updated 12/9/2008 12:41:09 PM ET 2008-12-09T17:41:09

Guests: Mark Meinster, Apolinar Cabrera, Jonathan Turley, Ron Howard, Paul Rieckhoff

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Maybe a sort of live punk band to play the segues. You never know.

KEITH OLBERMANN, "COUNTDOWN" HOST: Sure, if you can fit them in there, go right ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Thank you, Keith. And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour. Will they or won't they? We are still waiting for Congress and the White House to fish or cut bait on emergency loans to the Big Three automakers and those 3 million jobs that are on the line.

(voice over): The stock market soars on a promise of a deal to save the American auto industry and Barack Obama's promise of a new "New Deal."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT: The largest infrastructure program, and on roads and bridges, and other traditional infrastructure since the building of the federal highway system in the 1950s.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: All the while, the job market gets bleaker. Anheuser-Busch, Dow Chemical, 3M-breakout the chainsaws. But in Chicago, laid-off workers stage a sit-in and the man who is almost president backs them up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think they're right, and understand that what's happening to them is reflective of what's happening across this economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: We got the latest developments from Washington and live from the Chicago sit-in that's fast-becoming a symbol of working folks standing up for themselves. The alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks shocks Guantanamo by asking to plead to guilty. If Khalid Sheikh Muhammad wants to be murdered, should the U.S. oblige him? Jonathan Turley joins us on why KSM and the other 9/11 defendants want to cut a deal before an Obama presidency. Obama hires General Eric Shinseki to handle Veterans Affairs and to annoy Donald Rumsfeld. Blackwater contractors converge in Utah to turn themselves in. Paul Rieckhoff joins us on the old ways and the new ways of fighting wars and fighting for those who have done the fighting for their country. And the "Frost/Nixon" interviews make it to the big screen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the president does it that means it's not illegal.

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MADDOW: Director Ron Howard is here to say why he thinks "Frost/Nixon" resonates at the end of the long, cold national winter of the Bush administration. All that, plus, did a prank phone call almost cost nuclear war on Thanksgiving? Buckle up, THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts now. (on camera): Hey, buddy. Can you spare 3 million American jobs? Tonight, we can report that the White House and congressional Democrats are close to a package of emergency assistance for the Detroit automakers. Lawmakers are working, as we speak, on a plan to extend $15 billion in emergency loans in return for close federal oversight of the industry. Senior administration officials say it's possible they could reach a deal tonight. According to NBC News, the Bush administration objects to parts of the draft legislation. The still president reportedly wants to require that the car companies pay back the loans immediately if they're not able to negotiate a long-term restructuring plan. President Bush told ABC News he doesn't want to, quote, "put good money after bad" in the auto bailout. Speaking for congressional Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today there would be no endless flow of money to the car companies and that everyone involved must sacrifice to ensure the continuing viability of the industry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: We call this the barber shop. Everybody is getting a hair cut here, in terms of the conditions of the bill. If labor has to take a hair cut because of concessions, management itself has to take a big hair cut on all of this.

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MADDOW: Meanwhile, Corporate America continues giving hair cuts, with an ax or a chainsaw. Media giant, the Tribune Company, declared bankruptcy as it gasped for life amid $13 billion in debt. Dow Chemical announced plans to cut 5,000 jobs worldwide and shut 20 plants. 3M is cutting 1,800 jobs in the fourth quarter. Anheuser-Busch InBev is slashing 1,400 jobs in the U.S. And about that hair cut, we're started figuring that it might not grow back. Shave instead, maybe a shoe shine? As the government planned and promised and plotted trimmed up loan packages and big companies sent workers into the cold, Wall Street today rallied? Yes, weirdly, the Dow shot up nearly 300 points today. The other indices did even better with the combination of promises from president-elect to spend money on infrastructure projects and from congressional leaders who have moved closer to that resolution with automakers for bridge loans. Today, as stocks rose, there emerge another of those getting really familiar outrages from downtown Manhattan, with the collapse of some of the nation's biggest banks and the taxpayer bailout, Wall Street was supposed to do without its beloved bonuses this year. Merrill Lynch, for example, lost $11 billion and cut 30,000 jobs this year, surviving through a merger with Bank of America. Helping that merger happened? Billions in taxpayer dollars provided by the Treasury Department. But Merrill Lynch chief, John Thain, says that he's still deserves a $10 million bonus this year. You know, it's one thing to think that, it's another thing to have the gall to say it out loud. Perhaps, Mr. Thain has not heard of the plight of Republic Windows & Doors in Chicago. Republic is a manufacturer that shuttered its factory on Friday after Bank of America elected not to extend a loan to keep the company going. Mr. Thain's $10 million would be just what the doctor ordered to keep Republic's doors open, or it could make things about $33,000 easier for each of the 300 or so Republic Windows & Doors workers who are laid off with almost no notice last week, without any severance or any compensation for any of their saved up and worked for benefits like vacation pay. The workers say that federal law should give them 60 days notice for layoffs. The company gave them three days. How have Republic's workers reacted? Well, they're sitting in, refusing to leave the factory. Some stayed all weekends. Now, they have been occupying the factory in eight-hour shifts. They say they are guarding the assets inside the North Side Chicago factory plant, making sure the items inside the factory are not removed. They say the remaining equipment and windows and doors that they manufactured are the only collateral they have left in their effort to get what they feel they are owed. Illinois Governor Ron Blagojevich, who's approval ratings make George Bush looked like Santa Claus has asked all Illinois government agencies to suspend business with Bank of America, because B of A elected not to extend that loan to Republic to keep it going. Call it leverage or extortion or whatever you want, but Bank of America could reportedly lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and commissions from the state. The governor wants the bank to use some of its federal bailout money to resolve the Protestants and help out the workers. As for our country's leadership? Well, what a difference a new transformational president makes? Remember 1981 when Ronald Reagan fired nearly 12,000 members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization when they struck?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 3, 1981)

RONALD REAGAN, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: They are in violation of the law. And if they do not report for work within 48 hours, they have forfeited their jobs and will be terminated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Well, that was then. This is now. Here's what the new president says about the sit-in in Chicago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: When it comes to the situation here in Chicago, with the workers who are asking for the benefits and payments that they have earned, I think they're absolutely right. And I think that these workers, if they have earned these benefits and their pay, then, these companies need to follow through on those commitments.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: That response to a question this weekend from President-elect Obama, reportedly, caused a spontaneous cheer to erupt from the Republic Windows & Doors workers who are watching his press conference from their shuttered factory. Joining us now is Mark Meinster, international representative of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, the union for the Republic Windows & Doors workers. He joins us live from Chicago along with Apolinar Cabrera, who has worked at the plant for 17 years. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us tonight. It's great to have you on the show.

MARK MEINSTER, UNITED ELECTRICAL WORKERS UNION: Thanks, Rachel.

APOLINAR CABRERA, PLANT WORKER FOR 17 YEARS: Thank you.

MADDOW: Mark, let me start with you. Can you tell me where you are exactly right now? Who the folks are who you are with? And we understand that tonight's meeting between the union and Bank of America, and the company, just wrapped up. What's the status now?

MEINSTER: Well, we're standing out here right outside the factory. We got a bunch of supporters out here. You know, in fact, we've had thousands of supporters coming by, dropping off food, clothing, water, donations-all of the labor movement has come by. So, that's been really great. Today's meeting with the bank. It was productive. We're going to reconvene tomorrow at 1:00 o'clock in the afternoon. And we'll see what happens. I would say we're, maybe whatever, is one step below cautiously optimistic. But that's better than yesterday. So, we'll see.

MADDOW: Mr. Cabrera, let me ask you. I know that you have worked at this plant for 17 years. Can you tell us a little bit about how you learned that the factory was closing and how much notice you had-you and your fellow workers there?

CABRERA: Well, actually, we got a meeting last week with the company, you know, all workers inside the cafeteria. They told us that Friday's going to be our last day. They're going to close the plant. So, they're not-and that's it. So, I feel angry. I feel bad. I feel worried because I got family. I got kids.

So, how I can survive this situation right now? Especially at this time of the year, you want to spend more with your family, you want to be happy with your family, with your kids. What do you put in the table? So, I feel terrible right now. But at the same time, I mean, we've got a lot of support from a lot of people here in Chicago. And a lot, I mean, congressman here, a lot of men (ph), a lot of people, the media, too. So, we're going to continue fighting for this. For our rights, it's not just our rights, I think it's an American rights, it's not just us. It's around, I think, it's around the country. Something is wrong here right now.

MADDOW: Mr. Cabrera and Mr. Meinster, it seems like the union is directing its anger and its demands and it's become the object of this ongoing demonstration, staying on at the plant. Those demands are being directed at the bank more than they are at the company, at Republic Windows & Doors. Can either of you explain why that is?

MEINSTER: Well, look, we got problems with the company as well. You know, the CEO of this company is lying to us and we're not sure that the bank has been telling us the truth either. But we do know one thing, in a plant-closing situation, the bank controls the assets. And Bank of America, especially having gotten $25 billion in bailout funds, they're set to get another $10 billion in the next bailout. They've got the power to step in and do the right thing and resolve this situation. So, that's why we're taking our case to the bank.

MADDOW: Oh, just for-in the bank's interest, I will note that Bank of America has issued this statement. They've said, "Republic Windows & Doors should all it can to honor its obligations to its employees and minimize the impact of failure on those employees. As a creditor of the company, we continue to honor all of our agreements with the company and have provided the maximum amount of funding we can under the terms of our agreement." Mark, just getting out this negotiation with the bank and with the company, does it seem like Bank of America is willing to be part of the solution here or are they washing their hands of this?

MEINSTER: Well, all of the parties at the meeting agreed that in any resolution, the workers should come first. So, really, that's in their hands. We'll see what happens after this meeting tomorrow. We're hopeful. But if we don't come to a resolution, we've got a massive protest planned for Wednesday at noon in Chicago.

MADDOW: Mr. Cabrera, one last, quick question.

CABRERA: Yes.

MADDOW: Did you hear this weekend that President-elect Barack Obama expressed his support for you at the factory, were you encouraged by that position?

CABRERA: I mean, like I told you, pretty strong (ph) with us-I mean, when the president said that he's behind us, so, I feel that it's time to fight for my family, for me, for our workers here, for workers around the country because I know it's a bad economy. It's a situation that everybody now suffers around the country. But at the same time, I can tell you that I'm going to continue here as long as it's going to take to fight for this, for my rights. So, I'm going to continue still fighting for that.

MADDOW: Apolinar Cabrera, who has worked at Republic Windows & Doors for 17 years, and Mark Meinster, the international representative of the United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America, the union for the workers there, good luck to you, gentlemen. Thanks for joining us tonight.

MEINSTER: Thank you.

CABRERA: Thank you.

MADDOW: The alleged mastermind of 9/11 says he wants to plea guilty. He and his co-defendants say, in fact, that they decided to all try to plea guilty the day that Barack Obama was elected president. That's the weirdest reaction to an Election Day ever, isn't it? Professor Jonathan Turley will be joining us shortly to shed some light on the strange connection between Obama's election and the 9/11 suspects.

And, at the end of one long national nightmare, a look back at another. Here to talk about his new film, "Frost/Nixon" is Academy Award-winning director, Ron Howard. But first, one more thing, we now know who's on the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day this year. It's USC, University of Southern California against Penn State in this year's Rose Bowl. Only it's not the just the Rose Bowl anymore, it's the Rose Bowl presented by Citi, that Citi with an "I." Yes, the same Citi with an "I" which just got a $20 billion bailout from us, the taxpayers. And yes, the same company spending $400 million to have its name on the New York Mets' new stadium. So, you draw a check in return for your labor here in America, and it's smaller than you like because your company withholds your taxes, be proud. You're not only helping the Mets get its pretty new stadium, you're putting on a football game on New Year's Day. The Rose Bowl presented by your federal income tax dollars. Are we supposed to not be infuriated by this?

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MADDOW: With 43 days left in office, President Bush is burrowing. Burrowing? Don't think burrow like the adorable Spanish word for donkey. Think burrow like digging in, hiding. Think burrow like federal employees being forced on the next administration by an aggressive, sneaky, lame-duck president.

It's time for today's lame-duck watch, because somebody's got to do it. Last week, as number of Americans who've lost their jobs reached 1.9 million this year, President Bush was busy giving jobs security to 18 people in the form of appointments to federal job. He nominated another two people and then just today, sent three nominations to the Senate. His term-I remind you-lasts another 43 days. Now, it could have been worst if Harry Reid hadn't left a member of the Senate behind to gavel sessions open and close to an empty chamber of the holidays. A Bush spokesman says the White House would, quote, "have liked to use the option of recess appointments." The spokesman, Tony Fratto, went on the say, quote, "We have an obligation to do what we think is best for the country up until 11:59 a.m. on January 20th." Yes. That's what we're all worried about. That's why we're all stuck on lame-duck watch until you're gone.

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MADDOW: When are confessions to unspeakable crimes not a triumph of justice but instead an indictment of a system of justice? Maybe right now, maybe today, the crimes were the attacks of September 11th.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay today told a military judge that they want to plead guilty to planning the 9/11 attacks. The request came to light at a war crimes tribunal hearing early today. The judge said he received a joint statement from the prisoners written on November 4th, when the group announced its plans. Now, November 4th. November 4th? Why does that ring a bell? Oh, yes, that would be the day Barack Obama was elected to be the next president of United States. The day America elected a president who was expected to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and is expected to close the military tribunal system that has been set up for the prisoners held at Guantanamo.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed today told the judge, quote, "We don't want to waste our time with motions. All of you are paid by the U.S. government. I'm not trusting any American," end quote. No real surprise there, of course. But what explains why Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh and the other 9/11 suspects, what explains why they picked Election Day to say they did not want to contest these tribunals, that they wanted to just plea guilty? Could it be that they want to beat the clock? They want to make sure they are convicted and probably executed under Bush's tribunal system because that feels more like martyrdom to them than risking going into an actual non-kangaroo court trial in a real legal system? Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University. Professor Turley, Jonathan, nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.

PROF. JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, Rachel.

MADDOW: After being held at Guantanamo for years, these war crimes tribunals ongoing, suddenly these prisoners have made offers to plead guilty. Do you have any understanding of why they might have done this strategically?

TURLEY: Well, trying to go through the minds of some of these individuals is a rather precarious task. What I can say is that I don't see any intelligent design theory that would fit this situation. I mean, what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed just did is to hand George Bush a considerable victory. We were very close in his case to addressing the fact that he was tortured and that he has raised a legitimate, or as attorneys have, command influence, that his case was putting a spotlight on the gross unfairness of the Bush tribunal system. And he essentially took all that off the table and saved the Bush administration the need to answer to those charges. So, the result is, rather strange for a mastermind. I mean, this really proves he's not just a murderous mastermind, but he's probably a certifiable moron. Because what he's doing is shifting this over to the death penalty question. He's not likely to be executed under George Bush. The person that most supports what he did is likely George Bush. And you have the strange alliance between Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and George W. Bush, and the Barack Obama is the guy in the middle.

MADDOW: Is it possible that the guilty plea from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and these other four prisoners might not be accepted because of the fact that the CIA admits to having waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and it's unlikely that the pleas could be seen to be free of the taint of coercion?

TURLEY: My guess is that they're likely to say that it is admissible. He had the opportunity to try to prevent his earlier admissions from being used. There seems to be no question at this point that he was tortured. But coming forth and giving a volitional confession of this type is likely they're going to accept it. And it's going to go to the question of sentencing. And that question is going to take some time. You actually, usually have witnesses at a death penalty hearing. So, it is unlikely that he would be sentenced and certainly, very unlikely to be executed before there is a President Obama in the White House. But then, he's going to have a dilemma because at that point, he would have to execute someone under the Bush tribunal system. The alternative is, if he isn't sentenced at that point, and the one that I think President Obama should do, would be to force him into the federal court, have him re-indicted, have him plead guilty again if he wants to and have him sentenced under a real court and a real judge.

MADDOW: Do you get a sense then that these pleas may not complicate President-elect Obama or will he will be President Obama's efforts to close down Guantanamo? Does this not throw a wrench into the works? Might this even make it easier?

TURLEY: Well, it might, in a sense that there won't be any high-profile pending trials that can't be shifted over the federal system. He's going to have this nasty problem of having someone who is going to be facing the death penalty. If the timing works out for the Obama administration, he won't be sentenced at that point, and he'll still have some flexibility. But what he did, what Mohammed did here is very much like Zacarias Moussaoui who walked into the courtroom one day and pled guilty to everything short of the than the Lindbergh baby, you know, kidnapping and surprised everyone, and went straight into a death penalty proceeding. Later, Moussaoui supposedly really regretted that when he ended up serving life. With Mohammed, it's unlikely he's going to get life. It's likely that if he wants to be a martyr, he's going to find a lot of people that want to help him along.

MADDOW: Martyrdom, whatever its advantages, usually, a bad legal strategy.

TURLEY: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW: Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University, thank you for your time tonight.

TURLEY: Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW: Retired Army General Eric Shinseki made both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz so mad by publicly disagreeing with their Iraq war bad planning that they both refused to attend his farewell ceremony, like they were in junior high. Now, in a vigorous thumb-nosing, President-elect Obama has chosen Eric Shinseki to head the Department of Veterans Affairs. Veteran Paul Rieckhoff, also tonight's RACHEL MADDOW SHOW expert in thumb-nosing, will join us in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: In just a few minutes, Academy Award-winning director, Ron Howard, will be here to talk about his new film "Frost/Nixon." In it, a deeply unpopular twice-elected Republican president is forced to confront his abuses of power. I actually wished this movie was less relevant. Ron Howard will be right here in just a moment. First, though, it's time for a couple of underreported holy mackerel stories in today's news. From the annals of political improbability comes this news, the Republican Party-yes, this Republican Party in 2008, post-Obama, has just succeed in unseating an incumbent nine-term Democratic congressman in a seat that has not been represented by a Republican since 1890. It is a district that is considered by Charlie Cook's partisan voting index to be 28 points more Democrat leaning than country as a whole. And the Republican running against that Democratic incumbent for that seat raised less than $150,000 for this election and the Republican won. How is that even possible? Remember the cash in the freezer thing? Oh that's how this is possible.Incumbent Democratic Congressman William Jefferson is innocent until proven guilty just like every American lucky enough to be tried in this justice system instead of the secret creepy one we keep offshore. That said, the 16 criminal counts pending against Jefferson in an indictment from last year, money laundering, racketeering, bribery and obstruction of justice, the allegations from the FBI that agents found $90,000 in cash stashed in Jefferson's freezer when they raided his house. Those charges were apparently enough to suppress turnout for Jefferson supporters in Louisiana this weekend and to drive it up for supporters of the Republican challenge, Joseph Cao. William Jefferson was first African-American to represent Louisiana in Congress since Reconstruction, his seat will now be held by the first Vietnamese-American to ever hold any seat in the United States Congress. A big congratulations to Joseph Cao, who has a chance to take on the massive, massive needs of a congressional district devastated by Hurricane Katrina that has had an under investigation or indicted representative in charge of its affairs in the House of Representatives since even before the storm hit. Lots to do there. Good luck to you, sir. And finally to what I call the Obama change dividend. The idea by just electing Barack Obama some change from the Bush administration has been kicked into gear already. Even before he gets sworn in. In much of Africa's Barack Obama's election was greeted with celebration as he is the son of a Kenyan father.

That said, in the nation of Sudan, not so much. At least not in the Sudanese government, "Sudanese government" being a phrase that is often preceded by the word "murderous" at least with reference to Darfur. "The Washington Post" today quotes a member of the coalition government that rules Sudan as saying this, quote, "I know Obama's appointees and I know their policy towards Sudan. Everybody here knows it. The policy is very aggressive and very harsh. I think we really will miss the judgments of George W. Bush." Wow. You don't hear that very often. We will miss the judgments of George W. Bush. On the one hand the current president is probably psyched for the show of support from at least someone overseas who prefers the idea of him to the idea of Barack Obama. On the other hand, if you had to pick a government to be proud of being feared and hated by, I would say the government of Sudan would probably be pretty close to the top of the list.

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MADDOW: The treatment of General Eric Shinseki remains one of the more shabby episodes among the many shabby episodes of how the Bush administration took this nation into war in Iraq. Shinseki, a four star general, was Army chief of staff when one month before the start of the war he warned that more troops would be needed to handle the post-invasion responsibilities incumbent upon an invading army. He was publicly snarked at and insulted by Donald Rumsfeld, then secretary of defense and Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's deputy. Shinseki, a decorated Vietnam veteran, retired later that year. As we learned long ago, General Shinseki was right. And the Rumsfeld fight-light crowd was wrong, tragically wrong. Of course President Bush takes credit now for his surge strategy late in the game which of course meant more troops. He should have called it "Shinseki was right all along strategy." So it was a particularly satisfying statement when President-Elect Barack Obama announced yesterday that he has chosen Retired General Eric Shinseki to lead the department of Veterans' Affairs. The appointment is as strong a poke in the eye of the Bush administration as Obama has yet made with one of his appointments. And Shinseki will be a welcome soldiers' voice in charge of the treatment of our nation's veterans. There's one group of armed Americans, however, that he will not oversee, private military contractors, private contractors are yet another controversial legacy of the Bush/Rumsfeld record. Perhaps their blackest mark occurred on September 16, 2007 when guards employed by Blackwater opened fire in Baghdad's Nisour Square, killing 17 Iraqis, including women and children. Today, five of the Blackwater employees were charged with 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter. They are also using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence which is actually a Reagan era drug crime charge that carries a 30 year minimum prison sentence whether or not the crime had anything to do with drugs. A sixth guard involved in the attack cut a deal with prosecutors, gave information on his former colleagues and admitted killing at least one Iraqi. With this bloody backdrop, what is the U.S. Army looking to do in Afghanistan? They're looking to hire more private contractors to provide armed security guards to protect U.S. bases.

The proposed new contracts would be for a minimum of one year, beginning January 1, but with options to continue for four years because apparently we're going to be in Afghanistan until the end of time.

Joining us now is Paul Rieckhoff who is executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, he's also the author of a really awesome memoir about his time in Iraq. It's called "Chasing Ghosts." Paul nice to see you. Thanks for coming back on the show.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Good to be with you, Rachel. My pleasure.

MADDOW: You called Obama's pick of General Shinseki to lead the V.A. a bold choice. Why is it a bold choice?

RIECKHOFF: Well, it really came out of left field. I don't think anybody was predicting that this move was going to happen. Shinseki's a guy who's been really laying low for the last few years, hasn't made many public statements but he does have tremendous respect throughout the military and veterans community. He is a decorated Vietnam vet. He actually lost part of his foot while he was serving in Vietnam. He's a West Point grad. A four star general who used to be the chief of staff for the Army. So, he's a real big gun and he has a chance to really institute some massive reforms at the V.A. that are badly needed right now.

MADDOW: Politically, the big impact of General Shinseki's choice that he does represent a real distinct thumb in the eye break with the Rumsfeld era, obviously, Rumsfeld is at Defense and he has at V.A., but still. What do you make of how General Shinseki became Rumsfeld's nemesis, how he was treated by the Bush administration?

RIECKHOFF: I think, now, you said it earlier, it's widely accepted that he was right and Rumsfeld was wrong. So this definitely is a thumb in the eye for President Bush, for Secretary Rumsfeld. It really sent a dangerous message early on in the war that if you buck the administration, if you go against Rumsfeld, it's going to cost your career. And that reverberated throughout the senior general corps.

So this is redemption for General Shinseki. It's not quite making Mayor Ray Nagin the head of FEMA but it is a thumb in the eye for the folks of the Bush administration. I think now it's important now for Shinseki to put it behind him so he doesn't politicize the V.A. in a way that would be damaging.

MADDOW: What was interesting, after that whole kerfuffle about troop numbers and after the public humiliation that he got from Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, he did not stay in the political front lines, he did not stay in the political front lines, he chose not to join retired generals for example who had called for Rumsfeld's resignation. He's been, as you say, he's been sort of low profile. Do you worry that he's so low profile that he may not be able to maintain the public persona necessary to really lead a huge bureaucracy toward - through the big new obstacles it needs to get through at the V.A.

RIECKHOFF: It's definitely a concern. The V.A. is in very rough shape, this is massive, massive challenge. The V.A. system is like the government's version of the big three automakers. They're behind on the times. They have not been receptive to the needs of their customers. They haven't been innovative. They haven't experimented with new technology. The V.A. needs a massive overhaul so we can't middle around the edges here. Shinseki needs to come out strong, he needs to come out bold, he needs to bring in Iraq and Afghanistan vets, folks like Tammy Duckworth and others who understand our issues and really bring the V.A. into the next century.

MADDOW: Let me ask you about these Blackwater arrests today, for me, it raises anew the whole issue of U.S. troops serving along private contractors in the war zone. The ongoing political dialogue now about Afghanistan is finally getting some detail and some meat in it. People are really trying to sink into teeth into this issue and figure out what America's goals are in Iraq. Do you think this incredible reliance on private contractors, specifically I'm thinking about private security contractors, the guys with guns, is that something that should end with the Rumsfeld era?

RIECKHOFF: I hope it does. It's a dangerous and unprecedented level of involvement. That we've had contractors this deeply involved in our combat operations in Iraq, in Afghanistan and throughout the world. We're kind of addicted to contractors at this point. They've always been a stopgap measure between the number of troops we have and the number of troops we need. I hope we can wean ourselves away from them. I think it's bad for the military, I think it's bad for civilians, it's bad for America and it's also bad for the troops on the ground. We've always been resistant to having contractors doing essentially the same jobs that are military personnel have been doing but sometimes for six figure money. So, it's real competitive dynamic there that doesn't sit well of most of our active duty troops serving in the war zones. So I think it's a bad way to go and I think it does need to end.

MADDOW: Paul, one last question, among the community of Iraq and Afghanistan vets, and you at IAVA have done more than anybody to foster a community among vets, when people think about the prospect of additional tours of duty, going back to Afghanistan, we now have a new report out today that the Taliban has a semipermanent presence at least in 72 percent Afghanistan, that's up from 57 percent just a year ago. Are people thinking about Afghanistan as a long-term commitment? Or is this the sort of thing people would like to wrap up, people who are actually going to be serving on the front lines would like to wrap up in short order if that's possible?

RIECKHOFF: I think we would like to wrap it up in short order, but we're also preparing for the worst. You've got more than half a million troops have done more than one tour since 9/11. So the military community is used to these unprecedented demands and this very fast operational tempo. So you've got folks who are doing third, fourth, even a fifth tour. There was an Army Ranger who was killed on his fifth tour this year. So, our families are kind of bracing for it. We need the figure out a way to give more dwell time, to give them more reset time and to better support their families. As usual the military's kind of preparing the worse.

MADDOW: Watch for in terms of legislation, watch for that dwell time bill that Jim Webb almost got passed, trying again with this new Congress. Paul Rieckhoff, nice to see you, Paul, thanks for joining us.

RIECKHOFF: You too, Rachel. Thank you.

MADDOW: Paul is executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. They are online at iava.org. Coming up next, Ron Howard will be here to discuss "Frost/Nixon." In this exclusive interview I will try to get Howard to admit he abused the power of his office during Watergate. I sense he is about to confess.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: You know, it's not all packing boxes and filling in the nail holes in the drywall these days for President Bush. Our 33rd chief executive is also polishing his legacy. Or at least he's trying to. But thanks to those job approval ratings hovering around 29 percent and Mr. Bush's stellar record on abusing presidential power while in office, he's meeting with some opposition on that whole polishing the legacy thing. Who is the most recent president who reminds folks of the current one? Come on, how about Richard Milhous Nixon, the man who whose picture is in the dictionary next to the entry for abuse of presidential power. Just in time for the inevitable Bush-Nixon comparisons, the new movie "Frost-Nixon" opened this weekend. We will talk with "Frost/Nixon" director Ron Howard about the film and the political fallout that accompanies its release. But first, let's watch a scene from the movie. Here's Frank Langella, amazing Frank Langella, as Richard Nixon and Michael Sheen as the British talk show host David Frost.

And this is a scene that takes place right after the famous interviews have aired on television.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK LANGELLA, ACTOR: Do you know those parties of yours? The ones that I read about in all the papers. Do you actually enjoy those?

MICHAEL SHEEN, ACTOR: Of course.

LANGELLA: You've got no idea how fortunate that makes you. Liking people, being liked. Having that facility, that lightness, that charm. I don't have it. I never did. It kind of makes you wonder why I chose a life that hinged on being liked. I'm better suited to a life of thought, debate, intellectual discipline. Maybe we got it wrong. Maybe you should have been a politician. And I the rigorous interviewer.

SHEEN: Maybe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: Joining us now is Academy Award winner and director of the new film "Frost/Nixon," Ron Howard. Mr. Howard, nice to meet you. Thanks for being here.

RON HOWARD, DIRECTOR: Hi, nice to meet you too, Rachel.

MADDOW: So there was a screening of your film along with a panel of guests from Washington last weekend. And Chris Wallace of Fox News defended President Bush against the inevitable comparisons with Richard Nixon.

HOWARD: Right. He did.

MADDOW: He said the difference is that President Bush was trying to protect the country. Nixon was always acting himself out of self-interest. That has become sort of the lens that the film is being discussed politically. Do you regret that? or think that's OK?

HOWARD: No, I think it's OK because it's an aspect of the story that resonated with me from the first time that I read it and the first time that I saw the play performed. It's not, however, in the movie. It's not at the center of the story. It's not why Peter Morgan, the playwright, who then wrote the movie began working on it. He started working on it in '93. And as much as it did resonate with me, I recognize it wasn't what our film was about. But what I like about the movie is it is thought provoking. And for those whose antenna is tuned in that direction, of course, you say Nixon, you deal with abuse of power. You know, you're very likely to think about Bush. But Chris Wallace didn't agree with that. By the way, he happened to really, by all accounts, his own account the next day, he said he really loved the movie. His problem wasn't with the film but it was with us the panelists in our alluding .

MADDOW: With people making that leap. I saw the play when it was in New York and I saw the movie. I like them both very, very much.

HOWARD: Thank you.

MADDOW: I felt like it really resonated with me when I read that the playwright, who originally wrote the screenplay for this wrote it obviously not because of any comparison with Bush who at that point was trading Sammy Sosa but rather that he wrote it almost as a commentary on journalistic ethics, about this whole question of paying for the interviews, about the importance of editorial control. Do you feel like those were central to your telling of the story?

HOWARD: I thought it was fascinating, the-not so much the ethical question, because, I mean, this is not the story of Nixon. It's not the story of Watergate. It's not even the story of David Frost although he's a surprising and fascinating character but I do think it's about putting on a TV show. And what David Frost did, this kind of act of entrepreneurial bravado was go in and pay more to get Richard Nixon to talk to him that the networks were willing to pay. The networks were willing to pay at that point. In fact they had. CBS had paid Lyndon Johnson and Eisenhower to do interviews. They paid Haldeman to do an interview, and Liddy. So I think Nixon was always going to get paid but Frost kind of double-downed on the whole deal, I think.

MADDOW: And thereby got him. One of the things that I find difficult in the film's success-and it's hard for me politically because I think you succeed creatively with this-is you sort of make Nixon seem insane. I mean, you don't portray him as a madman but you do portray him as troubled and irrational and Frank Langella is such an incredible actor, with his voice but with his face and his whole carriage of his body, really portrays Nixon as somebody who is not a normal person when it comes to understanding the forces against him in the world and what he's capable of. I worry that by pleading insanity you essentially exonerate Nixon.

HOWARD: Well, look, I certainly never want the film to be viewed as any kind of apology for him. And in fact, U went out of my way to make sure that we kept articulating, you know, the case against Nixon as we were going along. But he was-he-you know, he was beleaguered and emotionally drained. And you talk to anybody who was around him and on the one hand, they still maintain this deep abiding admiration for him, his intellect, his geopolitical vision, but they certainly acknowledge the horrible sort of character deficiencies that brought him down and caused the nation a great deal of pain. I hope that at most it offers perhaps a humanistic view, perhaps empathy. I'm not looking for sympathy for Nixon.

MADDOW: Empathy is definitely there. You definitely earned that. It did make me wonder if in 1972 you voted for him.

HOWARD: I did. It was my first opportunity to vote. And I-you know, I was all McGovern, all McGovern. Then he just kind of ran out of steam. And was it Eagleton with the mental problem? And I wound up voting -- making the safe choice, voting for the incumbent, which frankly made the resignation-Watergate and the resignation all the more shocking.

And when I realized that I had thoughtfully voted for somebody who did something horrible to all of us.

MADDOW: The betrayal became sort of personal. Ron Howard, Academy Award winning director, director now of "Frost/Nixon." Congratulations on the film. Thanks for being here.

HOWARD: Thank you. Nice being on your show.

MADDOW: Coming up, I get just enough pop culture from my friend Kent Jones. Highlights from George W. Bush, football star. Maybe he'll quit his day job.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW: Now it's time for "Just Enough" with my friend Kent Jones. Hi, Kent, what have you got?

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Welcome back, Rachel.

MADDOW: Thank you.

JONES: Huge weekend in college football. The BCS National Championship game is set. Florida/Oklahoma. Don't talk to me about Missouri. Much too painful. Texas/USC, your pain is mine. Lots of key rivalry games Saturday including the classic Army/Navy game in Philadelphia.

Lacking other pressing national business, here's our commander in chief filling in the hours. Oh, look, a football. Just short. Just short. You know who was the kicker? Nixon. Fifty, 60 yards, soccer style. It was incredible. I'm making that up. Meanwhile, in Havana, a new movie premiered at the Latin American film festival about Che Guevara, the guy whose face was on a million thermal tank tops a couple of years ago. Directed by Stephen Soderbergh, "Che" is a four-hour film. Si, quatro horas (ph), that stars Benicio del Toro as the revolutionary and tracks Che's role in the 1959 revolution in Cuba with Fidel Castro and his struggle and death in Bolivia. Though the movie met with some angry protests from some Cuban Americans in Miami last week, the reviews from the Cuban press were mostly positive. "Granma," the communist newspaper praised del Toro but said Fidel Castro's character lacked charisma and depth. Though it should be noted, the critics name at the paper? Fidel Castro, Senor Thumbs Down. Finally, in San Antonio, a restored four foot tall allegorical Statue of Justice was unveiled in front of the Bexar County courthouse today. In 1997 vandals damaged the original statue and the fountain. But now she's back looking good. You can imagine a few people in Texas might be offended by a nude statue in the middle of town, or in this case, nude, blind and armed. But, you know what, justice is hot. Right? Toned, buffed, buff justice. Rachel?

MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. And thank you for watching tonight. We'll see you here tomorrow night. COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN starts right now. Good night.

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

END

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