To The Point

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We would like to believe that we’re in charge, but we’re not. ISIS is in the driver’s seat… We don’t know now, sadly, how this is going to play out.
Ret. Gen. Robert Scales on today’s To the Point  

 Listen to the interview with Radley Balko on “To the Point”

Images of protests in Ferguson, MO show police officers dressed like soldiers, in full riot gear facing off with citizens. They wear all camouflage, Kevlar vests and hide their faces under helmets. Tear gas and rubber bullets have been fired. It looks like war, but the standoff is in the Missouri suburb where Michael Brown, an unarmed young black man, was shot and killed by a police officer last Saturday. 

This trend toward militarization in local law enforcement in the United States has been developing over the last 30-35 years, explains Radley Balko, author of “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.” The drug war and the war on terror have exacerbated it and it’s not just militarization in terms of the gear, “but also in the mindset in how police officers view themselves,”  says Balko, speaking on “To the Point”. The St. Louis County police department confirmed to Balko that every warrant is issued by a SWAT team.

“In some ways it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You get confrontation when you go in expecting it,” says Balko. Particularly in the case of Ferguson, where the demonstrations are against the police department. Here they see a “robotic manifestation of everything they’re protesting against,” he says. “When you discourage both sides from seeing one another as human beings, you set the stage for violence.”

The response to demonstrators during the 1999 World Trade Organization protests helped create this template for protest preparation. The WTO protests, which started out peacefully, turned violent when the police decided to fire teargas on demonstrators who were trespassing.  “The police chief at the time, Norm Stamper, says today that it was the biggest mistake of his career,” explains Balko, because “Darth Vader gear” became the norm.  

“Protest is people basically expressing their right to free speech and free assembly, and when the default response is ‘we are expecting violence, we are expecting confrontation,’ that has a chilling effect on free speech,” says Balko.

Of course, there’s also the issue of race. Ferguson, MO is 67 percent black while the police department is overwhelmingly white,  52 out of 55 police officers in the department are white. “When a community doesn’t see itself reflected in its police force, it’s more likely to view the police as an occupying force,” says Balko. “If the police don’t see themselves reflected in the people they serve, they are not likely to consider themselves part of that community, and instead they’re likely to see themselves as enforcers.”   


(Photo: Panorama of the Square)

Next week marks the 25th anniversary of the bloody military crackdown at Tiananmen Square. Will Chinese citizens be marking the occasion or will government censors scrub out any discussion of the events of June 4th?

New Yorker staff writer Evan Osnos lived in China from 2005 to 2013. He told To the Point’s Warren Olney that many Chinese have only a vague understanding of what happened 25 years ago, but it will be discussed around dinner tables.

“Sometimes we imagine that it’s just this blank spot in their understanding, and actually it’s a little more interesting,” Osnos says. “They know there was — as it’s often described in Chinese history — ‘turmoil.’ There was a disturbance and what they’ve been taught in school is: Had those events turned out differently had there not been a crackdown by the military that China’s economic gains would have been impossible.”

Government censors have already started to isolate code words people are using to talk about Tiananmen Square and blocking them, Osnos said. The words “fire” and “troubles” for instance.

This “cat and mouse game” between Internet users and the Central Publicity Department (also called the Central Propaganda Department) is a major part of Osnos’ fascinating new book “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in new China.”

“At one point a couple years ago, I noticed that one of the code words people were using was ‘the truth.’ So all of a sudden you got this very odd message if you tried to search for “the truth.” You got a message that said ‘Information about the truth is currently unavailable.’”

Osnos said that’s just one of many examples where technological growth has outpaced political change. He tries to tell the story of this “warp speed transformation” through the lives of young bloggers, ordinary workers, dissident artists and millionaire entrepreneurs.

One of his subjects is Gong Haiyan, who founded the Chinese version of Osnos visited her palatial home after she earned $77 million by taking her company public.   

But even her online dating clients tell the story of “New China,” Osnos said. You just have to look at the very specific demands they can make about the height, romantic history and salary prospects of their potential dates.

“After all this time in which you couldn’t demand anything in China — you didn’t deserve to demand anything as an individual — all of a sudden you can be incredibly demanding. And if you think about what that does to a country, to a society, and ultimately to a government that’s a transformative effect.”

- Evan George, producer “To the Point”

It is a question of what else are you going to do? The choice is this or nothing and if you chose nothing, Americans sometimes die.
Former White House security aid Richard Clarke on the use of DRONES on today’s “To the Point”
Look, Democrats are not joined at the hip. We all represent different states, different values, different economies, and we don’t march in lockstep. And they’re gonna fight for their position, I’m gonna fight for mine, and that’s fine. I just think it shows their independence. They’re terrific and we don’t agree on this issue but we agree on others. You can’t make politics the reason why you approve this pipeline because so many miseries follow this pipeline from the excavation to the transportation.
Senator Barbara Boxer on the Keystone XL pipeline. More on today’s To the Point. 
(Photo Credit: Perdelsky/Wikimedia Commons)
More children than ever before are trying to cross the US-Mexico border, to escape violence back home, especially in Central America.

While the number of illegal bordering crossings is at a 40-year low, there has been a dramatic surge in the number of children being stopped by Border Patrol along the US Mexico border.

In fact, government officials estimate that in fiscal year 2014, which ends in Setpember, at least 60,000 children will be apprehended as they try to enter the country illegally. That’s 10 times the number of children stopped only three years ago.

Most of the children are from the Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Most are fleeing the increasing gang violence and poverty that is plaguing their communities. Most are trying to reunite with a parent or a family member in the US.

Sonia Nazario is familiar with these stories. Her 2006 book, “Enrique’s Story,” which was based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning series Nazario wrote for the Los Angeles Times, was recently updated. It tells the story of Enrique, a Honduran boy who makes the dangerous trek alone to reunite with his mother in the US. “Many of these kids have no money to take this journey, so they do it the only way they can, which is gripping for dear life to the tops and sides of these freight trains travelling up the length of Mexico,” Nazario says. 

Nazario says jumping on and off those box cars isn’t the only dangerous part of these sorts of journeys. The Mexican drug cartels often control the tops of these trains, where the children ride. “They’re kidnapping 18,000 Central Americans every year, making their way north through Mexico and they prefer children,” Nozario explains. “These kids are carrying the number of a relative in the US and they can extort these relatives for money, for $3000 to $5000. And if you don’t pay, they’ll kill the children.”

Nazario says the trauma doesn’t stop there for many of the children — the ones who get caught. Once stopped by Border Patrol, the children areed in a detention center and, ultimately, must stand before an immigration judge.

Nazario recalls seeing a 3-year-old, clutching a teddy bear, standing before a judge without even a lawyer at the toddler’s side. Nazario is on the board of Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), a non-profit organization that has created a network of more 6000 lawyers who represent these children pro-bono.

KIND President Wendy Young says something must be done policy wise that recognizes these children as “Children first. Immigrants second”


Warren Olney’s “To The Point” has provided extensive coverage of the escalating conflict in Syria, asking back in March, 2011, how the country might be affected by changes in the Middle East and keeping a close watch on the often tragic changes that did follow.

President Obama has asked the Congress to approve a plan to  intervene directly in Syria, most likely with cruise missile strikes in retaliation for chemical weapons attacks against Syrian rebels.

Below, we’ve compiled an archive of key shows to provide a grounding in how the battle for Syria evolved and why it threatens to spill over into a greater war for control in the Middle East.

September 12, 2013: Sizing Up Syria’s Chemical Weapons Proposal

In Geneva, the US says it will test the seriousness of Russia’s plan to put Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control. In the meantime, we look at how difficult that task will be — even if Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad can be trusted to mean what they say. In the meantime, is the US arming Syrian rebels?

September 11, 2013: President Obama Wants to Give Peace a Chance

September 9, 2013: Congress Faces Big Issues: Syria, Debt Ceiling, Immigration

September 4, 2013: Strike on Syria may be about more than chemical weapons


"The reason that AIPAC and Israel both want the United States to stick to the red line and go to war in Syria is because they are afraid if the United States doesn’t, it’ll be impossible to get the US to got to war with Iran or to allow Israel to attack Iran over its nuclear developments."

— MJ Rosenberg,  Huffington Post blogger and Special Correspondent for The Washington Spectator. Former senior staff member at AIPAC (now a critic of the organization)


September 3, 2013: Congress Takes Up Strikes on Syria


"For me the problem is this is unpredictable, even if we had a limited narrow scope and duration of this military strike, how do we know what’s going to happen after we shoot across the bow. This is really just to send a message, this is just so we can keep our credibility and our reputation and that’s not a good enough reason for me or my constituents on possibly dragging us into a civil war which has nothing to do with us. I’m still concerned with the retaliation after we strike and what does that mean long-term for our security." —Janice Hahn, Democratic Congresswoman for the 44th District in California.

August 30, 2013: Obama Administration Lays Groundwork for Action in Syria

August 29, 2013: Is Punitive Action against Syria Justified? Is It Legal?


"Once you’ve started down a military road there is pressure to continue if your initial steps are not effective and I’m very concerned that they would not be effective… The other thing we have to understand is the laws of unintended consequences. If we launch a limited strike, we don’t know what the other parties will do. We don’t know what Assad will do, we don’t know what Iran will do, we don’t’ know what Hezbollah will do, we don’t know what the opposition will do." —Ryan Crocker, Former Ambassador to Iraq, currently the Dean at the George Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University

August 27, 2013: Will Military Strike on Syria Be Too Little, Too Late

August 23, 2013: Chemical Weapons, ‘Red Lines’ and US Involvement in Syria

July 17, 2013: Behind the News from Syria

June 17, 2013: Is Syria’s Civil War Going Global?

May 6, 2013: Israel Strikes Syria, Will the US Be Next?

April 24, 2013: Does Obama Have to Act in Syria?

March 28, 2013: Syria on the Sunni-Shia Fault Line 

December 4, 2012: Syrian Political Landscape Shifts As Crisis Intensifies


"The immediate crisis we have in front of us is the Assad regimes demise and how that happens… there’s been so much blood letting and so much of the regime beyond Assad is involved in the brutal suppression of its people that the political settlement now is very difficult, and the softer landing we were hoping for is unlikely… There is not going to be one coherent opposition body with which anyone can negotiate. And I think that’s going to add to the challenge of governing Syria, of rebuilding, of elections, of all of these state-building issues and I think that the US, for very good reason, doesn’t want to get involved in. But if you don’t get involved in this situation in some way shape or form, your ability to shape the outcome becomes less and less, and I think we all share with our allies the short term goal of bringing Assad’s reign to an end. — Andrew Tabler, Senior Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Author of “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle With Assad’s Syria

August 9, 2012: The Syrian War and Secret U.S. Support
July 20, 2012: Conflict Intensifies in Syria
On the Assads: “They hadn’t reformed in decades.The system they were presiding over was so unbelievably corrupt, it couldn’t reform. The thing that sent me running out of the charity was being offered a bag of money, when I didn’t even know why I was being offered a bag of money. The system was so rotten… I think for [President Assad], it’s a life or death struggle. We have to draw a line somewhere, because I think that he is ruthless … I think it would be very difficult for President Obama to stand by in the face of a huge massacre or the use of [chemical weapons]. I know the administration is very concerned about that, and rightfully so.” —Andrew Tabler, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of “In the Lion’s Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington’s Battle with Assad’s Syria
May 30, 2012: The Syrian Government and the Massacre at Houla

February 15, 2012: Is It Time to Intervene in Syria?


"There’s more and more cases of people fleeing illegally. Of course it depends on the place, but we’re talking about cities where people basically feel surrounded. There are troops and armored vehicles circling their neighborhoods, or sometimes the whole town depending on how much of it they feel is opposition held…. In the case of a place like Homs, a city of one million, and is considered the heart of the uprising, they are focusing on certain neighborhoods, usually poorer neighborhoods that have a large Sunni population, which is the majority religious population in the country and has been the biggest supporter of the uprising… people say  it’s so hard to get in and out that they are struggling to get food, so they are relying on whatever they’ve saved up at home and they’re talking about smuggling things like bread and water as being  as difficult as smuggling as weapons. They have to go at night and can only bring in what they can carry." —Erika Solomon, Correspondent for Reuters based in Beirut

January 5, 2012: Syria’s Crackdown Continues 

December 4, 2012: Syrian Political Landscape Shifts As Crisis Intensifies
March 31, 2011: Will Syria Be Swept Up by the Winds of Change?
Where was this heart-felt passion for the suffering of the Syrian people? Where was Britain and the United States and other powers when 100,000 people, mostly women, children, and civilians, were dying?
Marwan Bishara, Senior political analyst for Al Jazeera and the editor and host of “Empire”, which looks at changes going on in the Arab world speaking on today’s To the Point