Friday, September 28, 2012

Did Netanyahu Prevent Obama From Meeting With Other World Leaders?

Much media attention this week has been focused on the fact that this is the first time in 20 years that an American president has held no one on one meetings with world leaders in town for the UN's General Assembly. Being an election year, Obama had limited time to spend at this year's General Assembly.

 A source, who has been involved in Mideast affairs for years and is close to Obama, Netanyahu and Abbas, told me that Obama was prevented from meeting with other world leaders because of Netanyahu. 

This source said, "Netanyahu would have raised holy hell if Obama met with other world leaders and not him. Abbas would have objected if he met with Netanyahu and not him."

Locked in a close election race and knowing that there was be a possible political downside to meeting with Netanyahu due to the strained relationship between the two leaders, Obama opted not to hold any meetings with world leaders. 

While I am very pro-Israel and believe that it is in America's interest to have a good relationship with Israel, it is not all about us. 

As for Bibi's Wile. E. Coyote bomb graphic, it was brilliant. For the second year in a row, no one has talked about the Palestinian problem at the UN's General Assembly. It may be only a short term victory. President Obama can not be too happy about all the talk about red lines when he is made it explicit that he will not draw one. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Romney Fundraiser Leder's Next Stop: A Wharton Classroom

I have been told that Marc Leder, the host of the infamous Romney 47% fundraiser, is expected to lecture at  the Wharton School this October. I am just hoping that he is not planning to teach how to throw amazing sex parties, no taxes on fund management fees that should be taxed as ordinary income, or sticking the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation with your pension obligations.

The Sixers part owner might catch a preseason game during his Philadelphia visit.

Besides his lifetime gifts of $1, 845,100 to the University of Pennsylvania, the founder of Sun Capital lectures frequently at Wharton. In addition, he serves on the board of the Huntsman Program for International Studies and Business, which is named for the father of former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

With annual tuition now over $39,000, the Leder Family Endowed Scholarships helps defray the cost of an University of Pennsylvania education, preferable for incoming Wharton students. He provides financial support to undergraduates enrolled in the Huntsman program for summer immersion language program. In addition, he has made a sizable donation to the Penn Center for Orphan Disease Research.

Thanks to Ronald Ozio, director of media relations for the University of Pennsylvania, for confirming Leder's donations to the University. 

I will have more on Leder's dealing with the New York Attorney General and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation after Yom Kippur. It did not seem right to discuss them on Atonement day.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Kimmel Center Roof Garden:The New Place to Party

The guests were ready to party: Director of Institutional Communications Rhashidah Perry -Jones, the publisher of Where Magazine Kristina Jenkins, and Dafni Comerota

After a multi-million dollar renovation, the Roof Garden at the Kimmel Center is now open again. It is spectacular. Jose Garces, whose company served as co-sponsor of the evening, has taken over as in-house chef. The talented chef has turned the previously bland menu into a mouth watering delight. Actor Harris Ford, who was part of the Paranoia movie crew that was the first to rent the space, was unfortunately not there.

Words do not do it justice so I will let my pictures of the Roof Garden entice you to see it for yourselves. The video below features a couple dancing to the Latin beat. If I did not have two left feet, I would have danced.

Just before the party began

Nachos Bar: My second favorite bar after the one filled with alcohol.
The food was even tastier than it looks.

We were serenaded as we dined.
One couple could not resist the sexy Latin beat (see below).
I gained 10lbs just looking at this cake. 

The food was to die for.

You can't have a great party without Kimmel Center CEO Ann Ewers and public relations manager Dafni Comerota
Jessica, the pastry chef for all of Garces catering, and Adam, who is the new head chef at the Kimmel Center

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Women's Campaign International Helping Women Here and Abroad

Tonight, I attended a fundraiser for Women's Campaign International (WCI) headed by former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies Mezvinsky (MMM), who just happens to be Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law. WCI was started in 1998 after MMM led the United States delegation to the fourth world conference on women in Beijing, China.  First Lady Hilary Clinton spoke at the Beijing conference.

Women's Campaign International teaches advocacy skills to women and girls in emerging democracies and post-conflict regions. They teach the women how to speak in public, effectively lobby, deal with the media, conduct letter writing and social media campaigns etc.

They also run programs that help women being  economically self- sufficient. They teach budgeting, provide agricultural tools in farming regions, and even provide martial counseling for couples to help the women in the home.

They are operating in 16 Middle Eastern and North African countries, having recently been forced to leave Syria due to the escalating violence. They also run a similar program in West Philadelphia. The organization prepares women for elective office by teaching them leadership skills such as public speaking and budgeting.

They do all of this on a shoestring.

Jeff Gavin, a WCI board member said, "Our program in Liberia, which trained 600 women only cost $25,000."

The programs that WCI seems to be making a difference in Muslims' attitude toward the United States.

"After a day of attacks in Iraq, one of the Iraqis called and said tell the United States that we love them." recalled Margolies Mezvinsky.

In a Kevin Bacon moment, MMM recounted a conversation with a state department official, who was asked if he knew about this small, but wonderful program that WCI was running. I am betting that he did since it is run by his boss's in-law.

For those that do not know Margolies Mezvinsky's history, it is pretty incredible to see her still giving to others after everything that she has been through. Some people in her position would have stopped helping other people.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fundraiser Leder Apologizes to Romney

Marc Leder, who is the owner of the house where the infamous Romney 47% video was filmed, has apologized to the Republican presidential candidate for the lapse in security at the fundraiser. Before Mitt Romney spoke at the fundraiser, guests were reminded that Mitt Romney's comments were off the record. Those present were asked not to repeat his remarks to the press. Leder believes that the video was made by someone who was hired to work the party.

I attended the Wharton School several years before Leder. I confirmed this story with several Wharton alumni as well as Philadelphians involved with the local pro sports teams and major fundraisers for the Romney campaign.

He is in the process of narrowing down the suspects and is contemplating contacting law enforcement. In Florida like Pennsylvania, it is illegal to tape private conversations without the other person's permission. At the very least, we can expect that the filmmaker will be unemployable as a waitstaff in the near future.

Leder, the co-founder of Sun Capital, issued an official statement about the video: “I hosted a fundraiser for an old friend in May. I believe all Americans should have the opportunity to succeed, to improve their lives, and to build even better lives for their children. I have supported people from both political parties who share this view and make it a priority, even though their ideas on how to achieve it may differ.”

Federal election commission reports show that he has donated  to Democrats such as Deborah Wasserman Schulz, Tom Udall, Blanche Lincoln, Ted Deutch, Amy Klobuchar, and Joe Kennedy III. 

In previous conversations, Leder claims not to be a Republican ideologue. He stated that he does not support the social agenda of the Republican Party. He has always stressed that he is supporting Romney because he was the inspiration for Leder starting Sun Capital. Leaving Lehman and starting Sun Capital has been a good financial move for Leder. (Lehman Brothers later declared bankruptcy.)

Sun Capital now manages over $8 billion in capital, raising more than $6 billion for their last fund. Sun Capital buys companies that are financially distressed so it is not surprising that 20% of them have failed.  The Inquirer has noted that his transactions in the Philadelphia area have not done very well. His purchase of Jevic Transportation has resulted in the loss of more than 1000 local jobs. Another local company, Aluminum Shapes, have moved many of their operations to Canada. The Manayunk Paper Mill was reorganized after bankruptcy. 

Leder, who paid his Wharton School tuition with his blackjack winnings, was worth close to $400 million (with more than $100 million liquid) before his recent divorce. His cars included an Aston Martin and Bentley. He is also a part owner of the Sixers basketball team due to his college friendship with lead owner Josh Harris. 

Besides political fundraisers, Leder regularly hosts charity soirees at his Boca Raton mansion including one for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Although his divorcing wife accused him of being a workaholic, the New York Post's reports of a private party that he hosted in Bridgehampton in the summer of 2011 belie that assumption. 

Friends of his vigorously defend him by highlighting that he is a good father to his three children. They suggest   that the reports of debauchery were exaggerated. They admit that there were barely clad pretty women dancing at the party. But they don't understand the blow-back to Marc over the activities of his guests, who are consenting adults. 

As one friend noted, "Marc was not in the pool."

Another friend sympathized with his plight. He said, "His wife cheats on him with the 23 year old tennis pro, so he lets off a little steam. Yet, he is the one that is vilified."

I attended the Wharton School several years before Leder. I confirmed this story with several Wharton alumni as well as Philadelphians involved with the local pro sports teams and major fundraisers for the Romney campaign. I respected their wishes to stay off the record. 

Mother Jones confirmed to The Atlantic on Saturday that the videographer was indeed the bartender.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Fox's Chris Wallace Offers Advice to Romney in Speech

Fox News anchor Chris Wallace spoke at the ASIS International convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center today offering his take on the upcoming presidential election. First, he discussed the subject that was really on everybody's mind. He reassured the mostly male audience that the female Fox News anchors and reporters are as beautiful in person as they look on television.

Then he offered up some humorous election one- liners including a barb at Bain Capital. He compared Clint Eastwood to today's weather -"82 and cloudy".

Wallace joked, "Bin Laden paid off his mortgage but he is still underwater. Romney is so rich that his illegal immigrants have illegal immigrants. Obama owns a 2005 Chrysler, which is registered in Kenya. He is just like the car. It runs well but does not have the power to pass anything. No matter how much they changed the lightning at the convention, Obama could not get out of Clinton's shadow."

Wallace confirmed that Fox News shows that Obama has a small, but real electoral lead, which he attributes to the Democratic convention.

"On August 27, Romney was leading 47% to 46%, said Wallace. "Now Obama is ahead 50% to 44% a difference of 7 points. There is a growing sense that the Democrats had a successful convention. Clinton, who presided over the largest peace time expansion in history, was effective."

Wallace affirmed that Obama has an even bigger lead in the Electoral College.

"My colleague Karl Rove displays maps that show Obama with 225 electoral votes to Romney 191," he said. "In the 9   swing states, Obama has a lead in 8 of them."

Romney's staffers have told Wallace that they believe the election will be a referendum on the economy. Wallace seems to have some doubts that this strategy is going to work.

Despite polls that show 1/3 of Americans believe the country is on the right track and 2/3 believe it is on the wrong track, Obama is still in the lead because they are not they will be better off with Romney," he said. "Obama blames Bush 4 years into his term. A lot of voters believe that."

The recent horrendous jobs report, which had zero effect on the polls, seems to back up his reasoning. Wallace attributes the non-reaction to the fact that the country has been living with bad job numbers for a long time, the public's greater disdain for the Republicans in Congress, and a lack of conviction that Romney cares about them.

After Romney made him pancakes for breakfast one morning, Wallace was convinced that Romney is full of empathy. He lamented that the convention speeches of two Mormons, who have been counseled by Romney in his role as bishop, were not seen by many Americans because they were not in prime time.

"One woman, whose daughter was dying of a fatal illness, told of Romney coming to comfort her and folding the laundry," said Wallace.

He feels that Romney has been "swiftboated" because they have taken his greatest strength-his business success- and turned into a liability. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's accusation that Romney has paid no taxes and the Obama campaign commercials featuring people who were put of of work by Bain Capital, particularly the former employee whose wife died of cancer, have painted Romney as Robin Hood in reverse.

While admitting that Romney has to do "something big" to win the election, Wallace is not ready to concede the election to Obama. Recalling the Carter-Reagan debate, he thinks that there is a chance that Romney could pull a Reagan and turn around the election.

"I moderated a debate during the Republican primary. Romney is pretty good going after one person. He went after Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry during the debates and won," he said.

The news anchor then took the unusual step of urging Romney to get specific on his tax reform proposals by detailing which loopholes he would end.

"Voters fear that he will cut taxes for rich people, but not close any of the loopholes," he said.

While he criticized Romney for speaking out too soon on the death of the American ambassador to Libya, he had no qualms about discussing the matter. He places the blame for the death of Chris Stevens squarely on a failure of security.

Wallace, an eight year veteran of Fox News, only halfheartedly defended the conservative bias of the network.

"People mistakenly believe that the liberal view on gun control, gay marriage, abortion is the conventional wisdom," argued Wallace.

In the final moments of his speech, he surprised the crowd by revealing the interview that made him the most nervous. No, it was not a president, a great religious leader, or a despotic tyrant, but basketball player Michael Jordan. He even practiced before the interview his jump shot. Wallace would have won but Jordan is so competitive that he extended their game of DOG to a game of HORSE in order to win.

Wallace, whose father was Jewish, revealed that Jesus and Hitler are the two people that he would most wanted to have interviewed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Napolitano, ElBaradei,and Pentagon Brass Give a National Security Update

I attended the ASIS convention, which is one of the nation's foremost security conferences. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano gave the keynote address on Monday, the day before the 11th anniversary of 9/11. She pointedly did not try to convinced this crowd, which is very knowledgeable about national security, that the country is safer than it was before 9/11. The only major improvement in national security that she noted was more sharing of information between the federal agencies.

She devoted the majority of her pedestrian speech to talking about the threat of cyber-attacks. She is most concerned about attacks on critical infrastructure such as nuclear facilities, water plants, and natural gas pipelines.

The former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, was grouchy during his 8 am speech.The winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who recently lost the Egyptian presidential election to Mohamed Morsi, started out defending his previous relationship with former Egyptian president Mubarak.

'I tried to persuade Mubarak to make peaceful changes, but he always resisted. Mubarak would respond, with a faint smile on his face, my potential opponents can't be trusted. It did not have to end the way it did," said ElBaradei.

He rebuked the American habit of supporting dictators because the government thinks it will increase stability and further Western interests. The real recipe for security, using its broadest definition, is to raise the standard of living of the poor.

He argued, "Poverty is the real weapon of mass destruction."

He blamed the American appeasement of North Korea's nuclear ambitions for Iran's rapid acceleration of their nuclear program.

"North Korea has demonstrated that they have nuclear capabilities and they are invited to the negotiating table." ElBaradei explained. "Iran wants the same thing. They want to be a regional power."

With the recent war of words between Israel and this administration, I asked the Pentagon brass attending ASIS about Iran.

One colonel, who recently served at Strategic Command, said, "We are not only concerned that Iran will conduct a nuclear attack against Israel, but also worried that Iran will give the nuclear material to state funded terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah."

Monday, September 3, 2012

Will The Constitution Center Survive?

When Ed Rendell was Mayor of Philadelphia and Governor of Pennsylvania, he was an indefatigable cheerleader for the city. The Kimmel Center, National Museum of American Jewish History, and the National Constitution Center owe their existence to his fundraising prowess and his superhero ability to extract money from the federal and state budgets. Rendell's political philosophy seemed to be borrowed from the "Field of Dreams" - "Build it and they will come."

Now that he is out of office, these institutions are floundering. When his final legacy is written, it may be littered with white elephants throughout the city. The Kimmel Center has cut back its programming schedule. Most of their reduced schedule is joint productions with concert promoters. Attendance at the Jewish Museum and the Constitution Center has fallen short of projections. 

The National Constitution Center seems to be in the most danger of shutting its doors. The head of the center, David Eisner, recently resigned his $400,000 job. With no new job lined up, the announcement indicates to me that he is in a rush to leave a sinking Titanic.

Eisner's tenure at the Constitution Center was a failure. A diffident public speaker, he never clearly articulated a vision for the center. Without the exhibit of Bruce Springsteen memorabilia this year, center attendance would have fallen off the cliff.

Like the Princess Diana exhibit before it, the Springsteen exhibit had no real ties to the stated mission of the center, which is to teach visitors about the constitution. The overflowing crowds at the press luncheon for the Springsteen exhibit did not hear a lecture about copyright laws or freedom of speech that would have linked the exhibit to the constitution. Instead a photographer showed his early photographs of Bruce. The best indication that the Constitution Center has lost its way were the covering up of the picture of founding father George Washington by a photograph of Bruce and the enlarged photo of Bruce that overpowered the building's inscription of "We the People".

Similarly, the selection of Muhammad Ali for this year's Liberty Medal while the nation is at war is a slap in the face to all the soldiers that have died defending our constitution. Being the daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors, I revere Ali's fight for religious freedom. I just think that he should be honored when the nation is not at war. When thousands of return soldiers suffering from post- traumatic stress disorder are committing suicide, it is not the right time to honor a draft evader.

While former Defense Secretary Bob Gates honorably served his country, his speech at the Liberty Medal was his regular canned speech. He was ubiquitous on the lecture circuit last year. I heard him give the exact same speech two other times. I had championed the selection of Google executive Wael Ghonim, who was one of the leaders of the Arab Spring in Egypt.

In this bad economy, non- profits can not be choosy about their donors. The Constitution Center may have trouble luring suitable recipients for the Liberty Medal because the lead donor, Ira Lubert, has been accused of fraudulent transferring funds by a bankruptcy trustee.

It is not just the public events that lacked relevance. Although the Constitution Center touts winning State Department funds for participating in the Table to Table program, the superficial agenda for the visiting Latvian students had very few lessons about our constitution. Reading the description of the program provided me with one of my few tea party moments. I was angry that my tax dollars were being wasted on this program.

I attended one of the events at the People for People Charter School in North Philadelphia. Center staffer Sayeh Hormozi could not explain how Latvian teenagers eating lunch at an inner city school was classified as a service project and how it was teaching them about the Constitution. It struck me as racist to think that eating lunch with black children was a service project. As someone who participated as a teenager in archaeological digs at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and picked oranges on a Kibbutz, I am familiar with meaningful service projects.

Although it is one of the main freedoms in the constitution, the center curiously never respected freedom of the press. They limited press access to most of the speakers at the center, including last year's Liberty Medal winner. When former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appeared at the Center, presidential historian Michael Beschloss used the weak excuse that he did not want to ask the same questions as ABC's Diane Sawyer to avoid asking him hardball questions. They regular bar members of the press, including me, that are critical of the center.