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The Rachel Maddow Show, Transcript 08/29/13

Guests: Dustin McDaniel

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Oh, hello, there. Thanks to you at home for staying with us this hour. Happy Thursday. There`s a ton going on in the news right now. Obviously, Syria and the possibility of the U.S. or the West, more broadly, taking military action against Syria to punish them for allegedly using chemical weapons. That story is at the forefront of the news internationally, and it has been breaking quickly. New news about that has been breaking quickly over the course of the late afternoon and early evening tonight. So, we`re going to have more on that this hour with Andrea Mitchell, including the really quite brilliant debate that some of our allies have been having about Syria even if we, in this country, are not having an official brilliant debate of our own. Also, continuing reverberations from the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington from August 1963. Martin Luther King`s "I Have a Dream" speech. The conservative media in our country, mostly yesterday, tried to pretend that that anniversary was not happening. They spent last night complaining bitterly that there were no Republicans on stage at the 50th anniversary event. Republicans weren`t invited. Well, today was the day when the conservative media finally bothered to Google the thing they were complaining about after the fact, only to realize that, actually, tons of Republicans were invited to be on the stage at the march on Washington, it`s just that every single one of them said no. The first President Bush said no for health reasons. The second President Bush said no also presumably for health reasons. Jeb Bush said no as well, because I don`t know, as did John Boehner, as did Republican House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who has been trying to reinvent himself as the Republican vaguely friendly toward civil rights. Remember, Eric Cantor this year marched with John Lewis at the re-enactment of the Selma march at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama. Eric Cantor has been trying to improve his image on civil rights. But when they asked him to attend the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington, Eric Cantor said no because apparently he had oil companies to talk to. Still, though, the right was outraged all day yesterday that there were no Republicans at the march. They were not outraged at the Republicans who were invited and didn`t show up. They were outraged at the march, itself -- and, thus, proceeds the conservative effort to re-brand themselves and the Republican Party as friendly to minorities. Obviously, that is a daily struggle. So, there`s lots of news today. We`ve got some exciting news ahead this hour about North Carolina and voting rights. We`ve got an Exxon story that will blow your mind tonight and a Republican state attorney general to talk about to this hour. That`s all ahead. But we begin tonight with a change on paradigm, a sea change on a huge issue that for decades nobody thought could ever happen. Today, the Justice Department announced a change in American policy, a U-turn on something that had been going the other direction full speed ahead for decades, for as long as I have been alive. And now, today, it has turned. And this kind of thing has been happening a lot recently -- a lot, at least, during this presidency. During the last presidency in 2004, when George W. Bush was running for re-election, you might remember that one of the ways the Republicans tried to kind of game the system for that election, particularly in states where they thought things were going to be close, was that they made sure in those states Republicans pushed ballot measures for that fall`s election that were anti-gay rights. They calculated that anti-gay marriage sentiment was so strong that it would drive conservative voters to the polls in really high numbers and while those conservative voters were there at the polls to vote against the gay, those voters, of course, could also be reliably counted on to vote for George W. Bush as well. There were 11 anti-gay ballot measures sharing the ballot with George W. Bush that year in 11 states and the anti-gay side won in every single one of those states. And George W. Bush won as well in 9 of those 11 states and, of course, he won the presidency. In that election and for years before and after, every single time that marriage rights for same-sex couples got a statewide vote in this country, it lost. More than 30 times all across the country, every single time there was a statewide vote, it was a loss. It felt like that was just forever, just an intractable, permanent, count on it reliable American prejudice. You could plan other elections on how reliably you could count on gay people being denied equal rights at the polls. And it wasn`t just Republicans. Democrats were terrible on issue as well. The two great legislative legacies of the Democratic president before George W. Bush were "don`t ask, don`t tell", and the Defense of Marriage Act. Yes, thanks for nothing, Bill Clinton. At the highest levels of American politics, gay rights were toxic and basically everybody was terrible on the issue. It just seemed like it was never going to change. That was not that long ago. But now, that has very much changed. Not only do equal rights now win when they get statewide votes, but the campaign manager for that Bush re- election effort in 2004, the re-election effort which used that national anti-gay ballot measure strategy, that campaign manager has, himself, now come out as gay and apologized. And he`s spending his time now working to flip more states into supporting equal rights. Steve Schmidt, who is a key strategist for that exploitatively anti- gay George W. Bush re-election effort in 2004, he now works for ACLU nationally as a pro-gay marriage Republican organizer. Now in 2013, bill Clinton`s defense of marriage act is gone. You have to check your watch to see how many states are recognizing equal marriage because the number is increasing seemingly every day. And then today, this afternoon, the Internal Revenue Service just made this announcement which not long ago would have been absolutely unimaginable. Look what they put out today. Look at this. IRS announces that all legal same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes. Ruling provides certainty, benefits and protections under federal tax law for same-sex couples. Married gay couples can file joint federal tax returns, so says the IRS, officially. Who ever though this day would come? I mean, I guess if you`re 10 years old and you don`t remember what it was like to see the president of the United States crowing about how he would make sure gay people are always discriminated against and that`s why you should vote for him. Maybe if you`re 10 years old or younger and never saw that as a sentient being, you knew this day was coming. But otherwise, it is hard to look at this today from the IRS today and believe that is true. But that`s true as of today. You know, it is also true that it felt forever like the prison population in this country was going to go up and up forever, until all of a sudden it started to drop. Three years in a row now that it has dropped after something like 30 years of it rising inexorably before that. The same goes for the number of Americans who are uninsured, who don`t have health insurance. That number rose intractably year after year, always getting worse and then worse and then even worse still -- until all of a sudden, it started to get better. It turned around once health reform passed, and the number of uninsured people in this country is expected to make its largest drop ever next year once the health exchanges are up and running. "Talking Points Memo" posted new ads from a bunch of different states showing how people in various states are about to start learning about the health exchange where they live, where you can go online and choose better cheaper health insurance than you might have been able to get now. That hasn`t even rolled out yet but we`ve already turned the corner. We`ve already turned the corner on something that seemed like it was on a track without corners. In politics, just in our citizenship, there are a handful of what seemed like forever problems: things that were always getting worse, downward trends that we lived with for 20 years, 30 years, 40 years. Things that only ever seemed to get worse that have now stopped getting worse and are getting better. I`m not talking about things that fluctuate up and down all the time. I`m talking about things that were like this forever and now all of a sudden they`ve turned. Of course, it`s not true of everything. It`s not true of a lot of very big things, but it is true of some things, and today we got another one, we got a big one. When Richard Nixon declared the start of the drug war in 1971, it is clear from contemporaneous reporting he thought he was declaring a war that he could win. He thought that with a sufficient show of federal force and presidential leadership, this whole drugs thing could be kicked. He could win a war on drugs and everybody would love him for it and nobody would use drugs anymore. What he was actually doing, though, is signing up not only what was left of his own administration but every American president to come after him for a constant Sisyphean struggle against something that never got better, something that only was made worse by them fighting it. Jimmy Carter tried to undo some of it in the 1970s but Reagan ramped it up to a higher pitch than ever when he took over. The 1980s saw all those mandatory minimum sentencing laws passed and three-strike laws. In 1989, Poppy Bush, George H.W. Bush re-declared the war on drugs and arrest numbers related to pot just shot through the roof. All the policy changes just went in the same direction, more draconian laws, more enforcement, more people arrested, more people in jail, longer sentences. And again, at the highest levels, Democrats were not much help. President Bill Clinton was advised by the U.S. sentencing commission there was no reason for these to be these hugely increased penalties for the crack kind of cocaine as compared to the powdered kind of cocaine. But he rejected that recommendation and decided to keep the draconian sentencing in place for crack. Now, of course, over all these years and all of these presidents and re-declarations of war, there`s been no real effect on American drug use. There has just been a vast expansion of the criminal justice system -- a criminal justice system at its least effective and most intrusive. And it has never seemed like it would ever get any better. If you are 40 years old, say, then your life has spanned the drug war. All of your teenage years, your 20s, 30s, have been about the drug war not only existing but ramping up and up and up with no end in sight no matter who was in charge, except now, it is finally changing. At least some of it is changing. That sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powdered cocaine that President Clinton did not see fit to act despite the expert opinion from the sentencing commission, President Clinton did not see fit to act on that. Under President Obama, that change passed through Congress and was signed into law. President Obama signed the bill to fix that disparity with his Attorney General Eric Holder looking on as he signed it. Then just two weeks ago, Attorney General Eric Holder issued dramatically new directions for federal prosecutors, telling them essentially to stop charging people for most drug offenses in a way that would trigger those mandatory minimum sentences -- a huge reversal. That`s a huge reversal after 30 years of the laws and the guidelines always clamping down on the opposite direction. And then, today, the biggest change yet. In November, Colorado and Washington state both passed ballot measures legalizing pot in small quantities for recreational use. Lots of states have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes but in the last few years, more than a dozen states have done that. But in Colorado and Washington, voters said the police should not care why you are using pot. If you are using pot to get intoxicated, you`re using it to get high, that should not be illegal in small amounts for personal use. Pot should instead just be regulated in much the same way that alcohol is. And that is fine as far as state law goes. It was pretty definitive vote in both Colorado and Washington state. What was awkward, though, and legally confrontational an those changes in those two states is even if Colorado and Washington wanted pot to be legal under state law, marijuana is still a controlled substance, illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act. See. It`s right there. Number 10. Spelled with an "H." Marihuana, before mescaline and after LSD. That is federal law. How can something be legal in two American states but illegal in America? How can something be legal in two states but illegal in the whole country. Is the federal government going to let Colorado and Washington do this? The attorney general for the state of Washington had said recently that he was girding for the federal government to sue him, to sue the state of Washington and state of Colorado, presumably, to overturn those state laws legalizing pot, thus rendering pot illegal nationwide, full stop. That is pretty much what everybody was expecting. Well, today, the Justice Department said they are not going to do that. In a letter to all federal prosecutors, the attorney general`s office says Colorado and Washington effectively can move ahead with decriminalizing pot for personal use in those states. The Justice Department says that states need to abide by some law enforcement priorities in terms of the way they regulate pot. Things like keeping it away from kids and preventing interstate traffic and preventing drugged driving and some other stuff, but the headline here is that Colorado and Washington can go ahead and legalize pot for personal recreational use, with the federal government`s blessing. There will be no federal challenge to pot legalization in two states. This is a big deal in one day`s news. But in the context of a lifetime`s worth of the futile, ever more aggressive war on drugs, what the administration just did today feels unimaginable. It feels like cats chasing dogs. It feels like pigs flying. It feels like the Harlem Globetrotters losing. And it happened. It`s done. Adjust your expectations for what is within the realm of the possible in our country. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: When the country decides to intervene militarily somewhere else in the world, particularly in another country where a bloody civil war is raging, there should be a robust political debate about the wisdom of that military intervention. Today, that debate happened on the floor of the House and it was a robust and at times just an excellent debate. It wasn`t here, of course. Here in our country all that happened was a phone call between members of the administration and some members of Congress who are basically still enjoying their vacation. No, we didn`t have any debate here. No official debate. Not even any official discussion. Where they actually had the debate, the excellent debate was across the pond. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DANIEL KAWCZYNSKI, CONSERVATIVE PARTY: Why is it that our allies in the Middle East like Saudi, Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and others, cannot take military action? Why does it fall on us yet again? DAVID CAMERON, UK PRIME MINISTER: Put simply, is it in Britain`s national interest to maintain an international taboo about the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield? My argument is yes, it is. I take a question from the Scottish national party. ANGUS BRENDAN MACNEIL, SCOTTISH NATIONAL PARTY: Does he know if there are any plans over the last few days for any military action before next week planned at all against Syria? CAMERON: Well, I obviously can`t discuss the details of potential action in detail in front of this house, but I can tell the house that the American president and I have had discussions, been reported in the newspaper, about potential military action. We have had those discussions and the American president would like to have allies alongside the United States. Our actions won`t be determined by my good friend and ally, the American president. They`ll be decided by this government and votes in this House of Commons. Yes, of course, intelligence is part of this picture, but let`s not pretend there is one smoking piece of intelligence that can solve the whole problem. This is a judgment issue and one which honorable members will have to make a judgment. Let me repeat, again, there will be no action without a further vote in this House of Commons. But on this issue, Britain should not stand aside. We must play our part in a strong international response. We must be prepared to take decisive action in order to do so. For this house, it`s surely a basic point. Evidence should proceed decision. Not decision proceed evidence. ED MILLIBAND, OPPOSITION LEADER: And I`m glad that on reflection, the prime minister accepted this yesterday. CAMERON: I give way to the honorable gentleman. MARTIN HOWARD, LIBERAL DEMOCRAT: Very much welcome his doctrine that evidence should proceed decision. That`s a stark change from at least one of his predecessors. I`m very clear of the fact we have to learn the lessons of Iraq. Of course, we`ve got to learn those lessons. One of the most important lessons was, indeed, about respect for the United Nations. I do not rule out supporting the prime minister but I believe he has to make a better case than he did today on this question. And, frankly, he cannot say to the house and to the country, this does not change our stance on Syria. This does not change our involvement in the Syrian conflict, because frankly, it would, Mr. Speaker. But this, Mr. Speaker, is a grave decision and it should be treated as such by this house and will be treated as such by this country. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: After eight hours of riveting debate today, the British parliament decided to reject their prime minister`s call for a British response to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government. This was not even a call specifically for British military action against Syria. It was just a condemnation. But the parliament said no. They said specifically that they want to wait until the U.N. weapons inspectors have completed their investigation into what actually happened before Britain mounts or even participates in any action in response. The weapons inspectors had been expected to finish their work in Syria by Sunday. Now, the U.N. says they will actually finish by tomorrow. Here in the U.S., lots of members of Congress here have been calling for there to be a congressional debate on how the U.S. should respond in Syria. But as fired up as all these members of Congress sound in all their letters, it`s not like they`re rushing back to Washington to get to work. They`re all still on break and it looks like they`re going to stay that way. For his part, President Obama today started giving indications that he feels justified in acting alone. The White House leaking to "The New York Times" that the president is prepared to move ahead with a limited military strike on Syria even with the rejection of such action by Britain`s parliament and an increasingly rest of Congress here, and lacking an endorsement from the U.N. Security Council. Quote, "Mr. Obama has made clear the initiative here would come from the U.S. and that while he welcomes international participation, he is not depending on the involvement of foreign forces for what will essentially be an operation conducted entirely by the United States military from naval vessels off the Syrian coast." "The New York Times" sources tonight pegging the timing of a unilateral American military strike on Syria to as soon as when those U.N. inspectors leave, which could be as soon as tomorrow. Joining us now is Andrea Mitchell, NBC`s chief foreign affairs correspondent, host of MSNBC`s "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS." She`s been closely following the situation in Syria. Andrea, thank you very much for being with us. ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Thank you. My pleasure. MADDOW: So, "The New York Times" reporting tonight the president is prepared to move unilaterally in Syria even without our closest ally in Britain. What are you hearing about this? MITCHELL: We heard that actually, I heard that last night around midnight when it was becoming clear that Cameron was in trouble in response to my questions about the timing and whether the president would wait until after what we had thought would be a second British vote next week and after the G-20 when he gets back a week from tomorrow, gets back from St. Petersburg and his trip to Sweden. The message was, no, we will not have our hands tied by the U.N. and while we`re sympathetic to David Cameron`s political situation, we will not wait upon the British. So, even when they thought that Cameron was going to face a second critical vote next week, they were not going to hold back. So, the window, I believe is now because Ban Ki-moon called the president yesterday and said, please do not do this while the inspectors are still on the ground. He accelerated their departure. They`re going to leave now on Saturday. They`re going to wrap up their inspections tomorrow -- leave on Saturday. So, I would expect that the window opens on Sunday for Sunday night time in Syria. MADDOW: Andrea, if the inspectors leave or finish their work tomorrow, Ban Ki-moon said they will be back on Saturday, at least be making their report to him on Saturday. Does that mean they`ll have an answer Saturday as to whether or not chemical weapons were used and what those chemical weapons were? MITCHELL: Well, the U.S. said all along that because of all the shelling by the regime in the days after the attack, the chemical attack, which the U.S. says it is certain happened, because of that, they do not rely on the U.N. weapons inspectors to be able to conclude that chemicals were used because they say the soil was so degraded. The U.S. says it has its own evidence. We can talk about that in a sec. But they`re not going to rely on this U.N. report. And the mandate of the U.N., as you seem to indicate in your question, is very limited as to whether chemicals were used, not who used them. MADDOW: Andrea, it is the thing that is remarkable here, of course, is the elephant in the room here is the example of Iraq which we heard referenced today. MITCHELL: Absolutely. MADDOW: That eloquent British parliamentary debate. Not believing that the U.S. inspectors will be able to determine whether or not chemical weapons were used. Ahead of them actually stating that seems like it`s got incredible chutzpa for a president who came into office who definitely won the Democratic primary in part because of him saying what was wrong with the rush to war in Iraq and his respect for the international institutions that were flouted in the rush to that war. I find it hard to believe that this president won`t wait to a least hear a "we don`t know" from those inspectors, that he`d rush before hearing anything. MITCHELL: I think he will wait for their report, but he`s not going to be mindful of it. I don`t think -- I think he`ll wait for a call from Ban Ki-moon to verbally tell him what he`s heard from the briefing, but I think that means Sunday, and that is when I suspect the window opens because the president leaves Tuesday for Sweden. Unlikely that this would begin while he`s already in transit outside of the country and to go to St. Petersburg to be on Russian soil with Putin again repeating -- the Russians again repeated today a the United Nations that they will block any U.N. mandates. So, let`s tally the toll here. The president is going without his closest ally, Britain. That was a shocker. He`s going without the U.N., that was anticipated. He`s going without the Arab League, the White House says they didn`t ask for Arab league support, but it sure would have been a nice thing. So, he`s really going it alone. And that`s the indication that, you know, Mark Landler and "The New York Times" team reported today. It`s what we`ve been reporting. What Chuck Todd reported this morning on the "Today" program. MADDOW: In terms of the president going out on that particular limb that you just described, particularly it was a very striking departure from the kind of foreign policy decisions and use of force decisions that he sketched out as a sort of unspoken Obama doctrine during his presidency thus far. What do you think he gets for going so far out on that limb? Obviously, he`s not planning anything that would eliminate the possibility that Syria would do this again. He`s not going to get Assad, at least they`re not saying that`s what they`re going to do. Why go so this far out on this limb? What does he think he gets by launching this strike? MITCHELL: Well, they believe that once they drew that red line, it was crossed obviously repeatedly, but on this scale that they had to take action, and that the credibility of the United States is at stake. Their goal, they say, is to punish Assad and deter him. But a lot of critics, Democrats as well as Republicans, say that that is not a legal reason to use military action -- punishment. You need the legal predicate, number one, and that is not a wise mission. Bill Cohen I interviewed today and he said we need to know what steps two, three, four and five are going to be, and what is the larger strategy? And he should wait. Tim Kaine this morning, Democratic senator, former Democratic national chairman, saying the president should not be doing this, he should be waiting. Wait the week. Get Congress back. Have consultations. Bob Casey believes there should be a strike. Believes it`s very important to deter Iran and to protect Israel ultimately. But doesn`t want it to be months of waiting for the U.N. but doesn`t think it has to be this week, either. So, there`s a lot of criticism. Mike Rogers, the House Republican intelligence chairman who is at times supportive of the administration, believes that there is a reason to take action but that it has not been well-briefed, that a telephone briefing tonight for 26 members does not cut it, that they need a real classified briefing. The White House counterpoint is, come on back. Don`t be out in your districts raising money. Come on back and do it in person. There`s plenty of ways you can do it if you`re here in Washington. MADDOW: Andrea Mitchell, NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent -- thank you for that level of detailing and understanding. It`s absolutely priceless. Thanks, Andrea. It`s great to have you here. MITCHELL: Thank you. MADDOW: "ANDREA MITCHELL REPORTS", of course, is 1:00 p.m. Eastern every day here on MSNBC. All right. With great power comes great responsibility, unless you`re the most powerful company in the history of powerful companies, then it`s optional. That story`s ahead. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: OK. Let`s pretend it`s Saturday night, maybe like 11:30 or so and if you`re a boring old person like me, that means you are at home. Woo-hoo, Saturday night! But even if you are on the couch on Saturday night at home in your PJs, virtually, you can be here. Shooting and dodging the occasional blood-thirsty zombie, in "Call of Duty" on your PlayStation 3. You know, as you do. It`s all going great in "Call of Duty" until this happens. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wonder if that rock brought those freak bags. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: I wonder if that rock brought those freak bags. What was that big rock blob? Do we have that? He shoots the rock. What gives that rock that peachy glow? How could it have given rise to the freak bags? Perhaps he should virtually shoot that and see if it virtually disintegrates or something. That shiny blob that sent the freak blob zombies into "Call of Duty" universe is a meteorite in the game made of ununpentium, according to the game`s writers. And even though that is a game, that turns out to be an important detail in today`s news -- freak bags or not. That story is coming up. It`s great. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: And I quote, "It is tough to bet the kind of year ExxonMobil had in 2011. Exxon shares rose by 20 percent and profits surged by 35 percent to over $41 billion." That`s from the Fortune 500 list of the world`s most profitable companies. ExxonMobil topped the list that year. That giant oil company posted profits of more than $41 billion. There wasn`t even anybody close to putting up the sort of profits that Exxon put up. That was 2011. Even "Fortune" magazine, the curator of corporate wealth was slack jawed by Exxon making $41 billion in profit in one year -- slack jawed -- until 2012 rolled around. Exxon took the $41 billion in annual profit and turned it into a $44 billion annual profit in 2012. Here`s how "Fortune" 500 described it when the list came out earlier this year. Quote, "In 2012, ExxonMobil posted the second highest annual profit in U.S. history, surpassed only by its own record from 2008." So we got the record and to get the record, we beat our old record which beat our old record before that. Must be nice, right? ExxonMobil just mints money. It is the most profitable corporation on the face of the earth by a mile. It`s basically without rival. Every time Exxon posts record breaking profits, they are beating their own record breaking profits which held the previous report. From the start of this show tonight, until the end of this show, in one hour, ExxonMobil will make somewhere in the vicinity of $5 million in pure profit for that one hour and they to that 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. And that`s why it was amazing, astounding to see this headline in Arkansas. Exxon to cut off housing assistance. Five months ago today on March 29th, on Good Friday, a giant Exxon oil pipeline burst out of nowhere underneath a suburban neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas, just outside of Little Rock. Thick black tar sands crude oil spilled into the streets of Mayflower, spilled into the local waterways. It got everywhere in this neighborhood, ultimately forcing the evacuation of 22 houses along this block that you see here. A number of those residents since that spill have been receiving temporary housing assistance from ExxonMobil. I mean, it was Exxon`s pipeline that forced residents out of their homes, and so, Exxon has had to put those people up somewhere else until it`s safe for them to go back home -- if it`s ever going to be safe for them to go back home. But, earlier this month, Exxon said they were cutting off most of those residents. Sorry, I know we`re the most profitable corporation that the world has ever known, but we`re done. You go home now. After Exxon made that announcement, one of the local news stations in Arkansas did a very smart thing. They went to the neighborhood in Mayflower to see how much the neighborhood really had returned to normal. And here`s what they found. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knocked on every door up and down this street today and found just two people who have moved back home since the oil spill. Both of them called their neighborhood now a ghost town. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: After local residents and state officials raised heck about Exxon forcing these residents back into a neighborhood that apparently nobody there deemed safe, Exxon did reverse course. They said, OK, they no longer plan to cut off housing aid for those residents as of this weekend. They said they will continue to pay up although it`s not yet clear for how long. Exxon said since the spill, that they, quote, "honor all valid claims." If you ask me, I think the "Arkansas Times" should be considered for a Pulitzer for their excellent and indispensable coverage of the Mayflower oil spill since it first happened in March and continuing now. This was their cover story earlier this month titled "The Forgotten," a 4,000-word reported piece about some of the victims of the Exxon spill, specifically about people who didn`t live in one of the couple of dozen homes that got evacuated after the pipeline erupted but who still live right in the area around where the spill happened. They interviewed a woman whose house is about 300 yards from the ruptured pipeline. She has remained persistently sick since the spill with constant headaches and nausea. Her 8-month-old grandson has been diagnosed with a respiratory infection and is now having to use a steroid inhaler twice a day. She says, "The oil went to the lake, but the toxic fumes came to us." In the weeks after the spill, state health officials assured local residents that overall air emissions remained below the levels likely to cause health effects. But local residents in that area said they were having a much different experience. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My whole family`s been sick -- shortness of breath, coughing, sore throat, headaches. I`ve had to go to the hospital. I`m still coughing. It`s been almost six weeks. I mean, I`m sorry. I`m very emotional about this. I`m upset because Exxon won`t admit they have messed up. They`re not doing what they`re supposed to be doing to help the citizens of Mayflower. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: Remember, the people who live there had no idea the pipeline was there, until it burst. Local residents there have been expressing anger not only toward Exxon but also toward elected officials in Arkansas. On Monday of this week, the congressman who represents that part of Arkansas, Republican Tim Griffin, he held a sort of outdoor town hall in Mayflower. He was bombarded with questions from his constituents asking why their health concerns were not getting addressed. One resident told his congressman, Tim Griffin, "We have all been sick. I feel like we`re all dogs chasing our tails around here. We are sick of it and we need help." The congressman told that woman that he would call the governor. And today, the governor of Arkansas announced that the state health department will start providing health assessments for any residents in the area who are affected by the spill. Apparently, you get to see a nurse in person and then maybe as a follow-up get to see a doctor by video camera. Today in Arkansas, a federal judge finally set a trial date in the case of state of Arkansas vs. ExxonMobil. June 16th, it will start. The state of Arkansas versus the most profitable company on the face of the earth. Joining us now for the interview is the man who filed that lawsuit against ExxonMobil on behalf of Arkansas. He`s the state`s attorney general, Dustin McDaniel, who I mistakenly called a Republican earlier in the show but who is a Democrat. Mr. Attorney General, I`m sorry for that. Thanks for being here tonight. I appreciate your time. DUSTIN MCDANIEL (D), ARKANSAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thanks. It`s great to be back with you. MADDOW: So, should Mayflower residents have cause for concern about their health because of the aftereffects of this oil spill? I know you have been there, yourself, seen some of the aftermath and talked to some of the people who live there. MCDANIEL: I think they absolutely have grounds to be concerned about their health. I have been saying since day one, first of all, there should have been more than the 22 homes that were initially evacuated. I think that on the ground, health assistance should have been and continues to be provided. My office is -- I created, I think, only the 11th attorney general`s office dedicated health care bureau in the country, and I`ve had my staff on the ground meeting with residents and trying to disseminate information and trying to get help from the Arkansas Department of Health. They don`t actually work for me, so I`m very pleased that today Governor Beebe directed them to become more involved with providing assistance to those homeowners. There is no safe level of benzene to have in my living room, and I don`t think that just because statistically an agency says it`s OK to go home that moms and dads should feel comfortable going home. MADDOW: I went back today and looked at some of early press reports from right after it happened and looked at the way some of the Exxon representatives handled questions what they were going to do, with these abject apologies, that they were going to make everything right, that they were going to see the community until it was back until it was whole. You have described that company`s handling of the spill as coldhearted. What to you make of their response, overall, what do you make of them threatening to cut off houses aid to the residents who were displaced by this spill? MCDANIEL: Well, it is coldhearted. You were correct when you pointed out that on June the 25th they said they were only going to go until September 1st, and after an enormous outcry, they backed off of that one day later, but it is important to now that they have, again, shifted course, and on August the 12th, they said only 30 days. So when they reversed course, they held firm for about two weeks, and as it stands today, the housing assistance that they currently provide for people who have been forced out of their homes do not feel comfortable to take their children back home will end on September the 12th. And at that point, if people want to stay in a hotel, a motel, a rented apartment or other temporary housing, they`re on their own. And as far as I`m concerned, that`s nothing but coldhearted litigation pressure tactics. I warned people they probably should expect more. MADDOW: Mr. Attorney General, we talked pretty quickly after the spill had happened. You were here three days after the spill happened. And I want to play this quick clip for you. This is how you laid out your priorities at that point in terms of what you wanted to learn about what had just happened. I`d love you to hear it and then tell me if you`ve gotten the answers to any of these questions yet. Here we go. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MCDANIEL: I want to know how long was that rupture releasing oil into the ground before it finally saturated the ground so much before it came out above the surface. I want to know what the chemicals are in the mixture of this Wabbaseka crude that has also been released into our environment. I want to know what they`ve done to cap it. I want to know the history of the inspections of the pipeline. I want to know who`s going to secure the pipeline. (END VIDEO CLIP) MADDOW: How many of those -- that was three days after the spill. How many of those things do you feel like you have solid answers to now five months later? MCDANIEL: We have a lot of information that we didn`t have at the time, but one thing I have discovered is no matter what information is provided to us, it generally raises more questions than it answers. For instance, as I`ve always said, we want to know what caused the spill so that we can determine whether or not it`s ever going to be safe to re-open this pipeline. And Exxon has said in the metallurgical reports that have been released that hook cracks in the pipe, itself, were caused by manufacturing defect, I guess after World War II. But if you read the report closely, it also says that the use of the pipeline, which I presume to mean pressure settings and other factors, actually contributed to those cracks and to the release. And, obviously, in our litigation, whether or not the company was negligent is going to be a major factor in the level of penalties that they have to pay. So, yes, there`s going to be a lot of discovery, a lot of questions, and to the original point that I think you`re raising, of course, residents there suffering from ongoing health effects still yet don`t know factually what they`ve ingested and exactly what they`ve been exposed to, and they don`t know when, if ever, it would be safe to go home. MADDOW: Attorney general of the state of Arkansas, Dustin McDaniel, you have a heck of a fight on your hands with ExxonMobil on this, sir. Thank you for your time tonight. Please keep us apprised. MCDANIEL: Thank you. MADDOW: I appreciate it. All right. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: We have been covering the hard right turn in North Carolina politics over the last few months, that state implementing what is the most draconian voting rights since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. We particularly have been covering the push back against that law in the state, against voter suppression efforts all across North Carolina. Well, last night in North Carolina, in time to coincide with the 50th anniversary march on Washington, the NAACP and student groups and others in North Carolina staged protests in every congressional district in the state, in Greenville, North Carolina, it was several hundred people. In Raleigh, North Carolina, more than 400 people showed up. In Silva, in the far northwestern part of the state, more than 500 people turned up. In Winston Salem, it was nearly 1,000 people. In Greensboro, North Carolina, check it out, almost 2,000 people rallied yesterday afternoon. In Elizabeth City, where we did our show last week, a march was led by Montravias King, a student who was blocked from running for office there by local Republican officials who say that him leaving on campus means he can`t run for office, and presumably it means that he can`t vote either. The "I Have a Dream" speech famously exhorted everybody at the speech to go back home and take the civil rights, including voting rights, back home to every place in the country. Well, North Carolina did just that last night on the anniversary of the march and the speech, and every one of the 13 congressional districts in the state. We`re going to have more on tomorrow`s show. We`ll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK) MADDOW: "Moment of Geek", happy Thursday. All right, this is "Call of Duty," a wildly popular soldier game where you play a soldier in a battlefield scenario. Sometimes you are a soldier in World War II, sometimes in a modern battlefield. If you want, you can play it in a mode where you battling are zombies. If you`re really high, you can even battle Nazi zombies. And if you`re in that Nazi zombie fighting mode of the game, the back story for why you`re fighting them in the first place has to do with the mysterious substance called "element 115", a substance supposedly harvested from meteorites that is used to create the zombie, super Nazi that you`re fighting. Element 115 is sort of an atomic Magoffin (ph). It`s not really clear on how it works, or how it creates the zombies, but nobody cares. Just shoot, shoot, oh, my God. Well, it turns out, and I know it is going to make me really unpopular, turns out that although zombies are not real, element 115 kind of is. Everybody, freak out. The periodic element of tables is supported -- is sorted, excuse me, numerically. Each element gets an atomic number based on the number of protons in its nucleus. Number one is hydrogen, one proton. Number two is helium, two protons and so on. And those are the easy ones. Those are also the ones that are found on earth. Hydrogen and helium and nearly all the elements up to uranium, number 92, they are already existed in nature, and once they were discovered in nature, they were given their proper place in the periodic table. But above number 92, those are things you don`t find laying around. Those are things the earth doesn`t make itself. Above number 92, you got to make those guys in a lab. And the hallmark of these elements that you make in the lab is that they do not stick around. You make them by smashing together other atoms, and you do make a new element, but you only make it for an instant. The new atoms only last for milliseconds before they decay and they`re gone. So, if there were an element 115, it would be here in the periodic table. That`s between Flerovium and Livermorium. Right now, it is being held by this, a symbol Uup, which stands for Ununpentium, which is a fake Latin way of saying 115, un-unpent, 115. And obviously, that is just a placeholder name. You don`t give it a real name until science says you can. First, you have to make the thing and document how you made it. Then somebody else has to make it, confirming you really did. Then the boffins at the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry and same thing for physics, have to certify that it`s all in the up and up. And only then you get to name your element whatever you want, Livermorium or Flerovium or Rachel or whatever. So, it`s about 10 years ago that scientists did the first step. They created a few atoms of ununpentium and they published their work. This week, step two, confirmation. Physicists said a German particle accelerator said they did it too. They smashed some calcium ions, number 20, with Americium, number 95, making 20 plus 95, carry the 1, 115. Ununpentium, it happened again. So now we are on to step three, waiting for certification. And if all goes well, the ununpentium will lose its placeholder name and the scientists who invented it in the first place will get to give it a real name. That said, thanks to "Call of Duty" and other weird conspiracy theorizing about element 115, which already has already known as an ununpentium for a decade now, they maybe they could just keep the name. They could just keep the symbol Uup. Everybody would just call it Up, "UP WITH STEVE KORNACKI". They could leave the name as it is. He could be the new face of the element, putting a handsome, an erudite moment geek shine on the periodic table of elements. Do it! Keep it named up, come on! Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL". Have a great night. THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END