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Bothered by the NSA story

Tucker Carlson blogs: "The argument for allowing the National Security Agency to spy on Americans is simple: It works. According to the New York Times, the federal government was able to disrupt a terror plot aimed at the Brooklyn Bridge by using information gleaned from intercepted phone calls that originated in the United States. Domestic surveillance saves lives. That's the administration's position. Most Americans seem to agree. I'm not entirely sold."

December 22, 2005 | 7:23 a.m. ET

Bothered by the NSA story (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

The argument for allowing the National Security Agency to spy on Americans is simple: It works. According to the New York Times, the federal government was able to disrupt a terror plot aimed at the Brooklyn Bridge by using information gleaned from intercepted phone calls that originated in the United States.

Domestic surveillance saves lives. That's the administration's position. Most Americans seem to agree.

I'm not entirely sold. I'm as against terrorism as anyone. And I think most of the criticism you hear from civil libertarians about the administration's handling of the war on terror is overblown. Bush may be a bad president, but this isn't a police state, not even close. (To claim otherwise is to insult the world's many genuine police states.) But I'm still bothered by the NSA story. Here's why:

Why didn't the Administration bother to get warrants for the wiretapping? Bush's aides claim there wasn't time; the terror threats were so pressing, bureaucratic niceties could have been dangerous. Sounds good, except that the 1978 law that governs federal eavesdropping allows the government to apply for a warrant after the wiretap has already been conducted. So that's not a serious excuse.

The real reason is that the White House decided it didn't have to ask permission to wiretap. Bush's lawyers concluded that as president of a country at war, he had the constitutional authority to take any steps necessary to protect the country, regardless of the law.

Bush's lawyers have a point. There are circumstances when the country's interests take priority over its laws. But by definition such circumstances are temporary. In the long term -- for instance, in the four years since 9-11 -- a president either has to obey the laws or change them. If Bush believes that the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is incompatible with fighting the war on terror, he should ask Congress to scrap it.

Unfortunately that is not Bush's way. Bush distrusts rhetoric. He hates to explain and persuade. He'd prefer to decide and delegate. So instead of taking the time to convince members of Congress -- and for that matter the public -- that the government needs to start spying on Americans, he went ahead and did it in secret.

All of which might be fine, for now. There's no evidence the NSA hurt anyone. But the principle is troubling. Do we really want to empower the president to ignore Congress, our most democratic institution? Bush's defenders aren't bothered by the idea because they trust Bush. But Bush won't be in office forever.

Will they feel the same way when Hillary is president?

Keep those e-mails coming to

December 20, 2005 | 9:23 a.m. ET

In Iraq, optimism is our only option (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

President Bush's approval ratings have risen eight points in the past month, and while they're still low (47 percent, according to the ), the trend is clear: Bush is getting more popular. The conventional explanation is that a strong economy and a peaceful election in Iraq have allowed voters to forget about Hurricane Katrina and the CIA leak case. But that's only partly right. The main reason more people like Bush, I think, is because he's saying hopeful things about Iraq.

The invasion of Iraq was a horrible mistake. That's my position, and (polls show) the position of most Americans. Even the administration concedes that the central assumption that spurred us to war (that Saddam possessed WMD) was false. No speech can change that fact. For the administration, the debate over why we went to war with Iraq is unwinnable. Bush seems to understand this.

The debate now is over what to do next. In his address Sunday night, Bush described America's choice as one between victory and defeat. You can argue with his logic (stalemate is always an option), but not with his instincts. Bush understands that defeat is what Americans fear most, more than chaos in Iraq, more than an unstable Middle East, more even than thousands of dead U.S. soldiers. An American humiliation in Iraq would be devastating to America. Americans know this, on a gut level if nowhere else.

Bush's answer to our fears is bluster: The war in Iraq is morally just, and we are winning it. Is this in fact true? I have doubts on both counts, but ultimately it doesn't matter. Americans need to believe it. Why? Because self-confidence is the key to national success.

Ask the British, whose empire went from the most powerful on earth (arguably in history) to a footnote in a single generation. The reasons are many and complex, but the precipitating event was the First World War. Not only did that war kill off many of the most capable people in the country (Harrow alone lost 644 graduates; Eton, 1160), it changed the way the British understood themselves. Despite their sacrifice, many in England came to see the war as pointless, an exercise in futility rather than righteousness. Within 30 years, the British Empire had evaporated.

You could spend a career arguing about whether the British Empire was worth preserving. The point is, it perished by suicide not murder. The average Englishman lost confidence that his culture, his religion, his language, his country, was superior to anyone else's. At that point, empire became unsustainable. You can't proselytize if you no longer share the faith.

Whether we admit it or not, America has an empire. We rule the world by rhetoric and economic power and cultural appeal, and only occasionally by force. Other nations defer to us because we seem to know what we're doing, and also to believe in it. The moment we lose faith in our own superiority, it's over. The age of American influence will end. A younger, more ambitious, certainly less altruistic nation will fill the vacuum we leave. America itself will recede to second-tier relevance in global affairs: Canada, but more crowded.

It's a depressing thought, not just for us, but also for the rest of the world. It's bound to happen someday. It'll happen a whole lot sooner if the war in Iraq is perceived by Americans as a disaster.

And so back to Bush. Yes, the war in Iraq is his fault. Yes, he has badly botched the handling of that war. And yes, his predictions of a stable, peaceful and democratic Iraq are almost certainly wildly optimistic. But wild optimism is our only option at the moment. Bush may be making it up, but it's in our interests to believe him.

Keep those e-mails coming to

December 16, 2005 | 1:02 p.m. ET

In defence of Canada (Willie Geist, Situation Senior Producer)

If there's one thing you know about Tucker Carlson, it's that he doesn't do anything halfway. While many television hosts settle for merely taking shots at individuals or organizations, Tucker prefers a bit larger target. A target the size of, say, Canada.

On Thursday night's show, Tucker took exception to some criticism of the United States levied by Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. To his credit, Tucker saw a window to create an international incident and he did not hesitate to seize it. He likened Canada to a stalker of the United States - a country completely obsessed with the neighbor that hardly knows it exists. Canada has creepy pictures of the U.S. all over its bedroom, Tucker guessed. In short, his theory goes, Canada's perpetual frustration with the United States is the fermented product of the sour grapes that grow in the soil of unrequited love.

Faster than you can say "Newfoundland and Labrador" (that's a Canadian province for those of you scoring at home), "The Situation" e-mail and voicemail boxes began to fill with the angry voices of a nation scorned. Frankly, I haven't seen Canada this upset since the NHL's Quebec Nordiques defected to Colorado. Incidentally, Tucker was inconsolable in the weeks following the Nordiques' departure, but that has no bearing on this discussion.

In some ways, Tucker is right. Canada is not a country without flaws. I mean, the Queen of England is on the money, for God's sake. You're better than that, Canada. I'd go with either Wayne Gretzky or Pamela Anderson, but nobody asked me. Enough about what's wrong with Canada. I'm here to defend our neighbor to the north. The neighbor who you can always go to for a cup of sugar in a pinch (by the way, has anyone ever actually walked over to a neighbor's house for a cup of sugar? Seems like more trouble than it's worth). The neighbor who provides safe haven for our cowards in times of war. The neighbor who, quite frankly, has the preferable side of Niagara Falls.

I've always felt Canadians do a poor job of defending their fine country. They're always saying things like, "We've got the world's longest coastline". Or, "Did you know Toronto's CN Tower is the world's tallest free-standing structure?" I'm going to let you in on a little secret, my friends: no one cares. All you're doing when you go public with information like that is encouraging Donald Trump to build a taller freestanding structure. Please don't encourage him.

What you should be emphasizing, in the humble opinion of this Yankee, is your contribution to the television landscape of the 1980s. Two of the most influential sitcoms of our time owe their success to Canadians. Michael J. Fox (Edmonton, Alberta) single-handedly made "Family Ties" a hit with his legendary "Alex P. Keaton" character. Another Canadian national treasure, Alan Thicke (Kirkland Lake, Ontario), starred in the classic series "Growing Pains". Did you really think people were watching for Kirk Cameron? Please. Thicke was the glue that held the Seaver family together and everybody knew it. Now if only Tony Danza were Canadian, we'd have the '80s sitcom trifecta.

So what am I driving at here, Canada? I've completely forgotten to be perfectly honest with you. I guess what I'm saying is, the next time the Tucker Carlsons of the world pick on you, hold your chin up, stick your chest out and respond with absolutely anything other than, "We're the second largest country in the world in terms of area". See you on "The Situation"!

Keep those e-mails coming to

December 16, 200510:11 a.m. ET

What if Bush is right about Iraq? (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

What if the Middle East changed forever and no one noticed? It may have already happened. Early indications from Thursday's parliamentary elections in Iraq suggest that huge numbers of Iraqi citizens went to the polls, possibly as many as 11 million. If these numbers are accurate, turnout levels in Iraq reached more than 70 percent, at least ten percent higher than American voting levels in the 2004 presidential election. In other words, the overwhelming majority of Iraqi citizens came out to vote despite the threat of getting killed while doing so.

All of which raises an interesting question: What if George W. Bush's rhetoric about democracy -- about how all people, innately, yearn for freedom and representative government -- turns out to be true? What if Bush is right about Iraq?

It's a possibility few in the press have even considered. There's a consensus among the media that the war was a mistake from the beginning and that Bush's handling of it has been inept. I share that view. As a result -- and also because Iraq stories get terrible ratings - Thursday's  elections were all but ignored in cable news and under-covered in print. It will take months to know if this was a good editorial decision. If the elections turn out to represent a peaceful lull between outbreaks of violence and chaos, the scant coverage will be justified. But if this turns out to be the point at which Iraq begins to get its act together, we'll have underplayed a huge story.

Which is true? I'm not sure, though I had a long e-mail exchange about it today with a reporter friend of mine. He's a conservative who, partly based on what he saw first-hand in Iraq, has become violently disenchanted with the Bush administration's handling of the war. Here's how he concluded his last e-mail: "If Bush ends up being right about Iraq, it will be through luck and accident and God's grace, not through any skillful calculation of his own. Success there will make him a great president the way Powerball makes crackheads rich: they have the money to show for it, but they're not fooling anyone."

I tend to think my friend is right. But it almost doesn't matter. A disaster in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States. Pray for success, no matter who's responsible for it.

Keep those e-mails coming to

December 15, 20059:09 a.m. ET

Taking on the 'Nanny' state (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

Of all the crackpot things I've said in public over the years, nothing has elicited more hate mail than the time I came out against seatbelts. It was about five years ago, and I was giving a ride to a reporter from People magazine. We were crossing Capitol Hill in my elderly Volvo when she remarked upon the fact I was violating the law by not wearing my seatbelt. That's right, I said, and launched into a lecture about the tyranny of the nanny state. I can't remember if I actually quoted Patrick Henry. I do remember I got pretty hot. She put it in her magazine.

Within hours of publication I had dozens of calls and e-mails from angry, self-righteous strangers demanding to know how I dared - dared! -- say something unkind about seatbelts. They save lives! Are you against saving lives? Are you for traffic deaths? You monster!

I'm not against saving lives, of course, or even against seatbelts. I wore mine once, in a snowstorm in Connecticut in 1988. In the end I didn't crash, so the seatbelt didn't work. Plus it wrinkled my shirt. I haven't made the same mistake again.

But enough about me. The point is not that seatbelts are bad or that I don't care for them, but that seatbelt laws are insulting to the American spirit. Should the state really protect competent adults from themselves? And if so, what's the message of punishing someone for ignoring his own safety? Protect yourself or we'll kill you?

Seatbelt laws are ludicrous and infuriating, exactly the sort of thoughtless, petty harassment that got Sam Adams so worked up. Unfortunately, 230 years later, no one seems to care.

Except for Kenneth Prazak. Kenneth Prazak cares. The 53-year-old Illinois man spent two years and more than $2,000 fighting a $25 seatbelt violation. Prazak wasn't speeding or driving recklessly or endangering the lives of other motorists when he was pulled over. As he put it, "I was just minding my own business driving down the road." In the end, members of the jury didn't care. They ruled against him. Yet in the process of fighting his lost cause, Prazak made a stirring case for personal freedom.

Kenneth Prazak was a guest on the show Wednesay, and there's no doubt in my mind that a lot of viewers will hate him. Many others will write him off as a crank. They have a point. By conventional standards, Prazak is a crank. Ordinary people would rather suffer indignities at the hands of the state than be considered weird by their friends. But every generation raises up individuals willing to think for themselves, people who've decided they're not going to pay the tea tax, who've had it with sitting at the rear of the bus. Society doesn't always welcome people like this; they tend to be difficult. But history usually rewards them.

So mock Kenneth Prazak if you will. But before you do, see if you can argue with the reasoning of his closing argument: "The real issue here is, who owns your life? Is it yours or is it government's?" His conclusion: "If government makes my choice for me, I am no longer free."

Melodramatic? Sure it is. But that doesn't mean it's not true. Keep in mind, small laws add up to big tyrannies.

Keep those e-mails coming to

December 12, 200510:52 p.m. ET

'Tookie' and the death penalty (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

When I woke up on Monday, I was opposed to the death penalty. It's not that I think there are a lot of wrongly condemned men out there; virtually everyone on death row did it. Virtually all of them deserve to die. The question is: Should we kill them?

I've gone back and forth on this for years. Ultimately I've decided there's something creepy about the government killing its own citizens, except in self-defense. I know there's something terrifying about the euphemisms designed to present executions as medical procedures. "Lethal injection" sounds like something you get after an ultrasound and an MRI. The syringes, lab coats and gurneys add to that impression, as of course they're designed to. I'd be far more comfortable with an unmistakably violent method, like public beheading. At least with the guillotine, there's no pretending.

That was my position at 8:30 a.m. Then I spent the day reading about Stanley "Tookie" Williams and his celebrity defenders. I'm still opposed to the death penalty on principle. But I'm almost as opposed to the people who defend Tookie Williams.

How many of them, I wonder, have any real idea why Williams is on death row? Most know he was convicted of murdering four people. But do they know his victims' names? Do they know anything about Albert Owens, the night manager of a 7-11 who was 26-years-old when Williams forced him to kneel to the ground before shooting him twice in the back with a 12-gauge shotgun? Owens left behind two daughters. Has Snoop Dog held a fundraiser for them?

Does Bianca Jagger, a committed anti-racist if there ever was one, know that Williams later told a friend that he killed Owens "because he was white?" Has she heard how Williams boasted about the killing to his own brother, bragging, "you should have heard the way he sounded when I shot him," before laughing hysterically as he mimicked the dying man's struggles for breath?

And what about the other victims, the three Taiwanese immigrants who Williams murdered in their motel? Does Susan Sarandon even know their names? Yen-I Yang, 76, his wife, Tsai-Shai Yang, 63, and their daughter, Yee-Chen Lin, 43, were shot at point blank range. Yee-Chen Lin had the left side of her face blown completely away, yet somehow lived for a couple of hours in agony. I saw the crime scene photos tonight. I'd love to put them on the air, but they're too gruesome. Williams later bragged about "blowing away" the family, whom he described as "Buddhaheads."

These are not accusations. They're facts, proved at a trial that presented truly overwhelming evidence (including damning statements by accomplices, relatives and passersby) of Tookie Williams' guilt. Yet Williams himself has never admitted what he did, instead blaming his convictions a racist plot. Are Tookie's celebrity defenders bothered by the fact he's still lying about his case, and has never apologized for murdering four people? You'd never know it from listening to them.

Instead, they talk endlessly about Tookie the "author," as if Williams wrote his own books (instead of relying on a "collaborator" on the outside), and as if it mattered anyway. It doesn't. There is no evidence that a single thing Williams has "written" has convinced a single kid not to join a street gang. Tookie Williams hasn't made America better. He took four lives and destroyed many others. Plus he's a duplicitous phony. If anyone ever deserved to be executed, it's Tookie Williams.

And yet, there's something that bothers me about his execution. No man, not even Williams, should know the exact date of his own death. And everybody ought to be nervous when the government methodically snuffs out the lives of its citizens. That's the problem with the death penalty: It can make you feel sorry even for people like Tookie Williams.

Keep those e-mails coming to


Adult Situations (Willie Geist, Situation Senior Producer)

If you watched Tuesday night’s show (and if you didn’t I’d like a written letter of apology), you saw, live and in color, what makes Tucker Carlson the finest journalist of his generation. By the way, now that “the finest journalist of his generation” is officially in print, we can legally use it in our promos. You see, any Mike Wallace, Ted Koppel or Matt Lauer can go through the motions of interviewing presidents and popes, but it takes a newsman of Tucker’s range to ask the tough questions of a former Vegas stripper and soft-porn star who’s starting a church for other strippers and porn stars.

We keep “The Situation” guest booking department, led by the dynamic duo of Jamieson and Graziella, busy looking for any and all stories that involve strippers. Once the bookers have finished voicing their protest and filling out the required paperwork for a MSNBC Human Resources complaint, they always deliver. Their latest coup was landing Heather Veitch. She’s a stripper who was “saved” in 1999. Now she’s reaching out to other exotic dancers to help them find God. Incidentally, the last time I reached out to an exotic dancer, the bouncer threw me out. Those “no touching” laws are fascist, but I digress.

Regardless of how you feel about Heather’s morals or her past, Tucker’s unique ability to bring context and heart to the story had to leave you wishing you were a former stripper or porn star, so you could count yourself among the members of Heather’s blessed congregation. Actually, non-strippers and non-porn stars are welcome at her services. Trust me, I asked.

We had another adult entertainment moment this week when Tucker’s friend Billy Bush guest hosted “Live & Direct With Rita Cosby”. Billy was talking to Dennis Hof, the legendary owner of The Bunny Ranch brothel in Nevada, when Tucker’s name came up. Here’s the transcript:

BUSH:  I know you‘re naming a room at the ranch after Howard.  It‘s the Howard Stern suite.  Will you also be choosing a Tucker Carlson suite?

HOF:  Well, you know, the girls love Tucker, by the way, and—but you know, there should be one, absolutely.  If Tucker wants to come there and party, we‘re inviting him right now.

I suspect our principled host will decline the invitation, but it’s a relief to hear that girls, and not just angry, middle-aged libertarian men, love Tucker too. See you on “The Situation!”

Keep those e-mails coming to

False conspiracies poisonous (Tucker Carlson)

December 8, 2005 | 8:21 a.m. ET

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

A few days after Hurricane Katrina hit, a couple of my producers and I drove through the Ninth Ward, one of the poorest neighborhoods in New Orleans. While we watched, at least two warehouses burned unattended. There were no firemen in sight, not a single other car on the road. I remember thinking: If there's such a thing as government neglect, this is it. Nobody can stop a hurricane, but it's government's job to try to put out fires. If the firemen don't even bother to show up, what's the point of having a government?

It never occurred to me that the government was allowing the fires to burn on purpose. It had occurred to many of the people who live in the Ninth Ward. One of the first residents we ran into explained that white people had intentionally destroyed the poor parts of New Orleans, in an attempt to kill off or drive out the black population. He didn't explain which white people were doing this, or why they would want to. Apparently he assumed we already knew.

Even at the time, I was certain I'd hear about this conspiracy again. I was right. Days later, Louis Farrakhan publicly alleged that the federal government had blown up the city's levy system. He offered no proof, though he did supply a motive: The government was trying to kill black people. Amazingly, a number of well-known figures, including movie director Spike Lee, seemed to agree with Farrakhan, or at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

On Wednesday night, I interviewed a woman named Dyan French Cole. Cole is one of the New Orleans residents who testified on Capitol Hill Tuesday about the government response to Katrina. At the hearings, Cole repeated Farrakhan's claims that the levies were blown up by racist bureaucrats. Unlike, Farrakhan (who's smart enough to have ironic distance from his own demagoguery) Cole seemed to sincerely believe it.

The saddest part is, almost no one stood up to correct her. Instead, the usual collection of leftwing intellectuals made excuses for her conspiracy theories. As the august Harvard professor Alvin Pouissant explained to NBC, "If you're angry and you've been discriminated against, then your mind is open to many ideas about persecution, abandonment, feelings of rejection."

Strictly speaking, this is true. But it doesn't make the claim that white people blew up the levies any less crazy. Or for that matter, any less harmful. Theories like this stoke race hatred. They also make life more difficult for the people who believe them. It's one thing to believe in genocidal conspiracies if you're Louis Farrakhan or Spike Lee or a Harvard professor with tenure. Nobody's going to round you up and send you to a concentration camp. You know that for sure. But if you're living on $12,000 a year in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, you may not be so certain.

False theories like this terrorize you, make you suspicious and angry. In the end they make your life less happy. Not that anyone at Harvard cares.

Keep those e-mails coming to

December 7, 2005 | 9:07 a.m. ET

Nice to see Christianity still scares (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

People often make jokes about Episcopalians being boring, and unfortunately they're usually right. I know this because on most Sundays I sit through an Episcopal Church service with my wife and children. It's a reassuringly predictable experience, always exactly an hour long. And you'll never meet nicer people. If you needed someone to hold your wallet, or if you were lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood and had to duck into a stranger's house to use the bathroom, you could do a whole lot worse than to meet up with an Episcopalian. No one has better manners.

And that may be the problem. There's a notable lack of urgency in most Episcopal churches. Jesus may have promised he'd come back someday, but in the Episcopal Church you don't get the feeling he really meant it. Nor do you hear a lot about sin. Lust, hatred, gluttony, pride, envy -- those are dramatic emotions. Drama makes Episcopalians uncomfortable. The typical sermon leaves the impression that all would be well in this world if only people could manage to be reasonable with each other. Gentlemanly. Thoughtful.

There's nothing necessarily bad about any of this. (I remain an Episcopalian, with no plans to change.) But every once in a while, as I shift in my pew listening to one of our unusually well-educated preachers expand on the Aramaic understanding of discipleship, I do wish Jesus would come back, preferably in a massive ball of fire through the ceiling of the church. Spiritually, I'm nowhere near ready to face something like that. But it'd be worth it for the shock value.

All of which is to say, I welcome the controversies this season over Christmas. Every time a school district bans Christmas carols, every time the ACLU dispatches a busload of lawyers to fight a nativity scene, every time the ADL declares the Christian Right "dangerous," it's a reaffirmation that the faith is not dead. Dead religions don't give people the creeps. They don't make atheists mad. They don't keep Alan Dershowitz up at night. But Christianity still does. What a relief. It's nice to see that our faith still scares people.

Keep those e-mails coming to

December 6, 2005 | 8:43 a.m. ET

Dean's gaffes a blessing (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

More than once, in print and on television, I've turned to Howard Dean in desperation, looking for material. On a slow news day, when the usual sources of outrage and farce are tapped dry, Dean is always there: a bottomless well of almost unbelievable quotes. He's as reliable as taxes, and far more amusing. The average 10-minute Howard Dean interview contains more headlines than a month of the Congressional Record. For a journalist on deadline, Howard Dean is like Santa.

Once again, Dean has not disappointed. In an interview with a radio station in San Antonio Monday, Dean confidently predicted a loss for U.S. forces in Iraq. The "idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong," he said. Republicans immediately jumped all over him, denouncing Dean's comments as defeatist, even immoral at a time when American soldiers are being killed in a war that at this point is hardly lost. Republicans have a point. But as usual they've missed the greater outrage.

That came in the next paragraph, when Dean explained what we ought to do with the 160,000 troops currently facing defeat in Iraq. "I think we need a strategic redeployment over a period of two years," he said. His plan: bring home the guardsmen and the reservists immediately. Send 20,000 troops to Afghanistan. And then this: "we need a force in the Middle East, not in Iraq but in a friendly neighboring country, to fight [terrorist leader Abu Musab] Zarqawi."

In other words, what we need to do is send American troops to yet another Arab country, from which they could fight the war they've been waging so unsuccessfully in Iraq. That way, not only could we prolong the war in Iraq, we'd get to destabilize another country in the region, this time one of the few we still consider an ally. It's a clever plan, the perfect combination of recklessness and stupidity. You can see how Dean came up with it.

What you can't see is how he's allowed to continue to embarrass his party by saying things like this in public. Where are the adults? Why doesn't someone get the hook? Who's running the Democratic Party, anyway? Oh, yeah. Howard Dean is.

Keep those e-mails coming to

December 2, 2005 |

Salad spin (Willie Geist, Situation Senior Producer)

Most television producers are content to remain behind the scenes. They’re happy to anonymously do all the dirty work that makes the host look good on TV. They don’t get into the business because they need public adulation. I am not one of those producers.

One of my first moves as senior producer of “The Situation With Tucker Carlson” was to create a segment that would turn the spotlight away from Tucker and toward the place it truly belongs: on me. Truth be told, I don’t really pay much attention to the first 45 minutes of the show. It’s not that I don’t love the show. I really do. It’s just that I’m too busy daydreaming about the glorious final segment of the show. My segment, “The Cutting Room Floor”.

My latest stroke of attention-mongering genius is to hijack Tucker’s blog every Friday. That’s why you’re not reading one of Tucker’s rants about immigration policy or the injustice of seat belt laws right now. On Fridays, I’ll give you a behind-the-scenes look at the inner workings of “The Situation”. I’ll introduce you to the cast of characters (and they are characters) who put the show on every night and I’ll let you in on dirty little secrets like Tucker’s unhealthy relationship with blue cheese dressing (we’re considering an intervention). In short, I’ll give you the dirt on everything “The Man” doesn’t want you to know.

Today, I want to write briefly about salad. If you hang around Tucker Carlson long enough, you learn he has an opinion about everything. That includes your dinner. Every night, Tucker eats a salad consisting of iceberg lettuce and two giant ladles of blue cheese dressing. I’m talking so much blue cheese it makes the other ingredients irrelevant.

Just the other night, I was perusing the salad bar in the (yes, that’s really what we call our cafeteria). As I was arbitrarily throwing vegetables on top of my lettuce, I felt a cold, judgmental stare coming from the vicinity of a bow-tied gentleman to my left. Tucker shook his head and said, “Willie, do you know what your problem is? Your salad has no narrative. A salad should have a beginning, middle, and an end. You should know your salad’s story before you start making it.”

You know, I never thought of it that way. Who knew salads even had narratives? Inspired by the new perspective Tucker had given me, I swore from that day forward that all my meals, not just my salads, would be beautiful, complex tales, full of colorful characters, plot twists and an occasional surprise ending. You should think about doing the same. It will change your life. Or at least your salad.

Well, I have to go watch myself on Tivo again. See you on “The Situation”!

December 1, 2005 | 9:04 a.m. ET

Speech makes Bush sound presidential (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

Even before President Bush finished his speech at the Naval Academy on Wednesday, his critics attacked him for failing to be specific about his plan to end the war in Iraq. Strictly speaking, his critics are right. Bush didn't give a date by which all 160,000 troops will come home. His definition of "victory" was imprecise ("when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks on our nation.")

But that doesn't mean it was a bad speech. In fact, it was one of Bush's best in years. The president did something he rarely does: He explained things. He explained who we're fighting in Iraq. He explained why we have to keep fighting them. He told us quite a bit about the state of Iraq's all-important defense forces. It was an interesting speech, and an inspiring one, even for those (like me) who believe the war was a mistake.

More than anything, it was a presidential speech. Presidents are supposed to explain. That is literally, and constitutionally, a key part of the job description. Presidents don't make laws; they persuade Congress to enact their ideas. A president who can't sell isn't much of a president.

Selling requires a facility with words, which is Bush's problem. Bush isn't comfortable with language, or with public speaking. He seems to distrust rhetoric, even his own. The results are often amusing. In the case of Iraq, they've been disastrous. Two and a half years after the invasion, we're still debating why we went to war. This is Bush's fault, his greatest failure as a communicator and as president.

Even on Wednesday, Bush was at his least persuasive when he tried to justify the war. "If we were not fighting and destroying this enemy in Iraq, they would not be idle," he said. "They would be plotting and killing Americans across the world and within our own borders." This is an unknowable assertion of course, and not very convincing in any case. The invasion of Iraq has caused thousands of Muslims who otherwise might merely have disliked the United States to take up arms against us. That's not an apology for the insurgency or its disgusting tactics. It's just true.

Bush may never be able to explain exactly why we went to war in Iraq, and history will judge him harshly for that. But it's possible he'll be able to convince the public that leaving Iraq in disgrace would be a disaster for the entire world. And that would be a victory, of rhetoric and foreign policy.

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November 30, 2005 | 9:31 a.m. ET

Don't patronize our troops (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

You often hear people compare the war in Iraq to the war in Vietnam, but here's one key difference: Nobody's calling veterans of the current war baby killers. Even the most strident opponents of Iraq go out of their way to praise the soldiers who've served there. Everyone is for the troops. It's required.

Why the change in attitude? Two words: pity and guilt. Everyone knows America's wars are fought by America's poor, people with so few career options that serving in combat qualifies as a lucky break. We feel sorry for the troops because we know desperation drove them into the military. We feel guilty because they are doing what we, the more fortunate, don't have to do.

It turns out we're wrong on both counts. A new and comprehensive study of enlistment data by military analysts at the Heritage Foundation has found that the typical volunteer is both more affluent and better educated than the average 18 to 24-year-old American. That's right: The average soldier is more privileged than his civilian counterpart. And the gap is widening. As the study puts it, since September 11th, "more volunteers have emerged from the middle and upper classes and fewer from the lowest-income groups. ... Since 2001, enlistments have increased in the top two-fifths of income levels but have decreased among the lowest fifth."

But wait. Aren't poor minorities "disproportionately" represented in the enlisted ranks and the military? That's the claim Congressman Charlie Rangel and others have made repeatedly on the House floor. It's a total crock. According to a 2003 Pentagon study, "blacks tend to be concentrated in administration and support jobs, not in combat jobs." Infantry, armored and artillery units, whose members suffer the bulk of casualties in Iraq and any war, tend to mirror the racial mix of the country almost exactly.

So if enlistees aren't driven to the military by poverty and hopelessness, why do they join? For the adventure, maybe. Possibly for the experience. Maybe even because they believe in the cause.

Hard as it may be for the average congressman or newspaper columnist to believe, American soldiers aren't losers. They're adults who know exactly what they're doing and are doing it voluntarily. Pity their suffering perhaps, but don't patronize them.

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November 29, 2005 | 9:12 a.m. ET

Bush not serious about immigration (Tucker Carlson)

MSNBC Cable; NBC News; Tucker Carlson

President Bush announced a new immigration program on Monday, and was immediately accused of playing politics. The president, his opponents said, isn't more concerned about immigration reform than he used to be. He's just weaker politically. And there's no quicker way to win back the affection of the disaffected Right than to snarl about illegal aliens.

For once, the spin is right: Bush isn't serious about immigration; today's announcement was purely political. How do we know this? Let me count the ways:

For one thing, he waited an awfully long time to make the announcement. Bush has been president for five years. September 11th took place more than four years ago. And on Monday, November 28, 2005, he decides it's time to overhaul border security? Why did it take so long to notice the system was broken?

All the signs were there. The White House's own press release details them. As of now, the statement proclaims, the administration will no longer immediately release illegal aliens caught sneaking over the border. Which is to say, up until now, it has done just that. In the words of the White House: "Because detention facilities lack bed space, most non-Mexican illegal immigrants apprehended are released and directed to return for a court appearance. However, 75 percent fail to show. Last year, only 30,000 of the 160,000 non-Mexicans caught coming across our Southwest border were sent home."

In other words, 130,000 non-Mexican illegal immigrants -- most from Central and South America, but also some from the Middle East and Pakistan -- were allowed to flee from justice and circulate among the American population. How long has the Bush administration been aware of this? Why wasn't something done earlier?

The answer, of course, is that much of the administration's business support comes from companies that benefit from illegal labor. This wings of the Republican Party tends to favor open borders.  Under pressure not to enforce immigration laws, the White House hasn't. 

And it still won't, at least not very seriously. The last paragraphs of the president's new plan outline what he calls a temporary worker program. "People in this debate must recognize that we will not be able to effectively enforce our immigration laws until we create a temporary worker program," Bush said today. The White House is quick to point out that such a program is not at all the same as amnesty. Perhaps not, but it's pretty close. Illegal aliens living in this country would be allowed to work legally for a set period of time, "and then be required to return home."

That last clause is enough to make you laugh out loud. "And then be required to return home"? Just as 130,000 apprehended illegals were required to go to court? But don't? It's a joke.

A White House serious about ending illegal immigration wouldn't issue press releases like this. Instead it would do three things:

1) Build a fence across the length of the US-Mexican border. Such a fence would be ugly and expensive (though no more expensive than the annual cost of illegal immigration to the State of California's school system.) But it would work. Not even its opponents deny this.

2) Fine employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens. This is an obvious solution, a simple way to dry up demand for illegal immigration. But the business lobby opposes it, so the Bush administration resists it. Shameful.

3) Pressure the government of Mexico, with trade barriers if necessary, to help combat illegal immigration. As it stands, Mexico actively encourages illegal immigration to the US, in some cases even paying the legal fees of illegals who wind up in legal trouble here. When it comes to immigration, Mexico is our enemy, not our ally. We should force that government to switch sides.

When Bush adopts these positions, you'll know he takes border security seriously. Until then, don't believe a word.

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