Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Big-time speakers to bring blemished pasts to Sprint Center

Posted By on Tue, May 24, 2011 at 6:05 AM

click to enlarge Colin Powell speaks at the Sprint Center on Tuesday.
  • Colin Powell speaks at the Sprint Center on Tuesday.

Get Motivated, the business seminar that takes over the Sprint Center next week, is not being advertised on every billboard in the city -- it only seems that way.

The daylong event doesn't lack star power. Among its dozen-plus speakers are two men who have run for the country's highest office (Rudy Giuliani, Steve Forbes) and a woman who is married to a former president (Laura Bush). Yet a number of the speakers bring imperfect résumés. Corporate executive Howard Putnam, for instance, will speak about the success of Southwest Airlines without having worked at the company for almost 30 years. Four other questionable choices are slated to appear.

click to enlarge Schuller.jpg

There was a time when Robert Schuller was one of the best-known religious leaders in America. That time has passed.



At the peak of his fame, Schuller led services at a glass cathedral in Orange County, California. Millions tuned in to The Hour of Power each Sunday.

Schuller's ministry did not age gracefully, however. There was an embarrassing episode in 1997, when a male flight attendant accused Schuller of being drunk and combative on a flight from Los Angeles to New York. The incident led to a lawsuit and a $1,100 fine from the Federal Aviation Administration. Schuller reached a settlement with the flight attendant, who said the evangelist, after complaining about the snack he was served, shook him.

Schuller retired from the pulpit last July, three months before Crystal Cathedral Ministries sought bankruptcy protection. Since the Chapter 11 filing, the megachurch's creditors have objected to the salaries that Schuller's relatives receive, and members of the church orchestra walked out before an Easter service, complaining that they hadn't been paid.

click to enlarge Powell.jpg

Colin Powell, the retired general and former secretary of state, is an accomplished and admired man. But if his talking points on Tuesday include a lesson on courage, then seminar attendees might want to lose themselves in their smartphones.

Before we get to Powell's participation in the invasion of Iraq, let's consider his performance as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. As a candidate, Clinton had pledged to allow gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. The military establishment mounted a challenge after Clinton won the election, and Powell was part of that effort. As Randy Shilts writes in Conduct Unbecoming, a history of gays in the military:

[Powell's] statements so precisely mirrored what white generals had said in support of racial segregation a half century earlier that some younger military officers believed he was being facetious. He was not.
Powell returned to the White House when George W. Bush became president. A cautious moderate in the company of neocons, Powell allowed the hawks in the administration to use his standing to make the case for regime change by force in Iraq. Six weeks before the 2003 invasion, Powell went to the United Nations and dangled a vial filled with white powder. Powell and his staff had doubts about the danger that Saddam Hussein was said to pose. But as Craig Unger put it in his book The Fall of the House of Bush:
Powell ultimately accommodated the White House to such an extent that he became the most articulate spokesman for the war effort.
And where was Powell when the administration authorized harsh interrogations of terror suspects? Not standing up for what he believed.

Powell opposed the decision to toss aside the Geneva Conventions. Rather than resign in protest or make some other dramatic gesture, however, he settled for venting to one of the least intimidating cabinet members. In her book The Dark Side, journalist Jane Mayer describes how Powell and Condoleezza Rice gave Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a hard time about the infamous torture memo.

And while they directed their frustration at Gonzales, neither had the temerity to confront [Dick] Cheney, who clearly was the true source of these policies.

click to enlarge McChrystal.jpg

Another retired military man, Stanley McChrystal, is set to speak at Tuesday's seminar. The top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, McChrystal lost his command in 2010, after an article in Rolling Stone depicted the general and his staff as contemptuous of their civilian leaders.

McChrystal, though, committed sins far greater than rolling his eyes upon receipt of an e-mail from a diplomat he found annoying. In 2004, he and his subordinates coordinated the effort to suppress information about the death of Pat Tillman, the patriot who walked away from professional football after 9/11 to enlist in the Army.

Tillman was killed by friendly fire in eastern Afghanistan in 2004. McChrystal muffled the investigation long enough for the Bush administration to use Tillman's death as a propaganda tool. In his book about Tillman, Where Men Win Glory, author Jon Krakauer describes how President Bush's staff "went into overdrive" after learning of Tillman's death. The press team was so keen to tell the story of Tillman's sacrifice that it violated a law restricting the public release of information about casualties of war.

The Jessica Lynchification of Tillman's death resulted in a burst of positive publicity for the Army. "Had it been disclosed at the outset that Tillman was killed by friendly fire," Krakauer writes in his book, "the press coverage would have been no less voluminous, but its effect on the nation's mood would have been very different."

click to enlarge Cosby.jpg

Bill Cosby was recognized with the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in 2009. He's a comedy legend. He also has been accused of molesting women.

In 2006, Cosby settled a lawsuit brought by a woman he met through Temple University who claimed that he drugged and fondled her in his home. The woman's lawyers reportedly had 13 (!) witnesses "who came forward voluntarily with strikingly similar claims of drugging and/or abuse by Cosby," according to a devastating account in People magazine.

People interviewed five of the witnesses. One of the women met Cosby in the mid-1980s, shortly after she graduated from college. She claimed that she drank a cappuccino in Cosby's dressing room and later woke up in her car, "my clothes all a mess." The woman told People that she later asked Cosby what had happened. "He said, 'We'll never speak of this again.'"


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