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updated 12/7/2009 10:55:29 AM ET 2009-12-07T15:55:29

Guests: Matt Nesto, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, Chuck Todd, Sen. Jim Webb, Pat Buchanan, Michelle Bernard, Howard Fineman, Ron Brownstein, Tom Ridge

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Finding the enemy.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Washington: Leading off tonight:

Where‘s bin Laden?  Let‘s get this straight.  We‘re in Afghanistan because bin Laden‘s next door in Pakistan, but the prime minister of Pakistan today says he‘s not there.  So what gives?  We‘ve got Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in custody.  Who are the other big al Qaeda leaders still out there?  With 30,000 more American forces headed to Afghanistan and 68,000 already there, it‘s a good question to ask.  Who‘s the enemy, where are they, and can we get them?  Democratic senator Jim Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former Navy secretary, will be here in just a minute, as well as General Barry McCaffrey.

Plus, President Obama got a little bit of positive news on the jobs front today.  The unemployment rate dipped to 10 percent from 10.2 percent, with only 11,000 jobs being shed in November.  But what does the president, who‘s out in Allentown today, need to do to create more jobs?  NBC News chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd is coming here, as well as former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge.

And Sarah Palin cuddled up to the birthers today, saying the public has a right to question whether the president is in the country illegally.  She says his nationality, believe it or not, is fair game.

Also, we‘ll take a look at two big races we‘re watching politically this year, the Republican primary for Texas governor, and of course, that‘s coming up next year, where Kay Bailey Hutchison is challenging incumbent Rick Perry, and that special election for Ted Kennedy‘s seat, which is coming up—the Democratic primary is—next Tuesday.

And finally, you can‘t make this stuff up.  Guess what Bill Clinton‘s fantasy is?  To be a Mongol warrior alongside Genghis Khan, of course, without hurting anyone, he says.  That explains a lot.  Bill‘s in the “Sideshow” tonight.

Let‘s start with Afghanistan, serious business here.  Senator Jim Webb is a Democrat from Virginia.  Senator Webb, I read your column today about the difficulty of figuring out who we‘re fighting.  I guess that‘s the first question for you, a fighting man.  When our soldiers go in the field in Afghanistan—we‘re going to have General McCaffrey on in a minute, he‘s just back from over there—who are they fighting?  And are they the enemy we have to worry most about?

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA:  Well, the piece was more than that, and as you know, my experience also has been as a journalist and a government official.  I was a journalist in Beirut when the Marines were there.  I was actually a journalist in Afghanistan, as well.

What I‘ve been saying repeatedly for the last nine months is we need to examine the vulnerability of this government and whether it can help provide a viable governing space in Afghanistan, whether the Afghanis can create a national army of the size that they‘re talking about.

And then thirdly, exactly what are the missions we‘re asking our people to do, which goes to your question, and can this administration state with clarity the conditions under which we would withdraw?  Because I think that should be the objective of the surge.  I don‘t disagree with them on that.  And then finally, the stability in the region.  And that plays in a lot with what‘s going on in Pakistan.  And I think that‘s kind of the elephant in the bedroom these days.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me get back to my question.  And that is this.  When our forces are over there fighting right now on post in Afghanistan, who are they fighting?  And are the people they‘re fighting our ultimate enemy, or the people we‘re most worried about over in Pakistan?

WEBB:  Well, I think, you know, your—there are two ways to answer your question.  And it is an important question and I did write about it in the piece.  The first is that our mission since 9/11 has been principally to combat the forces of international terrorism.  I wrote a column right after 9/11, two days after 9/11, talking about the way to fight international terrorism, and that is to remain maneuverable, as they are maneuverable.  They came and went in Iraq.  They came and they went in Afghanistan, the actual forces of international terrorism.  General Jones estimated there‘s probably 100 al Qaeda in Afghanistan.

And then the second part of it is in terms of how we use the term “Taliban” in Afghanistan.  There are three different echelons of what we have been calling Taliban.  We kind of lumped them together.  And the third echelon, which is what you‘re talking about, are a lot of Afghanis who, in a country that has a long tradition of fighting against a foreign occupation, who are on the battlefield as a result of the fact that our forces are in their regional areas.  That‘s the difficulty.

The question for us now is how we can move ourselves into a better framework for fighting the forces of international terrorism.  There were 20 -- as you know, there were 20 people killed -- 22 people killed in Somalia yesterday by forces of international terrorism.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

WEBB:  We did a pretty successful mission in Somalia seven or eight weeks ago, over the horizon.  Special operations took out some al Qaeda people and left without a footprint.  So the question is, how do we get there?  And I think that‘s what the administration is struggling with.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s think about for a moment bin Laden.  The prime minister of Pakistan said just today that he‘s not there.  What‘s your assessment of that fact?

WEBB:  I have no idea about the validity of that statement.  We do know that there are elements of international terrorism that are operating inside Pakistan.  We also know that our supply routes into Afghanistan run through Pakistan and have been vulnerable to external attacks.

The question again for me is how we create the situation where we can say clearly, These are the conditions under which we are going to dramatically reduce our presence in Afghanistan and eventually leave.  I don‘t think we belong there long-term.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s a question that comes out of your answer a moment ago.  You said there‘s an element of the Taliban we‘re fighting that are simply in the field because we‘re there.  Is it possible that 10 years from now, or even 5 years from now, we will look back and say when we increased our troop complement by 30,000 force level this year and next year, that that created a 30,000 matching number on the other side, that we created a Taliban force to match our escalation?

WEBB:  Well, I don‘t know that...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, we‘re creating a problem we‘re going to have to meet.  Is that possible?

WEBB:  I don‘t know that we would create 30,000.  But certainly, even at present, there are a number of people who are on the ground in this fight who will validate the fact that there are a lot of people in this third echelon of Taliban who are fighting back for the same reasons in the history of Afghanistan that locals have always fought back against people they perceived as occupiers.

And the question, when you talk about 10 years from now, is—the key question in this analysis—and we‘re going to have General McChrystal and the ambassador to Afghanistan with us next week in our hearing on the Armed Services Committee, and that‘s going to be the key focus of my questions.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.

WEBB:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Retired general Barry McCaffrey joins us right now.  He‘s an MSNBC military analyst.  I guess you‘re listening to my questions, you know what they are.  He laid out in his column today that we‘re facing, certainly, a number of kinds of people that we call Taliban.  Some of them are simply nationalists who are fighting anyone that‘s there, whether it‘s Soviet, Brit or whatever, and they‘re fighting us.  My question to you—

Are we creating our own enemy?

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.), MSNBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, maybe, to some extent.  By the way, I thought the analysis by Senator Webb is dead on the money.  Look, in the short run, we probably have no option.  If we leave Afghanistan in a mess, if it collapses in the coming year or two or three, the short-term damage is abysmal.  It‘s going to be—result in hundreds of thousands of dead in Afghanistan.  The Pakistanis won‘t trust us for the rest of time, NATO, who we lured in 42 countries.  So we had to move ahead.

The key is, can we create an Afghan security force that in a couple or three years will replace us?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCCAFFREY:  That is the real question on the table.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ve got—we‘ll have over 100,000 troops over there, Marines and soldiers.  And they‘re...

MCCAFFREY:  Plus 40,000 NATO.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and their army we‘re trying to create is about at that level.  We‘ve basically matched them in force level.

MCCAFFREY:  Well, they‘re 90,000 Afghan army right, 130,000 police.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MCCAFFREY:  The police are worthless.  The question again...

MATTHEWS:  Well, then again, we‘re about equal.  We have almost matched their firepower, if not more so.

MCCAFFREY:  Yes.  That‘s right.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Is isn‘t that an—is that encouraging them to nation-build, the fact that we‘re doing half the fighting for them?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, the question is, again, in 24 months, will there be 240,000 people in the Afghan army, and can they maintain order themselves?

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MCCAFFREY:  And that means also, can they get the Pashtun, which are the principal Taliban fighters, to join the Afghan national army?  Will they maintain order for a federal government, or is this going to continue as ethnic warfare?

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the fact that the United States is willing to bankroll, build an army, built up by the Afghans—are they willing to fight and have rules of engagement which would make them aggressive enough to fight the Taliban?

MCCAFFREY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, if you‘re just paying guys to fight, will they really fight?

MCCAFFREY:  There‘s 82 Afghan battalions out there right now, and 46 we claim are capable of independent operations.  Some of them are actually first-rate.

MATTHEWS:  Are they aggressive?

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, my God!  These guys are first-rate soldiers, no matter who they‘re fighting for, I might add.  So I think there‘s some belief, strong belief on the part of General McChrystal and others, to include me, that yes, you can create an Afghan security force.  I don‘t believe it‘s possible in a year.  I see this as a 3 to 10-year effort, at the front end of which we‘re going to take casualties and spend a lot of money.

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s the Jack Murtha question (INAUDIBLE) House who has so much to do with funding the war.  He says that to do a real job over there could take 10 years, but the American people will not support a 10-year effort, so don‘t even try...

MCCAFFREY:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... to do something...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAFFREY:  If the fighting largely has died down in U.S. forces, by the next election, if there‘s an Afghan army and police that looks like it‘s beginning to take hold, the American people will stay with it.

MCCAFFREY:  If it looks like endless warfare, they won‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today up in Brussels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: I want to stress that, speaking for the United States, our civilian commitment will continue long after our combat forces leave.  It should be clear to everyone that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think Secretary Clinton, former senator Clinton, saw “Charlie Wilson‘s War” because the message of that is, if you go up there and you create a mujahideen, for example, like we did to fight the Soviets, or encourage it, and then we pulled out, then all of a sudden, we‘re facing the Taliban.  You‘ve got to stay in there in some form.  Is that your belief?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, certainly with economic help.  Look, Secretary Gates and Secretary Clinton, it seems to me, are pretty sensible people.  What they‘re going to try and do, again, is build the prototype of a nation that can survive on its own.  And the question at hand is, will the American people support it?  Right now, we‘re probably spending $5 billion a month.  We‘ve had 5,500 killed and wounded.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MCCAFFREY:  We‘re about to escalate.  The casualties are going to be higher, come the spring, than they are now.  Can we turn it around?  McChrystal thinks we can.  We got this genius Petraeus.  We‘ve put the best we‘ve got have in the inner agency, the FBI guy, the CIA guy...

MATTHEWS:  Genius Petraeus.  That‘s your belief?

MCCAFFREY:  What?

MATTHEWS:  Genius.

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, yes!  Oh, this is the best guy...

MATTHEWS:  No, that‘s a big word.

MCCAFFREY:  ... we‘ve had in uniform—yes.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you one question for the popular (ph) people out there, who aren‘t military people, who just want to get bin Laden.  Do you think he‘s in Pakistan?  Do you think he‘s in Afghanistan?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, the agency...

MATTHEWS:  The soldiers who are risking their lives over there must have that somewhere in their head over there, the guy who got us on 9/11.

MCCAFFREY:  The agency answer three years ago, which I think...

MATTHEWS:  CIA answer.

MCCAFFREY:  ... is still operative, is we don‘t know where he is, but there‘s 14,000 mud-wall villages in the frontier region of Pakistan.  He‘s in one of them, not talking on the telephone and not having news conferences.  When we find him, he‘ll be killed, hopefully, by Predator or Reaper so nobody‘s at risk on the ground.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, General Barry McCaffrey.

Coming up: President Obama heads to Allentown today.  He got some good news, a little bit.  The unemployment rate dipped a bit, but nothing to have a 4th of July celebration over yet, I can tell you.  The unemployment rate is still 10 percent.  That‘s serious business for those out of work and certainly business for the president to contend with.  But what can the president do to keep that number down in the long run between now and the next elections?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We stepped in to make sure that you did not have the kind of meltdown that could have definitely got us into a Great Depression.  And we did so successfully.  And by the way, the interventions we‘ve made have turned out to be actually cheaper than we had predicted.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  President Obama traveled to Allentown, Pennsylvania, today to speak about job creation.  He was able to deliver a little bit of good news up there.  The unemployment rate dropped from 10.2 down to 10.  Only 11,000 jobs were lost in November, which is relatively good news, I suppose, unless you‘re one of those 11,000.

Chuck Todd is NBC News‘s chief White House correspondent.  He‘s joining us right now from the White House.  He‘s also NBC News political director.  Chuck, you‘re an expert on understanding politics.

CHUCK TODD, NBC POLITICAL DIR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And I just wonder, did the president speak truthfully today when he said he has been focusing on unemployment and the economy all these months, even though it looks like he‘s been focusing on health care?  Who‘s telling the truth here?

TODD:  Well, look, I think he‘s telling the truth...

MATTHEWS:  He said the press got it right, that we‘re focused—we‘re saying he‘s pivoted towards the economy today, when in fact...

TODD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... he says we all got it wrong.  He‘s been focusing on jobs all these months.

TODD:  By the way, the president loves to play media critic.  For somebody who says he doesn‘t watch a lot of this stuff, he does—he does love to play media critic.

But look, on the jobs front, you talk to the staff behind the scenes, whether it‘s Rahm Emanuel—it‘s all they talk about.  They know they are solely going to be judged on what that unemployment rate is going to be.  And they know that that—you know, if that thing is sitting in double digits come November in an even-numbered year, they‘re going to take it on the chin, whether it‘s their party in ‘10 or themselves in ‘12.  So no, I do think they are looking at it behind the scenes.

I think what‘s been missing—and it was a fascinating comment.  It came from Mandy Grunwald, who‘s a long-time adviser to both Bill and Hillary Clinton.  And she made this interesting comment to Walter Shapiro in his column today, where she said, you know, He‘s tried very hard this first year not to seem like Bill Clinton, but he could use a little dose of Bill Clinton on the empathy front, meaning this whole “I feel your pain” aspect.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

TODD:  And it seemed to me that‘s what President Obama was going for today in Allentown, where he was trying to connect a little bit.  This has been the thing that‘s missing on the jobs front.  It‘s this feeling that, Oh, Washington, they‘re just disconnected.  They don‘t understand what‘s happening on Main Street.  They‘re so worried about Wall Street.  And that may be as much about just sort of that—whatever that “it” is, or that Bill Clinton had when it came to putting his arm around...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know what it is.  Let‘s skip Bill.

TODD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s—let‘s drop the Bill Clinton and Mandy Grunwald tongue (ph) number (ph) for about three seconds.  Let‘s get back to reality here.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk Billy Joel and Allentown.

TODD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And I‘ll get to this.  I think more Americans can identify with a guy like Billy Joel and his music, which is about—like a lot of music by Springsteen, it‘s about blue-collar people, regular people.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And they don‘t look like Tim Geithner.  They don‘t look like they‘re wearing European clothes.  They don‘t look like Wall Street.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I think that is a problem.  And I do think the president‘s been so cool that sometimes it looks cruel.  And I agree with that completely.

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  But I think it‘s smart that Mandy pointed this out.  But

your thoughts covering the president.  Do you believe today that the

decision to go to Allentown could be pivotal, no matter what the president

says, in changing the way he governs to more of a blue-collar blues

culture, rather than an elite “I know smart people on Wall Street” culture

·         I know Steve Ratner, I know Larry Summers—that sort of, I‘m with the Ivy League smart guys, the smarty-pants guys...

TODD:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I think that has hurt him.  What do you think?

TODD:  Well, I think the perception absolutely has hurt him.  It‘s hurt everybody in this town, by the way, in Washington.  It‘s hurt every member of Congress that voted for that $700 billion bail-out.  But you—and you‘ve heard the president trying to defend it.  I mean, it‘s a very tough thing to defend, the bail-out.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  At the same time, if you talk to, you know, economists they say, well, if it hadn‘t been done, we—the economy would have been in freefall, things would have been a lot worse. 

But it doesn‘t matter.  It is the creation of jobs.  And Allentown is

emblematic of—and Chris, you obviously know Pennsylvania more—better

·         a lot better than I do. 

MATTHEWS:  But Allentown is special.

TODD:  Allentown, this is a—a manufacturing base, a town that used to rely on factories.  I mean, look, the Billy Joel song talks about factories shutting down.  By the way, that song was written 20 -- 20 or 30 years ago. 

It talks about factories being shut down.  And that‘s where Allentown is trying to transition.  A lot of these towns in the Rust Belt, in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  ... trying to transition.  And that‘s what Washington has got to figure out, how to—can they get involved in jump starting job creation in places like Allentown?  He is going to try to, next Tuesday, talk about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they ever ask you for advice over there? 

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  No.  That is not what we do over here, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I know. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think they could benefit from it. 

Anyway...

TODD:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... I think you and I agree that regular people are the norm.  I mean, that‘s an absolute fact.  Regular people—that‘s a big thought, huh? 

TODD:  Right.  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Regular people are normal, and regular people think the elite on Wall Street have taken the money and run. 

TODD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And they think we gave them all that help to save us from their screw-ups.  They took the money we gave them, so they wouldn‘t screw up any worse.  Then they gave themselves bonuses and pay raises, and they‘re laughing at us. 

And that‘s what the public is blaming the Democrats—ironically, I think, blaming the Democrats for....

TODD:  Well, that‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... because the Democrats always claim to be the working guy and the working woman‘s party. 

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  And, very quickly, this is—Democrats have been running on this, been running against Washington for the last three elections, you know, ‘04, ‘06, ‘08. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TODD:  It was successful in ‘06 and ‘08.  And the president has lost some of his sort of anti-Washington cred.  It is hard because he now lives here.  It‘s hard to have that cred.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think the country is more anti-New York right now than anti-Washington, but you may have a point. 

Chuck, have a nice weekend.  Thanks for reporting tonight from the White House. 

TODD:  You got it, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s turn on—let‘s go right now to former Governor of Pennsylvania—well, he‘s also former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge. 

You wouldn‘t have let those grifters in the White House, would you? 

(LAUGHTER)

TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY CHIEF:  Listen, the only thing I think that couple ought to be worried about, instead of a reality show, is TV privileges in jail.  I hope somebody goes after them. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, well, maybe somebody will get them for that.

Let me ask you about Pennsylvania. 

RIDGE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Because the president, I do think he may have—may have stepped into the smart move today of getting out of the White House, stop associating with the Wall Street types, and associating with people who are trying to turn things around. 

Allentown doesn‘t have the highest unemployment in the country.  I checked it out.  It‘s about 9.3, compared to, what, it‘s about 10 percent nationally.  It‘s high, but it‘s not as bad.

RIDGE:  It is a great place for the president to go. 

I think, like a lot of other things, his—to try to identify the concern that most Americans have, jobs, jobs, jobs, vice president, everybody keeps saying it, so start talking about it.  But the proof will be, what will they do about it?  Much easier to talk about it than execute. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What can he do now?

RIDGE:  Well, I think there‘s a lot of things. 

You know, I know he gave a speech, but it would have been interesting

·         and I know he had 130 people at the White House yesterday.  But, Chris, when I was governor, I knew Allentown very well, not just Allentown.  I invited some people from different sectors of the economy in Pennsylvania and said, what does the government need to do to help you grow your business?  Because we—we can‘t help you grow your business. 

You tell us.  And they talked about a tax reduction.  They talked about incentives.  They talk about a careful look at some of the regulations that might be an impediment.  They talk about access to credit. 

You talk about—and, again, in your conversation with your colleague in the White House, who said, you know, there is this fixation on Wall Street.  And so Bank of America pays back $45 billion, but that small-business man, who, by the way, who is making slightly more than $250,000, and the White House thinks he is a really rich guy, but he is working seven days a week, 12 -- he can‘t get credit. 

So, there are some modest things you can do.  But I would like to see the president, if we‘re going to do something, you want to spur innovation, creativity, create jobs, take his green agenda and blow it out of the box. 

Let‘s build nuclear facilities.  Let‘s do...

MATTHEWS:  Investment tax credit? 

RIDGE:  Yes.  Well, investment tax credit would do it.  But why not set up an infrastructure bank?  Let‘s create nuclear power plants.  Let‘s do waste coal.  Let‘s go after natural gas. 

Take his commitment to green and turn it into an innovation setter, create jobs, create exports.  Put that package together.  But speeches are good, but action is better. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a fighting man, too.  You‘re a combat veteran from Vietnam.  So, let me go to another area of your expertise, besides Pennsylvania.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the Afghan war, 30,000 more troops, a year-and-a-half turn-around.  Is it smart to go try to change the—I say—well, I‘m not—I was never over there, but, Afghanistan, can you repot a country like that?  Or is it by its nature what it is, warriors, tribesmen, fighting each other for centuries, fighting anyone who goes in there, not liking outsiders, basically always winning against the occupier?

Can you change the nature of that country with over 100,000 American soldiers?  Or do you only earn more enemies? 

RIDGE:  Well, I think it could only be changed if the Karzai government listened very carefully to President Obama and Secretary Clinton. 

They have to change.  They have to start building the right kind of coalitions.  We all know that corruption is rife throughout the entire administration.  It can only change.  We are a very significant part of that, but the president, whether it‘s 18 months or two years or three years, it cannot change the direction that you want to it change unless the Afghan people change it themselves. 

And that burden, that responsibility falls on their leadership.  And he has to change as well.  President Karzai has to change. 

MATTHEWS:  But I have heard, by the reading of it, it‘s the most corrupt government in history over there.  It is worse than it has ever been. 

RIDGE:  Well, I read the same articles, and I have no reason to doubt them.  But I think the president...

MATTHEWS:  Would you support, if you were running the country right now—and there is a chance you might have been—would you support an escalation of the battle in Afghanistan, or would you have held?

RIDGE:  I would listen to my military commanders. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you have increased the number of troops? 

RIDGE:  Yes.  I would listen to my military commanders, General Petraeus and General McChrystal, based on some of the experience that they have had, lessons learned, by the way, from Vietnam applied in Iraq, adapted to Afghanistan. 

Let‘s try to build up in the next year or two the indigenous capability, military police force.  Let‘s see if we can change the structure of the government.  The president said the time is running through—the sand is running through the hourglass.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

RIDGE:  They need to understand that, because I think the Americans, and I hope that America will give our president a chance to see if this strategy succeeds.  But it is not time unlimited. 

MATTHEWS:  The scary thing is, we will get to a situation over there where we can‘t make a decision, where will we be stuck.  Are you worried about that? 

RIDGE:  Well, I think...

MATTHEWS:  The president—like Lyndon Johnson got stuck in Vietnam.  You get to a point where, politically, you can‘t even think anymore.  You just have to stay there, because somebody will say you lost it.  So, you can‘t choose. 

RIDGE:  Yes.  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t we always have to have the option to move if we have to? 

RIDGE:  Oh, absolutely.

But I thought—listened to your great conversation you had with Senator Webb.  I‘m not sure the country—the world needs to know what the parameters are, what the thresholds are. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.  Well...

RIDGE:  And I think Karzai needs to know it.  McChrystal needs to know it.  The president...

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Taliban knows it. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You have heard what I said the first night.  I said they got a little post-it on now their calendar over there, July 2011.  That‘s when they start their surge. 

RIDGE:  Well, I don‘t think you‘re—I hope you‘re wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE:  They may wait back.  Listen, I thought—a mixed message. 

The president was trying to appease a lot of constituencies. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RIDGE:  The notion that you end the war successfully isn‘t a clarion call for victory, but, at the end of the day, he also had—gave himself a little discretion, when he said...

RIDGE:  ... depending on the circumstances at the time. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Can I ask you a tough question Friday afternoon?  Is Sarah Palin good for the Republican Party?  Could she possibly be your nominee for president next time? 

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE:  Well, time will tell.  Time will tell.  I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would you ever—can you imagine—can you imagine voting for her for president? 

RIDGE:  Well, listen...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Sarah Palin for president, could you imagine doing that? 

(CROSSTALK)

RIDGE:  If I was—if, at the end of the next two or three years, she had demonstrated the capability, a sensitivity to operation—government.

You know, there have been a lot of great women...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RIDGE:  ... who have run democracies in this world. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I know.

RIDGE:  Margaret Thatcher.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What a politician you are. 

RIDGE:  Golda Meir.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s now defending women, per se. 

RIDGE:  No, no, but the question becomes, will she be able to project that kind of strength, that kind of capability for America to embrace? 

A man here has just endorsed Margaret Thatcher and Golda Meir and Indira Gandhi. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He has said nothing about Sarah Palin. 

Thank you, Governor Tom Ridge. 

Up next—except theoretically. 

Up next:  Bill Clinton‘s dream is to be a Mongol warrior, alongside Genghis Khan.  Doesn‘t that explain a lot?  Well, we will be back with that in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL, and time for the “Sideshow.” 

First up:  Want to hear the worst?  Are you ready?  The mayor of

Arlington, Tennessee, population 9,700, a fellow by the name of Russell

Wiseman, has posted the following on his Facebook.  It‘s a complaint about

the president giving his Afghanistan speech on national television Tuesday

night.  Here it is, as posted—quote—“OK, so, this is total crap.  We

sit the kids down to watch ‘The Charlie Brown Christmas Special‘ and our

Muslim president is there.  What a load.  Try to convince me that wasn‘t

done on purpose.  Ask the man if he believes that Jesus Christ is the son

of God, and he will give you a 10-minute dissertation about it, when the

answer should simply be ‘yes.‘”

Well, that was the post. 

Anyway, “The Memphis Commercial Appeal” had all this in the paper today.  It makes you wonder what is crazier here, the mayor‘s conspiracy theory that the president went on the TV for the specific purpose of blanking out a Christmas show, or that the president is a secret Muslim carrying out a world Muslim conspiracy.  You take your pick. 

Next, and just to show you this country isn‘t going to the dogs, a Q&A from today‘s presidential town hall in good old Allentown, PA. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Obama, I really appreciate how you‘re trying to stimulate the economy. 

I was wondering if—maybe if you checked out some of the statistics about legalizing prostitution, gambling, drugs, and non-violent crime, in order to stimulate some of the economy? 

(LAUGHTER)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You know, I—I have to say this.  Well, I—I appreciate the boldness of your question. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  That will not be my jobs strategy. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, there‘s hope for America.  I don‘t know what I like most, the answer or the question. 

Finally, Bubba‘s dream vacation.  “Foreign Policy” magazine asked Bill Clinton, the former president, about which country he hasn‘t been to that he would most like to visit.  And here come the answer. 

Quote—this is from Bill Clinton—“I want to go to Mongolia and ride a horse across the steppes and pretend I am in Genghis Khan‘s horde—but I‘m not hurting anybody.”

That‘s Bill Clinton, William Jefferson Clinton.  Isn‘t he something? 

You really impress me these days, Mr. President. 

Now for the “Big Number.”  Today, we learned unemployment stands at 10 percent, down from 10.2 percent in October.  Here‘s what the president said about it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  This is good news, just in time for the season of hope.

I have got to admit, my chief economist, Christy Romer, she got about four hugs...

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  ... when she handed us the report. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Four hugs?  Hmm.  What would he have done if it had dropped, say, a full percentage point?  The president‘s top economist, Christina Romer, gets four hugs for today‘s somewhat-rosier-than-expected unemployment report.  Four hugs—count them—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next, did Sarah Palin realize she went too far trying to appeal to the far-right birthers?  She said they‘re rightfully asking the right question about the president‘s citizenship.  In other words, is he in the country illegally?  Is he a foreign illegal immigrant?  Is that a reasonable question?  Then she said, of course, she would never ask that country.  That‘s—that‘s Nixon country we‘re talking about here.  I wouldn‘t do it, but others have. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATT NESTO, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Matt Nesto with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks losing steam after a big rally in the morning, midday losses, and then limping across the finish line in the positive, the Dow up 22 points, Standard & Poor‘s adding 6, and the Nasdaq with 21 points in the positive. 

One analyst called the job numbers too good to be true, employers cutting just 11,000 jobs in November, far less than the 130,000 estimate analysts were looking for.  It‘s the best showing for the job market since the beginning of the recession. 

Factory orders and inventories rose more than expected in October, fueled by increased demand for airplanes and oil.  The good news on the economy sent the dollar higher, which, in turn, triggered a sell-off in commodities and energy stocks—steelmakers, mining companies, some of the day‘s worst performers.

The price of gold was off more than $50 an ounce.  Bank of America was up 3.3 percent, however.  It raised more than $19 billion in a stock offering that it will use to repay the government. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We‘re first in business worldwide—now back to

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, seemed to endorse the birther movement in a radio interview on Thursday.  That‘s yesterday. 

Let‘s listen to that interview. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE RUSTY HUMPHRIES SHOW”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you make the birth certificate an issue if you ran? 

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I think the public rightfully is still making it an issue.  I don‘t have a problem with that.  I don‘t know if I would have to bother to make it an issue, because I think that enough members of the electorate still want answers. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you—do you think it‘s a fair question to be looking at? 

PALIN:  I think it‘s a fair question, just like I think past associations and past voting records, all of that is fair game. 

I got to tell you, too, I think our campaign, the McCain/Palin campaign, didn‘t do a good enough job in that area. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  “Didn‘t do a good enough job in that area.”  Later, she wrote on her Facebook page, quote, “voters have every right to ask candidates for information, if they so choose.  But at no point, not during the recent campaign and during recent interviews, have I asked the president to produce his birth certificate or suggested that he was not born in the United States.”

Boy, is that—anyways, Palin trying to have it both  ways.   It seem a bit of Richard Nixon here.   Michelle Bernard is a MSNBC political analyst.   She‘s also president of the Independent Women‘s Forum.  And Patrick J. Buchanan joins us, working late on Friday night.  Pat, it does seem like some people think members of the Supreme Court are communists, but I‘m not one of them. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  This is a woman that‘s been out on the campaign trail, if you will, doing radio, TV, many times, every single today.  She is tired.  And she was imprecise in what she said. 

MATTHEWS:  What did she mean?            

BUCHANAN:  What she meant was, look, these folks are asking these questions, and I don‘t necessarily agree with them.  They have a right to ask those questions, and I respect them.  That‘s very smart politically.  Look, I‘ve got the black helicopter folks that used to ask me this.  Would you abolish the Fed, this and that?  You say, look, I basically don‘t agree with you.  But you have a right to ask your question.  But I would like your support.  That‘s very smart politically.  I agree she was imprecise here.  That‘s why she had to make the correction.

MATTHEWS:  Just to make your point—or let you make a point, do you think it is right to question whether the president is in this country illegally? That‘s what she is asking.  That‘s what the question is.  Do you think it‘s right to question whether he‘s here illegally? 

BUCHANAN:  Let me just say, I‘ve had two good friends just question me about the whole birther thing, making the argument, raising questions and stuff like that.  I said I don‘t agree.  I think the Honolulu birth certificate settles it.  But I don‘t call them names, and I don‘t say they don‘t have a right to talk about it. 

MATTHEWS:  But do you believe it is a reasonable question?

BUCHANAN:  I think, originally, when you had the birth—

MATTHEWS:  Right now. 

BUCHANAN:  I think the thing has been settled by the Honolulu thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do people keep bringing it up?

BUCHANAN:  Ask them, Chris. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Because they‘re crazy.  That‘s why they keep bringing it up.  It is a totally unreasonable question to still be asking.  And I can‘t think of any other presidential candidate that I know of, at least since I‘ve been voting, that anyone has ever asked whether or not you are a legal citizen.  Anyone who continues to ask that question is a nut job. 

MATTHEWS:  What about this mayor down in Arlington, Tennessee today, that said he is a Muslim.  He went on television to knock off Charlie Brown‘s Christmas, to knock a Christian holiday, which he considers a religious broadcast of some kind.  He did it on purpose, so that he could knock off Christianity off the networks one night.  That‘s why he gave the speech this week on Tuesday night.  What do you make of that guy?  Is he a nut job?

BUCHANAN:  I would say—

MATTHEWS:  Who are these people?

BUCHANAN:  Look—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s room to your right, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  Get out of the studio and get out into the real world. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s mayor. 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think so, Mr. Mayor, because, first off, that would be damaging, if he did it.  It would be foolish.  If they did something like this inadvertently, it was a staff thing.  But, Mr. Mayor, we would like your support. 

MATTHEWS:  So anything is OK? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, look—Spike Lee, didn‘t they say Bush didn‘t do anything about Katrina because black folks were suffering?  That‘s why he did it?  That was far more malevolent and malicious.  I didn‘t see people denouncing that.  Look, George Romney Sr., when I was in ‘68, people were saying he was born in Mexico.  Is he a citizen.

MATTHEWS:  I think there is a nativist aspect to this, Pat.  I think they‘re trying to say he‘s not born here because they don‘t like the fact that he was born here. 

BUCHANAN:  No, I disagree. 

BERNARD:  I don‘t know that they don‘t like that he was born here. 

MATTHEWS:  I think they‘re pushing something.  They want to believe the worst about him, is what I think.  They want to sell it and sell it and sell it. 

BUCHANAN:  But I think you‘re saying they‘re dishonest.  I don‘t think that.

MATTHEWS:  I think they want to believe it. 

BUCHANAN:  Maybe they do.  I think you‘re right there.  But I don‘t think they‘re dishonest people. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there anything that would discharge them from this belief?

BUCHANAN:  Well—

MATTHEWS:  Is there any paper that would stop them?

BUCHANAN:  I‘ve look at the Mombasa birth certificate.  It is invalid, Chris.  The reason is Mombasa wasn‘t even part of Kenya until 1963.  And they have the birth certificate in 1961. 

MATTHEWS:  That won‘t stop them. 

BUCHANAN:  That didn‘t show them down. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Has Mike Huckabee got a Willie Horton problem?  He gave this guy—commuted the sentence of a guy.  The guy went off and shot—I don‘t think there‘s much worse than shooting police officers.  But he shot four of them.  And of course, the police dealt with that.  I‘m not saying they did anything wrong.  But let‘s put it this way, they did it the way it normally happens.  Shot a cop; don‘t get into a firefight with police officers.  You probably won‘t put your hands high enough in the air to stop that fight. 

Just kidding, because I‘m sure it was done right.  The fact is, don‘t shoot a policeman.  The last line of defense to people who are told don‘t carry guns.  Just dial 911, and somebody is going to come and save you.  So don‘t go shooting that guy.  As a person who lives in the city most of his life, I do believe in the idea of police protecting us.  So I don‘t like the idea of people shooting at them.  So this guy is bad news.  This guy, Huckabee, let him out. 

BERNARD:  And yet he is going to have to explain why he let him out. 

I don‘t know if—

MATTHEWS:  Is there an explanation?

BERNARD:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s going to tell the dead cops?

BERNARD:  Or he might blame it on somebody else.  I don‘t know.  It is a problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this a mortal wound for this fellow, Mike Huckabee?

BUCHANAN:  It is a very, very serious wound, because he had the problem two years ago.  He let out something like 1,000 pardons and commutations, more than the six states surrounding him.  He has that problem.  His big problem, I think—I heard this morning from Vandehei, Sarah Palin is going after the right to life vote big time. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  So she wins if he loses. 

BUCHANAN:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  I think she has the Evangelical—right now, the Christian right, the nativist right, everybody who is right on all fronts, the gun right—she could get it all.  

BUCHANAN:  Right to life movement.

MATTHEWS:  If she gets that movement—

BERNARD:  That‘s her base. 

BUCHANAN:  A pair of aces in the Iowa caucus.

MATTHEWS:  Just watch Martha Coakley up in Massachusetts next week.  If there is one woman in the race and four or five guys, she make the finals, if not wins the whole thing.  Thank you, Pat Buchanan.  Not necessarily win, but you you make the finals. 

BUCHANAN:  She‘ll be in the finals. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle Bernard, thanks for coming in on Friday night. 

Up next, two big races; first, the one I mentioned up in Massachusetts, and the other is Kay Bailey Hutchison, now fighting it out with the governor of Texas, the secessionist governor of Texas.  Those two big fights coming back in the politics fix.  We‘ll be back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back for more politics in the fix.  The big races we‘re looking at—we have “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, first of all.  He‘s an MSNBC political analyst.  And Ron Brownstein, political director for the Atlantic Media. 

The first race I want to talk about is Massachusetts.  There was so much concern this year about the loss of Ted Kennedy.  It‘s all we talked about for weeks, here and elsewhere.  Martha Coakley faces Mike Capuano, the congressman, Alan Kizei (ph) -- he‘s the owner of the Celts—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  The other one, Steve Pagliuca, is the owner of the Celts. 

Has anybody got a shot here, really?

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA:  This race is not really grabbing people‘s attention.  I think there‘s probably more focus on whether the Red Sox keep Jason Bay.  Martha Coakley has been ahead all the way through.  You know, there‘s been nothing that would suggest that is not going to hold up.  In a Democratic primary, a female candidate has an advantage.  Hillary Clinton notwithstanding, most states, women comprise up north of 55 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.  If you have one woman against several men—

MATTHEWS:  California is the same way.  So many women Democrats in the party and this—I think there‘s this—before, you know, this backlog of feeling that Hillary Clinton won all those primaries in the big states and didn‘t get the nomination, the sense that it‘s somebody‘s turn here. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE”:  I think that will probably help her.  I also think the fact that the Kennedy name and the whole Kennedy story has been so much in the background, unspoken, is interesting.  I noted—I don‘t know—

MATTHEWS:  Doesn‘t it show up in their ads, though?  Everybody‘s, except Martha‘s?

MATTHEWS:  Except for hers, because she‘s saying I‘m a new generation.  I‘m moving to the future.  Without criticizing the past, I‘m moving to the future.  Also, she‘s not from Washington.  Some of the other candidates are not.  But the fact that she‘s not from there, the fact she‘s a state official, in this atmosphere, where everybody hates Washington, helps. 

By the way, on the Kennedys, did you notice on November 22nd, the anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, that it was virtually unremarked on.  I don‘t know if you happened to notice that.  I just think, even in Massachusetts, people are looking forward.  And she‘s a way to express that more than the others. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Except in—

(INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  --  and we did something here.  I think they‘re looking forward politically.  But I think Jack Kennedy, especially—we just had a poll, “60 Minutes” and “Vanity Fair” asked the people who should be on the Mt. Rushmore who‘s not there.  Jack Kennedy. 

FINEMAN:   I‘m not taking his name in vain. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Capuano, if I‘m not mistaken, is from the old Kennedy and Tip O‘Neill seat. 

FINEMAN:  He‘s invoking the Kennedys more than the others.  Martha Coakley is barely, barely mentioning it.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about something that‘s really wild and wooly.  That‘s the Texas primary race down there.  First of all, it‘s rare to have one.  But you have a really formidable challenger down there in Kay Bailey Hutchison, who is a really serious, heavyweight politician in this country, up against Rick Perry, who I always thought was uneven.  He‘s talked about secession.  He‘s had a strange history.  But maybe he‘s hugged the right. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Exactly, Chris, the problem she has is this is a difficult year, given the mood of the Republican base, to run against someone on the argument they have been excessively conservative.  I mean—

MATTHEWS:  Here she is, by the way, with Dick Cheney.  An ad—

BROWNSTEIN:  You got that ad from him, right? 

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, let‘s watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kay Bailey Hutchison is a conservative as tough as Texas.  She led the charge against a state income tax, authored the Texas sales tax deduction, created the national amber alert, fought Obama‘s stimulus spending, introduced a plan that jammed prisoners‘ cell phones, and quadrupled agents to secure our border. 

It‘s time for a conservative governor who doesn‘t just talk tough, but delivers.  Kay Bailey Hutchison for governor. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s dick Cheney in that picture. 

FINEMAN:  Yeah, I don‘t know.  It doesn‘t quite add up.  She has the additional problem—again, I want to mention Washington.  Yes, she‘s a conservative, but she‘s also been here in Washington, and she was in the Republican majority during the years that the Republicans, with George W.  Bush, spent like crazy.  That is not lost on real conservatives in Texas, which is why Rick Perry‘s ad—Rick Perry has an ad on now saying, I‘m a conservative, I‘m a budget cutter—

MATTHEWS:  Are Texas Republican women modern women, or do they vote for the guy or the woman? 

FINEMAN:  I think they‘re modern women, but if they‘re conservatives in the Republican primary, they‘re going to vote for the budget cutter. 

BROWNSTEIN:  To compete, she has to change the electorate.  She has to bring in more independents and moderates.  There‘s no party registration.  In theory, she could do that.  But in this year, it‘s hard to believe the people that turn out for the Republican primary are going to be anything other—

MATTHEWS:  We‘re coming back to talk about the Allentown vote today.  How do we deal with the president in Allentown?  The unemployment rate dropping slightly.  Back with Howard and Ron for more of the fix.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  So that‘s the strategy that we‘re pursuing.  There‘s one last component—two other components I just want to mention.  People—first of all, I think—I noticed the press yesterday, because we had this jobs forum in the White House, they said Obama‘s finally pivoting to jobs, as if what we haven‘t been doing for the whole nine months, from the day I was sworn in and we start talking about the recovery, was all about jobs.  But, you know, folks‘ attention spans are short.  I understand that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Why would you ride the ref when he‘s calling all the plays for you?  What‘s he out there bashing the media for? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I don‘t think the people in Allentown particularly care about the mechanics of beltway spin.  What they care about are jobs and the 10 percent unemployment, down .2 percent. 

MATTHEWS:  Can he credibly say he‘s been worrying about jobs all year? 

FINEMAN:  I think he can, in one way or another.  Yes, I think he can, because he would argue that the whole health care push is related to the well-being of people and so forth.  But, again, 17 percent total of people who don‘t have enough of a job—or if you count the people who are underemployed as well, it‘s a huge number, especially with minorities, with blacks, with Hispanics and with young people.  What‘s going on with the younger generation that supported him overwhelmingly in the election?   

BROWNSTEIN:  He got a good report this week from the Congressional Budget Office on the stimulus plan, saying it was between 600,000 and 1.6 million jobs.  He‘s relatively higher than you would expect a president to be in approval at 10 percent unemployment.  But the weight of that can be felt over time.  The real political question is, if it stays elevated all through 2010, does that inexorably pull him down?  If he comes down, the risk to Democrats in Congress goes up, point by point. 

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you, Howard Fineman, Ron Brownstein. 

Join us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 eastern for more HARDBALL. 

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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