Guests: Steve Ellis, Wade Jessen, Bill Bussey, Rick Burgess, Katrina Szish, Paul Riekoff, Ana Marie Cox, Michael Smerconish, Debbie Schussel
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: And right now in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY: The swagger is back, but will it backfire once again on Mr. Bush? And shot down: The Dixie Chicks drop 12 U.S. tour dates and run north of the border to cash in on all those Canadian country music fans. Plus, even conservatives are turning on Ann Coulter. Tonight, we‘ll tell you why.
Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. No passport required, only common sense allowed.
Now, we‘re going to have all those stories in just a minute. Plus, we‘re going to show you how billions of FEMA relief money was blown on Hawaiian vacations, sex tapes and trips to Hooters. That‘s a lot of chicken wings.
But first: The swagger is back. George W. Bush says, Hell no, to troop withdrawals in Iraq, and he uses today‘s press conference to tell the world that when it comes to his war policy, the song remains the same.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If the United States of America leaves before this Iraqi government can defend itself and sustain itself and govern itself, it‘ll be a major blow in the war on terror. Al Qaeda will benefit.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: And the president also spent time joking with reporters, tossing out nicknames, and at one point, committing what polite society may term as a social miscue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: My message to the enemy is, Don‘t count on us leaving before we succeed. My message to our troops is, We support you 100 percent. Keep doing what you‘re doing. And my message to the critics is, is that we listen very carefully and adjust when needed to adjust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: That‘s the wrong bite, actually. Do we have the correct bite, Matt? Can we go with that now or not? All right, this is actually the president committing a faux pas. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Peter, are you going to ask that question with those shades on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
BUSH: No, I‘m interested in the shade look, seriously.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. I‘ll keep it, then.
BUSH: For the viewers, there‘s no sun.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess it depends on your perspective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCARBOROUGH: The reporter was actually wearing those dark shades because he‘s blind. Whoops!
But gaffes aside, the president succeeded in throwing down the gauntlet for his anti-war critics. Now, the theme of today‘s events seem to borrow from Mr. Kerry‘s 2004 campaign, that seemed to borrow from Bruce Springsteen—No retreat, no surrender. But Mr. Bush‘s new attitude may not be welcomed by Republicans on Capitol Hill. Look at these numbers. While 60 percent of Americans now believe George Bush and America can win the war in Iraq, a clear majority also believe that this war is not worth its cost in blood or money, leaving supporters of the president‘s policy in a political purgatory, at best.
With me now to talk about the bounce that‘s back in Bush‘s step and whether it can backfire for the president‘s supporters is Paul Rieckoff. He‘s an Iraq war veteran. He‘s executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. He‘s also the author of the book, “Chasing Ghosts.” Also with me, Ana Marie Cox, “Time” magazine columnist and author of the book “Dog Days.” Also Craig Crawford, MSNBC political analyst and columnist for “Congressional Quarterly.”
Paul, let me begin with you. The president has been emboldened by Zarqawi‘s death. Is this another one of those turning points that always seem to lead us back to where we began in Iraq?
PAUL RIECKOFF, IRAQ WAR VETERAN: Well, I think that remains to be seen. I think the important thing for us to do is to exercise caution. You have to remember just a week ago, we were talking about Haditha, a CBS News crew that was blown up, and riots in Afghanistan. So you know, I learned on the ground in Iraq that these things can change very quickly. And we are in for a long fight. Even the president has admitted that, and I think we need to keep that in mind.
This is a good news week for him. He‘s taking advantage of it. He‘s going to Iraq. He‘s having a press conference. He‘s talking about the war right now. But we need to have the same level of visibility, the same level of candor when things aren‘t going well, which could definitely happen any day.
SCARBOROUGH: The question, though, that people are going to want to hear answered from somebody like you that‘s been there, that‘s been on the ground, that‘s written a book called “Chasing Ghosts”—after Zarqawi, are our troops still chasing ghosts over in Iraq?
RIECKOFF: They are. They‘re still fighting the insurgency, which blends in with the civilian population. It‘s very tough to track down. You know, we‘ve removed the head here with Zarqawi, but another one will grow back. We need to really talk about how we‘re going to adapt our strategy to continue to attack the insurgency in a way that‘s effective.
I‘m not saying we need to bring them all home now or cut and run, but I think we all acknowledge that “stay the course” is not working. We need a change in strategy, a change in tactics that can do something with our presence there and then try to show some improvement to the American people because it‘s clear that they‘re exhausted. We know our troops are exhausted. And we need to see a change of policy from the administration that reflects their understanding of that.
SCARBOROUGH: And Craig Crawford, the word today at the White House press conference was that this president was staying the course. Then, of course, while a lot of conservatives in middle America who aren‘t up for reelection this fall may be emboldened by the president‘s new attitude, a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill have to be nervous. After all, they have historically low numbers because, in large part, of the Iraq debacle.
CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:
Well, this president is going to stay the course, Joe, no matter what, I think. I mean, he‘s got generals out there making noises about troop withdrawals or slowing—or pulling them back in some numbers, but he doesn‘t have—he does not talk about that. “Stay the course” is a great policy when you‘ve killed a top terrorist and things are looking up. But “stay the course” can also look pretty bad if you go off a cliff. I mean, “Thelma and Louise” stayed the course.
SCARBOROUGH: They did stay the course! And right now, 27 percent of Americans think that we are headed in the right track not just on Iraq but in the entire country. And again, Craig, when you look at these poll numbers, when you talk to politicians on Capitol Hill, don‘t they tell you, in large part, those numbers are so low because of the Iraq war?
CRAWFORD: These numbers for the president—staying under 40 percent for three months, which is really the critical thing—you know, I think there‘s a natural 40 percent for any president, no matter what. People want to support—at least 40 percent of the country wants to support the president. When you stay under that 40 mark for three months, like he has, then you‘ve got a Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon problem.
And if he can get back up above that—and I think he might be on his
way, Joe. I mean, this last week was very good for him, and he seemed to
be feeling his oats today. I could live without some of the towel-snapping
locker room business with the reporters. That doesn‘t always go over so
well, but he seems to think it does. But still, I think he‘s showing the -
he did not show any signs of a president under siege here. And I think that keeps him going, to some extent.
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. And speaking of towel snapping, Ana Marie Cox, the president was jocular with the press, but then went a joke too far by making fun of the blind guy. He apologized, but talk about the president‘s performance, and more importantly, his attitude out there. What did you see?
ANA MARIE COX, “TIME” MAGAZINE: Well, what I saw was he was trying to be very jocular. He was joking around with the press. He felt—clearly felt very cocky, but also clearly didn‘t actually know the people he was dealing with, or else he never would have made the joke about the blind guy. I mean, that‘s a problem.
Also, I think that the recent polls have shown that, you know, the Zarqawi, you know, capture and killing notwithstanding, the American people don‘t actually think that that‘s made a difference. I mean, everyone know it‘s a big deal, but actually, more Americans think that the United States will be under greater threat because of Zarqawi‘s death than because of—than because of the killing.
SCARBOROUGH: And of course, again, the president‘s attitude today, there was something—again, the president was very energized. But isn‘t it also true, stylistically, that the president gets in just as much as trouble with these sort of gaffes...
SCARBOROUGH: ... when he‘s excited as he is when he‘s nervous?
COX: No. I actually think that it‘s when he‘s up that he runs into trouble. Today he was, like, joking with the reporters. He was, like, complimenting their ties. He was, like, calling them by their last names and their nicknames. And that‘s when he also insulted the blind guy. I mean, when he gets cocky, that‘s where he‘s in trouble. And actually, I think that, you know, he was trying too hard today. I think he was trying way, way, way too hard.
SCARBOROUGH: Was there anything that you heard today, Paul, that concerned you from the press? And again, we talked about this “stay the course” mentality. Craig brought up the fact that generals have come out, seven retired generals have come out saying that we need more troops. I mean, it cuts both ways. You‘ve got some on the Hill talking about how we need to withdraw troops. Others are saying—a lot of these generals have said we didn‘t have enough troops over there to do the job in the first place. What‘s the president doing here, splitting the difference and saying we‘re basically going to stay the course, maintain the same troop levels?
RIECKOFF: I think that is what he‘s saying, and I think what America is saying is that‘s not sustainable and that‘s not what we accept right now. And I think the generals are saying the same thing. We‘ve done this halfway from the beginning. We never had enough troops on the ground. We never secured the borders. We never had a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. And I think if we continue to do things the same way we are, which is a halfway-type fashion, we‘re going to start to develop...
SCARBOROUGH: So Paul, do we say—if you‘re president of the United States right now, do you send more troops over there or do you bring them home?
RIECKOFF: Well, I think we entertain it. I mean, John McCain has called in the past for an increase in troop numbers. I think what really bothers me is we‘ve fallen into a false choice here. We assume we have to either be with the president and stay the course or be with Cindy Sheehan and bring them home now. And I think a country of 300 million people could come up with more than two strategies for the biggest issue facing our country right now.
CRAWFORD: You know, Joe, I got to say, I think the problem in these polls is so many people think we‘re losing the war. It‘s not that they became hippies, you know, they became pacifists, bandanna-wearing pacifists. I mean, they are upset that we don‘t seem to be taking the initiative. And this is what presidents do, is they take the initiative. He needs to get more action on the ground, not just killing this one terrorist. I mean, Abraham Lincoln won reelection because he burned down Atlanta. That‘s the sort of thing Bush needs to do.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Craig—I was about to make a joke about Atlanta being the CNN town. I‘m not going to say anything about that because it‘s also the home of—where I was born. But Craig, the Democrats also seem to be having a problem right now. If you look at what Hillary Clinton‘s saying, she‘s going to these left-leaning—to these left-leaning groups. She‘s being booed. You‘ve got John Kerry saying, Bring the troops home now. Hillary‘s basically saying also “stay the course.” Is this also a problem for the Democratic Party? How do they...
SCARBOROUGH: How do they break out of this sort of circling pattern they‘re in?
CRAWFORD: Well, they ought to listen to some of these new candidates, Joe, who are emerging around the country in some of the races—may not win—somebody like James Webb in Virginia, the Democrat who just won his primary there yesterday. He is a military hero who is very much against the war, has been from day one, has the credentials to talk about it, was even in Reagan‘s administration. Democrats need to listen to these new guys coming up.
Some of the folks who‘ve been up here in Congress for so long and voted for the war are just all gummed up with it. But I am hearing a lot of new voices in the party around the country that I think party members, the grass roots folks, are going to start listening to, even if they don‘t in Washington.
SCARBOROUGH: And Ana, if that happens, these people will get a lot of support from the new Democratic grass roots organizations, the bloggers, some people that you were out with this past week in Las Vegas. Talk about the intensity of the Democratic Party and the way they‘re going to pull the party to sort of a left-leaning anti-war position this fall.
COX: You know, I‘m not sure if, actually, the netroots are that left wing. I mean, I think that actually, they really want to win. The thing that I came away from in Las Vegas is that this is a party, this is a netroots that really wants to build a machine, for better or for worse. They actually really want to win. They are, however, hopelessly left-wing, and if Hillary Clinton had shown up in Las Vegas, she would have been booed, much as she was booed here in—here in D.C. But you know, I think that no one has yet to know to capitalize on that particular passion.
SCARBOROUGH: And so what happens? Do you think that because of the war, somebody like Hillary Clinton may actually have trouble getting through the Democratic primary because her position is too close to the position...
SCARBOROUGH: ... George Bush enunciated today in the Rose Garden?
COX: Unfortunately, I think that‘s true—I mean, unfortunately, if you want a primary that draws the sort of widest slate of candidates possible. I think that‘s true. I think that she won‘t be able to get beyond the netroots because this is a party—or this is a base that feels very strongly about what they‘re doing.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Paul, tell me how George Bush‘s press conference probably played with your buddies that are still in Baghdad and across Iraq.
RIECKOFF: Most of them probably didn‘t see it because they were on patrol. Most of them probably didn‘t see him coming into Baghdad for five hours and going to, you know, the fortress at the Green Zone and pop out, either. I was there when he came in in Thanksgiving of 2003, and he was gone before I even knew he was there. So to be honest with you, a lot of them are just focused on the mission at hand. They‘re focused on trying to keep themselves safe and ultimately trying to get home in one piece...
SCARBOROUGH: But that overarching message, “Stay the course,” how does that play in the field?
RIECKOFF: Well, honestly, I think we‘re hearing from all sides of the military that it‘s not working. We want to hear a pragmatic approach that can actually show measurable advances on the ground. “Stay the course” is not working. We know that the troop numbers haven‘t been right from the outset, and our troops are there now for a third, even a fourth time, and it‘s just not sustainable. Our military is dramatically overextended, and that‘s what I consistently hear from my friends in the military and veterans coming home, is that they‘re tired and they need either a break or a downturn on the OPTEMPO or something here that can show us some kind of a change so we don‘t keep running our head into a wall over and over again.
CRAWFORD: Yes, I think it‘s a real testimony to the professionalism of our military that they‘ve really kept their mouths shut for so long and we‘ve heard so little dissent, even though we know it‘s there. I mean, they did what they were supposed to do and trained to do. They invaded that country. They got to Baghdad in short order. They got Saddam. They weren‘t trained to do what they‘re doing now. And this is too much to ask of them. And I think it‘s remarkable that, knowing that the civilian leadership has been wrong on so many scores, that they‘ve done their best to try to follow orders.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, we‘re going to have to leave it there. Thank you, Craig. Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Ana Marie Cox. Greatly appreciate you all being with us, as always.
And coming up next, a billion-dollar bungle. How did money meant for Katrina relief wind up paying for such important things as “Girls Gone Wild” tapes and Hawaiian vacations and trips to Hooters? We‘ll tell you that. Plus, the Dixie Chicks, facing furious former fans and slow ticket sales, decide to make nice with Canadians. What‘s that all about? Why is the trio taking their act north of the border?
SCARBOROUGH: In tonight‘s “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY Showdown,” the Ann Coulter controversy just keeps growing, and the blond bomber is cashing in all the way to the bank. A week after her comments that four outspoken 9/11 widows are enjoying their husbands‘ deaths, Coulter is the one who‘s still laughing, while her critics are going crazy. Her new book, “Godless,” debuts tomorrow at number one. She‘s the queen of Yahoo! and Amazon. All the while, the device (ph) of Ms. Coulter is putting anyone who talks about her in the middle of a political crossfire.
After last night‘s show, I was attacked by a south Florida viewer who wrote this. “Hey, Joe, I can‘t believe you sided with Ann Coulter. She‘s a sicko. Just because you‘re a Republican, you don‘t have to lower yourself to her level.”
But we got tons of letters attacking me for siding with the 9/11 widows instead of Coulter. One wrote, “In response to your defense of the 9/11 wives, these women did nothing remarkable to earn your support.”
with me now to talk about it, radio talk show host Michael Smerconish. He‘s the author of the new book, “Muzzled.” Michael, you got a new column calling for Republicans to cut Coulter loose. You say this. Quote, “Her choice of words is appalling, irrational and indefensible. Republicans should rush to confront Coulter‘s comments, rather than run the risk that anyone would associate her views with them.”
Talk about it.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I think, Joe, that the perception in middle America is that, somehow, she‘s an extension of red states. And I think that the Republicans had such a well-orchestrated effort on Capitol Hill last week, talking about the death tax, talking about flag burning, talking, as well, about the gay right issue and same-sex marriages, and there should have been a similar effort to make clear that when Ann Coulter refers to these 9/11 widows as “harpies,” or questions when they‘re going to appear in “Playboy,” or wonders whether their husbands wanted to divorce them, or as you just said, she suggests that they‘re reveling in the death of their spouses, they need to make clear that, my goodness, this is appalling, and she sure as heck isn‘t speaking for us.
SCARBOROUGH: But conservatives don‘t do that. I mean, if you look at my—listen, I‘ve interviewed Ann. I talked to Ann before I wrote my first book that was going to be critical of the president. I got her advice. And I‘ve got no problem with Ann Coulter . But when she says things like this, it‘s simply outrageous. And I think you‘re right. I think it does—I think it does need to be condemned. And yet when you do that, conservatives accuse you, they accuse me, they accuse people like us, who have an independent mind, of being traitors. What does that say about the coarsening of political culture?
SMERCONISH: Well, that‘s—see, that‘s really the down side of this, and it stifles debate. And I get the same sort of e-mails and phone calls that you do. And I—you know, frankly, I‘m bit offended that people naturally assume that I, because I come from the Republican Party, am going to be in defense of Ann Coulter. Nothing could be further from the truth.
And the argument that I make to the party is this, Joe. I think that whatever advantage is gained from the way in which she fires up a base, a hard-core conservative base, is way more than offset by the way folks are repulsed in middle America, the moderates, by what she‘s saying. You just can‘t call a September 11 widow a harpy.
And one other observation. She has a legitimate point. I mean, the legitimate point is that if someone steps into the political fray, if you voluntarily enters the political arena, then you open yourself up to criticism and response. But she didn‘t stop there.
SCARBOROUGH: And Michael, that‘s a great point. I‘ll be honest with you. When a lot of these 9/11 widows went out there, it drove me crazy for several reasons, because media outlets always love putting the four or five women from New Jersey that Ann‘s talking about on TV, but when you had 9/11 widows come out actually defending what the government did, what the president did, said they supported—supported the administration, those people were roundly ignored. So I understand the frustration.
But again, it‘s just the choice of words. And you know, it reminds me of when Michael Moore came out with “Fahrenheit 9/11,” filled with lies, had comments posted on his Web site calling for the death of U.S. troops, saying that there needed to be more blood spilled in Iraq, so maybe the Iraqi people and God could forgive us one day, I was stunned. Democrats flocked on to his side and no one condemned him. And is it not true that if conservatives don‘t come out and condemn Ann Coulter for making these type of statements, they‘re guilty of the same—the same offenses that Democrats were guilty of with Michael Moore?
SMERCONISH: I think you‘re absolutely correct. And in my own small corner of the world, I‘ve attempted to put Republicans, conservatives in particular, on record about her. Rick Santorum has the hottest Senate reelection battle in the country right now against Bob Casey in my home state, Joe, and Rick Santorum jumped to the opportunity to condemn what Ann Coulter has said. I‘ve got three hot congressional races in the Philadelphia suburbs. Jim Gerlach (ph), Kurt Weldon, Mike Fitzpatrick—each of them, when I asked, was willing to condemn her.
But what I‘m calling for is something that‘s party-directed, something that Ken Mehlman makes clear, She doesn‘t speak for us when she‘s so hatriolic (ph) relative to these September 11 widows.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thank you so much, Michael Smerconish. Let‘s see if the Republican Party will step into the fray in the Coulter debate. I mean, it is a bigger—hotter and bigger debate.
Now let‘s bring in radio talk show host Debbie Schlussel. Debbie, you actually support what Ann Coulter said. How do you defend that?
DEBBIE SCHLUSSEL, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Well, Joe, I don‘t support saying that widows enjoyed their husbands‘ deaths or that they‘re harpies. I think her language was incorrect. But her point is 100 percent correct. And I think we all know that Ann uses this kind of polemical kind of language in order to get her point across. I think if she would have just said what she meant without using those words, that her point would not have gotten attention.
And I‘m really amazed, Joe, that Hillary Clinton is very upset at what Ann Coulter said, but there wasn‘t a peep from Hillary Clinton when Suha Arafat told her that Jews like me poison Palestinian water and air and cause cancer for them. She didn‘t seem to care about that. And I‘m just amazed at the uproar over what Ann said. People in this country are not half as upset, the ones that are against Ann, as they are about people who genuinely hate us. And I think people need to make the distinction between a political polemicist and people who say things that really are genuinely dangerous for our country.
SCARBOROUGH: But Debbie, the thing is, Ann‘s not just trying to make points here, she‘s trying to sell books. And this is a very successful device for her, isn‘t it. I mean, she‘s number one in “The New York Times.” She‘s number one on Amazon. I mean, it‘s—her—this book is one of the biggest political books over the past year, year-and-a-half, and it‘s because she knows she‘s just throwing kerosene on the fire, right?
SCHLUSSEL: Well, but her last two books, for example, “Treason,” did very well, and they also were at the top of Amazon and the top of “The New York Times” best-seller list for a while, and she didn‘t say those kind of things. So yes, she‘s a smart marketer, but I think she made a great point. The fact is that liberals do give people like Cindy Sheehan and these four women liberal infallibility because they lost somebody. And the fact is that they are saying things that make them political figures, and I think they should be questioned.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, do you agree, though—you agree with me, you agree with Michael Smerconish, you agree with others that her words used were inappropriate? And do you believe she should apologize for saying it?
SCHLUSSEL: I don‘t agree with her choice of words. I don‘t think she should apologize for the points that she made.
SCARBOROUGH: I‘m sorry. I couldn‘t hear you. Somebody was talking in my ear. Did you say she should apologize?
SCHLUSSEL: I don‘t believe she should have used that language, but I don‘t think she should apologize for saying that these women should not use the deaths of their husbands for political purposes. I think she‘s right in that point.
SCARBOROUGH: What about saying that they may profit off the deaths, they may appear in “Playboy,” that they seem to actually enjoy what happened because of the deaths?
SCHLUSSEL: Yes, I—like I said, I don‘t agree with that choice of words. I don‘t...
SCARBOROUGH: Should she apologize for those statements?
SCHLUSSEL: Well, I don‘t think that people need to apologize when they are political columnists and they write provocative things to bring a point across. I‘ve heard people say things that are far more offensive to get their point across, and nobody cared—for example, Ward Churchill. Where is Hillary Clinton or Anthony Weiner (ph) or any of these people asking Ward Churchill to apologize to the 9/11 widows for calling their relatives “little Eichmanns”? They‘re nowhere to be heard on that.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Debbie, I think they‘re wrong for only attacking the other side. And I think conservatives that don‘t hold their own people accountable are also incorrect. Hey, Debbie, thank you for being with us.
SCHLUSSEL: Thank you.
SCARBOROUGH: I really appreciate it.
Make sure you tune in tonight to “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” following your NBC local news for Coulter versus Carlin.
And coming up: A billion dollars spent on luxury vacations, strip clubs and sex tapes—does that sound like hurricane relief to you? Well, it‘s not, but it is your tax dollars at work. And whey are the Dixie Chicks going to England and Canada to find fans? Have they lost middle America? You bet! We‘ll have all the details when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.
SCARBOROUGH: The Dixie Chicks cancel 12 concerts in America, so what do they do? Start their tour in jolly, old England and book new dates in Canada. What‘s that “aboot”? We‘ll tell you all about it, but first here‘s the latest news you and your family need to know.
SCARBOROUGH: Are the Dixie Chicks flying north for the summer to avoid their furious former fans in America? Are they just trying to cash in on that growing Canadian country music market?
Plus, growing up Jackson. It looks a lot like a car crash that you can‘t take your eyes off of. We look; we shiver; we want to turn away, but we can‘t.
Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. Those stories in minutes, but first, storm scams. A stunning new report shows billions of your tax dollars that were supposed to go to aid for Hurricane Katrina victims instead supported such necessities as trips to strip clubs, trips to Hawaii, and x-rated videos.
That‘s right, friends. The government now says more than $1 billion sent to Hurricane Katrina victims instead was funneled to fraudulent activities. And you know what? I was in Congress; I saw this stuff happen all the time. And I know that chances are good this scandal is only going to get worse.
Right now, though, let‘s go to NBC‘s Chip Reed with some of the outrageous examples of Katrina con jobs—Chip?
CHIP REID, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joe, this is amazing stuff. The government accountability office issued this new report, and they say there are literally thousands of examples, all adding up to about a billion dollars, of people ripping off FEMA, scam artists, basically.
Here‘s one of my favorites. Someone checked into a hotel in Honolulu, just a couple of blocks from Waikiki Beach, and I just got married there so I can tell you it is one of the great paradises in the world. This person stayed for 10 weeks. I would have, too, if I could have. And they then billed FEMA for the $8,000 hotel bill—which sounds wild and crazy—especially when you find out that the person did not even live in New Orleans or anywhere in the hurricane zone when Katrina hit. This person lived in North Carolina.
And on top of that, this person was so bold, he or she—we don‘t know the person‘s identity—then applied for rental assistance, and FEMA didn‘t check to see that they were already paying the hotel bill, and gave another $3,258 in rental assistance.
Somebody else applied 13 times for assistance, using 13 bogus Social Security numbers and 13 bogus addresses, and received multiple payments totaling $139,000.
And everybody‘s favorite is what people used these debit cards for. Now, in FEMA‘s defense, they gave these $2,000 debit cards to people and it was up to them to use them within the law. And most people, the GAO says, did use them for necessities, food, clothing, shelter, things of that nature.
But here are some examples of what other people apparently thought were necessities that they used these debit cards for: $2,200 for an all-inclusive one-week Caribbean vacation; five New Orleans Saints football season tickets for $2,000; divorce lawyer services, $1,000; a gentleman‘s club in Houston, $600; adult erotic products at the Pleasure Zone in Houston, $400; and a $200 bottle of Dom Perignon champagne at a Hooters in San Antonio.
And last but not least, I‘ve got to mention this one: $300 for a stack of “Girls Gone Wild” videos. So obviously one man‘s necessities are another person‘s illegal expenditure.
FEMA claims they are cracking down on this. They say they‘ve got 1,500 examples of fraud that they‘ve already referred for criminal prosecution. But I‘ll tell you, a lot of members of Congress think they still have not fixed the system, and we‘re going to get more of the same in this hurricane season—Joe?
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Chip, you‘re exactly right. That‘s exactly what I was saying. I think we‘re going to—I mean, unfortunately, when the federal government gets involved, there is waste, fraud and abuse at every level.
So the question is: How big of a mess is FEMA? And especially with these con jobs. Let‘s bring in Steve Ellis from Taxpayers for Common Sense.
Steve, you‘re obviously part of a watchdog organization. And when it comes to government waste, talk about $1 billion in fraud and the expenditures that we saw, strip clubs, Hooters, all these other things. I mean, were you stunned by what you saw in this GAO report?
STEVE ELLIS, TAXPAYERS FOR COMMON SENSE: Well, I‘ve certainly seen a lot of waste over the years, but I have to say that, when I look at this, I couldn‘t even make this stuff up. I mean, it‘s so beyond the pale, it‘s so ridiculous, the Dom Perignon, the Hooters. And then, even the fact that inmates, prison inmates, 1,000 prison inmates applied for rental assistance, I think that we‘re already picking up the tab for their lodging.
SCARBOROUGH: And how do you send—how does the federal government spend $6,000, write a $6,000 check or an $8,000 check to a guy that‘s vacationing in Hawaii who‘s from North Carolina?
ELLIS: Well, it just means that they didn‘t really care when they were shoveling the cash out the door. It seems that the officials at FEMA were more concerned about spending the taxpayers‘ money than actually helping the real people that were affected by Katrina.
And that‘s one of the saddest things about this, is that we all saw the images down there. We know that there were some real needs. But both people were exploiting the system, and FEMA was more than willing and aiding and abetting that exploitation.
SCARBOROUGH: And, you know, Steve, I was in Mississippi a few weeks back, looked at the condition of Biloxi and surrounding areas in Mississippi, people still stuck in FEMA trailers, the infrastructure still ravaged. There‘s so much that the federal government could be doing down there, as well, of course, as the state and local government.
But, unfortunately, right now, we‘re having the president and Congress debating stripping money out of additional assistance because they say the budget just won‘t afford it, we just can‘t afford it, and yet, again, here you have over $1 billion just completely wasted. So what‘s the answer?
ELLIS: Well, I think the answer is to really make FEMA be more accountable. I mean, there were simple answers to some of these issues. As far as where people were claiming that their home address was a cemetery, I mean, that‘s something that‘s just a simple data check.
Or, for instance, Chip Reed just mentioned about how somebody made up
13 Social Security numbers to get claims. I mean, that‘s simply FEMA not
doing their job in verifying that information. And this is just on the aid
to donors—or to people who are affected by Katrina. There‘s also been -
FEMA‘s been rife with waste in their contracts, as well.
SCARBOROUGH: It is absolutely unbelievable. Steve Ellis, thanks so much. I guess I should say it‘s unbelievable unless you‘ve spent a little bit of time in Washington, D.C., and then you understand the way politics works.
And you‘re exactly right: They got to a point where they were shoveling money out to these people who were asking for help, because after the storm there was a lot of flack about FEMA not doing their job on the front end.
And, of course, friends, when I was in Mississippi, FEMA wasn‘t able to get food, water, ice, medicine, other necessities into the zones hit hardest in Mississippi and Louisiana. And yet we find out now, nine, 10 months later, they ended up shoveling $1.4, $1.5 billion on all these con jobs. It‘s just absolutely disgusting.
Right now, I‘m joined by Rita Cosby. She‘s the host of Rita Cosby “LIVE & DIRECT.” Rita, you always have a hot show. What do you have coming up next at 10:00?
RITA COSBY, HOST: Well, Joe, we have exclusive new information tonight in the manhunt for an accused sniper. I‘m going to be talking live to his cousin who has actually talked with the suspect, Darren Mack, since he has fled. He is pleading for his cousin to turn himself in.
Plus, bystanders catch brutal beatings of high school students on tape, then they post it on a place that we‘ve talked about, Joe, a lot, MySpace.com. It‘s happened all over the country. We‘re going to uncover this dangerous new trend.
And he‘s got brains and brawn. We‘re going to be talking with one of “People” magazine‘s hottest bachelors of 2006. Joe, I just want to condition this, because, obviously, if you weren‘t married, I would have nominated you for the cover story, but you‘re going to have to see who the backup choice is tonight, OK?
SCARBOROUGH: Of course. Now, that sounds great. Yes, so one of these days, who knows? Maybe I can be sexiest man alive or at least sexiest man in my home.
COSBY: Yes, in the anchor chair.
SCARBOROUGH: Anyway, Rita—yes, in the anchor chair. How about the sexiest anchor in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY? Then I don‘t have to compete with anybody.
Rita, like I said, you always have a great show. I‘m going to be watching it again tonight like I always do. Thanks so much for being with us.
And coming up next, the Dixie Chicks‘ tour starts tomorrow. But why are the Chicks starting their tour in London, canceling dates in America and adding dates in Canada? When we come back, why the Dixie Chicks are leaving Middle America.
And wouldn‘t the World Cup—what would the World Cup be without dangerous riots? We‘re going to have the latest example of World Cup mania when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.
But first, here are the heroes and villains of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
Tonight‘s villain is New York State Supreme Court Judge Laura Blackburn. Judge Blackburn has been removed from the bench for helping a robbery suspect elude authorities by allowing him to leave her courtroom through a side door as a detective waited in the hallway.
Apparently, the judge worried that this guy might get arrested on his way out of court, so she decided to help him flee. Now, that bit of backwards jurisprudence, tonight‘s villain, Judge Blackburn, has been booted from the bench by tonight‘s SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY heroes: the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Good job, guys. We‘ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: Are the Dixie Chicks flying the country music coop and migrating north for the summer? Well, you know, the Chicks planned a 50-city North American tour, but slow ticket sales have them reconsidering their southern country roots.
Concerts now on hold in 12 cities, including Jacksonville, Memphis and Houston. At the same time, the Chicks are singing “O, Canada,” and adding eight concerts in Toronto, Quebec, and other parts of the northeast.
With me now talking about it, Wade Jessen. He‘s the director “Billboard‘s” country chart. We have “Us Weekly‘s” Katrina Szish. And from the Rick and Bubba‘s Show, Rick Burgess and Bubba.
Wade, let me start with you. The tour kicks off tomorrow night in London, the very place where Natalie Maines made her original attack on President Bush. Do you think this is showing, not only canceling dates in Middle America, but also adding dates in Canada, that Middle America has turned on the Dixie Chicks, country music fans, at least?
WADE JESSEN, “BILLBOARD” MAGAZINE: Well, Joe, there might be a little symbolism in the girls returning to the scene of the crime, as they‘ve called it themselves. I doubt that, though.
I think what is more probably the case here is simple routing. I mean, when you‘re talking about concert venues, countries, time zones, all of those things, the routing just becomes kind of what it is. And even though they have had some lukewarm response with ticket sales in the States, it‘s a business and it‘s a notoriously risky business. Concert promotion is venture capitalism at its most obvious example.
But they‘ve got to go where the ticket sales are, and, you know, I mean, this happens to all kind of artists. I thought Ryan Underwood‘s reporting in the “Tennessean” newspaper this morning was spot on, when he actually asked a booking agent about how common this is and what it means. And it happens all the time to various types of artists, in all genres of music.
SCARBOROUGH: But, I mean, there‘s no doubt here, though, here—
Bubba, let me bring you in—there‘s no doubt here, though, that they‘ve put 12 dates in Middle America on hold, and now they‘ve added dates in Canada. It sounds sort of like they‘re evading their fans in the heart of Dixie.
BILL “BUBBA” BUSSEY, “THE RICK AND BUBBA SHOW”: Joe, first, thanks for having us on. And you‘re right: The first rule of entertainment is to know your audience. And, quite frankly, their comments and the way they‘ve come across doesn‘t fly with country music fans, what we like to call the Wal-Mart crowd. You don‘t talk about the commander in chief that way while we‘re at war in a foreign country. It just doesn‘t wash.
JESSEN: Some country music fans. Some country music fans.
SCARBOROUGH: And what are you guys hearing everyday? I mean, you‘re in the heart of Dixie. Your show‘s all around the Southeast. Do people feel like the Dixie Chicks have abandoned them, betrayed them?
RICK BURGESS, “THE RICK AND BUBBA SHOW”: Well, you know, Joe, the thing that I think people—we got in America, we treat—entertainers are our royal family. And we really genuinely want to forgive them when they mess up, because it‘s kind of like going to the zoo, and you see the monkeys, and you go, “I love seeing the monkeys, but the monkeys, every time you go, keep throwing crap in our face.” And you go, “You know, sooner or later, we‘re tired of coming back to the zoo.”
I think the problem is, is when they came back the second time. I think they were forgiven. I think everybody was done with it, and then they put out the new CD. And they say, “Hey, we take our apology back. Oh, by the way, we don‘t want to be in the CD disc changed with Reba and Toby Keith. And if we have to have a smaller audience who gets us and is cool enough to be with us, so be it.”
SCARBOROUGH: You know, and I‘m glad you said that.
BUSSEY: I mean, that‘s what they say, and they‘re getting what they want.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, I don‘t care if my entertainers, my singers are Marxist. If it‘s good music, I‘m going to listen to them. But, in this case, it just seems like they were ingrates. They‘re multimillionaires; they‘re living in mansions; they live like royalty. And now they‘re going around kicking people that buy Reba‘s CDs and Toby Keith CDs. These are the same people that made them rich, right?
BUSSEY: Joe, that comment will end up hurting them more than anything they could say about President Bush, when all is said and done. Look, it may hurt them a little bit now. They‘ve been very successful. They‘re going to continue to be successful. But I think it‘s going to be a chink in their armor that they won‘t totally ever recover from.
BURGESS: And it seems that what they want. They shouldn‘t complain; this is what they say they want, so have it.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Katrina, obviously, again, they‘ve done very well. Their album debuted at number one. But at the same time, as we‘ve talked about before, you make your big money in Middle America, not by fleeing Middle America and going to Canada. What, they made like $63 million on the 2002-2003 tour. That ain‘t going to happen if they‘re canceling U.S. dates and trading them out for Canadian dates, is it?
KATRINA SZISH, “US WEEKLY”: It definitely isn‘t. It seems like they‘re sort of—I think, as we heard, they‘re getting what they wanted, but at what price to them? I mean, will they still be, you know, living in these mansions in their original core base of fans no longer wants to go see them? And I think they might feel this a little more than they anticipated.
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. Hey, y‘all stay with us. We‘re going to be right back. But, yes, I think you‘re right; I think they‘ve abandoned their fans. They should have learned from the Beatles who always believed in evolution, instead of revolution. And I think this revolution, where they‘ve turned on their country music groups, has really hurt them.
We‘ll be right back with more of the Dixie Chicks and more on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY in a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Rick, let‘s start with you. Tell us specifically what your listeners across the Southeast are saying.
BURGESS: You know, one of the things, the analogy is this thing of them running north to Canada. I mean, we‘ve had callers call the program and says this kind of reminds you of a Clinton-esque draft dodger deal, when you can‘t take the heat in America, you run to Canada and hide up there.
And, you know, there‘s some talk about that. And people have always said they do have a right to say what they‘ve said, but they don‘t understand that people have also have the right to respond. You know, freedom of speech works two ways.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Katrina, do you think that they‘ve lost the Wal-Mart crowd, they‘ve lost the NASCAR crowd, they‘ve lost the country music crowd for good?
SZISH: I think they have. I think, you know, they‘re saying, “We‘re not ready to make nice,” but you know what? I think their former fans are not ready to make nice to them. It is a two-way street, and they may have alienated this fan base that elevated them to this level of stardom. And it just may be too late to turn back.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Wade, is there any way they can win back country music radio, which, of course, holds the key to them being successful in the States on concert tours?
JESSEN: Well, I think the odds are probably against that, Joe. But let‘s not put country music and country radio specifically in a Southeastern United States box. It‘s a national format; it‘s the most programmed music format on the dial. Last week, you had Ed Hill from Salt Lake City, Utah. Now you‘ve got the Birmingham guys on, and that‘s great.
But let‘s talk to somebody in Philadelphia. Let‘s talk to somebody in Grand Rapids. Let‘s talk to somebody in Los Angeles. Let‘s talk to somebody in a few other places.
SCARBOROUGH: You know what, Wade? We‘ll do that, and we‘ll invite you back. We‘ll get us a blue-state country music deejay next time. Wade, Katrina, Rick and Bubba, thank you so much. We‘ll be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. Thanks a lot.
BUSSEY: Thank you, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, that‘s all the time I have for tonight. Thank you so much for being with me. Make sure you stick around, because a woman that always gets the get, Rita Cosby, “LIVE & DIRECT” starts right now.
Hey, Rita, what do you have for us tonight?
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