February 22, 2005 | 4:12 p.m. ET

"We could shake this world, if you would only show us how" (Greg Ebben, Hardball Associate Producer)

About 25 years ago, the XIII Winter Olympiad in Lake Placid, New York, was two days from the closing ceremony.  Eric Heiden was supposed to be the story of those Olympic Games.  After winning five gold medals in speed skating as an American in America, how do you top that?!

U.S. hockey team celebrates
AP
The U.S. hockey team pounces on goalie Jim Craig after defeating the Soviet Union 4-3 in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Feb. 22, 1980.
Well, on February 22, 1980, Eric Heiden’s tremendous accomplishment took a back seat to a group of college kids who did something that no one ever thought was possible— they went out on the ice and beat the veteran Soviet hockey team 4 goals to 3 .  One momentous feat, which became an instant legend, and a victory that transcended sports.

At that time in our country’s history, the economy was in crisis.  There were 54 Americans held hostage in Iran.  The U.S.S.R. was two months into its invasion of Afghanistan. Ronald Reagan was nine months from winning the Presidential election.  Memories of gas lines, Vietnam, Watergate, and Three-Mile Island had peppered the preceding years and harmed our collective outlook on where we were headed as a nation.  But one special moment in time, helped orchestrate a national feeling of togetherness that had not been felt since V-J Day in 1945.  Beating the Soviets in a simple game of hockey reminded a glowering nation it could once again regain prominence in an uncertain world. 

The architect of it all was a man named Herb Brooks.  He was handed the supposedly impossible task of just medaling in the Olympics.  But he had coached the University of Minnesota to three national titles between 1972-’79, so he knew how to win.  Brooks assembled a young team of solid puck handlers and fast skaters.  He knew that would be the winning formula to compete with the European style of hockey that would dominate the Olympic Games.  He was tough on his players.  But being tough made them play and band together.  They played harder out of fear of being cut from the roster.  Brooks wasn’t a friend or mentor— he was the coach.  He pushed and drove them to the limit, and constantly reminded them they didn’t “have enough talent to win on talent alone.”  That leadership made that team believe.  Those hockey players were taught how to dig deep and convince themselves they could beat anyone in the world and become champions.

The U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets at their game.  Their dominance in hockey had been proven in the previous four Winter Olympiads and during the few world tours they conducted up to 1980, as they would regularly beat North American professional/all-star hockey teams in exhibition contests.  Even two weeks prior to the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Soviets scored ten goals in a rout of the very team they would meet in the semi-final round of the Olympics – the United States.

“You were born to be a player.  You were meant to be here.  This moment is yours.”  Those were the words of Coach Brooks to his team before they took the ice against the U.S.S.R., and the rest, as they say, is history.  A dramatic 4-3 win for the ages sent a simultaneous wave across the Atlantic Ocean and Bering Sea to the four corners of Mother Russia.  America was back.  At the height of the Cold War, a simple hockey game drew a clear line in the sand once again— when we come together, we can do improbable, if not, impossible deeds.  The “miracle on ice” sent a shiver down the spine of the Soviets reminding them we were still living on the block and had a voice to be heard.

Herb Brooks was killed a year and a half ago in a one-car accident along I-35 just north of Minneapolis. He was 66.  It’s too bad he isn’t around today to make the interview rounds on television. His thoughts on what happened that day in Lake Placid while he was alive always seemed to conger up the fondness, nostalgia, and inspiration we gained as a country from that one February day. But his legacy continues and can probably be summed up by the words of one of the defensemen who played on the 1980 Olympic team, Ken Morrow.  When he heard of Brooks’ sudden death back in the summer of 2003, Morrow claimed, “Like everyone who played for him, I became a better person because I played for Herb Brooks.” 

There’s no doubting Brooks’ impact as the integral part of a moment, which today, can be told from either the annals of sports history or U.S. history.  Yes, we really do believe in miracles. 

E-mail: Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

February 17, 2005 | 3:51 p.m. ET

America's Freedom Tower? (David Shuster)

I consider part of lower Manhattan to be hallowed ground.  Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives in the World Trade Center towers... and for that reason alone, our nation should make absolutely sure that what gets built on "Ground Zero" is an inspiring tribute to all who loved the Twin Towers, worked in them, and died there.

For much of the last year, I have been following the twists and turns of the Freedom Tower — the announced office building replacement for the towers destroyed on 9/11.  But I regret to report that this proposed skyscraper, instead of standing for freedom, is fast becoming a symbol of incompetence, deceit, political cronyism, and shame.

Let's start with the basics:  The Freedom Tower office/skyscraper was designed by architect Daniel Libeskind (who never built a skyscraper before) and embraced by New York Governor George Pataki.  (I will get to Pataki down below.)  One of their selling points was that this would be the world's "tallest building."  But that's only true if you include the hollow windmill turbines, the eccentric spire, and the broadcast antennas.   Only 70 stories of the Freedom Tower will be occupied.   New York's Empire State building, finished in 1931, is occupied through 102 stories.

Then there are the engineering "realities." The New York Times recently reported that the offset spire planned for the Freedom Tower  may not be possible. Engineers aren't sure how the eccentrically shaped and located spire will behave in high winds during the construction phase or afterwards.  (Yes, tall buildings get windy at the top.) The windmill turbines are running into engineering and cost issues... never mind that the turbines are only supposed to power 1/5 of the building anyway.  Furthermore, it now appears the TV antennas (which are necessary for this building to be the "world's tallest") may be impractical.

The reason the WTC twin towers were able to support heavy TV antennas was because of "mass."  It's a physics issue.  The twin towers, with their solid square design, had a lot of mass at the top... the Freedom Tower does not.  Furthermore, even if you get past that problem, broadcast organizations aren't certain the off-set antennas, shadowed by part of the building and next to a metallic spire, would even work.  And if they aren't going to work, they will not be paid for.

Those are just the problems at the top.  At a recent public meeting, officials representing the Freedom Tower (and a related group called the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation) were informed that the concrete already poured at the base may not allow for some of the 21st century gadgetry one would expect underneath a tall new building.   Oops.

But let's just assume that all of the engineering issues are fixed and somebody finds the extra money to pay for them.  What about the design itself?  I don't know anybody (aside from friends and family of Daniel Libeskind and George Pataki) who is really excited about the design... not one.   Take a look for yourself.  Is this design something you are proud of?  Does it send the proper message to those who want to terrorize and scare our nation?  Consider the major players in New York: Former mayor Rudy Giuliani is not camera shy.  But he has been notably absent from nearly everything associated with this project.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg seems about as enthusiastic as somebody about to get a root canal.  The New York City police and firefighters?  Ask them and you will get an earful.  Most of New York's "finest" seem to despise the freedom tower. 

And then there is Governor George Pataki.  Let's "follow the money."  One of Governor Pataki's most prominent political and financial supporters is a man named Ron Lauder. (Lauder is an heir to the Estee Lauder cosmetics empire.)  In the late 1990s, Lauder gave New York's Pataki controlled GOP more than $200,000.   In 2002, Lauder reportedly gave Pataki's wife $40,000 in " consulting fees."  In 2003, those "consulting fees" doubled.   But back to 2002.   According to New York's State Board of Elections:  On September 26, 2002, Ron Lauder gave $30,000 to a campaign fundraising committee called "Friends of Pataki."  On that same day, Sept. 26, 2002, "Friends of Pataki" received $28,000 from Lauder's wife.   On that same day, Sept. 26, 2002, "Friends of Pataki" received $10,000 from Lauder's daughter.

September 26, 2002 was also the day that the Pataki controlled Lower Manhattan Development Corporation quietly narrowed down more than 400 entries in the WTC replacement "design contest" to seven semi-finalists.  One of the semi finalists was a close friend of the Lauder family, an architect named Daniel Libeskind. 

Did Governor Pataki, in exchange for the Lauder campaign contributions, pressure the LMDC to select a design by Lauder friend Daniel Libeskind?

Governor Pataki's office refused to comment and directed me to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation.  A spokesperson for the LMDC called the theories "bizarre" and said, "we went through an unprecedented worldwide selection process.  Stories that suggest anything to the contrary are absurd."  Regarding the engineering challenges, the LMDC spokesperson said, "we are working through the process."

None the less, several of my contacts and colleagues in New York say they still don't like the "smell" coming from the proposed Freedom Tower. And they point out an intriguing solution.  I'll write about that part of this story right here next week.

Questions/comments?  DShuster@MSNBC.com.

February 15, 2005 | 7:00 p.m. ET

Beirut blast and the White House reaction make for interesting times in international relations (David Shuster)

For those of us who follow Middle Eastern politics and American diplomacy, it doesn't get more intriguing than this: Today, in the wake of the car bombing that killed Lebanon's former Prime Minister (a leading critic of Syria's troop presence in Lebanon) the U.S. State department pulled the American ambassador out of Damascus. 

The Bush administration hasn't directly accused Syria of being responsible for the thousand- pound car bomb that ripped a dozen armor plated cars to shreds.  But, nothing dramatic happens in Beirut without the Syrian government's knowledge or approval. And now, the Bush administration is slamming Syria over their troop presence in Lebanon, their terrorist training camps, their porous border with Iraq, and their assistance to Iraqi insurgents. 

The first move seems to be the tough language from spokesmen at the state department and White House. But more than a few analysts have suggested the administration may soon consider surgical military strikes on training camps in eastern Syria. The camps have been helping Iraqi insurgents.  And the idea would be to underscore that America's patience with the Syrian government is running out.

This afternoon, one of our military analysts suggested the Lebanese bombing may not have necessarily been the work of Syria. Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was very close to a wing in Saudi Arabia's royal family that is facing a fierce power struggle.  Plus Hariri was a wealthy construction magnate.  He was worth billions and had numerous friends (and perhaps some enemies) in the world of Middle Eastern construction projects.  It's an interesting theory. 

And without knowing who exactly planted that car bomb... it's a theory more than a few people in Washington are keeping around.  However, most analysts still subscribe to the idea that Hariri wouldn't have been assassinated without Syria's acquiescence.

One quick note about Beirut... I have several colleagues and friends who have spent some time in that city in recent years.  Everybody says Beirut is again the "Paris of the Middle East," just as it was before Lebanon's civil war erupted in 1975.  The car bomb went off along a trendy and fashionable boulevard near the water front.  So, imagine a car bomb along Collins ave. in Miami beach... and you get the picture of the psychological impact the attack this week has had on people in Beirut.

In the meantime, between Syria, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea... the Bush administration certainly has a lot on its foreign policy plate.  And there has been a lot of news lately.  We will discuss some of it (plus a few of your comments to other Hardblogger postings) in our Wednesday webcast. 

Thanks for watching.  And remember, if you want to submit a question for our weekly webcast... just write "question" in the title of your e-mail.

Blog comments or Webcast questions:  DShuster@msnbc.com

February 14, 2005 | 6:30 p.m. ET

By now, the blog— and pundit-fueled fire that consumed Eason Jordan, head of newsgathering at CNN, is old news. Jordan's resignation  made his head the latest to be mounted on the wall of a nastiest subset of the “Blogosphere:” those who think the Internet's self-publishing technology (and free-wheeling definition of “fairness”) has annointed them as the Taliban of the American media.

So Jordan's head now hangs beside that of Howell Raines and the so-far headless plaque soon to be graced by one Dan Rather. To be sure, bloggers played a different role in these cases – a lesser, more gossipy one in Raines' downfall, a fairly responsible and surprisingly journalistic one in the CBS News scandal (by exposing fraudulent documents).

But this latest instance of demonstrates the dangers of combining the unfettered, unaccountable blogosphere with “main stream” journalism institutions that react slavishly to share prices and are suffering through crises of confidence (ala CNN) or integrity (ala The New York Times and CBS). While it remains unclear if Jordan jumped or was pushed from his Atlantan heights, what is clear is that CNN is a lesser place without him, and the quality of political debate in the United States will likely deteriorate further, as well.

And what of his “crime?” With all the interest in “truth” shown by the Gang of Four, unabashedly partisan bloggers browbeat CNN's senior editorial figure into resigning because of a controversial (but hardly blasphemous) statement he made during in an off-the-record journalism panel. He allegedly (that's a word that we used in journalism to imply that we're not so damned sure of everything) asserted during the Davos panel that the American military had deliberately targeted journalists during the Iraq war.

That probably sounds outrageous to the public, who, thanks to the bang up job the mainstream media has done reporting what happened in Iraq, know little about the still unresolved questions surrounding the precision bombing of al-Jazeera's offices during the war, or the tank rounds fired into the hotel that housed the international press corps in Baghdad. The Overseas Press Club's own demand for an investigation into these incidents, put in a January 2004 letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, has received no definitive reply from the Pentagon. From our perspective, this is an open question.

Jordan clarified his remarks afterward. He was wrong, frankly, to use the word deliberate – if, in fact, he did use that word. We don't know yet, any more that we know for certain whether George W. Bush won the Florida election, or whether John Kerry earned each and every decoration on his Navy whites with actual drops of his blue blood.

But should Eason Jordan lose his job for this? Or, to mine the deeper shaft here, was it wise for CNN to provide the enemies of free expression, critical thinking and The First Amendment with a victory on this count? Are they so lost as a network that they abandon basic principles? Is the main stream really now just a trickling tributary that can be diverted with just a few well thrown stones?

It took a former CNN chieftain, Walter Isaacson, to put in words what current group of accountants running the network is too afraid to utter. In an e-mail to The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, former CNN News Group Chairman Walter Isaacson wrote:

"It's ironic that he was brought down partly by talk-show and blogging folks who represent the opposite approach and have seldom . . . ventured out to do . . . frontline reporting."

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Comments?  E-mail: bravenewworld@msnbc.com

Michael's blog is Sword and Pen. Click here.

February 14, 2005 | 6:20 p.m. ET

V-Day links

February 11, 2005 | 3:56 p.m. ET

Clear skies" v. "clean government"? (David Shuster)

Once upon a time in Washington, D.C., there was such a thing as a "conflict of interest."  The phrase was used to describe situations that should be avoided in order to (1)  limit the power of "insiders" and  (2) maximize the potential for government decisions that were balanced, fair, and had integrity. 

None of those words apply to the latest environmental legislation that has emerged from the Bush administration and is now being considered on Capitol Hill. This week, several reporters (including myself) were given previously secret documents that clearly show the "Clear Skies Act," (which is supposed to regulate industries that pollute the air) was written by lobbyists representing those very same polluting industries. The documents show that two years ago, eight power plant companies reviewed the administration's first draft and submitted a list of "essential changes."  The administration complied... and all of the changes are part of the new legislation.

The issue is significant because the National Academy of Sciences is reporting that if the "Clear Skies Act" passes in its current form, it would lead to more air pollution being pumped into the air than is allowed under current laws.

Don't get me wrong. I agree that some of the current environmental laws/restrictions may be too draconian and could be harming industries in ways that burden consumers with excessive costs.  Furthermore, I think a review of current environmental laws is warranted. But if we are going to decide to pump more pollutants into our air, shouldn't this follow a careful public review of the arguments across the board, and not just the arguments made in secret by one side? What are we afraid of?  

Congress, as usual, seems asleep at the switch. Years ago, you could always count on dozens of lawmakers, irrespective of their party affiliation, to stand up and make sure the legislative process had "integrity."  Now, on both sides of the aisle, it's all about giving your wealthiest campaign contributors as much unfettered access and power as possible, while shutting off any opposing views or arguments.  Moderation and open negotiation?  Never. 

The irony, of course, is that most Americans seem more open-minded and fair these days than our leaders in Washington, D.C... 

"Clear skies?"  It sounds great.  But a "clean" and transparent government would be a better way to start.

Questions:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

We are planning a webcast for early next week.  So, please submit your questions on any news topic to DShuster@msnbc.com.

February 11, 2005 | 3:50 p.m. ET

Next stop, Iran? (Michael Milberger, Hardball Associate Producer)

U.S.-Iranian relations have grown even more precarious in recent weeks. President Bush’s remarks in the State of the Union reiterated Iran’s status as a state sponsor of terror with nuclear ambitions, and although Condoleezza Rice said military action was “not on the agenda” she labeled Iran’s human right’s record “abysmal” and raised the possibility of U.N. sanctions.

Additionally, last month, Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker magazine reported that the Pentagon has been drawing up plans for possible military action against Iran. So is Iran really next?

It’s nearly unimaginable that an already over extended U.S. military could support a significant offensive against the Islamic Republic. And without pinpoint intelligence, a commodity all too difficult to come by these days, an Israeli-esque pre-emptive strike against nuclear facilities would be difficult to execute effectively. Iran is wary of such a contingency—the head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council warned this week that such a strike could not destroy their nuclear capabilities.

Although military action doesn’t seem likely anytime soon, the Iranians are on guard— and for good reason. The greatest military power in the world has already deposed two neighboring regimes and set up shop in their front and backyard. As an original member of the Axis of evil and a long-time enemy of the “Great Satan” (even more so than Saddam, who the U.S. considered the lesser of two evils in the Iran-Iraq war) it's not surprising that Iran is suspicious of U.S. intentions.

If Iran is next, it wouldn’t be the first time the U.S. meddled in Iranian affairs. In 1953, U.S. and British intelligence orchestrated a coup in which an elected Iranian prime minister was deposed. The autocratic Shah was returned to power leading eventually to a fundamentalist Islamic revolution.Resentment of this foreign manipulation still lingers and has colored Iranian views of the U.S. ever since. Stephen Kinzer argues in ‘All the Shah’s Men’, a painless account of the stunning coup, that in fact, the coup sowed the seeds of anti-Americanism and Islamic terrorism in the region.

There are undoubtedly many Iranians who would embrace a new more democratic regime and others that would resist any foreign intervention, just as in Iraq. Hopefully, the influence of a democratic Iraq will spur Iranians to change their own regime before some else does it for them.

E-mail Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

February 9, 2005 | 5:58 p.m. ET

Last tango in Paris (David Shuster)

I am a fan of Condoleeza Rice.  I think she is smart and politically gifted.  And I agree with those in the White House who say that the Secretary of State is an example of just how far our nation has come on issues of gender and race.

The many talents and skills of Dr. Rice make me all the more befuddled and frustrated over what happened yesterday in France. Dr. Rice stepped into the Institute of Political Sciences, an elite school in the heart of Paris, and responded to questions and questioners who were vetted by the school and by the state department in advance. That's right! America's top diplomat was unable or unwilling to talk on her feet and face anything that was unscripted.

A state department official said the U.S. embassy had asked the school to vet five people/questions.  And what do you know?  Rice took a total of five questions. As the Washington Post reports, "Like the questions, access to the hall was controlled.  Of 500 seats, only 150 went to the school's students and staff.  Another 150 were given to French opinion leaders and government officials.  Fifty went to American organizations and etc.  Meanwhile, scores of students from the school were kept well away from the session.  Several complained of being pushed back by police."

The controls clamped down on the Secretary of State's "interaction" with French students are even more embarassing when you consider what Dr. Rice said in her speech. "History is made by men and women of conviction, of commitment and of courage, who will not let their dreams be denied."  But there was Dr. Rice, denying a free exchange between the Bush administration and  a bunch of French college students.  What exactly is the administration afraid of?  Men and women of conviction? That the French students will ask annoying questions?  So what?

Dr. Rice is perfectly capable of disagreeing with somebody without being disagreeable herself. The Secretary of State went on to say, "We care deeply about one another.  We respect each other.  We are strong."  Huh?  By refusing to stand up in public to a bunch of French teenagers, "strong" is not what comes to mind. 

Furthermore, regardless of whether we really respect the French or whether they respect us, "self respect" requires standing tall, and confidently answering our critics directly.  If a bunch of French students are too much of a public challenge for an American Secretary of State... we've got bigger problems than you might think.

Questions/Comments:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

February 9, 2005 | 5:57 p.m. ET

Death of a journalist should be mourned (Mike Moran)

With sad inevitability, Iraq's militants again turned their guns Wednesday on the messenger — this time, an Iraqi journalist working for the U.S. funded television station al-Hurra, or, “The Free.” Gunmen killed Abdul Hussein al-Basri, a correspondent for the station, along with his son in the Basra area, a spokesman for the local government told the AP.

It is quite easy for western journalists to turn their nose up at endeavors like al-Hurra, which many regard as tainted by the fact that it is funded by the country that has 150,000 troops in the country. Certainly, particularly during the days of the Coalition Provisional Authority, it had the air of an occupation mouthpiece. But it is important that al-Basri be mourned just as respectfully as other journalists caught in Iraq's maelstrom.

Insurgents will dub him a traitor, no doubt, for working for a U.S.-funded station. No surprise there. But journalists should not allow this to temper their anger. Al-Basri's death is an attack on the right to free expression and the right to a free press in Iraq, and there should be no conditionality about it.

Click here to read more of this blog.

Comments?  E-mail: bravenewworld@msnbc.com

February 8, 2005 | 12:14 p.m. ET

Patriotic beer ad in bad taste?

On last night's Hardball, Chris Matthews asked his guests what they thought of the Anheuser-Busch ad during the Super Bowl. It certainly is ranking high in "favorite Super Bowl ad" polls, including this one on MSNBC.com. 

Is it okay to use patriotism and the inspiration we felt in that ad to sell beer? Paul Krugman, columnist for "The New York Times" says "no." "I mean, support the troops.  Don't use them to sell  beer,"  he said.

Below is an excerpt of their exchange on 'Hardball.':

KKRUGMAN: We all support the troops.  But this is exploitation.  And it's part of the basic lack of seriousness about a lot of what's going on in this country.

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that Anheuser-Busch was rendering a public service by creating a stirring portrait of what might have happened?

KRUGMAN:  Oh, come on.

MATTHEWS:  Those were real soldiers, by the way.

KRUGMAN:  Yes.  Nonetheless, it's business.  You don't spend money— if you really wanted to support the troops, you would just do it without making it clear that this was from a beer company. 

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL:  Chris, running the corporate name is something everyone does, including public broadcasting. There was no picture of a beer can at the end of that ad.  It just said Anheuser-Busch.  There's nothing wrong with letting people know that they wanted to have this sentiment. There wasn`t a beer can placed in any of the airport.

A soldier currently serving in Iraq wrote in to share his thoughts on Hardblogger, and added that Anheuser-Busch did provide the soldiers with about 2 beers each during the game:

Chris,

I am a captain in the Army and have been stationed in Iraq for the last 11 months. I watched the Superbowl on AFN and did not see the "Salute to the Troops" advertisement until you ran it on your show.

I was moved to tears by this ad and was deeply offended that Paul Krugman thought this was exploiting the troops. I also want you to know that I am not alone in my sentiment.

Furthermore, Anheuser-Busch donated enough beer to the U.S. Military that each soldier was allowed to have 2 beers during a 48-hour winzdow surrounding the game. They clearly "walked the walk" in supporting the troops.

I challenge you to set the record straight. I feel strongly on this issue and do not want to let it rest.

Sincerely,

CPT Chris Conley
Hometown: Fort Hood, TX

What do you think of the ad? Write Hardblogger@MSNBC.com.

February 3, 2005 | 4:57 p.m. ET

Iraqis, the U.S. Congress, and ink-stained fingers (David Shuster)

Safia Taleb al-Suhail is the Iraqi voter who provided that magical moment Wednesday night during the President's State of the Union address. This afternoon, I had the privilege of interviewing her in one of our studios here in Washington, D.C.  She is articulate, passionate, and courageous. And we will show most the interview this evening on 'Hardball.'

A few highlights:

Safia said she met the Norwoods for the first time last night at the speech.  Safia walked in and was sitting next to Laura Bush, when she heard the couple behind her talking to the mayor of Washington, D.C.  (Janet and Bill Norwood were explaining to the mayor why they had been invited... and how their son, a Marine, got killed in the battle for Fallujah.)  Safia overheard the conversation... and on her own, she turned around and introduced herself.  She said she told the Norwoods "Thank you" and "Words can't express how grateful my country is to you."    Safia said she felt an instant bond with Janet Norwood and was soon looking at one of the last pictures taken of Norwood's son Byron.

There was an exchange of questions... and e-mails.  (The women pledged to stay in touch.)  Then, the President walked in and the speech began.  Safia said she was honored when the President singled her out... and even more honored when he mentioned the Norwoods.  Safia said the long hug with Janet Norwood was spontaneous and emotional.  Both were crying.

There was a moment during this hug when it appeared Mrs. Norwood had given Safia the ID tags that belonged to Norwood's son.  In fact, Safia said that during the embrace, the tags got caught on the jewelry Safia was wearing and on Mrs. Norwood's purse.  "We were bound together," said Safia, "it was an accident but somehow appropriate."

Safia Taleb al-Suhail acknowledges that she is now an inviting target for the insurgents who have been murdering prominent and not-so-prominent Iraqis who cooperate with the United States.  And she will talk about all of that tonight on Hardball at 7 p.m. ET

Ink stained fingers:

By the way, that gets me to one observation I had about covering the State of the Union, just 36 hours after being in Baghdad.  To me, it was surreal to see the members of Congress arrive in their nice cars and motorcades... and then walk into the house chamber wearing their fancy suits and ties.  It was even more surreal to see that some lawmakers, in this incredibly secure and safe coccoon, had stained their own index fingers.

The courage of ordinary Iraqis last Sunday was unmistakable.   They were literally risking their lives by standing in line to vote and by getting their fingers stamped with ink.  The members of Congress who stained their own fingers and wagged them proudly for the cameras were an affront to that courage.  And in my eyes, those lawmakers diminished the true significance of what happened last weekend in Iraq.  The fact is, few members of Congress have a son or daughter serving in the U.S. military.  And few lawmakers have actually ever served themselves.  Furthermore, in Washington, D.C., even "political courage," (never mind the real stuff) is exceptionally rare.  Am I being too cynical?  Probably.  (And I'm sure I'll get a ton of nasty e-mails from some of you.)  But, if members of Congress want to show "solidarity" with the Iraqi people... they are welcome to head to Baghdad, put on a flak jacket, and help/advise the new assembly on writing the constitution.  Or, our lawmakers could serve as "election monitors" in Iraq when the constitution is put to a vote as early as this fall.   That would be courageous and show real solidarity.  An ink-stained american finger, waved for the TV cameras on the floor of the House chamber... is a political stunt.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

February 3, 2005 | 12:43 a.m. ET

Dems write in

To Heidi [below] who said that she is tired of Ron Reagan and embarrassed that he represents the Democratic point of view...I'm proud of Ron, and have so enjoyed and learned from his commentary since he's been on MSNBC.  I hope he has more opportunities at MSNBC and elsewhere to strut his political stuff! Lastly, don't be swayed by the political rhetoric.  Did anyone notice that the President never mentioned public enemy #1 Osama Bin Laden?  And why is that? —Kelly Machnov, Walnut Creek, CA

I found it disgraceful that the Republicans would ink their  fingers to show solidarity with ordinary Iraqi citizens!  I mean the Iraqis faced real threats and what sort of threats did the congressional republicans ever face? Mean looks from Tom Delay?  Nasty letters from senior citizens?  The best that can be said about this "its not my fault" president is that he always avoids the heavy lifting. Sure he wants to change Social Security when Medicare is really the problem; let's attack Iraq when the source of terror has been Saudi Arabia... and what about the surplus he turned into a deficit? -James S.

One has to wonder if the president needs assistance with research since he had all the figure for social security projections incorrect. There is NO bankruptcy in 2042. At that point the benefits paid out would be something like 70%. The social security administrations own projections are not for bankruptcy. Are we to be "misled" into a system that does not solve the financial shortfalls at all and only adds to the deficit. There are simpler ways to adjust the program to make it fiscally sound without diverting billions to Wall Street. -M

February 2, 2005| 11:57 p.m. ET

President Bush delivered a bold State of the Union tonight.  He warned that Social Security is heading toward bankruptcy... and he said America's ultimate goal is ending tyranny around the world. Click here for the full text .

Below are some of your instant reactions:

Your e-mails

I watched the speech tonight. This is hard for me to admit because I am not a Bush fan. But after watching the Iraqi vote and hearing his speech tonight, I am looking at him differently. I am a little more optimistic.

I have found a new respect for my President. He sets up grand goals with low expectations. He forces Americans to fight and debate with passion. He pushes us reluctantly into situations where failure is not an option. In a strange way I think strong opposition pushes this President more than support. He seems to like being underestimated and beating the odds. Opposition raises his bar. Which makes the President either a genius or the most reckless president we have ever had.

Whatever he maybe I certainly thank him for one thing I am not an apathetic American anymore. I disagree with the President on many issues. He hasn't really earned my trust. But he has forced me to look closely at my country and our effect on the world. I used to take my country and freedom for granted. Now I don't. —Robin, San Mateo

On the panel's debate on whether or not the hug was staged

Chris, I don't think it was appropriate to try to decide if the Iraqi women and the parents of the deceased soldier was a political thing. Even if it was, the situation of the two women hugging was so moving and historical. Why try to second guess the president's motive? Even though the war in Iraq didn't produce WMDs, this was a historical time when those people braved the streets and voted. God bless them. —L. Haddock, Indiana

Joe Scarborough is wrong. Sure they staged that.  I believe both woman hurt, both women have had a great loss.  I think if you would have stuck those women togeather in any room they would have hug just to share their sorrow. Heck I have never experienced a loss like that and I would hug both of them if I could relieve them of some sorrow. But, if we would have never gone to war on a lie and a whim. They would have never had that loss. Both women will have to live with that loss and President Bush will just go invade another country and more young proud soldiers will die. —Sandra Staten, Westerville

I am sorely disappointed with Ron Reagan's continuing pessimism and bias.  I am a Democrat and I am embarassed by his opinions and I hope they do not represent the majority of my party.  I believe the position of President deserves a certain level of respect and Ron you just have none. Shame on you.  I don't like the man's politics either but I DO NOT let it jade and pervert my every word. —Heidi Gonzales, Tehachapil

Weigh in on Hardblogger@MSNBC.com and share your thoughts on the speech.

February 2, 2005| 5:44 p.m. ET

Hardballers and politics junkies must-see TV
(Dominic Bellone, Hardball producer and
newsletter editor)

Break out the popcorn and TV trays folks because we're in for a long, fun ride. Chris Matthews anchors coverage of State of the Union from 7 to 8 p.m. ET. Keith takes over for an hour and then Chris and company return for the speech at 9:01 ET until midnight... At the bewitching hour, Ron & Joe take over for "After Hours" (Remember that from the conventions? With the smooth jazz bumper music. They'll kick it for 2 hours for you late-night insomniac types...

I'm not gonna spend all day convincing you on why you should watch. Devotees of Hardball know that big Washington events are the nights that Chris lives for and really shines. I told him he's going "unscripted, unplugged and without a net..."

Our 7 p.m. panel will consist in some part: Howard Fineman, Joe Scarborough and Laura Ingraham with a dash of David Gregory from the White House (lawn, I assume) and White House spokesperson Nicolle Devenish. We'll also chat with Senators Trent Lott and John McCain (I know folks, this is a record, 3 McCain appearances in 3 days!)

At 9 p.m. we toss to the speech and then the Dem response from Reid and Pelosi...We'll of course have correspondents strategically placed throughout the Capitol, White House and the Pentagon. Shuster is back and will do Statuary Hall which of course will serve as the post-game spin room.

Our late night panel: Norah O'Donnell, Jon Meacham, Joe Scarborough, and David Frum (author of Bush's 2002 "Axis of Evil" SOTU)... And for those of you who stay up late with us, we'll bring you a special appearance by Pat Buchanan.

Our friends over at ABC News list a number of interesting things to look for in tonight's speech. Here's one which provoked a chuckle: "Watch how often the pool director chooses Sen. Clinton as the reaction cut-away."

So fire up the popcorn, the carryout, the TV trays, and join us for the fun... Live from the Nation's Capitol.

E-mail DBellone@MSNBC.com

To e-mail your thoughts on the State of the Union, write to Joe@MSNBC.com and RReagan@MSNBC.com as 'After Hours' may be using them on air.

Also, check back TV.MSNBC.com to weigh in on our live vote on how the president's speech went.

February 2, 2005 | 5:30 p.m. ET

Social Security state of mind

President Bush has ambitious Social Security reforms on his agenda and is expected to appeal for support in his State of the Union speech on Wednesday night. Click here to read more .

On MSNBC TV today, the Question of the Day pertained to that" Do you support President Bush's plan to reform Social Security?" Here's some of what our viewers said:

I need to see details, not just the statement that the President is looking to reform SS. There are many changes that could be implemented to the current system without privatizing SS. I'm part of the age group that will need to be 66 to recieve full benefits under the current system.  I say lets debate, but be slow in change. Because, once there is a change, I'm stuck with it!  —Al Pinard

Truthfully, I don't approve of any of President Bush's plans! Not now, not ever!!!! I'm counting down the days till Nov. of 2008— when hopefully— the United States will be given the opportunity to elect a person who will rescue our country from a horrible 8 years of disaster, misery and small minded religious right wing bias. —Lesley J Marcus, Massapequa Park

I think it's a good question.  The details for the plan have not been revealed.  It raises the question as to whether the president does not wish the details to be available for analysis.  Like the proposal to invade Iraq, the less the details are known, the more likely he can push it through. —Flo Beckler, Naples, Fla.

Social Security was such a far reaching program when Franklin D. Roosevelt conceived it...that it is unbelieveable.  The good he has done for this nation and its citizens is immeasurable. We pray the American people have the wisdom and intelligence to see through this terrible, terrible attempt to try and change this program and much needed entitlement for all American seniors....as President Roosevelt intended it to be....and it has been, and it will continue to be with a very few small insignificant changes. —Mel Engelman, Bullhead City

E-mail your thoughts about the speech on Hardblogger@MSNBC.com.

January 31, 2005 |

Honoring the vote and our soldiers' sacrifice (Mike Barnicle) 

How come the turnout— on a per capita basis— can be higher in parts of war ravaged cities like Mosul and Baghdad than it is in American precincts where they scream about snow removal, trash pick-up, and traffic? The reasons for this war will be argued for some time, but I think about the gift that our soldiers and all the others across our history have given us, and how easily we can forget what it's like to be free and how much it costs.

Feedback goes to Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

January 31, 2005 |

Video: Shuster's Baghdad diary Webcast

Baghdad diary — day 9 (David Shuster)

Baghdad, Iraq—  Mother Nature also seemed to be smiling today about the Iraqi election. This day in the heart of the city was simply beautiful— plenty of sunshine, mid 60s, a nice breeze.  With the lush trees rustling in the wind, I felt like it was springtime back home in Indiana (where I grew up)... or that I had suddenly been transported to the bay area of northern California.  All of you know days like this one...  you just naturally feel energized to go for a walk or  run, throw a baseball around, or have a picnic.   

Here of course, you have to be more careful where you go, and the beauty of this day was interrupted for a brief time by the sounds of another mortar attack. But for the most part, this has been a fairly quiet day. U.S. helicopters aren't flying over the city as frequently, and Bradley fighting vehicles on patrol aren't rumbling by as often. Cars are back on the street. A curfew will be lifted tonight. And the tension of U.S. forces and ordinary Iraqis seems to have ratcheted down a little.

The Iraqis we've spoken with are thrilled with yesterday's election and the beginning of what some are calling a "new hope."  However, everybody says there are some tough and brutal days ahead.  And nobody is certain if the Shiites and Sunnis have the will to form or be part of  a government together. 

If there is one issue that may unite the majority Shiites (who turned out in large numbers yesterday) and the minority Sunnis (who didn't), it's the departure of U.S. troops. Every single Iraqi you speak with in this country wants American forces out of here. In political terms, it's one of the reasons we've started hearing members of the interim government talking about a withdrawal in 18 months.  The prospects of a timetable promoted by the new assembly and government (and by possible leaders of that government) could be the one issue that convinces Sunnis to be part of it all.  The idea is that a united call for a U.S. withdrawl might actually make it happen sooner. 

In any case, the election process continues today. Tally sheets have now been sent to 19 regional tabulation centers. The regional paper work and election materials will be sent here to Baghdad where results will be compiled within the next nine days.  There continues to be strong disagreement about "turnout."    The Iraqi election commission claims turnout was heavy overall, and "better than expected" in Shiite areas.  But a U.S. diplomat has been telling reporters that Sunni participation was "very low."  We may get some real numbers on turnout later today or tomorrow.

Video: Iraq the next day Against all of this are the conflicting images we've been watching.  The video of the wreckage of the British transport plane that may have been shot down yesterday is gut-wrenching. 10 British soldiers were killed, making this the worst single loss of life for Great Britain since the war began.  And yet, we've been looking at the pictures of the dancing and celebrations yesterday of  ordinary Iraqis who braved the violence and cast ballots.  I was particularly moved by the images out of Najaf, where election workers were counting the vote late last night despite the daily (and often nightly) power outages. The election officials were huddling around oil lamps.

One quick note to all of you who have written and asked me to pass along regards to your individual loved ones serving in the U.S. military over here... what I've done instead is tell every soldier I've met how proud all of us in the U.S. are of their incredible work.  And indeed, all of us should be.  Because irrespective of how you fell about whether the invasion was necessary, or whether the war has been "worth it," or whether Iraq moves to stability or slips into civil war... the work of our men and women in the armed forces over here has been truly incredible.   Their courage and commitment, despite some of their own misgivings about this place, has been truly inspiring... and it's even more inspiring when you've been lucky enough, as I have, to see it up close, even briefly.

Questions/Comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

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