The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 11/25/08
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Right to the point, only siblings can get right to the point like that. Thank you, Keith. And thank you for staying with us for the next hour. So, just who is in-charge of our blessed U.S. government these days? The man who lives in the White House who had exactly one thing on his public schedule today or the man who still lives in Chicago who had to make up a logo to put on his podium today for what is now becoming a daily world-stopping press conference?(voice over): Now, we know. Being president-elect is hard work. Barack Obama grabbing the symbolic reins from a Bush administration, doing far worse than stumbling to its ends.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT: We don’t intend to stumble into the next administration.
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MADDOW: The current president is all but in seclusion while his man at the Treasury executes one horrible, final reminder of what the last eight years have been like. Is there a fast-forward button on this thing? And another day of bailout-palooza in Washington marks one less day in the auto industry’s life expectancy. White-collar America is issued all but blank checks, told they’re too important to fail, but Blue-collar America-well, not so much. The president of the United Auto Workers joins us this hour to talk about the two types of bailouts in the two corporate Americas. How much influence do progressives have over and in the new Obama administration? On the one hand, the netroots ran a man named John Brennan off from his chances of being the head of the CIA. On the other hand, Obama is keeping George Bush’s secretary of defense? George W. Bush’s secretary of defense? Jane Hamsher joins us live. And, there’s curiously, ominously familiar feel to lame duck watch tonight. President Bush won’t pardon alleged torturers in his administration, not because he wants them prosecuted, but because he thinks they can’t be, because he said so. Jonathan Turley on George Bush doing his best Nixon impression in his final days. All that plus the glossiest space experiment of all times.
THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. (on camera): Another day, another President-elect Barack Obama press conference on the economy. Another day of green arrows next to the stock market numbers on the TV machine. Today was the third straight successful demonstration of the magic trick that’s called, “Obama announces something and Wall Street reacts positively.” Today, Obama introduced his director and deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. Wall Street’s reaction? A modest 36-point gain which might not sound like much but if you’re keeping score at home, that’s the first three-day stock market gain since August. Imagine being a fly on the wall during the deliberations at Obama headquarters these days. The deliberations about how visible and active the president-elect should be right now during this financial crisis. You can imagine one set of advice, “You know, sir, as soon as you start talking about this economy, you own it. The minute you announce your treasury secretary, people are going to be looking at you to get us out of this mess, and all you can do is hold press conferences, be careful.” On the other hand, there is the fact that we’re in that mess right now and press conferences may not be everything, but if they help, they help. So, in the face of all the obvious political risks, our president-elect has chosen to jump in there. His day-to-day involvement and announcements and TV appearances about the economy have the political effect of shielding the current president, George W. Bush, from blame. But, you know, when your team is down and it looks like maybe you’re going to lose, do you want a player who hopes to stay on the sidelines and not yet put in and blamed for losing? Or do you want a player who’s dying to get in to that game-to try to lead your team to an against-the-odds win? Obama has decided to get in there. Without the powers of the presidency with a bullish, bully pulpit, he is trying to will confidence back into the markets with what seems to be developing as a daily pattern of pep-talk press conferences.
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OBAMA: As difficult as these times are, I’m confident that we’re going to rise to meet the challenge, because at this moment, we must not only restore confidence in our markets, we also must restore the confidence of middle-class families that their government is on their side. That it’s working for them and on their behalf, to meet their family’s needs. That’s what I intend to do as president of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Barack Obama does not yet have a veto pen. We do not know what color he will choose for the rag on the Oval Office, when he walks in to a room, no band goes (INAUDIBLE). Yes, that doesn’t happen yet. He’s not president. But he does kind of seem to be taking charge and Wall Street is reacting as such. In a little more than 59 days, he will be able to control the mind-boggling amount of money that’s being thrown at this financial crisis. According to CNBC, the U.S. has now committed about $4.3 trillion to fixing this crisis. Barry Ritholtz, who’s the author of the upcoming book “Bailout Nation,” has put that number in context. And you might want to sit down for this. When you adjust for inflation, the current crisis has cost more money than the Marshall Plan? The Louisiana Purchase? The race to the moon? The S&L crisis? The Korean War? The whole New Deal? The Iraq war? The Vietnam War? The lifetime budget of NASA? Combined. Let that sink in for a minute. All those numbers are adjusted for inflation, and if you compare them to what we have committed for solving this financial crisis, the financial crisis is more than all of those put together. That is a lot of money-a lot of money trying to fix a big, big problem. You know, when you’re doing something on that kind of scale, something that big and that expensive, trying to save the global economy, you sort of want the person heading that effort be awesome, right? To be great at their job? Well, so far, that pile of money larger the Marshall Plan, the Louisiana Purchase, the moon shot, the S&L, the Korean War, the New Deal, the Iraq war, the Vietnam War, and NASA-so far, that has been under the stewardship of a treasury secretary who’s frankly more Mr. Magoo than MacGyver bumping into stuff rather than fixing it miraculously in the nick of time with (INAUDIBLE). It is probably necessary to spend such a huge amount of money on this problem, but is it too much to ask to have somebody who appears competent with a plan heading it up? Today, our all-over-the-map treasury secretary reversed himself yet again, on the economic crisis and the response to it. A week ago, Henry Paulson said this about the half of the bailout money he hasn’t spent yet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, NOVEMBER 18)
HENRY PAULSON, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: We have, therefore, determined that the prudent course at this time is to conserve the remaining funds available from the TARP, providing flexibility for this and the next administration.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK, so that was a week ago. He says we won’t spend that money, we’ll hand over the rest of it to Obama to spend. That was a week ago. Today? “Bloomberg News” reports that Paulson is changing his mind on that. Reversing course, he’s now considering asking for the rest of that money now. Just the latest in a long, long list of quick Paulson reversals, including but not limited to completely changing the intent of the bailout from a program that buys up troubled assets to a program that doesn’t do that at all and just hands out money, I mean, injects capital instead. And then there was his proclamation that the banking economy was stable and there was no further pressing concern of any big failures. That was five days before he decided to bail out Citigroup. The all-over-the-map, reverse-course-at-every-turn approach has been exciting, but exciting in a bad way, when what the financial system needs is predictability and credibility and confidence. You didn’t think it was possible for them to screw something up as badly as they did Iraq, or Katrina, or the Constitution? Well, meet the Bush bailout. The one silver lining here is that the debacle in D.C. has led President-elect Obama to take control early, to hold these daily “I swear, I’m on the way” press conferences. Can Obama show of control preserve what’s left of the American economy until January 20th? Joining us now is syndicated columnist, David Sirota. David, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
DAVID SIROTA, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: David, given the role of the Treasury right now, is it-is it materially consequential that Hank Paulson keeps changing his position every five minutes, does that matter?
SIROTA: Well, I think it definitely-you’re right. It doesn’t instill a lot of confidence and what the markets tend to react to is stability. The markets want to know the things-that there’s a plan, if you will. Clearly, when Paulson is running out every three days or four days saying something different, he’s basically saying, there is no plan. We don’t know what’s going on. And that’s not a good way, again, to build stability in the market.
MADDOW: The reaction, thus far, has been-that politically, at least, has been that President-elect Obama has decided to politically take ownership of this crisis. More than 55 days before he takes office, he’s out there doing this daily press conferences, rolling out his team, talking about a plan to responding-is that really a sustainable situation going forward until Inauguration Day? I mean, we do still have 55 days. Can our system support essentially a parallel presidency?
SIROTA: It’s the only thing Obama really can do at this point, is to use the bully pulpit because, as you said, that’s the only sort of power that he has. I think, though, that power can be something significant. I think that by telling the markets and the financial industry and the economy, the American people, that he is ready to hit the ground running. I mean, I think that’s the best that he can do. The hope is-the hope is that Obama being engaged will somehow pressure and force both Congress and the president to react now, and not force us to wait, as you said, another 55 days.
MADDOW: The stock market seems to have reacted positively so far to Obama’s economic team. They are essentially sort of a center-right economic team, no big ideological choices there unless you consider sort of Clintonian economists to be a big ideological statement-do you think the stock market reaction thus far just reflects a desire for there to be some leadership place, or do these names Tim Geithner and Larry Summers have just a special, happy resonance among Wall Street folks?
SIROTA: Well, I do think they are ideological. I think they are center-right and they are, basically, a lot of free market fundamentalists. And I think that what Wall Street tends to react to is it likes some of its own. And so, Obama is in this weird position where he has to basically tell Wall Street that he’s going to have some of their own but he’s also got to tell the public that he’s going to change, that he’s going to push a policy change. And so, the tough thing for Obama to do-the question is, is whether he can get some of the people who are at the center of this crisis, Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, and get them to carry, actually, radically new policies. That’s the trick for him.
MADDOW: Well, Obama advisors are telling the “Washington Post” today that his economic picks, the people who he has chosen, they don’t signal that he plans to govern from the center. They are trying to assure people that he is a progressive. The question is.
MADDOW: . it’s sort of policy over personnel here. Can he implement a progressive approach to the economy with those folks that are on his team in place?
SIROTA: That’s the question. You know, Grover Norquist, the conservative activist that says, “Personnel is policy.” Obama is basically saying, “No, I’m going to be different.”
I think it was David Axelrod who told the “New York Times”-he said, you know, he’s not hiring people for their vision, he’s hiring people to effectuate his vision. Now, that would be unprecedented, to hire sort of ideological economic advisors who are going to carry out a more progressive ideological agenda from Obama. But that’s essentially what he’s saying. He’s trying to have that-basically split that difference and tell Wall Street, “I’m hiring some of your own,” but he’s also telling America they’re going to carry a progressive agenda. And I think that’s certainly a new thing in our country.
MADDOW: One worth watching and probably worth holding his feet to the fire over, I imagine.
MADDOW: That’s your job. David Sirota, syndicated columnist-thank you for your time tonight, David. It’s nice to see you.
SIROTA: Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Here’s some bailout shorthand for you. Citigroup doesn’t actually make anything. White color jobs-no union. Auto industry makes lots of things, big things, metal things. Blue-collar jobs-unions. So, guess which one is getting billions of taxpayer dollars. Here to talk haves and have-nots is the United Auto Workers president, Ron Gettelfinger. And President-elect Obama is reportedly keeping President Bush’s defense secretary around, at least for a while. Any objections? Anyone? But first, just one more thing about the day in press conferences. There was Barack Obama’s take charge and assure the nation event at noon, and then there was this other thing - hey, look at John McCain. Senator McCain’s big announcement today? It wasn’t really all that big.
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SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA: I intend to run again. We will make a formal announcement at the appropriate time.
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MADDOW: A press conference to announce a future announcement. It’s sort of sad. And the reporter who addressed him as governor instead of senator? That was sadder, still. And the fact that this network, MSNBC, was the only one to carry McCain’s press conference live? You know, it’s really been a long three weeks, doesn’t it?
MADDOW: So, Governor Maverick herself, turkey slaughter oblivious Sarah Palin of Alaska, is visiting the Lower 48 again next week. (INAUDIBLE). Sorry, I never should have said that, excuse me.
Anyway, after campaigning in Georgia for incumbent Republican in a runoff, Saxby Chambliss, Governor Palin will head to Philadelphia to pal around with President-elect Barack Obama. Obama is meeting with governors of both parties in Philly to talk about the economy. And Palin, representing Alaska, will be there. I wonder if either of them will wear those plastic guards that keep you from grinding your teeth when they smile for the cameras.
MADDOW: The actual numbers? The basic math of bailout-palooza? They kind of hard to keep track of. What could $20 billion look like? If you were going to stuff $20 billion in hundred dollar bills into a black bag all cat burglar in the movie-style, how big would that bag have to be? What if you like a 40 conga line (ph) or a McMansion or like the size of Hoover Dam? I don’t know. But for most of us, the specific numbers are almost a moot point when we get talking about numbers this big. But there are ways to keep score and ask big questions like: How much are we going to give banks and lenders before it becomes stupid and unconscionable that we’re not also keeping non-financial companies, say, manufactures, something to keep them alive as well? Over the weekend, Citigroup got its $20 billion, Whoo-hoo, Wall Street got happy drunk on that news. The Dow soared, everybody who could indicate in some measurable way indicated that the Citi bailout was a good thing. And then in the cold, sober light of Tuesday, we saw some pushback against that. Economist Paul Krugman wrote on the “New York Times,” quote, “A bailout was necessary but this bailout is an outrage: A lousy deal for the taxpayers, no accountability for management.” Krugman also speculated the way Nobel laureates do, that Citigroup may be back for another fix of taxpayer cash sometime soon. Also, uninspired by the government’s largess, some smaller banks around the country, whose troubles have been largely ignored during the orgy of big bank-rescuing, the little guys get swallowed up by the bigger guys not rescued by the Feds. So, on the scoreboard, if you’re a big bank, no matter what kind of really stupid business made you broke, the government’s got your back. $20 billion? Sure. Do you got direct deposit or do we have to cut you a check? On the other hand, there’s the auto industry. General Motors has already extended its normal Christmas time production shut down deeper into January, trying to save cash as the company fights for its financial life. The hold-up on the auto industry bailout, nominally, it’s the government demanding a retro-fitted modernized American car business and that doesn’t just mean electric vehicles, the Big Three’s financial trouble has turned into, what I think, is an open season on organized labor. Here’s a bit of that logic from Mark Kirk, Republican congressman from Illinois.
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REP. MARK KIRK, ® ILLINOIS: When some employees have a right to 120 days of vacation time, that is not, that is not-you know, I worry that unless properly structured, this is a bailout of the United Auto Workers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
KIRK: not General Motors.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina is going even a little further, going with the union-Democrat conspiracy route. He said this, quote, “We have the unions paying off the Democrats with their votes and the Democrats paying off the unions with this auto bailout.” So, auto workers are the fat cats here? And the bozos who turned the entire banking business into a “Three Stooges” pie fight, they got access to a spigot running hot and cold oodles of taxpayer cash? I’m sorry, but, this sounds like the worst kind of class warfare being fought against the blue-collar class. I think I may need a talking down here. Here to try to Talk Me Down is Ron Gettelfinger, who is the president of the United Auto Workers. Mr. Gettelfinger, thanks for joining us, I know you are busy man these days.
RON GETTELFINGER, UNITED AUTO WORKERS PRESIDENT: Well, thank you, Rachel. And thank you for having the UAW on your show.
MADDOW: Happy to. Do you want to try to Talk Me Down on my thesis here? I’m worried that the need for a Big Three bailout is being used as an excuse by some, to really take a punch at the unions when you guys are in a very vulnerable place.
GETTELFINGER: Well, there’s no question, Rachel, that there are some people that would take that position. But, look, the auto industry’s 4 percent of our gross domestic product. And if you look at the industrial production, it’s about 10 percent of the value of industrial work. So, sure, there are some people that are shooting at the unions in this but this is not about the UAW. This is about America. It’s not only about Main Street but it’s about Side Street. We need to give the industry a bridge loan to get us over this economic downturn.
MADDOW: I’m worried, in addition, that even if there is a bailout, even if the Big Three does succeed in getting this sort of bridge loan to the future, I’m worried that if the political dialogue sets up unions as the bad guys and the auto industry, if you guys take the blame, then even if you do get this emergency funding, there won’t be anything in it to keep them, say, from moving their operations offshore, finding some cheap no labor laws country to make their cars in. Are you worried at all about that?
GETTELFINGER: Well, I think there will be provisions in there that will require them to do the production here in the United States. But, look, the people that want to say that the unions are the bad guys here, look at our safety record, look at the quality of the products we’re building, look at the productivity. You know, we have set the benchmark in many of those areas today. And additionally, where they say that the unions are the problem here, the UAW, especially, we went into contract negotiations, mid-contract, ‘05, and made major concessions to help our industry. We came back in ‘07 and we also made major concessions. Men and women of the UAW stood up, stepped up to the plate to help our industry. This economic downturn is not the fault of the autoworkers or it’s not the fault of the auto industry. We need a low-interest bridge loan and this is not a bailout. The industry is going to pay the loan back.
MADDOW: After you made those last rounds of pretty big concessions, how close did that bring into alignment, the labor cost for American vehicles and the labor cost for foreign vehicles? Are they getting closer by the end of these contracts, will they be close?
GETTELFINGER: Oh, absolutely. Rachel, we’ve closed the gap a lot. And it’s unfortunate that in a way that we’ve had to do that, but we understand the need to be competitive. But, you know, when we’re talking about the changes that we’ve made in our contracts to help our companies be productive, the fact that we work with the companies every day, our vice presidents are sitting at the bargaining table, working with the company, to make sure that productivity is up. Our local union leadership is working with the management at the facilities. We are there. We have current operating agreements in place and I agree that the critics that have taken on the unions here are totally wrong. And there are so many misconceptions out there, that it’s unbelievable.
MADDOW: Mr. Gettelfinger, one last question. Are you at the UAW and the management broadly in agreement about some of the proposed strings that might come with this funding, things liken encouragements toward fuel-efficient vehicles, and management changes, and restrictions on other ways that the companies do their business, and the type of arrangements they have with your union members? Are you and management in agreement with what you’re bringing to Congress in terms of the proposal here?
GETTELFINGER: Well, I think part of the problem is we’re still trying to determine what is required before the Congress, but additionally, the companies are responsible to put the plan together. And, yes, the commitment to green is there. And, you know, again, that’s a big, big falsehood that exists that the industry has not moved forward with advanced technology vehicles, when, in fact, they have. And it may shock you, Rachel, to know that the Chevy Tahoe was a “Green Car of the Year.” I mean, come on. The industry has moved a lot in that area. And, look, every one of them has great products that they are moving forward with, but we can’t get those products out there if we don’t get this loan and we have to get this loan when Congress comes back into session on December the 8th. It is urgent that we do that.
MADDOW: You will forgive me for my shocked silence at the Chevy Tahoe revelation. I was imagining one perched on top of a few Priuses there, I imagine (INAUDIBLE).
MADDOW: Ron Gettelfinger, president of the United Auto Workers-thank you for coming on the show tonight, sir. And good luck in these difficult times.
GETTELFINGER: Thank you very much and Happy Thanksgiving.
MADDOW: Thanks. Coming up later: Another edition of THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’s lame duck watch, where we keep an eye on the last days of the Bush administration, now with a little extra quack-itude. This week, President Bush is busy pardoning turkeys and only one of them actually gobbles. Among the strange bedfellows on Bush’s pardonees list is a man named John Forte, a rapper who performed with the Fugees and is a friend of both Carly Simon and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch. This party is getting strange, but at least the soundtrack is improving. We will have more on that in just a moment.
MADDOW: As Obama makes each new appointment of his administration, a voice must be constantly whispering in his ear. What will the bloggers think? Many left-leaning bloggers hated the idea of John Brennan as CIA chief because of his apparent ambivalence about Bush administration stuff like, oh say, torture and rendition. As a result, bye-bye Brennan. Now, on the same day, we learned that Obama will ask Bush defense chief, Bob Gates, to remain as secretary of defense. Wait, there’s that voice again. What’s it saying? We’ll have more on that in just a moment. First, though, it’s time for a few underreported holy mackerel stories in the news today. It looks like this timeline for withdrawal of American troops thing is catching on in the other war. The president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, reportedly, unexpectedly demanded at a meeting with a U.N. Security Council Team that a timeline be set for ending the military presence in his country. In a statement today, Karzai said, quote, “If there is no deadline, we have the right to find another solution for peace and security which is negotiations.” Negotiations with whom? The Taliban. Karzai is running for reelection in Afghanistan next year. He’s been pushing for talks between his government and the militants. Spencer Ackerman at the “Washington Independent” asks if Karzai is floating a withdrawal timetable to shore up his waning support among the Pashtuns. I’m wondering if Karzai shared this demand with President-elect Obama when the two spoke just a couple of days ago. And frankly, I’m also wondering what our exit strategy is for Afghanistan anyway? How do we know when we’re done there and it’s time to go? I want to know that this time. Finally, have you ever wondered about the lucky turkey who gets pardoned by the president and doesn’t end up on the dinner table? Talk about great reality TV show fodder. Thirteen turkeys are actually selected and raised in separate pens as the farmer works with them to try to get them ready to be around people. Disney even sends music tapes to help them get used to humanly sounds around them. Now, it’s determined have the best personalities to meet the first family and in this administration that probably means they check the turkey’s voting record and ask it obtrusive questions about the federalists society and Roe versus Wade. Anyway, two birds are selected to make the trip in the back of the minivan for the pardon. They’re housed in a posh hotel across the street from the White House and they are presented to the president. After the ceremony, the pardoned turkeys are off to Disneyland. They get belted into the first class seats on the United Airlines flight and then serve as grand marshals of the Disneyland parade, which I’m sure they love. After all the pomp in circumstance, the turkeys live the rest of their lives at frontier land in Disneyland. Now, as for the leftover alternate turkeys that make the initial cut but then they aren’t selected for the pardon? Well, the farmer’s supplying this year’s birds are major suppliers to Subway, the sandwich chain so they have proudly announced this. Ready? While President Bush will pardon the turkeys he receives, Subway customers can look forward to enjoying a tasty turkey sandwich from those beautiful alternates. What you’re experiencing right now is something called the carnivores dilemma, which is the feeling that you might possibly want to make friends with your food.
MADDOW: Barack Obama won to be presidency by about seven million votes. That was a few hundred billion dollars of bailout ago, remember? You might also remember how before that, his early opposition to the Iraq War jumpstarted his support among liberals which gave him a grassroots boost like no one else had ever seen heading into his race against John McCain. Well, today, the President-elect did the post-election thing that liberals have been dreaming of. He just came right out and said it. He said the “M” word.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT-ELECT: I don’t think there’s any question that we have a mandate to move the country in a new direction and not continue the same old practices that have gotten us into the fix that we’re in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: He said “mandate,” he actually said it! But it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Obama is not necessarily talking about a mandate to open up a can of progressive on the USA. The transition team appointments progressive report card is a decidedly mixed bag getting more mixed by the day as we await next week’s expected lineup on foreign policy and national security. First, there was the State Department - Hillary Clinton, the junior senator from New York. She’s already reportedly accepted the Secretary of State offer, certainly not a Henry Kissinger choice by any means but also not exactly big lefty change. And not exactly in step with Barack Obama’s foreign policy positions, at least the ones we heard about on the campaign trail. But you know, team arrivals and all that, so OK. At the CIA, this one is really interesting. There were whispers verging on murmurs that is John Brennan, President-elect Obama’s top intelligence advisor and a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, would be tapped to head the CIA. However, the liberal blogosphere’s collective hair caught fire upon word of this possibility because of the perception that Brennan was a little ambivalent, a little ambiguous, at least, on the issue of torture. And maybe even worse than ambiguous on other constitution “owies(ph)” things like rendition, which is often just a hard-to-remember, innocuous-sounding word for sending someone somewhere else to be tortured. So the alarm was sounded about Brennan online. A group of anti-torture prominent psychologists sent in a petition against him as well. And then, boom, it was over. In a letter to the President-elect, Brennan asked that his name be removed from consideration for a job in intelligence because, he said, there’s been, quote, “strong criticism in some quarters prompted by my previous service with the Central Intelligence Agency.” Brennan stood up for his own constitutional bona fides but said he would hate for there to be any, quote, “distraction from the vital work that lays ahead.” Yes, Virginia, the liberals on the Internet do make a difference. However - however, about two hours after the world learned of Brennan’s withdrawal, that same world learned that there is very likely a bigger fish from George Bush’s school to fry. NBC News has confirmed that George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates has agreed to stay on for the Obama administration for at least a year. Now, Bob Gates, by accounts from across the political spectrum, was a steep upgrade from Donald Rumsfeld. But here’s what is illiberal, I guess, about the possibility of Gates sticking around. When Gates took over from Donald Rumsfeld, he didn’t bring an entirely new staff with him to the Pentagon. So keeping gates may mean keeping Rumsfeld-era underlings at Defense and even some of Gates own chosen staffers post-Rumsfeld are not the kind of folks you would imagine any Democrat choosing to staff up the Pentagon. So the question is, now that the campaign is over and no one is calling Obama a commie anymore, can we get real here for a second about whether or not liberals actually have any real influence over Obama’s picks and his policies? Joining us now is Jane Hamsher, who is a blogger at and founder of Joe Lieberman’s least favorite Web site in the whole world, “FireDogLake.com.” Jane, great to see you. Thanks for being here.
JANE HAMSHER, BLOGGER AND FOUNDER OF FIREDOGLAKE.COM: Thanks for having me here, Rachel.
MADDOW: It seems pretty explicit that John Brennan took his name out of circulation for CIA chief because of the brewing opposition of liberal bloggers. Does that surprise you? Was it a scalp you expected to be claimed by the left?
HAMSHER: Well, it’s very exciting, of course. I think as Atrios said, “Behold the power of Glenn Greenwald.” Glenn, writing at “Salon.com” had made a singular case against Brennan and said really, “This is unacceptable.” He had a history of supporting extraordinary rendition and techniques that we would classify as torture. And that there’s one thing to say, well, we need to appease the Washington establishment with Obama’s picks to keep them off his back but this one crosses a bright line.
MADDOW: Do you think we’re starting to see now that we’re well into the Bush’s “lame duckitude” and we are starting getting a sense of what the political landscape might be, post-Bush on the Republican side? Do you think we’re starting to see the beginnings of a more complicated relationship between Obama and the progressives who may have thought he would govern from further left and are now feeling like he’s more of a centrist than they bargained for?
HAMSHER: Well, I have to say I never thought that he was a progressive. You know, I think people may have projected a lot of their own hopes on him during the primaries, during the campaign. But he’s always been pretty firmly centrist. His voting record and Hillary Clinton’s voting record were pretty much identical. And I think, right now, what he’s doing is fulfilling what he promised. It’s not going to be so much, I think, who is governing, although that is of concern. It’s what he does with the people that he appoints. And with Brennan, that was very much a concern. And with Gates, I think that there is reason for concern, too. Gates was very much involved with the military’s version of extraordinary rendition as the “New York Times” reported in August of this year. So, it was kind of ironic that, as one goes, the other is named on the same day.
MADDOW: I sometimes think that the - I guess, like Obama, I think that the liberal blog roll, the liberal Net groups, although I hate that word because it’s not a word. I sometimes think that they are both given credit for being more lefty than they actually are. And for that reason, I actually think we’re going to see a mixed reaction online to the Gates decision. I’m not expecting a huge uprising against this because I don’t think that liberals, broadly speaking on the organized left online, have been all that hot to go after Gates. What’s do you think about that?
HAMSHER: Well, Gates was never really an ideologue. He’s sort of a functionary. He was brought in to clean up Rumsfeld’s mess by the sort of Brent Scowcroft - you know, George Bush senior crowd. And Obama’s really going to have his hands full in the first days of his administration trying to deal with a very messy economic situation. And he’s going to need the cooperation of the military in order to be able to get out of Iraq. Now, if that’s what he uses Gates for, then I think that’s great. But I think his anti-war supporters will probably start to draw the line if we start to see a big buildup in Afghanistan that continues with bombing, that has harmed civilians. And you know, that’s what Gates has supported in the past. I think that that could cause a break between Obama and his online supporters.
MADDOW: I think it’s going to be a very interesting relationship to follow because I think there’s going to be a lot of disillusionment on both sides which will make for fun drama.
HAMSHER: Intrusion -
MADDOW: Jane Hamsher from “FireDogLake.com.” It’s great to see you.
Thanks for coming on the show.
HAMSHER: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Next, it’s time for “Lame Duck Watch,” the things with wings edition. Not only is Bush pardoning a turkey tomorrow, he also pardoned a man who was convicted of killing three bald eagles with pesticide. Ducks and turkeys and eagles. And you know who’s not getting pardoned? Those dirty birds who signed off on less-than-constitutional interrogation and imprisonment of suspected terrorists. We have turkey, pardon. Torture advocates - not? Jonathan Turley joins us to sort that out in just a minute.
MADDOW: Yesterday, 14 lucky convicts were pardoned by President Bush, thanks to Article 2, Section 2 of our Constitution, which gives the president the right to basically pardon anyone he wants. And you know what? Pardon-seeking makes for strange bedfellows. With about 56 days left of the Bush administration, it’s time once again for the RACHEL MADDOW SHOW’s “Lame Duck Watch,” because somebody’s got to do it. Meet John Edward Forte, first man we’re going to talk about today. A Grammy Award-winning rapper and former producer for the rap group, “The Fugees.” He was caught in 2000 with two briefcases filled with $1.4 million worth of liquid cocaine. So who was advocating for Forte’s release? Lauryn Hill? Wyclef? How about Carly Simon and Republican Senator Orrin Hatch from Utah? Two of a kind. It turns out that Forte and Carly’s son, Ben, became BFFs in prep school, and she has been lobbying several politicians on Forte’s behalf, including Sen. Hatch. Forte will walk out of federal prison next month after serving half of his 14-year sentence. I bet you can’t guess who Bush will not be pardoning, though. How about former administration officials involved in harsh interrogations and detentions of terror suspects? And when I say harsh interrogations, yes, I mean torture. According to the “Wall Street Journal” White House officials say they don’t believe they have to pardon anyone that the Justice’s Department torture memos make such pardons unnecessary. You remember those memos, right? Part of the Bush administration’s unofficial game plan to move the goal posts until the kick goes through. Now, the way this works in the case of torture that the goal post moving was to dismiss the Geneva Convention and other laws by using the veneer of serious legal scholarship to create an illusion that these near-death interrogation tactics and understanding executive power were somehow legal, somehow legitimate. So, the kick is up and apparently, it might be good. They have - they may be getting away with this by having used this legal rationale that makes no sense on its face and that nobody believe they were trying to get away with. It is an old trick. It’s first publicly enunciated by that pioneer of high crimes and misdemeanors, Richard Nixon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The question here is has the administration effectively gotten itself off the legal hook by asserting that because the president has done it, it is not illegal? Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, who is a professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University. Professor Turley, thanks for joining us again. Nice to see you.
JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: So the White House says now, at least to the “Wall Street Journal,” that they are not likely to pardon anyone who might have implemented or taken part in these torture policies because they believe that their Justice Department memos excuse them, so there’s no need to pardon anyone. Are you buying their reasoning?
TURLEY: No. I don’t believe that anyone seriously believes in the administration that what they did was legal. This is not a close legal question. Waterboarding is torture. It has been defined as a war crime by U.S. courts and foreign courts. There’s no ambiguity in it. That’s exactly why they have repeatedly tried to stop any court from reviewing any of this. And so what’s really happening here is a rather clever move at this intersection of law and politics, that what the administration is doing is they know that the people that want him to pardon our torture program is primarily the Democrats, not the Republicans. Democratic leadership would love to have a pardon so they could go to their supporters and say, “Look, there’s really nothing we could do. We’re just going to have this truth commission. We’ll get the truth out but there really can’t be indictments now.” Well, the Bush administration is calling their bluff. They know that the Democratic leadership will not allow criminal investigations or indictments. And in that way the Democrats will actually repair Bush’s legacy because he’ll be able to say there’s nothing stopping indictments or prosecutions but a Democratic Congress and a Democratic White House didn’t think there was any basis for it.
MADDOW: If the Democrats - if we could wave a magic wand and say that the Democrats would decide to indict officials for the torture policies, is there any reason to believe that the John Yoo memos, the torture memos, the Bybee memos - all of these legal reasoning that the Justice Department produced under Bush in order to sort of paper their way to these policies. Is there any reason to believe that would afford them any reasonable defense?
TURLEY: Not in my view. I think those memos are really devoid of any meaningful arguments that would carry weight in a court of law. What Bush did is he went and got fairly extreme individuals from the academy and from the bar that would ratify his absolute view of executive authority. There is a very small number of people, I believe, on the courts or in the bar that would support that view. And so there’s not a question, at least in my view, whether there could be an indictable and a prosecutable here. There’s no question about that. The question is the intestinal fortitude of the Democrats to stand with the rule of law. And unfortunately, we have many people who campaign on principle but they govern on politics. And I think we’re seeing that with the Democratic balloon they’re floating by saying, “Let’s have a commission, another commission, like the 9/11 commission. And maybe if we find something that can be prosecuted in four or five years, we might do it.” Well, everyone in Washington knows that that commission is being proposed so that there would be no serious criminal investigation or prosecution. And now, the White House is calling their bluff.
MADDOW: Draw some bright lines for us here. If - just thinking about this as Americans, not even as people who are concerned with the political ramifications, but just thinking about the safety of our Constitution and our national moral legacy, what are the bright lines that need to be drawn? What would need to be done, and soon, in order to ensure that torture is clearly illegal in the United States, that there’s no ambiguity in our law or in our policy around that issue, and that we can once again say we are a nation that does not torture and we can say it without lying? What would have to be done?
TURLEY: You know, Rachel, there has never been a brighter line. This has always been a crime. It’s always been a war crime. It’s always been immoral. The question is not whether the act is immoral, but whether moral people will stand forward and say, “We’re not going to act like politicians for once. We’re going to act like statesmen and we’re going to stand by principle and we’re going to say, ‘Yes, let’s investigate.’ And if there are crimes here, let’s prosecute.” And I think it’s so very, very simple. You know, we have third world countries that when they have found that their leaders committed torture war crimes, they prosecuted them. But the most successful democracy in history is just, I think, about to see war crimes, do nothing about it. And that’s an indictment not just of George Bush and his administration. It’s the indictment of all of us if we walk away from a clear war crime and say it’s time for another commission.
MADDOW: Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University. Thank you very much.
TURLEY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up next, I get just enough pop culture from Kent Jones. Astronauts have figured out a way to get pure drinking water in space. Won’t be your first choice where they’re getting it from, trust me.
MADDOW: Now, it’s time for “Just Enough” with Kent Jones. Hi, Kent. What have you got?
JONES: Good evening, Rachel. Well, rumors have been circulating but today, Laura Bush confirmed to the AP that she is planning a memoir, right? That will be good. Slight downer note, though. One publishing executive with knowledge of the meeting said Mrs. Bush has vowed to write a positive book with a minimum of criticism. That’s going to be a little tough. Stay upbeat, given all that’s gone down in the past eight years. I’m thinking how about something like this.
(GRAPHIC OF A BOOK COVER WITH A PICTURE OF LAURA BUSH AND THE
TITLE, “SO THAT HAPPENED”)
It could work. You know, next, it’s not every day you come across a headline like this one from the BBC News, “NASA jubilant at urine solution.” Astronauts on board the International Space Station have fixed a recycling unit which is designed to convert urine into drinking water. One astronaut told mission control early this morning after fixing it not to spoil anything, but I think up here the appropriate word are, yippee! OK, cowboy, whatever you say. Quick question. How do you know it’s fixed? Finally, you know, speaking of space, Carrie Fisher who played Princess Leia has a book out called “Wistful Drinking.” And in it she tells this amazing story about herself and director George Lucas back when they were making “Star Wars.” Quote, “Remember the white dress I wore all through that film? George came up to me the first day of filming, took one look and said, ‘You can’t wear a bra under that dress.’ OK, I’ll bite, I said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘Because there’s no underwear in space.’ He said it with such conviction like he’d been to space, looked around and didn’t see any bras or panties anywhere. He explained, ‘You go into space and you become weightless. Then your body expands but your bra doesn’t, so you get strangled by your own underwear.’” Thank you, Obi-Wan. Another fun space fact, on board the Millennium Falcon, Luke Skywalker’s urine is 100 percent drinkable. That’s because of the Force. Rachel?
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. And thank you for watching tonight. “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now. Good night.
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