updated 12/29/2005 10:31:23 AM ET 2005-12-29T15:31:23

Guest: Nancy Weinstock, Bill Maher, Stephen Hayes, Richard Walden,

McGregor Scott

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Right now in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, the biggest charity outfits in the world are ripping you off.  Nearly 50 people indicted in California in a Red Cross hurricane scam.  The U.S. attorney is expanding that investigation that could nail over 100 suspects, this as an explosive report nails the United Nations for wasting hundreds of millions of dollars donated to them to save tsunami victims.  So, why is your money being burned by waste, fraud, and abuse at the U.N.?  And how can you be sure that your donations are going to go where you want them to go? 

Tonight, SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY investigates and gives you the facts. 

Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, no passport required, only common sense allowed. 

ANNOUNCER:  From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all.  Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thanks so much for being with me tonight.  I really do appreciate it. 

We are going to have that story.  Plus, from our SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY files, my “no-holds-barred” interview with controversial funny man Bill Maher on war, peace, Jesus, religion, the Playboy mansion, and life itself.  You are not going to want to miss that duel. 

Plus, the president's political war rages on.  A lot of people in Washington think this guy is turning the corner.  We will tell you what our experts think and what they tell us is going to happen in 2006. 

But, first, charity ripoffs.  It's a scandal, and it's growing.  You know, Americans are so generous.  We know that.  SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY has helped out the troops overseas, also helped the poor people in Mississippi, and Louisiana, and you know, when natural disasters strike, we just open our wallets.  for victims of Hurricane Katrina alone, Americans gave $1.85 billion.  You gave over half-a-million dollars to our charity in Mississippi.  And after the tsunami struck Southeast Asia, our government pledged nearly $900 million dollars, more than any other nation, and donations from Americans reached $1.5 billion. 

But now, we are learning of scams and the ripoffs that are preventing the money that you donated from going to the victims who so desperately need it.  They still need it.  This week, 49 people in California busted for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Red Cross fund designated for Hurricane Katrina victims, and tonight, more arrests expected in this growing scandal. 

With me now, we have got McGregor Scott.  He's the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, who is prosecuting this case. 

McGregor, it's good to see you again. 

MCGREGOR SCOTT, U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well, it's a pleasure, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Forty-nine people indicted in this scam.  Tell us what the scam involved and what you found out. 

SCOTT:  Well, what happened is, shortly after Katrina hit, the Red Cross established a national call center in Bakersfield, California, in the southern part of my district, in which they set up a call center, so that legitimate victims of Hurricane Katrina could call in, provide some identifying information to validate that they were in fact legitimate victims, and the Red Cross would then set up a process where they would issue a pin number to that victim, and then the victim would go down to the local Western Union station, where they would provide the pin number. 

And then the Red Cross would wire the money directly to the person at the Western Union.  That's how the process was supposed to work.  What happened here is that the call center was actually operated for the Red Cross by a private company.  And the employees at the call center quickly figured out that there was a way to get around this and take advantage of the situation. 

What they did is call some of their buddies, some of their relatives, and provide those pin numbers.  Persons who had no contact whatsoever with Katrina or the Gulf Coast, got those pin numbers, went down to the local Western Union, and then were able to get the money that they had no right to.  Thus, the fraud. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, McGregor, this is growing, isn't it? 

SCOTT:  It is. 

In fact, we have, as you have mentioned, to date indicted 49 individuals, and we expect in the coming weeks that we are going to indict several more, and perhaps could even double the number of indictments that we have as we speak today. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, the big question tonight is, how did this happen?  Is it because—do you think it may be because the Red Cross outsourced these call centers through an organization that just didn't have the safeguards in place to protect donors' money? 

SCOTT:  Well, that's clearly an issue, and I think the Red Cross would tell you that, that in the future, they are going to have to look more closely at who they engage to operate these kinds of centers for them. 

I think the fact of the matter, though, is the Red Cross was in a very difficult position.  They were trying to allocate over $1 billion in aid to a whole lot of people who needed it desperately right now.  And so there was a lot of pressure on the Red Cross to get that money out the door as quickly and as expeditiously as they could. 

They did make good-faith efforts to establish safety protocols to ensure that fraud would not take place.  Obviously, unfortunately as we know now, those safeguards were not sufficient, and in talking with Red Cross officials, I feel very confident that as we go forward from here, in similar circumstances, they are going to be far more circumspect in the safeguards that they do establish. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Hey, McGregor, as always, thank you so much for being with us. 

SCOTT:  Thank you, Joe.  I appreciate it.  Happy new year to you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  McGregor Scott, all right.  Happy new year to you and your family, too. 

So how has the Red Cross handled the money that you gave them to help victims of Hurricane Katrina? 

With me now is Richard Walden.  He knows an lot about charity organizations.  He's the president and CEO of Operation USA.  That's a charity that specializes in disaster relief. 

OK, Richard, let me tell you what my problem is with the Red Cross, other than dealing with them unfortunately in Mississippi, and seeing that all their people on the ground are so arrogant, and they hate other charities getting involved and actually helping people when they are sitting over in the corner.  We will talk about that in a little bit. 

But it seems to me, the Red Cross never outsources raising money.  These people are thieves when it comes to raising money.  They get on TV immediately.  They scoop up hundreds of millions of dollars.  They don't outsource that part of the operation, but when it comes to actually giving the money away, helping people, that's when they start outsourcing.  Am I being too tough on the Red Cross? 

RICHARD WALDEN, PRESIDENT & CEO, OPERATION USA:  No.  You just took my opening line away from me. 

The fund-raising is completely over the top, given the fact that Red Cross policy is they don't share the money with community foundations and community nonprofits.  If you could—why would it go to Bakersfield?  Why wouldn't Red Cross money have been given to community foundations who have existing relationships with thousands of nonprofits in their communities and let those groups who know their community better than the national Red Cross does help their own neighbors? 

I just think the funds came in very quickly.  Everybody and their mother was giving money to the Red Cross.  Media were giving money to the Red Cross and raising it. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on, Richard.  That's what I want to ask you, because all we are doing here tonight is we are trying to protect people's money, and the second a natural disaster hits, rock stars, movie stars, media types, immediately get in line and say, give money to the Red Cross.

And I am telling you, Richard, I have been on the ground.  I have been in Mississippi for over a month, handing out aid.  People on the ground felt abandoned by the Red Cross.  Why is it that the Red Cross—why are they placed on this pedestal, and we are all told, blindly give your money to the Red Cross; they are going to take care of people who are hurting? 

(CROSSTALK)

WALDEN:  Well, that's what your colleagues in Congress on the Homeland Security Committee are in the process of learning about, because they issued a scathing report on December 14 asking to take another look at the congressional charter of the Red Cross, and to see if maybe the functions that we expect of them are way beyond anyone's realistic means of doing, and that there are huge charities like Catholic Relief, World Vision, CARE, that deal with mass disasters as well. 

I thought in the smaller disaster, in terms of money of the tsunami, where they collected $568 million, the American Red Cross.  They've still got $401 million of that sitting in a bank in Washington a year later. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

WALDEN:  They were supposed to have given that to the Red Cross chapters in 11 countries, as well as the International Red Cross. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Richard, that all goes back to the fact that these people are great at raising money. 

WALDEN:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  In fact, they raise money better than anybody in the world. 

WALDEN:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  The question is, do they deliver it even moderately well?

Final question, Richard.  I want to ask you again, you know about charities.  You have been through so many of these disasters. 

WALDEN:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why is it that there is this—and this is really what the Red Cross—if anybody at the Red Cross is angry at what I am saying right now, please, take this as constructive criticism. 

WALDEN:  They are angry at me, too. 

SCARBOROUGH:  My question is, Richard, this.

WALDEN:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Why are they so arrogant?  Why are the people on the ground so offended when Christian ministries, when other relief organizations come in and just want to help people who are hurting? 

WALDEN:  Because they are a quasi-governmental organization, not a charity in the classic sense. 

And we have to start redefining how we deal with them, and handle them.  Because they are not—they don't—they are not the Salvation Army.  And they are not CARE, and they are not Operation USA.  They are a different animal, and they have a first-responder responsibility that none of us have, but, at the same time, their fund-raising side hasn't been informed about that.  And the money comes pouring in. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

It does come pouring in. 

Hey, Richard, thank you so much for being with us. 

WALDEN:  You're welcome. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Richard Walden, greatly appreciate it. 

WALDEN:  Thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, again, I just want to say this.  I know I sound like I am knocking the Red Cross, but, again, whoever takes over that organization moving forward needs to handle the grassroots operation and needs to have a complete change in culture with the people who are helping out on the ground.  The arrogance is eating away at your organization. 

It is offending people not only in New Orleans, but across Mississippi, Alabama, the entire Gulf Coast.  We have been through enough hurricanes.  I know what I am talking about, not only as somebody that went through it with Hurricane Ivan and other hurricanes in my area, but also being on the ground in southern Mississippi for as long as I was—so much anger building up against the Red Cross, again, because it all goes back to arrogance. 

Now, today, the Red Cross responded to the fraud allegations and said this—quote—“The American Red Cross doesn't tolerate fraud.  Instances of fraud represent a small percentage of the overall contributions that have been made to the American Red Cross.  And we are confident in our ability, working with law enforcement officers at the local and state and federal levels, to identify, investigate, prosecute any and all fraud and fraudulent acts.”

And we certainly salute them for that and we believe they will do it. 

Now let's turn to the serious questions that are being raised tonight about how the United Nations is spending the money donated to victims of tsunami that killed 220,000 people last year.  You are not going to believe this.  The world pledged more than $13 billion to help those survive, but “The Financial Times” newspaper says that up to a third of the $590 million so far spent under the United Nations $1.1 billion disaster bill have gone to administrative costs. 

Friends, that's a little confusing.  Let me break it down to you, $1.1 billion given by countries to the U.N. for immediate relief.  The U.N.  actually spent $590 million one year later, and up to a third of the money, up to a third of the money blown, blown on overhead costs.  Some are saying, almost 50 percent didn't go to help any victims. 

Now, why isn't this money going to the poor people who need it most? 

With me now from Washington, D.C., is Stephen Hayes from “The Weekly Standard.”

Stephen, I can't help but think back in the days following the tsunami, this horrible tsunami, the United Nations, the world community, bashing George Bush and the United States government for not giving quickly to this flash fund, this fund that we find out later may have ended up going—at least 50 percent of it going to the United Nations in overhead.  What is going on here? 

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Well, Joe, those numbers are pretty staggering.  Any time you are talking about a third, up to either staff salaries or other administrative costs, you have got to ask yourself, what kind of an organization would permit that kind of misspending?

But I think there's also a second scandal here, sort of wrapped in the first.  And it's the U.N. at the time of the tsunami and in the months following the tsunami pledged to be totally transparent about how exactly it was going to be spending this vast amount of money.  And up to this point, it appears, certainly from “The Financial Times” reporting, that they haven't been transparent at all. 

In fact, they are doing everything they can to prevent disclosure of how this money is being spent.  I think we could learn a lot more if we could see exactly what these dollars were going to. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So should there be a congressional investigation? 

HAYES:  Well, look, a lot of this money is American money.  It comes from the American taxpayers.  Certainly, we have contributed on our own.  We have contributed through the U.N.  I don't see how Congress—I think Congress would actually be negligent if they didn't look into this. 

Maybe it doesn't require a full-blown investigation.  Part of the problem, frankly, is that we don't know exactly what the scandal is, or the extent of the scandal, because we haven't seen any kind of serious transparency from the United Nations. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No transparency now, no transparency in the past, and certainly probably none in the future, unless we do something about it. 

Stephen Hayes, thanks so much.

We will be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Funny man Bill Maher comes to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY to talk about war, peace, the Playboy mansion, and Jesus—that and much more when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It was nearly a year ago that President Bush took his second oath of office, and it's been a year of full-contact politics ever since. 

I mean, I am telling you, this guy has had highs, and he has had lows, of course, the January 30 election where the Iraqis went to vote on the referendum, just unbelievable.  And then, of course, as we know, the election went off very well earlier this month.  But the president's numbers go up.  They go down.  There's been the Katrina scandal.  There's been the high gas prices, so many—such a tumultuous year for him. 

With me now to talk about the president's political year, what's been, where he is now and where he is going is MSNBC's political analyst Pat Buchanan.  And we believe we are going to be having Lawrence O'Donnell in a second, Pat.  He is down in New Orleans somewhere.  We got to get him off the raft and get him in front of the camera. 

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But let's talk about, first of all, it's been a horrible year for the president, Hurricane Katrina and so many other problems, the Rove problem.  You obviously have Iraq.  Tell me, how is the president faring right now? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, then you got Harriet Miers, which was a debacle. 

But, right now, the president has had a very good late November, early December.  He really came back dramatically Joe.  His polls are up 10 points, and he is blessed by an incompetent opposition, which is divided on the war.  And when you are running up against Reid, Pelosi, and Dr. Dean, you are not up against a great three, so the president is doing OK now. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat, this president—and I keep trying to tell this to my Democratic friends—the president could not have selected his political opponents any better, than when you have Howard Dean, who says we are losing the war.  You have got Nancy Pelosi, who says the same thing. 

You have got Harry Reid, that goes around bragging that Democrats killed the Patriot Act.  You have got the number-two Democrat in the Senate, the second most powerful Democrat in Washington, Durbin, comparing our troops to Nazis, to Soviet thugs, to the Khmer Rouge.  I mean, who is going to step forward...

BUCHANAN:  It's the gift that keeps on giving. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

Who is going to step forward in this Democratic Party and tell these people to shut up, that they are killing the Democrats' chances in '06? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, their leadership is extraordinarily weak.  There's no question about it, but none of these leaders is their leader for 2008.

And all of them, whether it's Kerry or Hillary or Edwards, they are lying in the weeds, Joe, on Iraq for a simple reason.  They don't know how this is going to come out, and they don't want to be tagged, the way Pelosi and Dean are being tagged, as not honest critics of the policy, but saboteurs, undermining the American troops in Iraq. 

This is a real weakness of the Democratic Party that, on national security and defense, it gets you into the war, and then it turns around and starts undercutting the war effort.  And that's the real problem for the Democrats.  And I give Hillary credit.  She is listening to her husband.  She is staying out of that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I will tell you, she has been playing it masterfully.  She has been—she has really been masterful in what she has been doing since she got into the United States Senate in early 2001. 

I think she is making all the right moves.  Republicans who don't think that this woman can be elected president in 2008 are badly underestimating her. 

But I want to talk about a couple issues...

BUCHANAN:  Sure. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... from 2005 that you hear repeated over and over again in Washington, D.C.  People in Washington just don't get it, Pat, Democrats especially. 

When they think that Americans are outraged by Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, this Washington spying scandal.  I got bad news for them.  People in Albertsons in the Redneck Riviera just couldn't care less.  Do you agree with me on that? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Let me tell you, if you ask the—we are up here at Rose Bowl, Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl weekend.  You ask the American people who is Scooter Libby, and they will tell you that he is a halfback for USC. 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  They don't know who this guy is. 

And Karl Rove, I know our own network, they say, what a disaster if Karl Rove gets indicted.  I don't believe it.  Americans are concerned about two things, the economy.  Bush is doing OK now because gasoline prices are down.  He could have problems in the coming year, and it looks like Iraq for a while is turning around.  If those two go badly, Bush is in deep trouble. 

If they go well somehow, and we can start pulling out of Iraq, I don't think the Democrats have really got much, because they have got—they have really got no candidates, no leaders out there, who are very impressive with the American people.  And I don't think—go ahead. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I'm sorry. 

Let's bring in Lawrence O'Donnell right now.  They apparently have been able to get the lights up in New Orleans. 

Lawrence, let's talk about the year that was.  The president obviously had a horrible problems with Katrina, Social Security dead on arrival.  But the question is, what are the Democrats going to have in 2006 to tell Americans, yes, not only is the president's vision for America wrong, but we can take you on the right path?  Who is that leader that can do that? 

LAWRENCE O'DONNELL, MSNBC SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST:  I don't think they need an individual leader to do it, Joe. 

I think they have to run individual House races and individual Senate races in which the Democratic candidate is going to have to make a specific case against that specific Republican candidate.  In terms of having a leader rise up against this president, they don't need one now, and you are absolutely right.  They don't have one now.  They are lucky enough to watch a presidency sinking, without the Democrats doing anything to make that happen. 

It certainly was on its way to real trouble with the death of the Social Security plan before Katrina hit, but when Katrina hit this city, that was pretty much the end of the Bush presidency.  It cannot recover from the air of incompetence that has come up...

SCARBOROUGH:  Why have his numbers gone up by 10 percentage points? 

O'DONNELL:  Well, look, Joe, this guy is an incumbent president who was reelected a year ago. 

He should be riding well above 50 percent.  I don't believe he is ever, ever going to get into the 53 percent territory again, because what is the—the image that's been delivered now, domestically and internationally with the effort in Iraq is one of basic incompetence, and that is not something I think this presidency is going to be able to overcome. 

What does anyone think this administration is going to be able to do very well in the year 2006?  I can't think of a single thing. 

BUCHANAN:  Joe, let me just say...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, the thing is, though—hold on one second.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  I just want to say with Lawrence, though, again—and let me just say, I was just saying a month ago, I really didn't think the president's poll numbers would ever get over 44 or 45 percent again. 

If he keeps moving this direction, he is going to be over 50.  The economy has turned around.  Consumer confidence, way up.  The jobless rate down to 5 percent.  Of course, as you heard the White House saying, that's a percentage that is lower than the average over the past 30 years.  If the economy keeps improving, that certainly helps the president, doesn't it? 

O'DONNELL:  Well, every time there's an election in Iraq, the president does get a little bit of a bump from that, but we are going to see that wear off pretty quickly. 

The violence will get back to what is the normal level of violence in Iraq, and it will not abate. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me say, Joe, look, I think Larry has got a point in this sense.  The 2006 election is going to be a referendum on George Bush.  The big issues are going to be the economy and Iraq. 

If the economy is heading down and Iraq looks like it's unraveling and a mess, the Democrats are going to win, and the question is only, how big is it going to be?  Everything depends on those two issues coming up. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But , you know, Pat, and Lawrence, let me throw this to both of you guys.  My theory has been for the past couple of years that Americans, on some level, and the polls show this, on some level, Americans believe that Iraq is a necessary fight in the war on terror. 

BUCHANAN:  Oh. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It's messy.  It's nasty, but they would rather the

battle be waging—and I had a postman tell me this a couple of days ago -

·         rather be fighting it over in Baghdad than in Boston. 

Does that sell in '06? 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Let me say, I think the president bought himself six months to a year.  I think he has done a great job in the last six weeks.  Democrats are divided, offer no leadership. 

But, Joe, it depends what happens on the ground.  We are going to know by next fall, September, whether this election works or whether this is going to unravel in a civil war or an endless war that Americans want to get out of.  Right now, the president is doing fine.  But, by then, in September, we are going to know whether we ought to just get out or whether we should stay the course.  And if it looks horrible...

SCARBOROUGH:  Lawrence, can you make a prediction for me? 

And, Pat, I will ask for your prediction, too. 

Will the Democrats retake the House and the Senate in '06, Lawrence? 

O'DONNELL:  I think they are going to gain seats, Joe.  It's too early for me to do a real calculation on the House seats. 

I think they do have a better chance in the House than they do in the Senate, but the problem is that even if the Republicans regain control, continue to control it, they cannot legislate anything meaningful.  We saw that in the complete collapse of the Social Security plan.  There won't be any tax reform plan.  There won't be any significant governing being done by the Republican Party in the Congress. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Pat Buchanan? 

BUCHANAN:  They're going to lose—we are going to lose, the Republicans are, in both houses.  Whether it's enough to lose the Congress, I don't know. 

But I think, still, the president is never a lame duck.  I have never seen a president who can't come smoking back, frankly, the way the president did after Harriet Miers with Alito, the way he did on Iraq.  A president can always come back, Joe.  This—it's the most powerful job on Earth, and he can do an awful lot without the support of Congress, and he can also beat up the Congress as a foil. 

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL:  Tell that to Richard Nixon, Pat.  The president cannot always come back. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Lawrence, I just heard Pat Buchanan talk about “we” talking about Republicans. 

BUCHANAN:  Clinton did.

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Lawrence, it sounds like Pat may be coming home. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

O'DONNELL:  Pat is a very open-minded thinker, Joe.  You know that. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I'm drifting out near the fever swamp, Joe. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks so much, Pat. 

Thank you, Lawrence.  Greatly appreciate it.

BUCHANAN:  Take it easy.  Happy new year. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Happy new year to both of you. 

And if you look at Ronald Reagan's last two years and Bill Clinton's last two years, Lawrence O'Donnell may be right.  Year seven and eight are just brutal for presidents. 

Now, when we come back, one of my favorite interviews of the year, comedian's Bill Maher's memorable visit to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.

Plus, every picture tells a story, baby, and we have got some of the best taken this year in 2005.  We have got those pictures coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Controversial funny man Bill Maher enters SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY to talk about his views on the war, on the president, on the Playboy mansion, and on religion.  We will have that and much more.

But, first, here's the latest news that you and your family need to know. 

(NEWS BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  They are the best pictures of the year through the eyes of some of America's best photographers. 

Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  We are going to have that story in just minutes.

But first, Bill Maher came to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, and he didn't even get a T-shirt.  Who wrote that?  I am out of here. 

Anyway, God, rewrite, please, rewrite.  That was back in August.  But, earlier that day, the Reverend Pat Robertson had said that the United States should assassinate the president of Venezuela, a comment for which he later apologized. 

I started by asking Bill about Pat Robertson's comments. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL MAHER, HOST, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  If this guy was not wearing a nice suit and didn't have a television show, he would be a urine-soaked barker on a street corner, the kind of guy who has a megaphone and is just yelling at people on the street. 

So, you know, I don't understand why he is taken as seriously as he is.  And, also, you know, if I said something like that, well, maybe you could argue about it, because, as you point out, I'm not religious, but he's a Christian.  It seems very un-Christian-like to be suggesting assassinating people.  I don't—I don't know as much about Jesus as you do, Joe, but it seems like his image was a peaceful man. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, nothing in the New Testament, from what I have read, since I started going to Bible study at 4 years old, about assassinating leaders that you don't agree with. 

What is your take, as a hard-nosed, what would you call yourself, not atheist, agnostic, possibly, on the issue of assassination of foreign leaders? 

MAHER:  Deist. 

SCARBOROUGH:  A deist.  What is your take on assassinating foreign leaders as a policy of the United States?  Support it or oppose it? 

MAHER:  I think it's a case-by-case basis.  I am certainly not always against it.  I think there are times when assassinating a foreign leader is a darn good idea.

But, you know, Joe, I am pro-death.  I was pointing that out this week to Phyllis Schlafly on our show, that I am consistent about death, unlike some people.  I am pro-death penalty.  I am pro-choice.  I am pro-assisted suicide, pro-regular suicide.  I am for death down the line. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER:  And sometimes, yes—sometimes, yes, an assassination is just what the doctor ordered. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I will tell you what.  If you do retire in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, that's a heck of a campaign platform to run for Congress on. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  I am for death down the line, baby.  Vote for Bill. 

MAHER:  I'm a one-issue candidate, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What about Saddam Hussein?  If you had a shot at him in early March 2003, would you have taken him out to save Americans from this war? 

MAHER:  Absolutely. 

Of course, the way we did it was, you know, we blew up the whole country along with him.  And who is left standing?  Him.  And who looks now better than ever?  Saddam Hussein.  Because, apparently, what he was telling us all along, which is that you need an iron fist to hold this country together, turned out to be a little more true than we wanted to believe.  I am not saying that it was a good thing that he was there.  He was obviously a horrible, horrible person, and we are all glad he is gone, but he did kind of have a point.

And I think, on our part, rather the part of the Bush administration, to run into that country willy-nilly, thinking that, just because we were bringing freedom and spreading our freedom dust and waving the American flag, that we were somehow going to be able to keep this country together and put something better in its place, it just doesn't look that way.  It doesn't look like we are spreading democracy, Joe.  It looks like we are spreading theocracy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Bill...

MAHER:  That wasn't the plan, was it?

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Bill, I respect you for a couple of reasons.  One of the reasons is because, when I have been on your show before, and I was pounced upon by a pack of wild dogs, you always save me.  You are always very fair. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  The other reason I respect you is, I have been following you throughout the Iraq war, since we invaded in March of 2003.  And like most Americans, your view on this war has gone back and forth.  You actually have—you haven't been ideological about it.  You haven't chosen sides. 

When the elections went well, you were like, you know what?  This may not be a bad idea. 

Where are you now, in this new season? 

MAHER:  Well...

SCARBOROUGH:  Are you having serious second thoughts?  Do you think it's time to bring the troops home? 

MAHER:  I think it is. 

You know, there's a certain point where, in every young man's life, you have to say to yourself, you know what?  I am never going to play Major League Baseball.  And I think there's a certain point in every president's life when you say, my plan to transform the Middle East, it's just not going to happen.  Maybe it will happen some other time.  Sometimes, things take more than one try. 

I had to quit smoking about eight times before it worked.  I think maybe someday, we will be able to bring democracy to the Middle East, but not on this try.  It just doesn't—when you read the stories in the newspaper on like page 10, you know, the ones that are kind of buried, the ones from reporters who are in a certain city, like Basra or Mosul, and they talk about what's going on, you see that it's all tribal factions and it's all about corruption.  It's all about people taking over on the local level who we didn't intend to take over. 

It just doesn't seem like, at this point, because we did it so badly -

·         maybe if we had done everything right—and we certainly didn't do anything right—it could have worked.  But the way it is now, I just don't think on this try it's going to work.  And I know leaving is going to create a horrible situation, but that is what you bought when you bought George Bush.  The best thing I could say about him is that I do admire the intent to solve this problem of Muslim extremism with a long-range approach.  That's usually what politicians don't do. 

They take the short-range approach.  And George Bush said, no, let's do this long-range, as well as—well, I don't think he did the short-range very well at all.  But he said, let's take a long-range approach to solving this problem.  I admire that.  It just was done so badly and without thinking enough about it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think this war is a noble war.  I think you are right.  George Bush was farsighted.  Unlike you and unlike Feingold and unlike a lot of Democrats, I think the absolute worst thing we can do now is cut and run.  We can win this war, but you know what?  We are not going to be able to win this war if—if we don't stick to it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER:  I don't know.  Win this war, I don't—that one, I don't know about at this point.  That's—Joe, I mean...

SCARBOROUGH:  We have lost—we have lost 2,000 troops.  The question is, the question is, have we gotten to a point in U.S. history where the American people can't deal with casualties? 

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER:  Yes. 

In fact, Saddam Hussein said that at the first Gulf War.  And, by the way, this war, I would say to you, is a lot more noble than the first Gulf War.  The first Gulf War was about cheap gasoline.  This war at least had a better idea. 

I don't doubt that George Bush is sincere when he says Iraq is one battle in the war on terrorism.  I don't think he is correct about that.  But I don't understand why Cindy Sheehan wants to meet him so much, because what is he, after all, going to say to her?  Is he going to suddenly change his mind?  No.  He is going to repeat the same trite platitudes he has repeated for the last three years. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  What trite platitudes?

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Give me a trite platitude. 

MAHER:  We are fighting—we are fighting them there, so we don't have to fight them here.  They hate us for our freedom.  Those are the trite platitudes.  And Iraq is one battle in the war on terrorism.  Those are the things he is going to say to Cindy Sheehan, and she doesn't believe it, like I don't believe it.  We have a fundamental disagreement. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You think George Bush went into Iraq because of Jesus? 

MAHER:  I think everything—every decision George Bush makes is, yes, affected by his very fervent belief in Jesus Christ. 

I think he thinks that Jesus Christ sits on his shoulder, so that any decision he makes he thinks is backed up by the lord.  This is the man, after all, when he was leaving the pope's funeral, was asked, what did you think?  And he said, no doubt in my mind Christ, the lord, was sent by the almighty.  Way to keep it neutral for the whole country. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  It's always great to have Bill here.  Of course, that was an edited tape back—I guess we did that a couple of months back.  But there were a couple of times where I just blurted out that thing, do you think he went in because of Jesus?

Actually, Bill had suggested that that was the case, which, of course, always makes for very good debate on his show on HBO.  Anyway, we are going to have him back in the next couple weeks. 

But, coming up next, a photo finish to the year.  See 2005 through the lens of newspaper photographers.  I will tell you, there are some great pictures that you won't soon forget. 

And also see why an actress may have another career to fall back on—that and much more when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Every day, a picture editor at “The New York Times” looks at about 2,000 photos.  Today, the paper published its best pictures of the year. 

Picture editor Nancy Weinstock is with us now. 

Nancy, let's start with the biggest story.  First of all, I got to tell you, I absolutely love when you all pick the photos of the year.  Let's talk about, though, Hurricane Katrina.  Obviously, it's got to be the top story, not only for journalists, but also photojournalists, right? 

NANCY WEINSTOCK, PICTURE EDITOR, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Well, that was certainly one of them in a very busy news year, yes, it was. 

SCARBOROUGH:  How did you pick the cover picture? 

WEINSTOCK:  Well, first of all, I should say that I am one of a number of people who work on pictures for “The Times,” and our director of photography, Michele McNally, did the yeoman's task of editing through a whole year's worth of work once again. 

This photograph both represents the entirety of the story in one image and works very well as the cover of the paper when you unfold the entire thing from top to bottom. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What makes a great picture? 

WEINSTOCK:  Wow.

There's a lot of criteria for what makes a great picture, particularly in a newspaper.  First of all, the clarity and delivery of news in the image would have to be high on my list.  The one you are seeing now, of course, shot in the airport, this one shot on—in St. Bernard's Parish of a volunteer rescue worker, all of them convey not only a sense of what was happening in a very immediate way on the ground in New Orleans, but also the tremendous human toll that was being taken.

The one you are seeing now, of course, is outside the infamous, now infamous Convention Center, where bodies were basically being stacked along the wall of people who had unfortunately passed away while inside the heat and tumult of the Convention Center. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, the thing is, and let's talk about Iraq, because the thing I have always been fascinated about, about war photography is that somehow still images seem to take you in more closely and more personally with the men and women on the ground than even video.  Talk about what a photojournalist does in a war zone like Iraq.

WEINSTOCK:  Well, the whole point of a still photograph, of course, is to capture a moment in time that can represent the entirety of that portion of the tale. 

In this case, of course, you see not only what the landscape is like, but you saw that the soldiers were marching, the photograph.  Here, you see a young girl holding a photograph of her brother who died in a roadside bombing.  And she is standing outside their house in Columbus, Ohio, and you get the entirety of her feeling, her loss, her missing her older brother. 

She is 14.  And it's very visible in that photograph. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.

Let's talk about a story that hit us in the spring.  And I don't think anybody expected it to take on the scope that it did, the passing of the pope. 

WEINSTOCK:  Oh, yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Let's talk about photos you selected for that. 

WEINSTOCK:  Well, of course, along with the photo you are seeing now, which is of the body being carried to lie in state in the basilica, we used a lot of photographs that told of the actual news event. 

This one, we chose in particular for its painterly quality and its beauty.  It really captures the pageantry of the entire several-day ceremony, done much in the way it's been done for hundreds and hundreds of years in the Vatican. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And what—let's talk about across the world also, more

·         more photos.  And here's a shot, I think that's of Pakistan. 

WEINSTOCK:  Yes. 

That shot is actually India, and it's in the aftermath of the South Asia earthquake earlier in the fall.  And, really, this was only taken a few weeks ago, and it tells you about the cold as it's setting in.  The one you are seeing now is a photograph of a woman who died in Banda Aceh during the tsunami, part of a set of photos that were done was an essay for “The Week in Review” by the same photographer who was also shooting for the daily paper, but shooting very different kind of photos at the time. 

This one was—is another scene from the tsunami, this one in Sri Lanka.  This woman came back to where her home was destroyed, but found that somehow the water pipes were still working and took a shower in what used to be her house. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Her house.

WEINSTOCK:  That's all that's left of it, is the shower and the shower pan that you see she is standing on. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And you also took some shots showed of sports.  Let's show a quick shot of one of the pictures that you selected in sports.  What's happening here?  As a Boston Red Sox fan, I wish this happened more often. 

WEINSTOCK:  Well, thank you very much, Joe. 

This is a real—this is a real ouch photograph of Gary Sheffield and  Bubba Crosby of the Yankees colliding during the playoffs in Anaheim with the Los Angeles Angels, and that was quite a collision.  I mean, you can see the ball is going flying off to the left.

(LAUGHTER)

WEINSTOCK:  But those two guys basically knocked each other out, and they were out of commission for quite a while afterwards, as were the Yankees. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, Nancy, certainly, we don't want anybody to get injured in baseball, even on the Yankees, unless, of course, they are playing the Red Sox. 

WEINSTOCK:  Oh, well. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Thank you for being with us, Nancy. 

WEINSTOCK:  Thank you for having me. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Greatly—greatly appreciate you bringing these pictures to America. 

We will be right back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Wake up the neighbors, because it's time now for a flyover of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, stories from around America that may have slipped under your radar screen. 

First up tonight, hot cop.  Crime pays, my friends, if you are from Scranton, Pennsylvania, that is, if you are lucky enough to get busted, frisked, and thrown over the hood of a late-model Ford cruiser by the police force's newest hot cop.  News out of the Keystone State tonight that Oscar-winning bombshell Mira Sorvino became an honorary sheriff's deputy yesterday, after passing a criminal background check. 

The 38-year-old star of the '90s classic “Romy and Michele's High School Reunion,” which also starred the love of my life, Janeane Garofalo, was sworn in with her family, including dad, Paul, by her side.  And the star of the honor, the “Mighty Aphrodite” star received a badge, but no gun, with her new title, deputy. 

Some of the cameramen are just wondering whether she was provided cuffs.  Just asking, again, for our cameramen. 

Also, let's go to Minneapolis, where six cars had to be pulled from the lake's frigid waters after they plunged through the ice.  Now, the mentally challenged drivers told authorities that they had planned to go ice fishing when they ignored signs that read T-H-I-N I-C-E.  Huh?  Now, I may just be a dumb country lawyer from the Redneck Riviera, but it kind of seems stupid to pull six 4,000-pound cars past signs that read thin ice. 

Go, Gophers. 

We will be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  That's all the time we have for tonight. 

Want to thank T.J. for his service to our show. 

Good job, T.J.  Good luck in your future endeavors. 

“THE SITUATION” starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Watch Scarborough Country each weeknight at 10 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,