The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 04/20/11

Guests:
Ed Rendell, Bob Cavnar, Dante Chinni
Transcript:

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thank you.

And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

           

In the wee hours of the morning on November 22nd, 2003, something really unusual happened in this country.  While most Americans were sound asleep, something was happening in D.C. that would later be described as the most intense moment on the House floor in decades.

It was toward the end of George W. Bush‘s first term in office.  Republicans in Congress were trying to push through one of Mr. Bush‘s signature achievements, the Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Act.  If that bill sounds familiar to you even now these years later, it because we now know this bill less affectionately as the giant billion dollar giveaway to the prescription drug industry that was never paid for and that exploded the deficit.  The Medicare Part D bill is one of the major reasons we have a giant deficit right now.  So, it is famous even now.

But in November 2003, George W. Bush and House Republicans really, really, really wanted to pass that thing.  So, they held the vote on the House floor, and they held it at 3:00 in the morning, when everybody else in the country was asleep.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The vote is ordered.  The yeas and nays are ordered.  This will be a 15-minute vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  This will be a 15-minute vote, in the middle of the night.  That was 3:00 in the morning.  Fifteen-minute vote on this thing that would later absolutely monsoon the deficit.

But there was a big political problem here—a big problem.  Republicans in the House, it turns out, did not have the votes they needed to pass this thing.  When the 15 minutes they allotted for the vote were up, Democrats had beaten it.  Democrats had successfully defeated this thing.  It was—it was over.  They peeled off enough Republicans and they beat it.

It was over, game, set, match.  Sorry, Mr. Bush, you cannot have this deficit busting thing that we know you really want.

That‘s when really unusual stuff started happening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A House roll call usually runs from 15 to 20 minutes.  But the Republican leadership kept the vote open for nearly three hours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Three hours.  The Republican congressman who was presiding over the House in the wee hours of that morning just refused to close the vote.  That 15-minute vote, he left it open and open and open.  And what was supposed to be a 15-minute vote, turned into a nearly three-hour vote.

What was happening in those three hours?  The Republican leadership team at the time, Tom DeLay, Denny Hastert, Roy Blunt, they were dropping the hammer on their fellow Republicans.

According to reports at the time, the Republican leadership had doormen stationed around the exits of the House floor, to make sure that no Republicans who had voted no could escape the House chamber.  But even with that, hours into this vote, Republicans still could not get the votes they needed.

“The Hill” newspaper reporting at the time, quote, “Shortly before 5:00 a.m., an assistant to George W. Bush summed up the dire situation, ‘We need to wake up the president.‘”  And they did.  The same paper later reporting that President Bush, on a cellphone, was passed around the House chamber at 5:00 in the morning, to lobby Republicans by cell phone to change their minds.

By 5:30 in the morning, three hours after that 15 minute vote was called for, mission accomplished.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  On this vote, the yeas are 220, the nays are 115.  (INAUDIBLE) is agreed to.  Without objection, the motion to reconsider is laid upon the table.

(CHEERS)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The Republicans got their votes, all the doormen and the bartering presumably and the passing the president around on a cell phone, all the rest of it, it all paid off, finally.  Finally, the Republicans passed Medicare Part D—D standing for fiscal disaster.

But it never could have happened without that Republican congressman right there, who was willing to hold open a 15-minute vote for three hours.  At 3:00 in the morning—they started at 3:00, they kept it open until they got what they needed.  He‘s a little known back bench Republican congressman named Doc Hastings.

Fast forward a little more than two years later, to January 2006, this was the scene, disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a hat, pleading guilty to corruption charges and being hauled off to prison.

One of Mr. Abramoff‘s lobbying clients was the government of Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth of the United States, where you could legally sew a made in the USA label into a piece of clothing while using sweatshops labor to do it.  The Interior Department at the time found that working conditions in the Marianas included forced prostitution and forced abortions.

Jack Abramoff lobbied for that government‘s right to impose those more vile than even your usual vile sweat shop conditions.  He used his connections in Congress to prevent any laws from being passed that would disturb that right.  Mr. Abramoff got that lucrative gig working for the Marianas by bragging to them about his excellent to ties to a little known back bench Republican congressman named Doc Hastings.

And indeed, Mr. Hastings and Mr. Abramoff were hand and glove on the Marianas.  During the time that Congress was debating new labor standards for this “Made in the USA” sweat shop land, Jack Abramoff‘s office was lobbying Congressman Hastings to block any such standards and giving him gobs and gobs of campaign cash at the same time.

“The New York Times” reported at the time that aides for Mr. Abramoff

were briefing aides for Congressman Hastings about what questions he should

ask during a committee hearing on the issue.  At one point, Congressman

Hastings asked for a pro-Mariana Islands editorial to be entered into the

record, an editorial that have been authored by a paid Abramoff consultant

while Hastings said he wasn‘t aware of that at the time.

           

When Jack Abramoff went down, though—when he went to prison—it‘s not like members of Congress went with him, right?  I mean, Doc Hastings was never charged with any wrongdoing in the Abramoff scandal.

And now, Doc Hastings is not just some back bencher holding open 15-minute votes for three hours, and helping out Jack Abramoff any more.  Now, Doc Hastings is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.  And natural resources as in what you are thinking of—natural resources as in the committee that has oversight over stuff like oil drilling.

And while Congressman Hastings is not from a traditional oil state—again, he represents Washington state—the oil industry really has taken a recent liking to him.  This past campaign cycle, Doc Hastings got more money from the oil and gas industry than any other industry.

And, today, one year to the day after the big BP oil disaster, Doc Hastings is pushing three separate bills through the house to further deregulate American oil drilling.  One of those bills says if the federal government is not able to approve a new drilling permit within 60 days, then, quote, “the application is deem add proved.”  Just like that, magic.

Not only that, but if the government needs more than 30 days to review a permit, they have to inform the oil company whose asked for the permit, who at the permit agency specifically, which individual specific person is causing that delay.  So, as to make it easier for the oil companies to get in touch with that person, perhaps?

If Mr. Hastings‘ bill passes, the government would not be allowed to study a permit for more than 60 days, even in the wake of the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  If that Doc Hastings‘ bill passes, and it‘s already been approved by his committee, naturally, it would be sort of a remarkable thing.  And here‘s why: in the year since the worst oil spill in U.S.  history, Congress has not passed one single spill related bill.  Not one.

According to “The New Orleans Times-Picayune,” a grand total of 101 such bills have been introduced in this Congress.  Not one of them has passed.  Democratic Congressman Ed Markey of Massachusetts has interest g introduced a number of these bills, for example, he proposed bills trying to toughen up the oil industry, stuff like whistle-blower protections for oil industry employees who disclose safety violations at rigs.  They‘ve been all sorts of proposals about things like tying drilling permits to the oil industry investing in better cleanup technology.  But none of those bills have become law.

What has been done in Congress, regarding the oil industry in the last year, what‘s happened?  Well, last week, House Republicans passed their big Paul Ryan budget plan.  That legislation, which dismantles Medicare and calls for drastic cuts in food stamps for low income Americans, that budget still somehow manages to pay out $40 billion in taxpayer subsidies to oil companies.

No money to pay for health compare for senior citizens.  No money to pay for food stamps for poor people.  But the oil industry, which is quite literally the most profitable industry ever known to mankind, is it getting $40 billion more taxpayer dollar sent their way.

One year ago tonight, an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico burst into flames after safety equipment onboard that rig failed.  When it first happened, details were sketchy at best.  We went back in our own archives and found that this is how we first reported on the explosion, when we got the first images from it two days after it happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  What you‘re looking at here is the oil rig off the coast of Louisiana that caught fire two nights ago, from which 11 workers are still missing.  Seventeen workers were medivaced off the site, some of them with severe injuries.  These shots were actually all taken while the rig was still afloat, although it was burning and one point listing to the side.  Since then, today, this rig has sunk, creating what federal officials say is the potential for a major oil spill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was April 22nd of last year, we did not know, of course, how bad it would get.

Those 11 workers who were missing that night never returned home.  When we first reported it that night in April, we could not know how bad the disaster would turn out to be, that the blown well would keep spewing millions of barrels of oil for three months into the Gulf of Mexico.  We did not know that night what had precipitated the accident.

Now, one year later, we do know at least some of what went wrong.  But congressional action to fix it has so far consisted of $40 billion worth of corporate welfare for the industry, and making it quicker for them to get their permits, no matter how safe this sort of drilling is.

Joining us now is Bob Cavnar.  He‘s a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas industry.  He was president and CEO of an oil and gas drilling exploration firm called Milagro Exploration.  He‘s also author of the book, “Disaster on the Horizon: High Stakes, High Risk and the Story Behind the Deepwater Well Blowout.”

Mr. Cavnar, thanks again for joining us tonight.

BOB CAVNAR, OIL AND GAS INDUSTRY VETERAN:  Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  What do you think the feeling is tonight among people in the oil industry, that a year out from the BP disaster, Congress has done quite literally nothing in terms of new laws regulating drilling?

CAVNAR:  You know, there‘s some confusion within the industry, frankly, what I‘m hearing, Rachel.  One is that more and more of those in the industry who drill offshore are looking for more certainty from the rules and the BOEMRE has been very slow in publishing those new rules.

But you have to understand also that the industry likes to think of itself as being very, very good, and doesn‘t really like these rules to be put in place.  So, as they ask for certainty, they continue to fight against new regulation.  So, they really like the gridlock within Congress, I believe, and not having any new regulations to have to adhere to.

MADDOW:  Even today, a year later, as you say, the industry continues to think of itself as being very good at what they do. They continue to brag about how they‘re constantly improving all of their technology.

CAVNAR:  Right.

MADDOW:  If another BP-style spill or sized spill happened today—would we see different types of technology being used to clean it up?  Would we not see the same lousy boom, for instance that we all saw in the Gulf being so ineffective within the past year?

CAVNAR:  On the surface Rachel, nothing has changed.  It‘s the same old same old.  The same boom, the same 40-year-old technology that was used with the Exxon Valdez back in ‘89.

There had been some improvements in sub-sea containment, obviously, with these new containment companies.  But that‘s untested.  That has not been actually proven to work in a real situation.

And you have to remember that 80 percent of the oil, about 80 percent, that flows from a subsea well never sees the surface.  So, that is the critical element that‘s missing.

MADDOW:  If there was a proposal in Congress right now—let‘s say one of these things that Ed Markey had proposed had passed.  If Ed Markey‘s proposal to tie new permits to documented investment in cleanup technology or prevention technology, if that had happened, would the oil industry be willing to comply?  We‘ve heard arguments, pro-industry arguments, that they‘d suddenly just decide not to drill in the Gulf any more, they would go elsewhere.  Any regulation would be too burdensome for them and they‘d just give up.

CAVNAR:  First off, they will always drill in the Gulf, because it‘s easy to get to oil, as compared to other places in the world.  I don‘t believe Congress would ever have the courage to actually pass a regulation like that.  But if they did, I think the industry would reluctantly comply to keep drilling.  But then when it worked, they‘d be happy to take credit for it.

MADDOW:  There was a bit of news today in the industry, BP chose today, the one-year anniversary of their big disaster to file a lawsuit against Cameron International, maker of the blowout preventer that failed at their site.  They‘ve also sued Transocean, who was operating the rig that went down.

What‘s your sense of choosing—the importance of choosing this anniversary for those actions and what that says about how the industry is accepting or deflecting blame here?

CAVNAR:  Well, you really can‘t accuse BP of being overly compassionate for filing these lawsuits on the day that—the anniversary of the day they lost 11 workers and destroyed an ecosystem.

But I think everyone needs to understand that BP is the operator of record.  They are the ones who are responsible for this, and they‘re trying to spread as much blame as they can, because it hopefully would—on their side, would reduce their liability.

But you have to ask the question, if Transocean is a poor driller and Cameron makes poor blowout preventers, what drilling rigs are they using now in the world?  They are drilling about 12 offshore wells around the world now.  Somebody of those were Transocean rigs and certainly, some of those have Cameron blowout preventers.

So, have they actually stopped using those, if they‘re actually faulty in their view?  That‘s the question I think we need to ask.

MADDOW:  Bob Cavnar, a 30-year veteran of the oil and gas industry, who‘s been a real help to us at trying to understand these issues.  Thanks a lot for joining us tonight, Bob.  Appreciate it.

CAVNAR:  Great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The Republican plan to restore fiscal health to the federal government, Paul Ryan‘s plan, right?  It has two major political problems.  Number one: the numbers appear to be and—this is a technical term—hinky.  Second problem, it‘s crazy unpopular.  Everybody hates it.

What is a Democratic president to do with a situation before him? 

Your opponent has a plan that is obviously hinky and everybody hates it?  What do you do when you‘re given that gift from the universe?  You do exactly what President Obama did with it today.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  What does it mean to be on a heightened state of alert for five straight years without a break?  It means that the phrase heightened state of alert has no meaning whatsoever.  Taking concrete steps to making the response to the 9/11 attacks less stupid, nearly a decade on from those attacks.  That is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘ve had a look at spending, both on non-security issues as well as defense spending, and then what we‘ve said is, let‘s take another trillion of that, that we raise through a reform in the tax system that allows people like me and, frankly, you, Mark, for paying a little more in taxes.

MARK ZUCKERBERG, FACEBOOK FOUNDER:  I‘m cool with that.

OBAMA:  I know you‘re OK with that.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  Keep in mind, what we‘re talking about is going back to the

rates that existed when Bill Clinton was president.  Now, a lot of you were

– 

           

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  I‘m trying to say this delicately—still in diapers at that time.  But for those of you who recall, the economy was booming and wealthy people were getting wealthier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  President Obama did a town hall at Facebook headquarters today in Palo Alto, California.  Palo Alto is where he was geographically.  Politically where he was, was on offense.

Watch the president answer this question from a Facebook employee about whether or not the Republicans Paul Ryan budget thing is as bold or as brave as lots of the media have been giving credit for.  Watch the president here go from the personal to the political.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The Republican budget that was put forward, I would say is fairly radical.  I wouldn‘t call it particularly courageous.

I do think Mr. Ryan is sincere, I think he‘s a patriot, I think he wants to solve a real problem, which is our long term deficit.

But I think that what he and the other Republicans in the House of Representatives also want to do is change our social compact in a pretty fundamental way.  Their basic view is that no matter how successful I am, no matter how much I‘ve taken from this country—you know, I wasn‘t born wealthy.

You know, I was raised by a single mom and my grandparents.  I went to college on scholarships.  There was a time when my mom was trying to get her PhD where for a short time she had to take food stamps.  My grandparents relied on Medicare and Social Security to help supplement their income when they got old.

So, their notion is, despite the fact that I‘ve benefited from all these investments—my grandfather benefited from the G.I. bill after he fought in World War II—that somehow I now have no obligation to people who are less fortunate than me and I have no real obligation to future generations to make investments so that they have a better future.

So, what his budget proposal does is not only hold income tax flat, he actually wants to further reduce taxes for the wealthy.  Further reduce taxes for corporations.  Not pay for those.

And in order to make his numbers work, cut 70 percent out of our clean energy budget, cut 25 percent out of our education budget, cut transportation budgets by a third.  I guess you could call that bold, I would call it short-sided.  On – 

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  Their basic theory is, that if we just turn Medicare into a voucher program, and turn Medicaid into block grant programs, then now you Medicare recipient will go out and you‘ll shop for the best insurance that you‘ve got, that you can find.  And that you‘re going to control costs because you‘re going to say to the insurance company, this is all I can afford.

That will control costs, except, if you get sick and the policy that you bought doesn‘t cover what you‘ve go, then either you‘re going to mortgage your house or you‘re going to go to the emergency room.

What they want to do is to push the costs of health care inflation on to you.  So, yes, I think it‘s fair to say that their vision is radical.  No, I don‘t think it‘s particularly courageous because the last point I‘ll make is this—nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless or don‘t have lobbyists or don‘t have clout.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  I don‘t think that‘s particularly courageous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  “Nothing is easier than solving a problem on the backs of people who are poor or people who are powerless or don‘t have any lobbyists or don‘t have clout.  I don‘t think that‘s particularly courageous.”

Joining us now is NBC News political analyst and former Pennsylvania governor, Democrat Ed Rendell.

Governor Rendell, it‘s really nice to see you.  Thanks for being here.

ED RENDELL (D), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR:  My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Are you hearing in President Obama his re-election campaign?

RENDELL:  Sure.  But more than the re-election campaign, we‘re hearing from him basic values that he should have been espousing, in my judgment, a long time ago.  I thought his speech last week was terrific.  I thought what he did today was excellent.  And when you juxtapose it to the reception that Congressman Ryan got at his town meeting—I almost felt sorry for Congressman Ryan.

MADDOW:  Congressman Ryan shouted down by his own constituents out of town meeting today, of course, when he was talking about how rich people really need to have their tax burden lowered, a lot of angry Wisconsin constituents there facing with him with what is, frankly, actually, a sort of a national position on this.  His take on that is very unpopular.

RENDELL:  And it‘s amazing to me, Rachel, that every Republican, except four, voted for it.  And those who voted for it, like suburban Philadelphia congressman, Republican congressman, they‘ve got to be ready to jump off a bridge tonight after seeing the reception he got.  I mean, you‘re going to see people backing away from that Ryan plan.  They‘re going to be running so fast they‘re going to leave turf burns.

MADDOW:  The new “Washington Post”/ABC News poll that just out shows 72 percent of Americans support raising taxes for people making more than a quarter of a million dollars – 72 percent say tax the rich.  Same poll on Medicare, 65 percent of Americans say leave it as it is.  Only 34 percent want something that sounds like the Paul Ryan plan, a privatized Medicare coupon program.

Those are really, really big numbers.  How do the Democrats look at that political capital and then mine it?  How do you convert poll numbers like that into electoral results if you‘re the Democratic Party?

RENDELL:  By standing up and talking about them loud and clear.  It‘s what I—as I recall, Rachel, it‘s what you and I said we ought to have been doing last fall.  We ought to have made the election last fall about raising taxes on the rich people to reduce the deficit and help us get a balanced budget that would create jobs.  We should have been doing that last year.  I think it‘s time to find our voice again.

And I give the president credit, he should be emboldening Democrats all across the country to speak over and over again.  Every Democrat ought to be out talking about the Ryan plan, talking about what the president wants to do, talking about the need to invest to create jobs, talking about, you know, we can do this if we do it the right way, and we can do it in a fairway, that everybody shares the pain.  Those issues are on our side, we got to just go out there and speak loudly and speak with one voice.

Now, at the same time, it was interesting—I‘m sure you saw the “Washington Post” poll where the president still is slightly less favorable on his handling of the deficit than the Republicans.  Well, number one, I don‘t think his new plan has sunk in to the citizens at large yet.

But number two, the citizens want this resolved and they want the president to leave.  They want to be strong.  They want him to have values, which he won‘t compromise on.  But they want him to lead to and find a solution to this.

MADDOW:  It seems like there‘s two ways—the sort of—it‘s not offense and defense, but it‘s sort of maybe more of a two-pronged attack way to think about this.  One is what you‘re talking about right there, with the president trying to increase his appeal, get out his message on the deficit, because on policy, it is the kind of message that is going to resonate, that people believe in what they say they believe in.

But the other side is maybe this opportunity to split the Republican politicians from their base.  The new Marist poll says among self-identified Tea Party supporters, 70 percent oppose cutting Medicare and Medicaid as a means of cutting the deficit.

RENDELL:  Stunning.

MADDOW:  Stunning.  So, isn‘t that a way, though, to—isn‘t that another potential prong of attack if the Republican base, the Tea Party base of the Republican Party hates the Paul Ryan plan as much as anybody else does?

RENDELL:  Absolutely.  Go after everybody.  Everybody is fair game.

I remember that famous sign that the Tea Party lady was carrying at the beginning of the Tea Party, “Get the government off of my Medicare”—well, she‘s saying to Paul Ryan, “Government, stay away from my Medicare,” and Medicare has been the most successful social program other than Social Security I think in the history of the world.  And everyone gets it, including Tea Party-ites.

So, I think we should hang this around their neck.  I will tell you, the suburban Republican congressman in Philadelphia who voted for the Ryan plan has to be very, very unhappy tonight.

MADDOW:  Given the type of numbers and the type of response that we‘re both talking about here—one thing that mystifies me still is what‘s happening not with the president, because I think the president‘s message lines up with the sort of common sense political strategy here.  But what‘s happening with Democrats in Congress.  Democrats in Congress are talking about trying to find some middle ground between the president‘s proposal and Paul Ryan‘s proposal.

Even Dick Durbin, real ally of the president, seeing as a real progressive in the Senate, he‘s on that “gang of six,” talking about trying to find that middle ground, as if the Paul Ryan proposal is a good opposite goalpost that you might triangulate against.  I wonder what you think is going on there?

RENDELL:  Well, I would deeply object to the term “middle ground,” because “middle ground” seems to say meet in the middle.  There‘s no way we should meet in the middle about the Medicare voucher plan.  There‘s just absolutely no way.

Can we agree that there can be costs taken out of the Medicare and Medicaid program?  Of course, but not benefits.  We don‘t reduce benefits, we reduce costs.

Perfect example, Rachel, do you know how much we would save if we used both Medicare and Medicare, the leverage buying power of the federal government for pharmaceuticals?  We would save over the course of 10 years, hundreds and hundreds of billions of dollars.  And that‘s a way we can take costs down without taking one pill or one benefit away from any senior or person on Medicaid.

So, there are ways we can reduce cost.  We should rein in costs with the health care system, which, in fact, are Medicare and Medicaid.  We can do that.

Could we promise and maybe get rid of most of the loopholes and draw the line at millionaires as opposed to people who earn $250,000?  Yes, I think we can do that.  I mean, there‘s got to be a little bit of give here.  And the president really has got to be the one who leads on that.

But Democrats should not give away the store, not with the numbers you‘re seeing and I‘m seeing and these polls are demonstrating.  Let‘s dig our heels in, and fight for what we believe in.

MADDOW:  With these numbers, Democrats don‘t even—not only do they not need to let Republicans have the store, they don‘t even need to let Republicans in the front door.

RENDELL:  Absolutely.  And you know, you know—you‘re absolutely right.  And you know that if you‘re a Republican congressman from a swing district, you see the polls, you saw what happened to Congressman Ryan today—you desperately want a compromise and you‘re willing to make that compromise where the people want those lines to be drawn—unless you‘re willing to commit political suicide.

MADDOW:  NBC political analyst, former Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell—Governor, it‘s always great to have you on the show.  Thanks a lot.

RENDELL:  Nice to be back.

MADDOW:  And we got some big new politics news tonight from the pulsing, throbbing heart of the Democratic base, Wisconsin, of course.

That‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You may have noticed that we and everyone else have paid an inordinate amount of political attention recently to a special election for a state Supreme Court justice.  Why?  Because of the state where that special election took place, Wisconsin.  And that election—that election between a current conservative justice named David Prosser and his challenger, assistant attorney general, JoAnne Kloppenburg, that election took place on April 5th.  It was the first election in Wisconsin, the first electoral temperature-taking after the Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans there jolted the Democratic base to life with their Republican union-stripping adventure.

After that adventure, voila, what just weeks before, had not only been a race that nobody would have ever paid attention to nationally, but what would have been a race that was a shoo in election for the conservative incumbent, came down on election night to less than half a percent between the two candidates.  And a contested and strange late production of thousands of votes for the conservative incumbent in one Republican controlled county with a history of mishandled elections.

Tonight, the challenger, JoAnne Kloppenburg, made this long awaited announcement about that race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOANNE KLOPPENBURG, WISCONSIN ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Today, my campaign is asking the Government Accountability Board to conduct a statewide recount.

(CHEERS)

KLOPPENBURG:  I am also calling on the Government Accountability Board to appoint a special investigator to professionally, thoroughly, and completely investigate the actions and words of the Waukesha County clerk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  JoAnne Kloppenburg announcing that she wants a recount of the Wisconsin vote.  And she wants a special investigator to look into this seemingly hinky last results from that one troubled county.  She didn‘t say hinky exactly.  That‘s me, for I think, what, that‘s like the 11th time tonight I‘ve said the word “hinky.”  But what‘s one more?

Hinkiness or not, and whether the Beltway has caught on or not, Democrats in Wisconsin are turning political outrage in their state into electoral outcomes in their state.  New news you have not seen anywhere else on that—coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In the entire history of the great state of Wisconsin, there have been precisely four recall elections for state officials—four.  Now there are about to be at least four more.  Wisconsinites angry with what Governor Scott Walker and the Republicans did to strip union rights have submitted a lot more than the required number of signatures to get the recall of four Republican state senators on the ballot in Wisconsin.

Here‘s where those four Republican senators are from.  These are their districts—and, hey, fun with maps.  Watch what happens when we show you those districts in a modern Scott Walker era Wisconsin political context.

Are you ready?  Go!

There‘s already been one statewide election since Scott Walker and the union stripping misadventure, a state Supreme Court election.  And in that election, this map shows Wisconsin‘s mood.  The parts of the state that are colored white on this map, people voted the same in this recent election as they did in November.  As you can see, that‘s almost nowhere in the state.

The few little red spots you see in Wisconsin, those counties voted more Republican in the most recent election.  But the whole big blue swath that is the rest of the state, those places voted more Democratic or way more Democratic than they did before, than they did just this past November.  That‘s what Scott Walker and the Republicans‘ union-stripping adventure did to Wisconsin politics.  They made the state vote this much more blue than they did even six months ago in November.

And the four Republican senators who it looks like will be facing recall elections?  Look at where their districts are.  Hmmm.

You know, if three Republicans actually get beaten by Democrats in these recall elections, the Senate in Wisconsin will become a Democratic majority body.  It only got as red as it is six months ago.  But Scott Walker and the Republican‘s union-stripping thing seems to have fixed all that, and fast.

Joining us now is Dante Chinni.  He is project director of Patchwork Nation, which is affiliated with PBS.  He‘s also author of the book, “Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the Real America.”

Mr. Chinni, thanks very much for being here.  We really appreciate it.

DANTE CHINNI, PATCHWORK NATION:  Thank you for having me.

MADDOW:  I know that you are immersed in that date that I just tried to present.  I‘m a bystander.  So, let me ask you if the way I explained that makes sense to you?  Was that a fair representation?

CHINNI:  Yes.  I‘d say for the most part.  You know, the one thing I would note, Republicans will say this is a special election, and turnout was lower than it would normally be—obviously, much lower than it was last November.  So, you can apply that to those numbers, and we don‘t really know exactly what it‘s going to mean when everything comes out the way it comes out in these recalls.

But that said, that‘s—when you look at that map, that‘s fairly significant.  And we‘re going to find out how significant it was.

MADDOW:  We should also note that the last election that this was based on was not technically a partisan election.  These people were not running as representatives of the Republican or Democratic parties.

Even with that, they were almost perfect proxies for partisan politics in Wisconsin.  One former Republican legislator running as the conservative incumbent and the challenger supported by all of the people who are mad at Republicans in their union-stripping event.

Do you think that the special election had a large enough sample size that it could be presumed to be predictive about a general election?

CHINNI:  I don‘t know.  I mean, that‘s honestly what we‘re going to find out.  I think the thing that‘s most interesting when you look at those numbers—to me, anyway—and you layer the blue on top of the people that work in the public sector, there‘s a pretty good correlation.

What I do with this project with Patchwork Nation, is we break the country into all the counties, into 12 different types of place.  And there‘s just one type of place we call service worker centers.  The economy has been hit hard in these places.  There are not a lot of jobs in these places.  The one place there are a good amount of jobs, the public sector.

So, what happens when you start hitting these places where the economy‘s really been hammered already, and you start hitting them in the place where they actually have a good amount of jobs, people get angry.  It doesn‘t surprise me.

Will it carry through fully like that to recall election?  I don‘t know.  But there‘s definitely, you know, statistically, I don‘t know if it‘s a perfect correlation or it‘s going to yield exactly, what you think that map shows, but there‘s something going on here, and it‘s something we need to look at further.  And if I was Republican and I looked at that map, I‘d be a little nervous.

MADDOW:  Are there other states where there are a lot of counties with those same qualities that you describe as service worker centers where this Wisconsin effect might also become visible if political winds blow in the same direction in those other states?

CHINNI:  Yes, and I honestly think, if you‘re a Republican, that‘s what you have to be most worried about that.  There are a lot of these service worker centers.

And where they scattered?  Well, they‘re scattered in states that matter, especially in 2012.  They‘re scattered in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania—these are places that are important.

And, you know, it‘s not to say that all these counties, they tend to vote Republican.  They‘re going to flip and suddenly vote Democratic.  But you peel enough votes off in a statewide election, it‘s going to hurt the GOP in some of these places.

Now, what they‘re hoping I think is you go after public sector unions, maybe—first of all, maybe you feel in terms of policy, that‘s the right thing, if you‘re a Republican.  But the other thing, politically, is you can score with these people in wealthy suburban areas who maybe are a little angry at people in public sector unions.  Maybe.  Maybe that works, maybe it doesn‘t.

But I do think as you go to these places where the employment really is in the public sector and you tell them, we‘re going to start hitting at your ability to do collective bargaining, they‘re not going to be happy.  And I think that‘s what we saw in the Supreme Court election.  We‘ll see how it plays out when it actually becomes a bigger thing with a lot more turnout.

MADDOW:  Are you going to do further drilling down research on this in Wisconsin?

CHINNI:  Yes, I really do, because I think that Wisconsin is just the beginning of something.  I—we have speculated for quite some time that, with Patchwork Nation, that these service worker centers are right.

I mean, you don‘t want—we talk a little bit about revolutions in American politics.  I don‘t think that‘s the smartest thing.  I think it‘s more evolution than revolution and things happen certainly over time—but these places, it looks to us are—if something is ripe to tip, are ripe to tip.

George Bush won these counties.  There‘s about 600 of them in the U.S.  He won by about 8 percent in 2004.  John McCain won them by only 4 percent in 2008.  And now, that was obviously a major economic crisis, but you take going after these public sector unions and throw that into the equation, you know, maybe it‘s 2 percent, more even.  It‘s going to affect the game.

MADDOW:  Dante Chinni, project director of Patchwork Nation, the author of “Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the Real America”—this is a really fascinating way of looking at this as a political issue.  Thanks for helping us do it.

CHINNI:  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  Elsewhere in Wisconsin, Congressman Paul Ryan just met with his constituents to tout his increasingly famous budget plan.  The friendly folks in America‘s dairy land gave the gentleman the old Bronx cheer.  Ed Schultz has the story.  He has the tape.  He has the reporter who gathered up the evidence.  That‘s after we finish up tonight here at the top of the hour.

Before that, though, America‘s terror alert level is no longer orange, for a very specific reason.  That‘s next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  For almost a year now, we have had two pictures taped up on the wall in our newsroom, our little bullpen where we all sit and where we prep the show every day.  These two photos taken in Afghanistan are of an American Army sergeant serving in the Korengal Valley.  In the picture where he‘s with other people, the one—you can see it on the right—the sergeant is doing biometric screening for locals near the outpost where he was serving.

This other picture of the sergeant on the left where he‘s alone was published in this photo book which is called “Infidel.”  You can see the book was named after the tattoo across that sergeant‘s chest in the photo that we have taped up on our newsroom wall.

Those images and that book are by Tim Hetherington, a photojournalist whose remarkable work on a long embed with that group of soldiers in the Korengal Valley was also the basis for his Oscar-nominated documentary “Restrepo,” which he made with Sebastian Junger.

You might remember that both Mr. Hetherington and Mr. Junger were guests on this show when “Restrepo” came out last summer.  And the film really represented an incredible commitment by those men as filmmakers.  What they documented was a 15-month-long deployment for those troops at Restrepo, at that combat outpost—troops who saw an almost unimaginable amount of combat of actual fighting day after day.

And Mr. Junger and Mr. Hetherington were with them on that mountainside in Afghanistan for almost the entire 15 months of the deployment.  They were there at the battle in which Salvatore Giunta‘s heroism earned him the Medal of Honor, the first living recipient of the nation‘s highest military owner since the Vietnam War.

Today, in Misrata in Libya, Tim Hetherington was killed.  He was covering the attack on that rebel-held city by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi.  According to Mr. Hetherington‘s family, he was killed by a rocket-propelled grenade.  The doctors at the hospital in Misrata who tried to save him announced his death to the press today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, this is the American journalist.  He‘s died from Gadhafi forces attack strike today.  I‘m sorry.  I can‘t say anything more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The same attack that killed Tim Hetherington, an American photographer and Pulitzer Prize finalist named Chris Hondros was also hit.  For most of the day, we followed conflicting and murky reports of Chris Hondros‘ condition.  He suffered a head wound in the attack.  He was reportedly revived twice and but then fell into a coma.

Just a few hours ago, we learned that Chris Hondros has also died in Libya.

Before all of this happened today, the photo blog at MSNBC.com posted these two images today—the most recent photographs taken by Chris Hondros of the fighting in Misrata where he died today.

In the Libyan war today, Britain, France and Italy have all confirmed that they are sending military advisers into Libya to help professionalize the rebel force as that rebel force is trying and in many cases failing—in many ways, failing to defend cities like Misrata.  The U.S. says that we are not sending anybody beyond the CIA forces that we admit are already there, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today announced another $25 million in aid to the rebel forces.

Two other journalists sustained injuries today in the same attack that killed Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros.  A colleague reported from Misrata that Guy Martin, a British citizen you can see here on the left, he suffered a serious wound to the pelvis.  He underwent surgery this evening.

Another photojournalist, Michael Christopher Brown, you see here on the right, was hit in the shoulder with shrapnel.  His injuries are not considered to be life-threatening.  Both were treated at that same hospital in Misrata.

We will tell you if we learn more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  Government is not the solution to our problem.  Government is the problem.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Conservatives contend that government is useless, it does nothing right.  Government is the problem.

To the extent, conservatives have had political success with that idea.  It‘s the task of everybody else in politics who doesn‘t hate the government to rebut that conservative contention.  One way to do that is to stop the government from doing stuff that is actually obviously stupid.  Today that happened.

Behold the idiotic Bush-era Homeland Security Department color code alert system is over.  To give you an idea of how idiotic this system was, if you take seriously the color code system—which no one does and no one ever really did—airports in the U.S. have been on orange alert since 2006.  That‘s a long time to stay on your toes.

The Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced today that starting next week, there will be a new system that frankly makes more sense.  DHS will issue specific alerts for specific threats when they feel it‘s warranted.  They‘ll be geographically specific as detailed as they can make them.  They‘ll tell people what to watch for if they want help from the public.

And crucially, unless there‘s a reason to extend them, the alerts will sunset after two weeks.  They will go away.  No terror rainbows.  No heightened states of alert that last five years.

This, frankly, seems significantly less dumb than what we had before. 

It is therefore today‘s news silver lining.

Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”  Have a great night.

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

END   

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