Guests: Alec Baldwin, Maher Hathout, Daniel Pipes, Naomi Wolf
Bill [Maher]: All right, good evening, welcome to "Politically Incorrect." Let me introduce you to our panel tonight. Over here we have Dr. Maher Hathout. He is the leading spokesman for the American Muslim community as the senior adviser of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Welcome, Doctor.
Maher [Hathout]: Thank you.
Bill: Naomi Wolf, of course, a frequent guest of ours. Glad to have you back. Her new book, "Misconceptions" right there. But we all know her from The Beauty Myth, Fire with Fire and some advice to Al Gore.
Over here we have Mr. Daniel Pipes. He is an adviser to the White House and the Defense Department and the editor of the Middle East Forum.
And of course, Alec Baldwin is Alec Baldwin. He probably will be a senator or president one day, but I always encourage him to stay in show business 'cause I think he's very entertaining. And his new film is on HBO coming up called Path to War.
Give a hand to this panel. [ Applause ] Okay, now, let me tell you, I could hardly contain the excitement here around the office today when the staff found out that the Northern Alliance had taken Kabul. [ Laughter ] I'm telling you, people were practically dancing in their offices. And I guess that's good news. But of course, as usual, I think that the bigger story sometimes is buried on page 15 of the paper, not that taking Kabul isn't a good thing.
But I read the other day three northeast states want to postpone their planned requirement to create more electric cars. The car companies keep saying, "We need more time." They don't have the technology. I think they have the technology, they just don't have the technology to be as profitable. And I think that's really a bigger story, because in the long run, unless we get off the oil—
Bill [Maher]: -- Jones, or "fiending," as the kids say now, Alec. [ Light laughter ] You're dating yourself.
Maher [Hathout]: That's new.
Bill: I think we could take every Muslim capital in the world, and it won't make a bit of difference because we're still gonna need the dope that they sell us. [ Light laughter ] [ Scattered applause ]
Maher: We need to take Venezuela also on, Mexico on, other areas that are not Muslim countries who are still controlling oil.
Bill: Yes, but if you look at a map of where the oil reserves are in the world, Saudi Arabia, a big, big—
Bill: 70% in Saudi Arabia.
Daniel: But, Bill, you like to go from 0 to 60 real fast, don't you? And if you want to do that, you need oil at this point. Electricity, you know those little carts on the golf course?
Bill: Hey, you're wrong. I drove one, I'm buying one. A hybrid car gets 55 miles to the gallon.
Daniel: A hybrid, I was gonna get to that. A hybrid's a different story.
Bill: Oh, well.
Daniel: But it's electric cars.
Bill: Well, it's half electric.
Daniel: Explain to us what a hybrid car is.
Bill: It's half electric and half hybrid. [ Laughter ] Half electric—but you don't have to plug it in. I think there's that old Ed Begley go-cart that people think about.
Daniel: But that's on the way. It's coming, the hybrid.
Bill: What happened?
Daniel: The hybrid is coming.
Alec: The hybrid is here.
Naomi: The hybrid is here.
Bill: The hybrid is here, I'm telling you.
Alec: Toyota, Honda. Ford's gonna have one as well. How many people here don't know what a hybrid is? Clap if you don't know what a hybrid is. [ Light applause ] It's a regular car, an internal combustion engine, that charges a battery while you drive.
Alec: And it has a computer that tells it when to switch over to the battery. When the battery runs down, the computer tells it to switch back to the gasoline power.
Naomi: Even if these were really successful technically, we don't have the political will to wean ourselves off of foreign oil unless big oil isn't sitting at the table, unless we have campaign finance reform.
Bill: That's the problem.
Naomi: And what's even worse about our foreign policy now is that we can't showcase the best of American values if we have to create strategic partnerships with regimes that we need for their oil, but whose human rights records—
Bill: Yes. I mean, Saudi Arabia is the center of evil in all this. I know people don't want to hear that, but it really is.
Alec: Saudi Arabia in conjunction with the Congress are the center of evil.
Bill: The Congress of the United States?
Alec: Sure, I mean, not fighting for an energy policy in which we're going to wean ourselves from this. In the wake of this event, you have tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars are gonna be committed to programs. And I think to myself, "Why don't we commit $20 billion or $25 billion to have a program to cut our consumption of oil by 20% or 25% in the next 15 years in this country?"
Daniel: Why do we need government intervention? [ Light applause ]
Daniel: The automobile companies are going in this direction on their own.
Bill: You've got to be kidding.
Naomi: You know that they can't possibly—
Bill: I just read this. They said they had to postpone.
Daniel: You read to me about electric cars. You didn't read to me about hybrids.
Bill: Hybrid, you know what, I'm trying to get one. I'm trying to sell this thing. They don't have one for me yet, okay?
Daniel: It's not an easy technology.
Naomi: You're mistaken. The technology exists.
Maher: It doesn't have be easy if we are serious about being independent and not getting the oil cheap at any price.
Daniel: It's taking a few years to develop this.
Maher: It doesn't have to be easy.
Daniel: And by bringing in the government, you're only gonna mess it up. You know that.
Bill: Oh, please.
Daniel: You know that bringing in the government will mess it up. You know that. It's always the case.
Alec: That's a kind of a tired tone you have. We don't know that. Why don't you share with us why you think the government's gonna mess it up.
Tell us why you think that.
Daniel: Well, I mean, let's take the Postal Service versus FedEx.
Daniel: Let's take any kind of government service versus private enterprise, and almost invariably, there are a few exceptions I grant you, the government messes it up. I don't want the government doing this.
Naomi: It's extraordinary to share a conservative argument at a time like this, because when the nation is under threat we all understand that there are some things only government can do, like security at airports, for example.
Daniel: What are you talking about? [ Scattered applause ] Why do you assume that government can only do security at airports?
Naomi: Well, I think that it's a debate right now that's heading in the direction of more government control.
Daniel: Okay, but you're assuming that the government is the only—
Alec: When you let the airline industry and the airline lobby influence how the security contracts were gonna be awarded now and how much money was gonna be spent, you have people that are working for $4 an hour at airports.
Daniel: Let me remind you that Logan Airport at Boston has the worst security in the country. And why does it have it? Because of United and American Airlines or because of a terribly patronage ridden hierarchy in the political—you know, the political bosses at Logan Airport are completely incompetent. If you want incompetence go to the government.
Maher: But this can be corrected. It doesn't have to be bad on its own. I think the center of evil, I guess, is the culture of consumerism. I think we are trained to get what we want at any price as fast as we can. From whichever way.
Daniel: What's the alternative?
Maher: The alternative is to be more serious. If we want really to be independent we do what independents did. To be a little bit austere. We don't have to go from 0 to 60 in five seconds.
Maher: We can drive slower than what you are driving. And we can affect it in the interest of our country at large.
Daniel: It may not be important for you, Doctor, not to go from 0 to 60, but it's important for others. Would you like others to decide—
Bill: Aren't we in a new world today where we're supposed to be patriotic? You mean going from 0 to 60, that's on your priority list ahead of our security.
Daniel: Wait a minute. You're putting words in my mouth.
Bill: You just said, "It may not be important to you, Doc, to go from 0 to 60, but for some of us it is job one, and everything else can take a backseat."
Daniel: I didn't say that.
Alec: Let me ask you this question.
Daniel: Don't you decide for someone else. [ Light applause ]
Alec: Let me ask you this question. You think if it's important for some people to go 0 to 60 they should go 0 to 60 if that's in the interest of free enterprise. But do you believe attorney/client privilege is sacred?
Daniel: I do, in general, yes.
Alec: In general. Do you think that right now the government should have the right in the wartime to—
Daniel: I do indeed, yes.
Alec: Oh, you do. So you think attorney/client privilege is a little less significant than the right to go 0 to 60.
Daniel: If you could show to me that 0 to 60 --
Alec: You're coming across that way whether you realize it or not.
Daniel: Let me explain what I do think.
Alec: I'm eager to have you explain.
Daniel: You're gonna hear it. [ Laughter ] 0 to 60, if you can convince me that that was getting in the way of stopping terrorism—
Alec: Our dependence on oil and our need to destabilize countries in that area is getting in our way.
Naomi: Jeopardizing our security again and again and has for decades.
Alec: All of what we're going through right now wouldn't happen if it weren't for our dependence on oil.
Bill: How can you, obviously a really smart guy, not make the connection that Middle East oil funds terrorism.
Daniel: It sure does.
Bill: Every time you're giving money to the people who give you oil they're putting some of it back into the terrorism. Now, what connection—how much do I—where do I have to put the thing in there, doc? [ Laughter ] What are you missing there? What is the connection?
Maher: Even without putting the thing in, or out—[ Laughter ]
Alec: What are you doing after the show? [ Laughter ]
Maher: I'm a doctor.
Bill: That's why they call him Dr. Hathout. [ Light laughter ]
Maher: I think it is at least funding the dictatorship. Again, it's not a Democratic revolution in that area of the world.
Naomi: That's absolutely right.
Maher: To say the least, and make us look very hypocritical.
Maher: Speaking democracy one way and hugging every dictator in the world on the other way.
Naomi: And it shows why we're having such a difficult time making the case about our values and what we believe in to the Muslim world.
Daniel: Glad that everybody agrees.
Bill: I have to take a break. We'll be back. [ Applause ]
Bill: All right, we're talking about really what's real and what's not. Let's talk a little bit about our policy here with President Bush. What he does constantly—I think it's a good thing—is he poses with a lot of Muslim Americans and makes the point that this is not a war against Islam, which is true. On the other hand, we are fighting people who are all in that religion and that religion is, I think, being yanked frightfully toward the far right and the 7th century without a lot of opposition in the religion.
Okay, it turns out some of the people he has posed with wind up having contacts really with terrorists. I don't know if this person was, but there's a professor at South Florida university—he's Palestinian. He organized an Islamic think tank on the campus, sponsored such visitors as Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, who was the architect of the first World Trade Center bombing, and Hassan Turabi, who, I think, was the guy who, in the Sudan, invited bin Laden to stay there when he was in the Sudan.
He's also said things like "Death to Israel." We do live in a country where we prize free speech, but how far do we go catering to that cherished notion? All right, next question. [ Laughter ]
Maher: How far we go? Really, seriously, about—if a guy is investigated or not, if he is investigated and is cleared by the FBI, he has every right like every other American citizen to speak out his mind whether it is popular or not. I think this is the essence of democracy. This is why a person like me uprooted himself from where he came to live here.
Maher: And if we lose the America that we are trying to protect and the end of our protective attitude, we find no America, or no America that we know. But I think it would be—
Bill: But this is wartime. I mean, free speech is not absolute.
Naomi: No, Dr. Hathout is so right. If you've gone back and looked at like "Life" magazines or the kind of culture that came out of Hollywood in 1942, it's all happy faces, it's all smiling people going off to war. Very soon thereafter World War II, there was a crackdown on intellectuals, anyone who lived in the margins of society, who had a different lifestyle with—no longer welcome in the community.
Bill: There probably weren't smiling faces among the Japanese that they threw into internment camps.
Naomi: Right, but that wasn't part of what people got to see in the United States. All I'm saying is, well, we have to make some tough calls right now about national security and about civil rights. At the same time, I agree with Dr. Hathout that we've absolutely got to cherish descent and listen to people who are saying that we have to debate. [ Applause ] Even about the things that are uncomfortable.
Bill: But this guy is having visits by terrorists themselves. Doesn't that go past—?
Alec: There's free speech, and there's something beyond it. I mean, if one wants to debate what the U.S. Government should be doing—Afghanistan, Iraq, and so forth—that's perfectly legitimate. But when you have people who are in contact, as you pointed out, with terrorists who are rooting for the terrorists, then you got a problem, and that, I think, goes beyond free speech. And to go back to the original point, Bill, about the president meeting with these characters who are, essentially, on the other side, that's a terrible mistake, and I'm hopeful that's not a mistake you'll be repeating.
Naomi: We're not suggesting saying there should be support for terrorist activities. We're saying that in a democracy under threat, like democracies under threat all over the world, have more experience with this. There's a constant struggle between security and upholding civil rights and free speech, and we need to be grown-ups and wage that war every single day to make sure that we don't stifle dissident, unpopular views get heard as well.
Maher: There is a terrible generalization and oversimplification here. He said he is inviting characters. By the way, I was one of those characters. I am not a terrorist.
Alec: You are someone who supports—
Maher: I do not support terror.
Alec: You support—[ All talking at once ] I've got to quote. I've got to quote.
Daniel: He's got to quote.
Alec: "L.A. Times." I'll give you a little bit of background. Early August 1998, two American embassies in East Africa get destroyed. The United States then retaliates in Sudan and Afghanistan. Dr. Hathout, two weeks later, tells "The Los Angeles Times," "Our country is committing an act of terrorism. What we did was illegal, immoral, inhuman, unacceptable, stupid and un-American. Worse—the American attacks on the Afghan and Sudanese targets were worse than what the terrorists had done."
Maher: May I respond?
Daniel: You know what? I can do it for you. You don't make a very good point for your case. That is free speech. That isn't terrorism. That's just criticizing our government's tactics. [ Applause ]
Alec: You're putting words in my mouth again. I didn't say—I didn't say he doesn't have free speech. He can say—what I'm talking about is the president shouldn't be meeting with a character like this.
Maher: Let me tell you what—let me tell you what I said. A character like this won't accuse me falsely. What I said is bombing a therapeutic factory, a medicine factory in Sudan, that could not be connected to any cell of terrorists with the testimonial President Carter himself, is immoral, illegal and un-American. [ All talking at once ]
Bill: Arianna Huffington said the same thing. [ All talking at once ]
Alec: But I just figured out something. [ Turns to Daniel Pipes ] You're not really a professor, are you? [ Laughter ] You were in a movie with me back in 1989. I remember you. You're not a doctor. You're an actor posing as a doctor.
Bill: He's a character, but he's a character playing a character. [ Applause ]
Alec: Wait a second. But the problem is—one of the problems is when you obviously get into free speech issues, when are people saying things that sound treasonous or subversive or they're rooting for the enemy or whatever you said? When do those things become viewed as dangerous and actionable by the government, and then, what's the next thing that they decide is dangerous and actionable by people in this country? This thing—this attorney/client privilege thing that Ashcroft has cooked up is the most chilling thing I've heard in my life. When he opened his mouth and said that I thought—there you go. I knew it was going to be in 60 days or 90 days or a year or something. Inside of a year—
Daniel: What's your problem with it? What's your problem with it?
Alec: What's my problem with what, of violating attorney/client privileges? It's unconstitutional. It's unconstitutional.
Daniel: It says in the Constitution that there is attorney/client privilege?
Alec: No, but it's been ruled as an interpretation of the Constitution.
Daniel: Well, then you can rule a different kind of interpretation, can't you? When there's time of war, when you're afraid that those clients might be signaling through their lawyers new acts of terrorism.
Alec: You can try, but, hopefully, most Americans, which I think don't agree with Ashcroft. They think it's an idiotic idea.
Daniel: I don't think it's idiotic if it's gonna protect me.
Alec: Of course, you don't think it's idiotic. [ All talking at once ] [ Applause ]
Daniel: You know what? [ Turns to Alex Baldwin ] I don't think you're an actor. I think you're a professor. [ Laughter ]
Bill: All right. Well, I'm the host, so I have to take a break. We'll be back. [ Applause ]
Bill: Not funny. [ Laughter ] All right, let's talk a little bit about what happened today. Yesterday, they took Kabul. Or Ka-bull. What is it, Kabul or Ka-bull, doc?
Maher: It is Kabul.
Bill: Kabul. Okay. And it rhymes with "Rubble," how fitting. [ Laughter ] And we're celebrating this, I guess. But I don't know if it's something to be celebrated so much because it seems like the Taliban just went away to their caves. We've actually smoked them into their holes now. Which may be—[ Light laughter ] Which may be the kind of war that they want to fight. And to them maybe this is really day one of the real war.
Daniel: Kabul has a symbolic importance. And he who controls Kabul, in a sense, is the ruler of Afghanistan. And the fact that the Taliban disappeared.
Bill: No. The Russians weren't. They controlled Kabul.
Daniel: They controlled Afghanistan symbolically. They didn't control it in fact.
Bill: Well, what good is that?
Daniel: But the point is, it is very prestigious within Afghanistan to control Kabul. And it is an extraordinary development that the Taliban walked away.
Bill: And that's what we're after there is prestige?
Daniel: Yeah, it is.
Alec: But a question I have for you is what is something we need to know about the Northern Alliance? Now, if they do indeed secure the country and they do indeed lock down this country, whether we kill bin Laden or not, which I hope we do. I'd love to go—
Maher: I hope we get him one way or the other, no doubt about it, because it would save lots of people lots of grief and lots of life. But controlling Kabul, even symbolically, is not the end of the story because the history of Afghanistan is what they call retreat, counterattack kind of guerilla war that we call it.
Bill: And this Northern Alliance.
Maher: I felt great relief to see people celebrating in Kabul for the first time and smiling and cheering.
Alec: And shaving.
Maher: And acting the way they'd like to act. How long is it going to last, we don't know. And what kind of behavior Northern Alliance will behave we don't know either, because they have a bloody history also in Afghanistan.
Naomi: They do. I wanted to say, you know, when we consider whether to celebrate or not, I moderated a panel about Afghani women, and a woman who would only be identified by her first name because the risk to her life to testify said that she fears for women in Afghanistan under the Northern Alliance because of their history of the three pillars of war—rape, looting, and um—
Bill: Something else real bad. [ Laughter ]
Alec: That's why I questioned you. Will things get better when the Northern Alliance forces get this hold, and are things better for Americans militarily or are they better for Afghanis?
Daniel: They're celebrating in Herat and in Kabul. People are just delighted. Why don't you take that as a testimony in itself?
Alec: I don't think anything I seen on TV is a testimony to anything. [ Laughter and applause ]
Naomi: We have yet to hear from women because as we're building this nation, um, Bush is reaching out to warlords of the past who are all universally male and he's not including women in leadership.
Daniel: These are not Jeffersonian Democrats. Nothing is gonna be as bad as the Taliban.
Bill: No, that's true.
Daniel: The Taliban was a hideous regime. We can agree on that.
Naomi: Not if we're gonna reach out and build a new society in Afghanistan. Women, who are the majority of people, majority of citizens, if we want to show what we stand for we need to be included and have a seat at the table. [ Applause ]
Bill: I gotta take a break. I just want to say, give war a chance. It works sometimes. We'll be back. [ Applause ]
Bill: All right, there's Naomi's book, Misconceptions. And to the F Troops of the Northern Alliance, we salute you. And those you're about to murder. [ Applause ]
Dec. 7, 2011 update: Announcing to the world that he is not just a boor with me, Alec Baldwin got kicked off an American Airlines plane. The incident:
Without mentioning the "30 Rock" star by name, the airline said an "extremely vocal customer" declined to turn off his phone when asked to do so by a flight attendant. The customer then stood up "with the seat belt light still on for departure" and took his phone into the plane's lavatory, the company continued.
"He slammed the lavatory door so hard, the cockpit crew heard it and became alarmed, even with the cockpit door closed and locked," the airline's post said.
The passenger was extremely rude to the crew, calling them inappropriate names and using offensive language," it continued. "Given the facts above, the passenger was removed from the flight and denied boarding."
Nov. 26, 2013 update: More boorishness from Baldwin, both on the street and in the television studio:
MSNBC has pulled the plug on Baldwin's Friday night show "Up Late," the network confirmed to POLITICO. The show was suspended earlier this month after Baldwin made an anti-gay slur at a photographer on the streets of New York. … Baldwin apologized in a statement on MSNBC.com, but some reports said that Baldwin had a rocky relationship with MSNBC well before the slur incident.