Roundtable: Shiite Shrine Bombing, NCAA Lawsuit

Topics include: increased ethnic violence in Iraq following the bombing of a Shiite Shrin, and a look at New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin's re-election campaign. Guests: George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service; Brown University professor Glenn C. Loury, and Republican Strategist Tara Setmayer.

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TONY COX, host:

This is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Tony Cox. On today's roundtable: the attack on a sacred Shiite shrine in Iraq fuels new violence in the country. We'll talk about that and other developments from the war zone, and we'll also preview the upcoming mayoral election in New Orleans, where all eyes are on that beleaguered city.

To help us sort through it all is our distinguished panel. Joining us now: from our headquarters in Washington, D.C., Republican strategist Tara Setmayer. Tara, nice to have you back.

Ms. TARA SETMAYER (Republican Strategist): Thank you.

COX: At member station MBUR in Boston, Glenn Loury, professor of the social sciences and professor of economics at Brown University. Nice to talk to you, Professor.

Professor GLENN LOURY (Social Sciences and Economics, Brown University): Hello, Tony.

COX: And lastly, George Curry, editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service who is at member station KUNI in Cedar Falls, Iowa. George, what are you doing in Iowa?

Mr. GEORGE CURRY (Editor-in-Chief, National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service): Give... Well, I was giving a speech last night, and so I'm going to head back to D.C. here today.

COX: Nice to have you.

Mr. CURRY: Had a good time out here.

COX: It's nice to have you back with us, George.

Mr. CURRY: Thank you.

COX: All right, let's talk about Iraq first. The attack, of course, on Wednesday of a sacred mosque has triggered outrage in Iraq, violence erupting near Baghdad. Officials say at last count more than 130 people have been killed, including a popular Iraqi television journalist-who, by the way, was Sunni herself.

Now, President Bush has the called the attack, as others have, evil and said it was meant to divide the Iraqi people. Now, he spoke about this specifically at a press conference yesterday. Here's what he had to say.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We-we believe in free-freedom to worship, and I understand the consternation and concern of Iraqi Shiites when they see this most holy site destroy--wantonly destroyed. I appreciate very much the leaders, from all aspects of Iraqi society, that have stood up and urged for there to be calm.

COX: So Tara, let me come to you first. Is this the first shot fired, so to speak, of a civil war?

Ms. SETMAYER: I think that's what al-Qaeda would hope. It's not secret that al-Qaeda was behind this, and it seems like it was an act of desperation. We've been in positions like this before where we were concerned that Iraq would fall into civil war. After the Desert Storm conflict, that was another concern: Will Iraq fall into civil war? And they did not.

People need to understand that this mosque housed holy tombs of both Sunnis and Shiites, so the Sunni and Shiite leaders have called for calm. Al-Sistani called for seven--a seven day mourning period, and he said, please don't let the Takfaris---which are those who accuse of other Muslims of being infidels--do not let these Takfaris sow seeds of sedition, and that's the message that they need to portray and get across to the Iraqi people because this is something that--civil war really doesn't benefit anyone. The Shiites already have power without civil war, the Sunnis couldn't win it anyway, and the Kurds are going to stay out of it because they want to focus on building their own homeland, so civil war really doesn't benefit anyone.

COX: But, Glenn, as you look at the television pictures coming out of the area, it certainly would seem like civil war is--we're right at the brink of it. Wouldn't you agree?

Prof. LOURY: Yes, I would, and people have been saying that for some time. Low-grade civil war has been ongoing there for some time. This is a tragic situation. I can't help but feel just great sadness for the suffering of the Iraqi people. It looks like we're reaping the whirlwind over there. This is not a situation that can be managed from Washington. I mean, one just stands in awe of the monumental arrogance of the people who led us in there, thinking that they could manage this situation and not thinking deeply about what it was going to be. We can only hope that a government can emerge that can actually govern in that country. But I can't help but point out here, that there was a stable secular regime--brutal, brutal but secular--in power. We deposed it, and now we're witnessing religious war and possible civil and sectarian war breaking out there, and that is on our heads because that's a situation that we created over there.

COX: What do you think, George. It sounds like Glenn is saying that the United States is sort of at the basis of all of this.

Mr. CURRY: Well, I'm sure Glenn can speak for himself. What I heard, was, though, that we underestimated what we're getting into. Remember, Rumsfeld gave the idea that we would be greeted with citizens waving flags and welcoming... We've been greeted with bombs instead. I think this points at the problem that we're going to continue to have there, and that is--you're going to have a problem of trying to have who's going to govern this very, very divided nation. And Glenn is right. You can't manage that from Washington, and we're in a much more complicated situation than we realize, and this is just the beginning of it.

COX: Let me come back to you to be fair, Glenn. Did I put words in your mouth? Or did I understand you correctly?

Prof. LOURY: Well, no. I'm not saying we're the ones who blew up the mosque or anything like that, and I agree that al-Qaeda's probably in there, but we created that. We stirred a hornet's nest over there is what I'm saying, and I'm saying we're in deep doo-doo.

COX: Tara, let me ask you, all of you, actually, but to begin with Tara: What do you think the U.S. response, militarily, should be? So far there hasn't been one. Should there and can there be one that could be effective in this?

Ms. SETMAYER: Well, I think the U.S. military response needs to continue to be one of assistance to the Iraqi troops over there. This is something that United States cannot manage. It is something that is going on within that country, and this morning, the Special Forces captured one of the top al-Qaeda leaders over there in Iraqi--he's one of the number one bomb makers. The Special Forces made that capture and killed him--actually, they killed him, excuse me--this morning. So the U.S. forces in a more of a shadow capacity are doing their jobs as far rooting out these individuals.

But something else that needs to be understood is that the Sunni tribal leaders in al-Anbar province have begin to turn against the foreign fighters that are infiltrating the insurgency there because they realize that this is beginning to wreak havoc over there, and it's not to their benefit, and the assassination of a local Sunni tribal leader was the impetus for this turnabout, but they're going to realize that the al-Qaeda foreign fighters that are coming in and fueling this insurgency is not to the benefit of anyone over there, and hopefully cooler heads will prevail.

COX: Glenn and...

Mr. CURRY: I think we have to be careful when we hear these reports about capture, or our capturing top leaders. I mean, how many do they have? You remember, I was in Dohar(ph) Cutter(ph) at the beginning of the war, and I remember they brought over these cards that we found the King of Spades, we found the Ace of Diamonds and saying, oh, we've gotten basically the top leadership, and then what happens? Another whole cadre comes up and replaces them. First of all, I don't think they, obviously, have gotten all the top ones. We're still talking about trying to find Osama bin Missing, and you know, so I really don't give much credence to this report that we just got another top leader when there's actually... So what If you do, you still don't see a basic change in the war.

COX: So Glenn, what about this U.S. response, militarily, before we go on to another topic? It seems to me that there must be some role that the U.S. must figure out how to play, militarily, in this.

Prof. LOURY: I don't know. I don't know how... I mean, we can try to support the government in its effort to maintain basic security--and I assume there are some clandestine operations ongoing--but should this situation overflow into generally broadly encountered violence across the country between Shiite and Sunni, I don't that there is a military solution to that situation. We're not going to get involved in that civil war.

COX: All right. Well, we'll have to see how it plays out.

Let's move on to another topic, here, closer to home in New Orleans. A lot going on there this week. The White House issued its report, 125 recommendation on what to do right the next time a hurricane hits, hopefully one the size of Katrina will not come. Also, there's quite a bit of controversy surrounding the upcoming mayoral election in April between Ray Nagin and now the Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu.

Let's start talking about the White House report and the recommendations because in June, I guess, the next hurricane season hits. Glenn, what do you see about the report? What's your response to what the White House has said?

Prof. LOURY: Well, what can they say? I mean, we accept responsibility. Things weren't done as well as they should be done, failure of coordination between agencies, ineffective leadership. All of that's true.

I just might add, about the New Orleans' situation, though, I think a great experiment is unfolding there. I mean, many cities might wish that they could have a massive--the city fathers, I should say--evacuation of their poor. New Orleans has actually experienced that, and it's going to tell us a lot, not only about the city, but about the country. The extent to which those people who were dispossessed and who don't have any claim in the city are able to - if they are--reestablish a voice and a place at the table and the future of the city.

COX: Let me just let the audience know that, in fact, we're going to be hearing from Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson a little bit later in this program on that very subject. But back to the report and its ramifications for New Orleans. George, what do you see?

Mr. CURRY: Well, I mean, the problem with these reports are they're written, they're well thought out, but they're poorly implemented. I mean, there were reports--I remember reading at least two--prior to Katrina, which not only predicted that this could happen, a disaster could happen, but also had plans for removing the poor out of the city. Written plans they had already in place, but they weren't implemented. So if you want to have these reports and report after report--and the local newspaper there had also done a series talking about the problem with the levies--if we're going to not do anything about it, it really doesn't matter. I've kind of sick of seeing all these reports and they're not really acted upon, so if this is going to join the other shelf of reports we've had before and don't have proper follow-up, it doesn't do any good.

COX: What about that, Tara. Is this just another pile of paper?

Ms. SETMAYER: Well, I think that the House report that came out last week was actually be more credible and gave more specific examples actually pointed a little more blame and because this came from the White House and the title of this report was, Lessons Learned. It's almost like the series of reports, I think there's three that are going to come out, I think a Senate report's still pending. The first, the House report with Failure of Initiative, the White House report was Lessons Learned, and I'll be interested to see what the third report is about.

I think that the White House report was a little redundant and I think people aren't going to give as much credibility to this report as they would from a House report where Republicans were actually criticizing Republicans. And the House report pointed out, and it was the first report done, and I think these reports are necessary in an investigative capacity to come up with plans and solutions on how to avoid it. You know, that's why I think that the Democrat leadership called for an independent commission and then that becomes a waste of paper because we didn't have, we don't have all this time to go through two years of reports, like it took the September 11 commission, to come out with a report. We cannot stop Mother Nature and things need to be, need to happen now.

At the time when Hurricane Katrina hit, FEMA had 500 vacant positions. They had eight out of 10 regional directors in an acting capacity. These things are immediate areas that can be remedied that we need to fix. We need to consider moving FEMA out from under the Department of Homeland Security. I think that's a valid suggestion.

TONY COX: Okay.

SETMAYER: FEMA may need to be its own agency.

COX: Now you mentioned lessons learned, that's a good, a good segway into talking about the mayor, Ray Nagin in terms of lessons learned or lessons that perhaps could have and should have been learned from this experience. Because now he is facing a very serious challenger for a job that some assumed a year ago that was his to have, and now there's a big question about that, George Curry.

Mr. CURRY: Well, I mean, he has about, last count, 10 or 11 opponents, so, with Landrieu of course being the major on. I think there's a little change of Nagin being re-elected. I mean, let's not forget he got in office the first time as the "establishment" candidate. After Americans for the most part did not support him, now he's almost got an outright appeal to them and you don't have the same base there.

You've got New Orleans spread all over the country and unlike people in Iraq who can vote here at polls, they can't even vote here, so, which is a serious question that needs to be dealt with. But it does not look good for him and not only just in New Orleans, look at the state. You're seeing rural legislators saying this is a power grab, you know, all the concentration has been in New Orleans, now we can shift it to the rural lawmakers. And that's also part of this whole mix. So it's going to be a real scramble but I really don't think the thing is well for the Nagin at all.

COX: Let me ask you, Glenn Loury, because as I read some of the comments that Mitch Landrieu made on his announcement that he was running for office, I'm wondering, are these code words for something else? For example, he says, he promised to "change the DNA of government." Here's another one, he says, if we're going to succeed in the 21st century economy, we have to have the brains, we have to be smart. Are these code words for something else with regard to that race between him and Nagin, although there are others in the race as well?

Mr. Loury: Probably. I mean, I don't want to accuse Landrieu of racism or anything like that. But of course, there's a subtext here of competency which is related to race. This whole unfolding tragic, profound event down there has been a big kind of dramatic stage on which we've been acting out different kind of racial stuff. So yeah, the Mayor, he came out, he said we'll be a chocolate city again. Many people I'm sure have said in reference to all the governmental incompetence that, you know, this particular guy being black, what would you expect, et cetera, et cetera. I heard two business men in the airport lounge referring to that idiot mayor in New Orleans, I might say white business men, but you know. So sure, it's probably a little bit of coded speech.

COX: You have something you want to add to that, Tara, before we go into our next topic?

SETMAYER: Yeah, you know, New Orleans has in the past had a tendency to re-elect incumbents despite their popularity or lack thereof. But I don't think that's going to be the case this time with Mayor Nagin. What's interesting about this is that you, New Orleans hasn't had a white mayor since 1978.

COX: That's right.

SETMAYER: And in this race, you only have one other black challenger and that's Reverend Watson, who may steal some of that appeal away from Mayor Nagin as far as the black factor. Unfortunately, Reverend Watson doesn't have the war chest that Mayor Nagin does or Mitch Landrieu will eventually I'm sure, based on his name recognition, since he is the brother of Senator Mary Landrieu.

You also have another individual, Ron Foreman, who has a considerable amount of money. But he's considered to be the pick of the elitist because he's rather aligned with Mayor Nagin and his beliefs, his wife works in the Nagin administration down there, well, she just resigned from there. And he supports Mayor Nagin's, the black renewal renaissance plan in New Orleans. And so there's a lot of different factors going on here. I think it's going to be a fascinating race.

COX: We're not going to have enough time to get into the last subject as fully as I would like because we've only got about a minute. But I just wanted to share it with the audience that the Supreme Court decided in favor of a woman who was injured after stumbling over letters and packages that were left on her front porch. And the court ruled that she could sue the post office for her injuries. So where do you leave, where do you get you mail, you all? Do you have a post office box, you have a hole in the front door, you get your mail on the front porch?

SETMAYER: Well I don't get ...

LOURY: Well, I'm not going to get mine on the front porch because [unintelligible] milkman doesn't do that no more.

SETMAYER: I get mine in a locked mailbox, but this case is interesting because it's about the definition of the negligent transmission of mail, which is what it boils down to.

COX: Which is true.

SETMAYER: Because federal workers have sovereign immunity, but the federal torts claims act has allowed for a broader waiver of the definition of sovereign immunity. And in this case, the Supreme Court said, we believe that transmission stops at delivery.

COX: That's right.

SETMAYER: Doesn't include delivery. That's why this has been allowed to proceed.

COX: And that's where we're going to have to bring it to an end. Be careful where you put your mail and be careful where you step when you go to get your mail.

In Washington, D.C., Republican strategist, Tara Setmayer, at member station WBUR, Boston, Glenn Loury, Professor of the Social Sciences and the Professor of Economics at Brown University; and George Curry, Editor in Chief of The International Newspaper for Publisher's Association News Service, who is visiting the wonderful state of Iowa. Thanks to you all for being with us, we'll talk to you next week.

CURRY: Thank you.

SETMAYER: Thank you.

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