2011 Speakers

Peter Bergen

Danny Zuker

Ivory Tower Half-hour

Thomas Flynn

Betty Rollin

Eric Kingson


Peter Bergen

CNN National Security Analyst, terrorism specialist, and award-winning author

By Keith Henry

Peter Bergen

On Friday, Feb. 11, the very day that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak stepped down in the face of increasingly violent protests in the streets, a harbinger of things to come in the Arab world and across the Middle East, the Cazenovia Forum welcomed security expert, author and producer Peter Bergen to the Catherine Cummings Theatre where he shared his views, expertise and insights on a range of national and international security issues.

Bergen, whose latest book The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict between America and Al-Qaeda was praised by the New York Times as the essential primer for understanding the war on terror, produced the first television interview with Osama bin Laden while at CNN in 1997. It was in that interview that bin Laden declared war on the United States.  Bergen, director of the national security studies program at the New America Foundation, has reported on Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and counterterrorism and homeland security for a raft of major news outlets. He was candid yet optimistic about the future of Afghanistan, and he thinks America and her allies in the war there will ultimately succeed.

Bergen told the crowd of more than 250 people that there are some common myths about Afghanistan that cloud some assessments of the situation there.  “I think there are some very persistent myths about Afghanistan.  First of all, an influential myth is that Afghanistan is the ‘graveyard of empires’, and it was certainly the graveyard of the Soviet Empire,” he said.  “But the Soviets went in, they killed a million Afghans, they made a third of the population homeless, they inflicted a totalitarian war on the population and they faced a country-wide insurrection. As a result, every ethnic group, every class, rose up as one against the Soviets.”

But such is not the case with the American efforts in Afghanistan.  And even though polls show support in America for the war is low, Bergen thinks progress is possible.  He pointed out how the Americans are not universally reviled in the country as the Soviets were and the military challenges are accordingly less daunting.  “Today in Afghanistan we face a relatively small, rural Pashtun insurgency so it’s only one ethnic group, it’s confined largely to the countryside,” he said. It’s not a comparable situation to the one the Soviets faced and in fact the Afghan people in poll after poll have a favorable view of the Americans and their efforts to defeat this rural insurgency.  The Taliban have not taken a single city and are viewed with disdain by their fellow Afghans.  “If you look at Afghan polling data, the most recent BBC/ABC poll found that 59 percent of Afghans had a favorable view, believed their lives were getting better,” he said.

That may seem counterintuitive to Americans as they hear tale after tale of corruption and malfeasance in the Afghan government. But Bergen noted that compared to the lives the Afghans lived under the Taliban and the Soviets before them, their optimism is understandable. “If you’re an Afghan who’s aware of the history, of the Soviet invasion, of the civil war and the Taliban, life is obviously better,” he said. School rolls are swelling, especially for girls, who were forbidden to attend school under Taliban rule, and now more than six million children attend school in Afghanistan.  The Afghan economy is growing, one in four Afghans has a cell phone and infant mortality continues to fall.

There is still much wrong with Afghanistan.  Corruption in the country rivals that of Somalia. But Bergen maintains there is hope there.  He shared some encouraging numbers about the country and the levels of violence there, noting that one is more likely to be killed in Washington D.C. than in Kabul.

On a somewhat lighter note, Bergen assured the crowd that they were probably safe from the reach of terrorists. “I think that it’s very unlikely that al-Qaeda and its affiliates will attack Cazenovia and that’s a good thing,” he said.


Danny Zuker

Co-Executive Producer/Writer of “Modern Family”   

By Kristin Smith

            Danny Zuker, Emmy award-winning co-executive producer/writer of the hit television series  Modern Family, gave a lecture on the relationship between comedy and American culture on Apr. 15, 2011.  The talk was a part of the Cazenovia Forum Lecture Series and was co-hosted by both the Forum and the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, Zuker’s alma mater.

Zuker wowed the audience with hilarious recounts of incidents from his personal life which were incorporated into popular Modern Family episodes. His focus included an episode called “Manny Get Your Gun,” in which several scenes were inspired by events taken directly from the writer’s life.

In another episode, couple Claire and Phil argue about the quickest way to a restaurant, so they agree to take separate cars- an instance taken directly from Zuker’s life.  “We definitely wanted that to be an element,” Zuker said. “It felt very real. And then that exploded into ‘who is the more fun parent?’ And that was just pure writing.”

Zuker began his lecture by describing his journey from being a production assistant on The Arsenio Hall Show to writing for the late-90s comedy series Just Shoot Me!, where he met Modern Family co-creator Steve Levitan. Levitan contacted Zuker years later, just as he was becoming disenchanted with the writing business.

“I was really feeling like my career was drying up,” Zuker said. “So I started writing drama. I was all set to start becoming a very serious writer…when Steve Levitan called me up and said ‘Hey, I just did this pilot, it’s sort of up your alley. I’d love for you to take a look at it.’ I watched the pilot that he had shot, and by the time he was done, I felt like ‘What do I have to do to get on the show?’ It was just so good.”

Zuker’s Hollywood success is no surprise to Syracuse University Professor Michael Schoonmaker, who said Zuker was the smartest person in the room when he had him as a student in the mid-80s.

Zuker’s lecture ended with applause from nearly 240 people who attended. The writer also took questions from audience members, who were enthusiastic and quick to engage.  “We always have a question and answer time, which is really the crux of what we designed the forums to be,” said Cindy Sutton, president of the Cazenovia Forum.

A reception followed the lecture, at which members of the audience were able to meet Zuker personally and further discuss American culture and the role of a sitcom writer.

“Anybody can write,” Zuker said, “But it’s a writer’s job to rewrite.”

Ivory Tower Half-hour

Ivory Tower Panelists

On Sunday evening, June 5th, the Cazenovia Forum hosted a lively presentation of  “The Ivory Tower Half Hour”, a weekly Friday night public affairs television program broadcast in Central New York on PBS affiliate WCNY.  The event was held at Johnny Appleseed Farm, a lovely and comfortable setting for the Forum’s fundraiser.

The Ivory Tower panel addressed three critical current issues with their usual smart, thoughtful analysis and commentary.  They debated the pros and cons of the NYS Legislature passing a law that would allow the public the power to recall elected officials from office.  They also examined the question of fairness when in many states, college or university admissions committees can deny a potential student admission to the college or university because he or she has a felony record.   Finally, the panel tackled the enormously complicated problem of the U.S. Government’s budget deficit..  The panel ended their presentation by giving their personal F’s and A’s to deserving newsmakers of the week.  The audience responded with instantaneous applause to many of the choices, especially the F’s.

The distinguished Ivory Tower panelists, Kristi Andersen from S.U.’s Maxwell School, Tim Byrnes of Colgate University, Lisa Dolac from S.U.’s College of Law, Bob Greene of Cazenovia College, Tara Ross, from OCC, Bob Spitzer from SUNY Cortland, and moderator David Rubin, former Dean of the Newhouse School at S. U., also readily answered many questions from the audience about how the program works, how they prepare for the show each week, and how they arrived at the name of the program.  The panel was altogether engaging, articulate, and delightful which made the entire evening a huge success.  Comments by several people attending the event were, “This was the best fund raiser we’ve ever been to!” and “The evening was interesting AND fun!”

Cindy Sutton, for the Cazenovia Forum

Thomas Flynn

Author of Epic 9/11 Poem

Thomas Flynn

CAZENOVIA, NY – Thomas Flynn, former CBS Evening News producer, will read from his acclaimed book-length poem “Bikeman,” an account of his experiences at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001, at a special Cazenovia Forum event marking the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.

The event will take place on Sunday, September 11 at 7:30pm at the Presbyterian Church Meeting House on Albany Street in Cazenovia, immediately following the annual Community 9/11 Ceremony that will begin at 7:00pm across the street in Memorial Park.  This Caz Forum event is free of charge and light refreshments will be served after the reading.

In 2001 Flynn was a producer for CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, living in lower Manhattan near the corner of 10th Street and Sixth Avenue.  When the first plane hit the north tower of the World Trade Center, he grabbed a pen and notebook and rode his bike to the scene, arriving at about the time the second plane hit the South tower.

“Bikeman,” published in 2008, is Flynn’s account of his experiences in the midst of the disaster, including his struggle to both cover the story and survive it.

In his foreword to the book, Dan Rather wrote “what Tom has set down here are the reports of the journalist as poet, or poet as journalist. The two are not so far apart as some may think, nor are the experiences limned in our cultural touchstones so far removed from our contemporary headlines. These dispatches in verse tell the story of a journey into a modern underworld, and of the escape that made it possible to tell the tale. Here is a survivor’s lament, related by one who ‘did not live through it’ but ‘just did not die.'”

In addition to working for the CBS Evening News, Flynn was a founding member of 48 HOURS and a producer at 60 Minutes for Steve Kroft.  He currently writes and produces for Dan Rather Reports on cable broadcaster HDNet.

He’s been honored by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with 15 Emmy Award nominations, winning six.  And he was honored with the prestigious Peabody Award for his work on 48 HOURS.

Betty Rollin

On October 14th, 2011, speaker Betty Rollin visited the Catherine Cummings Theatre in Cazenovia to discuss “end of life choices” as part of the Cazenovia Forum lecture series.

Rollin, recipient of the DuPont and Emmy Awards and former NBC correspondent, focuses primarily on human interest stories. Two of her books First, You Cry and Last Wish focus on her struggles with breast cancer and her mother’s terminal disease respectively, and both have been made into movies. She is currently a correspondent for PBS’ Religion and Ethics Newsweekly Segment.

Rollin began the discussion by telling the audience about her mother. At the age of 74, Rollin’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After it seemed that the cancer had gone into remission, it came back again “hard and mean,” and this time her mother had had enough. Rollin read the audience a quote from her mother: “I’ve had a wonderful life but now it is over.” The daily struggle, pain, and hopelessness were overwhelming to her mother, and Rollin understood that her wish to die was not a passing whim.

About twenty years ago, when Rollin faced this obstacle with her mother, there was no precedent for mentally sound patients with a terminal illness who wanted to end their lives. After a difficult search, Rollin and her husband found a solution. Knowing she had an option, Rollin’s mother “was herself again”; having the drug gave her a sense of control. As Rollin told the audience, “she died graciously and gratefully, and we were grateful too.”

Twenty years after her experience with her mother, Rollin works with Death with Dignity, a group that tries to change the laws surrounding physician assisted suicide. Currently there are only two states, Washington and Oregon that have passed laws that allow this act. Massachusetts is currently in the decision process. The main opposition stems mostly from the Catholic Church, which condemns any voluntary taking of human life, with Rollin claiming that this criticism was not shared by all individual members of the Church.

Many of the people who receive the drug that will end their lives choose to never use it. Knowing that they have an escape is comfort enough. Though there is significantly more material on this issue now than when Rollin and her mother faced it years ago, people facing this decision do not have many resources at their disposal. Rollin’s goal is to spread understanding about the issue and to educate the public both about Death with Dignity and physician assisted suicide. In response to a question about what individuals can do to support Death with Dignity, Rollin suggested supporting the initiative in Massachusetts and simply raising awareness about the issue.

The next Cazenovia Forum will be on Tuesday November 8th and will feature Eric Kingson of Syracuse University to discuss “The Politics, Economics, and Ethics of Social Security Reform.” The event will be located in McDonald Lecture Hall on the Cazenovia College Campus.

Eric Kingson

Eric Kingson

CAZENOVIA, NY – Eric Kingson, professor, presidential policy advisor and author, will discuss the politics, economics and ethics of Social Security reform at the next Cazenovia Forum lecture, to be held Tuesday, November 8th at 7pm at Cazenovia College’s McDonald Lecture Hall.

The event is free of charge and no reservations are required. A reception will follow the talk.

Kingson, professor of social work at Syracuse University, served as policy advisor to two presidential commissions – the 1982-83 National Commission on Social Security Reform and the 1994 Bipartisan Commission on Entitlement and Tax Reform. He was an advisor on the Obama Campaign’s Retirement Security Policy Advisory Committee and the Social Security Administration’s transition team. Kingson also co-directs Social Security Works, an organization which built and launched the Strengthen Social Security Campaign.

Kingson is a 2007 recipient of the Syracuse University Chancellor’s Citation for Faculty Excellence and Scholarly Distinction and Syracuse University’s 2010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Unsung Hero Award.  His scholarship examines the politics and economics of population aging, Social Security policy, baby boomers, cross-generational obligations and  the distributional effects of changes in retirement age.

The Cazenovia Forum is a 501 (c) 3, not-for-profit organization established in 2006 by community members focused on promoting the understanding and discussion of national and international issues. By organizing and underwriting lecture events featuring nationally-known experts, the group intends to further Cazenovia’s commitment to knowledge-seeking and community involvement.

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