May 5, 2005 | 3:12 p.m. ET

Blogcast on the Freedom Tower debacle (David Shuster)

Video: Hardball Blogcast

Comments, e-mails, and questions for the next Blogcast: DShuster@MSNBC.com

May 4, 2005 | 10:10 p.m. ET

Freedom Tower: NY Gov. Pataki says "Redesign" (David Shuster)

Two nights ago, shortly after writing in this space about the latest debacles surrounding the Freedom Tower, my inbox got jammed with e-mails from hundreds of you expressing your rage and indignation at New York Governor George Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Ground Zero developer Larry Silverstein.  Nearly all of you wrote that the Freedom Tower is an embarassment and that America wants the Twin Towers back. 

Jeff wrote that rebuilding them would be "a design for the ages, simultaneously telling future generations the story of 9-11 and of America's determination." Sean wrote, "It is shameful that the Twin Towers were not rebuilt immediately."  Damir wrote that the newer, safer, stronger Twin Towers, "would illustrate such a powerful American spirit. Man, I get emotional just thinking about it."  Maureen wrote about the absence of the Twin Towers and said, "my heart aches... for what the image of America has become." 

Many of you asked what you could do to change things. Tonight, for a moment, it seemed part of the battle had been won. I received a call from a friend at another broadcast organization who said, "Did you hear the news?  Governor Pataki just announced the Freedom Tower project has been suspended."  It sounded like the entire Freedom Tower project was being shelved and that common sense and political smarts had finally entered Governor Pataki's mind.

I should have known better. When I finally reached a computer, the AP headline was, "New York Governor:  Freedom Tower must be redesigned because of security concerns."   The article went on to say that Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and World Trade Center developer Larry Silverstein met at Pataki's Manhattan office late this afternoon.  While details of their meeting were not released, the trio supposedly addressed a NYPD report last week which found that the location in the pit where the Freedom Tower is planned is too close to two major thoroughfares (and would therefore be vulnerable to truck bombs). The Pataki quote tonight was, "We believe that a building that meets the NYPD standards can be built consistent with architect Daniel Liebeskind's master site plan."  In other words, Pataki and co. think the "problem" with the Freedom Tower can be solved by building the tower in a different part of Ground Zero.

Hello?  Earth to Governor Pataki.  You can't place the building in a different location.  The entire area has to be redesigned.  Remember, the site includes the  footprints of the Twin Towers that were destroyed, a memorial area, and part of the original pit.  In addition, there are "line of sight" issues with the Statue of Liberty.  Everybody in New York knows this.  Almost everybody also knows the reason most Americans hate the Freedom Tower is because it bears no resemblance to the Twin Towers.  The issue is simple: If the Freedom Tower is on the table, the terrorists win.  Why?  Because holding on to Governor Pataki's Freedom Tower means America's enemies will have a gaping hole in New York to admire for at least another five years. Then, assuming the tower actually gets built in 5 years (want to bet?) America will unveil a "feeble tower."  Why "feeble?"  Because in this bizarre windmill/birdcage topped building... human beings will only be able to go as high as the 75th floor.  That's right.  The building may technically reach 1,776 feet... but that's counting the contraption on top (something that engineers say can't be built anyway).  So, even in the end, the best view of the Statue of Liberty will not be from Governor Pataki's tower... it will be from one of a dozen other office or apartment buildings in Manhattan.

Some of you may be asking, why isn't Govenor Pataki willing to let go of this nonsense?  I have my suspicions which I'll address in a future blog.  In the meantime, here's a solution a lot of folks have already been working on... rebuild the Twin Towers.  The group MakeNYNYagain.com has a plan that is ready to go. Their blueprints, environmental impact statements, and etc. are  more detailed than anything Governor Pataki's crew has produced.  And as we wrote a few nights ago, the Gardner/Belton group even has a 9-foot architectural model for any skeptical reporters and city officials who bother to take a look.

Today, Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, and Developer Silverstein had a meeting.  But it wasn't the kind of meeting Americans, and especially New Yorkers, want or deserve.  The shame continues.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

Shuster's previous blogs on this subject: 

May 3, 2005 | 10:40 p.m. ET

WTC: The shame continues (David Shuster)

The shame continues.

Last month, I spent some time working at MSNBC headquarters in New Jersey.  My hotel room faced Manhattan. And once again, I was confronted with the frustrating and debilitating sight of the huge gaping hole in New York's downtown skyline.  It's now been three and a half years since terrorists took down the Twin Towers.  And the fact that "Al Qaeda's sky-line for New York" has not changed is an abomination.

But what's even more infuriating is the latest proof of incompetence, ineptitude, and mismanagement surrounding the "hallowed ground" where the Twin Towers once stood. Last week, city officials acknowledged that "security concerns" are going to push back completion of the proposed "Freedom Tower" until at least 2009. What are the security concerns?  The tower, under the current plan, is supposed to be built on a part of the pit that is less than 20 meters from two major thoroughfares. I'm at a total loss as to why it would take anybody, including the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation (LMDC— the group in charge of reconstruction at Ground Zero) three years and a police report to discover that placing the tower next to busy streets might increase the vulnerability to a truck bomb.    It's also baffling that anybody could look at the bizarre windmill/birdcage design for the top of the skyscraper and not be skeptical. But only recently, after developer Larry Silverstein publicly complained about the engineering hurdles, did the LMDC acknowledge the Freedom Tower design will have to be changed. 

Hello???  The LMDC has been on this for three years!!!  It took me ten minutes on the phone with one engineer to understand the physics that would make the Freedom Tower windmill impossible.  (See my previous blogs listed below for other longstanding problems the LMDC has created, including one that harms the potential for fiber optics.) 

The bottom line is that here we are, three and a half years after 9/11, and the LMDC is only now acknowledging it has no idea what the replacement for the Twin Towers will actually look like or how the "Freedom Tower" will be built.  Talk about reclaiming our skyline... 

Developer Larry Silverstein is nervous about where things stand. And he is now asking the city for tax increases and public financing to help cover the costs. 

New York Senator Chuck Schumer is nervous.  He recently spoke about the ongoing problems and used the phrase "twiddling our thumbs."

Goldman Sachs is beyond nervous. The Wall Street investment firm has already given up. The firm announce recently it is shelving  plans for a new office that was supposed to be part of the project.  

Kevin Rampe has also given up. The man appointed by New York Governor George Pataki to be president of the LMDC (and oversee the entire building effort) recently announced his resignation.

The only person who seems unconcerned is George Pataki. This week, the governor said, "All of this is moving forward well."  Moving forward well? Give me a break. When Governor Pataki finishes last in the 2008 Iowa presidential caucuses, remind me to ask him directly for his definition of "moving forward well."

Let's acknowledge the obvious: The proposed replacement for the Twin Towers is an absolute disaster. The project symbolizes nervousness, defeatism, and outright ineptitude.  That's the worst possible tribute to the victims of 9/11.  And it must not be allowed to continue.

Ken Gardner
Many of you have suggested  rebuilding the Twin Towers and reclaiming America's pride, determination, resilience, and resolve.  I am happy to report to you that a group you've mentioned repeatedly in your e-mails—  MakeNYNYagain.com— now has a plan that is ready to go.  The group's structural engineer Ken Gardner and architect Herbert Belton (who worked on the original drawings for the World Trade Center) have produced blue prints and building plans for newer, stronger, safer towers.  The architectural plans are also far more detailed than anything put forward by the LMDC for the "Freedom Tower."  And for any reporter or city official who is skeptical, Gardner and Belton have also built a detailed 9-foot "architectural model" to help you "visualize" the proposal.

This week, Gardner sent a letter to New York Governor Pataki, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and developer Larry Silverstein. These officials were told about the plans and were invited to "simply take a look."  Gardner is not asking the officials for feedback, a review, or any kind of commitment to the Twin Towers proposal... only that these officials, just to repeat, "take a look."  Such a meeting may take three minutes...  or with New York traffic, it may take thirty. But Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg, and Mr. Silverstein... is that too much to ask?  Let's be honest here: You owe New Yorkers a little time back.  Three and a half years is an eternity...  and America has put up with al Qaeda's vision for New York City (and tolerated the debacle known as the "Freedom Tower") more than long enough. 

Questions/comments:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

Shuster's previous blogs on this subject: 

Be sure to watch "Hardball" tonight at 7 p.m. ET.  On the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, General Norman Schwarzkopf tells Chris how the lessons of Vietnam are helping with the war in Iraq.

May 2, 2005 | 7:15 p.m. ET

Inside the exclusive Bloomberg party (David Shuster)

Al Sharpton hates Ron Silver. Ron Silver hates Sharpton.  And on several occasions over the past year, the two men have repeatedly wished the other a painful and immediate death.  (They've said other things... but I can't print them in a family-friendly blog.)  However, following the White House Correspondents' Dinner, around 1 a.m. at the exclusive Bloomberg party, Ron Silver and Al Sharpton smiled at one another, briefly embraced, and exchanged quips about only attending because the other was there. 

Bloomberg News Hosts Party Of The Year
Evan Agostini  /  Getty Images
Actor Ron Silver attends the Bloomberg News Party of the Year, following The White House Correspondents' Dinner April 30, 2005 in Washington DC.
The Bloomberg party was indeed a scene. I managed to slip in without an invitation because of my dear friend and MSNBC colleague Alison Stewart (and she didn't have an invite either).  On a dare, the two of us went to the VIP entrance (bypassing the legitimate ticket holders' line) and waited as the frenzied Bloomberg PR folks tried to accomodate the arrivals in front of us of Paul Wolfowitz, actor Richard Schiff, and Senator Ben Nelson. After a few minutes, a particularly tired-looking Bloomberg PR type looked at us and said, "May I help you?" 

Alison smiled and said, "I'm Alison Stewart of MSNBC and this is David Shuster of MSNBC." The woman smiled at Allison and waved us through without even checking the list. As Alison noted, "See, it helps to be nice." Point taken. 

Ms. Stewart and I then walked along the red carpet until I stopped her in front of the 25 waiting photographers and loudly declared, "Ladies and gentlemen, Alison Stewart." The flash bulbs went off like crazy.  There were also shouts of, "Over here Alison... Alison can you look to the right... can the two of you look left?  How about a shot for me?" 

Having confirmed my friend's status as a potential Hollywood celebrity, Alison and I headed through the front door.  Inside, I almost ran over Goldie Hawn.  Ms. Hawn seems to have had better days... and she seemed perplexed as she looked around the room at all of the journalists and famous-for-Washington types.   There were a few Hollywood stars— a very old but dapper Dennis Hopper, Richard Schiff (Toby on "The West Wing," but in person he looks like a relative of CNN bureau chief David Bohrman.)  I was told that Richard Gere was at the party... but I didn't seem him.

Anyway, your MSNBC spies were most intrigued with the gigantic ice chandelier in the middle of the main room.   It actually wasn't one gigantic block of ice but rather about a thousand softball size ice cubes strung up to the ceiling like Christmas tree lights.  Later in the evening, as they melted, the cubes began to crash to the floor— scaring the daylights out of anybody who just happened to be standing nearby.

One guy who appeared to jump was a singer named "Constantine."  He recently got thrown off the show "American Idol" (Sorry, I don't watch).  Based on his bizarre sartorial choices Saturday night, one might assume he is spending all of his money on voice lessons... not clothes  (and "not shampoo" according to one of his former fans here on the Hardball staff.)   In any case, "Constantine" still seems like a good guy.  Around 3 a.m., an acquaintance of his seemed quite inebriated and a concerned "Constantine" helped find the young lady a cab before returning to the party.

Anyway, the bash also attracted a few sports stars including Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.  Brady is a fellow Michigan alum... but   he looked as comfortable with himself as somebody with a degree from Ohio State.  It's hard to imagine a superbowl champ being any more dour... When I tried to strike up a conversation with him about the "scene," he just kind of grunted.  I subsequently learned that Ron Silver, only moments earlier, had grilled Brady about his first Superbowl win and told the guy that he "didn't deserve it."  Sheesh. 

For me, one of the evening highlights came when some friendly Bloomberg employees taught me how to use a "Bloomberg terminal" on display.  I'm not a financial analyst or Wall Street journalist... and I'm definitely not into computers. But, this "Bloomberg thing" was intriguing and easy ... and at 3 am, that's quite a feat.

On tomorrow's blog, I'll get back to something a little more serious... we have some major developments to tell you about regarding the problems with New York City's proposed Freedom Tower and the potential for the Twin Towers to rise again. 

Questions/Comments:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

April 29, 2005 | 2:39 p.m. ET

Thoughts on the primetime news conference (Chris Matthews)

The president held a press conference last night, and it was quite a press conference: He was in good shape, he answered all the questions, and he was in great spirits.

He made, I think, three main points. One was on Social Security, laying out the idea of having kind of a sliding scale for Social Security cost of living adjustments, whereby the wealthier people would be paid on a price-based system and the less wealthy people who retire would be able to get what he called extra benefits. We're now talking for the first time about a means testing Social Security benefits. 

Number two, on crude oil prices, he admitted knowing we have a gas problem price in this country. In Washington, it's about $2.60 right now. The fact of the matter is, the president said "I cannot change the price of gas in the near term." The power lies in the hands of the world crude oil price. Unless more crude oil is put on the market, we cannot reduce the prices at the pump. That was a big admission, given the fact he was pushing so hard for his energy bill in the short run. 

The third point he raised was the issue of judges. It was a dramatic confession, a separation, I should say, between himself and the conservative cultural leader James Dobson of Focus on the Family.  He said that he does not agree with Mr. Dobson.  He does not agree with the charge by Mr. Dobson that people who support the continuation of the filibuster in judicial nominations are against those people of faith.

Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

April 29, 2005 | 11:30 a.m. ET

Just a look and a whisper, and they're gone (Greg Ebben, Hardball Associate Producer)

This weekend marks a historical milestone— 30 years since the fall of Saigon.  The last sortie of Operation Frequent Wind came in the morning when a U.S. helicopter lifted from the roof of our embassy in Vietnam on April 30, 1975.  As the chopper flew over Saigon one final time to an aircraft carrier out at sea, the United States had finally ended its military involvement in Vietnam.  It was over.  An abrupt end with no fanfare, confetti, or parade. 

The events of that day came to symbolize so much of what took place during the ten years prior as North Vietnamese tanks rolled into Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City).  Hundreds, if not, thousands of Vietnamese desperately tried to reach safety at the U.S. Embassy.  Some of them made it.  Most did not.  Those who did make it and boarded one of our helicopters were the lucky ones.  Those left behind faced an uncertain future as the communists took hold of the entire country.  Executions, repatriation camps, and life sentences in prison were in store for those who sympathized with the south.

Vietnam – used now as a word to sum up years of indecision, body bags, and domestic turmoil – was a key turning point in our society.  It made us coarser and more cynical as a people.  The war was book ended by the assassination of JFK and the Watergate scandal, and within it, the deaths of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, the shootings at Kent State, and the riots in Chicago and Watts.  And more than being a quagmire no politician or general had the answer for, Vietnam took more from us than money, bombs, and power – it took over 58,000 Americans, who made the ultimate sacrifice.  And to those who are not here with us today to play catch with their kids, light up the backyard barbeque, or kiss their wives on the cheek, they seem to be the ones who are sometimes forgotten.  They were thousands of our youngest, best and brightest with untold futures, who perished on foreign soil for duty, honor, and country.  

And as the dead may be, at times, forgotten, all too often the Vietnam veteran alive and well today still seeks to be remembered.

Click here to read more of Greg's reflections on Vietnam, 30 years later .

E-Mail Hardblogger@msnbc.com

Be sure to watch Hardball tonight at 7 p.m. ET.  On the 30th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, General Norman Schwarzkopf tells Chris how the lessons of Vietnam are helping with the war in Iraq.

April 27, 2005 | 2:49 p.m. ET

Zell Miller has a new book out

Zell Miller has a new book out.There are some references in the book to his 'Hardball' appearance after his speech at the Republican National Convention in 2004. We'll show that appearance in its entirety Wednesday night on Hardball, but you can click here and watch what some call the most exciting TV appearance of 2004.

April 21, 2005 | 7:02 p.m. ET

Day 4: Small cars, siestas, and gelato to die for (David Shuster)

Shuster's Baghdad Diary

ROME, ITALY—Thanks to all of you who have been sending me e-mails and writing questions about Rome. A number of you have asked for my impressions about the city and the people who live here.  So, here goes: The first thing that struck me about Rome was how narrow the streets are.  I mean, imagine the problems in Boston times ten.  In the heart of "Roma," there are very few major thoroughfares and plenty of winding cobblestone alleyways and streets that connect the wider plazas.   But, these connector "streets" (and I use the term quite liberally) do not have sidewalks. In many areas, automobiles pass just inches away from pedestrians and from people sitting at restaurant/cafe tables.   

Parking, as you might imagine, can be an absolute nightmare.  So, one of the hottest selling cars in Rome is a "smart car."  It looks like a small American sedan sliced in half. There is no trunk, no backseat, and hardly any hood to speak of. (Think of the front of a golfcart.) However, the driver's seat and passenger seat are about the same dimensions as any other car. The marvel comes in the engineering. The engine for this automobile is underneath the floor board. That makes the car short enough to park almost anywhere... and if you don't want to parallel park... no worries, you can just back in perpendicular to the curb and leave it there.  I've seen that everywhere.  Oh, and the smart car engine is from Merecedes Benz... so you can do 80 mph on the highway while maintaining some great gas mileage. Did I mention that gasoline over here is about 5 bucks a gallon?

Italians don't seem to mind the high gas prices or the small cars... and I think I know why...  Italian food. It is simply incredible. The fruits and vegetables are always fresh, the pasta and meats are phenomenal, the wine is terrific, and the gelato... oh, the gelato. You have never really had ice cream until you've tried this stuff. It is richer and lighter than the ice cream you and I are used to... and it simply melts in your mouth.  My producer Christina Jamison says the "pear gelato" is the best.  In any case, it's all wonderful... and the entire NBC team is headed for gelato withdrawl when we leave this place.

Last night, a group of us went to a little cafe bar near Piazza Novano. The place was filled with younger people, and it became quite clear that Rome is definitely a scholarly and social destination for college students all over the world. I had a facinating conversation with a group of students from Holland. They ranged in age from 17 to 20 (yes, the rules for getting alcohol in Italy are different).  All of these students were fluent in 5 or 6 languages... and they all spoke near-perfect English. It was striking how much these kids from Holland knew about America and American culture and yet how little we tend to know about them. It was also a little embarassing...especially when a 17 year old began to lecture me about the "lack of culture" in so much of the United States. I asked what this young woman meant... and she referred to "all of the shops, restaurants, and towns that look the same." 

There is a certain sophistication and confidence that you find in people of all ages here in Rome, regardless of their occupation. For example, I'm thinking of the guy who answers the phone at our hotel whenver you dial room service.  His English isn't great.  But, after you tell him what you want, he simply says "okay" and hangs up on you. It is startling every time. But 20 minutes later, your food always arrives just as you requested. It's a far different story in many of the hotels in the U.S. that are bigger and more expensive than this one in Rome.  Why the difference?  I think there is just a different attitude over here...  in the U.S., service jobs are about punching the clock.  Here, there is a pride that everybody has in their interactions with you... regardless of what their job or profession is. 

Having said that, I could go on and on about the "afternoon breaks" and "siesta culture" that exists in so much of Europe. It can make some tasks maddening (like going to a bank in between story deadlines). But on the whole, the experience here has been refreshing.

Thanks again to all of you who have been writing questions for the blogcast. Watch this space for the latest Blogcast. You'll get answers to questions including, "Why do some of the Cardinals at the Vatican wear black robes instead of red?" ... and what was I thinking Tuesday night.

Comments/questions/questions for the next blogcast:  DShuster@MSNBC.com

April 20, 2005 | 7:02 p.m. ET

To Catholics in America: Doctrine isn't like tax code (Mike Barnicle)

I was born and raised a Catholic. I'm old enough to remember when church teachings had us believe our one-way ticket to hell would be punched if we fired up a cook-out on Friday or tried to peek at the reflection off patent leather shoes worn by girls who sat next to us in parochial school.

Purgatory was not an option and sex was the third rail of life, more dangerous than dynamite. We were told that we were surrounded by constant occasions of sin but Senator Joe McCarthy was a great man fighting godless commies. Movies cost a quarter but most big, urban dioceses published Catholic newspapers that included a weekly list of what could and could not be seen. Everything other than ‘The Robe' was condemned.

Nobody got divorced. Marriages might turn into Saturday night at the fights but Catholics would set their hair on fire before anyone filed. In many cases, relationships ended on a silent, somber note: The husband went to the store for cigarettes and never came back. This actually may have been the first “don't ask, don't tell” policy because such departures were only whispered about in the neighborhood.

Priests were worshipped. Pews were filled. Churches overflowed to the point where they were packed with the faithful and a separate Mass for kids was held at 8 a.m. If a poll was taken and Catholic mothers were asked: “Would you rather your child become (a) a priest, (b) a nun (c) the president of the United States?” the vocation would have won in a landslide. Obviously, that was then and this is now.

Today, Catholicism in America has become the religious equivalent of ordering from an a la carte menu. We like the tradition but figure some rules are old-fashioned and can be ignored, like picking and choosing between the vegetables and dessert. Unfortunately, a lot of Catholics— after witnessing more than a few members of the hierarchy becoming tone-deaf and complicit in a felony called sexual abuse of minors— have said "Check please."

So we wake up today figuring a Vatican bag-job resulted in the selection of a pope who was quite mute about a scandal that cost a whole lot more than money from a second collection.
Clearly, Pope Benedict XVI had the job wire to wire . He had clout and connections acquired across a quarter century making sure John Paul II's desk was clean at the end of every day.
He's been handed a tough task. He's following a fellow who smiled, danced and prayed around the world. For many Catholics, John Paul II was the first Pope who was more than a framed photo on the wall of a school. He was alive and might be coming to your town soon.

The new guy isn't Henny Youngman in a white cassock. He's German and they are not exactly beloved for their sense of humor.

But maybe the big job changes him and allows a personality not yet seen to flourish and be admired. One thing is for sure: Despite the selfish and often parochial wishes of American Catholics, doctrine isn't like a tax code, a health plan or a bill aimed at developing stem-cell research. It isn't going to be amended simply because it's unpopular with those who want married clergy, women priests, or a more charitable view of homosexuality.

Benedict XVI, by background and record , appears to be a pope who will proclaim that the rules are the rules. His dilemma—ours too—is that many Catholics no longer march lock-step like good Christian soldiers in the army of Christ simply because that's what they're told to do.

We try to keep the faith, figuring the Church belongs to all of us. And that as far as the future goes, well, only God knows what will happen.

E-mail: Hardblogger@MSNBC.com

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