'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Friday, January 9
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<Guests: John Fritchey, Jonathan Turley, David Cay Johnston, Kent Jones, David Brancaccio>
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Keith.
And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Tonight, restrictions no one knew about that were snuck into the Big Three auto bailout. Restrictions that will probably make a lot of people mad now that we‘re going to tell everybody what they are. Also, a prison problem for the Obama administration that is about 60 times as big as the problem they‘ve got at Guantanamo. And, the continuing worries that the ongoing financial industry bailout is a scam.
But, you know, there really is only one way to start tonight‘s show.
Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, you will recall, was arrested on December 9th. That was International Anticorruption Day. Today, January 9th is the day that Rod Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois House of Representatives. Today would have been the 95th birthday of Richard Nixon, of course. You know, it is as if this story is being written for us by a really corny ham-handed playwright.
Over the course of my lifetime, there have been three major American impeachment sagas. The first: Richard Nixon, facing impeachment for the Watergate cover-up and obstruction of justice. Nixon resigned. He gave a rambling, almost incoherent speech to his tearful staff, then he went on television and delivered the “Therefore I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow” speech.
The following day, Nixon gave the stilted forever imitated double-V sign, he boarded Marine One, and then he literally resigned. He resigned himself to his fate. He sort of melted away, turned into a shell of himself. He ceased to be a public figure. He just disappeared for many, many years.
That would be option A for how to deal with impeachment.
Option B would be the William Jefferson Clinton example. President Clinton was sort of halfway impeached. He was impeached by the House, and then acquitted by the Senate. And while President Clinton did not resign, he was visibly contrite, or at least he took care to look and sound like he was.
Remember the picture of head-hanging low Bill walking across the White House lawn with Hillary and Chelsea, didn‘t even look like Buddy wanted to speak to him at that point, Buddy the dog, but the man did apologize. He apologized abjectly.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FEBRUARY 12, 1999)
BILL CLINTON, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did to trigger these events, and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Oh, remember those heady days when a great burden on the nation was not a looming depression and two wars but—all right. Never mind. That brings us to today, and the third big national attention-getting political impeachment of my lifetime.
Today, Illinois House of Representatives voted almost unanimously, 114-1 to impeach Governor Rod Blagojevich for allegedly scheming to sell Barack Obama‘s vacant U.S. Senate seat and for other alleged abuses of power.
Governor F-word‘s reaction to being impeached? It was not resignation. It was definitely not contrition. It was option C, we‘ll call it—defiance, enthusiastic, ambitious, credulity-defying, eye-shining, gloves off, defiance—indignation, argument. And weirdly, a lot of really ambitious stagecraft, the stagecraft that fell somewhere between sort of telenovela and a pageant.
Here‘s how it started. Blagojevich called a press difference today for 3:00 o‘clock Eastern. Now, we knew he was not planning to resign. What we did not know but probably should have expected at this point was that Blagojevich had another rabbit to pull out of his hat. He brought a supporting cast with him.
No speaking roles for them, mind you. This was a monologue. The cast was chosen, rather, to visually embellish what he had to say. They were sort of political human shields. Without explanation, the supporting cast preceded Mr. Blagojevich out onto the stage today as the nation waited for the man himself.
When Blagojevich finally did take the stage, 24 minutes late to his own press conference, he explained that the Illinois House of Representatives had voted to impeach him because of something wrong with them, because of their political defects.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH, (D) ILLINOIS: This is not something that came as a complete surprise to me. It happened kind of fast, but again, kind of expected and part of the process that has essentially been the dynamic in Illinois since I was re-elected governor in November of 2006. From the very moment of my re-election, I‘ve been engaged in a struggle with the House to try to get things done for people.
In my view, those of us who make the rules ought to be able to follow a simple lesson that was I was taught to believe in in Sunday school, called the “golden rule.” That you should do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: OK. At this point in the press conference, the human shield has come into place. He spends about five minutes here in this part of the press conference, laying out in details his differences with the Illinois House on issues like prescription drug benefits and health screenings. And the men and women surrounding him on the stage, it becomes apparent now that they are human shields. They are there as non-speaking visual reminders of his good works.
He talks about pap smears and mammograms and kidney operations. He describes the house of representatives as designed to block everything that could help people. In other words, the governor‘s press conference today, human props and all, is designed to convey the impression that he was impeached for his selfless policy-driven work on behalf of Illinois families.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: So, the House‘s action today and the causes of the impeachment are because I‘ve done things to fight for families who are with me here today. The House is impeaching me for that. Is that an impeachable offense?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Truth be told, fighting for families, it‘s only very rarely put up as a justification for impeachment. I think in this case, it was more about you saying you wouldn‘t appoint anybody to Barack Obama‘s Senate seat unless you could find a way for it to benefit you, preferably in cash, also shaking down that Chicago newspapers by making state funds contingent on them firing editorial writers you didn‘t like, withholding millions of dollars in children‘s hospital funding as a means of extorting a $50,000 campaign contribution. That more than helping families is probably the thing that would drive the impeachment vote here.
Future politicians facing impeachment, I hope you are taking notes on technique here, because what we have seen thus far from today‘s press conference was sort of just a buildup in anticipation of the big finish. Because what Rod Blagojevich press conference would be complete without a firm proclamation of the man‘s innocence—and then the poetry.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLAGOJEVICH: Let me close by doing something that I probably won‘t do much after this, but I feel like doing it again, since I did it not too long ago. I want to quote another British poet.
And I‘m inspired by it because it was something that Ted Kennedy talked about in 1980 at the Democratic convention in New York after Jimmy Carter won the nomination. And I remember seeing that, and I remember going to the library and getting that poem and memorizing it. And it kind of reminds me a little bit about the situation that I‘m in, and all the men and women who supported me and have given me a chance to be their governor.
And so, I‘ll leave you with this poem by Tennyson which goes like this, “Though we are not now the strength which in old days moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are; one equal temper of heroic hearts, made weak by time and by fate, but strong in will; to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And not to yield. He‘s quoting Ulysses there, of course, very end of the poem. He skipped over the part at the beginning where the guy talks about the “drunk delight of battle with my peers.” Drunken delight, indeed.
Governor Blagojevich is having the time of his life, from all appearances. His Senate appointee, Roland Burris, also appears to be having the time of his life here. You know, if option A for a politician facing impeachment is resignation, and option B is contrition, Governor Blagojevich‘s defiant option C, the one—it‘s one that appears to make him personally very excited and happy. The audacity of nope—nope, I‘m not leaving.
To the extent that today‘s press conference was more than just a pageant and display of political tactics like—wow, nobody‘s seen in a long time—the governor did level a charge against the Illinois House of Representatives. His overall argument was that the House was so out to get him that they merely used this latest round of accusations against him as cover to do what they wanted to do for years anyway. The wiretaps, the allegations of pay-to-play politics, alleged misuse of power, none of that mattered. This was just a House that was determined to bring him down.
Well, joining us is Democratic Illinois State Representative John Fritchey. He served on the House Impeachment Committee. He voted today in favor of impeaching Governor Blagojevich.
Mr. Fritchey, thank you so much for joining us.
STATE REP. JOHN FRITCHEY, (D) ILLINOIS: Good to be back, Rachel.
How are you?
MADDOW: Great. Thanks.
Governor Blagojevich says that the House impeached him because, essentially, you hated his efforts to get people kidney transplants and pap smears. I have to just ask you for your overall reaction to his defense here.
FRITCHEY: You know, I wish I could say I was surprised about what you saw today, what the rest of the country saw is what those of us in Illinois have been seeing, unfortunately, for years now. And that‘s a governor that is unwilling or unable to grasp the fact that he has not felt compelled to follow the laws, to abide by the laws, to work within the legislature.
You notice him today talking about everybody but the most serious allegations against him, trying to go sell a Senate seat, trying to co-opt the “Chicago Tribune” editorial board, trying to shake down the children‘s memorial hospital, trying to put people illegally into jobs, defying the FDA, the federal government, the state government, the Illinois Constitution, time and time again. If this was a matter of popularity, he would have been gone a long time ago. This was a matter of rampant irregularities, illegalities, and a pattern of abuse and misuse of his office.
MADDOW: Now, outside of Illinois, what people know about the case against Rod Blagojevich is essentially the case that was made by Patrick Fitzgerald, the prosecutor here. We are waiting the criminal indictment in that case. We‘ve seen the criminal complaint.
There are things in the articles of impeachment that you voted on
today that are not things from the criminal complaint, and you made
reference to some of them just a moment ago here. Is there a case to be
made? Does he have a case here that this, to some extent, was about policy differences on things like healthcare?
FRITCHEY: Policy differences are part of the business, part of politics in general. The criminal charges, you know, it was not our role to find him guilty or innocent on the criminal charges, the U.S. attorney and the federal courts will do that.
Our job—look at the total of this governor‘s administration and what he‘s done. We look at him spending millions of dollars on flu vaccines which the FDA told him he could not bring into the country. We looked at him defying the rules for employing state employees, having people falsify applications to get jobs.
We had testimony about one employee. She was put on the state payroll; she didn‘t even know the name of the agency that she supposedly worked for. We had weeks of testimony showing a pattern of clear abuse and disregard of the law. And that‘s what this came down to.
This was not a rush to judgment on the criminal charges. This is not only about the criminal charges. This was not about political differences or policy issues. We all support access to healthcare and access to quality healthcare.
But I find it ironic that the same governor that trots out these poor individuals as human shields today on the issue of healthcare is the same governor that deprived the pediatric care hospitals around the state of Illinois of $8 million unless he was going to get a $50,000 campaign contribution from the head of one of those hospitals. That‘s the real story of the Blagojevich policy on healthcare.
MADDOW: The way that the impeachment process works, is that your House—the House of Representatives functions sort of like a grand jury. You did vote to impeach.
Now, it moves over to the Senate. And they essentially put him on trial. They decide whether or not they will convict him and remove him from office.
How confident are you that the Senate will follow the House‘s lead, they will convict the governor, they will remove him from office? And how long do you think the next stage of this process will take?
FRITCHEY: Well, all good questions. We issued about a 70-page report. It‘s online.
I would urge everybody to go and read that report. If you do, you will see a compelling and clear case of a governor who put self-interest above public interest, of a governor who ran the state as if it was his own to run, without regard to the wellbeing of the public, without regard to the state laws.
I find it very difficult to believe that anybody in our state Senate will be able to read that report, to hear the testimony that will be brought before them, and find any differently than the House did today. From a timing standpoint, and it‘s somewhat ironic, our present general assembly expires next Tuesday. We‘ll be reconvened next Wednesday, and one of the first orders of the House from a procedural matter will be to vote again on the impeachment to bring it into the new general assembly.
So, not only is Rod Blagojevich the first governor to be impeached in Illinois, he will be the first governor to be impeached twice in a week. At that point, though, a number of members of the Senate are going to be going to Washington to see their former colleague to be sworn in as the new president of the United States.
The Senate trial will convene on January 26th, and I believe that trial should be concluded no later that the—probably the second week of February. So, I would look somewhere between the 3rd to the 6th of February for a conclusion brought (ph) by the trial, by the Senate, to the extent that the Senate convicts, as I expect them to do, the governor will be immediately removed from office. There are no appellate procedures in our Illinois Constitution for an impeachment.
And then the state can go back and focus. I mean, Rachel, you have to realize that, just like every other state right now, Illinois has people that are struggling to get back to work, struggling to stay in their homes, and every minute that we spent dealing with the issue of the Blagojevich impeachment, the Burris appointment, are minutes that we are not spending on the real needs of Illinois and getting Illinois back on track.
MADDOW: Well, we can expect maybe—you‘re saying the first week of February for him being convicted and removed from office. That‘s sort of a target date to think about and, of course the regret about not having cast a special election to replace the governor‘s ability to put force that Senate appointment. That regret can start immediately but, I guess, that‘s water under the bridge at this point.
John Fritchey, Illinois state representative, you‘ve had a have a very big week. Thank you for taking time with the end of it to talk to us tonight, sir.
FRITCHEY: Thanks for having me, Rachel. Take care.
MADDOW: We already know that Barack Obama wants to shut down the prison at Guantanamo. But is a problem roughly 60 times the size of Guantanamo? Obama may have to deal with even sooner than Guantanamo, a problem that dwarfs it, 60 times the size. This is a doozy and it is getting almost no press.
Trust me, you‘ll want to hear Jonathan Turley on this subject—coming up next.
And for all those skeptics in Congress who still think this is not the time for a massive investment in infrastructure, I‘ve got two new reasons why it is. Mind-bogglingly bad new unemployment numbers and tons of toxic sludge. PBS‘ David Brancaccio will join us later to talk about why it is time to build, baby, build.
But first, one more thing about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. You will remember his characterization of Barack Obama‘s vacant Senate seat as a bleeping valuable thing that you just don‘t give away. Well, now, Governor Bleep has his hands on another bleeping available Obama-related item that could probably pitch a pretty penny on the open market.
As a sitting governor, Mr. Blagojevich has reportedly been given two tickets to Obama‘s inauguration on January 20th. Yes, the same tickets that will reportedly fetching about 10,000 bucks a pop on eBay before their sale on the Web site was banned. A Blagojevich spokesman says he‘s not sure if Governor Bleep is planning to attend. If he doesn‘t, someone might just want to take note of who ends sitting on those seats. I‘m just saying.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT-ELECT: Under my administration, the United States does not torture. We will abide by the Geneva Conventions, that we will uphold our highest values and ideals.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: And at the sound of that, the Bill of Rights momentarily stopped turning over and over and over in its shallow recent grave. Besides at least saying he rejects torture, the president-elect has also said he will close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, much currently holds about 250 people, most of whom have not been charged with anything. Constitutionally speaking, Guantanamo is a big problem.
But what about another constitutional problem or at least a moral and strategic problem that‘s about 60 times the size of the problem we‘ve got at Guantanamo? It does not get very much attention, but U.S. forces are holding about 15,000 people in jail in Iraq. And like Guantanamo, most of those people have not been charged with anything.
Until last Wednesday, we held those prisoners in Iraq under terms of the U.N. Security Council resolution that governed the presence of our troops in that country. But as of January 1st, that U.N. resolution thing is over, and the new terms on which are in Iraq are spelled out in this Status of Forces Agreement. It‘s just between us and the Iraqis.
That agreement says we are supposed to hand over all the prisoners to Iraqi authorities, who will deal with them according to Iraqi law. Here‘s the important part. Iraqi law doesn‘t have any provision for holding people without charges.
What happens now? Well, this is the big deal for us. The U.S. military has asked the Iraqis to keep holding at least some of these prisoners without charging them. Never mind the law.
A spokesman e-mailed the “Reuters” news service today saying, quote, “We seriously desire that Iraq will choose to keep these detainees off the streets.” Without charges, did I say that part? And the part about how that‘s illegal under Iraqi law, but we‘re asking them to do it anyway? Asking them to adopt our brilliant prison-without-trial example?
Joining us now to try to Talk Me Down here is Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University.
Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: Here‘s your chance to Talk Me Down. Are we telling the Iraqis to do imprisonment without trial here at our request?
TURLEY: Well, we most certainly are. The interesting thing is that George Bush set out in saying that he wanted to create a nation like ours. And, unfortunately, we maybe succeeded. I mean, we have achieved the lowest common denominator in terms of a legal system and we‘re trying to get Iraq to do the same thing.
Remember, this is exactly what George Bush did. He claimed that he had the right on the enemy combatant program or policy to take an American citizen, like Jose Padilla, strip him of his constitutional rights, hold him indefinitely, bar him access to counsel and to courts. And so, he‘s encouraging Iraq to do that themselves.
And I think what would be interesting is that Iraq could really emerge as a sovereign nation an not some type of “mini-me” to George Bush, if it simply said no, and said, “You know what, we‘re going to go our own way here, not your way. We‘re going to apply the rule of law.”
Under the agreement, by the way, it clearly states that the prisoners to be transferred would be transferred either under a warrant or a criminal charge or they would be released. There‘s no third option. But of course, President Bush has been creating that type of new option in our country as well.
MADDOW: Well, we‘ve been paying a lot of attention, politically speaking, to Guantanamo, but even in addition to Iraq, there are a lot of offshore prisons that the Obama administration is about to inherit. I wonder, thinking about these moral and legal and constitutional dilemmas, if it‘s reasonable to expect some sort of categorical rejection of imprisonment without trial of the same type that we heard from Obama today, his categorical rejection of torture?
TURLEY: Well, of course, neither Obama nor Bush need to give a categorical rejection. We already have a Constitution that is itself is a categorical rejection. And so, we don‘t have to wait to see if Obama is going to recognize what‘s already in that document. But all of us expect that he will, indeed, top these practices, he will close Guantanamo Bay.
But the real question, Rachel, is not whether there will be torture in my administration. No one thinks that Obama is going to engage in torture and continue to torture people. The question is whether he will enforce the law and pursue those who did torture people. You know, if the former president is accused of bank robbery, we wouldn‘t expect the new president to say, “I‘m not going to rob banks anymore,” we would expect him to say he‘s going to go and arrest the bank robber.
Now, we have to be frank. There‘s a credible basis here to argue that President Bush and Vice President Cheney committed war crimes. And that would make them war criminals. And all of this talk about we have to look to the future and we have to not look to the past—well, in our immediate past may be war crimes, and we sure better look at that.
MADDOW: Well, thinking about the prospect of prosecution, it seems likely that the number two guy at the CIA, Steve Kappes, will be staying on under Leon Panetta, if he is confirmed. Steve Kappes in his role at the CIA was, at least, indirectly in charge of the CIA‘s secret detention policies.
If that‘s going to be part of what is pursued here, doesn‘t keeping him in that job sort of preclude the realistic prospect that it will be pursued, exposed, and prosecuted if necessary?
TURLEY: That‘s a very curious thing to do. That‘s absolutely right. And all of this talk about having a truth commission, all—everything that is coming out of the Congress and the Obama administration is very worrisome. It is not the type of stuff that would be said if you were seriously going to pursue prosecution.
But they are insane to try to dodge this issue, because if we don‘t investigate, this administration for war crimes and illegality, particularly war crimes, someone else might. The fact is the rest of the world sees these as war crimes. How will these people going to travel? What happens when all these Bush officials go off to Paris with their spouses? A lot of the world views them not as tourists but as war criminals.
It would be better for us to handle the issue than suffer the indignity of having other nations hold accountable our own leaders.
MADDOW: And us having to suffer the indignity of having knowingly let this stuff go.
Jonathan Turley .
MADDOW: . professor of law at George Washington University—thank you so much for your time tonight. It‘s always a pleasure to have you on the show.
TURLEY: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: Today‘s report by a congressional oversight panel says that the Treasury Department has no idea what‘s going on with TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or as I like to think of it, the “trouble knowing where the assets have gone” program. I‘ve asked it before, and I will ask it again: What are the chances with this financial bailout here that we are being punked? Lame Duck Watch—ahead.
MADDOW: In just a couple minutes, I‘m really excited. Because not only do I get to talk about my favorite subject, infrastructure, but get to somebody of whom I am a giant a fan. David Brancaccio. David Brancaccio is the host and senior editor of “Now” on PBS, and they have produced a cool documentary about fixing America‘s infrastructure crisis. Trust me, trust them, it‘s a crisis and we can fix it and we can do some economic good in the process.
First thought it‘s time for a couple underreported in holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. The president-elect during the campaign got a ton of political mileage out of his anti-lobbyist pledges. Mr. Obama banned lobbyists from contributing to his campaign. He said when the political appointees leave their jobs in his administration, they will not be allowed to lobby the executive branch as long as Obama is still in office. The idea is to stop the corrupting cycle of people serving in government and then getting paid big bucks to lobby the government they were supposedly serving. Lather, rinse, repeat.
But as in any good Washington story involving a shampoo metaphor, it‘s the details that are important. On the campaign trail, candidate Obama initially pledged that he would not allow lobbyists to work in his White House, then before the Iowa caucuses, Mr. Obama became more specific, saying that lobbyists would not be able to run the Obama white house. Then the campaign got even more specific, saying that lobbyists who did become political appointees would not be allowed to work on issues that directly and substantially relate to their prior employer for two years. Got that?
So no lobbyists became no lobbyists running the place, became no lobbyists running the place in a way that raised a conflict of interest with the lobbying job they‘ve had in the past two years.
Then this week, even that last one went out the window, too. The president-elect tapped William Lynn to become the number two civilian in Pentagon under Bob Gates, even though as recently as July he was registered as a lobbyist for the giant defense contractor Raytheon.
So that happened. To their credit, the communication folks themselves pointed out that Mr. Lynn‘s appointment breaks the transition team‘s self appointed lobbyist rule, and they are describing him as an exception to that rule. I hope so. Because this is one of those slopes that feels really slippery, once you start making ginormous exceptions like this one.
Next up? Pirates in the world of pirates, which has gotten more attention in the last two months than it has since Captain Morgan was a human being and not a brand. There is some good news and bad news. The good news is that brand-news Saudi-owned supertanker carrying 2 million barrels of oil worth $100 million and its 25 member crew, that tanker held captive by armed Somali pirates, it is now free from its pirate captors. The pirates have disembarked the ship, the crew is safe, the captain is sailing the ship away from Somalia, as far away from Somalia as he can probably get presumably.
The ship was hijacked two months ago way off the coast of Kenya, it was the largest ship known to have been seized by pirates. That‘s the good news. The ship is safe. The bad news, the ship was released after the owners paid a reported $3 million in ransom. Get this. The ransom was delivered by parachute. A small plane dropped a container attached to a float on a parachute.
The pirates originally asked for $25 million, but they settled for a measly $3 million. Why might this be considered the bad news part of this?
Well, it means being a pirate pays really well if nothing else. As you learn in black market econ 101, more booty equals more pirates. Arrrgh.
MADDOW: While the American economy sinks like the boat at the end of “Jaws” America itself is springing actual leaks. Not metaphorical ones, bad ones, bad leaks. And it turns out the sinking economy and the leaking country are totally related. All right, last month a billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge from a nearby power plant burst through a wall in Tennessee, causing massive property and environmental damage. The toxic sledge toppled houses, it dirtied rivers and streams. According to state authorities, at least 54,000 people were left with contaminated water. And today another waste pond at a coal-burning power plant ruptured, this time because of some sort of leaky pipe. And this time it happened in northeast Alabama. The damage was more limited than the Kingston, Tennessee disaster but according to an Associated Press analysis that‘s out today, there are 156 coal-fired power plants that store ash in surface ponds similar to the one that ruptured last month in Tennessee.
And these waste repositories are virtually unregulated. And this structural and environmental crisis is absolutely related to Barack Obama‘s ostensible top priority, the economy which today which it was revealed lost another 524,000 jobs in a single month.
In 2008 for the year, America lost another 2.6 million jobs. That‘s the highest yearly job loss total since 1945. The unemployment rate shot up from 6.7 percent in November to 7.2 percent last month. That‘s the worst unemployment rate in 16 years. But as Obama‘s stimulus deal meets opposition from both political parties, consider this.
It is not just the job market that is in dangerous free fall in this country. It‘s the country‘s infrastructure, too. Not the free broadband or the wind farms that some politicians like to either inveigh against or put on bumper stickers depending on their politics.
It‘s the stuff we have already have, the dams and our waste holding ponds and the water supplying pipes and our bridges, the stuff that ma makes for a genuine catastrophe.
A new documentary from PBS called “Blueprint America: The Big Fix” documents some of the elements of this crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID BRANCACCIO, PBS HOST: In August 2007, when that bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis came crashing down, 13 people died. Over 140 others were hurt. The disaster in Minnesota woke the nation up to what many highway officials already knew. Structurally deficient bridges and overpasses are an epidemic in every state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: An epidemic. Should opponents of the Obama-proposed stimulus plan consider the other crisis? The not just economic crisis that plan intends to remedy? Joining us now is David Brancaccio, host of “Now” on PBS and also the PBS documentary “Blueprint America: The Big Fix.” David, it‘s so nice to meet you. Thank you for being here.
BRANCACCIO: Pleasure to be here, Rachel.
MADDOW: Of all the infrastructure flashpoints or crises you investigated, what would you describe as the most dangerously out of repair?
BRANCACCIO: One day we woke up over the last year and suddenly I-95, the crucial lifeline up and down the east coast was out, the stretch in Philadelphia. They suddenly found a bridge was much closer to falling down than anybody thought. There was a rush to repair it. These are all over the country.
But of course it‘s not just bridges, right? It is ports. It is dams. It is a lot of stuff. For instance, how about this? How you get all this groovy green power into homes requires electric power lines. Those are antiquated. We know when it gets hot, they fall apart and we have blackouts, but those have to be upgraded. So my program “Now” on PBS next week is working on that one. Some people don‘t want the lines through the backyards, all this new construction, but we have to get the power in somehow.
MADDOW: But the politics of this is very much about who will be put to work building new things no matter what the things are, but there is sort of a national security angle on this as well, that disasters, catastrophes, calamities don‘t have to be caused by deliberate actions and bad people trying to hurt us. They could be caused by our own negligence. I wonder to a certain extent if we‘re starting toss the new definition of this as “homeland security.”
BRANCACCIO: That‘s a very wise observation. Because this stuff can kill people. And we learned that that horrible day in Minneapolis when the 35W bridge came down. And often we look far away overseas to legitimate threats, but sometimes they‘re right in front of us. And so what the government is realizing you can do a couple things, hire some people so there‘s less of a chance of a Great Depression, and fix what is out there. But here‘s the thing. It has to be done right, because there‘s really two jobs here. Job number one is fixing the stuff so that it operates efficiently and doesn‘t kill anybody.
But job number two is building a better future for the country. There‘s another part of this. You‘re spending quadrillions of dollars as we plan to, it has to be smart. So I don‘t know if you saw in the piece we did, “Blueprint America” we talked to Paul Krugman, the “New York Times” columnist, but also he had just won his Nobel Prize, had stepped off the plane practically from Stockholm, the thing was still shiny, and we were talk to go him, and he said in the Great Depression, the New Deal, when all the spending was being done, by and large corruption wasn‘t that much of a problem, because we‘re worried about that now. We‘re going to spend the money and we‘re going to build bridges to nowhere. Krugman said back during the new deal we were able to hire the best and brightest to government service.
So we got good people and they didn‘t abuse and lose all the money. We have to figure out a way to do that this time. This has been how many decades of people making fun of people who want to go government service?
MADDOW: We have got to change the ethos of that, one of the things you can do with a lot of political capital, say, if you were a very popular new president who gave great speeches.
The way that politicians now talk about what ought to be funded in this infrastructure spending that is definitely coming of some kind, is that projects should be shovel-ready. What does “Shovel Ready” mean? Is that a good way to plan what to do?
BRANCACCIO: Here as the thing. What projects are out there if the funding spigot were turned out that they could start right away. One where they have the environmental impacts, real blueprints. Because if it‘s dreaming things up overnight to get the federal money that could turn out badly. And you‘re even seeing people like Paul Krugman reevaluate their position, saying to themselves, wait a minute, we want to be sure there are enough projects out there. What if there are not enough shovel ready projects, not enough ready to roll?
And so we do have to think more widely about what is infrastructure? You were mentioning it a little bit earlier, but it can be things like investments in alternative energy, and you say health care? Is that infrastructure? Well, what about the information technology that could be used to share your medical records, if that‘s something you want to do. That stuff also has to be fixed with some of this money.
MADDOW: What about the public health capacity to respond to a natural disaster or to a terrorist attack or any major calamity?
BRANCACCIO: You go out to public hospitals in places like Los Angeles, you can see the cracks in the wall from earthquakes past. Last time I visited. A lot of investment is clearly need, and we‘ve got the money, because Obama says, it‘s $1.2 or $1.3 trillion deficit that he‘s talking about, they‘re going to be spending this. But it‘s interesting, you‘re talking about the Tennessee problem when the coal ash suddenly enveloped a town.
That‘s not a natural disaster. That is somebody not doing the proper infrastructure investments to prevent that from happening. How many of those pools of coal ash are there around? It‘s like 1,300 dumps.
MADDOW: The one that failed in Alabama, they announced on December 31st it was fine.
BRANCACCIO: No problem at all.
MADDOW: PBS‘s David Brancaccio, it‘s really nice to see you. Thank you for being here tonight. And congratulations on the documentary.
BRANCACCIO: Thanks, a real pleasure to be here.
MADDOW: Time for a lame duck watch trivia question. What is more lake than the Treasury Department reportedly not knowing where $350 billion of their $700 billion bailout has gone? They‘ve known about it being untraced for three weeks, but only coming out now. Duck will be served tonight it‘s extra crispy.
MADDOW: It sounded like good news for the embattled auto industry, a loan for General Motors courtesy of the Bush administration. Except now, three weeks after the paperwork got signed, the loan is starting to look like a noose for the auto workers.
Not only are the workers required to accept lower wages, but they are forbidden to strike. I don‘t remember debating that. If they do strike, the government can call in the loan, bankrupting GM and leaving hundreds, thousands, lots of people out of work. Combine that with the latest assessment on the $350 billion that the Bush administration already used to bail out Wall Street, and with 10 days left in the bush presidency, it‘s time for THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW‘s lame duck watch. Because somebody has got to do it.
Back on December 10th, we had the head of the congressional panel charged with overseeing the Troubled Asset relief Program, Elizabeth Warren, here on this show, she shared the basic question she was having to ask about that $700 billion bailout, questions like what‘s it for? Is it working? And what would working mean?
Well, a month ago the Treasury Department could not answer those questions, today, still cannot answer the questions. The oversight committee finding that the Treasury Department has no requirements for companies to report how they are spending taxpayer dollars nor a clear plan to restore lending to consumers. Nor a good answer on its refusal to spend money to prevent foreclosure.
And yet, that $350 billion has gone somewhere. We have asked it before and we will ask it again. Are we being punked here? Is this TARP bailout just a massive corporate giveaway with no real benefit to the regular Americans who are paying for it? Joining us now is David Cay Johnston who is the Pulitzer Prize-winning former “New York Times” reporter who is also the author of “Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense and Stick You with the Bill.” David, it‘s nice to see you, thanks for being here.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, AUTHOR: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: So the oversight committee report essentially says that we still don‘t know what the $700 billion bailout plan is for. What‘s it for?
JOHNSTON: Well, that‘s been one of the problems with it from the very beginning, they‘ve shifted gears repeatedly about this. But what reality we know how is this, it‘s been to bailout people that did business with Goldman Sachs like AIG, it‘s been to provide liquidity to banks and capital to banks who then used it to buy other banks and to concentrate the banks in the country, we have a problem with these banks who are too big to fail, we‘ve made them even bigger and today we get the news that J.P. Morgan and Citibank, two of the three biggest banks in the country, are going to have a joint venture in the brokerage. This is about eliminating competition which allows you to raise prices over time and not engage in market capitalism but corporate socialism.
MADDOW: If we were going to spend $700 billion to help America endure the financial crisis that we‘re in right now, can you think of a better way to have spent it?
JOHNSTON: Oh, lots of things. First of all, we could have bought all of the subprime mortgages in the country and still had $200 billion left over. They are not all going to fail. The problem we have is the bottom 90 percent of Americans‘ incomes today are smaller than in 2000 and smaller than they were way back in 1973. We‘ve had 28 years of supply side economics, we need demand side economics. The top one tenth of one percent of Americans, 300,000 people have virtually the same income as the bottom half, 300,000, 150 million, same number of dollars. And that is the core of our problem.
We could increase unemployment benefits overnight by a third and restore unemployment benefits for people who have exhausted theirs. A lot of people are not on the job market right now because there are no jobs to find so that the real unemployment rate is not the 7.2 percent official rate announced today but 13 percent when you count people who can‘t find work and people forced into part-time work involuntarily.
MADDOW: So you‘re saying if you think about this from a demand side perspective you instead funnel to most money to the people who need it who will therefore spend it most quickly, therefore giving you more leverage and more of a multiplier effect by spending on something like unemployment benefits?
JOHNSTON: Correct. And Congress also said this money has got to deal with foreclosures, has done anything to do with foreclosures on people. Because a lot of people bought the bad loans because they were snookered into them. Some people gamed the system with that question but a lot of people didn‘t understand what they were buying into.
It‘s very clear from reading the report today virtually nothing has been done, there is nothing in that report that came in, anything of substance to deal with the foreclosure problem that‘s affecting everybody‘s housing prices.
MADDOW: Maybe the good news we got today is Obama‘s nominee for treasury secretary in preparation for his confirmation hearings is burning the midnight oil working around the clock to come up with a new strategy for the rest of that money that they‘ve already agreed to spend. David Cay Johnston, author of “Free Lunch” it is so nice to meet you. Thanks for coming in.
JOHNSTON: Thank you.
MADDOW: Coming up on COUNTDOWN, Bush the liberator. Now claiming to have freed school children. Keith examines what else he has managed to liberate and next on this show I get just enough pop culture from my friend Kent Jones. Obama teams up with Spiderman. Now we‘re getting somewhere.
MADDOW: Now it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend Kent Jones. Hi, Kent. What have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. If only Obama could get help from Spiderman. Wait. He has. Marvel is putting out a comic book on January 14 where Spiderman thwarts an inauguration day plot perpetrated by the supervillain Chameleon. After initially resisting his assistance, Obama decides he needs Spiderman‘s help, saying, “OK, Spiderman, I was wrong, this was definitely your department.”
Spiderman says, “You hear that, Chamelion, the president-elect just appointed me secretary of shutting you up.” Bam!
Our story closes with Obama and Spidey exchanging a superfriendly fist jab.
JONES: Give it up. I‘ll bet if Obama really did name Spiderman the secretary of shutting you up, Mitch McConnell would still say, hang on, who‘s the liberal Spiderman from New York. What‘s he hiding?
Next, remember the movie “Minority Report” where Tom Cruise did this little dance with computers? Well, at the big consumer electronics show in Las Vegas this week, Toshiba showed off an interface to use with your hands. No mouse, no remote, none of that. Just control it with your hands.
They are hoping to use this technology on video games and stuff like that. Fun fact, when you do this, the bad news goes away. Finally, no, actually, it doesn‘t, there‘s a lot of stress out there right now.
How to get rid of it? The British paper “The Daily Mail” suggests throw a tantrum. Body language expert Judy James says releasing tension through shouting and screaming is a beneficial way to expel the negative energies caused by stress. When stress threatens to overwhelm you, try a short sustained burst of shouting or alternately go somewhere quiet and close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to help you calm down. All right, shall we, everyone? One, two, three. AHHHHH!
I‘m done and I feel great. You should try that. Really.
MADDOW: You look 10 years younger, Kent.
JONES: I feel fantastic.
MADDOW: And thank you for watching tonight. We will see you back here on Monday night. Until then you can e-mail us, . COUNTDOWN WITH KEITH OLBERMANN starts right now. Have a great weekend. Good night.
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