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Blacks Shortchanged on Social Security Benefits; General Counseled for 'Shooting People is Fun' Remark; Country Singer, Novelists Announces Candidacy for Texas Governor

Aired February 3, 2005 - 13:00   ET


KINKY FRIEDMAN, COUNTRY SINGER: I'm not pro-life and I'm not pro choice. I'm pro football!


KYRA PHILLIPS, CO-HOST: Texas politics gets Kinky. A country singer turned novelist throws his cowboy hat into the ring to run for governor.

From the CNN center in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips.

MILES O'BRIEN, CO-HOST: And I'm Miles O'Brien. CNN's LIVE FROM starts right now.

PHILLIPS: The president calls it reform. Democrats call it roulette. He says the problem is high priority. They say it's hyped. Now we all have a better idea why lawmaker of both parties call Social Security the third rail of American politics.

In last night's State of the Union address and today and tomorrow in five states, the president is pushing his plan to let future retirees divert some of their Social Security contributions into private investments.

Workers born in 1950 or later would be eligible, meaning those now 55 or older would stick with the current system, with the current guaranteed benefits. Older folks, among the post-1950 crowd, could start privatizing in 2009, eventually putting four percent of their incomes in one or more mutual funds, investing in stocks or bonds.

Their government guaranteed payouts would shrink, but how much is a matter of considerable debate, as are the transition costs. Money not paid into the Social Security trust fund has to be made up somehow for distribution to current beneficiaries. The White House estimates the short-term shortfall at $754 billion. Other estimates range as high as $2 trillion.

O'BRIEN: The state of Social Security was by no means the only hot potato of the big speech to Congress and viewers ate it up.

A CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll of Americans who watched finds 60 percent came away with a very positive reaction. Twenty-six percent feel somewhat positive. Only 13 percent actually negative. And Social Security, three viewers in four say the president made a convincing case for his prescription for reform. One in four disagree.

We should note, viewers of presidential speeches are more partisan than the population in general. In this case, viewership was 52 percent Republican, only 25 percent Democrat.

PHILLIPS: Democrats in Congress say the White House is crunching Social Security numbers just a little too hard and much too loud. You don't need a poll to hear the groans and the boos when the president peers into the future.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thirteen years from now, in 2018, Social Security will be paying out more than it takes in. And every year afterward will bring a new shortfall, bigger than the year before.

For example, in the year 2027, the government will somehow have to come up with an extra $200 billion to keep the system afloat. And by 2033, the annual shortfall would be more than $300 billion. By the year 2042, the entire system would be exhausted and bankrupt.

If steps are not taken to avert that outcome, the only solutions would be dramatically higher taxes, massive new borrowing, or sudden and severe cuts in Social Security benefits or other government programs.


PHILLIPS: Well, let's look into the not so distant past, however, to a certain State of the Union speech given by a Democrat.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, Social Security is strong. But by 2013, payroll taxes will no longer be sufficient to cover current payment. By 2032 the trust fund will be exhausted, and Social Security will be unable to pay the benefits older Americans have been promised.

The best way to keep Social Security a rock solid guarantee is not to make drastic cuts in benefits, not to raise payroll tax rate, not to drain resources from Social Security in the name of saving it. Instead, I propose that we make the historic decision to invest the surplus to save Social Security.

Thank you.

Specifically, I propose that we commit 60 percent of the budget surplus for the next 15 years to Social Security, investing a small portion in the private sector, just as any private or state government pension would do. This will earn a higher return and keep Social Security sound for 55 years. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PHILLIPS: Now in 1999, of course, there was a surplus instead of mountainous deficits. But the private investment idea is the same.

O'BRIEN: Among the current arguments for private investments, investments that could pass to one's survivors, is the fact that African-American, men especially, have shorter life expectancies than whites and, therefore, tend to be short-changed, relative to whites, on the benefits they receive from the current system.

CNN's Candy Crowley takes a look at that.


BARBARA HAILE, WIDOW: Are you going to walk over, or are you going to wait?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Barbara Haile never gave much thought to her husband's Social Security benefits until he died.

HAILE: I remember someone said to me you can go, Social Security will give you some money to bury him. So I just called them, and they said $250. And I laughed. I'm like, what am I going to do with $250? It takes at least $6,000 to bury him.

CROWLEY: She should take the $250. It's all she'll ever see of the money her husband put into Social Security. Michael Haile died of bone cancer in 1997. He was 50, old enough to put more than 30 years of payments into Social Security, too young to have taken any out.

ROBERT WOODSON, CENTER FOR NEIGHBORHOOD ENTERPRISE: Black men 40 years old stand a 77 percent more of a chance of dying before he reaches retirement age than do white men. If you look at the numbers, under the existing Social Security system, black families transfer $10,000 from black families to white women who live longer.

CROWLEY: It is a fact of death, that life expectancy for blacks is shorter than for whites. A turn of the actuarial table the president is using to gather support for his plans to fundamentally change Social Security.

BUSH: African-American males die sooner than other males do, which means the system is inherently unfair to a certain group of people. And that needs to be fixed.

CROWLEY: The case goes like this. Had Michael Haile been allowed to invest for himself just a portion of the money he's put into Social Security for 30 years, his wife would have inherited that money, no matter how long or short his life.

HAILE: I think it's good to know that you have something that you have access to right away. I think it's good to give people an option rather than just having it one way and that's the way you have to live with it. CROWLEY: At the AARP, Marie Smith is quick to note that Social Security is a lot more than a retirement fund.

MARIE SMITH, AARP PRESIDENT: If you're thinking of the African- American population as a whole, African-Americans' children receive more benefits in relationship to their percentages in the population than any other group. And that would be survivors' benefits or dependent benefits, which could be from retirement or disability benefits.

CROWLEY: AARP says it's all about people investing for retirement, just not with the money they currently put into Social Security.

The Haile children were too old for survivor benefits when he died. Barbara will eventually retire, having worked longer than her husband. So she will take her own Social Security over his.

The home she bought with Michael was too much for her salary alone, so Barbara moved. She's doing fine, but sometimes when she's dealing with the young cousin she's raising or when she's with her mother, Barbara thinks about the things she could have done, had Michael been able to save something for himself.

HAILE: She's not able to afford all of her medicine. And I'd like to be able to do that for her. I mean, I can do it now, but it stretches me. I could use some money -- I could have used some money for her.

And even now, since I have him, I'd really rather he be in a private school rather than public school. So I could have afforded to do that.

CROWLEY: Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.


O'BRIEN: If you'd like to learn more about the State of the Union, find a transcript of the president's speech, and there's more, as well, on our web site,

PHILLIPS: Now more food for thought on oil-for-food. The head of the independent panel investigating that now defunct Saddam-era U.N. program say his findings do not make for pleasant reading.

Ahead of today's release of his interim report, Paul Volcker says that the program was tainted by conflicts of interest, sub par auditing and an overall lapse from disciplined judgment.

The program allowed Iraqi oil sales for the purposes of buying food and other vital supplies in an atmosphere of U.N. sanctions. It's well known Saddam Hussein skimmed billions of dollars, and many people suspect he wasn't alone.

The Volcker report goes public at 3 p.m. Eastern, a little less than two hours from now. You'll see it first right here on LIVE FROM. O'BRIEN: Now the flak over fighting words, uttered into an open mic and later regretted by a top gun in the U.S. Marines. Did the general really say it was fun to shoot certain unfriendlies in Iraq and Afghanistan?

We get chapter and verse from CNN's Barbara Starr, joining us from the Pentagon -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, Lieutenant General James Mattis commanded the 1st Marine Division in Iraq during some of the toughest fighting against the insurgency in that country.

He's back in the United States. And yesterday, he spoke to a group in San Diego and made some remarks that have caused a stir throughout the military.

General Mattis, talking about brawling, about it being fun to shoot, in his words, insurgents, talking about things in war being, quote, "a hell of a lot of fun."

We're going to play you the audiotape. The words are a little difficult to make out, so we've put them there for our viewers so everybody can just clearly understand for themselves what General Mattis said.


LT. GEN. JAMES MATTIS, 1ST MARINE DIVISION: Actually, it's quite fun to fight them, you know. It's a hell of a hoot. It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right up front. Yes, I like brawling.


STARR: Now, to this morning, the commandant of the Marine Corps, lieutenant -- pardon me, General Mike Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps, the commander of all U.S. Marines, has issued a public statement, saying that he has "counseled" General Mattis about his language, about the remarks that he made. There is not expected to be further action.

But General Hagee saying, "I have counseled him concerning his remarks and he agrees he should have chosen his words more carefully."

However, General Hagee, the commandant, also going on to say himself about General Mattis, "I know he intended to reflect the harsh and unfortunate realities of war."

Not entirely clear how that squares with the comments about it all being "fun." However, the Marines say this counseling of General Mattis now essentially ends the matter -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Barbara, one of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's lieutenants is on the Hill today, Paul Wolfowitz, talking to lawmakers there. And he has some -- he was trying to characterize the insurgency, describing it less like a nationalistic insurgency, thus kind of minimizing the civil war component potentially, and talking more about them as terrorists.

Is that pretty much the read there at the Pentagon?

STARR: Well, when they talk about the insurgency here, they talk about foreign fighters. They talk about former members of Saddam Hussein's regime.

But as you say, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz testifying, along with General Myers, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Their first post-Iraqi election testimony on Capitol Hill at the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Now there was a lot of very vigorous questioning from both side of the aisle on that committee, because the senators are making it very clear they want to know the way ahead. They want to know more about the military's plan to put military advisory teams with the Iraqis.

One of most outspoken critics, of course, Senator Kennedy of Massachusetts.


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: We're proud of our servicemen. We want to know when the Iraqis are going to go out there and shed their blood as American servicemen, with this amount of training, are willing to shed theirs. Is that going to take four months? Is it going to take 12 months? Is that asking too much?


STARR: Well, what the military says is, right now, only about one-third of Iraqi security forces are really fully trained and equipped specifically to take on the insurgency. So they are committed, they say, to spending the next several months getting those Iraqi security forces beefed up, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Barbara Starr at the Pentagon, thank you -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Medical mistakes. Should there be a limit on how much doctors have to pay? We're going to go in depth on one of President Bush's agenda items.

Tons of tunes. Napster's new deal may have you downloading until you drop. We've got the details.

Also just ahead, Kinky politics. The man who pioneered Jewish country music wants to be the next governor of Tejas.

ANNOUNCER: You're watching LIVE FROM on CNN, the most trusted name in news.


O'BRIEN: So, what caused this dramatic crash that sent more than 20 people to the hospital in New Jersey? Federal investigators hope to speak today with the flight crew of the jet that shot off the end of the runway at Teterboro Airport, just outside of Manhattan.

Investigators say they haven't found any spilled fuel, parts, or debris on the runway.

Meantime, we just heard from one of the survivors at a hospital press conference. Rohan Foster described what happened from his vantage point. He and a friend were just driving their car along Route 46.


ROHAN FOSTER, ACCIDENT SURVIVOR: I was talking to him, at the same time, I hear him say look out. So at the same time I look towards the airport. I glimpse the plane coming, and I hear it was coming over the roof. After that I didn't know what happened until when I wake up. I realize that there was police and ambulance and so forth. It seemed like it knocked me out.


PHILLIPS: And in other news across America, a school bus driver allegedly fell asleep at the wheel in Charlotte, North Carolina. Police pulled over the bus after a student called 911 on his cell phone. Vernon Wallace is charged with driving with alcohol in his system. No one was injured.

In Boulder, University of Colorado regents meet today about the future of a controversial professor. Ward Churchill has been widely criticized, from the governor, on down, for likening World Trade Center victims to Nazis. One university board member tells "The Denver Post" Churchill won't be fired.

And one more update, Boulder police are now looking for vandals who painted swastikas on Churchill's car.

And a Colorado student has come clean for swiping the answers for a high school literature test 47 years after the fact. The grandmother sent the belated confession to the current principal of Eagle Valley High School. The principal didn't identify the sender but read the letter as a lesson to every homeroom class.

O'BRIEN: They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but in Texas things are truly getting Kinky, as in Kinky Friedman, who showed up at the iconic Texas venue The Alamo and invoked a legendary hero as he announced he is running for the Lone star State's governor.


FRIEDMAN: So I'm running as an independent for the first time since Sam Houston in 1859. There's never been an independent on the ballot in Texas until now. So we're going to wake up that great slumbering giant of Texas.


O'BRIEN: Great slumbering giant, that, my friends, is high political rhetoric. But Kinky Friedman is a man of many interesting words beyond that. You'll have to read his lips for some of them, of course, as you might have guessed.

CNN's Bruce Burkhardt with the most unlikely political candidate.


FRIEDMAN (singing): I'm proud to be a (expletive deleted) from El Paso.

BRUCE BURKHARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Is it possible, is it just possible that we may be looking at the next governor of the great state of Texas?

ARNOLD GARCIA, "AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN": Well, you know, Texas elected a country singer to the governorship in the 1940s. It's not -- it's not unprecedented that this could happen.

FRIEDMAN (singing): You walk down the street...

BURKHARDT: You can't get much more politically incorrect than Kinky Friedman. He's been that way ever since he pioneered the Jewish country music genre with his band Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jew Boys.

FRIEDMAN: I'm a bastard child of twin cults, Texas and Jewish. And the only thing they have in common is we both like to wear our hats indoors.

BURKHARDT: It blended Kinky's gift for satire with a genuine love of country music. With songs like "They Ain't Makin' Jews like Jesus Any More" or "Ride 'Em, Jew Boy," Kinky had a cult following that never really hit it big.

So in the mid-'80s, he turned to something else: writing mystery novels with himself, the Kinkster, as a private eye.

FRIEDMAN: I think there's 18 novels that I've churned out -- I mean "carefully crafted."

BURKHARDT: A talented writer, he counts both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush among his fans. Both have had him as a guest at the White House. Maybe that's what gave him a taste for politics.

FRIEDMAN: People are so fed up with career politicians lying to them, and also if Willie and Lance Armstrong stay out of the race, I think you're talking to the next governor of Texas.

BURKHARDT: The election is not until 2006, but running as an independent, Kinky is wasting no time.

FRIEDMAN: Well, here's some campaign posters. How hard could it be? My friend Bobby, big old guy, he came over, and said, "Kinky, these ones with the little Jew star are real popular."

BURKHARDT: But what started as kind of a joke has turned into something a bit more serious. Think California.

(on camera) You do think you have a shot?

FRIEDMAN: Oh, I'm not running to lose. I think Arnold has opened the door to a lot of things here in Texas.

Now we're going to the rescue ranch, one of my favorite places.

BURKHARDT (voice-over): One thing Kinky doesn't joke about is animals. He loves his animals.

FRIEDMAN: There's Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, right?

BURKHARDT: Adjacent to Kinky's ranch here in the Texas hill country is his Utopia Rescue Ranch for stray dogs. If he were governor, he'd make Texas a no kill state, no euthanizing unwanted dogs. And under a Friedman administration, declawing cats would be illegal.

FRIEDMAN: Special place in hell for anybody who declaws a cat.

BURKHARDT: As for other issue, his positions are a little hazier. Take abortion.

FRIEDMAN: And I'm not pro-life, and I'm not pro choice. I'm pro football!

BURKHARDT (on camera): Now that's evasive, man, that's evasive.

FRIEDMAN: I'll tell you what. Let's write that chapter of Texas history together.

BURKHARDT: Oh, good, that's good.

(voice-over) Bruce Burkhardt, CNN, Kerrville, Texas.



PHILLIPS (voice-over): Next on LIVE FROM...

WILMA MCNABB, DONOVAN MCNABB'S MOTHER: He's the famous, infamous quarterback. I'm just the mother. And I just -- I like it like that.

PHILLIPS: But she's also the most famous mom going to the Super Bowl. We'll dish it up with Mrs. McNabb.

Later on LIVE FROM, Social Security reform. What will it mean for you, where's the money coming from? We'll go in depth.

And tomorrow on LIVE FROM, the Keno brothers have been rummaging around the basement. The antique experts share their amazing six- figure find with LIVE FROM.


PHILLIPS: Right now, Joint Chiefs Chair Richard Myers is testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee. But later on today, he and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will be giving a Pentagon briefing. And we'll take that live as soon as it happens. We're expecting it about 2:15 Eastern Time.

O'BRIEN: All right, excitement is building ahead of Super Bowl XXXIX, I think it is. That's this weekend in Jacksonville. Also a lot of excitement about one of the player's mothers. She's a big star in her own right. Wilma McNabb, more than a mom for the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Larry Smith has our story.


LARRY SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the rough, tough world of the National Football League, nobody wants to be known as a mama's boy. Unless you're mama is Wilma McNabb, the mother of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. But if you've seen her Campbell's Soup commercials, you know she is also the unofficial team mother for the entire Eagles squad.

W. MCNABB: I call myself the MVP. I'm the most visible parent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You may not know anybody else's mom on the team, but you know who Mrs. McNabb is.

W. MCNABB: They know I'm at every game. And if their mom's not there, then I'm going to there be.

KOY DETMER, EAGLES BACKUP QUARTERBACK: She's great. I mean, she's there every game and, you know, always with a smile on her face, and giving everybody hugs and making everybody feel good.

W. MCNABB: We all just enjoy each other because they do a lot for Donovan, and I just want to make sure they know that I appreciate it just as he does.

SMITH: With her popularity skyrocketing amongst Eagles players, Mrs. McNabb has grown accustomed to cheers. However, her son wants to make sure she keeps it in perspective.

DONOVAN MCNABB, EAGLES QUARTERBACK: As kids, your parents sit down and tell you, "OK, you need to understand, you know" -- I had to sit down and talk to her about, you know, some of that. She's a rookie at the game.

W. MCNABB: He's Mr. Man, that's what. He is the quarterback. He's the famous, infamous quarterback. I'm just the mother. And I just -- I like it like that.

SMITH: Wilma McNabb certainly hopes that Donovan is the man after Super Bowl XXXIX. Larry Smith, CNN, Jacksonville.


PHILLIPS: Well, here's a commercial that you won't see during the Super Bowl. Ford's Lincoln Mercury unit is pulling the plug on this ad, depicting a priest lusting after a new truck. He believes it's a donation after finding a set of keys in the collection plate.

Well, later a parishioner with a young daughter explains it's a mistake. And the victim's rights advocates protested. They say the ad trivializes the church sex abuse scandal.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, we won't see that one, but you just saw it here. That's the thing about LIVE FROM. You stay here, you stay informed.

Do you remember Napster? Of course you do, if you're under about 16. Napster actually now wants to get back in the game. Only they're going legit, right, Susan Lisovicz? Explain how this is going to work.



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