updated 9/10/2008 1:42:11 PM ET 2008-09-10T17:42:11

Guest: Michael Isikoff, Bob Barr, Barry McCaffrey, David Sirota, Kent

Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you, Keith.

You know, before you go, you have some more interesting stuff from your interview with Senator Obama tonight.  You asked him about turning around public opinion on his position on the surge and the Iraq war generally.

So, having talked to him about this, having been there for the back-and-forth about this, are you getting a sense of confidence from Obama about Iraq as a campaign issue, as a political issue?

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Have you ever heard actually anything

in Senator Obama’s approach that did not reflect some degree of confidence?

MADDOW:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  And you think that is—that might either be his strongest asset or his greatest weakness, I’m not sure which.  I tend to think it’s the former rather than the latter.  But once again, I come back to what we said—what I said when you asked me a question like this last night—that little slip about looking forward to the debates.  I think they’re focused on that.

I think he has means to carve John McCain up into little pieces on Iraq just by presenting very matter of factly, John McCain’s sundry positions and even his doubts about the surge, which took place, the doubts that took place, about a year and a half ago.

I think they’re really counting on what’s going to happen on the debates.  And I don’t know if you heard Chuck Todd at the beginning of my show, but he said with the advance of early voting he thinks that where it is on October 15th will be where it ends.  So, the first couple of debates are critical to this.

MADDOW:  Well, thank you, Keith.  I’m looking forward to hearing more of that interview with Obama.  I appreciate your sticking around.

OLBERMANN:  Of course.

MADDOW:  And I should say to those of you at home, I want to thank you for sticking with us as well, particularly because, I think there’s a lot to freak out about in today’s news.

(voice over):  I’ll see your truth squad and raise you another truth squad.  The McCain-Plain campaign forms a unit to vet the media who’s vetting them.  So, what does their truth squad say about the truth-squadding of this?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. SARAH PALIN, ® VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I told Congress,

“Thanks but no thanks” for that “Bridge to Nowhere” up in Alaska.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Oh, no, you didn’t.

Plus: The mavericky maverick-ness that is the Republican presidential ticket, blames the mortgage mess on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lobbyists.  Which squad is supposed to point out that there’s a Fannie-Freddie lobbyist running the McCain campaign?

The president draws down Iraq troops.  So, the surge worked, right? 

Somebody definitely needs to truth-squad that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We should have a

comprehensive strategy for bringing this war to a close and not what we’ve heard from the president today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  While their truth-squadding the truth squads, someone ought to ask the woman who beat Sarah Palin for Miss Alaska who she’s voting for.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

(MUSIC)

MADDOW (on camera):  If you listen closely, if you focus and listen closely when Sarah Palin appears on the campaign trail, you can hear two very important ambient noises.  One is the crackle of electricity as the conservative base of the Republican Party finally gets charged up about a candidate this year.  The other sound you may hear, if you listen closely, is a dripping sound—a steady drip, drip, drip.

A scandal and controversy, as the reporters of the western world, day by day, publicly vet a heretofore, unknown candidate, who John McCain asked to be his vice presidential nominee after just one meeting.

And if you know anything about the combination of electricity and dripping, electricity and water, my sense is that the politics here could be heading for a shock.

First, let’s go to Lancaster, Pennsylvania today, where Sarah Palin kept up the same stump speech about her fiscal righteousness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  As mayor and governor, I tried to lead by example.  As mayor, I had taken a voluntary pay cut, which didn’t really thrill my husband.  And then as governor, I stopped the personal chef position from the budget which did not thrill my kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Actually, the personal chef just sort of got reassigned.

But anyway, Palin’s self-touted image as a “cut expenses indulgence because it’s the right thing to do kind of gal” was undercut by the “Washington Post” today which reports that Governor Palin taps the Alaskan state budget—that’s taxpayer money, folks—for nearly $17,000 in per diem expenses to spend the night in her own home.  She also used more than $40,000 tax dollars to transport her daughters and her husband between the state capitol and her hometown.

All the while, she was criticizing state legislators for taking the same kind of payment.

Meanwhile, the one Sarah Palin story to which people outside Alaska actually paid attention before Palin was picked for V.P.—the trooper-gate scandal?  That continues and it seems like it’s getting worse.

Joining us now to tell us the new twists, live from beautiful Anchorage, Alaska, is “Newsweek’s” investigative correspondent, Michael Isikoff.

Hi, Mike.  Thanks for joining us.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK:  Hi, Rachel, good to be with you.

MADDOW:  I like the northern light behind you.  It’s very Alaska, very touching.

(LAUGHTER)

ISIKOFF:  Excellent.

MADDOW:  All right.  Three scandals in one here.  First, the allegation that Palin intervened inappropriately in this personnel issue because of a personal beef.  Second, Palin denying she had ever gotten involved in the issue, which was then very quickly disproved.  But third, there’s now a ton of political pressure being put on this investigation itself.  What are you reporting today, Mike, about that?

ISIKOFF:  Well, right.  This thing has become sort of a political knife fight.  What started out as a bipartisan investigation that was authorized by both Republicans and Democrats in the Alaska legislature, last July, into whether there was an abuse of power here, has with the political stakes rising become a political food fight.

The McCain allies and the Palin allies in the legislature bucked up by the McCain campaign, are essentially declaring war on the legislative council, the body that’s conducting this investigation, saying it’s been compromised because of statements made by the guy in charge of the investigation, Hollis French, calling and saying he’s an Obama supporter whose talking about an October surprise.  And therefore, this investigation -- essentially what they’re trying to do is de-legitimize it, move it out of the bipartisan Alaska legislature and into the Alaska personnel commission which is part of the Palin administration itself.

Now, you know, they’re saying—they’re pointing to the comments made by Hollis French saying that he was off the reservation.  You know, talking about how this is going to impose political damage on Governor Palin.  You know, their request or their request to have him removed from the investigation was denied yesterday by the guy in charge.  He says, “Look, French isn’t the guy conducting investigation.  It’s a professional prosecutor named Steve Branchflower and his report is going to determine what the findings are here.”

MADDOW:  Right.  Well, the McCain campaign, though, has actually sent staff to Alaska to get involved in this legislative investigation.

ISIKOFF:  A rapid response team, right.  Yes.

MADDOW:  That’s incredible.  I mean, Palin in the past has said she not only would cooperate with this investigation but she welcomed this investigation.  Now that the McCain campaign, folks, the big foot Republican Party folks are involved in this—is Palin still cooperating?

ISIKOFF:  Not exactly.  In fact, there’s some seven members of her administration who have declined to give depositions to Mr. Branchflower since she was named as the vice presidential candidate.  And what we’re going to see is a political showdown this Friday when the legislators meet to, essentially—to issue subpoenas for these recalcitrant members of the Palin administration, who are not cooperating with the investigation.

So this thing is going to come to a head in a very public way very quickly.  And while the details of the investigation are murky, essentially as you outline—this involves allegations that Governor Palin and her administration used their public office to settle a private score against the state trooper, John Wooten, who was the ex-brother-in-law of Sarah Palin’s sister.  I think while the details are probably going to get submerged by the politics surrounding this, now, that’s probably the McCain campaign strategy at this point.

MADDOW:  Yes, if you muddy the -

ISIKOFF:  And if they can see this as a political thing, they won’t focus on the details of the investigation.

MADDOW:  That’s right.  If you muddy the waters enough and maybe by doing that you slow it down.  You at least cast dispersions on what the findings might eventually be.

Mike, we just have time for last quick question.  Quick thought—do you expect that they will be able to shutdown this investigation altogether?  Is that within the realm of possibility?

ISIKOFF:  You know, it’s very hard to know how this is going to play out at this point because this had such strong bipartisan support when it began.  I think what you’re going to see is fights over executive privilege; we’ve heard that before in Washington—fights about the politics of it.

There will be a report—I don’t think the ultimate findings are going to find violations of the law by Sarah Palin but they do hold the potential to raise questions about her credibility when she claimed originally that there was no pressure to fire Wooten.

And, you know, one thing, I think we talked about this before, the iron law of investigations—we’ve learned it time and time again.  When there are emails embarrassing stuff comes out, Steve Branchflower, the special counsel is going after the emails.  If he gets those emails within the governor’s office, it is likely some things that are not pretty are going to be publicly exposed.

MADDOW:  Yes.  When people are emailing each other and they don’t think it’s for public consumption that’s where you say the things you got embarrassed about.

“Newsweek’s” Michael Isikoff, thank you so much for joining us.  Good luck up there.

ISIKOFF:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  On the campaign trail, again today, John McCain kept pushing the idea that Sarah Palin is a reformer who slashes government spending.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I can’t wait to introduce her to Washington, D.C. and the big spenders.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

MCCAIN:  To the big spenders, the old boy network, the pork barrelers, the earmarkers, the business as usual, the “country is second, me first,” bureaucrats in Washington and the special interest.  She’ll take them on like she did in Alaska.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  You know, I understand why they want to run Sarah Palin as a reformer but there’s one thing that keeps popping up that just ruins the whole movie.  It’s Palin’s claim that she opposed the so-called, “Bridge to Nowhere,” the $398 million project in rural Alaska that became a national symbol of dumb government spending.

Everywhere she goes in this campaign, Palin repeats that she was against the bridge boondoggle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PALIN:  I told Congress, “Thanks but no thanks” on that “Bridge to Nowhere.”

I told the Congress, “Thanks but no thanks” on that “Bridge to Nowhere.”

I told Congress, “Thanks but no thanks” for that “Bridge to Nowhere” up in Alaska.  If our state wanted a bridge, we’re going to build it ourselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Here’s the problem.  Palin was before the bridge, before she was against it.  When the “Anchorage Daily News” asked Palin if she supported the bridge in 2006, she said, quote, “Yes, I would like to see Alaska’s infrastructure projects built sooner rather than later.  The window is now—while our congressional delegation is in a strong position to assist.”  In other words, what we can get this done is an earmark.

In a debate when she was running for governor that same year, Palin also said that she was in favor of that bridge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OCTOBER 29, 2006)

PALIN:  You know, I support these infrastructure projects that will build Alaska and it’s cheaper to do it today than it is tomorrow.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Undaunted by all this evidence, eager to make her seem like a reformer, the McCain campaign keeps running with the “Bridge to Nowhere” lie.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  The original mavericks.  He fights pork barrel spending.  She stopped the “Bridge to Nowhere.”  He took on the drug industry.  She took on big oil.  He battled Republicans and reformed Washington.  She battles Republicans and reformed Alaska.

They’ll make history.  They’ll change Washington.  McCain/Palin: real change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  (INAUDIBLE) I guess the point there, but Palin didn’t stop the “Bridge to Nowhere,” Congress did.  Then she kept the money and used it for other stuff.  Alaska is, in fact, still using some of that money to build a road out to where the bridge would have been had Congress not killed it.  You got to spend that federal money somehow.

It’s more than an exaggeration when Governor Palin said she stopped the “Bridge to Nowhere.”  It is a flat-out lie.  My question is: How are they getting away with it?

Joining us now: MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O’Donnell.

Hi, Lawrence.  Thanks for joining us.

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good to be with you,

Rachel.

MADDOW:  The idea that Sarah Palin was against this bridge was debunked almost as soon as she made it.  Why does she keep repeating it?

O’DONNELL:  Well, you know, she says that she said, “Thanks but no thanks.”  The real sequence, Rachel, is she said, please and thank you and then thanks but no thanks.  Only when the Congress had de-authorized the bridge, there’s—I worked on the committee, I was chief of staff of the public work’s committee in the Senate, Rachel, where these things originate.  That’s where they get authorized and the appropriation’s committee run by Ted Stevens that time, that’s where they get appropriated.

So, the money was appropriated and sent to Alaska.  But, Congress did de-authorize building the bridge, and Governor Palin kept the money, which I don’t think is the implication of her speech when she says this.  As you’ve already pointed out, she did keep the money.  So, this is a story that isn’t working for them when it’s examined by the press.

In fact, the “Wall Street Journal” which is a fairly neutral arbiter of these things and, in fact, editorially leans toward Republicans put it in their headline as “The Record Contradicts Palin’s Bridge Claims.”  But what’s continuing to allow the Republican ticket to use it is simply Sarah Palin’s popularity.

This is the value of popularity, Rachel.  This is the value of a speech that went over so well at the Republican convention that when voters like someone, they let them have a pretty long leash on stories like this.  And as long as the final piece of the story involves a version of Sarah Palin saying, “No thanks,” even if she was the last one to say no thanks on the “Bridge to Nowhere,” that’s what allows her to continue to say it.

But I’m not sure we’re going to be hearing this a week from now.  It seems like it’s a story that has been taken apart enough by the media, especially going into a vice presidential debate.  I don’t see how she can try to advance this idea in a vice presidential debate.

MADDOW:  Ultimately, if her popularity is sort of clearing the way for her to keep making this claim, the flip side of that is that this claim being debunked, everywhere from the “Wall Street Journal” to every other major news authority in the country, that could ultimately take a chunk out of that popularity if she’s seen as being an exaggerator if somebody who’s lying about her record and seeing somebody who can’t be trusted by this. 

The media was very happy if when -

O’DONNELL:  If it sticks.

MADDOW:  If it sticks.

(CROSSTALK)

O’DONNELL:  It’s very hard to stick an image -

MADDOW:  But that’s up to the media.  That’s a media question.  I’m sorry to interrupt.

O’DONNELL:  So, Rachel, it’s a combination.  It’s up to the media to prosecute it to some extent.  The Obama campaign has come out with a very straight-on effective commercial about this but it has to stick to that character.  And there is a public character now known as Sarah Palin.  We don’t know how close that is to the reality of Sarah Palin.  And that celebrity character, Sarah Palin, has an image now that goes along with the notion that she said, “No thanks to the ‘Bridge to Nowhere.’”

So right now, it’s hard to make the journalistic case stick on her, especially since she’s a fairly fast-moving target in the sense that she doesn’t stop, sit down and answer questions about it.

MADDOW:  That’s a very convenient facts of her scheduling at this point.

MSNBC political analyst, Lawrence O’Donnell, thanks for joining us tonight.

O’DONNELL:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  As unlikely as it seems, and that’s really unlikely, John McCain and Sarah Palin are successfully selling themselves as mavericks for change.  Today, they even co-wrote an op-ed blaming the Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac bailout on Fanny and Freddie’s evil lobbyists, except their campaign manager was a Fannie and Freddie lobbyist.

These are the change candidates?  How is this happening?  Bob Barr is going to be here in just a moment to try to Talk Me Down on that one.

And speaking of not really changing anything, today, President Bush announced he’s withdrawing 8,000 troops from Iraq which actually means the troop levels in Iraq will still be higher than they were before the surge.  We got the surge, drawdowns, the war, and the campaign, together again—coming up.

One more thing, though, the McCain/Palin team announced today the “Palin truth squad,” to, quote, “set the record straight against Internet and liberal smears.”  The Palin truth squad’s weapon of choice?  Email alert which will be sent to voters and the media.  This even though the truth squad cites the media as a major culprit of anti-Palin smears.  This will clear my inbox?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  What we’ve got here for you is a picture of city hall in Wasilla, Alaska.  Wasilla City Hall has been so besieged by questions about Sarah Palin’s record there as mayor that they have posted a tassel of documents online—financial reports, operating budgets, capitol budgets, tax revenues - this is the kind of document dump that God had in mind when God invented bloggers and the Internet.

My favorite part is this, though, the city Web site says, quote, “We would like to answer all questions but since we are a fiscally-responsible community, be sure to include an email address as we are not returning long distance phone calls.  We did not budget for the volume of calls we are experiencing.”

Maybe they could, like, get some earmarked federal funding to cover that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Change.  Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton with that message in the primaries.  And now John McCain appears to be co-opting it to try to beat Obama in the general.

In Pennsylvania today, in a new ad, maverick is the story and Senator McCain, a 26-year Washington veteran who moved towards President Bush’s policies on Iraq, tax cuts and torture, he is sticking to that story.

Today, McCain and Palin co-authored a mavericky op-ed ad decrying but accepting the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, quote, “Fannie and Freddie’s lobbyists succeeded and Congress failed.  Under our administration, this will not happen again.”

Among the lobbyists to which the piece refers, would presumably be, McCain campaign manager, Rick Davis, who used to head up an advocacy group pushing less regulation of Fannie and Freddie.

Here’s what seriously unsettling.  Despite the facts, the maverick message, the idea that John McCain can change Washington, is apparently working.  Today’s NBC/”Wall Street Journal” Poll shows that while McCain still trails Obama as the candidate likely to bring about change, McCain is up 14 points in that category since June.

I can imagine a lot of ways that John McCain can win the election.  John McCain, the POW 40 years ago—sure.  John McCain, the more familiar guy—OK, I guess.  But John McCain, the anti-lobbyist guy, the change Washington guy?  That’s like Mitt Romney, the bald guy.  That’s like Barack Obama, the fat guy.  This doesn’t make sense.  This can’t be happening.

Here to try to Talk Me Down is former congressman, Bob Barr, the libertarian candidate for president this year.

Hi, Congressman Barr.  Thanks for joining us.

BOB BARR, (L) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Rachel, great to be with you and an honor to be among the first guests on your new show.  Thanks for having me.

MADDOW:  Very kind of you to say.

What do you think when you hear McCain telling voters that he is the real agent of change, he’s the real maverick to shake up Washington?

BARR:  I mean, it’s absolutely hilarious.  I mean, as you indicated, there might be some reasons to elect this guy as president, but being a maverick is not one of them.  This guy has status quo Washington insider written all over him and this latest example of saying, “Well, gee, we don’t really want to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac but we’ve got to - - golly, gee, and where was Washington?  It’s Congress’s fault,” this guy was in Congress.  He’s been there almost 30 years.

MADDOW:  Well, the McCain campaign is banking to a certain extent on the idea that lobbyist is not a boring political word.  They’re campaigning as mavericks.  They’re saying, “We’re going to stand up to the lobbyists.”  If the idea of a lobbyist as a potent negative image in politics, then what about the fact that the McCain campaign manager was a Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac lobbyist?  At that point, doesn’t it come around to sort of bite them politically that the campaign is really being run by a lot of former lobbyists?

BARR:  Well, it will come around to bite them if the people realize what’s going on.  It’s important that you’re talking about it and I’m talking about it.  The others are talking about it.  And it’s not just one or two lobbyists, I mean, it’s dozens.  I think at one point, he had like, five dozen lobbyists working for him.  You know, this is one thing.

You know, there are good lobbyists and there are bad lobbyists, but if you’re going to put yourself forward as somebody that is purer than the driven snow and never would have anything to do with the lobbyists, then you have to stand up to the scrutiny that you have lobbyists on your own payroll.  And I don’t think he should be able to get away with that.

MADDOW:  We saw before John McCain picked Sarah Palin, that they were really going with this inexperience attack against Barack Obama.  They were hitting that over and over and over again.  After choosing Sarah Palin, they’ve now shifted to this running against lobbyist’s idea.  Do you think they should have stuck with the experience attack?  How are you running against Barack Obama?

BARR:  Well, that’s certainly is a legitimate complaint.  I believe against Barack Obama, but it’s just as legitimate against Ms. Palin.  I mean, for heaven’s sake, the only foreign experience that has been put forward is, I think, by Senator McCain’s wife who said, “Well, gee, since Alaska is on the same latitude as Russia and is really near,” I don’t think she noted that they used to be attached by a small land bridge—this means that she really understands Russia.

No, the fact of the matter is, that’s what’s good for the goose is good for the gander and, it’s a legitimate complaint against both campaigns particularly since Senator McCain, of course, as the oldest person ever to seek or if he were sworn in, to be sworn in as president, these are legitimate concerns.  With his running mate who then would become vice president and a heartbeat away from the presidency, does that person really have the experience?  And certainly in the foreign affairs arena, the answer is a resounding “no”.

MADDOW:  Bob Barr, a libertarian candidate for president, I have to say, it was not a especially talks down about John McCain’s successful bits of a change candidate, but thank you very much for trying and for joining us.

BARR:  My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Up until now, the independent 527 groups have been sucker-punching Barack Obama with ads like this one.  The McCain-Palin campaign is not putting their name on these ads.  But they aren’t exactly stopping them either.

Now, the Obama campaign has decided to quietly encourage fighting back, finally.  We’ll have more on why it’s about time.

Also, just so you know, there’s new bipartisan report out today which says, quote, “The U.S. has made only limited progress toward preventing a catastrophic nuclear or biological or chemical attack on U.S. soil.”  “Limited progress,” wasn’t that supposed to be like priority one, two and three these past seven years since 9/11?  More on that smoking gun, mushroom cloud, coming right up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Today, President Bush announced he intends to withdraw 8,000 troops from Iraq and naturally, the move was announced as a sign of success, which it is if by success you mean having more troops on the ground in Iraq come January than we did before the surge was announced.  More on success, the president and senators McCain and Obama later on.  

First though, it’s time for a few underreported “holy mackerel” stories breaking today.  Seven years after the 9/11 attacks, seven years after the anthrax attacks and five and a half years after the invasion of Iraq and the fruitless search for those weapons of mass destruction, a bipartisan panel on WMDs has given the United States a grade of C on progress toward preventing a catastrophic nuclear, biological or chemical attack. 

Lee Hamilton, a Republican co-chair of the bipartisan panel, says that the nuclear, chemical or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists is still the greatest threat to our nation, one to which we are, quote, “still dangerously vulnerable.” 

There’s actually a bunch of reports coming out now on how little we’ve done to reduce the threat of weapons of mass destruction.  “The Washington Post” today describes, quote, “years of bureaucratic drift” that all these blue ribbon commissions are trying to cut through.  So we’ve had years of bureaucratic drift and we’ve made only minor progress on this issue in seven long years. 

But the political machine designed to hype our fear of an attack using weapons of mass destruction, that’s banging on all cylinders, working very well, thank you.  Because converting fear into votes is apparently a much more urgent priority right now than actually taking concrete steps to make the country safe from those threats. 

In semi-happier news, North Korea celebrated its 60th birthday today.  That’s what a North Korean birthday party looks like.  But the country’s jumpsuited and Vanilla-Ice hairdoed dictator Kim Jong Il did not show up for the massive military parade, fuelling already swilling speculation that the dictator is not well.  This evening, the South Korean news agency, Yonhap, reports that the leader is, indeed, ill, after collapsing. 

A U.S. intelligence official tells the Associate Press there’s reason to believe the 66-year-old leader may have suffered a stroke.  His last-known public appearance was August 14th.  But one Japanese professor has just published a book claiming the dictator has actually been dead for years with body doubles substituting for him at public events.  At least Saddam had the good sense to have body doubles out fooling people while he was still alive. 

Finally, the list of gifts received but not disclosed by Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, grows in number and in inadvertent hilarity today.  Prosecutors have revealed other items the senator allegedly received besides a new floor on his house and the list includes a $3,200 hand-built stained grass window, a $2,700 massage chair and the weirdest alleged bribe ever - a dog.  Who gets bribed with a dog?  The pooch was valued at $1,000 but the senator listed the dog in his 2003 disclosure as an honorary award in recognition of public service.  “Thanks for you service, here’s your dog”?  Alaska Republicans get more and more interesting all the time.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  So, hey, remember that awkward five-and-a-half-year-old we don’t quite know what to do with, the Iraq war? Well, there’s some news from Iraq and “Life During Wartime” today, and that news included the word “success.”  Again, speaking at the National Defense University today, President Bush announced he’s decided to withdraw 8,000 troops from Iraq by next February, which is weird because he won’t still be president then. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  Here’s the bottom line, while the enemy in Iraq is dangerous, we have seized the offensive.  Iraqi forces are becoming increasingly capable of leading and winning the fight.  As a result, we’ve been able to carry out a policy of return on success, reducing American combat forces in Iraq as conditions on the ground continue to improve. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  When Americans hear the phrase “success” as in “return on success,” we generally think we get to come home, right?  Well, scaled down to at least pre-surge troop levels, right?  Not so much.  The president’s big troop reduction announcement today still leaves troop levels in Iraq at about 138,000 - that’s more than the 130,000 troops who were stationed there before the surge.  If success means keeping even more troops there, what would not-success look like? 

The president also today announced he’s sending about 4,500 more American troops to Afghanistan.  So does that mean the commanders in Afghanistan are finally getting the extra troops they’ve been asking for?  Again, not so much.  The U.S. commander in Afghanistan wants 12,000 troops.  Bush is sending 4,500 in five months.  See, the military is a bit strained these days.  

Today Barack Obama ripped into the decider’s latest war decree.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The fact that this

deployment - redeployment is small and isn’t taking place for five months, the bulk of it, I think, indicates that the greater wedge - the central problem still has not been solved. 

We should have a comprehensive strategy for bringing this war to a close and not what we’ve heard from the president today, which is essentially, some tinkering around the edges and kicking the can down the road to the next president.  At this point, what it appears is that the next president will inherit a status quo that is still unstable.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  For those of you just tune into our two wars already in progress, Sen. Obama, for years has been advocating a shift in focus to Afghanistan.  But the administration and Sen. McCain are just catching on to. 

Joining us now, retired Four-Star Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey.  He’s an NBC military analyst.  He has recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan.  General McCaffrey, thank you so much for joining us.

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Good to be with you,

Rachel.  Congratulations on your new show.  

MADDOW:  Thank you.  It’s kind of you to say. 

Let’s start with Iraq.  How fragile is the success in Iraq if only 8,000 troops come out, if there’s still more troops there than before the surge?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, certainly, all the static indicators are positive across the board.  The violence is way down.  The Maliki government appears to be biting in and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) political sense.  The Afghan security forces are immensely larger in number, better trained and armed and apparently carrying out their orders. 

Now, Rachel, the key question is, what happens as we start to

withdraw?  And we’re going to find out.  We’re not sure if they can

maintain stability as we draw down - as draw down we will and must.  Army

is overextended.  The country doesn’t want to support this war at $10

billion a month.  We’re going to come out -

I think, we as Americans, are better off having the president-elect decide in November or December what to do than this administration.  

MADDOW:  That’s what I wanted to ask, strategically.  I mean, in terms of Iraq strategy, wouldn’t we be better served by the next president-elect making these decisions in November, starting the day after the election, rather than this administration pledging now what’s going to happen in February, after Bush’s gone?  It seems like predictability is important here and they ought not be making promises about what will happen long after Bush has left the White House.

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, yes.  I couldn’t agree more.  You know, one of the other phenomena that’s going on in Iraq right now is Maliki hasn’t agreed to a so-called status of forces agreement.  So, you know, at the stroke of midnight at the end of December, we no longer have legal justification to be in Iraq. 

I think part of the argument is that Maliki understands that Bush is running out the clock and he probably would rather deal with the president-elect in November.  They’re going to slow-roll us right up until the end.  So we don’t want to have a catastrophe in Iraq until we get a new administration in office.  This is probably a good announcement by President Bush today.  

MADDOW:  Gen. McCaffrey, I know you recently just got back from Afghanistan.  4,500 more troops are going there in five months.  Do you think that’s what the situation in Afghanistan needs?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, an enormous spike in violence is really astonishing.  There were over 400 troops and contact incidents in June while I was there, and only 38 in Iraq.  So the situation is extremely stressful.  Our NATO allies, thank god, are there, but the problem is, except for the Brits and Canadians and small contingents, most of them won’t really take offensive military action. 

So we’re really hanging on by our thumbs there.  A lot of new money, thank god, from Secretary Gates, $10 billion, headed over there to do roads and economic reconstruction.  Rachel, we’ve got to send more combat troops in the short run, but that isn’t the solution in Afghanistan.  This is a problem of allies, of economic reconstruction, and creating a functional as opposed to a corrupt and incompetent Afghan government.  

MADDOW:  It requires an American sense of our own power that involves something other than just using our military force.  

MCCAFFREY:  Absolutely.  

MADDOW:  And that’s subtlety that we need from new leadership.  Gen.  Barry McCaffrey, retired, four stars in the U.S. Army, NBC military analyst - thank you for your time tonight, sir.  

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  Barack Obama has absorbed plenty of sliming in this presidential campaign.  But a new round of slime today is among the slimiest yet.  And Barack Obama is hitting back harder than we have yet seen challenging McCain’s honor.  We will have much more on that in just a moment.  

But before we go, one more thing about the Iraq war and the consumer commercialization of a conflict that has cost more than 4,000 Americans their lives. 

Sears Department Stores have bought the license to the U.S.  Army’s “Big Red One,” that would be the logo of the First Infantry Division in the Army.  They want to use it on Sears new sports wear collection.  Starting in October, you, too, can buy all the symbolism of courage and bravery without the pesky, dangerous war part, without even the boot camp part.  Even if the administration never asks Americans civilians to sacrifice for the war effort Americans probably still know better than to literally wear the sacrifice of the first I.D. on our sleeves.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  The woman beat out Sarah Palin to become Miss Alaska in 1984 is hoping Palin will be a runner-up again this November.  According to the “New York Daily News,” Maryline Blackburn plans to vote for Barack Obama.  Said of Blackburn of Gov. Palin, quote, “Can she speak about foreign policy?  Can she speak about the economy?  I want to hear what Sarah Palin has to say as opposed to what’s been written for Sarah Palin.”

As for Sarah, circa 1984, Blackburn observed, “Sarah was very nice, but very calculating.  You could tell she was always thinking, ‘What’s going to be my next move?’”  Yes, that’s what we’re all starting to figure out, I think. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Remember way back to - last week, when John McCain talked at the Republican convention about his admiration and respect for Barack Obama?  That was then.  And this is a whole new week now. 

Today, both Obama and McCain unveiled education plans except the McCain campaign, pushing aside all that admiration and respect talk, then released a spectacularly misleading and dare I say, spectacularly nasty campaign ad about Obama and education.  Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OVER:  Obama’s one accomplishment?  Legislation to teach comprehensive sex education to kindergartners.  Learning about sex before learning to read?  Barack Obama, wrong on education.  Wrong for your family. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The Obama camp responded quickly saying this, quote, “It is shameful and downright for the McCain campaign to use a bill that was written to protect young children from sexual predators as a recycled and discredited political attack against a father of two young girls, a position that his friend, Mitt Romney, also holds.  Last week John McCain told ‘Time’ magazine ‘he couldn’t define what honor was.  Now we know why.” 

So once again, the McCain campaign swings hard and the Obama campaign swings back hard, but arguably, not as hard.  Soon, that may change, according to “The Atlantic’s” Marc Ambinder, the Obama campaign has given quiet consent to outside groups, the so-called 527’s to go ahead with their own tough anti-McCain spots.  Is that a good move?  Is it too late?

Joining us now syndicated columnist and long-time political reporter and Rachel Maddow friend, David Sirota.  Hi, David.  It’s really nice to see you.

DAVID SIROTA, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST AND POLITICAL REPORTER:  Hi,

Rachel.  Thanks for having me on in your first week.  I really appreciate it.

It’s great to have to have you.  How does the McCain campaign get away with this sex ed for kindergartners ad?  It seems so far in the mud.  It seems kind of absurd on its face.  Is this something they really think is going to get traction?  Or are they trying to provoke an angry response here?

SIROTA:  Well, look.  It’s obviously misleading.  The “Kansas City Star” today has on its Web site the whole thing about how they call it deliberately misleading.  So it’s misleading on the facts.  Look, this is a strategy from the McCain campaign to trump up cultural populism.  This is what the ads about Obama being a celebrity are about.  This is what this new ad is about.  This is what them playing up Sarah Palin’s small-town roots is about.  They want to play up this silent majority, cultural populism meme against Obama.  And the problem is that Obama hasn’t really yet responded to that with a kind of forceful economic populism. 

MADDOW:  David, is there a way to fight the cultural populism attack that you’re describing here?  Is there a way to fight that other than just by going bowling and wearing bolo ties?  

SIROTA:  What I think—the answer is yes.  What I think needs to happen is that if McCain and Palin are basically saying, “Look, America, we’re like you culturally and Obama isn’t like you culturally,” Obama needs to first and foremost say, “Well, that’s not true,” but secondly needs to say, “Look, they may say all this stuff about cultural stuff but I’m going to prove to you that I am for you economically, that on the issues that the government actually deals with.  Most of them are money issues.  I am the guy who is going to represent your interests.” 

And as I said, he hasn’t really been talking that much or as forcefully about the war or about NAFTA, the issues that really I think make that case. 

MADDOW:  David, I think I’m with you on the broad strokes.  But we’re also here looking at the sex ed for kindergartners attack ad here.  If you were running this campaign, how do you respond to this ad?  I mean, it’s so scurrilous.  It’s so nasty, and it’s designed to be provocative in a way that is almost unanswerable.  What do you put up to respond to this?

SIROTA:  Well, look, I think we have to remember that Michael Dukakis, the famous answer where he was asked what he would do about somebody going after his wife and he sort of answered with an academic answer.  I think in this specific attack, Obama needs to respond really forcefully with real outrage.  I mean, how outrageous is it for McCain and the McCain campaign to basically say him supporting a bill to basically protect kids is a bill to corrupt them?  I think he really does need to respond in kind of an emotional way as opposed to the sort of the law professor way and I think he’s capable of that. 

MADDOW:  Well, we’ve seen so far a very strong statement from somebody in the campaign saying ...

SIROTA:  Right.

MADDOW: ... “Last week, John McCain told “Time” magazine he couldn’t define what honor was.  Now we know why.”  A very strong statement from the campaign, not from Obama himself.  I think that you will find - I would predict that you’re right that we’ll hear something emotional and strong from the candidate himself tomorrow.  If not, they’ll be facing more complaints and worries from their supporters that they’re not hitting back hard enough.  David Sirota, syndicated columnist - thanks for joining us.

SIROTA:  Thank you so much.

MADDOW:  In a minute, I’ll get “Just Enough” pop culture from Kent Jones so I can interact with other people outside the news world. 

I hear that Russia is finally extracting revenge for our stealing Yakov Smirnoff in the ‘80s.  They want to ban “South Park” for, quote, “offending the honor and dignity of people.”  In America, of course, offending the honor and dignity of people is a delicacy known as comedy. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Now, it’s time for “Just Enough” with Kent Jones, who force feeds me just enough pop culture so I can go out in public.  Hi, Kent.  What have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi there, Rachel.  Well, last week, the band Heart fired off a cease and desist letter to the McCain campaign asking them to stop playing their bad ass anthem “Barracuda” - yes, as theme music for VP candidate Sarah-cuda Palin.  So the GOP thought it over and blasted “Barracuda” yet again at an outdoor rally yesterday in Ohio. 

MADDOW:  Seriously, they did it again?

JONES:  Yes, just do it.  Last week, Heart’s Ann and Nancy Wilson sent “Entertainment Weekly” an E-mail saying, quote, “Sarah Palin’s views and values in no way represent us as American women.”  The McCain campaign issued this statement defending its actions saying, quote, “Maverick, maverick change buys media, maverick change, maverick, maverick change, hockey mom, small town maverick change, maverick change,” end quote. 

Next up, green bears.  The normally white polar bears at the zoo in Tokyo turned green after the pond they swim in got overrun by algae. 

Now, if you choose to think of green bears as a poignant symbol of

endangered species warning the planet about the dangers of climate change,

I’m not going to stop you.  Just go for that, really.  And finally -

MADDOW:  And finally?

JONES:  And finally -

(VIDEO CLIP OF “SOUTH PARK”)

That, of course, is Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo from “South Park” who’s in deep you-know-what right now in Russia.  Prosecutors there call “South Park” extremist and want to have it banned from the airwaves.  A group of religious leaders say “South Park” incites religious and national hatred.  National hatred?  Really? 

So if you’re keeping track of mortal threats to Russia, it goes like this.  One, Georgia.  Two, the United States.  And, three, Mr. Hankey, The Christmas Poo. 

MADDOW:  I have to say it’s sort of like belatedly waiting for Mr.

Hankey, The Christmas Poo, to arrive almost made him more perfect. 

JONES:  Come on.

(CROSS TALK)

MADDOW:  Beautiful stuff.  My pet story for you briefly, Kent. 

JONES:  Yes indeed. 

MADDOW:  The Women’s Professional Golf Association or the Ladies Professional Golf Association as they prefer to be known ...

JONES:  Yes, I enjoy it.

MADDOW:  ... they recently made the top of my news file marked “inexplicable” when they established English as the official language of women’s golf. 

JONES:  Yes, I know.  I saw that.  Incredible. 

MADDOW:  It’s so bizarre, so inexplicable.  They did finally repeal it.  But you know what’s happened now, what’s made this my pet story?  Tom Tancredo is mad, god bless him. 

JONES:  You can always count on him.

MADDOW:  He said the LPGA was setting an example the government should have followed. 

JONES:  Oh, well.

MADDOW:  Only Tom.

JONES:  OK.

MADDOW:  Really.  Thank you, Kent.  Nice to see you. 

JONES:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  And thank you for watching tonight.  We’ll see you here tomorrow night.  Until then, you can E-mail us at rachel@msnbc.com.  And you can hear me at 6:00 p.m. Eastern coast to coast on Air America Radio.  “COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN” starts right now.  Good night.

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