Return to Transcripts main page


A Broken Marriage: U.S. and Israel; Stephen A. Smith on Blacks Should Vote Republican; Should College Greek Life System be Banned?; Interview with NBA Legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired March 21, 2015 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish. Welcome to the program.

Breaking news. Secretary of state John Kerry and Iran's president both expressed optimism today that an agreement can be reached on Iran's nuclear program. Kerry told reporters in Switzerland this morning there is substantial progress in the struggle to reach an agreement.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Over the past few days I had lengthy negotiations with the Iranian team about the steps that Iran must take to demonstrate that its nuclear program now and ongoing into the future is exclusively for peaceful purposes. Over the past months, the P5+1 have made substantial progress towards that fundamental goal. Though important gaps remain.


SMERCONISH: Iran's president Hassan Rahani told reporters today that a deal with the U.S. is within reach and achievable. But what will B.B. do? After all, it was the Iranian issue that caused Prime Minister Netanyahu to address our Congress. This deal is at the heart of the broken relationship between the U.S. and Israel and the question that will be raised in the event of an agreement is whether Prime Minister Netanyahu might try to scuttle it by working with the Republican-controlled Congress.

We're covering every angle of this story, let's get right to Rya Jebreal who is in Israel now. She's a journalist and foreign policy analyst. Rula, Secretary Kerry speaks of the P5+1 but of course, there is a very important voice not in that group, and it's Prime Minister Netanyahu. How might he respond?

RULA JEBREAL, FOREIGN POLICY ANALYST: He will try to undermine it by speaking again against it, and trying to rally the Republican Party. We know that John Boehner will be in Israel soon, they will be absolutely talking about this, they will be pressuring AIPAC and many organizations so they can pressure but it's too late.

If the Iranian deal is already a done deal, that's a huge victory for Iran, huge diplomatic victory for the United States, and absolutely will further push the relationship between Obama administration and Bebe Netanyahu far away from each other's.

SMERCONISH: Rula, I'm reminded of the address that Prime Minister Netanyahu just delivered to the Congress and toward the end of that speech and I know you'll remember, he said words to the effect of the days of Israeli passivity are over. Israel will stand alone if necessary. I interpreted that as a somewhat thinly veiled threat to launch a first strike against a nuclear capability. Of course, I might be reading too much into it. How did you interpret that part of his speech?

JEBREAL: He was campaigning. He was absolutely campaigning. Remember, when he came back to Israel and in Israel he is the prime minister, still the prime minister. He have to deal with his security apparatus, meaning that the army have to agree on this and the Secret Services, the Musad, former Musad, head of Musad, together with former head of (INAUDIBLE) , the internal secret service in Israel, both sides said if Netanyahu would have - went along and attacked Iran, they would have resigned themselves.

He can break the relationship with administration but he can't break his own relationship with his security apparatus, the Musad, (INAUDIBLE) and he will have to have the army behind him. I don't think a military option is on the table. However, an overt operations would carry on. Remember, all of these dead scientists in Iran, some nuclear facility were blown up, I think Israel's behind that and will continue doing so.

SMERCONISH: You know that here in the United States there's great debate over the statements that he made on the eve of the election, seemingly renouncing a two-state solution. In Israel were those words dealt with by surprise or confirmation of previously held beliefs?


JEBREAL: I think in Israel, Israelis and the Palestinians both sides are absolutely not delusional about a situation. The good thing for the Americans and for the international public opinion, the mosques are up, every, all of the mosques dropped off and it's clear. It's not what Bebe is saying, it's what he has been doing for the last - I would say 20 years in politics. And what he has been doing is the opposite of what he endorses, which is two-state solution.

Now he's saying that he doesn't want it and he created facts on the ground that are irreversible. I'm talking 200 settlements and 350 settlers already living in the West Bank. It's de facto, in one state.

SMERCONISH: I want to share with you and I'll put up on the screen for our viewers, something that Tom Friedman published in the "New York Times" on Wednesday that I think encapsulates the point that you were just making. Said Friedman "now if there are not going to be two states for two peoples in the area between the Jordan River and Mediterranean then there is going to be only one state, and that one state will either be a Jewish democracy that systematically denies the voting rights of about one third of its people or it will be a democracy and systematically erode the Jewish character of Israel." That's what you're addressing.

JEBREAL: I don't know when the last time Tom Friedman has been visiting the settlements but I would invite him to go and see what's happening here, because it's already de facto in one state with separate sets of (INAUDIBLE), so you have the Jewish majority around six million people, who have certain rights, and the Jewish people who are living in the occupied territories with their own, bypass roads, meaning roads that they can run only by themselves.

Their internal schools, their protection and it's gated areas, and they live already in the occupied territories, they are building all around Jerusalem, all around the West Bank, it's already one state. However, for the Palestinians, if it's bad for Arab Israelis because he has been campaigning against them, and obviously his victory is an open season against Arab Israelis, in Congress and in the streets, for Palestinians in the West Bank and occupied territories it's hell because they live without rights. So we have an apartheid state on one hand and we have I would say an agnocrisy more than a democracy.

SMERCONISH: Rula Jebreal, thank you.

I want to bring in Aaron David Miller. He is a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and former adviser to six secretaries of state, on the Arab Israeli peace process. Aaron, please pick up on the last part of what Rula had to say commenting on the Tom Friedman piece and the reality of what a one-state might mean.

AARON DAVID MILLER, FMR. ADVISER ON THE ARAB-ISRAELI PEACE TALKS: I mean I think we're really getting ahead of ourselves, Michael. The one state is not a solution. Perhaps it's -- it would be historic outcome, years and years as a consequence of Israel's retention of the territories, no effective Palestinian governments there.

In fact, on the ground make a comprehensive Israeli withdrawal as well as security requirements from the West Bank impossible. But again, I think we really are getting ahead of ourselves here. If you believe the reports that derive from John Kerry's 14-month effort to create the parameters for a two-state solution, the Prime Minister of Israel despite his public walk away, which he is now walking back, apparently has made some far reaching concessions on the issue of Israeli- withdrawal based on the June 67 borders with territorial land swaps.

Whether or not you ever get back to that sort of brokered mediated process, I don't know. But again, we're talking more in terms of the future here than the present. I'm not going to jump off the cliff right now and surrender to the forces of cynicism, despair and hopelessness by assuming that in fact everything is lost and there is no chance at some point of a negotiated two-state solution. I think frankly, that would be unwise for everyone.

SMERCONISH: Aaron, on the front page of today's "New York Times," relative to the relationship between the United States and Israel, this administration, you say in a way the administration has already won. What did you mean with that comment?

MILLER: Well, on the issue of Iran, I think there is no question about that. If in fact Kerry's comments today (INAUDIBLE) reflect reality, although they made these statements before. That in effect you're getting closer to a framework agreement that at some point would produce a slower, smaller, more transparent, what were all the risks, slower, smaller, more transparent and easily monitored Iranian nuclear program to buy time and to decelerate Iran's putative nuclear weapons aspirations then the administration - I called it a historic breakthrough even though there are varying risks clearly and uncertainties about this agreement, the administration would have pulled off quite an enterprise.


I mean, in opposition the Republican-controlled Congress, over the objections of the Israelis, by the way not just the Israelis, the Emirates, the Saudis, there's a lot of regional concern about how Iran central policy. Be that as it may the administration would actually have achieved, I think, the president's most important objective in this region, which would have been to slow and constrain Iran's potential to secure a deliverable nuclear weapon.

So, in that sense I think the administration has won. The real problem Michael, for the U.S. Israeli relationship and I watched and analyzed Beggen and Carter, Shamir and Bush 41, Netanyahu and Clinton in their first incarnation. I was a part of that. You had even in that dysfunctional - those dysfunctionals duos you had production. You literally had had significant accomplishments.

Here you have dysfunction without production, you have a public feud and the question that remains in the last 20 months, Michael, are we talking meltdown further? Or are we talking dial down? And that's the real central question, both the prime minister of Israel and the president of the United States.

SMERCONISH: Aaron, I know your expertise is in the policy realm but I also know you to be a very astute political observer. Do you believe that the duo of Netanyahu and Boehner, Speaker Boehner and Prime Minister Netanyahu, have the political ability, should they seek to use it, to scuttle this deal?

MILLER: Well, I think that we will not see during the life of this Republican-controlled Congress, the lifting of the banking and oil sanctions, which are critically important to Iran. Do not think that a Republican-controlled Congress given their perception of this president is going to do that.

But the president by executive authority can in fact suspend some sanctions. Now, whether or not Bob Corker and others can find a way to pass legislation that compels the administration to summit the agreement to review and Congress, by the way, does deserve some sort of role in this enterprise. I mean I don't want Congress running our foreign policy but I work for the State Department for 24 years, I don't want the State Department running our foreign policy either.

It's a struggle between the two and the White House to try to figure out what is the wisest and most prudent policy for the United States. I have a great many concerns about the risks and uncertainties involved in this deal. I think, though, that you know you're not going to make perfect the enemy of the good on this one. The deal is coming, Congress is not going to be happy about it. They will try to constrain it.

One more point. I'm not running a PR operation for Benjamin Netanyahu here. But let's be clear. He is pushing on an open door. He's pushing on a Congress that is looking for a way to define its own foreign policy, a Republican Congress -


MILLER: As we approach the presidential elections and you have to keep that in mind.

SMERCONISH: Aaron David Miller, as always, thank you so much.

MILLER: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, we have more great guests, he is one of the most outspoken sport commentators on television but this time he's making waves on race and politics. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith joins me to explain why he thinks every black person in America should vote Republican.

Plus, fraternities under fire after a wave of scandals at campuses across the country. Feminist icon Naomi Wolf joins me to talk about the future of fraternities.

And NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar explains why he thinks Starbucks stepped into the brew this week. Don't go away.



SMERCONISH: Welcome back. ESPN host Stephen A. Smith is not one to mince words, often sparked controversy with his brash, no holds barred commentary on hot button issues. This week, he did it again. Listen to this, Stephen A. said that every black person in America should vote Republican for at least one election.

Stephen A. Smith is joining me now. Stephen, who are you trying to send a message to, Republicans, Democrats, African-Americans, all of the above?

STEPHEN A. SMITH, TV & RADIO HOST, ESPN: I'd go with all of the above. That sounds about right. But specifically the Democratic Party from the standpoint that I definitely believe that the black vote has been taken for granted. And primarily the black community is at fault in my estimation in that regard simply because on one hand we're giving one party our vote because they successfully gone about the business of convincing our community that the other party, the Republican Party, is completely against the interests of the black community.

As a result we've been very transparent in our support, we voted hook line and sinker, we looked at the Republican Party, I'm not talking about every single one of us, of course, but a vast majority of black Americans look at the Republican Party as the enemy, we look at the Democratic Party even tacitly as our support base and as a result, we are very transparent in our support for them.

So because of it they have a license to take us for granted. The Republican Party has a license to summarily dismiss us because they believe they will never get our vote anyway and then we end up finding ourselves devoid of any kind of representation whatsoever because nobody is really competing to garner our vote and our support.

So I said what I said because I wanted folks in my community to stand up and recognize that if you go to a house or you go buy a car or whatever the case may be you don't see something you want and say "I want that, tell me what the price is and I'll pay for it." Somebody has to flatter you in order to garner your dollars and your support. I think the same should apply to politicians who represent us.

SMERCONISH: Let me put this in context of 2016. Because I think given the monolithic nature of the African-American vote a lot of Republicans don't even make the ask.

SMITH: Right.

SMERCONISH: Rand Paul is making the ask. Is there anything that he can say that you think can change this equation?

[09:20:12] SMITH: Well, first of all he can highlight some of the inconsistencies and discrepancies the opposing party might be throwing in our direction, things that we may not know. That's number one.

Number two, one of the things that you need to do as a Republican, particularly if you're running for the presidency, you have to surround yourself with a bunch of folks that look like us and not just you, that look like Hispanics and not just you.

Let's take the Hispanic community into consideration, Michael. Right now it says that African-Americans are approximately 12.3 percent of the population. That it's dissipated from 14.8 percent. OK. Now we can debate till the cows come home what the reason for that was. But what is unmistakable and undeniable is that when you look at the Hispanic community their populous has risen up to over 17 percent whereas we have 40 million African-Americans in this country, they have 54 million people, and what have we been hearing about ad nausea for years and years - immigration reform.

You know, why we're hearing about that, Michael? Because whoever successfully goes about the business of dealing with this matter, immigration reform successfully, in a fashion that the Hispanic community deems favorably to them, you're going to get their vote. Therefore you're going to lock up a voting bloc, you'll be in office and you'll have that kind of power.

Well, guess what the Hispanic community is doing? They're saying "flatter us. What are you going to do? This is what we need because you're not getting our vote." Yes, you might vote for them -- you might go the liberal route but in Florida, you might not. I'm just saying.

SMERCONISH: I'm for increasing participation. What bothers me about the way that you pitch this is it's as if you're saying "Hey, what are you going to do for us? What are you giving to us in terms of bennies if we put you -"

SMITH: Why does that bother you?

SMERCONISH: Well, because - I don't think we want to be rewarding particular socioeconomic groups, ethnic group, racial groups. I mean I don't like the balkanization of our politics, I like what's in the country's best interest, not what's in the best interest of African- Americans versus whites versus Hispanics. That's what makes me uncomfortable.

SMITH: Well, let me say to you that I can respect the fact that you are uncomfortable, but what I would - my retort would be is that I am a black man, from a black community and I've watched us suffer religiously. Whether it's with unemployment, where we're constantly in double digits, whether it's the incarceration rate, whatever the case may be, there are so many things, so many problems.

I love everybody. I don't hate anybody. I think that the interests of the country is paramount and should usurp all other interests. But if you're talking about my community I'm going to speak on what's affecting us and how we can alleviate those concerns. I'm not saying I'm not concerned about the country, but I'm saying I can speak more directly to the experiences myself and others from my community have. That's all -- I'm not trying to balkanize anything.

SMERCONISH: Well, let me just respond one time this way.

SMITH: Sure.

SMERCONISH: I certainly respect the historical differences between, you know, us and people who look like us. But you sure wouldn't want me going into a ballot booth making a determination as to what's in the best interest of the white community?

SMITH: No. But I do expect you to go into the ballot booth and make the decision about what's in the best interest of you. And so what I'm saying to you is that when I'm talking to black folks and I'm thinking about what's in the best interest of the black community it's because you are suffering.

The country could be prospering but if black folks have nothing to show for it and I'm not saying that's the case but if black folks are suffering and we have been suffering for decades upon decades and we've tried something, one thing after another, it's the same thing over and over and it's not reaping any results, then what do you expect somebody to do?

You are going to address it with the fervor and the directness and candor that it deserves, that's what I did here. All I'm trying to say, I'm not trying to encourage anybody to vote Republican, I'm not trying to encourage anybody to vote Democrat, I'm simply saying let's not be so transparent in our support for one party over another when that does not appear to be working for us.

Force people to flatter us. White folks do it. Jewish folks do it, Hispanic folks are doing it. Why can't black folks do it? That's all I'm saying.

SMERCONISH: I want to ask you a question about a related subject.

SMITH: Sure.

SMERCONISH: The president spoke in Cleveland this week to the City Club and he raised the idea that maybe we should go the way of countries like Australia where voting is mandatory. What's your reaction to that?

SMITH: According to the reports that I read that he was speaking relatively tongue in cheek and just articulating that this wouldn't be such a bad idea. But in this country that we live in, part of free speech is having the freedom not to speak or not to make your voice heard if you so choose to do so as opposed to being forced and compelled to do so.

So the president knows that, everybody else knows that, and I think we need to follow those lines unless there are laws put in place constitutionally speaking I might add, that obviously deviate from that and show something that supports what position he was taking.


SMERCONISH: Stephen A. Smith, next time you're here, don't hold back, tell us what you really think. OK.

[09:25:15] SMITH: I'll try my best.

SMERCONISH: I have to take a quick break. When I come back, headlines from a slew of outrageous behaviors at fraternities. Feminist icon Naomi Wolf joins me to talk about the future of Greek life.



UNIDENTIFED MALE: You guys up for a toga party?


UNIDENTIFED MALE: Toga, toga, toga.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SMERCONISH: That was a clip from the American classic "National Lampoon's Animal House." I lived at a fraternity in college for three years, which probably explains why I loved that movie all 14 times I've seen it.

Recently, life has imitated art. There have been recent reports of fraternity-related bad behavior leading some to question whether to end what I regard as a classic part of American collegiate life.

Naomi Wolf is a feminist author and political activist and joins me now to talk about this.

Naomi, you can't dispute -- I wouldn't dispute there have been a number of these high-profile incidents of fraternity member. But are they necessarily being driven by their fraternity membership?

NAOMI WOLF, CO-FOUNDER, DAILYCLOUT.COM: No. I don't think so. You know, the interesting thing about what's going on on college campuses now with these examples of really bad behavior is that they're nothing new. I mean, I've been going to campuses for a couple decades and there's always been these horrible stories of terrible racism, sexual assault, you know, ritualized sadism in fraternities but they've always been hushed up.

And what's happening now is there's more transparency, more people are tweeting or leaking to whistle-blowers or, you know, blogging or posting or investigating. So it's more scrutiny. I don't think anything has necessarily changed in how perverse some of these organizations can be.

SMERCONISH: I know that you were in a secret society at Yale, not a sorority. I'm not even sure what that is, by the way. Except I'm sure they wouldn't let me in.

How do you see the future of Greek life?

WOLF: Well, that's a really good question. I mean, there is still something very serious happening, which is, again, I wouldn't say a problem with the organization of, you know, the Greek system. It's a problem with cover-ups on college campuses, Michael. And you know about this, obviously if you were in a fraternity. When you've got college campuses, you've got police that are loyal to college campuses. They're like weirdly, you know, campus police, which is such a bizarre system.

And so, when there's a sexual assault or some, you know, crime on campus and the university doesn't want it to get known, doesn't want donors to get upset, doesn't want wealthy, you know, parents to get upset, legacies, they'll cover it up.

And so, a really terrible thing that's happening which should be investigated and should be exposed is that there are bubbles of impunity, like legal impunity on college campuses where especially with sexual assault, if women are, you know, young men who have been assaulted complain to sexual harassment, grievance board, it's supposed to be impartial, but, in fact, it's often -- and I exposed this in "New York" magazine in 2005 with Yale, which covered up, you know, for 20 years, sexual assaults -- it's actually a way for the university's lawyers to protect university from exposure of these criminal investigations.

So, I say if a crime takes place on campus, whether it's in a fraternity or anywhere else, you know, let's obey the law, let's have the jurisdiction of the local police investigate and hold these people accountable.

SMERCONISH: I would never defend what we all saw take place on that bus at the University of Oklahoma, nor that which is coming to light via Facebook at Penn State University, but when I look at those incidents I wonder if they represent a failure to manage alcohol, then exacerbate it or light shone on them by social media.

I think we need to demystify booze. I'm actually an advocate for lessening the drinking age. How do you react to that?

WOLF: What do you mean by demystifying booze? Like how would you do that with a bunch of young people?

SMERCONISH: Well, I think that what's taken place, largely because of liability concerns, is that colleges across the country have all -- they've all clamped down on drinking, underage drinking. I recognize they're trying to respect the law that was imposed by the feds. But what they've done is they've driven it underground.

I lived in a house where beer was plentiful. We were constantly on tap. There was no pre-gaming, there was no binge drinking, you could drink whenever you wanted to. And if you could drink whenever you wanted to, beer, then you weren't inclined to be a shut-in and get hammered on a fifth of jack.

WOLF: Yes. There's a lot of truth to what you're saying. I mean, Europe has a lower drinking age and less stigmatizing of even, you know, 16-, 17-year-olds going into a pub and I think there's less binge-drinking certainly on college campuses and less crazy assault, crazy sexual abuse that I'm aware of. I do hear this from young women.

I heard it recently on campus in Upstate New York, that what happens with the Greek system which isn't so great is for some reason which I don't fully understand, men control the liquor. So, fraternities have, like, access to alcohol and sororities for some mysterious reason don't so, the young women do definitely complain.

You wouldn't think this is at the top of their list, but I can see how it leads to a lot of terrible situations, that in order to have a party, if you're under 21, you have to go to the frat house. Young men have access to all the alcohol, so young women do feel sexually pressured and at a disadvantage. It's not the same as being coerced or forced into a sexual assault situation, but they do feel that they have no equality in sexual negotiations.

[09:35:02] That they have to go along with whatever is --

SMERCONISH: No, I completely understand. It's an access issue, the way that you've defined it.

WOLF: Why don't sororities have their own alcohol? How is this feminism? I don't get it.

SMERCONISH: I'm all for giving it to them, OK?

WOLF: Of course. If the boys can drink, why can't the girls?

SMERCONISH: Naomi, thank you for being here.

WOLF: My pleasure.

SMERCONISH: Dartmouth College is one of a number of schools making changes to curb bad frat boy behavior. The biggest change, banning hard liquor on campus. But one of Dartmouth's student leaders says the school's crackdown may not work.

Joining me is Nick Desatnick. He's the editor of "The Dartmouth Review", the school's staunchly conservative newspaper. He's also a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.

Nick, I lived in a fraternity, in the era that is epitomized by "Animal House." We were on tap 24/7. But I have to tell you, there was no binge drinking and there was no pre-gaming. And it makes me wonder, is there an old-school solution to what ails fraternities today?

NICK DESATNICK, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, THE DARTMOUTH REVIEW: I think so. There's certainly no doubt that there are problems with Greek life on campus in this day and age. It's my belief, however, I think there is more in the way of solutions within the Greek system, within the Greek system's history as well that can be brought to the fore as a potential way forward for social solutions on campus writ large.

SMERCONISH: What do you think the impact is going to be at Dartmouth with the crackdown on hard alcohol? I mean, hard alcohol wasn't a part of what we had going on. It was all about beer. And my thinking is that because of liability concerns, because of the crackdown against fraternities, they've tried to rid the entire campus of booze and they're not going to be able to do it.

DESATNICK: I agree. I certainly think that hard alcohol has made an enormous resurgence socially at Dartmouth in particular but on college campuses across the country more broadly. I don't think a ban is going to have the desired effects for safety of students and for the overall campus atmosphere. What we've seen in the past, there was a --


SMERCONISH: Isn't the reason for the spike in the appeal of hard liquor, the fact that there has been such a crackdown and it has driven students behind closed door, where they want to get hammered in a hurry so that they can then go back out to a party where they otherwise could not drink? DESATNICK: I'm not sure it's quite as causal or as tidy as that. I

definitely imagine there's a correlation. What we are seeing, though, is a lot of people who are bringing hard alcohol into dorm rooms having parties secretly behind closed doors for no other reason than hard alcohol is more efficient. It's also easier to hide and easier to store than a keg or a case of beer.

So, I imagine that's not going to change. It may even get worse if with the hard alcohol ban where you have people in their dorm rooms in sort of closed atmospheres drinking hard alcohol in ways that are less than safe.

SMERCONISH: Is the answer to reduce the drinking age to 18?

DESATNICK: In my opinion, I think that would be a really, really positive step. I think 18 may be too low, personally. I think 19 would be ideal, simply because if you have 18-year-olds at college parties, chances are the freshmen, the same party -- or high school parties, the freshmen at the same high school party is going to be able to access the party as well.

So, I think 19 would be a better age in terms of the specifics, but the political atmosphere behind I think a fight like that would be rather difficult.

SMERCONISH: Nick, let me ask you as someone who is living a Greek existence right now on a campus with a very rich tradition of Greek life. Do you worry about the sentiment in the country today that these bad actors -- and I would never ask you to defend them because who could -- but do you worry that the blowback from some of these high-profile incidents will be the shuttering of fraternities across the country?

DESATNICK: I think longer term, we're starting to see a trend in that direction, which is my concern. I think the Greek system has been valuable to me, it's been valuable to any number of my friends at Dartmouth, but I think when you have incidences like this Penn State fiasco, this O.U. fiasco, a few weeks back, you can't help but wonder what the future of the Greek system is going to be when those high publicity events sort of form a trend and become the defining features that people think about when Greek life becomes a buzzword.

So, I'm concerned. I think what people need to understand is that those are not representative of the totality of the Greek experience and for all the bad publicity that's come out recently, there is so much more good that happens behind closed doors, which is not adequately discussed or adequately given voice to.

SMERCONISH: So for the benefit of those who have never lived in a fraternity, have never been fraternity brothers, what are those attributes to what you refer? What is the experience that you think has been critical to your Dartmouth undergraduate training that you'd take from living in a house?

DESATNICK: Sure. I mean, for me personally, I think the biggest has been the network of friends that I have through my Greek experience. As someone who writes for the newspaper, does a lot on campus, I'm not the most active in my Greek house, I'd be the first to admit, but the fact is, when I have some free time between what I'm doing on campus or off-terms for studying abroad programs or internships and the like, it's a fantastic home to come home to at a college like Dartmouth.

[09:40:01] To have your friends, to have a space you can call your own, to have sort of that aspirational quality of people coming together and sharing economic experiences, sharing social experiences, that to me is very difficult to replace.

I think that's the reason the Greek system is so popular Dartmouth and popular nationally. It serves a need that nothing else really can. So, I think to talk about shuttering it, to talk about closing it down I think is to miss the point and I think is to run the risk of getting rid of something good and throwing the baby out with the bath water, so to speak.

SMERCONISH: Nick Desatnick, thank you so much.

DESATNICK: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Coming up, Starbucks brewed major backlash this week with its plan to talk race in America. NBA great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar thinks it's a bad idea. You'll want to hear what he has to say when he joins me, next.


SMERCONISH: Welcome back.

Starbucks' valiant effort to talk about race in America has had its fair share of critics. NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is one of them. This week, CEO Howard Schultz asked his baristas to write "race together" on coffee cups to start a national conversation about race.

In a column for "TIME" magazine, Kareem says he was in "shock and awe" over what he says is a flawed plan.

[09:45:03] Kareem Abdul-Jabbar joins me now. By the way, he's just written a new book and it's called "Stealing the Game."

Kareem, you say you were in awe of his chutzpah and you were shocked that he thinks it'll work. Why won't it work?

KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR, NBA LEGEND: Well, I think that you can't get into a serious in-depth conversation in a coffee shop amongst strangers. I mean, it's a good idea certainly to plant the idea that we need to talk about these things, but I think, you know, to get into a meaningful conversation, you need more time and more intimate circumstances for some change to come about from it.

SMERCONISH: Fifty-six percent of African-Americans believe that there's a lot of discrimination in our country. Only 16 percent of whites say the same thing.

ABDUL-JABBAR: There's a great example. Black Americans have to deal with a lot more discrimination because they are seen as part of the problem, whereas white Americans do not get discriminated against in the same way that black Americans do. And until they see it live and in color, like with the Rodney King tape, until that happen, white Americans were disinclined to believe that cops could be that violent and, you know, carefree about beating people. It took something like that to change people's minds.

SMERCONISH: Well, here's what I was thinking. I share your concern that there's a practical reality, the baristas at my Starbucks, they are so darn busy, they wouldn't have an opportunity for a conversation about race.

But on my radio program this week, we also role played. It's very hard to start a conversation about race. So, I've got a cup of coffee for you. I don't know if you can see this. It actually has your name on it, Kareem. I'm ready to serve it to you.

So, if we were to begin a dialogue about race, how would we broach the subject?

ABDUL-JABBAR: I think we would broach the subject by just understanding of the history of our country, the fact that violence against black Americans and all different types of attempts to exploit them financially have made for a very miserable time for most black Americans here in America and we could point out the historical examples of how that came to pass and how it continued to perpetuate itself.

SMERCONISH: Is it a conversation that's necessary or something more than a conversation?

ABDUL-JABBAR: I think it's a conversation because we can point to specific historical examples and say that these things keep happening. You saw what happened just recently, the report from the Justice Department about what was going on in Ferguson. That's been going on for decades. And most Americans would not believe that a municipal government would exploit people in such a wanton and cynical way as what's happening to black Americans in the St. Louis area.

But finally, the Justice Department report really cleared that up and showed why there was so much anger there and why it was so hard to deal with that type of resentment because these people were being victimized on a regular basis, exploited for their money.

SMERCONISH: And finally, Kareem, when the president's legacy is written relative, to this issue, what will it be?

ABDUL-JABBAR: Well, I think, you know, the president has stayed away from this issue because he does not want to be seen as being biased and just being the president for black Americans. He's a president for all Americans and he has to take a certain pace and a certain stance just to be fair-minded.

SMERCONISH: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, thank you so much for being here.

ABDUL-JABBAR: Nice talking to you, Michael. SMERCONISH: Coming up, potholes -- they not only do damage to your

car but also your wallet. And I should know. I spent five hours on the side of the road last week after running over one of them. My take on the politics of potholes is next.


[09:53:23] SMERCONISH: Last Saturday, driving back to Philadelphia after this CNN show, my car was eaten by the Godzilla of American potholes, just after I exited the Verrazano Bridge in Staten Island.

And I'm not unique. AAA Mid-Atlantic calculates that nearly 50 percent of American motorists have experienced damage to their vehicles as a result of potholes in the last five years. In my case, I sat on the road for five hours, plenty of time for me to Google the word infrastructure.

I learned that once every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers, ASCE, gives letter grades to our nation's infrastructure in 16 different categories. In 2013, the overall assessment warranted a D plus. In the category of roads, we received a "D" for poor.

The remainder of the ASCE report card has grades that would make any parent wins. Take a look at these. Airports "D," dams "D," hazardous waste "D," levees "D-minus".

They're all horrible. According to Andy Herman, the past president of the ASCE, 32 percent of America's major roads are in poor or mediocre condition, and that costs U.S. motorists about $324 per person. AAA mid-Atlantic told me the annual cost to motorists of poll holes alone is $6.4 billion, which might be exceeded this year due to weather. Mr. Herman faults our political leadership for not addressing the infrastructure issues.

Well, Ed Rendell might be the exception. In the late 1990s, he was the chair of an organization called Rebuild America, an interest that continued while he was governor of Pennsylvania and included his founding of Building America's Future.

[09:55:03] He told me, infrastructure is important first and foremost to our public safety. We see what happens when bridges collapse or pipelines burst, it's important to our quality of life, it's important to our economic competitiveness, the ability to move goods swiftly is crucial particularly in the global economy, and lastly, it's the best producer of quality middle-class jobs that pay $60,000, $70,000, $80,000 a year and you don't have to have a college degree.

Well, Rendell knows a thing or two about winning elections. He amassed a career record of 12-2. So I asked him, what would happen to a 2016 congressional, senatorial or presidential candidate who premises their campaign on addressing infrastructure? He told me that if such a candidate talked about the cost of doing nothing, compared to the little cost of raising a tax to help pay for infrastructure, they'd do very well.

I for one am ready to test Rendell's hypothesis. Now, all we need are candidates to champion the cause.

I'll be right back.


SMERCONISH: Thank you so much for joining me. Don't forget you can follow me on Twitter if you can spell Smerconish. See you next week.