Roundtable: Katrina, Buchanan's Call for Impeachment

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Wednesday's topics: the devastation and lawlessness in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina; Pat Buchanan's attack on President Bush's immigration policy; and blacks from other countries gaining prestige at U.S. universities. Guests: George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; Callie Crossley, a social and cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press in Boston; and Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of the Northstar Network.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

On today's Roundtable, Venezuela's president wants to give poor US communities a break on heating oil prices, and we'll take a look at what Katrina means to those who weren't in the eye of the storm. Joining us from our member station WGBH in Boston, Callie Crossley, a social-cultural commentator on the television show "Beat the Press," which airs in Boston. Walter Fields, CEO and publisher of thenorthstarnetwork.com, joins us from New York at WKIS, that's KISS-FM. And George Curry, editor in chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service, joins us from Maryland.

Folks, we want to talk a little bit about the further devastation of Katrina. We dedicated our entire A segment to it, obviously, and the human toll and what those cities are going through. But, by extension, we are going to see, and quite frankly over the last couple of days have already seen, because of the oil that comes out of that region, an increase at the gas pumps, and we're going to see it this winter. Walter Fields, in what already seemed to be a ridiculous climb in oil prices, this is going to further devastate not only the country, but we should note the poor are being hit hardest by all of this.

Mr. WALTER FIELDS (CEO and Publisher, Northstarnetwork.com): Without a doubt, and that's one of the concerns I had when the initial reports came back, because the first reports were that New Orleans was fine, and that's because they were focusing on the French Quarter when, in fact, most of the city was under the water and most of the areas where African-Americans live were devastated.

I think you're absolutely right. The poor are going to be hit disproportionately. We're going to feel it in our pockets, for those of us who live outside of the state, because, unbeknownst to a lot of Americans, you know, oil refineries--you know, they're down in Louisiana. In fact, there's a photo in one of the newspapers--I think it was an AP photo--that ran across the country of one oil rig that broke loose and actually hit a bridge down there. So we've got a major problem. We're going to start feeling it not only in our heating oil prices but at the gas pump, also.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Social-Cultural Commentator, "Beat the Press"): Well, we don't have to start...

GORDON: Callie Crossley.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah. It's already happened.

GORDON: Yeah.

Ms. CROSSLEY: The minute that I heard about the hurricane and I started thinking about the gas, I just went out in my neighborhood, just to frankly top off my tank, and I saw that the rise had been already, incrementally, in hunks of, you know, 20 cents and a dollar in some places. And I thought, OK, now here we are in Massachusetts, and this is happening right away. They didn't even wait to see about the oil refinery that was hit there. I mean, the prices just went up immediately.

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor in Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): I think that it's important to note that, you know, when we think about New Orleans, we think about the French Quarter, the tourists, because there are so many conventions held there. But New Orleans is a very, very poor city--extremely poor, once you get outside that area. And the tragedy here is that, you know, Katrina was bad enough, but the worst damage seems to be because these levees broke. And so you got the city flooding from the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. And so once they thought they could breathe a sigh of relief, it got worse. And, of course, the poor people suffer the most.

GORDON: When we take a look at the news coverage over the course of the last 24 hours, we are seeing rampant looting going on in New Orleans, and we must say at the outset of this that what we are seeing is the snippets that are cut together by producers who determine what you see. You don't see everything. But I think it fair to say that we are seeing a disproportionate number, or a large number, I should say, of African-Americans, quite frankly, looting and pillaging. When you see this kind of thing--let's take it out of the closet for once and air the dirty laundry--it is one of those collective sighs from black America to see that kind of imagery go across the country.

Mr. FIELD: Oh, without a doubt. I mean...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Absolutely.

Mr. FIELD: ...it's something that makes you pause. You know, you feel not ashamed, but you just feel disturbed by the fact of such lawlessness during a moment of real crisis. But I think George, you know, hit upon something that we have to keep in mind. I mean, New Orleans is an impoverished city, and some of this lawlessness cannot be excused by any stretch of the imagination, but I think what you're also seeing is some sort of--some human response here in terms of people are scared for their lives right now. They have absolutely nothing--no clothes, no food. So I think, you know, you're seeing the tip of the iceberg, because as days pass by and people don't have any food, they're going to do whatever they can do to survive. So some of this, I think, can be attributable just to the desire to survive this crisis.

Mr. CURRY: I think it's hard...

Ms. CROSSLEY: I...

Mr. CURRY: ...for anybody to watch this, and you see the real devastation, and your heart goes out. And then you see people looting and you absolutely--I can't describe it another way than just plain disgust. There's--you can't explain it away. It's just plain disgust. When people need real help and fighting for their lives, people are taking advantage, exploiting that.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I absolutely agree. I would add one thing that's going on that's making it worse. I mean, this is no excuse for any of that, because I agree with what has been said, but the lack of communication--even the resource people cannot communicate with each other. So I witnessed an interview with a young man not long ago, and he was saying, `Well, the mayor should be doing this and that.' Well, those of us who have communication understand that the mayor is doing this and that, but it's not word that gets to the people. So there you are. You're already desperately poor. You don't know what's going on. It seems to be, you know, going on and on forever, and there's no word that you can count on, and you respond--I think some part of those people responded out of desperation, but I make no excuse. I'm personally mortified. I mean, you know, I'm from the credit-to-your-race generation, so this is horrific for me to look at. But there are some underpinning things going on here that make it, I think, for those people who would not normally respond in this way, to respond in this way.

Mr. CURRY: The other issue, too, is what do you do with poor people? You know, when those highways were filled with cars leaving, nobody really made provision for people in the hospitals and for the people who don't have transportation but who rely on public transportation. They're like, `Oh, let's herd them all to the Superdome,' and then you find out that that's a problem as well. In the future--and I hope we learn from this--there has to be provision, maybe buses, trains, whatever--but provision for people who do not have private transportation to get out of these areas.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I think...

Mr. FIELD: I couldn't agree with you more. I mean, they were...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yes.

Mr. FIELD: ...absolutely discounted. Those areas in New Orleans were absolutely discounted. There were no plans for those people, who they knew beforehand didn't have the means in this type of natural disaster to really fend for themselves.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I think by the time they real...

GORDON: Let us be fair, though...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah.

GORDON: ...and let me just suggest this, Callie, as we talk about this; as we look at one side in our disgust of the looters, we should note that this is one of those situations that it's easy to play Monday morning quarterback and determine what should and should not be done. And we should salute Mayor Ray Nagin, who has in the midst of all of this, in every interview that I've seen, remained calm, forthright, truthful in the circumstance and situation that his city finds himself in, and has conducted himself in a way that many people should salute, I think.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I would underscore that. I was about to say that I also give him credit for saying--first suggesting strongly, `Leave,' and then saying, `You must leave.' So we're talking about a large part of the population that couldn't leave, but he did get out most of the other people in town, so that has--cannot be discounted. That was very important. And I think...

Mr. CURRY: I'm not discounting that, Callie. I'm not discounting it, but I don't care whether Ed calls it Monday morning quarterback or Wednesday morning quarterback; you have to have some plans and it cannot be ignored because you have emergency plans, anyway. They must be part of it.

GORDON: Well, the suggestion there, though, George is...

Ms. CROSSLEY: The only thing I would say, Ed...

GORDON: ...I'm not suggesting that he did the best possible means of dealing with the situation. I don't know, quite frankly, enough of what they looked at, what the opportunities were, as the suggestion--while this came on. You are only as good as your advisers, and I think, as Walter mentioned--I think most folks--and I'm talking about experts included--thought that, because the eye of the storm did not hit New Orleans directly, as they had predicted, many people could not anticipate some of the things that have gone on.

Ms. CROSSLEY: And I would just underscore that I...

Mr. CURRY: Well, see, I'm not saying I'm going to limit my comments just to New Orleans. I'm saying it's part of regular emergency plans that should be...

GORDON: Well, no doubt about that, George.

Mr. CURRY: ...judged on ...(unintelligible).

GORDON: We agree there. There's no doubt about that.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah. And what I was going to say is I think that, overall, there were some lacking around the planning period, whether it be for those communities that were affected in a way in which they could not move quickly, but I think what's coming out now is that there was a lot of loose ends that could have been tied up, but people, I don't think, believed it was going to be as horrible as it was.

Mr. FIELD: But, see, that's the problem. New Orleans has been a disaster in the waiting. Because of the geography of this city, everyone knew that a major storm to hit this city would be devastating. So they've known this for years. I mean, everyone always said if New Orleans got hit by a Category 3 hurricane or better, the city is probably going to be gone. So I think there could have been better planning over the long haul, not just under this administration, but previous administrations. I just think that no one really took into account the difficulty in evacuating a city...

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. FIELD: ...the size of New Orleans. I mean, that's--it's a big place.

GORDON: That's right. And lest we forget--and George mentioned this in passing--the idea that we're talking about a number of cities, and one has to make sure that in all of this--because New Orleans will receive the bulk of the attention because it's New Orleans, but when you talk about Mobile, Alabama, Biloxi, Mississippi, and all of those towns in between who--that have been ravaged, and many of those people will have to build from ground up, will not have insurance money coming in and, frankly, don't have the means to do so--we are looking at a disaster that I don't think this country is ready to grapple with in terms of the size of the devastation.

Ms. CROSSLEY: I think you're absolutely...

Mr. FIELD: You're right. I mean, they're talking...

Ms. CROSSLEY: Yeah.

Mr. FIELD: ...insurance payouts of up to maybe $20 billion. And the real question is going to become whether or not it makes sense to rebuild in some of these areas, because this area is prone to these type of tropical storms and hurricanes.

GORDON: Yeah.

Mr. FIELD: And I think sooner or later the question's going to be raised whether or not you're throwing good money after bad by rebuilding in some of these areas.

GORDON: Let me turn our attention...

Mr. CURRY: Yeah.

GORDON: ...to a headline that becomes even more prevalent because of what we've just been talking about, and that's that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has suggested that his government wants to sell as much as 66,000 barrels a day of heating fuel to the United States through Citgo, but they want to sell it to the poor communities in the United States. This offer was made after talking to Jesse Jackson, who went down to talk to President Chavez and also talked, obviously, about the comments that we reported last week of the assassination called for by Pat Robertson. That being said, the plans of the sale of this fuel have not been worked out, and one has to believe it would not be an easy thing to do, but is this something that the Bush administration cannot now afford to scoff at and balk at, if you believe that they would have done so prior to the devastation that we've seen?

Mr. CURRY: I think they will. I mean, you know, we--`Have Jesse will travel,' obviously, is part of this, because he's, you know, talking to black communities, poor communities and the like. But I don't that, as a policy standpoint, the Bush administration would say you can give--sell gasoline and then determine where it's going to be distributed to. I mean, once you get into that, you kind of open all kinds of doors. The idea is good, but I think it'd be problematic even carrying it out.

GORDON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Exactly. I couldn't agree more. And what's more, I think that if, for some reason, even in moments of desperation, they said, `OK, well, let's just get it in here and we'll figure it out,' somehow or another, it would be distributed elsewhere by the time--it would never reach its intended targets. If there were even the most minor agreement around it, I don't believe this would ever happen.

GORDON: But, Walter, it does put the president in a precarious position, because today he announced that he is going to, in fact, tap the US petroleum reserve to let out fuel that sits in reserve for situations like this. But if we see, as we're suggesting earlier, these kinds of events causing a rise in heating oil costs for the United States and, in particular, as we have already suggested, disproportionately affecting the poor, what must he say to those who won't really care where this fuel is coming from?

Mr. FIELD: Well, you know, I think it's a brilliant political stroke by Chavez. I mean, given the fact that he just underwent this attack by Pat Robertson, what do you do? You come back and you show how benevolent you can be as a leader. And I think one issue that the Bush administration will not be able to sweep away is the Gulf Coast. I mean, if Chavez says, `Look, OK, you don't want me to distribute to poor communities, but you have a real need right now in a certain part of your country; I'll send it there,' it'll be tough for this president to say no. And so I think, you know, this was a brilliant political stroke on his part. I agree with George, as a long-term policy, you know, the White House isn't going to allow someone to dictate where energy is delivered in the United States. But under the current circumstances we're seeing unfold in the Gulf Coast, I could see Chavez saying, `Well, fine. Let's send it to your area that's been hit hard by this storm. I want to help.' How do you refuse that help?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I think whatever happens, he's going to end up being a player in the conversation, which makes this a very interesting political dynamic, given that, Pat Robertson aside, there are people that really don't like this man, who are great supporters of this administration. So now you've got an administration that can't really afford, as you said, Walter, to look away from an opportunity to bring energy resources in, but at the same time doesn't want to be sitting at the table with a guy who'll get a chance to dictate some terms.

GORDON: Now we know that the heating fuel will be needed but, George, you raised an interesting point, in jest to some degree, but I know that you meant it in one way, and that's the red herring that Jesse Jackson remains, often, to administrations, whether they be Republican and Democrat, when he steps on the international stage.

Mr. CURRY: Well, you know, Jesse is--there are plus and minuses there. Certainly, you know, I've said this before; I mean, I don't think he should appear every time there's an international crisis, whether it's in Mexico or going down to Venezuela. But he does have international influence, and you see--I think it's a direct result--this proposal's a direct result of Jesse Jackson meeting with them--certainly that. But still, I go back to the point it's like, you know, Jesse's kind of the ambassador at large, but when the Bush administration look at this in terms of policy--or any other president, I think--they're simply saying, `Look, even though you supply 15 percent of our energy imports, we can't have you telling us how it's going to be distributed.' I just don't see them ever going for that.

GORDON: Problematic, Walter Fields, in the sense that Jesse can go down, have the photo op, have this brought up, but, as you laid out, doesn't have to administer the plan after the fact.

Mr. FIELD: Well, you know, it is problematic, and it's also interesting that because we have a major corporation that would have to be the intermediary in this--I mean, you know, there's a whole 'nother realm of politics in this country. So I think it is problematic, and I think it's always problematic for a sitting administration when you have a private citizen who is recognized worldwide by leaders, who gets into these sort of negotiations that aren't officially sanctioned by the United States government. What do you do with a person like that? You can't easily dismiss them, because they do carry a degree of credibility out there in the international community. But at the same time, they're not a part of the official US government structure, so it puts...

GORDON: Cal...

Mr. FIELD: ...any president in an awkward position.

GORDON: Callie, with about 30 seconds.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I would say it's even worse than that because this is somebody he doesn't respect, and also most of the people who support him don't respect, so it makes it doubly a problem for him--Bush, I mean.

GORDON: All right. All right. Callie Crossley joins us from Boston, Walter Fields from New York and George Curry from the fine state of Maryland. I thank you all for joining us and, again, we send our best wishes to those who've been devastated by the events of Katrina, and we will continue to cover that story as it unfolds throughout the week.

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