updated 8/22/2007 11:27:27 AM ET 2007-08-22T15:27:27

Guests: Sen. Chris Dodd, Stephen A. Smith, Paul Woody, Anne Kornblut, Jill Zuckman, Jonathan Allen

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  President Bush preached for patience on the surge in Iraq, but what about the political situation?  Is United States‘ patience for Iraq‘s politicians all gone?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, and welcome to HARDBALL.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in tonight for Chris Matthews.  The big story tonight: Is Iraq‘s prime minister part of the solution or part of the problem?  After a visit to Iraq this week, Senator Carl Levin, chair of the Armed Services Committee, said the Iraqi government can‘t reach a political solution and he hopes that they dump Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.  Asked about Maliki today, President Bush said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And the fundamental question is, Will the government respond to the demands of the people?  And if the government doesn‘t demand—respond to the demands of the people, they will replace the government.  That‘s up to the Iraqis to make that decision, not American politicians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  In a moment, we‘ll talk about Iraq and the roller-coaster economy here at home with presidential candidate Chris Dodd.

And what about the security crackdown in Iraq?  That‘s our second story tonight, whether or not the surge is working.

In our political headlines, Barack Obama tells us what his 6-year-old daughter thinks of “Obama girl.”

Also tonight: Pro football star Michael Vick agrees to plead guilty for running an illegal dog fighting ring.  Should Vick be banned from the National Football League for life?  That‘s tonight‘s HARDBALL debate.

We‘ll talk about all of that and more with our roundtable, but first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In a break from his summer vacation, President Bush met today in Quebec with Canada‘s prime minister and Mexico‘s president and spoke with the leaders about the environment, border security and trade.

BUSH:  If you‘re a U.S. citizen, you want people that live close to you to be prosperous.

SHUSTER:  But these days, the key questions for President Bush are about Iraq.  Two influential U.S. senators, Republican John Warner and Democrat Carl Levin, just returned from Iraq and delivered a pessimistic report on Iraq‘s political future.  And Levin is urging the Iraqi parliament to dump Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki.  President Bush‘s view?

BUSH:  That is up to the Iraqis to make that decision, not American politicians..

SHUSTER:  The president‘s statement is a far different cry from a year ago.  In the summer of 2006, the president stood by Maliki‘s side, refused to pressure the Iraqi prime minister and dismissed questions about whether Maliki was the right guy for the job.  Now Maliki‘s government remains bitterly divided, the parliament has not passed a single law aimed at political reconciliation, and the U.S. Congress is just weeks away from a crucial debate over Iraq policy.

At his news Congress today, the president maintained the U.S. troop escalation is helping Iraq‘s security.

BUSH:  There is some progress being made.  One aspect of my decision is working.

SHUSTER:  On that issue, the president is getting support from an unlikely source, Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘ve begun to change tactics in Iraq, and in some areas, particularly in al Anbar province, it‘s working.

SHUSTER:  Clinton‘s statement was remarkable for several reasons.  First, some military analysts say the improvement in al Anbar is actually the result of an amnesty agreement with tribal leaders who targeted U.S.  troops and is not the result of the U.S. escalation.  Secondly, Mrs.  Clinton‘s speech is giving Republicans ammunition in their efforts to keep the war going.

Mrs. Clinton, however, still insists on a troop withdrawal.  And later in her speech, as her campaign noted, she said progress in some areas doesn‘t change the overall picture.

CLINTON:  We‘re just years too late changing our tactics.  We can‘t ever let that happen again.  We can‘t be fighting the last war, we have to be preparing to fight the new war.

SHUSTER:  Still, rival Democrats called the Clinton speech “clumsy,” and in a conference call today, Barack Obama jumped at the opportunity to offer a tighter, clearer point about the war.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  ... as long as U.S.  troops are present, that, you know, they are going to be doing outstanding work.  The—it doesn‘t change the underlying assessment, which is that there is not a military solution to the problem in Iraq.

SHUSTER (on camera):  The argument is that unless there is clear political progress, the violence and instability in Iraq is going to grind on.  It‘s why President Bush in staring (ph) at the absence of Iraqi political breakthroughs is calling for more time.  The question is whether the Democratic Congress next month softens or says enough.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BARNICLE:  Thanks, David.

Joining us now is Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, Democratic candidate for president.  Senator, Your colleague, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, indicated -- - it‘s in the papers today—that it‘s time for Prime Minister Maliki of Iraq to get out, go away.  He‘s had it with him.  But this is—isn‘t this what we wanted?  We wanted a democracy in Iraq, and now we seem to be saying, Well, the democracy we have in Iraq isn‘t good enough for us.  This isn‘t working all the way around.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No.  Well, look, again, whether it‘s Prime Minister Maliki or someone else, you need leadership in the country that has the capacity, both religious and political leaders, to bring these elements together.  I‘m not confident that‘s ever going to happen, but certainly, under this administration of Prime Minister Maliki it‘s been very anemic, at best.  And everyone I can think of has told them over the last number of months and years that they need to form a nation-state here.  They need to put aside their differences and decide to be a government, if they got any chance of survival at all here.

This further makes the case, I think, Mike, here, that—again, I think we ought to begin getting our military out of that situation.  They‘ve done a remarkable job, these people in uniform.  I have no fault with them at all.  They‘ve been remarkable.  But the civilian leadership of this effort has been a disaster, and the quicker we get people out of that situation may just have the effect of causing the political and religious leaders to decide to do something they haven‘t done as long as we‘re there.

BARNICLE:  OK, so what‘s your plan for withdrawal?  Do you have a plan?

DODD:  Well, yes.  Certainly.  The plan is here that you—one, begin

I wouldn‘t be rewarding the Saudis at this point with military hardware until they demonstrate ability and a willingness in the region to step up, along with other powers, to assume some responsibility for their neighborhood.

I‘d begin that redeployment of forces out.  You can do two-and-a-half brigades a month.  You‘ve got huge bases in Qatar and Kuwait, a need (ph) in Afghanistan.  So the cost and the ability to do that need not take as long as some have suggested in the last few days.  And I think you keep a residual force for your embassy people and staff that may be staying on there, and then utilize the talents and abilities of your diplomacy and politics to try and make a difference so that Iraq has a chance, if they want to, to be a nation-state.  That‘s a basic framework of what I would do if I were president.

BARNICLE:  Your good friend, Joe Biden, is also running for president.  He has declared—he has suggested—more than suggested—that the country ought to be partitioned.  Do you agree with him?

DODD:  I don‘t disagree with that conclusion, but I‘m nervous about the United States deciding what the political situation in Iraq (INAUDIBLE) to look like.  That‘s what the British did at the end of World War I, and we ended up with something that couldn‘t be sustained.  I‘m very uneasy with the United States tries (ph) to decide what the political framework ought to be.  I don‘t disagree with Joe, if the Iraqis come to that conclusion, but deciding it for them I think could pose some serious, serious issues.

BARNICLE:  But you say you don‘t want to “big-foot” the Iraqis...

DODD:  Exactly.  Exactly.  It‘s dangerous.

BARNICLE:  But that‘s what Carl Levin was doing.

DODD:  Well—in a sense—look, I didn‘t see Carl‘s statement here.  His frustration with dealing with a government that seems incapable of getting its act together—certainly, I can—I understand that frustration entirely.  And certainly, under a parliamentary system here, you can have votes of no confidence and people change leadership very quickly, as you know.

BARNICLE:  Switching gears—you met today with the secretary of the treasury and the head of the Federal Reserve.

DODD:  Right.

BARNICLE:  The markets have been in turmoil now for a week, 10 days, perhaps longer.  What is going to settle this down?

DODD:  Well, look, they need to act.  And I regret that the administration—I appreciate what the Fed has done in the last few days by lowering the rates of the discount window.  That‘s been helpful here, and I think the markets are rather passive at this point.  There are some other things that could be done, the moral suasion out of that office about now getting these banks to be more forthcoming, which I think would be helpful.

But also, we need to step up here.  We‘ve got a lot of people—put aside the markets and the Wall Street.  We all watch that and it‘s very important.  Mike, we‘ve got a lot of people in this country—it‘s a 37-year high of foreclosure rates in this country of home owners, not because they lost their job, not because thee was a breakup of the family or a major illness that put huge pressures economically.  They‘re losing their homes because these mortgages that they got into here, as a result of some very unscrupulous characters, are so bad that these rates are going to spike to the point they can‘t afford them.

That‘s my major concern today, that we keep people in their homes here.  I was pleased to see Hank Paulson say the president cares about that.  That‘s the first time I‘ve heard that statement come out of anyone in the administration.  But that ought to be a major focus of our attention, getting these lenders—which they can do, by the way—to rework these loans in a way so that people can stay in their houses.  That ought to be our primary responsibility right now.

BARNICLE:  All right.  Well, going forward, with regard to people getting mortgages, isn‘t part of the problem, hasn‘t part of the problem been that interest rates have been at a relatively low level and people—not just people who are being foreclosed upon but others are over-buying in terms of property?  They think, Oh, yes, I‘m getting a $500,000 condo, but look at the rates.  I‘m going to get the $750,000 condo.  Isn‘t that part of the problem, over-buying?

DODD:  There is a bit of that.  I‘m not suggesting otherwise.  There‘s a lot of speculation going on.  But there were also a lot of mortgages being pushed out the door with brokers, who are being paid, Michael, based on how high a rate they can get that borrower to pay here, the only—lying about how much incomes they had coming in, these sort of no-document loans, never talking about escrow accounts, which are important, understating there are pre-payment penalties when those rates begin to move up—and they may go up, by the way, Michael, as much as $1,500 a month—a month, a $1,500 increase for those that had got into these teaser rates.  That‘s unscrupulous behavior, and there‘s a lot of that that went on out there.  Those people deserve better than they‘re going to get .

BARNICLE:  So who is going to explain the intricacies, the small-letter (ph) language in these mortgage contracts to people who clearly over-bought or perhaps don‘t understand what‘s in their mortgage in terms of payments?  Who‘s going to explain it to them, the government?  Are you going to hire someone on a private basis to do it?  You going to have a separate agency?  How‘re we going to do this?

DODD:  Well, there are people out there doing it right now.  In fact, there‘s a number, 1-888-995-HOPE.  And if you dial that number—it‘s a toll-free number -- - and inquire what—tell them what your rates are, what you‘re paying, what kind of a deal you got into here, there‘ll be people there that‘ll talk you through it.  I advise people to do that.

These lenders—the first step is to have lenders rework these mortgages here.  If that doesn‘t happen, we need to take—we may need to take some other steps here.  But that‘s the first step that can be done here to minimize this kind of ripple effect in our economy, which could turn a serious problem into a much more serious one if we don‘t begin to act more aggressively right now.  And that was the message this morning I had for the chairman of the Federal Reserve and the treasury.  They need to utilize and use all the tools available to them here to try and contain this problem from becoming more serious.

BARNICLE:  Do you think, Senator, that there is enough transparency and perhaps enough regulation with regard to hedge funds and private equity groups that gobble up a lot of these mortgages?  Is there enough transparency...

DODD:  No.  No, I don‘t think so, Michael.  And again, I‘ve been an advocate—I don‘t—I‘m a supporter.  Hedge funs have done a great job in creating wealth and helping people with pensions, retirements, endowments.  But clearly, the opaqueness of where these large pools of resources are going that would help a great deal when people are making decisions about what needs to be done to avoid this kind of a thing occurring—I don‘t think that‘s overburdensome or overbearing, but I think, clearly, more transparency is needed here.

BARNICLE:  The issue of Countrywide, which is the big—one of the biggest mortgage lenders in the country—did that come up today with your meeting with (INAUDIBLE)

DODD:  Not specifically that particular lending institution.  And again, I‘d be reluctant here—and I want to make sure I maintain—this meeting was a meeting where I didn‘t want to come out and start quoting what the Fed chairman has to say, but I can tell you specifically, that did not come up.

BARNICLE:  Well, what would happen—because there was a piece in “The Wall Street Journal” today indicating that perhaps, potentially, someone like a Warren Buffett—and Warren Buffett was named in “the Journal” today—buying a piece of Countrywide—do you think a company like that would be sold off in pieces?

DODD:  Well, it could be.  Again, there‘s a lot of pressure here.  That‘s a major institution and obviously has a lot to do with—with mortgages, home mortgages for an awful lot of people across the country, and something like that may happen.

But in the short term here, what we need is, one, more liquidity out there—that is, more resources out there.  The administration is reluctant to do that.  Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are institutions that could provide that greater liquidity if the administration would just be willing to raise what they call the “portfolio cap.”  Then they need the moral suasion, betting banks that have now gone to that discount window to be a little more—to be a little more positive, a little more courageous at this moment.  I‘m advocating that.  I think that would help.

And then thirdly, we need to strengthen these markets by dealing with these credit rating agencies, to deal with these brokers out there who take advantage of people and are largely responsible for the major percentage of innocent people out there who found themselves in this situation.

So there are various steps that can be taken.  Some are a bit longer-term, but others are the ones that we need on aggressively.  And the number one I put on here is doing everything possible to make sure that those one to three million people who may be losing their homes don‘t do so.  The effects of that will be devastating on this country, Mike.

BARNICLE:  So are you optimistic over the next, say, five, six weeks about the economy, about the Fed getting more actively involved in correcting the situation?

DODD:  Well, I think the steps they took last week are very encouraging to me.  And today, the Fed chairman, when I raised the issue of utilizing all the tools available to him, indicated he was prepared to do that.  Now, the last thing you want is someone in elective office in this branch dictating to an independent agency like the Federal Reserve Bank specifically what they need to do.  That‘s irresponsible, in my view.  So while I applaud what they did last week and hope that they‘ll utilize the tools available to them, I‘m going to come up short, Mike, of answering the question you may have, and that is, Would you support a specific action here?  I‘ll leave that up to the Fed, but I certainly hope they‘ll utilize the tools, again, that are available to them.

BARNICLE:  Let me ask you on a far different topic, as we wrap this up, Senator—Michael Vick, Atlanta Falcons quarterback—plea deal yesterday.

DODD:  Yes.

BARNICLE:  What do you think of his future in the National Football League?

DODD:  Well, you know, clearly going to have to pay a price here, in my view.  I mean, this was pretty horrendous, this—and pleading guilty to it here, I—you know, certainly a season or two, at the very least, I think probably doing some time in all of this.  You know, a tragedy, a great talent, an inspiring figure, in many ways,  But clearly, the system has to speak up at this point.  If it becomes a way you can just avoid these responsibilities, the message that ripples out here I think could be really harmful.  So I‘m saddened, in a sense, what‘s happened here, but a sense—he‘s going to have to pay a price, in my view.

BARNICLE:  Senator Chris Dodd, thanks very much.

DODD:  You bet.

BARNICLE:  Coming up: Is the troop surge in Iraq working?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  So is the surge in Iraq working?  And is it bringing the U.S. military any closer to “mission accomplished” in this fifth summer of war?  Here‘s what President Bush had to say about it earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I made a decision to send more troops into Iraq to provide enough security for reconciliation to have a time to take place.  It appears to me—and I simply don‘t—I certainly don‘t want to prejudge General David Petraeus‘s report back home, but there is some progress being made.  (INAUDIBLE) one aspect of my decision is working.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  For more on the effectiveness of the surge in Iraq, we turn to MSNBC military analyst Colonel Jack Jacobs.  Colonel Jacobs, the reporting of this war, the reporting of this war from Iraq from various newspaper correspondents, is, in my estimation, the most difficult war to cover, ever.  So are we able, between the reporting that we read, the reporting that we see and the things that we hear from politicians who return from Iraq—is it possible to get a clear, accurate assessment of the success or lack of success of this surge?

COL. JACK JACOBS, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, I think you can, and you can do it in two ways.  First of all, there‘s lots of information coming not just from reporters, but it turns out that now, with technological capability being what it is, everybody‘s a reporter.  You had enlisted men writing an op-ed piece for “The New York Times” the other day.  Their...

BARNICLE:  What did you think about that?

JACOBS:  Well, they didn‘t say anything that I did not say and that generals haven‘t said, a lot worse, as a matter of fact.

The general thrust of their article was that they‘re working real hard, the Iraqis don‘t look like they‘re holding up their end of the bargain, but they, the troops, are going to carry on. 

The real question was whether or not they should have been writing an article for “The New York Times” in the first place.  And the fact of the matter is, like I said, we have heard lots worse from people who are higher ranking than they are, and, actually, a lot worse from people inside the administration as well.

But to get back to your early question about whether or not we can actually see what is going on, you can always see by the results of anything.  In science, people—scientists always try to determine what is going on, not just from all the intermittent things that take place, but from the results. 

And the fact of that matter is, we have been in Iraq a long, long time.  We haven‘t committed the troops that should have done a long time ago.  We have been at this for now five years, and the results just are not there.  And people are coming to the conclusion that, unless there are lots more troops going there, unless there‘s lots more time, that we‘re going to have to find some other way to solve the problem or start drawing down.  I think that is what you‘re going to hear, by the way, from David Petraeus in a couple of weeks. 

BARNICLE:  OK.  Let‘s talk about General Petraeus, the surge, Iraq, your former pupil at West point, I believe, General Petraeus.

He is a general.  He is a military man.  Talk to me about the pull on him.  He knows that he is the commander in chief in Iraq, of the troops on the ground in Iraq.  He knows that this war is inevitably intertwined with domestic politics back home.  He knows that he could probably do a far better job with more troops.  What commander couldn‘t?  But he also knows that he has no time. 

Talk to me about the internal pull on him as a commander. 

JACOBS:  Well, I think he demanded and he received the freedom to make his assessment as he saw fit, without any—without any outside influence.  He is the kind of guy who would not yield to any influence, because he is a professional soldier of some repute.  And he was—I recall, 30-some-odd years ago, he was exactly the same when he was 21 years old. 

I think he‘s going to come back and say, look, you want a military assessment?  I will give it to you.  In the areas in which the surge, where we have got a lot of troops, like Anbar Province, we are doing very well, indeed.  And one of the reason we‘re doing well is not only have we insinuated lots of troops there, but we have stayed there.

In areas where we‘re not on the ground in large numbers, where the Iraqis have not yet developed the capability to take over the defense of the area, we are not doing as well.  You want to continue to do well?  More time and more troops.  You guys make the political decisions.  I will tell you the military evaluation.  And that is it. 

And I think he‘s going to very straightforward about it. 

BARNICLE:  So, the political situation, the political solution, if there is one, is going to be more people walking the tightrope over here on Capitol Hill behind us, because, just off of the “New York Times” op-ed page piece that you referred to, Colonel, one striking, glaring example of how things are not going well, despite the fact that things are going well in some places, is their description of what happened between an army—an Iraqi army command post and an Iraqi police command post, that a guy with an RPG was—was set up to kill an American in between those two posts, with the help of the Iraqis. 

JACOBS:  Yes.  And we see that all the time, particularly—but—but in those areas where we do not have a large contingent of American forces. 

We don‘t see that in Anbar Province, and we don‘t see that in some of the neighborhoods in Baghdad. 

But, in all the other areas, we do.  Don‘t forget that we have the bad guys not only fighting the Americans, but they‘re also fighting the Iraqi police, the Iraqi armed forces.  And, in certain areas, we have the Iraqis fighting each other, that is, not Shia fighting Sunni and vice versa. 

We have Shia fighting Shia, militias on the same side of the ideological divide fighting each other, because they are duking it out for territorial and neighborhood control.  I mean, this is a very, very difficult place to control, unless we‘re going to have lots of troops and lots more time. 

BARNICLE:  What a mess.

JACOBS:  It‘s not going very well in that regard, no.

BARNICLE:  Colonel Jack Jacobs, as always, thanks very much.

JACOBS:  Good to be with you, Mike.

BARNICLE:  Up next:  A United States congressman goes ballistic at an airport.  And Obama Girl gets a thumbs-down from Obama‘s little girl. 

Those political headlines and more when we come back.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Here‘s the latest political news. 

Some bad news for a combative California congressman.  Democratic Representative Bob Filner has been charged with assault and battery for roughing up an airport employee who kept him from his luggage.  So, it is not clear which the public loathes more, Congress or lost luggage. 

Next:  Many of you were big fans of this Obama Girl video, which became an overnight Internet sensation.  But not everyone is applauding.  Barack Obama says that his 6-year-old daughter was not a fan after she saw news coverage of the music video. 

Obama tells the Associated Press—quote—“She said, ‘Daddy already has a wife or something like that‘”—unquote. 

In other Obama news, Barack says that he can turn out black voters at a record level: “I guarantee you African-American turnout, if I‘m the nominee, goes up 30 percent around the country, minimum.”

And Mike Bloomberg is not running for president.  Dan Rather first broke the news on “The Chris Matthews Show.”  In Rather‘s full interview with Bloomberg, the New York mayor says he can‘t win and therefore won‘t run. 

Finally, Al Franken‘s Senate campaign Web site has a new video that sticks it to Senator Norm Coleman. 

Here he is talking about President Bush‘s fund-raising.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FRANKEN CAMPAIGN AD)

AL FRANKEN, MINNESOTA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE:  And, this week, he is in Minnesota to raise money for Norm Coleman.  It is a private event, and the press is not invited, so I guess there won‘t be any more pictures like this one. 

Well, I don‘t have George W. Bush coming to raise money for me.  So, the only picture I have of the president is—is this one. 

And I don‘t have big pharma and big oil helping me out, the way Norm Coleman does.  But that is OK, because we can win. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Coming up next, our HARDBALL debate:  Should NFL star Michael Vick, who is pleading guilty to dogfighting charges, be banned from pro football for life?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TRISH REGAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Trish Regan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks still struggling, thanks to these ailing credit markets.  It was a choppy day on the Street, but, when it was all said and done, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 30 points.  S&P 500 gained just over one.  And the Nasdaq composite index picked up 12. 

Senate Banking Chair Chris Dodd says the Fed may be ready to intervene in the ever-expanding credit crunch.  That could mean, at least some traders hope, a federal funds rate cut as soon as September.  Dodd met with Fed Chair Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson today. 

Oil prices were lower today, as a weaker Hurricane Dean appeared less likely to hit Gulf oil operations.  Crude fell more than $1 to $69.47 a barrel in New York trading. 

Meantime, early estimates suggest Dean-related insurance losses could actually be less than $1.5 billion.  That was less than anticipated, making investors of insurance companies happy. 

And, finally, watch your back, Apple iTunes.  Wal-Mart is now selling music downloads, minus copyright protection, for a few cents less than iTunes. 

Well, that‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to MSNBC‘s HARDBALL. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Professional football star Michael Vick has agreed to plead guilty to charges connected to a dogfighting and gambling scheme.  Vick announced his decision as a federal grand jury in Richmond, Virginia, was preparing additional charges against him. 

Vick‘s admission raises a few questions.  One of them is, should he be banned from pro football for life?

And that is our HARDBALL debate for tonight. 

Paul Woody is a sports columnist for “The Times-Dispatch” in Richmond, Virginia.  And Stephen A. Smith, my friend, is a columnist.  He frequently provided analysis on ESPN, and he hosts his own sports radio talk show.

Paul, let‘s start with you.

Today, you‘re in the paper.  We just read it.  Stephen read it.

Michael Vick out, gone, banned for life, that‘s your view, correct? 

Why?

PAUL WOODY, SPORTS COLUMNIST, “THE RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH”:  That is what I wrote, yes.  You are very nice to read that.  I appreciate that. 

I think what he did was very grisly.  It was very gruesome.  It‘s difficult for me to imagine having him step on to a football field in a stadium with 60,000, 70,000, 90,000 people, and have them cheer for a man who has done what he is pleading to.

And I just don‘t think that fans want to see that.  I don‘t want to write about someone who has done that, and I don‘t think—I just don‘t think that he should be out there. 

BARNICLE:  Stephen, you don‘t think he should be banned for life?

(CROSSTALK)

STEPHEN A. SMITH, “PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER”:  No, I don‘t think she should be banned for life.  I can respect his opinion.

There is no question about that.  What Michael Vick has done and what he has pled guilty to obviously is heinous.  We all recognize that.  And he‘s going to do his time. 

But this is the United States of America.  I call it the land of second chances.  And, if you go to jail, and you do your time and you pay your penance, then, obviously, you should be allowed to come back and pursue whatever kind of life is available to you.

And, if the NFL makes it so he is allowed to go into a training camp, or won‘t have you, I see absolutely no problem with that, as long as he has done his time.  Certainly, he would not deserve not to be punished at all, but, if he serves time behind bars, which clearly he is going to do, I see absolutely no problem whatsoever if he comes back and...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  Well, what do you think is going to happen, though, with the National Football League, the commissioner of the National Football League, stemming not only from the dogfighting charges, but from the gambling involved?  Gambling is such a huge thing now in sports.  You have got the NBA official.  I mean, the NFL is more likely than not to say uh-uh on gambling.

SMITH:  Well, Mike, it‘s a huge thing, but, in this particular case, not necessarily so, simply because he wasn‘t betting on the game of football. 

So, even though you frown upon gambling, especially in this day and time, it is not going to be frowned upon, the fact that he was gambling in this particular situation.  Certainly, you should not be in dogfighting.  It is a felony.  We all know that.  It‘s against the law, and you shouldn‘t be doing that.

But, in terms of the commissioner, the commissioner is more concerned with the fact that he was involved in this in any way, shape, form, or fashion, in terms of hanging dogs, drowning dogs, and—I mean, all of that stuff, that is what is concerning them.  And that is what they‘re really cringing over, the fact that he was involved in that kind of stuff. 

Had he just been betting, certainly, he would have been punished, but it wouldn‘t be frowned upon to the level that it is being frowned upon today. 

BARNICLE:  Paul, Paul, a couple of years ago, there was a prominent NFL linebacker for—who did he play for?  The guy was—obstruction of justice on a murder charge...

(CROSSTALK)

WOODY:  Ray Lewis in Baltimore. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, yes. 

BARNICLE:  So, why was there not the same outcry to ban Ray Lewis for life from the National Football League after the death of a human being?  Why now?  Why Michael Vick? 

WOODY:  Well, perhaps there should have been an outcry.  Ray Lewis was not—did not plead guilty to murdering anyone or to harming anyone.  He was at an incident, a large fight, where two people died as a result. 

It was not a very good scene.  It was not a very good incident.  And I think you could make the argument that he should have been punished a little more severely than he was.  It is interesting that Ray Lewis, in some ways, came back to be the face of the NFL.  You can see him on NFL commercials and promoting the NFL.  So, there—there are second chances in the NFL. 

I just think that, in this incident with Michael Vick, I am not saying he should not be able to play football again.  I am just saying he should not be able to play in the NFL.  There is the CFL.  There is the Arena Football League.  There‘s Arena 2.  There‘s a semipro team here in Richmond that I‘m sure would probably be happy to have him, maybe...

BARNICLE:  Well...

WOODY:  ... after he gets out of jail.  I just think that the NFL is—it‘s not a—it‘s a privilege, it is sort of an honor to be in that league. 

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  Well, wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  Lack time I checked, being an American citizen, I mean, it‘s his right.

And the fact is, again, in America‘s—in this society, if you pay your crime, if you pay for your crimes, then, obviously, you are released from jail, and you‘re allowed to pursue a civilized life. 

WOODY:  Sure.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

SMITH:  And the reality is, is that, in the case of Michael Vick, if the NFL sits there, and they don‘t ban him from the NFL, then he will be allowed to pursue that. 

If you‘re the NFL, certainly, you‘re going to sit there.  You‘re going to attach a suspension on to his jail sentence.  If he is getting—if he gets 18 months, the NFL, in all likelihood, will suspend him for an additional season or what have you.  And he will deserve that.

But what you‘re calling for is a lifetime ban.  What you‘re saying is that the National Football League should never again allow him to play professional football and represent their league.  And all I‘m saying is, is that that goes against the very fabric of our society, because it is saying that we‘re not going to give you a second chance. 

And that is not what this country is built on. 

(CROSSTALK)

WOODY:  Well, I think he has plenty of opportunities to get second chances.  I‘m not saying he should never be able to earn a living.

He could coach.  He could be a scout.  He could be some type of personnel guy.  I just don‘t think that he deserves to be back on a field, throwing passes, receiving the glory and the honor and whatever else it is that—that these players get, and plus he gets the millions of dollars.

SMITH:  Well, that is what he does.  Nobody is interested in him being a coach?  Nobody is interested in Michael—no one is interested in seeing Michael Vick as a coach.  We don‘t care about him on the sidelines.  People care about seeing him on the football field.  These are the same people that want him to be behind bars because of what he is pleading guilty to. 

Everyone understands that he is going to suffer the consequences, but if he pays his time, which he is scheduled to do, then obviously too many people should not have a problem with him being allowed to come back.  This is the land of second chances. 

WOODY:  I have gotten a lot of emails from football fans, and they tell me they love football and are usually very excited about it.  And they are telling me, if he ever plays again, they will never watch NFL games. 

SMITH:  Can I respond to that?

WOODY:  No, I get to talk here.  The NFL has to look at that.  The NFL is a lot about public image and about publicity, and if they have got fans turning away from the game, if they have got PETA outside stadiums every week, if they have got PETA outside of training facility, in the NFL is aware of that.  They do not like that connotation.  They don‘t like that kind of bad publicity. 

SMITH:  May I respond?  My point is, you and I both know, you being a reporter in Richmond, me being a reporter in Philadelphia and for ESPN across this country; We know there is a sucker born every minute.  Usually it is the fans.  Sorry for it to say.

The fact is that those same fans that sit there and email and say they will never ever watch the NFL again, you and I both know they are lying through their teeth.  They do it all the time.  America, we get very emotional.  We are completely appalled by such thing.  We certainly want ramifications being handed down for guys who commit heinous acts.  But at the end of the day, when Sunday rolls around and it‘s time to watch some football, if Michael Vick is out there doing his thing after he has paid his time, trust me, they will watch the NFL again.

They‘re not going to let Michael Vick steal their joy.  We all know that the fans are lying when they say that.   

WOODY:  I think that in this instance fans are going to think—they‘re going to be reminded of this.  They‘re going to be reminded of paragraph 83 on page 17 of that indictment, where it says Vick and his cohorts took eight dogs and executed them by various means, drowning, hanging, slamming one to the ground. 

SMITH:  If that were the case, it wouldn‘t even be necessary for PETA and the humane society to be outside of NFL offices, picketing or what have you, because the fans would be in such an uproar it wouldn‘t be necessary for them to picket and bring even more attention to it.  They are bringing more attention to it because they want the NFL to act, because they knew that had they not done that, chances are people would have sat there, and as appalled as they were, if Michael Vick had gotten off, they might gone to the stadium and booed him.  They might have went off about the Atlanta Falcons. 

But they would have still supported watching the NFL.  People know that this is America.  They do it all the time. 

BARNICLE:  Let me ask the both of you this; we‘ve only got less than a minute left here.  My instinct is that the NFL is no different than Major League Baseball.  Sports fans are really sports fans, and that the average sports fan, Paul, who told you or emailed you that they will never watch an NFL game again if Michael Vick plays again, in the back of their mind, they‘re saying if Michael Vick ever signs with the New York Giants, the Chicago Bears, and you‘re a Bears or a Giants, I am never going to a game unless he gives us a shot a getting to the Super Bowl.  Then I might go.

What do you think? 

WOODY:  I think in this instance people are going to say I‘m never

watching Michael Vick again.  They are pretty disgusted.  There is a lot of

passion around animals and around dogs.  People are dog lovers.  I think

that they aren‘t going to forget this.  It‘s not like he‘s going to go away

I don‘t think he‘s going to do five years.  He might do 12 months.  He might do 18 months.  This isn‘t going to recede from public consciousness.  And people aren‘t going to forget what happened there. 

SMITH:  My response is people go and watch people they despise all the time.  It will not be any different.  It would be different if he didn‘t get any jail time.  The fact that he has pled guilty and is going to jail, once he gets out, people will boo him.  They will excoriate him.  But they are still going to watch. 

BARNICLE:  We‘ve got to end it there, Paul.

WOODY:  That‘s called professional wrestling.  The NFL does not want to be professional wrestling. 

SMITH:  They are.  They better get over it. 

BARNICLE:  Paul Woody, Steven A. Smith, thanks very much.  Up next, the HARDBALL round table on all of today‘s big news.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We are back.  We are joined by our round table.  Anne Kornblut is with the “Washington Post.”  Jill Zuckman is with the “Chicago Tribune.”  And Jonathan Allen is with “Congressional Quarterly.”

First up, Chris Dodd‘s no-confidence vote.  Democratic senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd said earlier on HARDBALL that he was not confident in Iraq‘s prime minister—wow—calling his leadership a disaster.  Is Maliki too anemic at this point to unify Iraq? 

Let‘s start down town.  Anne, you‘ve been out in the country.  Jill has been out in the country.  How is Iraq playing in Iowa and New Hampshire?  You have Chris Dodd.  You get Carl Levin from Michigan basically saying the prime minister has got to get out of there.  We are occupiers of this country, trying to put new people into a process we have started.  How is it playing out there? 

ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  It remains, especially in Democratic crowds, the number-one issue.  There is no applause line that gets a bigger response when you‘re out with Senator Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, than when they say the first thing I‘m going to do is I‘m going to start ending this war in Iraq. 

Republican crowds are a little different.  They still want to be supporting the troops.  I saw Fred Thompson and Rudy Giuliani in recent weeks out Iowa.  The Republican crowd is a little different.  But even there, Democrats know that there is a strong Republican majority of people who are not happy with this war.  So, it is still playing out there.  It is still, I would say, the number-one issue on the table.   

JILL ZUCKMAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  All you have to do, Mike, is look at the polls that show that 75, 80 percent of the American public is exhausted from this war, disgusted, unhappy with the way it‘s going.  I think that is why every single presidential candidate says, we need to change. 

They use the word change, change, change, all over the place, because there is not a whole lot good to say about this.

BARNICLE:  What‘s your sense Jonathan when these people come back from their August recess; they have been getting hammered not only in Iowa and New Hampshire, but every state, every district.  What are the Republicans going to do when they come back?

JONATHAN ALLEN, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Well, it‘s not just the Democrats that Jill points are talking about change, but you heard Mitt Romney and his first ad in Iowa talking about change.  I think you‘re going to hear Republican candidates distance themselves from the president on the war increasingly as time goes on.  But what they have to do is try to judge that moment where they‘re not going to alienate their base Republican voters, but they‘re still going to be able to appeal to moderates.  So they want to not jump off the bandwagon too quick. 

BARNICLE:  Does any of this—you know, I don‘t want to make you call them this, Jill or Anne, or you Jonathan—but does any of this strike you as verging on the obscene?  We are in a war.  People are dying.  And they twin this thing with politics to such an extent back home.  I realize it‘s no different today than it ever has been in this country.  But there is just something unseemly about it.  Gee, which way is it going to go, what‘s Petraeus going to say.  People are dying every day.  

ZUCKMAN:  In a way though, war is a policy decision and politics is about making the decision of what to do.  I think the country went along with this for a long time and now everyone is trying to figure out what‘s the best way to go.  But I don‘t think that Democrats in particular are being black and white on this issue. 

A number of them have gone to Iraq and come back and have had mixed messages.  I have seen some progress but this government is terrible.  So I don‘t think it is clear what is going to happen on Capitol Hill in September. 

KORNBLUT:  I have to agree.  Democrats learned the lesson before of being afraid to talk about this war before the vote, and again in 2004.  They are not going to make that mistake now.  They are going to embrace talking about it.  Their standard line is support the troops, bring them home. 

BARNICLE:  Next up, right now, assessing the surge.  Today, President Bush said his military strategy is showing some progress in Iraq.  And even Senator Hillary Clinton said the change in tactics has been working in some areas.  But seven members of the 82nd Airborne in Iraq wrote in the “New York Times” op ed on Sunday that talk of the surge‘s success is more spin than anything else. 

Is the surge really working?  Actually, the question ought to be, with regard to Senator Clinton—and we‘ll start downtown with you, Anne, the flying Melendez (ph) would have difficulty competing with Senator Clinton‘s tight rope act on this war.  How does this play?  The surge is working part time, in certain areas.  But we‘ve got to get out because the whole war is terrible.  

KORNBLUT:  I think what‘s interesting is it‘s not just Senator Clinton.  Obama said the same thing today.  A number of Democrats actually agree.  This is becoming one of their talking points, that there are aspects of the surge that are working.  It is important for them to say this before September, when General Petraeus is going to come back with his report, which, by all accounts, will say some aspects of the surge are working. 

So, what we hear her and Obama both saying is, sure, of course, you pour 30,000 new troops in, they can secure an area.  What is failing is the political aspect here.  That‘s why have to get out, because we‘re basically holding down a civil war.  That is not our job.  They need to get their country together and to make the politics work.  So they are all kind of at this point walking that same tight rope. 

ALLEN:  We should not—we should not separate these two ideas, getting rid of the Maliki and the surge success the Democrats are talking about.  They‘re two parts of the same issue.  Some of the benchmarks for Iraq are military.  Some of them are political.  Some of them are economic.  I think we‘re going to see a Petraeus report that likely shows some surge success, as you could tell from both Democratic and Republican comments, and very little political success.  So you see the Democrats pivoting toward the political issue.

BARNICLE:  We‘re going to be right back with our round table.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re back with Anne Kornblut of the “Washington Post,” Jill Zuckman of the “Chicago Tribune” and Jonathan Allen of “Congressional Quarterly.”  All right, Anne, Michael Vick, the doghouse.  Atlanta Falcons quarter back Michael Vick has agreed to plead guilty in a dog fighting and gambling ring and could face up to three years in prison. 

Everybody loves dogs.  I‘m sort of semi-surprised at the wave of anger toward not only Michael Vick but the NFL as a result of this.  Are you? 

KORNBLUT:  No.  As a proud owner of a schnoodle myself, I can tell you any dog owner out there; this is just horrifying.  And newspapers I worked at in the past, you know that newspapers fly off the stands when there‘s an animal on the front.  People feel more strongly about this even sometimes than other people.  It‘s really a touch button issue.   

BARNICLE:  Anne, what kind of dog do you have? 

KORNBLUT:  He‘s a schnoodle, a schnauzer/poodle mix named Oscar. 

(CROSS TALK)

BARNICLE:  It sounds like something that Entemanns would make, a schnoodle.  You know, I want to talk to all of you about the culture of sports today.  These young athletes, they have all of this money and time on their hands when they‘re not playing.  They are addicted to competition, some of them to gambling.  What do you think is going out there with kids who look at this stuff, who look at these guys? 

ZUCKMAN:  I just can‘t imagine growing up in public housing like he did, getting this huge payday when he is so incredibly young and potentially going out there and not having any guidance.  That‘s not to excuse any of this.  But I think there are problems in professional sports with such young people getting so much money right away. 

ALLEN:  Some of these problems happen long before they get the money.  A lot of them start in college and you see it go on and on.  Michael Vick has been around the block.  He should know better than this.  He has been exposed to this a long time now.  I just want to tell you with this whole thing, I don‘t know if they should ban him or not, but I smell another remake of “The Longest Yard” and this time I am definitely betting on the inmates. 

BARNICLE:  Absolutely, with Vick in the back field for them.  Anne, you know, you‘re absolutely right.  I mean, you put something on page one about a dog being saved or a cat being saved, people go crazy.  They read it like nothing else.  They email it all around.  And yet, I can‘t help but thinking there was a National Football League player Ray Lewis, who was complicit—obstruction of justice.  Two people died at a Super Bowl a couple of years ago and there was nowhere near the outrage. 

KORNBLUT:  It‘s a remarkable contrast.  It‘s true.  It happens all the time.  I don‘t know how to explain it.  There‘s a reason there is a whole Animal Planet channel.  It‘s a very emotional thing for people.

BARNICLE:  Anne Kornblut, Jill Zuckman, Jonathan Allen, thanks very much.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) 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.

transcript

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,