April 14, 2005 | 3:11 p.m. ET

D.C. excited for Nationals opening day (Chris Matthews)

RFK STADIUM, WASHINGTON D.C.— The boys of summer are back in town, not to take the Fifth in a steroid hearing but to play some ball, and the District of Columbia couldn’t be more excited.

When the Washington Nationals take the field at RFK Stadium later tonight for their first home game, it marks the first time a Major League team played ball in this town since 1971. That’s the year when Bob Short, owner of the Washington Senators, turned his back on D.C. fans and moved his team to Texas.

Before its 34-year hiatus, baseball was a part of Washington life. It started in 1901 when the Senators joined the newly established American League.

Opening day was always a big event in the nation’s capital. Federal matters were set aside as 11 presidents, beginning with William Howard Taft, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.  Following tradition, President Bush will do the same this evening.

In a town of power brokers, baseball was a great equalizer. In the dark ages before lights, families, celebrities, and politicians of all stripes headed to the ballpark and shared the afternoon.

The game was a welcome time out from the frenetic pace of this city. Friendships were forged.  Partisan bickering was set aside. And most everybody came out of the park feeling good, even if the Nationals lost.

Old newsreels and photos show that the likes of Ike, Truman, Kennedy and other politicians did what every baseball fan was doing in the park on those long summer afternoons: having a good time.

Who knows if games under the lights of RFK Stadium will have the same affect in the 21st Century? It can’t hurt.  The Nationals have manager Frank Robinson at the helm, who will write the next storied chapter of Major League Baseball in this town.

And in a district where politics never sleeps, perhaps a fly ball over the wall or a close call at the plate will bring back a little bit of that civility, that good political sportsmanship that seems to have gone missing since the Nationals left here three decades ago.

Literally, "Hardball" tonight! Tune in to the show from the infield at RFK stadium for the first game of the Washington Nationals season. Located on field, Chris will interview the team's General Manager Jim Bowden.  He will also speak with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Senator Jim Bunning (R-Ky.), a member of the prestigious Baseball Hall of Fame.  Bunning pitched no-hitters in both the National and American leagues and played for the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies.

April 12, 2005 | 3:59 p.m. ET

Disabled, yet able-bodied (David Shuster)

Inspired? 

Hello again from MSNBC headquarters.  What did you think of last night's report?  Did the overview give you a sense about what we saw at the National Disabled Veterans' Winter Sports Clinic?

Today, editor Frank Madden and I have been going through tapes and scripts for the 2nd story in our series.  Tonight, you will meet Christopher Devlin Young and Rob Reynolds.  Both men are "instructors" at the clinic and were once in the same position as the first time participants.  About 20 years ago, Young was in a coast guard aircraft flying over Alaska.  The aircraft crashed, killing two people and severely wounding several others.  Young was paralyzed from the waist down.  He spent two years deeply depressed, feeling like he was, "half a man."  He also began to abuse alcohol and drugs.  Therapists sent Young to the first ever National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic.  He went skiing... and after the 2nd turn, he says he began to feel his life change.  How much has it changed?  You will see.

As for Rob Reynolds... he was the first instructor I met last week in Colorado.  I've been skiing for a long time and on that first day, I wanted to get a feel for the special sit ski equipment used by paraplegics.  So, Reynolds took me up and was in charge of the "tethers" linked to my equipment.  Reynolds skis just like I normally do...  but he kept refusing to tell me about his background until we reached the bottom of the mountain.  At that point, to my shock and amazement, Rob's fellow instructor Leo revealed that Rob Reynolds is legally a paraplegic.  Reynolds was in a parachute accident while in the military and ruined his back.  Doctors put a special spinal stimulator implant into his body with ledes that send stimulation to his lower back and legs for the pain.  Reynolds told me that he charges his "implant" each night... and it enables him, after years of hard work, to ski, walk, drive cars, and ride motorcycles.

The lesson from these two instructors is not that disabled people should be expected to do great things.  Some will, some won't (just like able-bodied people.)  But, Reynolds and Young remind us to lose our stereotypes and embrace the idea that disabled Americans, just like the rest of us, deserve opportunities to improve their life.

By the way, I have started receiving e-mail from many of you who want me to pass along messages to the veterans featured in this series.  Last week, one of the veterans spoke about the meaning of such messages... and said "they are nice, but it would be even nicer to hear what we've inspired."

So, when you write in:  Please tell the veterans, as a result of what you've seen or heard about their accomplishments, what changes or goals you are now setting in your own life.  Maybe you are giving up smoking, or want to tackle alcoholism, or learn something new, or simply want to be more generous...  whatever it is, large or small, tell the veterans and join them in their journey towards self improvement.  And in the subject area of your e-mail, write "inspiration."

We will collect all of your e-mails and forward them to the veterans next week.

Thanks again for watching our series "For the Brave."   Hardball airs each night at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET.

Questions/comments/inspirations:  DShuster@msnbc.com

April 11, 2005 | 2:58 p.m. ET

Newly disabled vets (David Shuster)

Good afternoon from MSNBC headquarters.  I've spent the morning working with our tape editor Frank Madden on part one of our five-part series on the National Disabled Veterans' Sports Clinic.  It seems strange to say that lengthy clinic name because our story really isn't about a "clinic"  or even "disability."  It's about "ability."  But in any case, the package tonight is coming together really well.  The video is incredible, the sound bytes are compelling, and the story line is inspiring.   It's always tricky to try and convey intense emotion in a television piece.  But, I think we will manage to give you a taste of what we saw and experienced last week.

In tonight's report, you will meet a few of the "newly disabled" veterans who are participating in the clinic for the first time.  You may have seen some of these Iraqi war veterans last December when Hardball did an hour long special at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  There is Oscar Olguin, who lost his right leg in Iraq last October... Casey Owens who lost both legs seven months ago... and Dawn Halfaker, a former basketball star at West Point, who lost her right arm last year after she was hit by an insurgent's rocket propelled grenade.  How do they manage on the mountain top?  Some things they do well, other things are tough.  But that's reality... And you'll see for yourself the inspiring lesson they offer us.

You will also hear from Adrian Maldonado, an outreach specialist who works as a liaison between the V.A. and disabled vets and Jim Sursley, the commander of Disabled American Veterans.  Sursley is himself an incredible story. He lost three limbs in Vietnam but has put together a happier and more rewarding life than most people I know.  Tonight's report will also give you a taste of the impact this clinic has on able-bodied sponsors and volunteers.

In tomorrow's report, I'll delve a little deeper into the instructors who make this clinic possible.  Many of them are disabled veterans who were in the same position ten or twenty years ago as the newly injured are today.  It's a story about veterans helping other veterans.  And the instructors' are just as inspiring and interesting as the first time participants.  I'll have a lengthier preview tomorrow here on Hardblogger.   In the meantime, thanks in advance for watching the first report in our series tonight on Hardball at 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern Time.

Comments/questions: DShuster@msnbc.com

April 10, 2005 | 8:34 p.m. ET

This week's special: A tribute to our vets (David Shuster)

Hello from Snowmass Village near Aspen, Colorado.  Every year for the past 19, disabled American veterans have descended on the Rocky mountains for a week long winter sports clinic. And along the way, these men and women have been proving that their abilities are as limitless as the beautiful peaks around them. 

A few weeks ago, MSNBC asked if I would be interested in going.  I was thrilled to say yes.

And now, after four days of talking, interviewing, and observing the participants and volunteers, I must tell you that the experience out here has been the most fulfilling of my entire career. 

All next week on MSNBC's Hardball and other programs, you will see the dramatic and inspiring moments we captured on videotape.  When you see a paraplegic veteran ski for the first time in his or her life, or go scuba diving, or drive a snowmobile, or climb a rock wall... it transforms you (not to mention what it does for the disabled veterans.)  There are also endless moments about camaraderie, support, and love.

You will meet some young men and women who lost limbs in Iraq and are learning how to snowboard and ski, an 82-year-old veteran who lost a leg in World War II but now engages in full contact "sled hockey," a Coast Guard veteran who became a paraplegic in a plane crash but is now, 19 years after his first clinic, one of the fastest professional skiers in the world. You will also meet parents, caregivers, and others who are learning something new about their loved ones and themselves. 

This is a dramatic story about hope over fear, ability over disability, and all of our potential to live life to the fullest.

I urge you in advance, please put this five-part series on your viewing calendar. This story has been the most compelling I've ever covered.  And what we put on the air next week will change your life... just as it has already changed mine. 

Thanks in advance for tuning in.

Comments/questions : DShuster@MSNBC.com

April 8, 2005 | 8:16 p.m. ET

Purest displays of devotion (Chris Matthews)

VATICAN CITY—  Getting sent over here by MSNBC has been the privilege of a lifetime— professionally, spiritually… totally.

I came expecting the death of a great Catholic leader and the prescribed four to six days later, his funeral and burial.

What I did not expect was the passionate statement by so many millions of we, the living.

The phrase that kept coming to mind was "voting with your feet."

People stood for hours, day and night, through the avenues of Rome, packed together as if they'd been caught and crushed in an industrial-strength trash compacter.

There they stood, seeking no edge, plotting no photo opportunity, playing none of the games that people do in politics and business, and in so much of life.  This is no publicity stunt, or initial stock offering or inside deal… this is nothing but the purest, most obvious, most grandly transparent display of individual devotion.

I remember the line of East Germans winding their way slowly through the Berlin Wall back in 1989 like grim figures from a black and white movie onto a Technicolor screen; the young man I met said that freedom meant just talking to me.

I remember the biblical length of those lines in South Africa a decade ago when everyone, the majority blacks, the mixed race folk, the Indian, for the first time, got to vote.  I remember the young girl saying "This is the day I waited for my whole life."  And she was white.

I now have another picture to place in the album of grand memory -- of Romans and Poles and some undaunted Americans waiting in the damp April night to make a statement of love for a pope they not only respected but actually liked.

E-mail Hardblogger@MSNBC.com.

April 7, 2005 | 6:57 p.m. ET

It gets a little closer everyday  (Greg Ebben, Hardball associate producer)

They were officially called Apostolic Voyages. And Pope John Paul II made 104 of them during his pontificate, which included meetings with presidents, queens, and prime ministers. 

But of the billion Catholics that live on this earth— most of whom knew John Paul as “Papa,” those voyages touched the open hearts of followers from countries whose national wealth and global prominence make them far from superpowers. From Nicaragua to Nigeria, El Salvador to Senegal, Bangladesh to Botswana— Pope John Paul II spread the word and reached out to the poor, persecuted, sick, and hungry from those nations that are sometimes left as afterthoughts.

Taking with him fluency in all of the romance languages, Pope John Paul II embarked upon his first voyage as Pontiff to the Dominican Republic and Mexico in January 1979. His final journey would come in August of last year when he visited Lourdes in France.  His mission during the 26 and a half year reign was to include everyone— even those from different faiths.

“Together we pray,” he would say, instead of “praying together.” A man who encountered so many souls in so many places, Pope John Paul II blessed more humans than any one of his predecessors— maybe all of them combined.

And those from the Third World, who possessions are few, gave so much of themselves when Pope John Paul would come to their lands and show his love.  He had a special rapport with these people. And the faithful outpouring of smiles, chants, and gratitude displayed toward him when he would come to their lands and kiss the ground outweighed any tangible gift that could ever be presented to the Pope— to “Papa.”

Some may suggest his greatest legacy will be aiding in conquering the communist rule of Eastern Europe. But perhaps his greatest mark in history will be touching the four corners of the world to advance his ultimate message of love and peace. As Pope John Paul helped expand the Catholic Church worldwide, his successor may indeed hail from one of the third world countries where Catholicism exploded during his tenure. When 31 new Cardinals were named in 2003, he included men from Brazil, Ghana, Guatemala, India, Sudan and Vietnam. And within the conclave that will pray upon the selection of the next pontiff, for the first time, Latin American cardinals will outnumber their Italian brethren.

“He gave us courage to bear our own burdens”— those are the words of a 41-year-old Kenyan woman when asked to reflect on the life of the pope.  And now, his burdens are no more as his life’s voyage has come full circle. 

“For years I came to you, now you come to me,” he said as he laid on his deathbed, while thousands converged onto St. Peter’s Square. 

And all those from the First and Third worlds— presidents and paupers alike— who were visited by Pope John Paul II during his papacy, came to Vatican City this week to say their last goodbye to a great and holy man. 

Maybe they will leave with the hope of making the world one.

E-mail Hardblogger@msnbc.com

April 6, 2005 | 4:14 p.m. ET

Some political links to read today

  • More DeLay woes? NY Times: The wife and daughter of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, have been paid more than $500,000 since 2001 by Mr. DeLay’s political action and campaign committees, according to a detailed review of disclosure statements filed with the Federal Election Commission and separate fund-raising records in Mr. DeLay’s home state of Texas. Click here to read more.
  • On American politics and electing a new pope, Howard Fineman has a new piece. "The parallels are eerie: The next presidential campaign is beginning in the august chambers of Renaissance buildings with painted ceilings and corridors filled with sculpture. In the shadows of massive domes, meeting in unique, isolated city-states, the Conclave of Cardinals in the Vatican City and the members of Congress in the District of Columbia will set the tone and terms for a great debate over the roles of law and faith in defining life in America." Click here to read more .
  • Bushes, Clinton but no Carter at the pope's funeral. Click here to read more . This is the subject of today’s Question of the Day : Do you think former President Jimmy Carter was snubbed by the White House? 72 percent of you are saying “yes.”
  • Byron York’s new book  “The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy” is being talked about by liberal bloggers. “Is it a conspiracy if no one conspires?” asks DailyKos who was included in the list of liberal conspirators.
  • More debating on the meaning of “The Culture of Life.”  This piece on Alternet.org challenges the notion of what this really means.
  • And interesting… and may be a little worrisome? From Reuters via Yahoo: Law expands right to kill in self-defense. People in Florida will be allowed to kill in self-defense on the street without trying to flee under a new law passed by state politicians on Tuesday that critics say will bring a Wild West mentality and innocent deaths.

Jesamyn Go, Hardball Web producer

E-mail JGo@MSNBC.com

April 2, 2005 | 4:40 p.m. ET

John Paul the Second and television memories (David Shuster)

For the last several months, a few of my Hardball producers and editors have been sorting through hundreds of NBC archive video tapes of Pope John Paul II. In recent weeks, I joined them and scripted the "narration" for lengthy stories on the Pope's world travels, his impact on global affairs, and his spell bounding visits to the United States.  Today, just as the pope was passing away, our editor at MSNBC headquarters was putting the final touches on these "packages."  These reports will air tonight between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. as part of our special four hour primetime coverage anchored by Chris Matthews in Rome, and Keith Olbermann at MSNBC headquarters.  I promise you, you don't want to miss tonight's look back at the extraordinary life of Pope John Paul II.

It's been quite a day here at MSNBC... and there have been more than a few moments when my colleagues and I  have just sat in an edit bay and watched the raw, unedited footage of various Pope visits around the world.   There were so many memorable ones—his trip to the Wall in Jerusalem 5 years ago, a speech to 4 million young people at a gathering in the Philippines... a raucous 1979 rally at Madison Square Garden in New York.  I think that moment is the most incredible. It was a rainy day in New York, but the teenagers packed into Madison Square and cheered the pope like crazy... and the pope cheered back!  It was absolute magic...and it still is when you see the videotape. The exchange between the energized crowd and the smiling Pope went on for more than 5 minutes.    Everytime the crowd broke into another round of "We love the Pope, we love the Pope," John Paul II would smile and say into the microphone, "woo, woo, woo."  Finally, the Pope managed to quiet the crowd when he looked around, smiled some more, and said "Cardinal Cook says enough."

I appreciate that many of you who live in Champaign, Illinois, East Lansing, Michigan, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Louisville, Kentucky have something else on TV you may be glued to tonight.  But, keep those TVs on a split screen... and watch for our reports on the life of John Paul the Second (or set those VCRs.)  Because I guarantee, regardless of your religious persuasion, you are going to appreciate some of the incredible shots and moments that we have found in the NBC archives and will be airing tonight on MSNBC.

Comments, questions, questions for Tuesday's blog cast:  DShuster@msnbc.com

March 25, 2005 | 6:53 p.m. ET

Disability groups on Schiavo (David Shuster)

This week, we've all been following the twists and turns in the Terri Schiavo dispute as well as the effort by Congress to change the outcome in federal court. My previous blogs make it quite clear what I think of the horrifying political opportunism displayed by our lawmakers.

However, one can disagree with what Congress did and still believe that Terri Schiavo should be protected.  To that end, I'd like to turn over the rest of this blog to a group of people who deal with these issues every day. "The Arc of the United States" is a leading advocacy group for disabled americans.  Steve Eidelman is their executive director and has submitted an op-ed to newspapers across the country. He writes, in part:

"For  people with disabilities and their families, the Schiavo case represents a slippery slope and raises the possibility that the right to life of people with significant intellectual and or physical disabilities might one day be questioned...

"... Today, there are thousands of people with various physical and cognitive disabilities who use feeding tubes as their normal means of getting food and water. For these people, a feeding tube is not life support or heroic intervention. It is a simple way of getting hydration and nourishment. When they are hospitalized for any reason – however minor – they risk having their normal means of eating and drinking be classified as as “extraordinary treatment” or “life support.”

"...The disability community has grappled with these issues in the past and has come to the conclusion that in such cases, it is best to assume that life is preferable over death. Is that not what the Schiavo case is all about? Laws governing surrogate decision-making vary among states and are often the result of well-funded advocacy from a narrow group of professionals. In most cases, disability organizations were not included in changes of statutes on the state level, and the drafters of those statues did not take into account the views of those with disabilities..."

"...Our society must stop using the term “persistent vegetative state.” Too many people with significant disabilities have been called “vegetables,” and this must stop. It is beyond demeaning; it is dehumanizing. In fact, some of the people who use the term most freely are doctors, and what comes next is a discussion of the death or warehousing of the individual labeled that way."

"...When a person has serious disabilities, the debate should not be about whether or not they are going to “get better” some day. For millions of Americans, disability is a fact of life,every day of our lives. People with disabilities have wonderful lives. And some have lousy lives. In that way, they are just like other Americans. Just because a person has a significant disability does not mean that they do not love their life. It does not mean that they should be assumed to be better off dead."

"...It is time for a call to conscience to both the Right and the Left. Guardianship should not be a death ship. People like Terri Schiavo are persons under the law, and they deserve constitutional protection."

"...The disability community is grateful that so many in Congress supported Terri Schiavo’s right to live, even though we are concerned about the precedent they set. We would like to see them follow up with the same level of concern for making sure we can provide care and support for the millions of Americans with disabilities by supporting Medicaid Community Attendant Services and Supports Act, which would allow people receiving Medicaid funding to have a life, not just stay to alive.– We call on them to ensure continued appropriate funding of Medicaid and other programs that people need..."

"...Terri Schiavo’s case is every family’s nightmare. Disability doesn’t have to be a nightmare. Even if our nation disagrees on how we define compassion, we must certainly agree that all lives are equal under the law."

Amen.  Thank you Steve Eidelman from "Arc of the United States" for your group's articulate and thought provoking op-ed.

Comments, questions, questions for the hardball blog cast:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

March 24, 2005 | 3:30 p.m. ET

Congress, Schiavo, and blame: The political game-playing is cruel and shameful  (David Shuster)

Congress has a long history of inserting itself into big stories, pretending to do something meaningful, and then passing the buck.  But the extent to which lawmakers are trying to run away from their own impotence and incompetence in the Schiavo case is astounding, even by congressional standards.

Let's start with Congressman Patrick McHenry (R-N.C). On Wednesday night on "Scarborough Country," McHenry stated, "We passed a law that specifically is worded for this case. Yet those judges aren't even talking about our original intent from Congress.  What we have here is an out-of-control judiciary."

Out of control?  But how about lawmakers who refuse to talk honestly about their own bill?  The Schiavo legislation states,

"Any parent of Theresa Marive Schiavo shall have standing to bring a suit under this Act... The District Court shall entertain and the determine the suit without any delay... After a determination of the merits of a suit brought under this act, the District Court shall issue such declaratory and injunctive relief as may be necessary." 

The "intent from Congress" is perfectly clear: The district judge should first determine if the lawsuit has merit and then issue relief (ie. reinsert the feeding tube) if the suit does have merit.  Nowhere in the legislation did Congress say the feeding tube should be reinserted first.  And if Congress "intended" (as McHenry claims) for the court to reinsert the feeding tube first, why didn't Congress write that into their own bill?   Or better yet, why didn't McHenry complain last Sunday when the bill was written without that "intent."  Did McHenry even bother to read the legislation?  (We will find out Thursday night when he appears on Hardball.)

Several lawmakers are admitting (away from the cameras of course) that Congress was restricted in what it could do because of constitutional issues involving the separation of powers.  In other words, if Congress had ordered the federal courts to take some particular action before analyzing the merits of a Schiavo case, the legislation would have been declared by every court to be unconstitutional (and the Schiavo issues would have received no review at all).  So, Congress passed something very different then what many lawmakers were claiming and avoided getting called for a flag during the punt.  Now, with ball back in the hands of the judiciary, the lawmakers get to blame the courts for the demise of Terri Schiavo. 

You think I'm kidding?  Take a look at the latest press release from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and Judiciary committee chairman James Sensenbrenner.  In the wake of the Supreme Court refusing to order Schiavo's feeding tube reinserted, the lawmaker said,  "Sadly, Mrs. Schiavo will not receive a new and full review of her case as the legislation required. I strongly believe that the court erred in reaching its conclusion and that once again they have chosen to ignore the clear intent of Congress."

Clear intent?  Again, if Congress intended to do something, Congress should have written that into their own legislation.  Secondly, the bill never says that Mrs. Schiavo should "receive a new and full review of her case."  

Yes, the Schiavo case is sad.  But it is not nearly as sad as the false hope lawmakers gave to Terry Schiavo's parents. 

And for that, and for the blame lawmakers are now heaping on the courts, Congress has shamed itself once again.

Comments, questions, questions for the blogcast:  DShuster@msnbc.com

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