the reading I've done about grand juries, I've discovered that our founding fathers believed that grand juries should be used to block the government from bringing wildly unpopular prosecutions. I read in Bloomberg that because the grand jury hears only what prosecutors want it to hear, it no longer functions as a meaningful check on their authority. Prosecutors can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich if they want to.
I could read all day but I wanted to talk to an expert, so I called Harry Rosenberg, a former US Attorney. I asked him to explain why we have grand juries at all, and why we don't just prosecute!
"Grand juries are often perceived as a rubber stamp for the district attorney or Federal prosecutors. What's helpful is to understand the purpose of a grand jury is not to serve as a trial jury, but to determine whether or not there is enough evidence to proceed with a criminal charge," he started.
But that's where I get confused - if the prosecutor is going to tell them there IS enough for a charge and they go along the prosecutor, then I don't understand the need for a jury!
"While it is an abberation for the grand jury not to side with the prosecutor, there have been recent instances in Louisiana where matters have been presented to a grand jury, and they've either decided not to pursue further action or to come forward with no true bill. In the Merritt Landry case earlier this year, the grand jury went from hearing some of the evidence you'd think would lead to indictment to saying 'we're not going to take any action.' So there is somewhat of a check and balance to the system."
So what are we to understand about the decision not to bring any charges in Ferguson? "McCullough could have gone forward and charged Darren Wilson without using a grand jury at all. Whether he used the grand jury to be transparent, as he professed, or whether it was to help him use the grand jury as buffer for whatever action they may take, it's hard to actually know where the truth lies. But he chose to skip his entire discretionary process and use the grand jury to decide whether to come forward with a charge or not."
"What happened in Ferguson is an abberation on multiple levels... you have the district attorney giving the jurors, over four months, almost 70 witnesses, hours of testimony and reports, a considerable number of documents. The norm is to provide the jurors with a couple of hours or at most a couple of days of summary testimony by a law enforcement officer, and then they decide if there is probable cause or enough evidence to charge. Here, they acted almost as a trial jury rather than a grand jury."
Click the link below to listen to the whole interview, it's fascinating stuff.