updated 7/16/2008 11:28:57 AM ET 2008-07-16T15:28:57

Guest: Rachel Maddow, Christopher Hayes, Richard Wolffe, Christian Finnegan

RACHEL MADDOW, GUEST HOST (voice over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

A dangerous distraction.  Barack Obama says the war in Iraq has cost us more than just blood and treasure; it‘s cost us years of lost opportunities to beat al Qaeda—the enemy that attacked us on 9/11.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator McCain said just months ago that Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq.  I could not disagree more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  John McCain blasts Obama for speaking on his foreign policy strategy before his upcoming visit to Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In my experience, fact-finding missions usually work best the other way around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  A lack of fact-finding in Iraq before the U.S. invasion didn‘t stop McCain‘s enthusiasm for Bush‘s Iraq policies at the time.  But another day on the campaign trail means another round of efforts from the McCain campaign to distance their candidate from Bush on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  I am proud of this president‘s strategy in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Our fact-checking, Googling monkeys here at COUNTDOWN have had a very busy day.

In case you‘re keeping track at home, a reminder that this man is still president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  I think it was in the rose garden where I issued this brilliant statement—if I had a magic wand—but the president doesn‘t have a magic wand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  We‘ll settle for a cloak of invisibility.  A doozy of a presidential press conference today.

And, lifestyle tips from the woman who would be first lady.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CINDY MCCAIN, SEN. MCCAIN‘S WIFE:  In Arizona, the only way to get around the state is by small private plane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Unless, of course, you have a private car with a vanity plate Ms. Bud (ph).  Meanwhile, Phil Gramm‘s economic resume fleshed out to include the role of soft core porn financier?  All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening.  I‘m Rachel Maddow in for Keith Olbermann.  This is Tuesday, July 15th, 112 days until the 2008 presidential election, when Americans will choose between two leading candidates who have perhaps their starkest differences on the issue of the war in Iraq.

Senators Obama and McCain were diametrically opposed on whether the Bush administration should have invaded that country in the first place.  They now have opposing positions on how and whether American troops should ultimate leave Iraq.

But tonight, Senator McCain appears to be taking a dramatically new position on what some of the brigades now devoted to the Iraq effort should be doing instead.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Having claimed four months ago that, quote, “Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq,” end quote, John McCain has apparently changed his mind.  That‘s not change you can believe in.  If the new McCain position on Afghanistan sounds on the surface a lot like the “always has been that way” Obama position, that‘s because it is.

Meanwhile, during his foreign policy speech in Washington today, Barack Obama reminded voters of the many differences between him and his opponent, including what they believe about both wars.  Starting with what happens going forward in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Senator McCain would have our troops continue to fight tour after tour of duty and our taxpayers keep spending $10 billion a month indefinitely.

I want Iraqis to take responsibility for their own future and to reach the political accommodation necessary for long-term stability.  That is victory.  That is success.  And that‘s why I will end this war as president.

In fact, as should have been apparent to President Bush and Senator McCain, the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq and it never was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Obama added that it is unacceptable that almost seven years after nearly 3,000 Americans were killed on our soil; the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 are still at large.  He reiterated that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at large and recording messages for their followers.  He predicted that if another attack on America comes, it will likely come from the same region where 9/11 was planned.

Obama cited that as a reason to make Afghanistan a priority.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Senator McCain said just months ago that Afghanistan is not in trouble because of our diversion to Iraq.  I could not disagree more.

Our troops and our NATO allies are performing heroically in Afghanistan, but I‘ve argued, for years, that we lack the resources to finish the job because of our commitment to Iraq.  And that is why, as president, I will make the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban the top priority that it should be.  This is a war we have to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Senator Obama called for two additional combat brigades to be sent to Afghanistan.

John McCain today decided to see Obama‘s two brigades and raise him one more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Our commanders on the ground in Afghanistan say that they need at least three additional brigades.  Thanks to the success of the surge, these forces are becoming available and our commanders in Afghanistan must get them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  I guess he doesn‘t want those three brigades to be part of his “100 years in Iraq” plan.

John McCain made the case that he, quote, “knows how to win wars.”  The example he gave of a war worth emulating in Afghanistan was the war in Iraq—a famous success?

McCain also said today that he‘d like to try to find a way to blow a little more bureaucratic insulation into the Afghanistan war effort.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Last year, the Bush administration appointed a war czar responsible for both Iraq and Afghanistan.  That was a step in the right direction.  But Afghanistan is sufficiently important that a separate Afghanistan czar is needed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Isn‘t there already somebody who kind of has that job, the guy who‘s in-charge of all the military stuff and all the wars?  It‘s like the commander in something or other, commander in—anyway.  The current commander in chief was asked at the White House today if he had any advice for Obama before the Democratic nominee goes to Iraq and Afghanistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I would ask him to listen carefully to Ryan Crocker and General Petraeus.  You know, there‘s a temptation to kind of let the politics at home get in the way with, you know, with the considered judgment of the commanders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  And as for that sound byte we played earlier, the one where Obama said the central front in the war on terror is not Iraq, it never was, and McCain and Bush should have known that, would the president want to respond?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Well, as you know I‘m loathe to respond to a particular presidential candidate, and so I will try not to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Except, Mr. President, you just did.

Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, also, the senior White House correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine.

Hi, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK:  Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW:  McCain‘s attack is that Senator Obama doesn‘t have any experience on foreign policy.  Is that undercut by McCain‘s seeming to have no problem, not just using Obama‘s rhetoric, but also articulating Obama‘s actual foreign policy positions?

WOLFFE:  Well, yes, you‘re right.  This “me too” approach actually going one better, adding one more brigade, does undercut the idea that Obama is somehow inexperienced and naive and weak and all the other epithets they‘ve been throwing at him.  And just as important, it suggests that McCain is flailing around here.  I mean, when you look at his explanations of where the troops came from, he really twisted himself into a pretzel-shape today.

First of all, it was going to come from Iraq, then the troops might come from NATO and later in the day, a spokesperson said, “Well, it could be a mixture of both.”  You know, if that had happened on the other side, with Obama not knowing where troops were going to come from, you can only imagine what the RNC and the McCain campaign would have said.

MADDOW:  Richard, one of the strange things about the McCain “Afghanistan and Iraq” remarks that he made at the top of this town hall meeting today, is that he gave those remarks in front of a big backdrop that says “Jobs for America,” which was a bit of strange stagecraft there.

I actually was less surprise by that strange stagecraft than I was by McCain‘s assertion in the speech, that the model he thinks we need to copy in Afghanistan is Iraq—as if Iraq is the stand-in for successful military effort in the United States now.  Did you see that as a bold move or just a strange move or something else?

WOLFFE:  Well, I actually think the wackiest thing was the many references to Czechoslovakia that McCain has been using in recent days.  That country hasn‘t existed for 15 years.  But putting that aside, what‘s interesting is, again, where these troops are coming from.

In the sound byte you just played, McCain talked about these troops coming from Iraq.  Well, if Afghanistan is going to be repeating what happened in Iraq, the truth is, there aren‘t enough troops out there.  The troops are already stretched to breaking point just with the surge.

And the problem with going to a place like NATO forces is that it‘s been exceptionally difficult to get, for instance, German forces to go into the combat zone in Afghanistan.

So, if you think Iraq is the model—and we can debate whether or not that‘s been a true success—but if you think Iraq is the model, it is actually almost impossible to duplicate it in Afghanistan while Iraq is still going on.

MADDOW:  Why is it that it‘s not OK for Obama to talk about troop withdrawal, his 16-month plan for Iraq, before he goes to Iraq; but it is OK for McCain and President Bush to talk about the success that they see us having in Iraq?  Why it is OK for them to say that before Petraeus gives his next assessment of where things stand in September, that they can see success, but Obama shouldn‘t talk about his plan?

WOLFFE:  Well, McCain is right to say that fact-finding trips are often not about finding facts, and he should know, he had a wonderful stroll through that Baghdad market the other day and it wasn‘t really about facts, and really, Obama has said the same thing.  You know, these are really policy confirmation trips.  They‘re not fact finding trips at all.

And when they hear from Crocker and Petraeus, there really doing the same thing.  So, I question the value on both sides of what they hear because these people are really hearing what they want to hear.

MADDOW:  Richard, the Afghanistan czar idea that McCain put forward today, do you see this as a symbol of the larger strategic difference between the two candidates on the wars?  Obama wants to talk about Iraq and Afghanistan and the big contacts of terrorism and our national interests;

McCain has been aiming sort of more small bore, talking about short-term tactics and their impacts.  He wants to make the whole store of the Iraq war the surge.

Is the idea of the Afghanistan czar kind of a symbol for that, their overall different areas of focus?

WOLFFE:  I think you‘re right.  They have been actually very successful at, for instance, starting the clock with the start of the surge.  When they talk about Iraq, they‘re really just talking about the surge and forget everything else that happened before.

The czar idea is an interesting one when it comes to domestic policy.  As you point out, there is actually a czar, he‘s an elected president called the commander-in-chief.  But when you look at Afghanistan, really, it‘s not that czar situation that has been successful in Iraq.  That‘s a White House job about coordinating message rather than what the troops are doing on the ground.  So, a curious model again.

MADDOW:  Richard, on the flip side of that same question, I guess, for Obama, winning the debate on Iraq and national security would seem to require an awful lot of reframing—getting the terms of success in Iraq to be seen as more than just “surge is working, surge is working,” challenging the very reasons why we are in Iraq, why we would stay, why it should deserve resources.  Would that seem to be a mighty challenge in slow attention span theater election ‘08?

WOLFFE:  We have an ADD campaign here and one thing the McCain campaign has proved very adept at, is repeating a message relentlessly day in and day out so that it works and sticks.  Regardless of the policy, I think, the Obama campaign has actually been less sure-footed about this repetition, this monotony about epithets about McCain, and turning it around in that sense.

So they have some work to do there.  And whether it‘s about what McCain has done with Iraq or about Afghanistan, they‘ve got to have the follow through.  You can just put the candidate out there with one speech and expect it to stick.

MADDOW:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek,” thanks for your time tonight.

WOLFFE:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Part of the strategy for victory in November is making it seemed as if he never, not once, supported the Bush administration‘s failed strategy in Iraq.  Not surprisingly, he tried to do that again today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  You know, over the last year, Senator Obama and I were part of a great debate about the war in Iraq.  Both of us agreed that the Bush administration had pursued a failed policy, a failed policy there and we had to change course.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  McCain might be learning how to use the Internet, but how the Internets can be used against him must still be on his “to figure out” list.  The wonders of the Google and the Blogosphere have provided a long list of examples in which McCain and Bush have appeared to be one and “McSame” on the war in Iraq.  Our list by no means be definitive and complete edition.

Working backwards, we begin in March where on Mike Gallagher‘s talk radio show, McCain said, quote, “No one has supported President Bush on Iraq more than I have.”

Then in February when he was endorsed by Bush 41 and asked by our correspondent, Kelly O‘Donnell, about the backing of that other less popular President Bush, McCain claimed some policy differences with the current president, but decidedly, definitely not on Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 13)

MCCAIN:  As any president that follows one has different views on particularly specific issues, but I am proud of this president‘s strategy in Iraq.  It is succeeding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  In the summer of 2006, when Iraq was in the midst of a civil war, McCain still had every confidence in the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 20, 2006)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC HOST:  Do you have confidence in the president and his national security team to lead the war at this stage?

MCCAIN:  I do.  I do.  I have confidence in the president and I believe that he is well aware of the severity of the situation.

GREGORY:  Despite all the misjudgments you think have been made?

MCCAIN:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  In June of 2005, when Tim Russert tried to give McCain a chance to distance himself from President Bush and his war in Iraq, McCain wouldn‘t take that chance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 19, 2005)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC HOST:  The fact is you are different to George Bush.

MCCAIN:  No.  The fact is that I‘m different, but the fact is that I agreed with President Bush far more than I disagreed.  And on the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I have been totally in agreement and support of President Bush.  My support for President Bush has been active and very impassioned on issues that are important to the American people.

And I‘m particularly talking about the war on terror, the war in Iraq, the national security, national defense, support of men and women in the military, fiscal discipline, a number of other issues.  So, I strongly disagree with any assertion that I‘ve been more at odds with the president of the United States than I‘ve been in agreement with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  At the Republican convention four years ago this summer, McCain admired the president as much as ever and believed in his mission in Iraq as strongly as ever.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 30, 2004)

MCCAIN:  I believe as strongly today as ever, the mission was necessary, achievable and noble.

(APPLAUSE)

MCCAIN:  For his determination to undertake it and for his unflagging resolve to see it through to a just end, President Bush deserves not only our support but our admiration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  A last but certainly not least, in the conflict‘s early weeks, the same man who now cannot tell the difference between Sunni and Shia, believed they had a peaceful history of coexistence that would continue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, APRIL 23, 2003)

MCCAIN:  There is not a history of clashes that are violent between Sunnis and Shias.  So I think they can probably get along.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  So if America is divided on Iraq, does election once again come back to “the economy, stupid”?  Maybe that explains why President Bush can‘t think of much more than suggesting Americans switch off their air conditioning or hoping that they cut back on gasoline usage to help offset the energy crisis.  Genius.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  So much for this election being a referendum on Iraq.  When polled, over half of Americans say their biggest concern isn‘t the war, it‘s the economy.

Speaking of economics, the man John McCain named one of his top economic advisers has got to be the only investor in history who couldn‘t figure out how to make a profit on his soft core porn investment.

Those stories ahead: This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As human beings, we like to bifurcate our world—black/white, good/evil, left/right, boxers/briefs.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The perils of oversimplifying the world and oversimplifying politics.  Make no mistake about it, the latest polling shows that a majority of voters define the economy as their primary political concern.

Not exactly a shocker even if you don‘t follow the downward-spiraling Dow, wages stagnant, prices up, gas prices way up, foreclosures and middle class disintegrating into a “Gilded Age” nation of the very rich and the poor.  No surprise that 53 percent of Americans rate the economy as their premiere concern.

What is surprising is that the Iraq war, while next in line, resonates as most important with only 16 percent of voters.  But the war and the economy are not two separate issues.  To date, Iraq has cost the U.S. an estimated $750 billion in direct spending; never mind the other economic and, yes, the human casualties.

The budget surplus, with which Bush started his presidency, has now become a massive deficit.  All of the spending for the war in Iraq has been deficit spending.

Christopher Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” joins us now.  Chris, thanks for your time this evening.

CHRISTOPHER HAYES, THE NATION:  Thanks a lot, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Chris, I knew I wanted to talk to you tonight about this—when I heard Bush say in his press conference today, “I‘m not an economist but I do believe we‘re growing.”  I know Bush is a lame duck, but is he making matters worse for John McCain by just showing his face to the country and trying to talk about the economy?

HAYES:  Yes.  That‘s the short answer.  I mean, you know, traditionally and I think what has held true for probably the last few decades is that people tend to trust Republicans more on national security and Democrats more on economic issues.

Now, the national security edge has been eroded by the disaster in Iraq.  And now is much closer to even.  But the edge in the economy remains.

And so, I think, if the McCain campaign had their druthers, every single day would be dominated by discussions about al Qaeda, Afghanistan and Iraq.  Even though McCain supported the failed policies in Iraq, they still want to talk about that, because on the economy, they really don‘t have a whole heck of a lot to say.

MADDOW:  Even given that broad context, in which I think you‘re right, Barack Obama gave his major address on Iraq today.  He keeps going back and back and back again to the national security well.  He obviously thinks he‘s got a strong hand to play on the issue of the war and national security generally.  Going back to the poll numbers today, should Obama be more vocal, more literal, about connecting the issues of the war and the economy?

HAYES:  Yes, I think he should be.  I mean, the actual economics of this are a bit murky, and in terms of connecting exactly what‘s happening in the economy to the war in Iraq, in some places, there clearly is a connection; in other places like what‘s happening in, say, the subprime financial markets, it‘s harder to sort of connect the dots.  I do think that the two are related in so far as we are still spending a tremendous amount of money on the war.  And the figure that gets thrown around, $700 billion is a really difficult figure to get your head around.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist ran an analysis and he says, “By the end of this war,” you know, God knows when it‘s going to happen, “we might end up with $1.5 trillion, $1.2 trillion,” somewhere in that neighborhood.  That‘s a tremendous amount of money.

And, I think, if you talk about what you could do with that money, that‘s a way of sort of connecting the two that might kind of resonate more strongly.

MADDOW:  Obama, certainly talking about the opportunity cost in terms of security with having gone to Iraq, the opportunity cost of not chasing al Qaeda, of taking our eye off the ball with al Qaeda.  Certainly, the economic side of that is what we could have spent those hundreds of billions dollars in Iraq on.

John McCain today articulated and, I think, for the first time, recently at least, his strategy on Afghanistan.  He said his plan for Afghanistan is to copy the awesome plan we had for Iraq.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  He also said last week that his deficit reduction plan is to win Iraq and Afghanistan in his first term, never mind the whole “100 years” thing.  How do you think that John McCain is doing, connecting the issues of the war and the economy?

HAYES:  Well, I just want to say the thing that they put out when they were talking about how they were going to balance the budget, in which they put this massive amount of money that was going to come from, quote, “winning the war,” was, I think, one of the most comical moments of the whole campaign.  I mean, this is like saying like, you know, “Oh, some time around my second term, I‘m going to find a cure for cancer, right, and we‘re going to save money in health care when that happens.”

MADDOW:  Also, we‘ll find a big pot of gold somewhere in the White House, yes.

HAYES:  Yes, that‘s exactly what it was.  I mean, more or less, you know, the notion that somehow there‘s going to be some peace dividend that he‘s going to reap when they win—look, he‘s saying we‘re going to be there for decades.  So, that‘s going to cost a lot of money.  It costs a lot of money to station troops, even if we don‘t have 150,000, which we‘re not going to be able to have because we can‘t sustain it, we‘re going to have some massive presence under McCain‘s plan and that‘s going to be very expensive.

So, you know, he‘s connected it fictitiously.  But the fact of the matter is, his central plank on the economy which is, quote, unquote, “fiscal discipline,” is in direct contradiction with his central plank on national security, which is, lots of wars in lots of different places.

MADDOW:  There‘s going to be more wars, my friends, there‘s going to be more wars.

Chris, the big picture, the biggest possible picture here, I guess—

10 years ago, oil was $11 a barrel.  And Osama bin Laden said in an interview that he wanted the price of oil to be more like $144 a barrel, roughly where we are today.  Barack Obama said today that the oil economy is a tyranny.

Is Obama making any more progress than other Democrats have in the past at making how much oil we use into a national security issue?  Democrats have tried to do this for a while.  Is Obama being any more successful at it?

HAYES:  You know, I think he is and I think the needle is moving.  But I actually think it‘s sort of dangerous territory when you talk about the concept of energy independence, because energy independence can mean different things.

And one of the things that conservatives try to do is say, “Oh, yes, energy independence, good idea.  We can‘t be dependent on foreign oil.  So, let‘s drill all over the place and let‘s drill in the Arctic and let‘s drill offshore and let‘s dig out all the oil we can.”

The point is that there are two components to our energy problem and you cannot separate the two.  One is a national security issue and the other is a massive, massive unprecedentedly large crisis in the climate.  And so, you need to connect those two when you‘re thinking about solutions.

And so, I‘m little frustrated sometimes with the discourse that emerges around energy independence because it is so readily hijacked to support policies that are going to be the worst possible policies for the climate change crisis that we face.

MADDOW:  Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation,” thank you for joining us tonight.

HAYES:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up, giant heads frightens children?  Perhaps, I‘ve accidentally ended up at FOX News headquarters.

And the president‘s suggestion for lower gas prices is—his nonexistent magic wand.  Great.  Those stories ahead.

But first, the headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals—Bushed!

Number three: Reproductive rights for the rich-gate.  The Bush Department of Health and Human Services is considering a new rule that would require any group taking federal health funding to hire medical staff even if that staff objects to abortion.  But the proposal defines abortion so broadly that it also actually applies to some forms of contraception.

So hospitals and clinics that get any federal health funding, places poor women rely on for health care, including rape victims seeking emergency contraception or abortion, those could be staffed by people federally-empowered to turn those women away and to even refuse to dispense birth control pills.

Number two: Support the troops—I mean, the contractors-gate.  At a hearing tomorrow, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service and defense contractor Lockheed Martin will respond to today‘s new report from Congress.  The report says the Bush administration denied claims to 28,000 disabled American veterans.

A new law lobbying veterans claims, both retirement and disability take, created a backlog.  So, the Bush administration privatized the job of clearing the backlog.  And to help the company meet it‘s deadline, the government stopped its quality control procedures, even though they were already concerned about the contractor making too many errors.

Oh, and by the way, the company missed the deadline anyway—the magical efficiency of privatizing everything.

And, number one: America for sale-gate, day two.  We told you yesterday about Stephen Payne, the Bush buddy caught on tape saying that a donation to the Bush library would buy face time with Dick Cheney or Condoleezza Rice.

Well, the administration has now been asked whether they will release any visitor logs mentioning Payne or his clients visiting the White House.  Dana Perino‘s answer, she‘ll have to check with the White House counsel because there‘s, quote, “lawsuits and things.”

That‘s right.  Lawsuits and things—not to be confused with linens and things, litigation and stuff, or Bush bed, bribes, bath and beyond.

Oh, and if you‘re curious, whether Payne ever got his clients into the White House, try the Azerbaijani dictator—April 28th, 2006, in a face-to-face meeting with President Bush.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Best persons in a moment, and a novel way to spend your tax rebate and save on gas.  But first, a quote; “the times are too grave, the challenge too urgent and the stakes too high to permit the customary passions of political debate.  We‘re not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.” 

Those the words of a young charismatic senator accepting the Democratic nomination for president exactly 48 years ago at an arena away from the site of his party‘s convention.  He was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  In August, Senator Barack Obama will follow his lead, likewise accepting the nomination at an arena separate from the convention floor.  On that intimidating historical comparison of a note, let‘s play Oddball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  we begin in Pamplona, Spain for the annual big giant head parade.  No, it‘s not a festival honoring Mr. William O‘Reilly, but rather a celebration of the kings, queens and noblemen of old.  Adults love them.  Little kids, not so much. 

To the Internets and a special edition of when good umbrellas turn bad.  As vacationers try to flee a particularly wind swept beach on a gusty day, they‘re willfully and viciously attacked by a pack of large parasols.  Most managed to duck, one unlucky lady did get nailed.  This safety note, if approached by a rogue umbrella traveling at speed, do not hesitate.  Stop, drop and roll, baby, roll. 

Finally, back to Spain, where we find that country‘s humane answer to the Pamplona‘s running of the bulls.  It‘s the Tarillo (ph), Spain‘s jumping of the bulls.  Death defying acrobats, some with their feet tied together, get the bulls to charge.  At the last second, they spring over their pointy pals, landing safely to the delight of their crowds.  Unlike the famous Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, after which all bulls go to heaven, that‘s the rule, the acrobats and the bulls go out to have a beer after the show.  Que bueno. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  A magic wand and faith, just two of the president‘s brilliant ideas for helping Americans with the gas crisis. 

And the would-be first lady‘s license plate says Ms. Bud.  Stay classy.  Those stories ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best person—best reason to sign up for a dance lesson, Jeffrey G. Hom Jr. of Plymouth, Wisconsin, got the crowd all worked up while busting some serious moves at Hispanic Fest in Sheboygan on Saturday night.  So terrible was his tango, so mortifying his mambo, so woeful his waltz, that someone called the police.  Hom was found to be in possession of a glass pipe and 2.6 grams of marijuana.  He‘s been charged with two misdemeanors and false impersonation of Rodney Dangerfield in “Caddyshack.”

Number two, best reason to get dressed with the lights on, Abby Hawkins, a receptionist at Norich, in the UK, was at work when she felt a strange vibration inside her clothing.  She reached inside her bra, dug around and out came a baby bat.  Presumably drawn in by the dark and warmth, the winged mammal had roosted in the padded structural unmentionable overnight while hanging from her wash line. 

And number one, as if you need one, best reason to visit a brothel.  The Shady Lady Ranch in Nevada is offering its clients a free ride; not that kind.  For every 300 bucks spent on services at the house of ill repute, clients at the Shady Lady will receive a 50 dollar gas voucher as a bonus.  No word on whether the Shady Lady is also going ahead with their effort to rebrand their services in categories like regular, plus and super. 

If they do that, stay away from the 93 octane stuff.  I‘m just saying. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Good news and bad news today, as President Bush assured us the economy is growing, the fundamentals are sound and the system‘s fine.  Our number three story tonight, the bad news, actual people are in economic trouble, battling the credit crisis, gas prices, inflation, et cetera.  Mr.  Bush today reiterated that bank deposits are insured by the federal government for up to 100,000 dollars, a fact already so familiar to anyone with a savings account that Mr. Bush‘s reliance on it proved a little unsettling, especially on the heels of Friday‘s bank failure, the second largest since the Depression, and right after the government stepped in Sunday to save the two giant mortgage lenders with infusions of cash and other measures. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The purpose was to send a clear signal that, one, we understand how important these institutions are to the mortgage markets and, two, to kind of calm nerves. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  It‘s reassuring to hear that the president understands the importance of two lenders who represent half the nation‘s mortgages.  He also said his goal was to calm nerves.  Here‘s yesterday‘s headline from the “Financial Times,” reporting that smaller banks took a beating, because no one knows whether Mr. Bush considers them sufficiently important to save, too.  Mr. Bush was asked whether he would bail out GM, for instance, because of its importance to the system. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  If you‘re talking about bailing out?  If your question is should the government bail out private enterprise?  No, it shouldn‘t.  By the way, the decisions on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, I hear some say bailout, I don‘t think it‘s a bailout.  The share holders still own the company.  That‘s why I said we want this to continue to be a share holder owned company. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  But, in fact, Mr. Bush pledged that the government will step in and buy shares if necessary.  And since March, the government has been using tax payer funds to give investment banks the same low interest loans banks get at a rate recently of more than a billion a day, And at its peak almost 40 billion a day.  Of course, only the big boys essential to the system enjoy such government largess.  Here‘s Mr. Bush talking about gas prices and whether the government should use tax payer money to help, well, tax payers or let them fend for themselves. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I‘ve got faith in the American people.  As much as I regret that gasoline prices are high, and they are, I also understand that people are going to make adjustments to meet their own needs.  And I suspect you‘ll see, in the whole, Americans using less gasoline.  I bet that‘s going to happen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Actually, it already has happened.  We‘re using 500,000 barrels a day less this year than last year, an inconvenient truth for Mr.  Bush‘s argument that gas prices are purely a function of supply and demand.  Even oil company executives have testified that the relationship between price and supply and demand has been severed, a fact even Republicans blame on deregulation that lets speculators drive the market.  So what about the speculators? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  You know, I think you can‘t help but notice there‘s some volatility in price in the marketplace, which obviously there‘s some people, you know, buying and selling on a daily basis.  On the other hand, the fundamentals are what‘s really driving the long-term price of oil.  And that is demand for oil has increased and supply has not kept up with it.  And so part of our strategy in our country has got to be to say, OK, here are some suspected reserves, and that we ought to go after them in an environmentally friendly way. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Except the gas won‘t be for just our country.  It will go on the world market, where it will barely make a dent in supply or price.  If you didn‘t notice, Mr. Bush acknowledged the impact of speculators.  He did not deny their effect on short-term prices, and then he proposed doing nothing about it.  Does he have an immediate fix? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  There is no immediate fix.  This took us a while to get in this problem.  There‘s no short-term solution.  I think it was in the Rose Garden where I issued this in brilliant statement: if I had a magic wand—but the president doesn‘t have a magic wand.  You can‘t just say, low gas. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Low gas.  Fair, I just said it.  Entering his 2000 campaign, Mr. Bush himself claimed the president should be able to say low gas, quote, “the president of the United States must jawbone OPEC members to lower the price.  If the president does his job, the president will earn capital in the Middle East and the president should have good standing with those nations.” 

Whoops.  But don‘t fear, Mr. Bush did have one short-term idea. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  There‘s some easy steps people can take.  You know, if they‘re not in their homes, they don‘t keep their air conditioning running.  There are a lot of things people can do. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  There you have it, folks.  The Bush energy plan, literally, hot air.  Better than a magic wand? 

A pair of celebrity twins, the Brangelina babies set to earn more in their first few months of life than most CEOs make in a year. 

In addition to former lobbyist and former McCain economic adviser and current campaign national co-chair add soft core porn financier to Phil Gramm‘s resume. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt will sell pictures of their twin new babies for 11 million dollars, and they‘ll donate that money to charity, because that‘s how they roll.  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, keeping tabs.  The twins, a boy and a girl, were born Saturday at a hospital in Nice, France, under tight security.  The babies‘ names are Knox Leon and Vivienne Marcheline.  Miss Jolie underwent a Caesarian section.  Her surgeon confessed he was nervous because of all the media attention, not something you want to hear from your surgeon.

But he said his team was totally competent and he described Ms. Jolie and Mr. Pitt thusly, quote, “people of great simplicity, of great kindness and she was a patient who was totally obedient, very calm, very kind.”  With the twins‘ birth the Jolie/Pitt brood is now at six.  So that patience thing may come in handy. 

You have to wonder if Alex Rodriguez may soon run out of patience. 

The latest, he‘s being taunted at baseball games with picture of Madonna.  There they are, those mean Canadians in Toronto, kind of very politely, actually, because they‘re Canadians, holding up eight by ten glossy head shots of the pop star.  They were seated near the dugout and the on deck circle for the Yankee‘s series against the Toronto Blue Jays this past weekend. 

Rodriguez has, of course, struck up a friendship with Madonna, with swirling rumors of an extra specialness to that friendship.  Apparently Mr.  Rodriguez did notice the Blue Jays‘ fans who taunted him, but he did not respond. 

Finally, Peter Brady wants mom to lay off and cut him some slack, be cool, maybe make him some pork chops and apple sauce.  Christopher Knight, AKA Peter Brady, is steamed at Florence Henderson, AKA Mom.  The two had remained close since their ‘70s “Brady Bunch” heyday, but then Ms.  Henderson publicly criticized Mr. Knight‘s new relationship.  He married model Adrianne Curry, a woman half his age who he met on “The Surreal Life.”

Mr. Knight has now struck back on his Myspace page, saying, he‘s deeply hurt, that he hopes one day his new wife and his TV mom will come together, quote, in a peaceful and respectful way.  I was going to finish that one by saying aw, but I‘m not sure that‘s the right thing to say. 

Her vanity license plate reads Ms. Bud.  But apparently the only way to get around Arizona is by private plane. 

And his former economic adviser couldn‘t even make a profit on soft core pornography.  The continuing travails of Team McCain ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it turns out that Senator John McCain‘s wife Cindy has a car with vanity license plates reading Ms. Bud.  Some darling little down-to-Earth reference meaning that she refers to Senator McCain as simply Bud, as hey there, bud, or maybe a true fan‘s homage to that pinnacle of American achievement in film, subsection golden retrievers, subsection basketball, by which I mean the movie “Air Bud?” 

No, it‘s actually a reference to the beer distributorship owned by Mrs. McCain.  She‘s the heiress to what Harold Ford once memorably called on this network a wonderful beer fortune.  You go, Ms. Bud.  Thank you to the “New York Times” today not so much for telling us that the McCain family‘s beer distributorship will make another million or two on the sale of Anheuser-Busch to Inbev.  That‘s, of course, peanuts compared to the 300 million or so it‘s already worth.  We thank the Times instead for the revelation that Mrs. McCain zips around Phoenix with those Ms. Bud vanity plates.  Mrs. McCain says though that getting around the state requires something more than a car, as Mrs. McCain explains when asked why she got a pilot‘s license. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CINDY MCCAIN, WIFE OF JOHN MCCAIN:  Oh, gosh, my husband was running for the Senate in Arizona.  And in Arizona, the only way to get around the state is by small private plane. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Right.  You can‘t get around Arizona by car because Senator McCain‘s aversion to pork barrel spending in a country that only funds transportation by pork barrel spending means that Arizona has no roads or bridges?  I kid.  No less ridiculous, though, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota asked this weekend if his new haircut was part of a strategy to be Senator McCain‘s vice presidential pick?  His answer, what, this old hairdo?  Heavens, of course not. 

And guess which economic adviser of Senator McCain invested 15,000 dollars in a softcore porn film at the urge of his brother-in-law?  It‘s a flick called “Truck Stop Women,” with the tag line, “No rig was too big for them to handle.”  That would be former Senator Phil Gramm, of course.  The movie Gramm tried to invest in was oversold, so Gramm‘s money ended up getting returned to him.  That‘s according to Max Blumenthal of the Huffington Post.

Quickly, let‘s bring in comedian Christian Finnegan, also a contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.” 

Hi, Christian. 

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, COMEDIAN:  Good evening to you, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  So Cindy McCain with Ms. Bud vanity plates.  Considering some of the other things bud might refer to, I guess it could be worse. 

FINNEGAN:  I perform at a local of colleges, and man, the whole Ms.

Bud things could really appeal to a lot of burnout college students I see.  Imagine their disappointment when they realize the bud being referred to is not the life-giving herb, but the brand of beer can hurled at them by frat boys. 

MADDOW:  Does it make you wonder what vanity plates she has on her other cars? 

FINNEGAN:  I actually have done a little research on this.  I did a little Googling.  This is one of her other license plates.  I believe it‘s pronounced creepy eyes.  This is a license plate she had when she met Senator McCain.  I think this is what caught his eye.  It‘s “I like them old.”  And this one, is “sucks to be you,” which doesn‘t seem bad on the surface.  But this is the license plate of Cindy McCain‘s diamond-covered hover craft.  Not exactly the way to show the common touch. 

MADDOW:  Christian, in the CNN interview, Mrs. McCain explained how she got her pilot‘s license as a way of overcoming her fear of flying, which actually is truly impressive.  But then she blurted out, quote, and I wound up loving it and bought a plane.  Not accusing her of elitism or anything, but I‘m guessing, she might want to leave that last part out of her campaign appearances. 

FINNEGAN:  I‘m more annoyed by her claim that private plane is the only way to get around Arizona.  I know for a fact they have those old-tiny railroad hand carts.  If they want a counter-claim to elitism, the McCains should ride the rails for a couple months.  Can‘t you picture it, John McCain with all his belongings in a bandanna tied to a stick, Cindy McCain entertaining a bunch of hoboes with a jaunty harmonica tune.  The PR writes itself. 

MADDOW:  The hobo tour.  Then we have Governor Pawlenty with his new haircut.  He told reporters to check out his buzz cut from ‘03 to prove that he has had short air before.  There is no connection to some vice presidential strategy.  Do you buy it?  Politicians have done more than getting a new haircut to sweeten their resume.  Haven‘t they? 

FINNEGAN:  Hell, Dick Cheney went out and rented a soul.  Of course, he soon stopped making payments on it.  But actually, Governor Pawlenty used to have a bona fide mullet.  I kind of wish he‘d kept it, because in this era of partisan politics, wouldn‘t it be great to see a governor who said I put the people‘s business in front and the party in back. 

MADDOW:  Pawlenty said also, quote, I‘ve had a long and tortured history with my hair.  Think he‘s trying to appeal to conservatives with the implication of torture? 

FINNEGAN:  This actually gave me a great idea, rather than quibble about water boarding, we should threaten all the prisoners at Guantanamo with Rudy Giuliani era comb-overs.  I am pretty sure it‘s constitutional. 

MADDOW:  That brings us to good old Phil Gramm.  Huffington Post‘s Max Blumenthal cites an interview that Gramm‘s brother-in-law did in ‘95.  He described showing Gramm scenes from “Truck Stop Women” and it, quote, really got Phil titillated, end quote.  Is that wacky Phil Gramm an enigma wrapped up in a riddle or what? 

FINNEGAN:  By the way, the director‘s commentary on “Truck Stop Women” is superb.  I think Gramm should take his interest in softcore porn and apply to it the economy.  Think of the economy as the sexy warden of an all-female prison.  If you want your shower privileges, you have to stimulate that economy. 

MADDOW:  Comedian Christian Finnegan, regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” thank you for joining us. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,903 day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Rachel Maddow, in for Keith.  He‘ll be back tomorrow night.  Thanks for watching.

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

END   

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