THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP HOST: JOHN MCLAUGHLIN PANEL: PATRICK BUCHANAN, MSNBC; ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK; MONICA CROWLEY, WASHINGTON TIMES; MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC TAPED: FRIDAY, JANUARY 28, 2011 BROADCAST: WEEKEND OF JANUARY 29-30, 2011
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MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Issue One: Revolt on the Nile.
The eruption in Egypt is continuing. Thousands of Egyptians took to the streets this week in protest against the Egyptian regime. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been in power for more than 30 years. The demonstrators call Mubarak corrupt and dictatorial. They demand he step down. Mohamed ElBaradei, famed former head of the IAEA, International Atomic Energy Agency, flew to his native Cairo to lead the protests. ElBaradei is calling for Mubarak to resign.
MOHAMED ELBARADEI (former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency): (From videotape.) I've said a number of times that the right for peaceful demonstration is an absolute right of every Egyptian, of every human being. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: President Obama on Thursday stepped into the debate about Egypt.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) President Mubarak has been very helpful on a range of tough issues in the Middle East. But I've always said to him that making sure that they are moving forward on reform -- political reform, economic reform -- is absolutely critical to the long-term well-being of Egypt.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: ElBaradei, by the way, is now under house arrest.
Question: What set the stage for Egypt's protests? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, the Egyptian situation -- they've got a virtual dictatorship over there. The young people -- and there's enormous numbers of them -- don't have much opportunity. There's food problems and things. But what set it off was the Tunisian revolt. Ben Ali, the dictator for 23 years, was dumped over by street mobs and took off and left. And this thing has metastasized across the Middle East.
But the key country, John, as you mentioned, is Egypt, a country of 80 million people. And right now it's going to end, I think, one of two ways. Mubarak's era is over. Either he flies out of there or he gets out of there at the end of this year. His son will not be elected president. Or I think the army will have to crush the demonstrators.
As of Friday there were not only riots, but they were burning headquarters of political institutions. And surely they've gotten a lot of hardline guys in there that are doing rough things, I think, to provoke a Tiananmen Square.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What set the stage for this?
MS. CLIFT: Well, what set the stage is, first of all, decades of economic stagnation and political repression. But the more immediate spark, really, were the protests in Tunisia, which toppled the government. And you have the same kind of critical mass of young, mostly unemployed men, although there are women also in these protests; people who are educated without jobs.
This does not look like the angry Muslim Brotherhood radicals at all. This looks like a wide swath of the population that was simply fed up. And I think it's really risky to predict how this is going to unfold. I would like to think that Mubarak will stop and not use brutal force against his people, although some have been killed already. And I think the White House, the administration, is trying to talk to him and convince him to pledge to do some reforms and sort of let off some steam. We may be past the point where that's possible. I think it's time for Mubarak to go, and it's also time for the U.S. to more closely align its foreign policy with the ideals that we supposedly stand for.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Can you speak to the relationship between Egypt and Israel?
MS. CROWLEY: They signed a peace treaty in the late 1970s, and that peace treaty is still in effect. So --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What did it convey?
MS. CROWLEY: It conveyed a laying down of arms between Israel and Egypt.
Look, these protests have already -- even though we seem to be in the early stages of this, they've already gone through a number of different phases. This really did start out as a spontaneous, pro- democracy, pro-economic liberalization and development, pro-human rights kind of movement in Tunisia, and actually did start that way in Egypt as well.
But what you're seeing now has gotten very murky, because Islamist groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, have now seen a real opportunity in the chaos to try to get in there, organize it, and try to ride this thing to power, to control.
There's also a theory that perhaps the army in Egypt, which is the critical entity in Egypt, actually disagrees with Mubarak's decision to hand over power to his son, Gamal. They reject Gamal. And there's a theory here that the army actually has been instigating this so that they can control it and they can install somebody to succeed Mubarak who is more palatable to the army.
But the fact that you have seen this widespread kind of movement across the Middle East, not just in Tunisia and Egypt, but also you've got Jordan, you've got in Lebanon now, you've got this incredible movement that, let's remember, began nearly two years ago in Iran. This is actually a true vindication of President Bush's freedom agenda.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think of the implication of what she's saying, that this is going to incite other nations over there to do likewise?
MS. BERNARD: Well, I think -- I think she's absolutely correct. I mean, this is -- you know, we have been talking about the need for reform and for democracy in Egypt and all throughout the Middle East for many, many years. They have many great human-rights activists; Saad Eddin Ibrahim, for example, in Egypt. And no matter, you know, what happens, what we know is that Egypt, and I would predict the entire Middle East, is changed forever. We've seen it happen in Tunisia. Things are happening in Yemen, Lebanon, all throughout the Middle East. And I think that this is just -- we're going to see it one country after another. You can only repress a nation for so long before the people stand up and say, "We won't take this any longer.
MR. BUCHANAN: John --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We know that --
MS. BERNARD: Thirty years in office?
MR. BUCHANAN: Anybody --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Well, Tunisia so far and now Egypt.
MR. BUCHANAN: You've got Yemen.
MS. BERNARD: Yemen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yemen also.
MR. BUCHANAN: Hezbollah is --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell me about Yemen.
MS. BERNARD: And Lebanon.
MR. BUCHANAN: All right, Yemen -- Saleh has been in power over 20 years. He is a dictator, but he is an ally in the war on terror. We're pouring money in there. They've got al Qaeda in there.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do we have troops in Yemen?
MR. BUCHANAN: You've got Special Forces in and out of Yemen and trainers in Yemen.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about across the water?
MR. BUCHANAN: Well, you mean in Somalia? You've got them there too, John. But the Hezbollah -- take a look at this. Anybody that thinks this is going to be a democratic revolution doesn't understand the fundamental forces of power there. There are two of them in Egypt. The army has the hard power and the Muslim Brotherhood has the soft power. When they had elections, the Muslim Brotherhood won 60 percent of the contested seats. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where's the Sixth Fleet?
MS. BERNARD: I think it could go democratic.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where's the Sixth Fleet?
MR. BUCHANAN: The Sixth Fleet is in the Mediterranean, where it's always been. But the king of Jordan has problems.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where's Djibouti? Where's Djibouti?
MR. BUCHANAN: Djibouti's in -- it's right next to Somalia; used to be part of it.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where is it in relation to Yemen?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's across the Red Sea.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right across the Red Sea. Are there American troops there?
MR. BUCHANAN: Americans have been in there, yes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: How many troops are in there now?
MR. BUCHANAN: I think there's a thousand.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think there's a thousand too. What do you think?
MS. CLIFT: Well, Mubarak has kept foreign aid flowing from this country because he has pushed the narrative that the only alternative to his repression is what Pat is talking about, the Muslim Brotherhood.
ElBaradei, who is Egyptian-born, is saying that there is a whole rainbow of political ideology there, and the Muslim Brotherhood is late to this protest. So I don't think we can assume that the regime we don't want will prevail.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the best thing --
MS. CLIFT: But --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the best thing that could happen?
MS. CLIFT: But we don't have any control over that.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the best thing that could happen now for the United States with regard to Egypt -- right now?
MS. CLIFT: ElBaradei to take control of a transitional government, and then everybody -- MR. BUCHANAN: Pre-election?
MS. BERNARD: Yes.
MS. CLIFT: -- can fight it out. And let the radicals have --
MR. BUCHANAN: Hey, John --
MS. CLIFT: Let the radicals have --
MR. BUCHANAN: -- take a look at Turkey.
MS. BERNARD: A peaceful transition --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: A peaceful transition.
MS. BERNARD: A peaceful transition --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To whom, ElBaradei?
MS. BERNARD: To ElBaradei.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: ElBaradei rules?
MS. BERNARD: ElBaradei ruling as an interim government; have the Egyptian government rewrite its constitution. What we want is a pro- democratic --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So he didn't find -- let me get this straight now. ElBaradei didn't find the weapons of mass destruction that he was sent in to find in Iraq, but he does find himself as leader of Egypt. Is that what happened?
MR. BUCHANAN: Here's what, John. Let me tell you, if you hold elections -- the last time they held them, the most powerful and organized forces -- look at what's happening to Turkey, the most democratic country. It is moving toward Islamism.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit --
MS. CLIFT: But we have no control.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, we've got to get out.
MS. CLIFT: We can't put that genie back in the bottle.
MR. BUCHANAN: I know we can't.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question. Did you finish your point?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's not going to be -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She didn't finish her point. I'll continue. (Laughter.)
On a political probability scale, zero to 10, what's the likelihood that Mohamed ElBaradei will be Egypt's next president -- zero to 10? Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: A good likelihood he'll be the interim president before the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's that -- six, seven, eight?
MR. BUCHANAN: Until the end of this year. Elections are in 2012, this year.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: So, what, do you think he's going to get it?
MR. BUCHANAN: He will be --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the probability -- nine?
MR. BUCHANAN: He will not win the elections. He'll be named as interim president if Mubarak goes.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interim president. That's a dodge.
MS. CLIFT: Yeah, he rigged his last election. If they have a new one, he's not going to win. (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, he's a crook?
MS. CLIFT: I think his long-time survival is like between one and two. I don't think he can reform quickly enough --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: But he --
MS. CLIFT: -- to ensure his long-term survival.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: ElBaradei as president of Egypt is in the United States' best interest right now.
MS. CLIFT: Given the choices that I'm familiar with. (Laughs.) But I'm not the last word.
MS. CROWLEY: Well, I really -- I think -- I agree that we would like to see that happen, but I don't think it's going to, because ElBaradei is a weak character and he's going up against two very intense, strong forces in Egypt, the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What makes you think he's weak?
MS. CROWLEY: He's an older, weak character who has lived the last couple of years in Vienna, for goodness' sakes.
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah.
MS. CROWLEY: So he doesn't have this fight in him. What's remarkably different about these waves of protests --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Vienna is a respectable place. (Laughter.)
MS. CROWLEY: Listen to me, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What is wrong with Vienna?
MS. CROWLEY: But it's not leadership in Cairo, okay? What has been so different about these protests is whenever we've seen mass protests in the Middle East in the past, they've always been driven by the Islamists screaming, "Death to America" or "Death to Israel." I don't think it's --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: She's dumping on Vienna. What do you think of that?
MS. BERNARD: (Laughs.) Vienna is a lovely place.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What are the odds? What are the odds that he's going to take over?
MS. BERNARD: ElBaradei -- permanently?
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MS. BERNARD: I think zero. I don't see him in there permanently. But I also don't think that we're going to have the Muslim Brotherhood come in and take over Egypt either. I think that we will see a --
MS. CROWLEY: They're very well organized, Michelle, and they have the money and the backing.
MS. BERNARD: But there has been a massive pro-democratic human- rights movement going on in Egypt for many, many, many years.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to give me a number?
MS. BERNARD: And I think there --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Probability that he'll become at least interim president. MS. BERNARD: Seven.
MR. BUCHANAN: Oh, interim president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Interim president?
MS. BERNARD: Seven. Seven, interim president.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Seven? The answer is four.
Issue Two: Forward Together.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) We will move forward together or not at all, for the challenges we face are bigger than party and bigger than politics.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What impressed you most about the State of the Union address? Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: That he managed to lay out a road map for how we can get back our competitive spirit in this country. And he did it in an optimistic way. I mean, everybody been invoking President Reagan. I think the contrast between his sort of "Yes, we can" attitude and the Republican response, which was all about how we're going the way of Greece and we're in decline, I think that the president laid out his argument for combating the Republican narrative that he doesn't believe in American exceptionalism.
This was a speech where he really extolled America and basically tried to tell the private sector to come in and get us revved up again in terms of creating jobs in a way that the government can't do.
MR. BUCHANAN: John, all right, the --
MS. CLIFT: So it was a threading of the needle between investing and deficit-cutting.
MR. BUCHANAN: The major point, John, is the disconnect between his morning-in-America rhetoric and the reality. The country is headed for a fiscal and financial crisis. We found out later in the week you've got a $1.5 trillion deficit, 10 percent of the GDP, for the third straight year. You've got all these problems there and he's talking about investments. He's talking about another world, John.
MS. CLIFT: There's the pessimism. (Laughs.)
MR. BUCHANAN: He didn't address the reality.
MS. CROWLEY: Here's what struck me about the State of the Union. If anybody were still wondering who or what Obama was going to be after the shellacking that he and his party took in November, I think he erased all mystery and all suspense, because he made it very clear that he is still the same big-government, big-spending progressive that he's always been.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Mmm-hmm. (Acknowledging.
MS. CROWLEY: He announced $20 billion in new spending, which he euphemistically called investment --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Right.
MS. CROWLEY: -- which means hold on to your wallet. The very next morning, the Congressional Budget Office came out and said that fiscal year 2011 is going to have a $1.5 trillion --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me --
MS. CROWLEY: -- deficit.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let me pick that up. Polling after the State of the Union shows that government expenditures put forward by the president were rejected by a consensus of the public, with the exception of one -- education.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) If we want to win the future, if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas, then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Education was a key theme of the president's State of the Union address. The president wants to overhaul the nation's education system. He highlighted five points in his plan.
Item: Race to the Top. Schools and teachers compete for almost $5 billion in federal funds to improve student test scores and teacher performance.
Item: Recruit teachers; 100,000 new teachers to replace retiring baby boomers.
Item: College more affordable; allocate more federal money for student loans; make permanent the tuition tax credit.
Item: Community colleges; invest in colleges that can provide new skill, retraining to older workers.
Item: Weed out ineffective teachers; make it easier for bad teachers to be fired. PRESIDENT OBAMA: (From videotape.) We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What's your take on government outlay for education? Michelle Bernard.
MS. BERNARD: I congratulate the president for making education such an important part of the State of the Union address this year. This week just also happened to be National School Choice Week, and it is a week where you have people on the right, you have people on the left, you have people in the center. We're working with Bill Cosby and John Boehner on national school choice.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What does that mean, school choice?
MS. BERNARD: School choice means giving parents the ability to say that "If my child is stuck in an ineffective school, I can take my tax dollars and I can move my child to a school --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This has --
MS. BERNARD: -- that has a demonstrated capability to teach my children."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: This has nothing to do with the former parochial school versus public school debate. You're talking about -- what are you talking about? Are you talking about charter schools?
MS. BERNARD: This is -- everything comes under this umbrella. This is for parents who say, "My kids are in a great school and I don't want to move them." This is for parents who say, "This school is not working; I want to put my child in a private school. I want to put my child in a Catholic school."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell me about charter schools.
MS. BERNARD: "I want to put my child in a charter school."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Tell me about charter schools.
MS. BERNARD: Charter schools are public schools, but they don't -- they are not stuck with the same rules that your traditional public school has. So, for example, you can become very creative in the types of teachers that you hire.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Where does the money come from for them, the public treasury?
MS. BERNARD: This comes from the public treasury.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does anything you're doing affect the status of charter schools? And what do you think of charter schools' performance vis-a-vis public schools? MS. BERNARD: Some charter schools are doing great. Some charter schools are not doing so great. What we do know is that it is -- we have come to a point in time where, when we talk about, for example, American exceptionalism, if we don't do something -- for example, if you live in the District of Columbia -- this is the argument you always hear, particularly from teachers' unions -- there is no such thing as a failing school. You cannot build more charter schools, because if you do, you're taking away from the public school. Well, if you're a parent that has a child that's stuck in a school --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: One more question --
MS. BERNARD: -- where your children are not learning, the question you have to ask yourself is, "Well, how much longer should my children suffer?"
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: If you were a public school teacher, or let's say this. The National Association of -- what's that union called?
MS. CROWLEY: NEA.
MS. BERNARD: The National Education Association.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The NEA. Does the NEA like what the president said or dislike what the president said, or they're neutral?
MS. BERNARD: I would say that, behind closed doors, when the president made the statement that ineffective teachers should be fired, that there were probably people at the NEA saying, "How on earth could he do this? Doesn't he know how much money the NEA gives the Democratic Party every year?"
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think -- do you think the NEA works against the larger educational interests of the United States in that?
MS. BERNARD: The NEA --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Does it like merit pay for teachers?
MS. BERNARD: No, absolutely not. The NEA likes poor people to stay uneducated and to stay stupid because it keeps their members with permanent jobs.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Really?
MS. BERNARD: Absolutely.
MS. CROWLEY: Yes.
MS. CLIFT: The District of Columbia has a growing number of students in charter schools, and the unions are adapting to that. Unions are adapting to a lot of things. And this administration has had a very reform-minded education agenda, and they put some money behind it. And I think we can all say hooray to that.
MS. BERNARD: Absolutely.
MR. BUCHANAN: Education in the United States is a racket. We have put trillions of dollars in for the last 45 years since the education -- Primary and Secondary Education Act. Test scores have been dropping. We have not closed the racial gap. We are dropping in worldwide competition.
MS. BERNARD: And money is not the issue. You don't need more money. It's not the issue.
MS. CROWLEY: Right. And that's exactly right, Michelle. Money is not the issue here.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you want to --
MS. CROWLEY: And, look, President Obama's two girls are in a private school. I think his heart is within this reform.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's the school?
MR. BUCHANAN: Friends.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Friends?
MS. CROWLEY: But the problem for him and for Democrats --
MR. BUCHANAN: Local school.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quaker school?
MR. BUCHANAN: It was Quaker.
MS. CROWLEY: John, the problem is that Democrats are so tightly wound with the teachers' unions that they're going to -- the Democrats, starting with President Obama, are going to have to give these teachers' unions, the NEA and the AFT, a real beat down. MS. CLIFT: Oh, come on.
MS. CROWLEY: Okay, they're going to have to stand up to them.
MS. CLIFT: Come on.
MS. CROWLEY: And whether or not they're supportive -- (inaudible) -- for that, I don't know. But you know what? Issue number one this week, the new House speaker, Republican John Boehner, threw down a challenge to President Obama and the Democrats in Congress with regard to Washington, D.C.'s vouchers program. The Democrats killed that last year.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What's that? What's that?
MS. CROWLEY: The vouchers, what Michelle just described, giving parents the ability --
MR. BUCHANAN: It gives people the ability --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: To go where they want.
MS. BERNARD: Absolutely.
MS. CROWLEY: -- to transfer their kids to a better school. And you know what? The Democrats --
MS. CLIFT: (Inaudible.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Let her finish.
MS. CROWLEY: The Democrats killed it last year because the teachers' unions were up in arms.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Yeah.
MS. CROWLEY: So Boehner threw down the gauntlet and said, "We're going to make you put your money where your mouth is."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Make a point.
MS. BERNARD: One story. In Ohio, a woman who was studying to become a teacher, African-American woman, looked at her public-school system and said, "My children will not survive in this neighborhood." So she lied and she put her kids -- she put down the address of, I think, her father, someone in her family, to get her children into a better school district. She was criminally prosecuted in the state of Ohio, given a prison sentence. She will never, ever be allowed to become a teacher. This will stay with her the rest of her life. This is something that our -- MR. MCLAUGHLIN: We've got to get out. Exit question --
MS. CLIFT: That's ridiculously harsh, but that is not the heart of our problem.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question --
MS. CLIFT: The public schools are filled with a lot of issues of society.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Okay, we'll --
MS. CLIFT: They're getting blamed for everything.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: All right, we'll reflect on those other issues.
Exit question: Assign a letter grade, A to F, for President Obama's State of the Union, A to F. Pat Buchanan.
MR. BUCHANAN: I'd give him a B+ for the rhetoric of it; the substance of it, a D.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MS. CLIFT: I give him a B for the substance of it and I guess a B for the rhetoric. It was kind of flat.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What do you think?
MS. CROWLEY: Yeah, it's -- the Tucson speech it was not. But I would say I'd give him, like, a B or B+ for at least being honest in showing us who he is, which is a big-government liberal.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: B+ for honesty?
MS. CROWLEY: Yeah.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Or for performance?
MS. CROWLEY: Yeah.
MS. CLIFT: The rest of the world --
MS. BERNARD: This is a tough crowd. I give him a B+ for the substance and I give him a B+ for the rhetoric. I thought it was a good, solid speech.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, dear.
MS. BERNARD: We know what trouble the country is in. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I think it's got to be a C+ or a B at best --
MS. BERNARD: (Laughs.
) He does. That's why he's getting grayer by the day.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: -- of catalogue; I mean, solar panels, et cetera, really quite flat.
Issue Three: Mob Crackdown.
ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER: (From videotape.) We are committed and we are determined to eradicate these criminal enterprises once and for all and to bring their members to justice.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It was the biggest Mafia roundup in the history of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. One hundred and ten were arrested and 127 were charged with criminal conduct. The FBI shakedown took place last Thursday in three states -- New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Those arrested were part of seven organized- crime circles collectively, otherwise known as the Mafia -- street bosses, Mob associates, conciglieres and bookies. None of the FBI targets were under the age of 60.
ATTY GEN. HOLDER: (From videotape.) The allegations involve classic Mob hits to eliminate perceived rivals. Others involved truly senseless murders.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: The criminal charges ran the gamut -- racketeering, robbery, drug trafficking, extortion, arson and murder.
Some of the criminal accounts sounded like scenes from a mobster movie -- shaking down strip-club owners, offing someone over a spilled drink. The FBI roundup involved 800 law-enforcement officers. They built their criminal cases with the help of wiretaps, witnesses and Mafia turncoats, including ex-wives of Mafia men.
Mafia influence is far-reaching. According to the National Retail Federation, almost 90 percent of retailers say they have been victimized by the Mob.
Question: Are these FBI arrests the end of the Mafia? Yes or no, Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: No, it's not the end of the Mafia, but it is a terrific blow that's been delivered to these folks, John. And they are really the wretched of the earth. These guys are in the protection racket. They're in the drug racket. Fortunately, a lot of the guys they kill are their own rivals and members of other mobs. But this is a terrific success by the FBI. Hopefully they'll start breaking a lot of these people and they'll start squealing, John.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You know, Eleanor, there was no mention of Chicago or Illinois.
MS. CLIFT: Well, I guess they had enough in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. Maybe Chicago will be next.
MR. BUCHANAN: These are the five families of New York.
MS. CLIFT: But I'm sorry, when I heard this story, I felt kind of nostalgic, because the days of the Mob seem associated with yesteryear. And ever since the HBO award-winning series, "The Sopranos," I think that humanized the Mob. And while they did and probably do horrendous things, it's hard to look at these arrests and think that this is really, you know, removing a huge scab from America. (Laughs.) You know --
MS. CROWLEY: Well, remember that "The Sopranos" --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean Tony Soprano is now your hero? Is that it?
MS. BERNARD: (Laughs.)
MS. CLIFT: Not my hero, exactly, but they humanized the Mob.
MS. CROWLEY: Remember that "The Sopranos" was set in New Jersey for a reason. Look, we're talking about the five major organized- crime families. They all got busted in this FBI bust. But this story is -- I agree with Eleanor. This is a very old-school kind of story, because their tactics even seem old school -- the racketeering, the prostitution, the strip clubs.
And, you know, in an era of the 21st century where we're dealing with very useful kinds of threats, like al Qaeda, that operate on a completely different kind of level, it does seem quite nostalgic.
Will it break the backbone of the Italian Mafia? Probably not. But what's interesting is that we've also seen, with the decline of the Italian Mob, a rise of other ethnic mobs, like the Russian Mob, the Asian gangs, the Albanian Mob. They'll be next.
MS. CLIFT: Gangs are another story, and --
MS. CROWLEY: Mobs -- organized crime.
MS. CLIFT: -- young people getting into gangs, I mean, that's a whole 'nother world. MS. CROWLEY: Not street gangs; organized crime.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What can we say about --
MS. CLIFT: These are elderly people. We're going to be giving them free health care from now on.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: What about the role of the computer in any of this?
MR. BUCHANAN: It's not big with those families, John, but modern professional crime, it's an enormous thing. But these guys --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean, communicating via the computer?
MR. BUCHANAN: These guys may do it, but --
MS. CROWLEY: They're not on Facebook.
MS. BERNARD: They're not -- exactly.
MR. BUCHANAN: These aren't Stuxnet guys. (Laughs.)
MS. CROWLEY: They're not on Facebook.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Stuxnet -- you mean that --
MR. BUCHANAN: I mean they're not at that level of knowledge and ability in using this.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: You mean that ingredient we put into the Iraqi -- the Iranian reactors?
MR. BUCHANAN: Yeah. I think these guys are still in the --
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Stuxnet.
MR. BUCHANAN: They're in the cell-phone age, like I am, John.
MS. BERNARD: (Laughs.)
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Do you think they should turn to our military to find out how to do it?
MS. CLIFT: They're past their prime.
MS. BERNARD: This is --
MS. CLIFT: They're past their prime.
MS. BERNARD: Absolutely -- the criminals of yesteryear. And now they're gone. MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Predictions. Pat.
MR. BUCHANAN: Clear and present danger. The U.S. position in the Middle East basically could be wiped out; really good friends, like the king of Jordan, gone, as well as the president of Yemen, isolating Israel in the Middle East.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Eleanor.
MS. CLIFT: Next to Israel, Egypt is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. foreign aid. And how the Egyptian army handles itself in the coming days and weeks, that aid will be conditioned on that behavior.
MS. CROWLEY: Yeah. In fact, the White House already announced today that they were going to review aid to Egypt.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Quickly.
MS. CROWLEY: These protests are going to reignite the protests that we saw started nearly two years ago in Iran.
MS. BERNARD: I see a peaceful transition to a democratically ruled Egypt.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: I predict that Virginia Democratic Senator Jim Webb will not seek a second term in 2012, next year.