THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP
HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN
JOINED BY: ELEANOR CLIFT, JOHN BUCHANAN,
TONY BLANKLEY AND LAWRENCE O'DONNELL
TAPED: FRIDAY, APRIL 25, 2003
BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF APRIL 26-27, 2003
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THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue one: SARS hysteria.
DR. DAVID HEYMANN (World Health Organization): (From videotape.) Cases are being exported from both China and Toronto to other countries and establishing disease centers in other countries.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Toronto is under a World Health Organization, WHO, travel warning. China has ratcheted up its official estimates of SARS patients. There are now more than 4,000 reported cases of SARS from 25 countries on five continents, and the disease is showing no signs of slowing down. Some health experts say that WHO is downplaying the mortality rate. They say the true mortality rate is about 18 percent for Hong Kong, 18-plus percent for Canada, 13 percent for Singapore. And most frightening, they speculate that in rural areas of China, the death rate is 50 percent. If panic breaks out as the disease spreads to the rural hinterland, China's political stability could crash. But Senator Bill Frist while in Beijing commended the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, for his recent efforts to better confront SARS.
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER BILL FRIST (R-TN): He took bold action over the last 48 hours, while we were here in China, to boldly and courageously address this virus. Now there has been increased reporting, increased commitment to prevention, increased commitment to treatment by President Hu.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What haunts U.S. officials most is the 1918 worldwide flu epidemic. It killed 25 million people.
Question: The entire world knows that China's leadership covered up the SARS outbreak for a critical period of several months during which it not only spread throughout China and Asia, but globally. So why is Bill Frist kowtowing to China's premier now? Pat Buchanan?
MR. BUCHANAN: He's not kowtowing, John. It was bold action by the head of China. But it was deeply belated action. They fired the health minister. I think they fired a mayor. They announced they handled it horribly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was it tough?
MR. BUCHANAN: They were moving and they did move in the right direction.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Was this final statement made by the premier tough?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think the final statement was tough.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: He threatened imprisonment, did he not?
MR. BUCHANAN: All right, I think they're doing a good job.
But I'll tell you, John, they're exaggerating somewhat. Over there in Canada, what the World Health Organization did to Toronto is horrible. Toronto has quarantined everybody that's got it or connected with it. They know where it came from. WHO put out this order. Conventions are canceling like crazy. Tourists aren't coming. I think a number of European countries have had warnings out on Canada.
The problem here, John, is less what it is doing than the panic it is causing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: Well, it does look like Canada and Toronto have the disease under control. But I think there's so much we don't know about this disease; frankly, with or without the warning, I wouldn't be eager to go to Toronto. So they would be hurt anyway.
And as far as Senator Frist, it's mostly stylistic. He does not have sharp elbows. He's not confrontational. And he is approaching this like a physician. And he also, I think, comes from the school of constructive engagement with China. He's not trying to pick a fight. It's the same kind of constructive engagement he practices on Capitol Hill with members of his own party and they don't like it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tony?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, I think in the 48 hours it was a legitimate statement to make about WHO, but --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: By Frist.
MR. BLANKLEY: By Frist about WHO. The problem is, in China this is becoming, as you mentioned in your introduction, a big potential political issue. Jiang, the old power behind the throne, is keeping silent, and this could conceivably -- not yet -- could become for Beijing what Chernobyl was for Moscow, as losing credibility with their people, not on an ideological issue but on a pure public safety issue. So there's a big political dimension, potentially, in China.
I don't think this is hysteria. My sense is, you know --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where? Worldwide?
MR. BLANKLEY: Worldwide. I think -- you hear the experts. They said it could tilt down or it could tilt up. It seems to me you want to err on the side of even irritating precautions, at the front end, to try to clamp down on this thing, because if it gets out of control and if it has the kind of mortality rates that some people -- you've suggested of those higher rates than are official -- then we're talking about a big deal.
So I think yeah, it's tough on Toronto. There's going to be a lot of business lost. I feel badly for them, but --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think --
MR. BLANKLEY: -- but being tougher, rather than less tough, probably makes sense.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think that the federal government, both the White House and the Congress, or whomever, agencies, are being sufficiently minatory and monitory, advising people of this? Do you think that this is also a sufficient level of prophylaxis methodologies that have been presented to the people?
MR. BLANKLEY: Yeah, I mean, so far, I think it's about right. But there are a lot of legal problems with quarantining. The different states have different laws. Bush just -- or the government just did the right thing and made this --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So there's enough national focus on this -- government focus? Is that what you're saying?
MR. BLANKLEY: I think they're paying pretty close attention.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MR. O'DONNELL: I think, you know, three stories on the front page every day is pretty good attention to this. The --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That's the press. What about the government?
MR. O'DONNELL: Dr. Frist's compliments of the Chinese were limited to the last 48 hours.
Look, it doesn't matter what -- how wrong they got it before. What matters is, what are you doing today, what are you doing tomorrow? And the responsible thing for Frist was to encourage them in the right direction, which is what he did.
The warning about Toronto is a serious warning, and it should be well-heeded, for the following reason. It is the primary funnel of illegal Asian immigration into the United States, through the porous New York state border -- 400 to 800 a month, illegal aliens coming from Hong Kong, deliberately on -- with smuggling arrangements already set up about how they're going to get into this country. They go straight to Chinatown in Manhattan because that's where they blend in the best.
The problem with Toronto is not so much going to a baseball game there. The problem is and why the Toronto warning about travel is important is, the travelers pass through an extremely risky airport. It is extremely risky, because of SARS, to be getting off planes --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because of the --
MR. O'DONNELL: -- yeah, to be passing through the Toronto airport.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Because of the Asians?
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes.
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Listen, your point on New York is very well taken --
MR. BUCHANAN: John, the big thing on panic is -- look, I think, you know, we're talking about it in proper proportions. But headlines -- Drudge -- Matt Drudge said headlines are this big in Europe. He's got six or seven stories there. This is what is doing it. The --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you see what the Chinese people are doing? They -- in fleeing Beijing, in fleeing Beijing --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. BUCHANAN: I mean, people are picking up those papers -- well, look, if they're talking about it in Europe --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: They can't get out fast enough.
MR. BUCHANAN: If they're talking about it and they are -- that is the problem. It is the panic and the economic consequences.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right. Exit question: Doctors and scientists are baffled at SARS. Some no longer believe SARS can be contained. They believe it will spread and become endemic, like tuberculosis or influenza. We have 50 million Americans possibly on the edge of a SARS epidemic. Can the president and Congress afford to let an election come and go without doing something about that bitter reality?
MR. BUCHANAN: John, they will do something if it comes here like that. I don't believe it is. I think it's contained, so far, in North America. I do think you've got a real risk of China. I think they got this too late --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I understand, but what about the fact that we have 50 million Americans with no insurance -- no health insurance?
MS. CLIFT: Right. Yeah.
MR. BUCHANAN: That's not going to change in the next four months. (Chuckles.)
MS. CLIFT: Yeah. So far, we're lucky that the disease hasn't come here yet. But if it does localize in one of our major cities and all the people who don't have insurance show up at the emergency room with a cough, the health system will be overwhelmed pretty fast. We are not prepared for this at all.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think SARS will forcibly inject this situation of no health insurance for 50 million people into the election agenda next year?
MR. BLANKLEY: No. But I do think --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You do not?
MR. BLANKLEY: No. I don't. I think the health issue is going to be an election issue, not because of this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, Gephardt is making this into a big plank in his platform.
MR. BLANKLEY: But the fact is that if there's need to provide vaccines or treatment for people with this, that's going to be provided in any event. By the way, luckily, so far the strain in America is apparently more benign than it is in Canada, and that's why we have no deaths so far.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tommy Thompson has reduced the suspect cases from about 110 to 40.
MR. BLANKLEY: Mm-hmm.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is your thinking about the political dimension of SARS in the upcoming election, if any?
MR. O'DONNELL: Oh, it will have no impact on that, because an epidemic has to be confronted by government, and you don't need health insurance to confront it. What you would need is very specific subsidy to hospitals and to the health care system specifically for treating SARS.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, we're terribly concerned about bioterrorism, and this comes and goes and we ignore it.
MR. BUCHANAN: Ignore it? (Cross-talk and laughter.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We don't ignore it, but we're very casual about it.
MR. O'DONNELL: It has a very similar effect.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If this were a bioterrorist attack, there'd really be government --
MR. O'DONNELL: It has a very similar effect. And the long-term implications of it are extremely difficult. That whole thing about enforcing quarantines is the big unknown in the future.
MR. BUCHANAN: That illegal alien point you mentioned, if that's true, friend, you do have a red-hot issue for the election.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think you've got a red-hot issue with the 50 million non-insured Americans.
When we come back: Iraq -- the good, the bad, the ugly.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue two: Iraq -- the good, the bad, the ugly. This is an abbreviated and condensed version.
Top suspects captured, 22 percent. Oil pumped, now 235,000 gallons per day. Garner takes over. Electricity restored in part. Hussein's cash recovered, $1.2 billion. That's within the nation of Iraq. Nations give aid, $2 billion. Turkey troops are out of Kurdistan.
What's the best news for Bush this week? Eleanor Clift.
MS. CLIFT: The Pentagon awakening to the fact that the Shi'ite clerics are poised to take control and they're the only organized structure functioning within the country. And the fact that an Islamic fundamentalist religious state is the likely outcome if you let the people decide their own leaders. And so the administration has decided they'll talk more about freedom than democracy. Democracy means choosing your own leaders; freedom means that the U.S. will pick leaders. They're not going to wait for Iraqi leaders to emerge, because the wrong ones are emerging. They'll pick a government and let the people vote for the government they pick.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the best good news of the week? I ask you, Tony.
MR. BLANKLEY: The best good news?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MR. BLANKLEY: Oh, I think that --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: That was all good news we just saw.
MR. BLANKLEY: That was a backhanded good news, I think.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You want to front-end it?
MR. BLANKLEY: Look. The good news is that things are calming down in Baghdad. We're beginning to get a grip on managing a very unmanageable situation. I'm not overly concerned, I'm somewhat concerned about the Shi'a, but that one demonstration did not represent the entire will of 16 million Shi'a. There's been Iranian intervention. We've brushed the Iranians back a little bit.
No, it's a difficult path, and I don't -- I'm not trying to be Pollyanna, but I don't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay --
MR. BUCHANAN: The best news is the electricity is being cut on in the city of Baghdad. They are getting control of this. And when people start feeling that, "Look, the Americans have taken charge, the bad times are over. And we did have a lot of bad looting and all the rest of it, that's behind us, but things are going to get better ahead," that's best for the USA.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about Farouk Hijazi? He's the spy who was captured, who tried to kill George Bush, Jr.'s father.
MR. O'DONNELL: Yeah, that was nice, and there will be more capturings. The specifically best news for Bush and for the American intervention was the way General Garner was received in a hugely positive way. If he manages to continue that, that would be the best public face of success that Bush can have in Iraq.
And then, outside of the borders of Iraq, the best news was France retreating from this opposition to lifting the embargo was very important.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: In the case of the spy who was captured, that was at the Syrian border, and it was a diplomatic fiction that he was captured. Actually, Syria turned him over.
Okay, the bad news. Marine deaths -- three accidental. U.S. soldiers loot; five held. Weapons of mass destruction not found.
What's the worst of the bad news for Bush this week?
Try that, Tony Blankley, and see if I'm front-ending or back- ending that. (Laughter.)
MR. BLANKLEY: Clearly, the worst news is that three Marines died. We don't want to see any of our soldiers losing their lives in this, you know, particularly at the tail-end of the organized violence; it's particularly sad to see people die then.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, then there is this: Shi'ite religious pilgrims worship in Karbala.
The Shi'ite population constitutes 60 percent of Iraq. If they vote as a block, Lawrence O'Donnell, we'll have the ayatollahs back because the Shi'ites are fundamentalist Islamic, very hyper-fervent believers and practicers.
MR. O'DONNELL: Those are the kindest adjectives you can come up with. That is religious fanaticism as demented as you will ever see it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Did Saddam Hussein prohibit it?
MR. O'DONNELL: Yes. And, so that's lifted and that is the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, if you feel so strongly about that, what do you think of the president's mention this week of religious freedom?
Here's the bite, Lawrence, in case you missed it in your acting career.
MR. O'DONNELL: Oh.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: (From videotape.) Many Iraqis are now reviving religious rituals, which were forbidden by the old regime. See, a free society honors religion; a free society is a society which believes in the freedom of religion.
Many Iraqis are now speaking their mind in public. That's a good sign.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DONALD RUMSFELD: (From videotape.) And if you're suggesting how would we feel about an Iranian-type government with a few clerics running everything in the country, the answer is that isn't going to happen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, the butting up of those two bites should not suggest that Mr. Rumsfeld is disagreeing with the president, or vice versa.
Do you want to speak to the president's bite?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah, I do. Now look, this is not necessarily fanaticism. I mean, you go to the Middle Ages --
MR. O'DONNELL: Oh! That's not fanaticism? (Chuckles.)
MR. BUCHANAN: Look, all this self-flagellation is -- there's traditions in Christianity that go back a long way. They want to express themselves --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it goes way beyond that. It's also self -- ritual self-amputation.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, they didn't --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of that?
MR. BUCHANAN: They're cutting --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: "Here, take this, pal."
MR. BUCHANAN: It's themselves. They're doing it to themselves.
But look, Tony is right, in this sense. The most dramatically alarming thing is the fact that this sense of unity and fervor can be directed politically. But as Tony said --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Is this bad news? Is it bad news?
MS. CLIFT: Yes.
MR. BUCHANAN: It's alarming news. But wait till the holiday is over and see if it goes into a political expression or they go back to politics that is different.
MS. CLIFT: This is fanaticism . If a woman commits adultery, they reserve the right to kill her. But the point is, Saddam Hussein repressed all opposition, and the only place where opposition could exist was in the mosques --
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me take a shot --
MS. CLIFT: Let me finish.
MR. BLANKLEY: Oh. Sorry.
MS. CLIFT: -- because he couldn't shut down the mosques. And so that's why you have this religious fanaticism.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I --
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a --
MS. CLIFT: But you can't just turn it off overnight.
MR. BLANKLEY: Let me make a quick point. There's a difference between the view of a lot of the clerics and the imams. The imams, influenced more from Iran, are much more politically radical than a lot of the Shi'ite clerics. And it remains very much to be seen who the people are going to be listening to in the months that follow, whether it's going to be the local clerics, who I think may well point towards a hopeful future, or the imams, who are going to try to radicalize them.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You can try to resolve it that way, in the difference between Iranian Shi'ites and Iraqi Shi'ites, but this is not a question of nationality; this is a question of religious belief held rigidly by both types of Shi'ites, and that is, we should have an Islamic ayatollah regime. They both want it. And it's the worst news for the president of the entire week.
Exit question: Were weapons of mass destruction a pretext for war, meaning we knew all along that they were no great threat, and therefore we simply wanted a rallying cry for regime change? Or, number two, were our intelligence and our analyses about WMD so bad that we started a war on a faulty promise? Or finally, will Bush be vindicated and weapons of mass destruction be found? One, two, or three? On WMD: a pretext, faulty intelligence, or vindication? Pat Buchanan?
MR. BUCHANAN: They all are true. This was the reason the president went in. He got terrible intelligence. His credibility has been badly damaged. They don't have what all we thought they have, but they are going to find some.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Are they going to find 500 tons, as the president had said?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, they're not. They ought to have the CIA up there before a congressional committee and say, "Who told the president? Who forged the documents?" The whole thing.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor?
MS. CLIFT: He didn't get faulty intelligence. He took what he got and inflated it because he needed a better excuse than regime change.
MR. BUCHANAN: You're accusing him of lying. I don't believe that's true.
MS. CLIFT: Inflating.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Which one of those?
MR. BLANKLEY: It's somewhere between two and three. My guess is there's going to be a substantial amount found eventually.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Enough to cover what's needed to cover?
MR. BLANKLEY: In fact, the justification for the war in the public mind is the freedom that's been brought there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You think so?
MR. BLANKLEY: That's what the polls show. Fifty-eight percent.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we have to say this: he is controlling the quagmire.
MR. O'DONNELL: The justification for the war that was eclipsed by almost all the dialogue about it was prospective nuclear arms control. That war was nothing other than nuclear arms control in the 21st century. They are preventing through this war this country being the next North Korea --
MS. CLIFT: Yeah.
MR. O'DONNELL: -- the next crazy person with a nuclear weapon.
MS. CLIFT: They have no nuclear capacity. Zero! (Laughs.)
MR. O'DONNELL: I know. That's the point. The point was we don't want them to have one.
Now, whether -- now, the Bush administration never believed --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you support it? Do you support it?
MR. O'DONNELL: The Bush administration never believed that simply saying we want to suppress the spread of nuclear weapons was justification --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, now let me give you the alternate of that.
MR. O'DONNELL: That's all it was.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me give the alternate. Iran is right next door, and the president is now in a race against time with Iran because Iran wants to get the bomb. And Iran now has uranium and it has also plutonium. And --
MR. O'DONNELL: And if they try, there will be a war.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And the best ticket for staying out of the United States claws is to get the bomb. So instead of reducing --
MR. O'DONNELL: No, no, no, no, no.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Just let me finish.
MR. O'DONNELL: Not anymore.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So in reducing -- in reducing -- attempting to reduce the arms race, he has in fact turned it on its head and he's accelerated it.
Issue three: Political Potpourri.
Item: Sanctum Santorum.
SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): (From videotape.) I didn't say anything that -- that needs to be apologized for.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The non-apologizer is Rick Santorum, the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference Committee, a top GOP leader and rising star. The controversy began when Santorum gave an interview to the Associated Press about the American family. When he answered a question about homosexuality, the senator referred to a case currently before the Supreme Court. That case focuses on an active anti-sodomy law in the state of Texas.
Santorum said, "I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts. If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does." Unquote.
Gay rights groups are outraged.
ELIZABETH BIRCH (executive director, Human Rights Campaign): (From videotape.) That the senator is using homosexuality as a very loose tool to condemn all kinds of behavior.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Republican gays also deplored the senator's words.
PATRICK GUERRIERO (executive director, Log Cabin Republicans): (From videotape.) Senator Santorum's comments bring back the failed playbook of the past, and we should be looking forward.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But Santorum objects. He says that his words echoed those of a Supreme Court ruling that if a state in the United States is prohibited from outlawing gay and lesbian behavior, then that state may also be prohibited from outlawing polygamy or incest or adultery. And, he cited Justice Byron White.
SEN. SANTORUM: (From videotape.) The statement I made that was widely quoted basically is exactly what Justice White, in the Hardwick case in 1986, stated as the reason for the Supreme Court finding the sodomy laws that were in question before the court in 1986 to be constitutional.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Is this a bum rap or a fair rap?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's a totally bum rap. This man is being attacked for his beliefs, his moral beliefs, which are rooted in Catholic tradition. And his legal opinion is exactly right on the 1986 case. The Supreme Court upheld Hardwick because some justice feared that if they overturned it, all other laws would be overturned.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me clarify the question. So you're saying he's not a homophobe?
MR. BUCHANAN: I'm not -- well, a homophobe is somebody who hates homosexuals. This guy does not. He said, "I don't have any problem" --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. Okay. And on moral grounds, he's justified because he's -- of his Catholic Church and so forth.
MR. BUCHANAN: It's Pope John Paul --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Maybe the question should be, was he politically boneheaded?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, no. Look, I think he speaks from -- look, the truth is, to be a traditional Catholic now is to be politically incorrect.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I'm going to tip the question to you. What's the damage ratio on this, zero to 10, 10 being "Apocalypse Now"?
MS. CLIFT: It just reveals the Republican Party again for what it is. This guy's been carrying the flag for the far right, and the party will not disavow him. He will not lose his leadership post.
MR. BUCHANAN: Good.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And also --
MS. CLIFT: And in terms of votes, it'll affect some soccer moms, who don't like minorities to be picked upon, but otherwise it's a wash.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah. And also, there's nothing lucrative for Democrats --
MS. CLIFT: Right.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- because they have the gays anyway. Right?
MR. BLANKLEY: Look, look, I disagree with Senator Santorum both on his legal analysis, on his cultural analysis. I think that's a minority position. I don't think it hurts him much politically. He's a decent guy. He's expressing the majority opinion, the view of the Catholic Church for 2,000 years and counting --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, was he brain-dead politically when he -- when this happened?
MR. BLANKLEY: I wouldn't have given that interview if I were him. But on the other hand, it doesn't hurt him, because that's where public opinion is.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the damage on this?
MR. O'DONNELL: It just makes him look a little bit stupid as a politician. It won't hurt him in Republican politics at all. But it just looks like a guy stuck his foot in his mouth.
The statement, by the way, is the kind of statement that law professors all over the country would make every day -- a provocative, thoughtful statement about what does this imply.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, but --
MR. BUCHANAN: Sure.
MR. O'DONNELL: We know that that's what he thinks --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay. The answer is, you are all correct. (Laughter.) And in addition, his recap of Byron Wright's (sic; he means Byron White) rationale was correct.
We'll be right back with predictions.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Out of time! Bye-bye!
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue four: Hot off the press.
JASON AHERN (U.S. Department of Customs): (From videotape.) This is stealing. This is theft. This needs to be stopped.
Our men and women did not die on these foreign soils so that we could go ahead and have others loot the very cultural aspects and the civilization we were there to liberate.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: American journalists have been stripped of their Iraqi loot smuggled out of the country in their suitcases. Numerous paintings, gold-plated weapons, Iraqi bonds, artifacts and cash have been seized at Dulles, Logan and Heathrow airports. A writer for the Boston Herald was intercepted with a painting, a wall hanging and other objects. In another incident, a dozen portraits taken from the palace of Uday Hussein, including depictions of Saddam and his sons, were confiscated at Dulles. In all, a half dozen journalists have been caught red-handed.
This comes on top of multiple stories embarrassing to journalists, including live on-air disclosures of troop locations, coziness with Hussein officials in Baghdad in exchange for access, and giving de facto aid and comfort to the enemy by appearing live on Iraqi-owned state TV.
Question: In downtown Baghdad, you can pick up a Hungarian precision automatic pistol for $35 in stands that they've created.
What's wrong with buying one of those and bringing it back? What's the big deal about bringing home a war memento?
MR. O'DONNELL: War mementos I think are fine. Souvenirs are fine. The question is where do you cross the line from souvenirs to looting. And some of those artworks clearly are that. But some of this stuff really should be allowed. There should be some margin. I mean, I don't think you should getting -- allowed to bring a lot of guns through, you know, Logan Airport in Boston.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A bayonet, a bolt-action rifle, something like that?
MR. O'DONNELL: No, let's forget about that stuff. But there's a lot of stuff that they should be allowed to bring in.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, I agree with that. And the moral outrage that this government official was voicing seems misplaced when you realize that the U.S.-led coalition stood by while the Baghdad Museum was raided and looted. They protected the Oil Ministry, but not the museum.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right. Excellent point.
MS. CLIFT: And now they're worried about a few artifacts.
MR. BUCHANAN: You know, after -- I grew up during World War II and after World War II, and those guys came home with German helmets and Japanese rifles and flags and everything else, we played war --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: German lugers?
MR. BUCHANAN: No, they didn't bring home any lugers. They didn't give me one, anyhow, John.
But those things are trophies of war. But I think our folks here are exactly right, you start looting paintings and works of art, they belong to that country, and that is genuine looting.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, our soldiers risk life and limb, and they're lucky if the souvenir they wind up with is a flag at their funeral or maybe a Purple Heart. Can't we cut some slack and give them the opportunity to bring home -- they don't have to bring home millions of dollars, but --
MR. BLANKLEY: Well yeah, of course --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- can't we let them bring home something?
MR. BLANKLEY: Well, of course. I think this is political correctness carried to an extreme. Of course they should be able to bring home war trophies. They shouldn't be bale to bring home, and they haven't, you know, antiquities --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, then we ought to amend the 1968 law, which prevents even bringing home that kind of trophy.