Dr. Lesch was one of our earliest and most popular guests. We could not cover it all in one hour so he rejoined us for some additional discussions of what he has been working on lately. This includes local elections, hostage negotiations and upcoming publications.
Justin Hill: Hello, and bienvenido, San Antonio. Welcome to The Alamo Hour, discussing the people, places and passion that make our city. My name is Justin Hill, a local attorney, a proud San Antonian, and keeper of chickens and bees. On The Alamo Hour, you’ll get to hear from the people that makes San Antonio great, and unique, and the best kept secret in Texas. We’re glad that you’re here.
Justin: All right, welcome to The Alamo Hour. Today’s guest is our first repeat guest. You may remember he had a giggle fit last time, and said that he met Bashar al-Assad on a dating website. Dr. David Lesch from Trinity University. Thank you for being here.
Dr. David Lesch: I can’t talk about that. [laughs]
Justin: Before this, I said I was going to ask him things, because lately in our friendship, he has become very self-important in telling us things he can and cannot discuss in public settings.
David: I can’t talk about that either.
Justin: Yes, I know.
David: I’m going to be a great guest, I can’t talk about anything. Why the hell you got me on here? [crosstalk]
Justin: Most of this could just me being like, “Hey, tell me about,” insert a thing or a person, and then having you turn red as you laugh and say you can’t talk about it.
Justin: Like our previous conversation about your telephone, I could ask you about that, and you also would have to say, “I can’t talk about that.” [crosstalk]
David: Well, they’re listening on the telephone right now. [crosstalk]
Justin: I think they are.
David: Probably are. Whoever they are. [crosstalk]
Justin: Probably going to advertise– [crosstalk] I don’t know.
David: Here, I am talking about it, so you already got me to–
Justin: On most of my episodes, I normally go through like a top 10 list and what are you into and what do you like. I generally know that about you, but what have you been up to during the shutdown?
David: Writing my next book.
Justin: Yes, what’s the title? [laughs] It’s not ambitious at all. What was it?
David: It’s the history of the Middle East from the Prophet Muhammad to the present.
Justin: 78,000 pages long.
David: I’m through five pages, man. At this rate, in the 23rd century, I will be done.
Justin: I asked you how you broke down what to include and what not to include, and you use the word triage. [crosstalk]
David: It’s a historical triage. Absolutely, I’ve done that before. You just can’t go over every little thing, or else it would be 78,000 pages. This will be about 350-400 pages. Oxford University Press will be putting it out.
Justin: It’ll be $250.
David: Only for you. Only the hard back copy. [crosstalk]
Justin: You had one book that was approachable and at normal price. [crosstalk]
David: That’s only if I don’t autograph it. If I autograph it, it’s down to $2 or $3.
Justin: I paid $7.80 for your Syria book on Amazon. Does that make you feel bad?
David: [crosstalk] Oh, used? The thing is, you got it used. [crosstalk] It was only out for like a month. It’s like, “Okay, who read it and sent it back?” or, “Who didn’t read it and just sent it back?”
Justin: What a jerk friend, “I’ll buy your book.” [crosstalk]
David: Yes, exactly. I was like, “Geez, maybe I can make some money off of this,” [laughs] because it’s like $15.
Justin: Is that the only book you’re working on now?
David: I think one at a time is enough, thank you very much.
Justin: No, I think you said you were working on more than one.
David: Sometimes I am, but this time no. This is focusing on that. I’ve got a lot of writing done since I’m at home more often than not, not traveling as much, obviously. I’m halfway through. It should be published in 2022. I’ll finish the manuscript first draft by the summer. It is for the interest of general public. I’m trying to write it at that level, which is why there’s a historical triage, which is why I’m not going into the details of this, and the other thing that would bore people and put them to sleep like my other books, [laughs] this actually will be interesting.
Justin: Between your upcoming book and Tom Friedman’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, which one do you think will be better?
David: Oh, god. Are you kidding me? [crosstalk] No. I like Tom, he’s a good guy.
Justin: He wrote one really good book.
David: It’s a good book, and I read it, and it’s not bad. It’s based on a first person experiences.
Justin: That was my first book to read about the Middle East, and it got me interested.
David: This is why you’re so tendentious and skewed and prejudice and– [crosstalk]
Justin: This was in the freshman year of college.
David: Yes. That’s the only book, in fact, you read in college, I heard.
Justin: No. I read quite a few in college.
David: Law books, but nothing else [laughs] .
Justin: No. In law school, I read law books. What kind of jerk would say something [crosstalk]
David: That’s the thing, I have not read a novel since college.
David: No. Nothing, because I read for fun books about World War I, or the Civil War, or some other country, just because I like to accumulate knowledge and learn about these other things. Actually, I’ve read some historical novels that I have assigned for my class, just so they have something other than read and dry academic material, like [crosstalk] books.
Justin: You’ve been writing a book. You keep quite the social calendar that I have learned to know. Where have you been your haunts? It used to be J-Prime, but you have a new haunt.
David: I’m not quite the social calendar. [crosstalk]
Justin: Oh, god, I went to one of them. I thought it was going to be me, you, and Tim, cutting up and having a good time. Instead, it’s you holding court with 14 people.
David: [unintelligible 00:04:37] we had the whole restaurant, we were socially distanced. [crosstalk]
Justin: It’s just not than fun. You can’t get your butt going with a group of 14.
David: No, because I can’t rely on you and Tim’s actually showing up.
Justin: When we say we’re going to be there. [crosstalk]
David: No. You are so unreliable.
Justin: Hold on.
David: You are so unreliable.
Justin: Tim, maybe.
David: Yes, but he was driving. [crosstalk]
Justin: If I say I’m going to be there, I’m there.
David: I invite all these other people in case you guys don’t come, but you guys actually came. [crosstalk]
Justin: I mean, I just usually tell you no.
David: It was a good time. [crosstalk] You just kept moving around away from people [laughs] .
Justin: Oh, god. I felt like they weren’t being safe. [crosstalk]
David: Only half of us got COVID, only half of us. I think that’s a successful social outing.
Justin: I appreciate you’re already making COVID jokes.
David: It’s terrible, I know.
Justin: Okay. Where have you been going? What’s the name of that spot?
Justin: No, the other one.
David: No? The other one, Frida’s.
Justin: Okay, that’s right.
Dr. Davis: Frida’s. A Mexican restaurant bar, it’s in Stone Oak as well. A good friend, Fernando Davila, opened it up.
Justin: I thought it was Davil.
David: One or the other.
Justin: I don’t think there’s an A at the end.
David: Okay. I guess he’s not such a good friend because I don’t remember his last name.
David: Fernando is a great guy, incredible musician. [crosstalk]
Justin: We’re recording this at 2:00 PM, sober. I just want to be clear about this. [crosstalk]
David: Well, not quite, not for me. Justin Hila [laughs] who is a very good friend of mine is interviewing me right now.
Justin: Anywhere else you’ve been going? Any other spots, new spots out?
David: I went to Perry’s, took my son out for his birthday on January 22nd because he likes that. Just about every places I go, they’re doing a good job in socially distancing. Now, with this new variant out, I’m going to be I think a little bit more careful [crosstalk] .
Justin: Which variants are you the most scared of? South Africa, South America, or Britain?
David: Can I get back to you on that? [crosstalk] I haven’t studied the South African one.
Justin: I think I’m a little scared of the South America. [crosstalk]
David: South America, just because–
Justin: I think. Did you read about what happened in Manaus? Is that how you say it?
Justin: In Brazil.
David: What happened?
Justin: Is that how you say it? Manaus? Manauss?
David: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Justin: There was a city in Brazil that had been completely wiped out by– [crosstalk]
David: It is Brazil, it’s Bolasario, or wherever the hell his name. He’s worse than Trump in terms of that. [crosstalk]
David: Yes, whatever, who is not taking it seriously, and so forth.
Justin: I know, but they had an outbreak. [crosstalk]
David: Not taking it seriously, and cutting down the Amazon rainforest. That’s two strikes against them
Justin: I’m trying to give you some information about international affairs, and you just won’t accept that I know something you don’t know.
David: You don’t even know the name of the town.
David: Manaus, what? Is that a city? [laughs]
Justin: All I think about is Muppets, Manaus, Manaus. All right, you’ve been writing a book. Same haunts, you really haven’t branched out, unfortunately. Nothing to add there.
David: It’s places I know, places I trust that I can go, that they take– [crosstalk]
Justin: Did you just go to Pakistan?
David: No, but I may.
Justin: You were planning on it not long ago. Have you done any international travel as part of your job?
Justin: I guess you can’t do diplomacy and stuff like that by Zoom. [crosstalk]
David: Or via Zoom, right. [laughs] I can’t talk about that either. Well, we’re really getting far, aren’t we?
David: No, you can’t do that stuff. At first, I didn’t miss it because I was doing so much, and it was like, “Oh, man. I can just sit back and enjoy,” but now I miss it. I want to get on a plane and go to Europe. I want to get on a plane and go to Middle East. Hopefully, this thing develops as it has been developing, and I’ll go to Islamabad in Pakistan soon. I know you’ve been there. [crosstalk]
Justin: You might be the only person that’s sitting around right now, pining for the days to go to Islamabad.
David: I’m not pining for Islamabad. I’m pining to get on a plane and go internationally. This is all that’s offered me, well okay, fine.
Justin: All right.
David: I’m signing up for it.
Justin: All I thought of was– [crosstalk]
David: I heard Islamabad is a beautiful city.
Justin: Sure, there are parts of it.
David: I won’t be going around– My contact there said that Pakistan takes the COVID-19 situation about seriously as Texas. I said, “Okay [laughs] I guess I’m going to get it there when I go there.” As he said, look, the Pakistanis, they’re taking certain precautions, but life goes on. They’ve been through these wars. They’ve been through Al Qaeda being in the midst Osama Bin Laden being there, and all the stuff with India. This is nothing. He said, “What are you Texans worried about?” I said, “Well, there is the Alamo.” [laughs] Come on.
Justin: [crosstalk] This is self-inflicted wounds. I wanted to talk to you about a few other things because last time we ran out of time. You sent me an article. It’s funny, you like to send me articles like, “Talk to me about this thing that makes me sound awesome.” We might talk about that.
David: Why would I send you something that makes me sound like an idiot?
Justin: Well, I mean, I want to talk to you about some things that had not come to [crosstalk] fruition yet, but that you have been–
David: I still need to convince you I’m awesome. You’re not entirely convinced. I keep trying.
Justin: Well, because I know you.
David: Even making up these articles and stories.
Justin: Let’s talk about Austin Tice. I found that to be an interesting story. There’s an article that you partly wrote about that situation over there. Why are you looking at me like that? This is public information. This is an interesting story.
David: It’s a heart rendering story.
Justin: There’s a Texas connection to this, right?
David: Yes. He and his family are from Houston. Austin was a contract photojournalist at the time with the Washington Post. In August 2012, he went into Syria, and he was taken captive. I’ve been working with his parents closely since that time to do whatever I can to help with my contacts in Syria. For those of you listening don’t know, I’m a specialist on Syria, and I’ve been to Syria quite a bit. As Justin referred to in the beginning, I got to know the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, not over eharmony, but through– [crosstalk]
Justin: That’s what you said.
David: It is what I said, yes. Just through contacts and so forth. Whatever I can do to help in terms of advice and whatever. I just feel for them so much. We have every indication that Austin is still alive. There have been a million different reports on who is holding him. We’re just trying to do our best to work with various groups, including the Syrian government, to try to find him and bring him home.
Justin: Young, good-looking kid, he grew up in Texas.
David: Yes. Former Marine, which may have been a problem in his getting taken because probably someone went on his Facebook page or something, and there’s information. [crosstalk]
Justin: He was maybe at Georgetown Law School at one point before he decided to go become-
David: Yes, photojournalist. Freelance. [crosstalk]
Justin: -like a photojournalist in warzones and stuff.
David: He has that adrenaline. Just the photojournalist would do that. This is how they make- they want that great photo, they want that great interview. [crosstalk]
Justin: He disappeared over there in what? 2013?
David: It’s August 2012.
Justin: Oh, wow. Best I could tell doing a little research before he came on, last time somebody confirmed he was alive was 2018 publicly, and then just information sporadic.
David: Yes, there’s been little information. There’s some intelligence that suggests that the group holding him took him to a hospital in Beirut in order to receive some treatment. I don’t know exactly, it was within the last three years, probably, three or four years. That’s good news in two ways. One, evidence is proof of life. Second, that the group that is holding him is interested in keeping him alive.
Certain groups with whom the Obama, and then Trump administration, and probably now the Biden administration, along with the parents have been dealing with are negotiating as if he’s alive.
Justin: From just a 30,000 foot perspective, how do you even start approaching a situation like that? Not in this particular situation, but if somebody reached out, you had connections, do you go through the State Department? Do you reach out to your own connections? What’s the– God forbid somebody is in that situation, but if they are, and they were able to reach out, it’s just fascinating that these aren’t public channels. It’s a multi-faceted approach.
David: You contact the State Department pretty much, and then they rope in the NSC. It really depends on the administration in power, are they putting an emphasis on trying to get hostages back worldwide, not just in the Middle East or in Syria. There is a special envoy for hostage affairs that was created, I believe during the late Obama, maybe early Trump administration, which is a White House position that can have daily access to the President.
Then there’s what’s called a Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell. These are the groups with whom I’ve been interacting, as well as the Tice’s family, and even much more so than me over the years. This Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell is a conglomeration of many different departments and agencies. NSA, NSC, State Department, Defense Department, intelligence agency, so forth. These are the guys, they not only engage in negotiation with groups in the front lines, but also hostage rescue.
Those are serious, folks. If there’s an opportunity to do that. There hasn’t been, because we just don’t know the exact location, and we think there’s a diplomatic or negotiated path perhaps to getting him back.
Justin: Your experience is Middle East, obviously, and particularly probably more Syria than anywhere. What would be the upside for a country like that to hold on to someone like this who really doesn’t have any sort of– ?
David: It depends on what type of emphasis the United States government puts on getting hostages back, and this is the conundrum. This is the catch-22. The Trump administration, as you know, has made a big deal about getting hostages back. It’s become a personal issue for Donald Trump. He’s actually done a fairly good job at that. A number of hostages have returned from Afghanistan from Iran from Korea, et cetera.
Justin: Do you think it’s philosophical or a photo op?
David: With him?
David: Everything’s photo op.
Justin: Kind of, right?
David: Yes. As parents of Austin Tice or any of these other hostages, what do they care? The catch is, though, one, you need that energy at the top to get the whole bureaucracy to focus on this. On the other hand, the other country sees, “Oh, the President is focusing on this, so our asking price has gone way up.”Justin: Does it encourage them to kidnap more?
David: It could. Yes, it could. That’s one of the things I’ve been talking about. We want the president involved, but not too much. Where do you calibrate it and find that, because especially in the Trump administration, only he could really generate the type of bureaucratic momentum at all levels. In fact, the Tice family and I actually engineered a situation that compelled Trump to do something, and he did it, and everybody got in line.
Justin: Was there a tweet involved?
David: No. [chuckles]
Justin: I kind of joke, but seriously.
David: He did, yes. After, but he actually gave a press conference where he asked the Syrian government to affect- or help in the return of [crosstalk]
Justin: Is there a belief that the Syrian government has direct access, or just that they could pressure if needed?
David: There’s a belief that they can be very helpful in affecting his return.
Justin: Has there been any demands for Austin Tice?
David: Yes. There has been negotiations and there’s been some demands, like we can help you if this, this and this.
Justin: Is it always like that in those types of situations- [crosstalk]
David: I think so.
Justin: -that you’ve been in, or is it sometimes just a radical group who wants to make– [crosstalk] ?
David: It can be individual groups. It can be individual groups. A lot of these individual groups are one-offs from the government to give plausible deniability to the government, yet the government can still reap the benefits of a return on this. [crosstalk]
Justin: All those beheadings you saw in the Middle East for so long of Americans [crosstalk]
David: They weren’t hostages, they just did it for a show. For props and show and to put their names in the spotlight.
Justin: Is Austin Tice the most high profile hostage being held in Syria right now?
David: Yes. In fact, Time magazine every so often they put out this list of, in essence, the highest profile hostages, or the ones that need attention.
Justin: I think I read that.
David: Number one is Austin Tice. For most of the time, sometimes it varies. He’s been there, if not the longest, pretty close to the longest of any hostage anywhere, US hostage anywhere in the world.
Justin: Is there any continuity among administrations on issues like that? Those should not be political types of issues, but are they, in essence, still politically driven at the end of the day?
David: They’re political, but there’s also– You talked earlier about philosophical differences on foreign policy, whereas the Trump administration might be open. This was one of the things that was actually could be good about the Trump administration is that he was so erratic and unpredictable, that he opened space for possible negotiation because he was not constrained by any paradigms or foreign policy that are known to conventional foreign policy ideas.
That did open space in Korea, and in Syria, and Iran, and Afghanistan and so forth. The Biden administration coming in right now has, I think, will develop a more conventional foreign policy towards Syria, which may or may not mean less contact. If it means less contact and less willingness to negotiate with a government that certain elements in the Biden administration see as illegitimate and should be removed, then it’s going to be tough.
If they see the government as we don’t like it, but it’s there, it won the war, Civil War, we have to deal with it, then maybe that will open some space for stuff like Austin Tice.
Justin: Are there multiple governments in Syria right now?
David: No, just the one. In Idlib in the northwest, you have various opposition groups still holding in control of most of that province with Turkish backing. That’s not going to last all that much longer. You have the courage [crosstalk]
Justin: We recognize Assad’s government.
David: No, we don’t. No, no.
Justin: Has that been the forever policy?
David: No, it’s just been since the beginning of the Civil War.
Justin: Who do we recognize as the legitimate government in Syria?
David: There’s this umbrella group, Syrian National Coalition, that’s actually made up of mostly exiles. They actually have a seat in the Arab League. Syria still has a seat at the United Nations, but we do not. We withdrew our ambassador, obviously, and they withdrew theirs from United States. It’s nothing we can’t go back on and we can–
Justin: Diplomatic posturing.
David: Yes, it is. I’m of the belief you just don’t do that. You engage in diplomacy, not with your friends, you engage in diplomacy with your enemies. You engage in peace talks, not with your friends, because you’re already at peace. You engage in peace talks with your enemies. I always think there should be a line of communication open, and we cut that off. There’s people make the opposite view that you have to make a stand, you have to– US is the global superpower, so that sends a strong message and so forth, but I think we missed out a lot during the Civil War when there were perhaps early on opportunities to resolve it much more peacefully and quickly than what happened.
Justin: For people that maybe don’t know, you had a long-running relationship with Assad. You wrote a book about him, you got a bunch of in-person meetings with him. One of the things you sent me was this Abraham Path Initiative. Did I get that right?
Justin: It was an article written about which, to me, it reminded me sort of ping pong diplomacy in that this idea of a pilgrimage path, a hiking trail, essentially, if you will, through Syria was an angle at improving relations between the West.
David: It was not the intent of the founders. It was founded by William Ury from Harvard University and a guy I worked with quite a bit on a number of different things, not just this. It’s a very ambitious touristic walking trail. A lot like the Camino de Santiago in Portugal and Spain.
Justin: I can remember the name. I wrote Spain there.
David: It can take a long time to put into place. It’s a walking trail through to increase intercultural understanding, as well as bring touristic economic– [crosstalk]
Justin: Syria was a holdout in this idea.
David: Syria, again, it roughly retraces the purported, itinerant walkings of the Prophet Abraham, or Ibrahim in Arabic, Abraham in Hebrew. Who is, of course, a patriarch to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. He’s meant as someone to bring different cultures and peoples together through this walking trail, as well as bringing economic revenue through tourism to these countries.
The idea started in early 2000s and they mapped out a walking trail in Turkey, in Jordan, in Palestine, and Israel, where it’s up and running to this day. You want it connected, you want to continue this walking trail. The biggest or the longest section of this trail is Syria. There’s a big gap, obviously, between Turkey and Jordan, and it’s Syria. We always knew that was going to be the hardest nut to crack. When I say we, the founders- I wasn’t with this in the beginning, they came to me, because they knew my relationship with Assad and my visits in Syria, networking and writings on Syria.
They came to me around 2007 because they had tried once and didn’t get anywhere. I brought it to Assad, who loved the idea. He really loved the idea, and said, “Before I can give public support,” and that’s the one thing we needed to get, I tried so hard to get it. You know from reading that how hard I tried, and we never got it. He almost gave it because if he gave his imprimatur, saying, “I am for this, let’s go with it,” everybody would have gotten in line.
The religious officials, the security officials, the Mukhabarat intelligence, military, business community, all would have gotten in line. We did numerous trips between 2007 and 2009 to try to develop this core of religious and business support, and we did to a large degree. There were groups in Syria, some religious folks, because of what I call the minaret wars in the article. These are religious centers, Islamic centers, that wanted to be in the middle of this, and not some others.
There was competition. One Islamic center leaked some information to the state of newspaper that accused our initiative as being a Zionist plot, Israeli-US plot to undermine. That’s all you need to do.
Justin: Fake news over there. [crosstalk] Just use it for everything.
David: That’s all those groups, and I’m just going to say those groups for now, who were against this from the beginning, who didn’t particularly like my relationship with Bashar al-Assad either, because they thought I had some undue influence over him. That mobilized them to really move against us, and boy, did they move against us.
Justin: They just have nothing better to do? It’s a hiking trail.
David: I know, but it’s their whole conceptual paradigm. It’s totally different. They see the world as threatening. They see– [crosstalk]
Justin: Zero-sum game.
David: Yes. They really do. I knew this would be something that’d be hard to overcome is like this group of Americans from Harvard. We’re going over there, and they’re saying you’re going to tell us about the Prophet Ibrahim, you’re going to tell us about the Prophet Ibrahim? That’s so conceited. So typically Western. We had to fight all that. That’s why we wanted to include as many locals as possible and get them on board and put them out front locally, but because one of the biggest problems is that Israel was involved.
Justin: That was the best part of the article I thought was the discussion of how Assadand stuff got brought up, but then you were able to bring up that the Palestinians had actually supported it going through the Golan–[crosstalk]
David: In fact, one of my first visits over there, and I met with the leading sheikh, Sunni Sufi sheikh in Damascus, one of the most powerful in the country. He brought a bunch of his religious officials, imams with him, and we had this big dinner. He asked me to lead the prayers. I couldn’t think of anything, so I just did the Beatitudes, my Catholic upbringing. They were like, wow, that’s pretty good. I was thinking, “Well, it’s not mine originally.” It belonged to someone else.
It went very well. After our dinner and the prayers and everything, we retired, and we had this intense debate. I’ve been in these intense debates over every a slew of different issues in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. Ultimately, if you’re talking to an American, it comes down to Israel and Palestinians. They’re saying, until we get the Golan Heights back, which Israel took in the ’67 Arab-Israeli war, there can be no justice. Until the Palestinians have a state and Israeli stop oppressing them, we cannot enter into this. I listened to this.
There was about 12, 14 of them, they all had their point of view. I was like, “Okay. You make a good point and all that. Oh, by the way, this is a brochure. It’s from the Palestinian territories. They’re already engaged in the Abraham Path Initiative. They have people walking. So I ask you, if they’re already engaged in this, why can’t you?” I had that in my back pocket just for this moment, and they all said, “Oh, well,” and then they all got on board. Unfortunately, it wasn’t some of the groups that we really needed on board.
Justin: Would it be that much of an economic benefit for Syria or any area?
David: It can be. It’s not a slew of five-star hotels along the coast or something like that. [crosstalk]
Justin: Neither is the Camino.
David: Yes, exactly. Particularly of interest to Syria, and Bashar al-Assad himself, is improving the image of the country in the West, internationally. This would do so, but there’s always that tension about being isolated and enclosed so that you can’t be infected by these pernicious plots that are constantly coming in from the outside. That’s how they see the world, versus, oh, this might be really cool.
This might help us economically, help with our image, which really needs help in the West after being on the other side of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the other side from the western perspective, the superpower Cold War. There’s always that tension in Syria.
Justin: The Lebanese Prime Minister being assassinated some time.
David: Yes, which many people think that Syria is behind. It hasn’t been proven, and Hezbollah has been charged. Hezbollah, of course, is very close to Syria. In fact, I was with Assad soon after the assassination. I looked in his eye and I said, “Did you do it? Did you order it?” He looked me straight in the eye and said, “Yes.” No. I’m just teasing. [laughs] Dude, of course, no. I’m teasing. Everyone hearing this, no, no. No, I’m teasing.
Justin: You sound like Trump right now. I asked Putin, [crosstalk] and he said, “It wasn’t him. Why would he lie?”
David: We saw each other, we felt each other. No. He said, “No, I did not.” You know all those psychological tricks, if you look away, or something, he didn’t look away and all that. I surmise that some groups within Syria thought they were protecting the president and protecting- so I have some very interesting ideas which I cannot talk about, sorry.
Justin: There has to be some amount of Assad just basically hanging on and allowing certain groups to operate somewhere [crosstalk] .
David: Yes, there’s always. He’s talked about giving them too much leeway. In fact, I don’t know if I talked about it last time. One time I went over there, it was in the midst of this Abraham Path Initiative stuff where- whenever I arrived to see him, cars pick me up at the airport, and they took me to a VIP thing. I got VIP treatment the whole way. This one time, there were no cars to pick me up. No one meeting me, so I went through customs, and I said, “Okay, fine. Maybe they got the wrong schedule or something.”
Justin: Hey, guys, I’m David Lesch. Come on, guys. [crosstalk]
David: Yes, seriously? Come on. I have a meeting with your president.
Justin: You told us where you got locked in the room.
David: Yes, the reason why I got locked in the room. Did I tell you this last time? Anyway, it was not a good experience. They were interrogating me. They did the Russian Roulette thing with a pistol in front of me and all that sort of stuff. That’s the left hand of intelligence sometimes doesn’t know what the right hand of the presidency is doing, and vice versa. When I saw Assad the next morning, and that’s how I got out, I finally said, “Call the fricking Office of the President, and you’ll find out actually I have a meeting with your boss.”
I think as I said last time, it was almost worth the entire three hours of interrogation to see the colonel who was interrogating me, just turning so pale, saying, “Oh my god, my career is over.” Anyway, I saw Assad the next morning. He said, “How’s your trip?” as he usually does. I said, “Oh, other than the three-hour interrogation at the airport, it was fine.” He was aghast. He said, “Oh, let me get to the bottom of this.” Finally, I told him, I said, “Mr. President, unless you get a handle on these guys, the intelligence guys, they’re going to come back and haunt you.”
That’s exactly what happened with the Syrian uprising because it was overzealous intelligence agents who roughed up some teenagers in the southern Syrian city of Daraa, and their family members and friends and cohorts. They protested all this in Daraa against the government, and there were some shootings and so forth. That’s the ember that lit the Syrian uprising.
Justin: Is the security forces for or against the API?
David: They were–
Justin: Neutral, publicly.
David: They were not for it.
Justin: Well, they probably just don’t want a bunch of random people walking through their country, right?
David: They’re very protective.
David: Insular, and very suspicious.
Justin: I’m not an academic like you. This brings me to another pop culture thing I wanted to talk to you about. I asked you if you watch this Netflix show, it has Sasha Baron Cohen–
David: The Spy?
Justin: Yes, it’s fantastic. Of course, academic, to me, it’s like, “Oh, it’s a bad portrayal” [crosstalk]
David: Academic you?
Justin: Part of that– [crosstalk]
David: No, because an academic– [crosstalk]
Justin: Hold on. The general–
David: An academic wouldn’t know the difference. If someone who actually is involved in some of these things, actually knows the difference between reality and make believe.
Justin: You said it’s classic Israeli propaganda that makes the Syrians look bad, something along those lines. [laughs]
David: Probably. That sounds like me. I mean, it was made in Israel– [crosstalk]
Justin: The story is fantastic. An Israeli spy ends up becoming the Defense Minister in Syria. [crosstalk]
David: No, he doesn’t become the Defense Minister. He comes close to Defense Minister.
Justin: Deputy Defense Minister.
David: No, he doesn’t become deputy, becomes an aide or close to him. That’s one of the– Do you see the problem? [crosstalk]
Justin: I’m to google it, because I was googling [crosstalk] kind of thing. [crosstalk]
David: Someone said you have to watch Madam Secretary.
Justin: Wait, what was his name?
David: Eli Cohen.
Justin: Oh, yes. That’s right.
David: Or Eliyahu Cohen.
Justin: They go on about Madam Secretary.
David: Well, Madam Secretary, I said it’s a great show. I tuned in one time, and it just gets frustrating. Look, if you watch lawyer shows, you must get frustrated. I can’t watch this because this is– [crosstalk]
Justin: He became the chief adviser to the Minister of Defense. Pretty high ranking. [crosstalk]
David: That’s not the deputy.
Justin: I mean, you could call it whatever you want.
David: Oh, it’s very high ranking. [crosstalk]
Justin: Anyway, it’s a fascinating story.
David: It’s an incredible story.
Justin: You haven’t watched the show. The show really, really lays into the fact that the Syrian intelligence forces always were skeptical of him, and the president liked him, and was won over [unintelligible 00:32:33] My question is, does a single incident like that where countries embarrassed publicly on a global scale where the Syrian intelligence had arrived, but the President had it wrong, create a culture for decades to come that the Syrian intelligence gets a little more leeway and a little more power from a single incidence like that?
David: It could. I mean, they can always point back to that, although it’s how many years ago now, 50 years, 45 years, whatever it is. They can always point to that. Even in Israel, there have been divisions between the civilian leadership and military intelligence and Mossad and so forth over the– [crosstalk]
Justin: Here during Hoover.
David: Yes, exactly. When one is right, and the other is wrong, and they keep referring to that in meetings. “Look, you better follow us this time, because look what happened then.” It can do that. I just think that there has been so many conspiracies in Syria amongst Syrians themselves, and outside powers ever since their independence in 1946. That it creates this conspiratorial mindset and attitude and paranoia that permeates Syrians aisde– [crosstalk]
Justin: We’re going through that right now. As a country, we’re going through this weird-like conspiracies are becoming mainstream in a way they never had. In countries like that, is that government-driven, media-driven, even though the media is government? Is that just old hen sitting around talking in a [crosstalk] just takes off?
David: No, it’s definitely government state-run media-driven because it provides an excuse to maintain the security state. If there are not all these conspiracies, why do we have to have this heavy-handed intelligence apparatus? Why do we have to have this size of an army and stuff like that? It is self-serving, but, on the other hand, there’s been enough real conspiracy, enough real imperialism, and imagination from outside sources to make everything plausible.
That’s the problem. I mean, one of the things– You get this not just from Syria, but all over the world is their overestimation of the capabilities of the CIA. I remember having dinner with Madeleine Albright after her stint as Secretary of State.
Justin: I remember having dinner with Madeleine Albright one night. Maybe you know her. [crosstalk]
David: Once I said that, I knew you were going to always name dropping again, anyway. We were talking about this, and she looks at me and says, “I wish we were only that good.” In our dreams, can we actually control every event in every other country, when it’s usually just happenstance? [crosstalk] If it’s successful, it’s like by accident rather than– [crosstalk]
Justin: The ’70s was kind of the heyday of the CIA.
David: ’50s. There were a lot of successes when [crosstalk] Dominican Republic.
Justin: That was the South America stuff in the ’50s?
David: Yes. ’50s, some of the ’60s. We tried in Vietnam, that stuff didn’t work out [crosstalk]
Justin: Then everybody just got better at- gets the matter handed off? [crosstalk]
David: That’s the thing. If your default line is you’re suspicious of every American that comes in. I am sure a number of people in the Middle East, and I know this, they thought I was CIA, because why else is he here? How does he know so much about us? Why is he interested? In fact, one high level– [crosstalk]
Justin: The CIA guys in the movies always are way cooler looking than you. They always have beards and they’re like scraggly. You won’t make it in the movies. [crosstalk]
David: That’s why they hired me. Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t talk about that. No, they didn’t hire me, but they think this. In a way, you can make it work for you. It’s like if they think this, well, then I got access in some juice than just being this academic interested in this, or even just representing the State Department ,or something like that. A lot of times they enhance your position and value and you can make good use of it, but also it can complicate things on many different levels.
Justin: You definitely have your rooms stabbed, right? [crosstalk] Were you there?
David: Oh god, yes. Oh, yes. Well, in Israel, I got my room stabbed. In Syria, all the time. In the vents, you can see the cameras. At one time I was just pissed, I think was after that time, I was like went to the camera and I just went for those of you listening radio, I’m giving the middle finger. I just went like that.
Justin: Podcasts aren’t on the radio, Dr. Lesch. Podcast don’t play on the radio.
David: I’m sorry. On streaming, is that what it is?
Justin: That would work.
David: You see? I’m modern, I’m technologically [crosstalk] .
Justin: For those of you listening on the old AM radio.
David: I still have that.
Justin: You’re not going to watch Eli Cohen, The Spy. It’s fantastic. Sacha Baron Cohen’s really hit his stride. If you’ve seen the Chicago 8, Seven, whichever one it was, also fantastic. I think the show they call the Chicago 8 because they initially tried one of the Black Panthers with the group, and the idea was to get that racist effect on all the other people. That was sort of the idea on the trial– [crosstalk]
David: [crosstalk] whole, as a Black Panther movement, all that stuff.
Justin: Wouldn’t let him have his lawyer, so he finally got mistrialed out.
David: I may watch it at some point. Maybe part of it is Sacha Baron Cohen being the star. I can’t get Borat out of my mind. It’s difficult, but he does, he pull it off.
Justin: He’s fantastic.
David: Again, going back to Madam Secretary, I watched an episode, and it’s like, “This isn’t how it happens. It just not,” and so I get frustrated. I know I’m going to get frustrated with this. I’m sure it’s well done. I’m sure a lot of it is true. I think I told you that a group– This was three years ago. A group contacted me who knew that I had high-level contacts in Syria. There have been many groups, some family members of Eli Cohen, and others who have tried to get his remains back from Syria.
This is an obsession in Israel over all of those who have fallen, and of course, he’s a hero. He has streets named after him and whatnot. They contacted me, and said, “Can you use your contacts to- maybe we can start a discussion. We’re willing to pay for it. I mean, lots of money to pay for the return of his remains.” I got him in touch with the relevant people in Syria. I suppose nothing came of it. Maybe they did, there were some conditions around it. It was just so interesting to me that after so much time. What’s that? ’67 to ’17, is that–? [crosstalk]
Justin: It was even before the ’67 war.
David: Yes, that he was taken. ’61 to ’65, he was executed in ’65. The information he gave to transfer to the Israelis, depending on your viewpoint. The information her gave was- [crosstalk]
Justin: They said one of the things he did-
David: -instrumental in Israeli taking Golan Heights.
Justin: -when he was a businessman, he had connections in the military. They would take him to the Golan Heights to show sort of how they looked over Israel farming communities. He said he planted trees.
David: He was a social butterfly. It was a brilliant way that Mossad did this. They first put him in Argentina, pretending to be an expat Syrian, and he held these parties during [crosstalk]
Justin: I was reading the Wikipedia. A lot of the stuff seemed to track his history.
David: Yes. They brought him to Syria, and he held all these parties, which is– I’ve been to some of these but not his, obviously, but some of these parties are just networking. He went all out. [crosstalk]
Justin: Networking. I mean, the stuff that no one talks about afterward. [crosstalk]
David: I didn’t go to any of those parties. Yes, some treats were provided at the [crosstalk]
Justin: They said he planted trees for the soldiers in Syria, but it actually was marking the tunnels in Syria [crosstalk]
David: I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it could be. It’s fascinating. I’m sure there are all sorts of stories revolving around this.
There’s some different views on whether the information he gave to Israel, which he used to take the Golan Heights in ’67 war, whether it was actually crucial or not. It certainly was at least helpful, I think or confirmed existing information that Israel got through aerial reconnaissance.
Justin: Another big part of it was that he was instrumental in, I guess, Israel bombing Saddam– I mean, Osama Bin Laden’s father’s construction company’s attempt to dam a major river going into Israel.
David: Yes, in the Golan Heights. The three tributaries that feed the Jordan River, which is the lifeblood of Israel. The Jordan river isn’t very big, but it feeds into the aquifers, which basically allows us to drink and water. They were going to block the tributaries that run through that feed into the Jordan river. He fed information to the Israelis. He says, “This is what they’re going to do, bomb the bulldozers.”
At that time, I would say in class when I teach this portion of it, “The last thing in the world I wanted to be is a Syrian bulldozer driver. No protection and here’s the Israeli air force coming in and just bombing the hell out of you.”
Justin: Was Saudi Arabia funding that?
David: I don’t have any information on that.
Justin: But it was weird to see the Osama Bin Laden’s [crosstalk]
David: It was an Arab League sanctioned action, so the Saudis, yes, probably Saudi money was involved.
Justin: They were that organized back then, the Arab League?
David: It’s very complicated. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the God in the Arab world at the time, the president of Egypt, he wanted to try to find a way of reacting to the Israeli diversion of the Jordan river to make the Negev– it was called the Israeli national water carrier project and make the Negev desert green. The whole Arab world, of course, comes to Nasser and says, “You’ve got to do something. Go to war with Israel.
You’re the leader of the Arab world, Arab nationalism. You’ve been all this [unintelligible 00:41:57] talk and Nasser is like, “Oh, damn. I didn’t expect these guys would actually want me to go to war with them. What can I do? Get Arab League sanctioned, what can I do to avoid war, but seemed like I’m doing something? Okay, let’s try to do the block the three tributaries leading Jordan river. By the way, let’s create the Palestine Liberation organization.”
That’s when the PLO was created as a way to siphon off pressure on Nasser to actually go to war. He could actually say, “look what I’m doing. These things short of war.” Ultimately, the irony is that he did go to war and he was right. He should have never gone to war.
Justin: That’s when he lost the Suez canal.
David: He lost the Suez canal, the Sinai peninsula, yes. Really his job, in essence, he was de-legitimized.
Justin: Were you ever interviewed by Larry King?
Justin: He interviewed 30,000 people and you were not one of them.
Justin: I watched the one with him and Yasser Arafat. Who was the prime minister of Israel at the time?
David: Shimon Peres?
Justin: Yes, Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat.
David: Yitzhak Rabin was the Prime Minister.
Justin: That’s who I wanted to say, actually. He got some great interviews.
David: He is incredible. He got everybody, anybody who was anybody, and which is why I wasn’t on there. [laughs]
Justin: He had children. Zookeepers.
David: Yes, exactly.
Justin: Another thing that has happened in your recent San Antonio years as you’ve become close with the mayor, close with what’s going on with the mayor. It’s fair to say prior to Ron, you weren’t very [crosstalk]
David: No, I didn’t even know when the mayoral elections were. Because that’s not my radar. Nationally, internationally, this is where I focus. That’s on my radar screen. San Antonio wasn’t. Half the time I didn’t even know who the mayor was and that’s my bad.
Justin: You think it’s because you live way up North?
David: Maybe. I’m not from here. I had my worlds and that wasn’t one of them, but a mutual friend, Bill Clover, who’s a local icon, dear friend, and he introduced us early in Ron’s campaign for mayor and we hit it off. I really believe in him. I think he has incredible integrity. Very, very smart. Do I agree with everything he says? No, but that’s why I think he values my friendship and advice. Through that relationship, I’ve become more aware of San Antonio, aware of what’s needed in San Antonio.
I’ve become involved with the Violence Prevention Division within the San Antonio metropolitan health district, as well as Stand-up Essay, which is a frontline group which tries to reduce violence in some of the high violence areas in San Antonio. In fact, I’d love to have some of those people on your show.
Justin: Yes, you mentioned it. Yes.
David: I think they’re incredible people, incredible stories. Talk about risking their lives to save other lives. That’s what these guys do and I hosted a dinner for them. Just one citizen in San Antonio thanking them for their effort, this staff of Stand-up Essay. The stories, Oh my God. Literally, they are between two gang groups with guns drawn, ready to fire each other and they’re trained in the techniques developed by Cure Violence. I talked about that last time of Cure Violence.
Justin: I had the director on.
David: That’s right, Gary Slutkin, a dear friend and I’m on the board of that. I brought Cure Violence to San Antonio which has informed– Actually brought them back to San Antonio. They were here some years ago and then left. They just signed a new contract.
Justin: They were just like, “No violence here. See you all.”
Justin: “We’re done.”
David: Funding was the issue. Now, there was violence, but it was a funding issue.
Justin: What do you think Ron’s major challenges are coming into this election? The mayor elections in May. Announced so far is Brockhouse.
David: Has he announced formally?
Justin: Whatever, he’s running and then sort of a school teacher, attorney, but it’s going to be a Brockhouse Nirenberg. What do you think the challenges are for Ron?
David: I think the challenge for Ron is reaching across various lines and barriers that have come up or been created, perceived to have been created between him and certain groups in San Antonio in the business community where he’s really improved his relationship, I think. Ron is perceived to be left of center and he is in a lot of things, but I think he is bipartisan in many ways and he can position himself that way. I think that’s a challenge.
I hope that this is a slam dunk reelection and he really gets that mandate to the extent that a San Antonio mayor can do in a council-manager form of government. At least that moral mandate, the [unintelligible 00:46:54] to really move forward in some of the things he wants to do and transportation. But right now, of course, everything’s pandemic, and everyone’s been sidetracked. That including the Biden administration.
Justin: Do you track bare facts and say non-profit website that does polling?
Justin: They’ve been polling Ron and there for a while he was stratosphere, but he’s still way up in approve-ability ratings.
David: Frankly speaking, he needs to avoid a Chick-Fil-A type of thing, which almost derailed his–
Justin: Which it’s just so weird to think that that’s the kind of stuff that can swing election probability.
David: I agree with you because it’s a socio-cultural marker and it galvanizes a certain section of the community and Brockhouse tapped into it like he should have, and he did very well. I think Ron got involved in that in a way that– Ron goes sometimes where his heart goes.
Justin: He got into it in the wrong way too.
David: He did.
Justin: He was all defensive the whole time.
David: Yes. I thought there were better ways. I think, looking back, he probably changed some things, but to avoid those types of things, and there are these pitfalls or landmines out there. I guess sometimes you have to be a political animal in the election. This is why I wish the election cycle was three or four years, rather than every two years. Because you’re always running for election.
Justin: Yes, there should be two, four years’ time.
David: It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t allow a mayor or a city council member to really dig into the stuff they want to do because they’re constantly running for reelection.
Justin: My advice is worthless, but I think Ron should take his very big mandate on his Jobs Program, which I think it passed by 73 without any facts. The problem with that Jobs Program, nobody knows what it is.
David: Yes, you had lots of doubts about it or just lack of information.
Justin: Hold on, I still have lots of doubts because there is no information. It feels like a $150 million slush fund to me, which people want $150 million jobs program. They’ve made clear through their votes and still there’s no additional information about how is this going to be run. How has the city getting looped in? Where are those high paying jobs?
David: When I reached out to him, I told him that. It is a real program.
Justin: He runs it.
David: It’s getting out–
Justin: You don’t know. Who’s involved?
David: Yes, I do. I’ve been to the workforce training sites at Samsung in port San Antonio, San Antonio Museum of Scientists.
Justin: It’s being run through the city as Job Training Program, so one employer now, all of a sudden, has an additional hundred and 50 million in how many jobs. There is no infrastructure that has been ramped up. There is some association with Alamo Colleges, which is kind of amorphous. The idea that Codeup or Rackspace are involved have been floated but hasn’t really been put out there.
David: I think to a degree the overwhelming vote in favor of this maybe made City government a little complacent about it. You know what I mean?
Justin: But if I’m Brockhouse, I say Ron passed $150 million slush fund and he still is not telling you where that money is. It is his pet project that’s going to go to his buddies. That’s what I’m doing If I’m Brock House because that’s Brock House’s personality.
David: Ron has and his staff need to find an answer to that and show where the money is going and what’s happening.
It’s in the early stages obviously, but they need an infrastructure that can say, “This is what will happen in year one, year two.” I’m sure there is a business plan. There should be. I’m sure there is.
Justin: I had the campaign manager on here and he couldn’t answer some of those questions too.
David: For instance, the business–
Justin: David, I’m with you [crosstalk]. It’s just not there.
David: I know and there should be. The Violence Prevention Division, they sent me this huge business plan, which is brilliant. It makes sense. All these different programs, it was carefully conceived and constructed. it just came on board, it has necessary funding, came on board October 1st. All these different programs it’s integrated, comprehensive from education of children and businesses to stop the violence on the front lines in the whole gamut, the whole spectrum.
I would hope that this is something that, if not already, develops along those lines where it has a very detailed business plan and this is where you’re going to go. Business plans are dime a dozen, all that, but you need some sort of I–
Justin: I think there should be a call to arms and this is what I said to Ron. You’ve got businesses like mine that have been blessed and been able to weather the storm. I take interns and train them, so paralegal interns, and then we do that.
David: Nice water, by the way. It’s a very nice water.
Justin: Thanks. There should be some effort to loop in more of the city and employers to be part of this. I would do that for free, but there’s no call to arms among our brothers and neighbors.
David: They brought in a bunch of businesspeople to support this. They have, I think, HEB and other ones to hire these people once they go through this program where they have commitments to hire these people.
Justin: Forklift operators, or some of them. Which those jobs are good too, but part of the idea was this higher-paying class of jobs, which I’m telling you, you’re close with Ron. I’ve dug–
David: Into the tech world, basically, is where we’re going.
Justin: I’m just saying it’s a vulnerability.
David: If you visit the workforce site at Port San Antonio, it’s all very high tech. It’s trying to train people.
Justin: Yes, but that was existing before.
Justin: You understand, like in the fact that you and I can have a discussion, we’re both pretty well informed and we still really don’t know what’s going on. I just think it’s a big vulnerability.
David: You’re right. It needs definition and I need to do that.
Justin: Because it’s a lot of money.
David: Yes, but this is something that’s become a pet thing for you. This is really something you want to find out more as a concerned citizen.
Justin: I do. I think it’s a great idea. Please, tell us how it is in beta first.
David: Do you I think that those who are going to vote in May are as educated, concerned, and looked into it as much as you?
Justin: No, but I think Brockhouse–
David: Is he going to get that information across?
Justin: I think that is one of his gifts. Finding that one wedge and just exploiting it.
David: Yes, I think it might be [crosstalk].
Justin: Give him three talking points and he’s going to kick your ass [crosstalk]
David: With the Chick-fil-A thing.
Justin: Yes, and this is a really good one. It became more of a pet project for me actually.
David: But it’s a different issue. He’s going to come after a program that got approved by what? 70% that creates jobs or supposed to create jobs. You know what downside? It’s not a cultural issue. It’s not a religious issue. Where’s the money? Where’s the money for this? I want to see the business plan. Does that really resonate with a voting public?
Justin: I think government waste resonates exactly with those type of voters that he’s going for. Yes, I think so.
David: He’s admitted he’s going for the Trump people.
Justin: Yes, of course.
David: They were concerned with that.
Justin: This became more of an issue in my brain after I had the episode with the campaign manager. I got multiple phone calls and emails from people that are like, “We’re just trying to find out where that money’s going,” because I had asked those questions, but it was a real issue for people, specifically people that were really struggling during the pandemic who were wondering why that money [unintelligible 00:54:11] business.
It was going to train people in some unknown way. Anyway, that’s my thoughts. You disagree with me, obviously.
David: No, I don’t disagree. I agree with you that there has to be a better explanation for this and much more delineation of the whole program and how it’s going to proceed. Where that money is, where it’s going, all that sort of stuff.
And the Nuremberg campaign better have an answer for all that.
Justin: Yes, I think Brockhouse would love to go after him on the pandemic, but I don’t think [crosstalk] got enough. [crosstalk] He does have something here and I just think it’s an, it’s an unforced error. You can fix this, just give us some information. Come out with a big plan. I think it’s easy to do. David, another thing I want to talk to you about before we’re done here is that you have been one of my biggest fans on the show. You have helped me get guests. Tell me about some of your favorite guests. [laughs]
David: That I’ve listened to?
Justin: Listened to, on the show. Because I think you were maybe guest number four or five, and then you actually were really good about listening for a while and recommending.
David: Some of the people, and I forget some of their names, that you had early on that were a pandemic–
Justin: [unintelligible 00:55:24]?
David: Right, I thought was very good. My friend, Gary Slutkin.
Justin: Yes, he was great.
David: Ron was great. I remember it was great.
Justin: Gary was great ’cause he was so involved with the pandemic as well as Cure Violence.
David: Yes, exactly. He’s one of the leading epidemiologists in the world. You couldn’t have anyone better to discuss that. He’s most willing to do this sort of thing to get the word out, especially early on. I don’t know if he talked about it on a show, but he went on some really right-wing conspiracy of this pandemics conspiracy, anti-maskers. He purposely went on.
Justin: Good for him.
David: He was great, very diplomatic. He said, “I see your point of view, but how about this? How about this?” I really appreciate what he’s done.
Justin: He’s got that effect too that he can handle.
David: Yes, exactly. he’s dealt with Ebola in Africa.
Justin: Did you listen to Eric Cooper of Food Bank?
David: Yes. As well as the guy with the hair.
Justin: The sex change doctor, Dr. Crane.
David: [laughs] That was hilarious.
Justin: The day after I published, I woke up and I’m getting so many comments to my YouTube channel that I had to turn it off. One of his foes, I will say, had found the fucking episode and just tweeted to attack my YouTube page.
David: He was the guy on Facebook. Maybe there’s more than one, but there’s this one guy recently, like the last couple of weeks, he just laid into you. I was like, “Where is this dude coming from?” He was making stuff up.
Justin: Just attacking me personally?
Justin: The guy that called me an idiot?
David: He thinks you’re afraid. Yes.
Justin: He’s a personal trainer. I mean, bored.
David: Seriously? Like, Get a life type of thing. No, Tom Kaiser, in fact, I just had lunch with Tom a couple of days ago.
Justin: I did not expect to enjoy that one, but I did.
David: If you love baseball, you’ve got to love that because there’s few people I know who are as knowledgeable about the game at so many different– We talked yesterday. Oh my God, he’s like, “What is happening to the minor league?” He got out at the right time because there’s no more president of the Texas League, the MLB, Major League Baseball, Manfred, and the corporate bosses in New York have gotten rid of all the minor league presidents, and now have regional heads.
Justin: Oh, shit.
David: There’ll be two, three, or four minor leagues, if not more, with one regional head. As Tom said, if that regional head is in Atlanta for the South, that includes Texas or something like that. So many times Tom had to drive out. As the president of Texas, he had to drive out and deal with the dispute between umpires in the team or just little shit.
Justin: Are they all under the MLB umbrella?
David: Yes. MLB is is a power play. They’ve gotten rid of about a quarter to a third of all the minor league teams consolidating under them. Now, in the long haul, I can’t say if it’s good or bad. It’s bad for a lot of cities who’ve lost these teams and very successful cities, successful minor league cities.
But there’s going to be a lot less attention given to certain things that arise in games that someone like Tom had to deal with on an everyday basis.
It’s much more impersonal, much more business and corporate. Is that the way everything’s going? Who knows? I can’t say if 20 years from now
we can look back and say that was a good move or that sucked. Right now, Tom was just like, “I got out the right time because if I didn’t I think I would be on the street without a job.”
Justin: Yes, he was just like encyclopedic knowledge about baseball and a specific [crosstalk]
David: As you know, a long time ago I taught a history of baseball course. History of baseball in American society, looking at American history through the prism of baseball. He would always come in and give a talk in my class. It was a freshman course. It was like they want you to teach something that’s not in your field, but you’re interested in, that you have a passion about. Tom, the first time he said, “What should I talk about?” I said, “Just name drop. Just talk about your experiences with Pete Rose.” He talked about Pete Rose and all that.
Justin: Yes we did talk about Pete a little bit but I thought we were going to spend more time on it and we got caught up in wild stories [crosstalk].
David: Yes, he told you about the time that he was with the Cincinnati reds, Pete Rose as the manager and Tom was in the back with his radar gun and getting the pitcher speed, to see if it’s slowing down as the innings go on. He got a call from Pete Rose on the thing he has in his ear. Pete says, Hey Tom, how did the so-and-so the pirates do today? What’s the score of that, and Tom didn’t think any of that at the time but he was checking on his bets.
Justin: You think he should be banned from the hall of fame? I mean, a lot of the tiger woods–
David: The character clause thing is more important in baseball than any other sport yet you have Ty Cobb who was now out racist. You have Babe Ruth, who was a a lewd drunk and you have the steroid era.
You have the steroid, but the steroid guys that’s your argument. The steroid guys aren’t getting in and their argument is okay, you’d rather have someone to take steroids, keep them out and keep all these racist decadent major leaguers in. The thing is, steroids enhance your performance. It’s on the field, and there is a character clause in the baseball hall of fame. This is the Curt Schilling argument. Curt Schilling is not getting in because he’s a racist. I mean, he’s an Islamophobe, he’s a right-wing conspiracy, nut head, but he’s saying I didn’t take steroids, you let Ty Cobb, and he’s much more racist than I was.
Is it on-field performance or not, but it’s the perception of the sportswriters? I mean, if I was a sportswriter, given what my stance, my humanism, open heart, open-minded, could I let Curt Schilling and can I vote for him? It’d be a tough call, it’d be a tough call.
Justin: David, who do you think– [unintelligible 01:02:04] top three. Who do you think I should get to come on this year?
David: How long have we been on?
Justin: One hour and two minutes.
David: Oh, okay. I want you to get on Juan Salvador at Trinity University who’s, you’ve already contacted, a great political– I wish you could’ve got them on before the election. Your life was crazy at the time and so forth, but still have him on because he is so knowledgeable on urban politics. He’ll give you a lot more information about what’s going on in San Antonio than I would. C-Sean Sieve, I haven’t connected you with, I told you I would and C-Sean is an incredible story and incredible human being. He lives in San Antonio now. I’ve known him for a while, he was ambassador to the UN from the George H W Bush administration.
He survived the Kymera Rouge in Cambodia or Kampuchea. Was it 15 or 17 members of his family were killed? You know the movie killing fields ignore and all that. He lived it. I mean, that could be about him. He’s escaped, he came to New York with $2 in his pocket and somehow ended up close to George H W Bush and became a– I mean, it’s a success story. He loves America. He’s so giving. He’s such a Unitarian.
Justin: What’s he do now?
David: He’s retired, but he does a lot of humanitarian work. I have this great, wonderful story of C-Sean, which I’m sure he would like to tell you, but just as a wet your whistle to the listeners, I think he would come on is that he learned English in Singapore, which is another story which I’ll tell you after this. He got a job at a fast-food restaurant in New York. One of his first jobs, he had halting English and some guy says, can I have a Big Mac or something but hold the lettuce. He comes out, gives the big Mac and he’s holding lettuce in his hand. He said hold the lettuce. It’s a literal, not idiomatic, the literal meaning.
He learned English. This is one of the– a couple of years ago, we were having dinner together and we never knew this about each other but he learned English in Singapore. I was talking about a good friend of mine, Sir Sam Fowl who’s a British diplomat. He passed away about 10 years ago in his 90s, one of the most amazing men I ever met. He was in the British Navy in Singapore in 1942 and when it fell to the Japanese, his ship was sunk. He was taking prisoners, spent the rest of the war in Japanese internment camp. It was awful, but he learned 10 languages there because of all the different nationalities that were in prison there. He really knows them. He became an ambassador to Iran. He was in Iran during the Mosaddegh coup.
He was in Iraq in 58 during the Iraqi coup and revolution. I mean, I always kidded him. I said, is this just a coincidence, wherever you serve as ambassador or deputy ambassador, whatever that or commissioner that these coups happen. An amazing, amazing man. He has an autobiography, which is really a love story of him and his wife and you through the prism of all these different experiences. He was in Singapore. He was high commissioner to Singapore in the ’70s. C-Sean was there learning English. I told C-Sean about this story about Sir Fowl and he goes, “does he have a daughter named Margaret and Ann?” I go, “yes”. “Were they in Singapore?” “Yes”. He learned English from Sir Fowl’s daughter. The next day– who is my dear friend.
It’s one of these incredible small world things. He sent me–
Justin: In Singapore, small world San Antonio.
David: C-Sean sent me an excerpt from his autobiography, and which is amazing. You should read it, which you will, if you have them on I’m sure. The excerpt is about Sir Sam Fowl and his daughter. He sent me a picture of it. I’m blessed to have these people in my world, they have touched me in my world, have guided me. Sir Sam is one of my mentors. The fact that he took a liking to me, is just amazing and C-Sean has this–
Justin: How old is C-Sean?
David: It’s late ’70s., great guy, have him on, but he has this vision of the world that like-minded people find their way to each other, you know? I found my way to you.
Justin: Well, actually you found your way to me.
Justin: I don’t remember how that works.
David: I don’t know, was it a bar?
Justin: Yes, I remember we were Tim and you [crosstalk]-
David: We tripped over each other.
Justin: You were like who is this young guy?
Male Speaker: Okay.
Justin: Well, that’s two. Who’s my third?
David: You said three, didn’t you?
David: Somebody, I’m not going to name names because I don’t want to put her on the spot, but somebody from the violence prevention division in San Antonio with whom I’ve worked, brilliant, visionary and can talk about those issues in San Antonio, which need to be talked about.
Justin: Awesome. David, thank you for doing this again also seriously, thank you for getting all these people to come on my show. You’ve been the-
David: I will keep trying my best-
Justin: -the most helpful.
David: -but I’m running out of people, man.
Justin: Well, it’ll take off at some point, but thank you for doing this.
David: Sure, my pleasure.
Justin: Your drink is getting empty. We’ll do this again next year.
David: [crosstalk] What type of joint is this?
Justin: Yes, you know.
Automated Recording: Thanks for joining us on this episode of the Alamo hour, you are all what make this city so great. We hope you join us next week. In the meantime, subscribe to our podcast and check us out on facebook at facebook.com/alamohour or our website alamohour.com. Until next time viva San Antonio.
[01:08:01] [END OF AUDIO]