The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/16/10
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening. Thanks very much to you at home for staying with us tonight.
We have a very big Friday night show ahead, including Senator Claire McCaskill joining us. I‘m very excited for that.
But where we begin tonight is Tiny Town, USA. Tiny Town, USA, is a very, very tiny town. It‘s a very close-knit community, Tiny Town. And in Tiny Town, essentially, there is one doughnut shop. We‘ve decided to call it Ye Olde Donut Shoppe. Right next door to Ye Olde Donut Shoppe is Ye Olde Tiny Town‘s swimming pool.
That‘s basically all of Tiny Town. That‘s it. So, Tiny Town, the donut shop and the swimming pool and then the main drag—this is the main drag here.
Across the street from both of these institutions, is where—ah-hah
the mean old man in town lives, right? This is his house. He‘s across the street from the donut shop and the swimming pool. This is the mean old man. You can tell he‘s mean because of his menacing facial hair or something. I don‘t know.
One day, the mean old man notices that when the delivery truck arrives to drop off the swimming pool chemicals for Ye Olde Swimming Pool, when the driving truck arrives for the swimming pool, you know, it‘s like chlorine and all that stuff, that delivery comes at the same time that the delivery arrives for the donut shop. And it‘s like the flour and the sugar and the nondairy creamer. It‘s all the other dry goods supplies for Ye Olde Donut Shoppe.
So, mean old man in town, in Tiny Town, spies with his little eyes, from across the street, he sees that there is a screw up in the delivery. The delivery men are like talking to each other and they‘re hanging out. They‘re not really paying any attention. And they—essentially screw up what they‘re doing.
The mean old man notices that a powder that gets delivered to the donut shop that looks very much like nondairy creamer is actually the chlorine that was supposed to get delivered next door to the pool. I mean, they look just alike. But the mean old man sees it happen. He knows that what looks like the nondairy creamer at the donut shop actually is chlorine, and he gets a mean old man idea.
The mean old man goes over to the donut shop, goes over to talk to the donut shop owner and he says, “Donut shop owner, do I have something to tell you. You know that nondairy creamer that you just got delivered to your donut shop this morning that you‘re putting in all the dispensers right now so people can put it in their coffee, that‘s actually chlorine. It‘s not nondairy creamer. That could, like, kill people.” And the donut shop owner says, “Oh, man. Thanks, mean old man. Thanks for telling me.”
And the mean old man says, “You know, I have an idea. I‘ll tell you what. I just went out and bought life insurance policies on all of your regulars. I‘ll give you 25 bucks if you just serve that.” And the donut shop owner pauses and thinks about it and says, “Make it $30 and you‘ve got a deal.”
Today, the owner of Ye Olde Donut Shoppe got busted by the SEC. The donut shop in this little scenario is the Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs, allegedly serving up financially lethal products to their customers on the behest of somebody who was paying them on the side to do so.
The mean old man in this scenario is a guy named John Paulson. And while he has to function as a mean old man in our metaphor, he‘s actually not the guy who did the illegal thing for which he got busted today. Paulson is a hedge fund manager and he bets that certain things will fail.
In this case, the Securities and Exchange Commission says that Paulson made bet that certain financial instruments based on home loans would fail. He picked out ones that would, really, really likely to fail, then he paid Goldman to market them. OK?
Goldman secretly knew that they were designed to fail. But Goldman didn‘t sell them that way. Their clients lost $1 billion investing in these things. Mr. Paulson made $1 billion because he bet they‘d fail.
Now, Goldman Sachs denies any wrongdoing here. But because what they‘re accused of is so egregious, and because of the previously untouchable lords of Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, this changes all of the politics around whether or not we‘re going to reform Wall Street. So metaphorical mean old man and duplicitous donut shop owners don‘t get to live in an essentially unregulated universe anymore.
While we were talking about the Goldman Sachs news at our show‘s news meeting this afternoon, two things arrived in my e-mail inbox, one right after the other. These two headlines were adjacent in my inbox.
One was a “Reuters” news columnist, John Kemp, asserting that, quote, “It is now virtually certain financial reform legislation will go sailing through the Senate. In the current environment, no one in Washington, certainly not the 41 Republican senators who would all be needed to block the bill‘s progress will want to go on record defending the big banks.”
Then right next to that in my inbox, moments later, pops up this headline from “Talking Points Memo.” Quote, “All 41 Senate Republicans Oppose Financial Reform Bill.” They said it couldn‘t be done.
Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine was supposedly holding out on this, but she has now signed on to Republicans saying no to Wall Street reform and saying it on the day that Goldman Sachs gets accused of fraud by the SEC.
Republican Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who has joined with
Democrats on a few things like jobs bills, he is not only opposing this
Wall Street reform bill, but he‘s sort of obviously not even really
understanding why he‘s opposing it. Mr. Brown this week actually asked a
reporter why he‘s supposed to be against the bill. Quoting from the
“Boston Globe,” quote, “When asked what areas of the bill he thought should
be fixed, Senator Brown replied, ‘Well, what areas do you think should be
fixed? I mean, you know, tell me and then I‘ll get a team and go fix it.‘”
To be clear, Senator Brown was talking to a reporter—a reporter who was asking him questions about his stance. Senator Brown‘s response was to ask the reporter to tell him what the reporter thought was wrong with the bill, so Scott Brown could call a team meeting about it or something.
But reasons be darned, Republicans today announced that they are standing in unified opposition to Wall Street reform.
We all live in Tiny Town now. Don‘t use the nondairy creamer.
Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and associate editor for “The Washington Post,” and an MSNBC political analyst.
Gene, thank you for bearing with me through that murderous analogy.
EUGENE ROBINSON, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: It was pretty gruesome. I‘m going to be really, really careful the next time I go into Ye Olde Donut Shoppe for coffee. Maybe I‘ll just have, you know—just a nice mineral water. Who knows what that would be?
MADDOW: That was foreshadowing, like, who wants to go into an Olde Donut Shoppe anyway? So, that was the foreboding music at the beginning.
ROBINSON: That‘s true. That‘s true.
MADDOW: All right. So, Republicans announce their unified opposition to Wall Street reform on the same day we find out about this Goldman Sachs fraud case. Is this just bad timing? Do they have a special spin here that I don‘t understand yet? Do you know what‘s going on?
ROBINSON: No. This is—this is bizarre timing. It would seem, both on the surface and I think underneath, that this is—that this makes no sense, that this is—this is ridiculous timing.
And I don‘t think there‘s really a spin you can put on this. This is not the day when you want to kind of raise your hand and say, yay, big banks. Yay, Goldman Sachs. Yay, mean old man or hedge fund guy. You don‘t—that‘s not the side you want to be on.
And, you know, all these Wall Street deals—transactions are complicated. But this one, actually, can you explain. You can use the analogy. You can just kind of walk through it.
It‘s understandable and it‘s so egregious that I can‘t believe the Republicans aren‘t going to have to get on board something and in a hurry.
MADDOW: Right when the health reform bill looked dead a few months ago, remember Anthem Blue Cross announced that they were hiking their rates 39 percent in California, and it breathed all this new life back into health care reform because it changed the politics. I mean, the Goldman Sachs fraud case, it puts sort of an exclamation point on the political image of the big banks and big Wall Street firms here.
But do you really think it really is going to change the politics here, or were they already bad enough guys that the politics sort of stay the same?
ROBINSON: I think this changes the politics. The one thing we hadn‘t seen was, you know, the government, the SEC actually filing charges against one of the big banks, and indeed, an individual in one of the big banks. They also charged the individual who calls himself in e-mails “Fabulous Fab”—his first name is Fabrice—who engineered this whole transaction. And it puts a face on the scandal.
You know, Goldman has made out so well in the final analysis, that looked fishy in the first place that they made out so well as the whole economy was collapsing. And I think people have to say, ah-hah, maybe this is why. And I think it does change the politics materially.
MADDOW: Seeing all these headlines today about Goldman Sachs was also sort of a reminder that, oh, yes, we have an SEC.
MADDOW: And that‘s supposed to police this stuff. And I know that in the first year of the Obama administration, the SEC opened like twice as many investigations as they did in 2008 under Bush. And I wonder, too, if this is—it‘s not just that there‘s a bad guy here, but this is a reminder that regulation is for something. This might be sort of another teachable moment about why we have regulations, why red tape isn‘t always the enemy.
Do you expect Democrats to take that line?
ROBINSON: I think they do. I expect them to say this is why we have regulation. I expect them to say this is why we need to regulate derivatives. And, I—you know, where I expect that the SEC is probably looking under other rocks as well. It takes a time to—it takes some time to go through, you know, all these transactions, this nominal, you know, $600 trillion or whatever dollar nominal market in derivatives that there is out there.
And so, you have to wonder how many other transactions kind of looked like this and whether maybe other shoes will drop.
MADDOW: Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and associate editor for “The Washington Post,” who has absolutely nothing to do with the whole Tiny Town thing and cannot be blamed for it—Gene, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
ROBINSON: Great to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. Since it became clear that Justice John Paul Stevens was retiring on the Supreme Court, we have interviewed on this show three of the women who have been described as potential nominees to fill that seat. We‘ve interviewed Senator Amy Klobuchar, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and head of the TARP oversight panel and beloved financial crisis explainer, Elizabeth Warren.
Tonight, we are keeping that run going. We are going for the fourfecta. Stick around for our next guest.
MADDOW: OK, so the Afghan police force is not all that good at shooting. How do they become the gang that couldn‘t shoot straight? You and I paid people billions of dollars to train them that way. Senator Claire McCaskill returns to the show next to talk about that.
Please stick around.
MADDOW: You know what‘s awkward? It‘s awkward when you‘re trying to get the country of Jordan to get you a really big contract and to make yourself seem like an attractive for that contract, you decide you‘re going to give the king of Jordan five machine guns.
Now, I should clarify, that isn‘t actually the awkward part. That‘s a normal part of your business day. “Mr. King, sir, this is not a bribe, this is a gift. A gift of five machine guns because we like you so much.” That in and of itself, not awkward.
What‘s awkward about giving the five machine guns to the king of Jordan is when you realize that you‘re really not supposed to own those guns at all, legally, and now, you‘ve got to concoct some cockamamie story explaining where those guns went.
The cockamamie story explaining what happened to the five machine guns they gave to the kind of Jordan allegedly involved falsifying four federal documents. That charge is part of a multi-count indictment handed down today against former employees of Blackwater—the former president of Blackwater and four former Blackwater employees. They‘re charged variously with conspiracy to violate firearm laws, possession of machine gun, possession of an unregistered weapon, false statements, and obstruction of justice.
They are also charged with using a local sheriff‘s department in North Carolina using that sheriff‘s department‘s letterhead to make it look like the sheriff was buying machine guns when the machine guns were really for Blackwater. This is just the latest in a series of charges against Blackwater and its employees.
In 2008, the State Department charged the company with shipping 900 weapons into Iraq without the proper permits. Many of those weapons ended up on the black market. In the same year, five Blackwater employees were indicted on manslaughter and weapons charges after 17 Iraqis were killed in Baghdad‘s Nisour Square. Those charges were later dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct.
And this year, the Justice Department is investigating whether Blackwater officials tried to bribe members of the Iraqi government in order to keep their security contract in Iraq after the Nisour Square shooting.
But despite that delightful history, Blackwater is still reportedly in the running for lucrative government contracts, potentially including the $1 billion Pentagon contract to train the Afghan police. That is a task that America has been funding and supposedly working on for over eight years now.
Since 2003, that task has been contracted out to a company called DynCorp. Now, what has that yielded? $6 billion and eight years later, it‘s yielded an Afghan police force that is so shambolic and poorly trained. They quite literally cannot shoot straight.
As reported recently in “Newsweek,” quote, “At Kabul‘s police training center, a team of 35 Italian carabinieri recently arrived to supplement Dyncorp‘s efforts. Before the Italians showed up, the recruits were posting miserable scores on the firing range. But the Italians soon discovered that poor marksmanship wasn‘t the only reason: the sights of the AK-47 and M-16 rifles the recruits were using were badly out of line.
Quote, ‘We zeroed all their weapons,‘ says Lt. Roland Tommasini. ‘It‘s a
very important thing, but no one had done this in the past. I don‘t know
I know, I know.
That story prompted our next guest at an oversight hearing in the Senate to say, quote, “We‘re paying somebody to teach these people to shoot these weapons and nobody ever bothered to check their sights?”
Joining us now after way too long an absence is Senator Claire McCaskill of the great state of Missouri, chair of the homeland security subcommittee on contracting.
Senator, thank you so much for your time tonight. Good to see you.
SEN. CLAIRE MCCASKILL (D), MISSOURI: Thanks, Rachel. Good to be with you.
MADDOW: After all of these years and all of these billions paid to contractors to do this, do they have any explanation for why they haven‘t done something as simple as telling people what the sights on their guns are for?
MCCASKILL: Well, frankly, I mean, it‘s been like the Wild West because nobody‘s been watching them. This is a textbook example of complete lack of oversight on contracting. And it wouldn‘t be so frustrating if this wasn‘t a story that we‘ve heard over and over again.
If you look at this contract, it‘s been bounced around from defense to state. Now, they‘re trying to take it back to defense. And here‘s the saddest part of the story. This is a key mission of what we‘re doing in Afghanistan—training these police departments is one leg of a three-legged stool that is going to dictate whether we succeed or whether we fail.
So, contracting oversight on this police training mission is incredibly important and it has been an abject failure.
MADDOW: General William Caldwell is in charge of training Afghan forces. He says publicly that he would rather work with people like the real Italian police or any real police other than working with contractors. General McChrystal today said that we‘re too reliant on contractors, he said they don‘t save money, says he wants fewer of them in Afghanistan.
Who is actually in favor of these contractors still being there? Why can‘t we seem to free ourselves of them?
MCCASKILL: Well, it‘s because we didn‘t have enough people when we went into Iraq. Truth be known, we didn‘t have the size of force necessary to do what we were trying to do in Iraq. So, the logistic support went to contractors. The training of police went to contractors. Now, we‘re repeating that in Afghanistan.
Now, hopefully—I was in Afghanistan not too long ago, met with both General McChrystal and General Caldwell. I will tell you, General Caldwell gets it. He understands how badly this has been done before. He understands that he‘s got to get this under his command and get control of it.
But just to give you another example of what nonsense there is here—guess who they‘re hiring to oversee the contractors that are training the police in Afghanistan? Contractors.
So, we‘ve got to get people in the country that work for our military that are watching the way these people are being trained, because it‘s not just training, it‘s also mentoring. There‘s rampant corruption in these police departments. And you‘re not going to establish a rule of law unless you work on the mentoring part, so they realize there‘s a different way to police besides saying, “What can you pay me to let you go?”
MADDOW: I worry about the oversight of contracts themselves being contracted out—contractors overseeing contractors. I also worry about the fact we think this is something that can only be done by contractors in terms of delivering this service.
I mean, Blackwater is up for this police training contract in Afghanistan now, despite Nisour Square, despite the State Department investigations, despite this indictment against their former employees. I mean, how bad does a company have to behave before we stop hiring them and just have our troops and our government employees do this stuff?
MCCASKILL: Part of the problem is our military wants what they want when they want it. And contracting is a quicker way to get there. We‘ve got to realize that that is a luxury we can no longer afford because it hasn‘t—it hasn‘t been a good investment for our taxpayers and it hasn‘t been the kind of support our military needs.
So, we have to begin to realize that especially training local police for rule of law in a counterinsurgency effort, which is going to be a core competency of our military forever, we‘ve got to bring that in-house. We‘ve got to make sure we‘ve got the oversight of the contracts that are in the military chain of command so we know who to fire when it goes badly. That‘s part of the problem with this mess, is you don‘t even know who to hold accountable because it‘s such a cluster.
You‘ve got NATO in there. You‘ve got the military. You‘ve got the State Department.
Meanwhile, these contractors—they‘re not really sure who the boss is. So, they do what they feel like.
MADDOW: Do you feel like you have support in the administration and at the Pentagon in for the views that you‘ve expressed here and the way that you‘ve approached this issue?
MCCASKILL: I do. You know, now, this is not something you can turn a switch and accomplish. Part of the problem, Rachel, is the area of contracting is not exactly sexy. And you might have noticed that folks around the Capitol kind of like the stuff getting the headlines that day. So, part of it is an inattention span.
That‘s why I‘m happy about this committee. We can stay on this, even though there may not be a full hearing room, there may not be cameras or people covering it in the newspaper. But these agencies are going to know somebody is paying attention to the way they‘re contracting. And I think, over time, we‘re going to be able to make a real difference—because nobody‘s been paying this kind of attention to contracting in the federal government before.
MADDOW: You keep doing these hearings and I promise, we will keep covering it, at least on our little show here at 9:00.
I have one last question for you, Senator.
MCCASKILL: It‘s a deal.
MADDOW: All right. It‘s a deal.
MADDOW: One last question is—and I know that you won‘t answer it directly and I‘m just going to ask anyway. Wouldn‘t being a Supreme Court justice be an awesome job?
MCCASKILL: Honestly, not for me. I would get way too restless. You know, I love—I‘m an intellectually curious person and I do love to read. But it‘s an isolating job, and I kind of need to be out there mixing it up a little bit more than you can do as a Supreme Court justice.
So, it‘s not something that I—honestly, I don‘t think I‘d even be considered. But if I were, I‘d have to say I don‘t think I‘m the right personality to be a Supreme Court justice.
MADDOW: Senator Claire McCaskill of the great state of Missouri, answering that with way more detail than I ever thought I‘d get—thank you so much for your time tonight and good luck to the Cardinals tonight.
MCCASKILL: Thank you very much.
MADDOW: All right.
All right. So another day, another 17,000 flights canceled in Europe. Thanks to one very ashy Icelandic volcano. Among the countless people stranded, at least one prime minister and one legendary comedian - both of whom have turned out to be very industrious in this crisis. Their long strange trips home—in a moment.
MADDOW: Fifteen years ago, in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, just four days after the bombing, President Bill Clinton, who was then in his first term, spoke at a prayer service in Oklahoma city.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, APRIL 23, 1995)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT: I‘ve received a lot of letters in these last terrible days. One stood out because it came from a young widow and a mother of three whose own husband was murdered with over 200 other Americans when Pan Am 103 was shot down.
Here is what that woman said I should say to you today: “The anger you feel is valid. But you must not allow yourselves to be consumed by it. The hurt you feel must not be allowed to turn into hate, but instead into the search for justice. The loss you feel must not paralyze your own lives, instead you must try to pay tribute to your loved ones by continuing to do all the things they left undone, thus ensuring they did not die in vain. Wise words from one who also knows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: President Clinton also that day addressed the country at large and addressed the climate in which the bombing took place, the movement that the bomber emerged from.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: To all my fellow Americans beyond this hall, I say one thing we owe those who have sacrificed is the duty to purge ourselves of the dark forces which gave rise to this evil.
They are forces that threaten our common peace, our freedom, our way of life. Let us let our own children know that we will stand against the forces of fear. When there is talk of hatred, let us stand up and talk against it.
When there is talk of violence, let us stand up and talk against it. In the face of death, let us honor life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Today, President Clinton looked back at Oklahoma City from 15 years‘ distance in a speech that he gave in Washington. And he turned to some of the same concerns he was just describing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: We can‘t let the debate veer so far into hatred that we lose focus of our common humanity. It‘s really important. We can‘t ever fudge the fact that there is a basic line dividing criticism from violence or its advocacy.
And that the closer you get to the line, and the more responsibility you have, the more you have to think about the echo chamber in which your words resonate.
What we learned from Oklahoma City is not that we should gag each other or that we should reduce our passion for the positions we hold, but that the words we use really do matter because there are - there‘s this vast echo chamber.
And they go across space, and they fall on the serious and the delirious alike. They fall on the connected and the unhinged alike.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Within four months of the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh was charged in federal court with having committed that act. Nearly six years after that, in June 2001, Mr. McVeigh was executed.
Joining us now for the interview tonight is Bud Welch. Bud Welch is the father of Julie Welch, his 23-year-old daughter who died along with 167 other Americans in the Oklahoma City bombing 15 years ago. Mr. Welch is also president of Murder Victims‘ Families for Human Rights. Bud Welch, thank you so much for being here tonight. I really appreciate your time, sir.
BUD WELCH, PRESIDENT, MURDER VICTIMS‘ FAMILIES FOR HUMAN RIGHTS:
Thanks for having me, Rachel.
MADDOW: Over the years, you have spoken publicly about the bombing, about anger and revenge and forgiveness. On these anniversaries, do you feel like the country appropriately marks what happened in Oklahoma City?
WELCH: Yes, I really think the country does. It‘s - of course, you know there‘s less each year, a little bit less, except certainly the 10th anniversary and now the 15th anniversary.
Each year, the pain gets a little less. But that‘s difficult to deal with, because you know, I always say that when your parents die, you go to the hilltop and you bury them. When your children die, you bury them in your heart and it‘s forever. It never goes away.
MADDOW: You testified at Terry Nichols‘ sentencing hearing. You testified against him receiving the death penalty. He did end up getting life without parole. I know, sir, that you were opposed to Timothy McVeigh being executed. How did you come to that position?
WELCH: I reached that point probably about a year after the bombing - close to a year. All my life, I had always opposed the death penalty. I just thought it was something that society should not be doing.
And after Julie‘s death, I was so full of revenge and hate that I had to get retribution in some way. So I was for the death penalty probably for the first year. And after recognizing that killing Tim McVeigh was not part of my healing process, then I was able to move forward.
MADDOW: I know that you sought out and met Timothy McVeigh‘s father in 1998. You said after the meeting with Mr. McVeigh‘s father that he was a bigger victim of the Oklahoma City bombing than you were. What made you feel that way?
WELCH: Well, because I travel all over the world. I‘ve spoken thousands of times. And each time I speak, I‘m able to tell stories about Julie and some wonderful things that she did as a child growing up, and her education and such. And I kind of keep her alive by doing that.
But Bill is never able to publicly say anything positive about his son. And I‘ve been told by family members that - and neighbors that he was a good kid. He was a good student. And of course, he served in the Gulf War and came back apparently with PTSD.
And he and Terry Nichols had served in the same unit together.
And so I guess that was kind of the result of what happened in the war.
MADDOW: You‘re an activist now against the death penalty. You‘ve called executions staged political events. What do you mean by that? And how do you try to bridge the gap between other people who are families of murder victims who feel opposite than you do - to feel the opposite way that you do about capital punishment?
WELCH: Well, I think the main thing about other family members is, after an execution happens, I think they recognize that really killing that other person is not part of their healing process.
We‘re told that it is by the prosecutors. And prosecutors are
mainly district attorneys that are elected. And they have to prove that
they‘re tough on crime. They pound on the podium when they‘re running for
re-election to try to prove they‘re, as I say, the baddest ass in the
jungle and we vote for them.
And governors do much in the same way, except that political issue is not as (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as it was once because we‘re having anti-death penalty people elected to public office now.
MADDOW: Mr. Welch, one last thing I want to ask you about and I don‘t want you feel like you have to comment on this if you don‘t want to. But I would be interested in knowing what you thought about the current political climate, hearing those comments from President Clinton both now and 15 years ago.
A lot of people are trying to figure out now if there are parallels in today‘s politics to what was going on in the early ‘90s. Do you have any thoughts about that?
WELCH: You know, my fear is that there is some. And what this reminds me of what‘s going on now reminds me very much of the 1960s and the 1970s of desegregation. We‘re kind of seeing that same ugly head rise again. And that disturbs me a lot.
MADDOW: Bud Welch, the father of Julie Welch and president of Murder Victims‘ Family for Human Rights, leading up to this very difficult anniversary. Sir, thank you very much for being here and sharing your thoughts with us.
WELCH: Thank you.
MADDOW: And a reminder - our two-hour special documentary, “The McVeigh Tapes,” will air on Monday during this hour, 9:00 p.m. Eastern here on MSNBC. It draws on dozens of hours of audio interviews of Timothy McVeigh conducted in prison that have not been previously heard.
You can see some clips from the film. You can see some behind-the-scenes video online right now at our blog, which is “MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.” We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Still to come tonight, have you ever heard the expression “killing a flea with a Buick?” Me neither, but it‘s appropriate to this next story. A Republican senator seriously overdid it in a confirmation hearing today and his act is probably a preview of what‘s going to be in store for the next Supreme Court nominee. That story is coming up.
But first, a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. The ash cloud spewing out of a volcano in Iceland is wreaking havoc in the skies for the second straight day.
The European air traffic agency says about 17,000 flights were canceled today because of the giant cloud of engine-killing particulate matter. That means about two-thirds of the normal air traffic over Europe is still grounded.
Now, naturally, we‘re starting to hear all kinds of stories about people being stranded in one country or another or the wrong side of the Atlantic. And we‘re also hearing about their efforts to keep their lives going while they try to get home.
Take for example the prime minister of Norway who got stuck in New York City. Here‘s a picture of him trying to run his government from the airport with the use of his new iPad.
The prime minister did manage to get out of New York last night and he‘s on a long strange trip home right now. First, he flew to Madrid. Then, he hopped a flight from Madrid to Basel, Switzerland.
Now, he‘s traveling the rest of the way home by car with five other people. Because the producers who work for this show are awesome - I‘m talking to you, Tricia - we‘ve actually been in contact with one of the people who is in the car with the Norwegian prime minister.
Norway‘s state secretary told us that they‘re doing fine. They‘re planning to stop in Germany overnight to rest. Tomorrow, they will press on to Oslo. And the prime minister is apparently working all the way, although for some reason, he had he to ship his iPad through all the way to Norway so it could clear customs there.
He‘s using a laptop and a cell phone to stay in touch with his government and update his Facebook page and his Twitter feed where he‘s saying things like - yes. That‘s in Norwegian. Do we have an English translation?
All right. “Just talked with prime minister of Iceland on the phone. The IMF has approved a new loan to Iceland. That is good news.” We wish the prime minister and the state secretary and all of the other Norwegians crammed into that sweaty little car with them, very safe travels.
And then there are the folks trying to get the heck out of Norway. British actor John Cleese was in Oslo to do a TV show when the Icelandic volcano started doing what volcanoes do. He could not fly back to Britain and all the trains were full.
So Mr. Cleese reportedly hired a cab to take him to Brussels in Belgium. That‘s a 950-mile cab ride through Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. It reportedly cost him over $5,000.
Little known fact about John Cleese - he is one of the celebrities who voiced those turn-by-turn driving directions for the TomTom GPS device. How awesome would it be if his cab driver had the John Cleese TomTom GPS? And then, John Cleese had to listen to himself give directions all the way from Oslo to Belgium, saying things like this.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
JOHN CLEESE, ACTOR: Bear right, beaver left.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: For 15 hours. Yes, that might get old. Mr. Cleese reportedly hopes to catch a train in Belgium and be home some time tomorrow afternoon, whereupon I really want to know how it all went. John Cleese, please call. Please.
MADDOW: If the coming political brawl about President Obama‘s next Supreme Court nominee is the main event, today, we saw one serious preliminary fight. For mock outraged obstructionist hyperbole, some Senate Republicans never disappoint.
Constitutional Law professor Jonathan Turley will join us next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (R-AL): Your testimony in the Alito nomination, I was - I had not recalled the intensity of your remarks. You said at that time, quote, “Judge Alito‘s record and visions in America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with way stolen purse, where federal agents may point guns at ordinary citizens during a raid, even after no sign of resistance.”
“Where the FBI may install a camera where you sleep on the promise that they won‘t turn it on unless an informant is in the room, where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man absent, say, multiple regression analysis showing discrimination, and where police may search where a warrant permits and then some.”
“Mr. Chairman, I humbly submit this is not the America we know, nor is it the America we aspire to be,” closed quote.
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MADDOW: That was Republican Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions of Alabama reminding Goodwin Liu, who is himself now a judicial nominee, what Mr. Liu said at Samuel Alito‘s confirmation hearing back in 2006.
The particular quote was the conclusion of 17 pages of written testimony submitted by Mr. Liu which detailed and dissected Judge Alito‘s record to build up to that summary.
Mr. Liu is now nominated to serve as a federal appeals court judge. At his confirmation hearing, Senate Republicans went after him for what he wrote about Justice Alito.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see it as very vicious and emotionally and racially charged, very intemperate. And to me, it calls into question your ability to approach and characterize people‘s positions in a fair and judicious way.
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MADDOW: Racially charged? Goodwin Liu? Really? Here‘s why that charge might sound familiar.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of Judge Sotomayor‘s public statements suggest that she may, indeed, allow or even embrace decision-making based on her biases and prejudices.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Already prejudiced against one of the parties.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While biases and personal preferences -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wise Latina woman quote -
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A wise Latina comment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your wise Latina comment.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Justice Sotomayor has said she accepts that her opinions, sympathies and prejudices will affect her rulings.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Her prejudice. That, of course, was from last summer during the confirmation hearing of President Obama‘s first Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor.
This summer will be the nomination hearing for President Obama‘s second Supreme Court nominee. We don‘t yet know who that is. But Goodwin Liu‘s confirmation hearing to an Appeals Court today may very well have been the dress rehearsal.
Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University. Professor Turley, thanks for coming on the show. It‘s always nice to see you.
JONATHAN TURLEY, PROFESSOR OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Do you think this was a dress rehearsal for the Supreme Court nomination battle?
TURLEY: Well, I think it was. I think it actually began with the trashing of Dawn Johnson who just withdrew from being head of the Office of Legal Counsel. This was a position that she was barred from simply because she spoke out against torture.
And now, we‘re seeing that Professor Liu who‘s facing this type of opposition. And it‘s really startling because this is obviously a brilliant individual, someone who could add considerable intellectual depth to this court. And you wonder what‘s going to happen to our judiciary if we continue in this toxic environment.
You know, when Michael McConnell was put on the court during the Bush years, a very conservative law professor, many of us applauded that. Even though I disagree entirely with Michael McConnell‘s views, he brought a great philosophical depth to the Tenth Circuit.
So did Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook were both given not qualified or just simply qualified ratings by the ABA. They are brilliant jurists. And while they are conservative, they‘ve added greatly to the fabric of our court system.
We have too few of those people. And the question is, when are we going to have wiser minds prevail again in the Senate the way that it used to? When people would say, come on, you know, we want smart people. And this guy is clearly someone who is off the charts in terms of intellect.
MADDOW: In terms of not only Goodwin Liu‘s nomination, but also the Supreme Court nomination to come, it seems like Republicans really felt like they claimed a scalp with Dawn Johnson.
They really pounded their chest and conservative groups really pounded their chests over her withdrawing her nomination for the Office of Legal Counsel. They seem to be - there seems to be a lot of hyperbole and puffery going on in the opposition to Liu as well.
The more room that they take up by bragging about their power at this point - doesn‘t that mean the Democrats have less room to maneuver unless they start flexing their muscles a little, too?
TURLEY: Well, you know, it‘s funny to watch the Democrats at this. You know, at one point, Chairman Leahy - he said, you know, we voted for many of your nominees because they assured us they would be unbiased, even though they were very conservative.
And I really expect you guys to do the same. And there was sort of a long pause of silence that followed that. You know, the fact is that the GOP is ramping up. They‘re resurgent in a lot of ways. They often turn to judicial nominations as part of this sort of personality-driven politics that we live in, either to deify or to demonize people.
But there‘s no question. In fact, one of the senators today made direct reference to the fact that this nomination is being shaded by the upcoming Supreme Court fight.
And it‘s clear that the GOP is ready to put everything on the table in this Supreme Court fight. They think this is something that‘s going to carry a lot of weight with them until the next election.
MADDOW: Briefly, Jonathan, do you think that Goodwin Liu is going to get confirmed?
TURLEY: I hope he does. And I just can‘t imagine turning down an individual like this. You know, if you look at his resume, you could cut his resumes into thirds. And it would be bigger than most resumes of judges that we put on the court in the last 20 years.
I mean, this guy has done an incredible amount in his lifetime. You turn down someone like Professor Liu - I don‘t know what you‘re saying about the quality of our courts or about the confirmation process. But it certainly is not nice.
MADDOW: Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University, thanks very much for joining us tonight, Jonathan.
TURLEY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: So a much less contentious political debate ahead, proving perhaps once and for all which state has the geekiest legislature in the country. A “Moment of Geek,” next.
MADDOW: OK. So tonight‘s “Moment of Geek” is both very science-y and part of a delicious diet. And it answers an important question no one has ever really asked before, which is, “Which state has the geekiest legislature?”
Tonight we nominate Wisconsin, by a vote of 56 to 41. The Wisconsin assembly yesterday passed a bill to select the state‘s official microbe. A microbe, of course, is a microscopic organism you can‘t see with the naked eye.
What is the Wisconsin state microbe? It‘s this really, really, really, really, really little guy, the Lactococcus lactis. Of course, as if some other microbe even had a chance.
State Representative Gary Hebl explained, quote, “The first time I heard the idea, I thought I‘ve got more important things to do than my time honoring a microbe. But this microbe is really a very hard worker.”
Lactococcus lactis is a very hard worker. It‘s a major deal in Wisconsin because it‘s critical in the production of Cheddar, Colby and Monterey Jack. In 2008, Wisconsin produced about 2.5 billion pounds of cheese.
In order for milk to become cheese, it first goes through a process called acidification that gives cheese some of its flavor and helps the milk to coagulate. And it happens when an enzyme called rennet combines with lactic acid. And lactic acid occurs, thanks to our heroic bacterial microbe, the Lactococcus lactis.
If the state Senate goes along with this, the new official microbe would be in good company. Wisconsin also has an official state song, ballad, waltz, dance, beverage, tree, grain, flower, bird, fish, animal, domestic animal, wildlife animal, dog, insect, fossil, mineral, rock, fruit and tartan. Which makes me want our show to have those things, too. We‘re going to start with the tartan, I think.
That does it for us tonight. Have a wonderful weekend. Good night.
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United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,
transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written
permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,
copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>