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THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP

HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN

JOINED BY: GERARD BAKER, TONY BLANKLEY, ELEANOR CLIFT AND MORT ZUCKERMAN

TAPED: FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 15, 2002
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF NOVEMBER 16-17, 2002


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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: world on notice.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) But whoever put the tape out has put the world on notice yet again that we're at war.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Osama bin Laden lives, if you believe that a four-and-a-half-minute audiotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera, the Arab television station, is the voice of the al Qaeda leader. And many expert voice analysts do believe it.

On the tape, bin Laden praises recent terror attacks, including Yemen, the French oil tanker blasted with a bomb-laden boat; Kuwait, two American Marines shot -- one killed, one wounded; Bali, nearly 200 people killed -- mostly Australians, our ally in the war on terror -- by bombs detonated in a crowded nightclub district; Russia, Chechen rebels held hostage Moscow theater patrons; Jordan, a USAID official, recently honored for his 37 years of service, gunned down outside his home in Amman. Osama lists them all in a quasi-cooption of responsibility.

Why the attacks? Bin Laden says they were in reaction to the American bombing of Iraq and the Israeli use of American-made planes against Palestinians. And the audiotape warns six specific countries -- Britain, Canada, Australia, Italy, France and Germany -- of their alliance with the U.S.: "Do your governments not know that the White House gangsters are the biggest butchers of this age? You will be killed, just as you killed, and will be bombed, just as you bomb."

Despite this presumptive evidence that Osama lives, the president reiterated this week that, quote-unquote, "great progress" was being made on the war on terror. One "doubting Thomas" took issue with that assessment -- Thomas Daschle.

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER TOM DASCHLE (D-SD): (From videotape.) We haven't found bin Laden. We haven't made any real progress in many of the other areas involving the key elements of al Qaeda. They continue to be as great a threat today as they were a year and a half ago. So by what measure can we say this has been successful so far?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Senator Daschle is echoing, of course, the testimony of the director of the CIA from one month ago.

CIA DIRECTOR GEORGE TENET: (From videotape.) Because the threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer, the summer before 9/11. It is serious. They have reconstituted. They're coming after us. They want to execute attacks. You see it in Bali. You see it in Kuwait. They plan in multiple theaters of operation. They intend to strike this homeland again.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is bin Laden winning?

Mort Zuckerman?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, I don't think he's winning. I also don't think he's losing. We're in a long-term war against terrorism. We, after all, did destroy their training camps in Afghanistan. We have now about 3,500 prisoners. We have a lot more intelligence. We just knocked off a bunch of them in Yemen. There is a covert war going on all around the world. We're gathering a lot of intelligence. It's going to be a long-time war. I think we're making progress, but it's not going to be progress that's going to end up in a victory parade in Washington.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did you note that General Tommy Franks says that our war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan is sputtering because they have adapted to our tactics?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, there's no doubt these people are -- this is their natural territory, right? I mean, they were living in mountains and caves. But we still have accomplished a good deal, and we still have a long way to go. It's just going to be a never-ending struggle. It's going to go on for 20, 30 years. this is not something that's going to end in a week, a month, a year; it's going to go on for a long, long time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, who's winning?

MS. CLIFT: Well, the Democrats are now saying more clearly what they should have said before, and that is that the threat to America -- the immediate threat to America is not from Saddam Hussein, it's from the al Qaeda network. Bin Laden is out there. Many of the top operatives are still there. They're clearly inspired by his leadership. And this kind of tape, when they come out, are frequently the precursor to some sort of spectacular event. And I think the administration is sensitive to the notion that if there is an attack on U.S. soil or even in Europe, that the president could be accused of taking his eye off of the real threat, off of terrorism, and overly focusing on Iraq.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did they know that the Pentagon announced this week that it is reducing its Special Forces assigned to bin Laden and al Qaeda, to direct them to the Iraq operation?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think that's a mistake. There's only one Central Command. Tommy Franks has it, and he has control of Afghanistan and presumably will have control if there is a war in Iraq. I don't think you can do both. There is only enough hours in a day.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Speaking about the Central Command, the U.S. Northern Command issued a warning on Wednesday that said a terror attack is imminent. Did you note that?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, I've been noting all these various warnings.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You don't seem very disturbed by them.

MR. BLANKLEY: I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You seem quite placid.

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I hope to be -- (struggles with pronunciation of adjective) -- (laughter) -- unflappable, but nonetheless that's disturbing.

You know, to go back to your question, Mort is exactly right about the length and duration of the war. Saying who's winning now is like asking who's winning after the first battle of Manassas. It's the beginning of a long struggle.

But I must say that given that Tom Daschle personally blocked the passage for three months of the Homeland Security Agency, which is our defensive capacity, ability to respond to damage, to have some control over intelligence domestically, he is peculiarly unsituated to complain about a lack of progress.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, on the winning question, the Federal Reserve Board announced that the losses in New York occurring -- that occurred on 9/11 amount to 33 or 35 -- up to $35 billion. We've lost 3,000 people to the al Qaeda, and they've lost a couple of hundred. Can anyone do the math here on this set? Who's winning?

MR. BAKER: Well, as Tony said, it's very, very early days.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Early days? It's over a year.

MR. BAKER: And as Mort said, this is going to be a very, very, very long -- very long, drawn-out -- yeah. I mean, it is early days. And if this is going to be a 20-, 30-year war, I think it's quite possible --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, all I'm asking you is, who is ahead? Who's winning?

MR. BAKER: It's -- we have inflicted enormous damage so far on al Qaeda. There's no question about that. There was a lot of damage done. That's not to say a lot of more damage couldn't have been done if the war had been conducted slightly differently in Afghanistan, particularly in the fight over Tora Bora. But we have done --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we know --

MR. BAKER: -- but much more importantly, I think this is important, we have demonstrated, the United States with its allies, principally with Great Britain, but with other allies, too, has demonstrated a willingness to address threats wherever they are. This is absolutely critical. If the enemies of freedom believe that we are willing to accommodate them in some way, that we are willing -- we are not willing to first prosecute this war, or other wars wherever they need to be fought, then that is --

(Cross talk.)

MS. CLIFT: No one --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why haven't we -- so why haven't we sent our forces in strength into Yemen? We know that Yemen is a serious problem.

MR. BAKER: Well, we've been using -- the U.S. has been using --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why haven't we sent them into Pakistan? We just learned that Pakistan, up until last month, was working with North Korea on their bomb. We also know that it is quite likely that Osama is in Northern Pakistan.

MR. BAKER: You can only do so much at a time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, how much are you going to do if we send them all to Iraq?

MR. BAKER: You're not seriously suggesting we should go into Pakistan and start -- and then conduct a war in Pakistan while there is a government that is already very vulnerable to Islamic extremists?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No, but I don't think we should drain our special forces from that theater when it's obvious the al Qaeda is a dominant current threat.

MR. BAKER: This notion that we can't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why do we want to --

(Cross talk.)

MR. BAKER: The United States and its allies are capable of doing the military equivalent of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.

MR. BAKER: We can actually fight a war against Iraq, if we need to, at the same time as carrying out the operations --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why are there complaints that the special forces are being drained away because of this Iraq adventure?

Do you want to speak -- by the way, what's happening in Europe with all this attention that Osama has directed at Europe?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, Europe, of course, has gone on quite a terrorist alert itself. Both Tony Blair put out an extraordinary -- or his government put out an extraordinary statement talking about radioactive bombs, then they pulled that statement back and said it was a clerical error and they put out a more general statement. Putin has warned in colorful language about a world caliphate that the Muslims want to place on the world. So both -- and Germany's got a higher alert.

So there's no doubt that right now that the Europeans are watching their harbors and ports; they're very nervous about a terrorist attack. There's genuine click upwards in tension in Europe, both Russia and Western Europe.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Spectacular attacks. A terrorist alert was circulated by the FBI on Thursday. Al Qaeda may favor, quote, "spectacular attacks" that meet several criteria: high symbolic value, mass casualties, severe damage to the U.S. economy, maximum psychological trauma. Highest priority targets remain aviation, petroleum, nuclear sectors, significant national landmarks.

Question: What do you think of that?

MS. CLIFT: Well, I think we've been on alert about this for some time. This is yet another alert. But if we're really serious about protecting the homeland, it's not about Tony saying Democrats are blocking the creation of the Homeland Security Department. The president didn't even want that department in the beginning. He said --

MR. BLANKLEY: He asked for it in July!

MS. CLIFT: He said -- excuse me. Excuse me!

MR. BLANKLEY: Daschle promised it September 11th --

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me! Tony!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish!

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, no, she's misstating the record. Daschle promised that --

MS. CLIFT: No, I'm not.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Isn't it true that the president did not want it until July --

MS. CLIFT: He did not want it. He called it big government bureaucracy.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- and that was after the testimony of the FBI woman, correct?

MR. BLANKLEY: And Daschle promised it to the president by September 11th, and then he reneged on his promise and sat on it for another three months, and then after the election he turned around --

MS. CLIFT: It was a purely political ploy --

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Hold on! Let Eleanor finish.

MS. CLIFT: It was a purely political ploy --

MR. BLANKLEY: On Daschle's part, I agree with you.

MS. CLIFT: -- so the White House would be able to run the war against Democrats and impugn their patriotism --

MR. BLANKLEY: And Daschle -- that same --

MS. CLIFT: -- which is why -- Is this the Tony Blankley show now?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, it's the Eleanor Clift show --

MS. CLIFT: (Laughs.) It ought to be.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor, do you think it's more of a Joe Lieberman victory, that is the passage of the Homeland Security Department? Do you think it's more of a victory for him than it is for Bush, on the basis of the fact that Bush flip-flopped?

MS. CLIFT: Right. The Democrats pushed for this department. But the Republicans played it politically beautifully.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Oh! Can I --

MS. CLIFT: But this is about political patronage. We are now going to create a department where the way you get hired is not through Civil Service rules, it's where you went to college and who you knew, and it becomes a wonderful extension of the Bush White House.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Nonsense! That's just nonsense!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, quickly, Mort, and then quickly, Gerry.

MS. CLIFT: It's patronage. (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: The Civil Service rules impede the operation of any normal department, never mind one dealing with homeland security. That's a totally bogus charge --

MS. CLIFT: Is that how you run your newspaper?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I hope not. That's exactly what I wouldn't do is run a newspaper --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly! Quickly, Mort.

MS. CLIFT: I think there are -- (inaudible) --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let Mort finish, please.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I think we have a serious challenge in homeland security. Undoubtedly politics played a part in it. But there's no doubt that Bush made this a central part of his reelection -- of the interim campaign and succeeded in persuading the American --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the point? We know all that.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Okay. So, there's no political loss here for Bush, and it's no political gain for Joe Lieberman.

MR. BAKER: Can we get away from the polls?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. The issue here is that if there is a war in Iraq, I guarantee you that war will take less than 10 days. We can handle the war in Iraq. We're going to have many other threats simultaneously with the war on terrorism. It's more than one-sided in terms of our efforts to combat it, and we're going to have to be there over and over and over again. You're going to have this issue of more than one front over and over again in this war.

MR. BAKER: Well, I really don't think, actually, this debate is very constructive.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: On what?

MR. BAKER: Impugning the patriotism of either Democrats or Republicans, whether it's on homeland security or --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who's impugning? We're impugning their judgment, that's all.

MR. BAKER: Well, there's a lot of name calling going on here about whether or not --

MR. BLANKLEY: I didn't impugn his patriotism. I said it was inappropriate for him to accuse someone of failure when he was the agent for blocking it.

(Cross talk.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: When did you become the great irenicist? (Laughs.)

MR. BAKER: With the great -- you know, you said the great terrorism -- (inaudible) -- Tom Daschle.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is your point?

MR. BAKER: Well, I'm sure Tom Daschle is as patriotic a person as the president is.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you discouraging any disagreement with the commander in chief?

MR. BAKER: Of course not! I think -- and -- but neither side -- neither side should say --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're talking like the cable networks: war is inevitable, start it now, bring on the --

MR. BAKER: Neither side should say they are -- they have a monopoly on patriotism here. Both sides are trying, I think genuinely trying in their own way. They have honest disagreements about the way in which the Homeland Security Department should be arranged. It's completely wrong, I think, for either side simply to say, "We are the ones who are defending this country, and you people don't care about it."

MR. BLANKLEY: Nobody said that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No one said that.

MR. BLANKLEY: Nobody said that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I didn't hear that said. Did you hear that said? We're talking about a question of analysis and judgment.

Exit: Is Bush's focus on Iraq dominantly premature or dominantly mature? You got that?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: I have that.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mort. What's your answer?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Let me just say firstly that the elevated way in which we discuss these issues, of course, never impugns anybody's either political judgment or patriotism, and it's always a pleasure to be a part of that.

Now let's get to the dominantly mature or --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's a straight comment, huh?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes, it is a straight comment.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. I agree with you.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Of course it is. In my judgment, okay, dealing with Iraq is 11 years too late, and the sooner we get to Iraq, the better. I don't think it's mature or immature; it is something we must do in the defense of this country.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was "mature" versus "premature," dominantly.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. The focus on Iraq is premature. The immediate threat is from al Qaeda and they ought to pay attention to that.

MR. BLANKLEY: It's timely. It's time to do it. Yeah.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So it's mature.

MR. BLANKLEY: Mature, yes.

MR. BAKER: It's mature. The U.S. faces a variety of threats. It has to deal with them. Sometimes it has to deal with them simultaneously.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is, Eleanor is right.

When we come back: Is the U.N. Iraq resolution a Saddam set-up?

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Pentagon gestapo?

COMMITTEE CHAIR: (From videotape.) The bill is passed, and without objection. (Sounds gavel.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Civil libertarians are shuddering at the newly passed House version of the Homeland Security Act and one project it authorizes -- a $200 million government undertaking called "Total Information Awareness," to compile comprehensive computer dossiers from government and commercial databases on every American citizen. But before you pick up a phone to call your congressman and complain about Attorney General Ashcroft or the FBI intruding on your privacy rights, take note that this isn't a Justice Department project. The Pentagon is in charge, and it's assigned to John Poindexter. That's right, Admiral John Poindexter of Iran-contra fame.

Poindexter's $200 million Pentagon project is to unite government databases and supercomputers with commercial databases. At his fingertips, Poindexter will have credit records, employment histories, divorce records, drivers license and Social Security numbers, mail- order purchases, criminal proceedings, gun registrations, civil lawsuits, professional licenses, passport applications, military and civil service files, bridge toll records, bank accounts, credit card accounts, debts and loans, annual income, IRS records, airline travel records, police and FBI dossiers, hidden surveillance camera files, the movie titles you rent from pay-per view or the video store, the DVD titles you watch on your home computer, the websites you visit, your library book withdrawals, the schools your children attend. Total Information Awareness.

Admiral Poindexter maintains that his project will not infringe on personal privacy.

Question: Should the Pentagon have so much power? Tony Blankley.

MR. BLANKLEY: Look. This is a measurable dramatic intrusion into our freedoms. There's no question about it. But it raises the question that if it could save a lot of lives, then Americans have to decide what the price of freedom is. And if the price of freedom is to lose hundreds of thousands of people because this information is not gathered, it's a price maybe Americans are prepared to pay, but it's a big price.

But there's -- but you can't accept Poindexter's statement that this is not an intrusion. This is a major bite out of our natural freedoms not to have the government monitor us.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Why the Pentagon? I thought the Pentagon was to protect us against foreign enemies. Why internal enemies?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do we have an American Gestapo here?

MR. BLANKLEY: Well, no, the problem -- well, you could, under different leadership. But the problem is that the -- our external enemies are here in the country. In order to monitor all the movements, to fight terrorism -- that's the hideous thing about this struggle. But it is a loss of freedom.

The question is, let's say we had a horrible event. Would the public want to give up those freedoms? It's the old battle that Benjamin --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You apparently have forgotten already what Marceca and Livingstone did with the FBI files on Republicans. And you were named in those files, were you not?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. Look --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Those files fell into the wrong hands.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, my FBI --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can't you see this happening, too?

MR. BLANKLEY: Look -- of course. That's my point. My FBI files, I think my tax return were seized during the Clinton administration because I was a Republican. There's always the danger of use of government information. That's why I'm saying it's a major intrusion into our freedoms.

The question is, does the public want to give up that freedom? Benjamin Franklin said, as -- famously, people who are wiling to give up their freedom for security deserve neither.

MS. CLIFT: Tony, as much as you want to dramatize how you were seized upon as a Republican when you --

MR. BLANKLEY: I didn't bring it up. He brought it up!

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: (Laughs.)

MS. CLIFT: -- yeah -- that was compute screw-up. There was never any -- there was never --

MR. BLANKLEY: It was not a computer -- that boy couldn't even work a computer. He was a bouncer, for goodness sake! (Laughter.)

MS. CLIFT: Excuse me. There was never any kind of charges brought as a result of that.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, you guys --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly!

MS. CLIFT: Mr. Poindexter is a convicted felon left over from the Reagan years, in his role in Iran-contra. It was overturned on appeal because of a technicality. But to bring back somebody like that to spy on Americans -- and what's particularly offensive is that they've gone about this so stealthily. There has been no attention to this issue, except this show and, I think, a column by William Safire, and he's to be applauded and you're to be applauded.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Quickly, Eleanor.

MR. BLANKLEY: Actually, Poindexter's the wrong man. He was convicted --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are your reflections on this?

MR. BAKER: This is an intrusion that even George Orwell actually didn't dream up in his very bleak vision of the future in "1984." This is clearly -- whatever Tony says, this is clearly giving the government powers way beyond what is acceptable.

And frankly, even if it was absolutely -- even if you could demonstrate -- even if you could demonstrate to a metaphysical certainty, may I dare say, that this was going to be beneficial in some way, you would really have to question whether or not the kind of intrusion that it represents is justifiable. It just seems to me Orwellian and unacceptable.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are you young (sic) enough to remember the supreme commander Dwight Eisenhower?

MR. BAKER: No. I mean, I know who he was --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you remember his speech about the military industrial complex?

MR. BAKER: I do. I remember that. It was a very good speech, as I recall.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "Industrial" here representing -- Microsoft is in on this deal, as you know.

MR. BAKER: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: With the military complex, the supercomputers, I mean, who could amass this assemblage in order to provide this data even on one person, unless somebody was -- someone were extremely moneyed and had access to, say, a Cray computer that could put it all together and perform that kind of dossier function?

On the other hand, if you go to the Internet, I dare say there is nothing that we have seen in that drumroll of specifics which you cannot spend five --

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Right.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- fifty to 500 dollars for and get the whole assembly, correct?

MR. BAKER: You can go out and get that information and have it at its disposal, and actually being able to -- for someone to be able to put it up on the Internet -- essentially, at the moment, illegally.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But there are also fire walls that are created to some extent in the divisions of those information that we saw on the screen, correct?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. But those fire walls, as you know, can be breached. What I think -- what I fear is going to happen is that we're going to have, and I've felt this for a while, that we're going to have several terrorist attacks over the next several years, and it is going to cause a swing in this country that is going to really be a compromise of our liberties in order to establish order and security. I have to tell you, I think that is something that we're going to have to look at very carefully.

What does disturb me about this particularly, is there is no public discussion of this thing. That should never have happened -- it should have taken -- we should have done it, if we are going to do anything like this, with the greatest of care, be very careful about who we put in charge of this.

MS. CLIFT: Yeah. Right. And the Democrats are so demoralized by the election, they're not even going to put up a fight. This is going to just breeze through the Senate.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Here's a question, let's narrow it down. Should the homeland security act be amended to strip the funding for this program, yes or no, Mort?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Yes. But I don't think it will be.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony? This is a conscience question for you, isn't it? (Laughter.)

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. No. But I could easily be persuaded the other way. I think that --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You want a court order to employ this kind of equipment? You want any restraints on it at all?

MR. BLANKLEY: I think it needs to be -- I think Poindexter shouldn't be running it, given his track record. I think the danger is so great that eventually we're going to get to this point, anyway, as Mort says, after the next horrible attack. Maybe we can prevent the next horrible attack, but I deeply regret having to make that judgment.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, the NIH extraordinary equipment that was used for the genome? The Pentagon will probably pull that in, too. What do you think?

MR. BAKER: The answer is yes. It should be stripped from the bill.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is yes.

We'll be right back with predictions.

(Announcements.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, Mort, what's the meaning of this?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Well, New York City's facing a huge budget deficit, by the way, so is New York state. And there is going to be no way of dealing with this, other than raising taxes, both at the state and at the city level. That's going to cause a huge --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You're talking about Bloomberg's idea of taxing commuters who live outside New York City, and work in New City, with an income tax?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: That's correct.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And you think that's a good idea?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Some piece of it is a good idea. We had a commuter tax for a long, long time in New York, and it was dropped in a terrible court of appeals --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Will it pass?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Yes. One version or another of it will pass. There's no choice.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?

MS. CLIFT: Predictions?

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes.

MS. CLIFT: Al Gore will announce he'd running for president before the end of the year.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: No surprise there, though, really is there?

MR. BLANKLEY: No, I'm not surprised by it.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?

MR. BLANKLEY: Next year the Republican House and Senate will pass their version of the prescription drug bill will be signed into law.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Gerry?

MR. BAKER: This week in Prague, NATO will admit seven new members. There will be great fanfare about the revival of NATO, but in fact that's a dying institution; won't survive another 10 years.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You just lifted my prediction. I'll never talk during the break again. (Laughter.)

Next week, Bush to Prague: Will NATO say yes to Iraq?

Bye-bye.

PBS SEGMENT

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue three: the horns of a dilemma.

(Recording of "Taps" played on the bugle.)

The lone bugler sighing out the plaintive 24 notes of "Taps" is a symbol that all Americans know. The final salute. Solace. Acceptance. Peace.

Nearly 1,800 World War II and Korean War veterans die each day in the United States. But there are only 500 military buglers who are trained to play "Taps." To supplement the shortfall of buglers, the U.S. military has turned to digitally recorded technology. "Taps" is made to emanate from inside the horn even though the, quote-unquote, "bugler" has no musical skills of his own at all.

Here's how it works: A genuine bugle is implanted with a digital playback chip that contains a recording of "Taps." When the time comes for the soldier to play, he or she reaches inside the horn, turns on the recording, waits five seconds, raises the horn and pretends to blow the notes. Gone will be the undignified days of pushing a button on a boom-box radio to produce "Taps."

Not everyone approves of the canned "Taps." Tom Day, the founder of Bugles Across America, an organization that enlists the support of more than a thousand civilian and military veteran buglers who perform at military services, criticizes the Pentagon's faux bugling: "It's a toy. It's a fake bugle. And perhaps it should just be used for fake wars."

The Pentagon says that digital bugles will only be used when a trained bugler is not available.

Question: Should we have reenlistment incentives for buglers, to be able to provide human beings to blow the bugle for "Taps" for the death ceremony of our beloved veterans?

What do you think?

MR. BAKER: There's a tremendous dignity about hearing a bugle play "Taps," and hearing it properly played. And I think in an ideal world, if a way can be found to make sure that there are enough people to actually play this, that it's much better than this sort of digitized alternative. But we have to accept, as your introduction demonstrated, there are, tragically, a lot of veterans who die each day, and that's going to go on for some time. And it's just that there just aren't the resources there. And I don't know what we can -- you know, how you can address that. Well, you can't really go embark on a massive enlistment program for buglers.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, you could have reenlistment incentives. We do it for divers. We do it for pilots. We give them high incentives, and that fills the ranks.

MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah. I mean, I doubt we can get enough people in to do that. I don't know whether we could turn to private, you know, just trumpet players and orchestras to play it. If we can't, I think it would be preferable just to have a recording, but there's something inauthentic about having the person who can't play the instrument hold it up. This is an authentic moment, and it cheapens it by the fakeness of the process. Better to have a real recording out there than to have a fake real one.

MS. CLIFT: I'm not --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, put the -- go ahead --

MS. CLIFT: I'm not offended in the least. I mean, I think it's a creative solution to the fact that you then have a human being and a real bugle, and I can't tell the difference. Do you think people go up and examine the inside of the bugle to make sure that it's not digitalized? I just hope they don't figure out how to digitalize talk-show panelists. (Laughs.)

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, don't you think the whole thing is quite pathetic? But it is pretense. It is pretending to be something that you are not. Correct?

MR. BLANKLEY: Yes, that's correct. But that's --

MS. CLIFT: Well, there are artificial flowers, too, and I don't --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, who sends artificial flowers to a wake? Do you do that?

MS. CLIFT: No. But maybe it's not a bad idea.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: Not only are there artificial flowers, but if you go into Las Vegas and the flower pot falls over, the water that you -- the water is also fake, by the way. (Laughter.) But setting that aside -- I'm serious.

The real problem here is that, how do you give this ceremony the dignity it needs? And alas, the problem you have is you don't have the buglers. But we're so used to the -- presidents give speeches, and they give the impression they're not reading them, and we know they are reading them.

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think this kind of frugality is symptomatic of the way our government treats veterans generally?

MS. CLIFT: No.

MR. ZUCKERMAN: No, I --

MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Too little, too late?

MR. ZUCKERMAN: -- I would rather support the veterans who are alive in every way that we can and use this than do it the other way around.

MS. CLIFT: I agree with that. Nicely said.

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