August 31, 2005 |

New landscape, new worries (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. — What makes this so sad is that one of the poorest parts of Biloxi got hit the hardest. It’s a neighborhood known as the Point.  Every home in this neighborhood was totally destroyed.  If you look around, it’s total devastation.

Ironically, where I’m standing now, is the parking lot of what used to be the Salvation Army.  In fact, a brown building, the main center, is the only thing left standing on the lot.  There may have been a house nearby.  But the biggest change is that the Grand Casino was a half-mile away, pointed in the other direction.  You couldn’t see it from here. But the storm surge lifted it up and brought it across the highway and dropped it here.  The landscape has totally changed.

We’ve also heard a number of stories of people who couldn’t afford to leave.  This is an impoverished area, people get their check on the 1st and the 3rd week of the month.  With the hurricane striking when it did, people were already out of money and couldn’t spare the $30 or $40 to fill up their cars with gas and get out of here.  There are lot of fatalities of the people who tried to ride it out and use their money to buy batteries.

Outside of this particular neighborhood, people in other areas that still have roofs over their head, seemed to be at the local Biloxi Walmart today.  The line stretched from the front to the side and all the way to the back, people waiting to try and buy bare necessities.

Now, a couple days after the hurricane hit, people are running out of supplies.  The good news is that supplies are on the way.  Unlike, New Orleans, the situation here seems settled, trucks are able to get in with supplies.

The big problem now is that they don’t know where some bodies are because there is so much debris and so little indication of who stayed.  They don’t know where to begin to look for people.  They do have cadaver dogs out to help.  But it’s a grim situation here tonight.

E-mail: DShuster@msnbc.com

August 30, 2005 |

Damage destruction and a logistical nightmare (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. — The damage goes pretty far inland, because not only do you have the Gulf side but up in the other direction, you've got the bay side.  We're sort of on a peninsula.  And so virtually all of Biloxi, at one point, had water damage.

But even when you go, say, four miles away, inland, either from both the bay and from the Gulf, then you still have extensive water damage, because you have so many creeks and rivers, where they just totally overflowed and caused damage that way.

And then on top of that, you just have wind damage, literally within the bottom 70 miles of the state, there's just incredible wind damage.

What was so spooky about this debris that you see that everywhere there was water damage — from clothes and garbage and what-not is that as the waters receded, a lot of the debris got stuck in the trees.  We have seen this sort of debris five miles away from here inland, simply from the creeks and the rivers that overflowed.  And never mind the storm surge that reached pretty far, maybe a half a mile to a mile from the Gulf.

Governor Haley Barbour compared the damage to Hiroshima. That is not precise, certainly, as far as casualties, because they're still expecting maybe a couple of hundred when they can get under the debris.

But I think what he's getting at is the idea as far as the logistical headache that they have right now.  No power, no running water, no electricity, spotty cell phone service.  We have seen people almost battling with one another over bottles of water.  The Red Cross can't get in because some of the major roads are still blocked because of debris over them.
There are still concerns that because of the gas lines that have been ruptured in so many places that there could be explosions, or they're worried about that.  So it's just a logistical nightmare.

Because so many people evacuated from this Gulf Coast region north, all of the hotels that any rescue workers might want to stay in — they're already filled with people.  They don't have any power, they don't have any running water, in many cases, but they already have people in the rooms, because those are people whose homes have all been destroyed and took the Governor's advice to leave.

It's just a huge logistical nightmare.  I think to that extent it is a catastrophe of almost biblical proportions, according to the people who live here.

E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com

August 30, 2005 |

Many feared dead in Biloxi (David Shuster) Video: Deadly storm

BILOXI, Miss. — Now I'm about a quarter-mile from the beach.  Everything from here back down to shore is utter destruction.  All the beachside houses are destroyed. There’s nothing left. The people in this neighborhood who did survive did so because they were on the second story or on rooftops of buildings that were farther inland.

But we did have an opportunity this morning to drive around.  You could just see the total destruction of cars and parking lots smashed into one another, houses destroyed, trees uprooted, power-lines down — just a scene of utter devastation.

Because of the storm surge, it went not only here, close to the beach, but as far as a half mile in.  You had a storm surge of 25 feet, with waves on top of that of 15 to 20 feet.  So even houses that we saw a half-mile inland were destroyed.

One of the most horrifying stories in Biloxi is with an apartment building along the beach.  This morning, I talked to a homeowner whose house was right next door to the complex.  The homeowner came back and saw that his house was totally destroyed.  He says the people in the complex tried to ride out the storm and haven’t been heard from again.

E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com

August 29, 2005 |

Tracking Katrina: Mississippi coast submerged (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. — Today was insane. The power went out, all the power-lines snapped.  You started seeing signs in mall areas coming apart.  The wind was kicking up and you couldn't go outside. 

We are four miles away from the Gulf, the beach essentially.  But so much water was pushed up from the streams, the rivers and the creeks that it flooded parking lots.  Cars are buried and it will be a while before anybody can get them out. Video: Storm pounds Mississippi

That was the case along the entire Gulf Coast.  Earlier today, we had the opportunity to drive.  A couple of hours after the eye of the hurricane went through, we drove through a town called D'Ivervillee.  It has about 6,000 people and it's about two miles away from the beach. 

D'Ivervillee was under water today: six feet of water in the main intersections; most homes are flooded; the gas stations are flooded; there was even a motor boat that was pushed up two miles along the beach all the way to a gas station.  For D'Ivervillee High School, which has been in school for the last two weeks, it will be a while before students can return. 

Even as we were touring around, you couldn't even get to Biloxi where there are approximately 25,000 to 30,000 people who were riding out the storm.  No cell communication.  No communications with Biloxi except for second, or third hand accounts.  The problem is that in Biloxi there's no real information as to how bad the damage is because you can't get there; the roads to Biloxi are either underwater or the main highway is blocked with power-lines and debris.  So, you only get a sketch of the full damage.

The damage that we could see in D'Ivervillee was just horrendous.  City officials say they think most people got out.  But D'Ivervillee is one of those cities that everyone thought would be okay.  And look what happened — it's totally underwater.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

August 29, 2005 |

Tracking Katrina:  The coastline has moved (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. — The winds are still kicking up close to 100 mph but my producer Steve Shapiro and I have gone about two miles from the hotel. We’re still two miles away from what used to be the coastline, but apparently, the coastline has now moved. A main intersection in Biloxi that was safely above ground and above water yesterday, but is now five or six feet below water. There are car lots where all the cars have been smashed, roofs are ripped off every building you look at. There is debris everywhere and there are now power lines that have fallen down over highway 110 and Interstate 10.

What’s so remarkable is that the water apparently now has nowhere to go and you’re seeing the waves lap up against some of these buildings. We’re two miles from where the coast was yesterday, so apparently here, the storm surge has been enormous and the water just continues to flood the creeks, the rivers and you have much less ground now between what used to be the coastline and the rivers.

It was probably a stupid mistake on our part to leave the hotel. We’re parked on Interstate 10 and you can feel all kinds of garbage blowing past us. Lots of paper, clothes. When you look down from Interstate 10, you see what looked like the Gulf yesterday, except there used to be buildings and roadways. It looks as if you took the Gulf, moved it in two miles and dropped in some signs and some stores into the middle of it.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

August 28, 2005 |

Tracking Katrina:  10:00 p.m. Preparing in Biloxi (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. —  The NBC Crew has moved from the Porter Ave Pier and arrived at the hotel where we will ride out Hurricane Katrina.  Our hotel is about 4 miles from the beach and is sandwiched between a restaurant and a major department store.

Today, along the beach it felt like the opening of a scary movie.  Seas which had been calm started to churn, clouds darkened, the wind picked up, lightning started, and thunder could be heard every few minutes.  If you didn't know better you would think Freddy Kruger would

Shuster
Porter Ave Pier, Biloxi, MS.
come crawling out of the water with a chain saw.  By the way, my apologies to you Freddy fanatics.

In all seriousness, nobody is really certain what will happen to this region in the next 24 hours.  We talked to 2 people that will be riding out this storm in their home about 9 miles inland. They say anybody a few miles in should be okay. I hope that is true but with this storm all bets are off.  The major concern inland remains the threat of tornadoes and heavy wind and rain.  What you can bet on is that power lines will snap, transformers will blow and roofs will be taken off.

Both while driving from New Orleans to Biloxi and again in making our way to this hotel we saw businesses and homes that were boarded up but that in all likelihood will look quite different a day from now. 

Video: Mississippi churning Just a few minutes ago on the radio, I heard someone who works with the Mississippi Gaming Commission say it was not likely that there will be a casino industry in the area by this time tomorrow.  As you can see by driving down Interstate 90, many of the casinos are built on barges but with storm surges reported to reach 25 feet they'll have to be really lucky to survive this hurricane.  Hotels are a little further back from the beach and are built to sustain winds of 150 mph.  But the big question is which buildings will be standing if winds do exceed that 150 mph mark.

Our NBC team is at the hotel trying to figure out where to park the satellite truck.  The satellite truck has a dish that transmits our video so you can see it at home.  The truck operators say this dish will not be able to transmit if it faces winds in excess of 60 mph.  Obviously, we will shield the truck but it you see me reporting from a phone you'll know we had a few "technical difficulties".

I'll keep blogging as dawn, and Katrina, get closer.

Watch MSNBC TV for our continuing on-air coverage.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

Tracking Katrina:  4:00 p.m. Getting out-of-town

EN ROUTE TO BILOXI, Miss. —  Hello from the Louisiana and Mississippi border along Interstate 10.  I've been in a rental car for the last 3 1/2 hours joining hundreds of thousands of people evacuating New Orleans.  A short time ago I heard Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi pleading with all residents along the coast do get out because the storm surge could be 30 feet high.  I just hope the NBC camera post is at least 40 feet high!

Let me back up for just a minute.  I got a call on Friday night asking me to help cover Hurricane Katrina.  I am excited to be able to bring you the story but, like others who have to deal with a situation they have never dealt with before, it makes me a little anxious too. 

On my flight into New Orleans this morning I talked to some guys from the Army National Reserves who were dispatched by the Pentagon.  They were told to be prepared to help with everything from evacuations by boat, to help distribute aid, or even to help direct traffic after Katrina has passed.

Conditions at the New Orleans airport were chaotic.  All the employees had been told to evacuate as well so no one was working at the car rental counters, taxi stands, or the bus terminal.  So, you may be wondering how it is that I could get a rental car?  Well, luckily I hitched a ride to the off-site rental office where there was still one person working.  I managed to get one of the last cars before the office closed completely.

I then made my way out of the airport, which is west of the city, and became traveling east.   I noticed most of the gas stations and convenience stores were closed.  I stopped at one that was still open and found a line out the door as people tried to buy water for their long trip out of the city by car.

For the last 2 1/2 hours I have been on Interstate 10 in, literally, bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Because of where New Orleans is situated, you have go first travel east or west before being able to finally move north.  At this point, the temperature is about 85 degrees with overcast skies, big clouds rolling in and about winds of about 15 mph.

Hopefully, I will get to my location by late afternoon.  I'll be blogging on Katrina throughout today and for the next few days.  Check in here and I'll let you know what it is like covering this incredible storm of truly biblical proportions.

You may be wondering how I can blog and drive at the same time.  Well, that's a trade secret I'll have to fill you on on later.  But for now I am practicing my multi-tasking skills I expect will come in handy as I report to you while trying to stay grounded in hurricane force winds.

Watch MSNBC TV for our continuing on-air coverage.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

August 26, 2005 | 7:53 p.m. ET

Pat Robertson's un-Christian Coalition (Bob Shrum)

There are a lot of reasons why Pat Robertson ought to rename his organization the Un-Christian Coalition. He’s said, “feminism encourages women to kill their children.”  He agreed with Jerry Falwell, that other paragon of televised intolerance, that 9/11 was God’s answer to the “pagans, abortionists, feminists, lesbians, the ACLU and the liberal group People for the American Way.” After a public outcry, Robertson backed down, saying he hadn’t understood Falwell, which, given the fact that Falwell doesn’t know nuance or use big words, is itself quite a feat. But Robertson then followed up two years later with his own subtle suggestion about the State Department: “If I could just get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that’s the answer.”

Pat, are these your allies in the “cultural war” that you declared at the 1992 Republican Convention? Are you proud of them? And what do you think of Pat Robertson’s latest excursion into the neither regions of the public dialogue — his call for the United States to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez?

The statement was miraculous, in a sense; for the first time ever, it brought Donald Rumsfeld and Fidel Castro together as they both condemned it.

But most of the Religious Right has been silent; ready to pronounce an anathema almost any day against almost anyone who disagrees with their extremist views, these self-proclaimed agents of righteousness were too busy, the New York Times reported to rebuke brother Robertson.

But the person we should have heard from right away is George Bush. His closeness to the Religious Right is the reason why Robertson’s outburst became an international scandal. Robertson and his ilk preached and campaigned for Bush, and he follows them on abortion, stem cell research, and the teaching of evolution — so why not Venezuela?

If Bill Clinton were still president, Robertson’s words would be dismissed as the foolish ravings of a demagogue in clerical disguise.  But not now: it was Robertson who helped put Bush in the Oval Office. So maybe Rumsfeld didn’t check with the White House before he commented, and maybe Bush can now escape Robertson’s amen corner, now that the preacher has apologized.

But the words were said and extricating his foot from his mouth won’t undo the damage that Robertson’s inflicted on America’s national interests and its ideals.

Hugo Chavez is no friend of the United States. But Venezuela sells us more oil than any other country — and Robertson has strengthened Chavez’s grip by providing grist for his propaganda mill, with its steady drumbeat of charges that we’re trying to overthrow him. It doesn’t help that we did try, in 2002, when the Bush Administration welcomed a tin pot coup that failed in a matter of hours. Maybe Robertson is actually working for Castro, providing fuel and credibility for anti-U.S. feelings across Latin America.

The United States doesn’t assassinate foreign leaders: it’s wrong and it would invite other nations to pay us back in kind. And if we did do it, we certainly wouldn’t advertise it on the 700 Club. Pat, I’ve heard the argument that we should have dispatched a hit squad to take out Hitler before he started World War II. That’s as compelling a case as I can imagine, but it just proves that the hardest cases make bad law and worse foreign policy. Whatever else he is, Hugo Chavez isn’t Hitler — and judged by his own words over the years, Pat Robertson isn’t much of a Christian.

One conservative evangelical leader didn’t duck the press calls; he immediately assumed Robertson’s summons to assassinate Chavez. The televangelist, he said, should “apologize, retract his statement and clarify what the Bible and Christianity teach about the permissibility of taking human life outside the law.”  I don’t think that reproach is what made Robertson back off. Maybe he got a call from Ralph Reed or someone in Karl Rove’s shop. But the real scandal here is that Robertson believes he has President Bush in his back pocket. He also thinks he talks to God, which we all try to do when we pray; but, unlike the rest of us, Robertson assumes God talks back to him. Remember when the reverend revealed that hurricanes would descend on Orlando because Disney World dared to host a few “gay days”? I wonder if Robertson was rooting for the hurricanes?

Come on, Pat. Join in calling Robertson to account.  Rumsfeld, Castro and Buchanan: it has a nice ring to it.

(*Note: Pat is on vacation but you can bet he'll respond next week)

Questions/comments:  hardblogger@msnbc.com

August 26, 2005 | 3:47 p.m. ET

Incredible story, inspirational film (David Shuster)

This is the time of year when 9-11 memorial events start taking shape.  Some of those events, of course, will be on television.  And today, I had an opportunity to preview a documentary that will air on public broadcasting called "For the Love of Their Brother." 

The film tells the story of the struggles and triumphs of the Siller family.  On 9-11, New York firefighter Stephen Siller was on his way home to Staten Island when he heard over the radio that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  Siller turned around his truck and drove to the Brooklyn battery tunnel (which leads to Manhattan.)  The tunnel, however, was blocked.  So he took 75 pounds of equipment out of his truck, strapped it onto his back, and ran through the tunnel -- a distance of nearly two miles.  On the other side, he hitched a ride with an emergency vehicle going to Ground Zero.  Stephen Siller jumped out of the vehicle and ran into the 2nd tower.  He was inside when the building collapsed.

While the death of every 9-11 victim was tragic, Stephen Siller's passing was especially harsh.  He was married and had five kids under the age of ten.

The film, produced by Frederick, Md.-based Three Roads Communications, chronicles Stephen Siller's life story and his heroism.  But it also shows the heroism of his six much older brothers and sisters.  Thirty years ago, they were all working or in college when their parents died.  The baby brother, Stephen Siller, was only ten.  Yes, Stephen Siller was an orphan at the age of ten.  His brothers and sisters raised him through school, the difficult adolescent years, and his first post graduation jobs.  Eventually, Stephen became a firefighter, a job he said he loved.

In the wake of 9-11, Stephen Siller's family faced a choice that may sound familiar to anybody who loses an extremely close loved one:  Allow grief to ruin your life, or use it as a catalyst to help the lives of others.  As the film shows, the Siller family chose the latter.  They started by asking the City of New York to help organize a memorial run each year through the battery tunnel.

Through the years, the run has become a huge success.  At each race, 343 firefighters line the inside of the tunnel with an American flag and the photo of a firefighter killed on 9-11.  The city and local businesses all pitch in and contribute equipment and support.  And already, millions of dollars have been raised by run participants for orphans, 9-11 families, and the children of servicemen and women killed overseas.

This year's run will take place on Sunday September 25th. (For more info, go to  http://www.tunneltotowersrun.org)

I recently had an opportunity to interview Russ Hodge, the executive producer who pulled together this incredible documentary.  Russ is also a cousin of Stephen Siller.  The film's message, he points out, is actually fairly simple:  "Life does go on.  And it can be beautiful and it can be wonderful.  And damn it, sometimes it really does hurt and sometimes it's really awful too.  But you can find the silver lining too."

The Siller family has found their silver lining... and all of us who see their story are better for it.  I urge you to check your local listings in September and make time to watch "For the Love of Their Brother." 

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

August 25, 2005 | 3:12 p.m. ET

It's Iraq's constitution and America's war (Pat Buchanan)

reads like something one would expect from the last speaker at an all-night teach-in at Camp Casey -- who has just been told to cut it short

As for where I stood and stand on the war, I opposed it daily on 'Buchanan & Press' on MSNBC and wrote that it would prove the greatest foreign policy blunder of my lifetime.  But as I read the most recent bulletin from my old high school, Gonzaga, I also saw pictures of Gonzaga grads, in Iraq, who are putting their lives on the line and believe in their cause. 

Yes, this is Bush's war, but it is also America's war, our war, because a Democratic Senate authorized President Bush to take us in. 

And while American soldiers have not lost a single battle, we are not winning the war.  But this, it seems to me, is not cause for gloating or mockery of the president.  The question is: What do we do now?  How do we bring our troops home with honor, and leave behind in Iraq something that does not dishonor their sacrifice.  If running for the exit ramp would do that, I would favor it, but I do not believe it.  

Undeniably, our huge troop presence in Iraq is the principal cause of the insurgency, but our huge troop presence in Iraq is also the only thing that prevents the insurgency from succeeding.  As Dean Rusk used to say, "We are there and we are committed," thanks to Bush and Cheney, and Kerry and Edwards.

On the Iraqi constitution, I have already written that a country creates a constitution.  No written constitution can create a country that does not exist in the hearts of its people.  The Iraqis are trying to find a way to incorporate the Koran as a primary source of law and permit as much federalism as they can sustain without Iraq coming apart.  I hope they succeed.  They may fail, but these negotiators are putting their lives on the line, and deserve more than ridicule and mockery even if they fail.

Right now, the President's idea, of training Iraqis and turning over the destiny and custody of the country to them, as expeditiously as we can, seems to me the least risky of the options we have.

And before following the tried-and-true liberal formula of cut-and-run, we should consider: If Iraq breaks up in civil war, and the Sunni triangle turns into a terrorist haven and training camp, and America is perceived by her enemies across that region to have been defeated, the consequences will be devastating -- for us and for the people who put themselves on the line for us in Iraq.  For the Arab friends who have stood beside us in Iraq and the Middle East, the consequences could be the same as they were for the Cambodians and Vietnamese we left behind.  Or have you forgotten, Bob?

Speaking of Vietnam, in 1973, when Richard Nixon ended the U.S. involvement, every provincial capital was in South Vietnamese hands and our POWs were on the way home.  The war Kennedy, Johnson and the Best and Brightest had marched us in to, and could not win or end, was over.  The Communists did not prevail until 1975, when Hanoi sent 12 divisions south to overrun a South Vietnam that had been denied by a radical liberal Congress of the weapons to defend themselves.  That was the great betrayal, Bob.  And the reason liberals no longer call themselves liberals is because the term came to be associated in the public mind with cut-and-run retreat-and-defeat.

And as you are probably more influential with Kerry, Edwards, Biden and Clinton, then with Bush, why don't you start admonishing them by name and denouncing them for not adopting the Shrum-Sheehan Plan.

Questions/comments:  hardblogger@msnbc.com

August 24, 2005|7:12 p.m. ET

Iraqi constitution hardly progress (Bob Shrum)

So now we have an Iraqi constitution, do we?

The drafters missed last week's deadline, so they were then given until yesterday to iron out their differences. It looks more like the divided Iraqis may have to shoot it out, with American troops caught in the crossfire. To spare George Bush embarrassment, what was issued yesterday was a faux Iraqi Constitution, with some of the most difficult issues still undecided.   It was more a press release than a stable political settlement.  The document hasn't been voted on by the National Assembly and even the chief of the committee responsible for the drafting says the Sunnis can't be won over in the now-scheduled three days time.

Shiites in Najaf are dancing in the streets; Sunnis elsewhere in Iraq are threatening to barricade the streets. The Shiites have their armed militias; the Sunnis are the seedbed of an insurgency that will put down deeper roots and deploy more fighters if a constitution is imposed on them. The Kurds, meanwhile, are agreeable, because if things go wrong, they think they can just go their own way -- which would produce an overt civil war and perhaps even intervention from Turkey.

From notorious charade of "mission accomplished" to the start-up of the provisional government to the January elections and this so-called constitution, we've had so many contrived turning points in Iraq, but we're just spinning in place, digging ourselves deeper into the quagmire. Americans have been to this bad movie before. As Pat may recall, for years we had new elections, new constitutions, and a series of changing governments in Vietnam. Unless and until we have security and order on the ground in Iraq, a contrived piece of paper will just tell the insurgents which cabinet ministers to target, and Americans will continue to be killed.  As long as the road from the airport to central Baghdad is a free-fire zone, the road to an Iraqi Constitution will be just another milestone on the path of continuing violence.

The President is on the road, too, finally acknowledging the causalities -- none of whose funerals he's deigned to attend. And he's in such trouble that he's been forced to take his road show only to the deep red states. He stubbornly recycles the same lines and the same scripts, instead of addressing the hard realities. Why doesn't Bush respond to the general who commanded Australian forces in Iraq until last June who now says that the presence of foreign troops is fuel for insurgent recruitment?

Setting a deadline for withdrawal could put the Iraqis on notice that we're not standing by, as an eternal safety net, while they squabble -- that they have to get their act together. And Pat's argument, echoing the President's, that a timeline would just encourage the insurgents to wait and attack later, is absurd; they are attacking now, and the death toll is mounting everyday. Is there any evidence the President has a strategy to "win" -- or is his answer to failure just more of the same?

Republican Senator Chuck Hagel says we're not winning. Democratic leaders who voted for the war resolution ought to admit they made a mistake if that's what they now believe. They were misled; the country was mislead; even Colin Powell says he was misled: and it's time to change course. In his tender solicitude for Democrats, Pat suggests that calling for a timetable is bad politics; but it's right conscience to stop temporizing with a policy that's dooming more and more Americans -- and innocent Iraqis -- to die for a mistake. And in any case, the people of this country are far ahead of the politicians in seeing and saying the truth about Iraq.

So Pat, were you really for this war, which is the fruit of the poisoned tree of fraudulent intelligence? How do you think it can be won? And what do you think of the proposed Iraqi Constitution, in which one of the suggested compromises was that only four of the nine Supreme Court Justices could be clerics? I call it the Jerry Falwell solution and Bush could apply it here: Forget Scalia, Thomas and the Roberts nominations; remove the middlemen; and let the religious right rule from the bench.

If this is progress, then Pat Buchanan's a progressive.

Questions/comments:  hardblogger@msnbc.com

August 24, 2005 | 6:41 p.m. ET

Pat Robertson apologizes (David Shuster)

As you probably know by now, religious leader Pat Robertson, who has a nightly television audience of more than a million people, has now apologized for calling for the assassination of Venezuela's democratically elected President Hugo Chavez.  On Monday, Robertson created a firestorm by saying, "We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong armed dictator.  It's a whole lot easier to have a whole bunch of covert operatives do the job."

Robertson has been forced to issue apologies before.  After all, this is the same Pat Robertson who in the wake of 9/11 sat with Jerry Falwell and blamed the attacks in part on the ACLU and the Supreme Court.  It was the same Pat Robertson who said, two years later, that the State Department should be blown up with a nuclear weapon.  And it was the same Pat Robertson who said that feminism encourages women "to practice withcraft... and become lesbians."

But the issue with Hugo Chavez is an interesting one and America's history with assassinations is informative as well.

The issue with Hugo Chavez is that he has been a major Bush administration headache.  He is one of our president's most outspoken critics.  Venezuela is a crucial supplier of oil to the United States.  And according to Pat Robertson, Hugo Chavez wants to use that as leverage in disputes with the U.S. and allow Venezuela to become a launching pad for communists and Muslim extremists.

Once upon a time in our nation's history, that kind of threat (assuming we thought it was true) might have been enough for the U.S. Government to actually try and assassinate a foreign leader.  But in the 1970s, many officials in the U.S. Government were convinced that the assassination of our 35th President, John F. Kennedy, was the result of Cubans and Russians angry at our efforts years earlier to assassinate Cuba's Fidel Castro.  So in 1975, Congress created a "select committee on intelligence," to review, among other things, U.S. policies on assassination in the 1950s and '60s.  The committee was chaired by Senator Frank Church, a Democrat from Idaho.

After two months of hearings and a review of tens of thousands of pages of classified and unclassified government documents, the committee found that the U.S. Government had tried to assassinate five different foreign leaders.  One of the leaders, Cuba's Fidel Castro, was targeted on eight separate occasions.  [U.S. operatives tried to get him to smoke an exploding cigar, swim using a wetsuit lined with bacteria, and down a drink spiked with poison, among other attempts].  The Church committee concluded that the actions were, "incompatible with American principle, international order... and the moral precepts fundamental to our way of life."

The Church committee report also spoke of the difficulty of killing a foreign leader (ie. Castro), the instability it might cause and the possibility that a successor would be even more hostile to the United States.

In the wake of the Church committee's findings, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations.  Every U.S. President has since supported that order.

Over the years, the issue has still come up.  During President Reagan's 2nd term, Libyan agents bombed a disco in Germany filled with U.S. servicemen.  And American warplanes, in turn, bombed the capitol of Libya, narrowly missing leader Mohammar Khadafi.  And since then, the U.S. has drawn a distinction between peacetime assassinations and efforts during war time.  Remember the beginning of the Iraq war?  U.S. intelligence suggested Saddam was in a house outside of Baghdad.  So, President Bush authorized commanders to launch 40 cruise missiles at the target. 

It could be argued that Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez becomes a "war time target" if he cuts off the oil and turns his nation into a launching pad for terrorists.  But in that case, the assassination wouldn't need to be done "covertly" as Pat Robertson suggests.

On Tuesday night's broadcast of "the 700 Club," Pat Robertson said he wasn't talking about an assassination of any kind on the previous broadcast.  Robertson argued, "I didn't say assassination.  I said our special forces should take him out.  Take him out can be a number of things including kidnapping.  There are a number of ways to take out a dictator from power besides killing him.  I was misinterpreted."  

Misinterpreted?  According to Robertson's own transcript of his Monday night show he said of Chavez, "If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it."

Today, Pat Robertson acknowledged a mistake.  In a written statement he said, "Is it right to call for assassination?  No, and I apologize for that statement."

End of story?  You tell me...DShuster@msnbc.com

August 19, 2005 | 11:56 a.m. ET

Bush's war without end? An antiwar Democrat can emerge with the majority
(Bob Shrum
)

One thing stands out in the :  While crying crocodile tears for a Democratic Party which, he predicts, will be split down the middle over the Iraq War, he says nothing at all about his own position on the war.  Does he think that the invasion was a mistake or not, that the cost is lives and treasure is worth paying, that President Bush is right that somehow, someday a failed policy will succeed?  Pat’s right that “the bottom is falling out of support for Bush as Commander-in-Chief.”  And since he’s not notably shy about dispensing opinions, why can’t he tell us what the country should do next?  (Bush we know will just keep on keeping on; for him, failure appears to be a rationale for its own perpetuation.)

Video: Selling Iraq The Iraqis can’t finish writing a Constitution.  But even if they do, we’ll find out that “Constitution Accomplished” doesn’t mean much more than “Mission Accomplished” as long as the road from the Baghdad Airport to the city is a terrorist shooting gallery.  Since Pat mentioned Nixon, it seems fair to point out that there is an analogy to Vietnam here. While U.S. officials continue to find one turning point after another, from the fall of Saddam’s statue, to the provisional government of a now forgotten American appointed Prime Minister, to the election last January, to a piece of stitched together Constitutional paper, the realities on the ground are as bad or worse than ever; more of our troops die everyday; and the Iraqis we want to liberate are left unprotected against the car bombings that slaughtered 43 of them just yesterday.  Four more of our own soldiers were killed Thursday morning.  The mother of an earlier casualty, Cindy Sheehan, has become a symbol of protest against a war we were led and lied into by neo-cons who have sent other people’s sons and daughters off to war.  Pat is right about her iconic role; he’s wrong about what it portends for the Democratic Party.

First, the voters -- and not just Democrats, but 61 percent of Americans -- are ahead of the politicians in their opposition to Bush’s war policy.  That was true as well in the 1960s -- except that the anti-war opposition is greater now than it was then; in fact, it’s almost a super-majority.  If the realities don’t change in Iraq, the politicians will catch up with the people.  In the end, they always do.  Why even Pat’s boss, Richard Nixon, felt compelled to mislead the electorate in 1968 by leaving the impression that he had “a secret plan for peace” in Vietnam.

Second, Pat’s wrong that political leaders who voted for the Iraq war resolution can’t campaign now to end a failing policy.  Robert Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy supported the Vietnam War, than later said they were wrong and ran against an incumbent President of their own party.

Third, Pat’s wrong again when he assumes that an anti-war candidate would split the Democratic Party and lose the general election.  If Robert Kennedy hadn’t been shot down, we almost certainly would have been spared the dark Presidency of Richard Nixon who, on Election Day, barely squeezed by the hapless Hubert Humphrey.

Pat concludes by arguing that Vietnam did more damage to Democrats than Republicans.  Well, the first casualty of war is not a political party; human beings, including too many young Americans, died in Vietnam and are dying today in Iraq.  Beyond that, maybe Pat’s forgotten that little Republican catastrophe known as Watergate, which was a direct outgrowth of Nixon’s law, breaking obsession with the anti-war movement.  The party of Bush may end up as shattered as the party of Nixon was in 1974. 

A national Democratic leader will break with the conventional caution and speak out unequivocally.  And he or she may just find themselves speaking for a majority of Americans as the next President of the United States.

And Pat, what about you? Do you agree with Bush’s war without end? Amen.

Questions/comments:  hardblogger@msnbc.com

August 18, 2005 | 4:35 p.m. ET

Cindy Sheehan: Bush's problem today; Democrats problem tomorrow
(Pat Buchanan)

Cindy Sheehan may be George Bush’s problem today, but she and her movement pose a far greater problem for the Democratic Party tomorrow.
   
As a Gold Star mother of a soldier son slain in Iraq, Cindy has authenticity and moral authority.  Wedded to the passion of her protest, these have made her a magnet for the White House press corps encamped in Crawford.  She is becoming a household name.  More than that, for this August at least, Sheehan’s is the face and voice of the antiwar movement in America.

The purity of her protest has been diluted by her association with the far Left, the extravagance of her language, and the arrival of the “Democratic operatives” to manipulate and manage her message.

Nevertheless, in a slow news month, Sheehan has helped turn the focus of national debate back to the war at a moment of vulnerability for the President.  According to Newsweek, support for Bush’s handling of the war has fallen below 40%, to 34%, with 61% now disapproving of his leadership.  Put bluntly, the bottom is falling out of support for Bush as Commander-in-Chief.  September could see the coalescing of an antiwar movement on the campuses and in public protests.

Why is this not good news for the Democratic Party?

Here’s why.  Cindy Sheehan clearly has the courage of the liberal Democrats’ convictions.  In their hearts, many of them never believed in this war in Iraq, though their leaders voted for it.  

But now that Cindy Sheehan has put a face on the antiwar movement and given it a voice, liberal activists will demand to know where Hillary, Biden, Edwards, Kerry and Warner are, and why they are standing with Bush in support of the war and not standing beside Cindy Sheehan.

Why is no leader in the Democratic Party giving voice to the antiwar cause with the perseverance and passion of Cindy Sheehan?  Why are they all hiding in the tall grass, or making statements about how they support the war and the troops, but just disagree with how Bush has managed it.  If polls are to be believed, half the nation now agrees with Cindy Sheehan. 

She is temporarily filling a vacuum in American politics that been unfilled since the Iowa caucuses, 18 months ago, when the wheels came off a Dean campaign most pundits thought would take him to the nomination.  

The problem for the Democrats is this: All their potential nominees -- Hillary, Biden, Kerry, Edwards, Warner -- supported the war in 2002.  All support the war today.  One day soon, a national Democrat, a Gene McCarthy, is going to break publicly with the DLC crowd and the party establishment on the Hill, stand up and say, “Enough! It’s time to bring the troops home.”

When that happens, the antiwar movement and its new leader will split the Democratic Party right down the middle between “Stay-the-course!” hawks and “Bring-the-boys-home!” doves, just as it did during Vietnam.  And if memory serves, Vietnam eventually did far more damage to the Democratic Party than it ever did to the Party of Nixon, Reagan and Bush.

NOTE: Come back tomorrow to on the Cindy Sheehan factor

Questions/comments:  hardblogger@msnbc.com

August 17, 2005 | 4:30 p.m. ET

Similarities between Bush and Truman (David Shuster)

If you've been watching Hardball, you've seen some of our reports that dip into the vast NBC archives to put current political events in perspective with previous presidents, lawmakers, and etc.  I'm excited to tell you that we are going to offer some of those same stories here on our blog.  For example, for Hardball I've been working on a report that compares the challenges President Bush is facing with those of Harry S. Truman.  

Truman was our 33rd President.  He took over following the death in 1944 of President Roosevelt and had to deal immediately with a host of foreign policy issues.  The video we have is remarkable.  There was the conclusion of the war in Europe, the Potsdam conference when allied leaders (Truman, Churchill, Stalin...) decided how to handle a defeated Germany, and the dropping of atomic bombs in Japan.  Three years later, in 1948, Truman held on to the Presidency by just four percentage points.  Last fall, after four years dominated by 9-11, the invasion of Afghanistan, and the war in Iraq... President Bush held on to his presidency by three points.  Like President Bush's critics, Harry Truman's considered him not up to the job of President.  Truman was a folksy man who popularized simple phrases (i.e. "The buck stops here.")  President Bush is a folksy man who tends to see the world in black and white.

There are other similarities as well...  Despite a growing economy and job growth, President Bush's approval rating is falling because of problems in Iraq.  President Truman's approval fell even lower because of the war in Korea.  President Bush felt the sting of allegations that his White House leaked classified information.  President Truman was hurt by allegations that his State Department was riddled with communists.

Today, historians regard Harry Truman as one of our nation's best Presidents.  His huge U.S. investment in rebuilding post-war Japan and Germany paid off... and Truman's policy of containing Soviet expansionism was a role model throughout the cold war.  The question with President Bush, of course, is whether his huge war on terror investment in Iraq will pay off and whether history judges him to be a treasured President like Truman or somebody regarded far less. 

How do you think history will judge President Bush? 

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

August 1, 2005 | 7:30 p.m. ET

Bolton: Consensus builder?  (Chris Matthews)

You have a contradiction here. Here we are at war over extending democracy in the world.  What we’re trying to sell in Iraq is consensus, consensus among the warring factions and democratic systems. Yet, here we have someone going to the United Nations to make that case, who didn’t pass muster with the opposition in the U.S. Senate, who wasn’t accepted by Condoleezza Rice as her number two person at the State Department and who clearly isn’t a consensus type individual. It is a contradiction, but that said, he’s the president’s man, he’s the vice-president’s man, and he definitely shares the type of thinking that took the U.S. into the war in Iraq. He is the man who emblemizes the war in Iraq better than anyone could.

I’m not sure if any of us in journalism know how he got picked. He doesn’t seem to be the logical candidate. He’s not a charmer. He’s not a diplomat, either by profession or temperament. He’s a hard-line hawk. He is a man involved in arms control. That puts him right on the cutting edge of the reason we went to war, a nuclear threat from Iraq.  He is hardly a consensus candidate. It’s not clear how the president came to this decision, he may have taken the advice and consent not of the Senate, but of Vice President Dick Cheney.

All presidents make recess appointments. Clinton did it when he put an African-American into a Fourth Circuit Court appointment, an appointment that Clinton definitely wanted filled by an African American. So it’s not extraordinary. In this case we’re picking someone for the title. Catch the job description, “permanent representative to the United Nations from America”. Well, he’s only going to serve, in this case, for a little more than a year -- he’s certainly more like a temp than a permanent representative. It’s an appointment that can’t be re-upped. He can only serve until the beginning of the next session of Congress so it certainly puts him in a position of not really being able to do the job. For better or worse he’s a good representative of the thinking of this administration in terms of foreign policy. He is not, however, a consensus builder, that’s going to be clear. 

Email us at Hardblogger@msnbc.com

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