'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Monday, March 9, 2009
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Guests: Andy Stern, Janet Napolitano, Sarah Chayes, Debbie Crawford>
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We do have a night of very big guests. We‘ve got Andy Stern, the most influential labor guy in the country, from SEIU. We‘ve got the Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano. We‘ve got journalist-turned-activist in Afghanistan, Sarah Chayes.
And we‘ve got, as Keith, a whistleblower named Debbie Crawford, from the defense contractor, KBR, who will be here to tell her incredible story of working for KBR in Iraq.
Plus—plus, a story a very important about Chinese sailors in their underpants. Oh, yes. It is all coming up this hour.
But, first, if you enjoy big partisan fights on the floor of Congress, if you enjoy hyperbolic warnings from Republicans about Armageddon and the end of the republic as we know it? Tomorrow might be a good day to call in sick and curl up with C-SPAN—because tomorrow, Democrats in both houses of Congress are expected to introduce a piece of legislation that may divide Republicans and Democrats more sharply than any other issue—more than the stimulus, more than the budget, more than even healthcare maybe. It is the sort of wonky-sounding Employee Free Choice Act or EFCA, which, I will admit, is the most boring acronym ever. EFCA? Yes.
That said, boring acronym but—also maybe the biggest exciting political fight that we have had in a long time. Boil down, EFCA would make it easier for employees to form unions. As it stands, if you want to join a union, your employer can demand that you hold a secret ballot election. Why might they do that? I don‘t mean to cast dispersions, but there is a whole industry that has sprung up to help companies make their union or no union election process really intimidating for the workers.
If the Employee Free Choice Act passed, the employees would get to decide what they wanted to do. They‘d get to decide if they wanted to use the secret ballot election or if they wanted to allow employees to just sign cards instead—cards saying whether or not they wanted to join. If a majority of workers signed the card, they‘d get a union.
President Obama and congressional Democrats are onboard with this proposed change. But the Republican Party has come out against it, way against it, like—this is the hill we‘ll die on against it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, ® MINORITY LEADER: If you want to turn America into Europe, there‘s nothing will do it faster than eliminating the secret ballot in labor organizing elections.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA: It‘s dangerous for America. It‘s dangerous to small business, and I think it‘s a threat to one of the fundamentals of democracy.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER, ® HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: This is nothing more than a payback to the big labor bosses. To take away the secret ballot election from workers is not supported by union workers, by potential union members. This is, I think, an affront to the American people. And we will do everything we can to stop this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: An affront to the American people, something even union members hate, a threat to the fundamentals of democracy. Egads!
Actually, have you guys actually read the bill? Because if the employees still want the election thingy, they can still do that. Seriously, no—seriously, did you guys read the bill? Do you want its cliff notes version?
Here it is from the House Committee on Education and Labor. Quote, “The Employee Free Choice Act does not abolish the NLRB election process. That process would still be available.”
Would still be—would still be available—still available. It does not abolish the secret ballot. People get a choice.
It‘s pretty simple thing to explain actually, Employee Free Choice Act. But yet, the Republicans are winning the PR battle on this.
Here, for example, is the mighty Warren Buffett bashing the Employee Free Choice Act and getting the facts of it totally wrong.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARREN BUFFETT, BILLIONAIRE INVESTOR: I understand the reasons for unionization. I mean, by and large, I think, certainly, the people that are in unions have not been well-treated by the tax code that we‘ve had over the time. I think the card-check is a mistake. I think the secret ballot‘s pretty important in the country. I‘m against card check to make it perfectly flat statement.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: (WHISTLING). It‘s actually inaccurate. Not at all true. (WHISTLING). Secret ballot is still available. If you don‘t want it, this is just a different way that you can do it. But if you still want the secret ballot, can still have.
I say it again, the Employee Free Choice Act, aka, “the end of the world.”
If you ever need like a mnemonic device for remembering where the Republican Party is at on labor issues, on paycheck issues, I find it convenient to remember the car industry bailout debate. You might recall Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker‘s one big contribution to that negotiation. He demanded that American workers wages be reduced. He demanded from Washington that American workers have their pay reduced to what foreign auto company pays—what foreign auto companies pay to their employees.
Think about that being your argument in America in a recession—your argument is to reduce American wages unilaterally from Washington. It‘s kind of easy to remember if you keep that in mind.
The Republican Party does not have a leader right now, but they do apparently have an organizing principle. And this is it. If you find it easier to join a union, the world will end and we would prefer that Americans got paid less.
This is, maybe, the fundamental ideological clash of this time in America. With our country in this financial pickle that we are in, should our country have more unions or fewer unions?
Joining us now is Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, the country‘s largest and fastest growing union.
Mr. Stern, thanks for coming on the show tonight.
ANDY STERN, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INT‘L. UNION PRESIDENT: Hey, Rachel.
MADDOW: Yesterday, Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill says flat out, she does not think Democrats have mustered the 60 votes necessary that they need to pass this legislation. Are you worried about its chances for passage?
STERN: Well, I think, what we‘ve learned when we watched the omnibus bill and D.C. Voting Rights Act, that almost anything can happen in our Congress. So, it always does make you nervous.
But here‘s what we know. We‘re going to get a chance to debate rebuilding the middle-class by passing the Employee Free Choice Act. We know that all the Democratic senators that were there last time voted for it, add Arlen Specter. We know that when Al Franken arrives, we have 59 Democrats. We‘re pretty clear and certain that when the time comes, that we will find a way to rebuild the middle-class and give workers some rights in this country again.
MADDOW: Are there any other Republican senators other than Arlen Specter who you think might potentially be a yes vote on this?
STERN: Yes, I actually do. I think, in some of the discussions we‘ve had with the number of the Republican senator—listen, they have questions. They have concerns. But what they do want is to have a debate. And by stopping the debate, by not getting 60 votes, means that workers, the country—no one will get a chance to have this discussion.
So, I think many of them are ready to have the debate. I think the question when it comes to final passage is a different question.
MADDOW: Well, business leaders and Republicans have cast this battle in apocalyptic terms, right? They‘re talking about the end of civilization.
MADDOW: And the rhetoric has been extreme, but it has been fairly effective, even when they have—when they are flat out lying about the content of the bill. Why do you think that they have been able, I think, to win the PR war on this so far?
STERN: Well, first of all, I think, as we learned with George Bush, that lying helps.
STERN: And so, when they say we‘re ending the secret ballot election, as you‘ve talked about, Rachel, which is totally a lie because the law allows now for either, majority signs cards or they have election. But the big lie works and we‘ve seen them spend hundreds of millions of dollars. We‘ve seen them set up front groups.
But here‘s the good news. We have like 350 of our members here this week, who‘ve been affected by the lack of the choice they have and the difficulties they have of trying to work every day and making a living. They‘re up on Capitol Hill. They‘re going to be at the hearing tomorrow. I think the tide is going to turn when we hear from the people that are really affected which are the workers, not the CEOs, not the business front groups.
MADDOW: Why is it that people who want to unionize or at least want to explore the possibility of unionizing—why would workers in any given work place want to use a card check system rather than the secret ballot process if they had the choice?
STERN: What I always say to people, if you want to know what goes on for workers who want a union and you are a regular person, go tell your boss tomorrow that you want to have a union. And the bell will ring, and all of a sudden, these anti-union consultants will arrive. All of a sudden, you‘ll have these one-on-one very special meetings with your supervisor, who will tell you how this is really a bad idea.
Thirty percent of the elections have workers fired simply because they want to have a union. Ninety-two percent have these private captive audience meetings that are illegal in an election for your senator or congressman, but happen every day on work places. So, it is a reign of terror that comes down.
And the same kind of fear tactics that we see with the CEOs right now and the Chamber of Commerce are the same things that happen to workers. And that‘s a big weight falling on your head if you are a working person trying to have a union.
MADDOW: What about the allegation that labor officials, or that other union members might pressure employees in the card check system, that they have to sign under some sort of—some sort of pressure from those who would want the union for reasons other than the worker‘s best interest?
STERN: You know, we‘ve done a whole study of figuring out how many times that the workers been intimidated by unions and how many times that they have been intimidated by employers. And I‘ll tell you, we‘re probably at 100 to one.
And anybody who intimidates a worker, whether they‘ll be a union leader or an employer, should be punished. They violate the law. It is just plain wrong.
But the truth is, it‘s not the workers or the unions that are causing these problems. It‘s the employers.
MADDOW: Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union—thank you for your time.
STERN: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: I know you are a very busy guy. Thanks.
MADDOW: Mexico, the country we share a long border with, is in the middle of a horrendous gang-driven drug war. Tada! The Defense Department says Mexico is in danger of rapid and sudden collapse. A failed state next door?
Our new secretary of Homeland Secretary, Janet Napolitano, will join us next.
But, first, just One More Thing: During a long “New York Times” interview onboard Air Force One, the president was asked repeatedly, awkwardly, insistently, if he‘s a socialist. Barack Obama shockingly said, no. And once the interview ended, the president apparently got his version of steamed, because he called the reporter back after the interview to say more, to say not only is he not a socialist, but it was the Bush administration that bought up bank shares and pushed the huge prescription drug plan with no way to pay for it.
So, who‘s calling who what now? He didn‘t say that last part about who‘s calling. I was reading between the lines in that part. Sorry.
MADDOW: These days, you do not have to go to South Asia to find a country our Defense Department is very worried about. You could take I-35 actually, you could walk. Mexico has landed on the U.S. national security worry list.
A Defense Department study released in December coupled Mexico with Pakistan as states in danger of rapid and sudden collapse. The drug war in Mexico is more and more just war. Drug cartels are blamed for killing more than 6,000 people since January of last year -- 6,000 people? The mayor of Ciudad Juarez, Jose Reyes Ferriz, is hiding out right now, presumably in El Paso, Texas, from drug lords who killed six of his city‘s police officers and are now, even still, threatening to kill both Mr. Reyes and his family.
According to our own Justice Department, Mexican drug cartels are operating in as many as 230 U.S. cities and control about 90 percent of the U.S. cocaine market and most of the marijuana, meth and heroin markets here.
So, we‘re left (ph) with a situation in which a country with 109 million people, the 11th most populous country in the world, has a government that is unsafe within its own borders—one with which it shares with us. Talking down. Need it.
Joining us now is Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. She is just back from a trip to the Gulf Coast.
Madam Secretary, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight.
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Yes, thank you.
MADDOW: I want to ask you about the drug war in Mexico, its security implications for us. But, first, because you are just back from the Gulf Coast, how well do you think we have recovered thus far from Katrina and Rita?
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think it depends on where on the Gulf Coast you are. I think some parts are pretty well-recovered. But, I think, particularly in New Orleans, there is so much left to be done and some things that I think we can do very quickly. We really want to put, you know, all hands on deck here to make sure that what‘s left over from Katrina we resolve now.
MADDOW: What are the things that you think we could do quickly? It feels like the recovery process has taken so long and still has so far yet to go.
NAPOLITANO: Well, I think we can cut through some of red tapes as far as getting projects approved for federal funding. I think that we can move quickly on some of the housing issues. I was there with secretary of HUD, Shaun Donovan. And we are moving quickly there.
I think we can really proceed to make sure that the projects that have been identified in New Orleans that have been waiting for years such as, for example, repairing some of their colleges and universities, get top priority treatment. And that‘s what we intend to do.
MADDOW: I have to say, just editorially speaking, that it is nice to hear top level government officials, members of the cabinet, talking about recovery from Katrina and Rita again. It‘s been a long time since we‘ve heard it. So, thank you for making that a priority.
NAPOLITANO: You bet.
MADDOW: On to the situation in Mexico, is it really so bad that the government is in danger of collapsing or is that the Pentagon trying to get attention?
NAPOLITANO: Well, you know, it‘s the fact that the president of Mexico and the federal government is taking on the drug cartels that has precipitated this wave of violence over the last year. But, make no mistake. This is a huge wave of violence of a quality and kind we haven‘t seen in Mexico before. And so, the United States is and should be willing to help President Calderon to really go against these large cartels.
MADDOW: A huge amount of both the weapons and the cash that are fuelling the Mexican drug war are reportedly coming from the United States. Not just because we are a market for drug, but because 90 percent of the weapons used by the cartels have been traced to American gun shops, American gun shows. An estimated $15 billion to $20 billion is coming to Mexican drug lords from the U.S. every year.
What‘s the plan for—the American plan for dealing with the parts of the Mexican drug war that are happening on our side of the border?
NAPOLITANO: Yes. We‘re working on developing what we call a “southbound strategy,” precisely to get at the problem you‘ve identified—the cash and guns are going south that are fueling these cartels. It‘s going to be cooperative; it‘s between the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and others. But I believe there is a lot we can do in terms of our own enhanced efforts to intervene and interfere with that cash and the amount of guns going southward.
MADDOW: Is there anything that we can do to improve literally the capacity of the parts of the Mexican law enforcement structure that are fighting the drug gangs? Is there anything that we can do to help them be more effective in their fight, not so that they win it, but so that they win it and re-establish their own authority in their own country?
NAPOLITANO: Yes. And our primary instrument for doing that is called the Merida Initiative which Congress funded last year. And that is a funding source that we are using for training, for purchasing better equipment for Mexican law enforcement, for recruiting and retaining those in law enforcement who, we know are new and have not perhaps been subject to some of the problems of the past. So, the Merida Initiative is our key instrument for doing that.
MADDOW: I have one last question for you and I hope you that hear this in the spirit in which it is intended. It‘s been something I though about for a long time.
You gave up a great job, governor of Arizona, to head up Homeland Security. I got to ask you if you really believe that having a Department of Homeland Security makes sense. If maybe it wasn‘t a better idea to have all of these, you know, two dozen constituent agencies of DHS disaggregated the way they were before?
NAPOLITANO: No. I believe the contrary. I believe this department allows us to create synergies and relationships that didn‘t exist before. It enables us to connect the dots where before dots couldn‘t be connected and overall makes the homeland safer.
And one of the reasons I made the difficult decision to leave Arizona, leave my governorship to take on this posting is because I believe this department is absolutely key to the future safety of the United States.
MADDOW: I guess that‘s what you want to hear from the person who has the job doing it.
Homeland Security Secretary .
MADDOW: . Janet Napolitano, thank you so much for making time to join us tonight. I appreciate it.
NAPOLITANO: Thank you.
MADDOW: Coming up: Hillary Clinton‘s presidential strategist and overall global PR guru, Mark Penn, writes the employees of his PR company a letter about me—very awkward. To make the telling of that story perhaps less awkward, I have paired it with a story about Chinese sailors acting belligerently in their underpants. Deal? Deal.
MADDOW: Coming up on the show, someone‘s whose book I have read twice, who I have been looking forward to getting on this show for a very long time. Her name is Sarah Chayes. And you should definitely stick around for this interview. Take it from me.
But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. It is not often that articles from the American Forces Press Service, the official Department of Defense news service, involves the word “underwear.” But when it does, you can be sure that this prurient-minded 8-year-old trapped in a 35-year-old‘s body will read that story.
In international waters yesterday, in the South China Sea, there was a really strange confrontation between five Chinese ships and an unarmed U.S. Navy vessel manned by civilian merchant marines. The U.S. ship in question is the improbably named “USNS Impeccable.” It‘s described by the Pentagon as an ocean surveillance ship that was conducting routine operations yesterday when five Chinese boys started aggressively maneuvering and shadowing it.
Here is the underwear part. Quote, “Because the vessels intentions were not known, Impeccable sprayed its fire hoses at one of the vessels in order to protect itself. The Chinese crewmembers disrobed to their underwear and continued closing to within 25 feet.
The reaction to being hit with a fire hose is to take off your pants? Things went even further downhill after the dropping of the Chinese sailors‘ trough, with the ships reportedly throwing down pieces of wood in front of the Impeccable as it tried to leave the scene.
Now, the Pentagon is angry and says the U.S. embassy in Beijing has launched a protest with the Chinese government. Reportedly, there has been almost no coverage of this incident in the Chinese media yet, which I have to wonder if that has anything to do with the underpants issue.
Finally, a follow-up on a story we did on Thursday about AIG. Now, AIG, as you know, took advantage of lax regulation on Wall Street. They essentially made a mint off of hugely risk con artist-style financial moves they never should have been allowed to make. When those deals collapsed and AIG started tumbling down, their tumble threatened to bring down the entire world‘s financial and banking system. Hence, bailout.
More than B of A and Citibank combined, more than $160 billion government bailout dollars so far. AIG started getting bailed out in September, and a week later, the company decided to send 70 of its top employees on an all-expenses-paid week-long trip to a resort and spa in Monarch Beach, California. What we covered on this show on Thursday is that right after the spa week debacle, AIG decided to use some of its precious resources to start hiring PR help to help the firm with its image.
Now, on Thursday‘s show, I recounted some of the clients that have made one of the firms that AIG hired, Burson-Marsteller quite famous.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When Blackwater killed those 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, they called Burson-Marsteller. When there was a nuclear meltdown at Three-Mile Island, Babcock and Wilcox, who built that plant, called Burson-Marsteller. The Bhopal chemical disaster that killed thousands of people in India, Union Carbide called Burson-Marsteller. Romanian dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu—Burson-Marsteller. The government of Saudi Arabia, three days after 9/11 -- Burson-Marsteller.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera ad nauseam. Burson-Marstellar‘s CEO, Mark Penn, has responded to that segment that we aired on Thursday. In a letter to Burson-Marsteller employees that was leaked to the publication “PR Week,” Mr. Penn said the company did not work for a lot of the clients I listed anymore. He said he was proud of the firm‘s work and he told his employees that he was sure they shared his pride in not only the firm‘s work but in its clients as well.
Here is why we are coming back to this. Mr. Penn also accused me of getting my facts wrong. His letter said this, quote, “Her commentary also signature significantly mischaracterized the nature of the firm‘s past—for example, we never took a dime from Blackwater.”
I based my statement about Blackwater and Burson-Marsteller on what Burson-Marsteller said about working for Blackwater. On October 5th, 2007, a Burson-Marsteller spokesman named Paul Cordasco, released a statement that said, quote, “BKSH, a subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller helped Blackwater prepare for their recent hearing before Congress.” That was the hearing in which Blackwater CEO got raked over the calls for the shooting of those Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. So, in 2007, Burson-Marsteller confirmed that one of its subsidiaries did PR work for Blackwater in the wake of the Iraqi shootings.
But now, Mark Penn, CEO of the company, says, quote, “We never took a dime from Blackwater.” Which is it? If I‘m wrong I‘m happy to do a correction. But how can I be wrong here? Either the company spokesman was wrong in 2007, the firm didn‘t really worked for Blackwater, and they never bothered to correct the record until now, or Mr. Penn is wrong in the upset letter that he just wrote to his employees and leaked to the press. And he blamed me for it.
There is probably a third option here, but it‘s a weird one. Is it possible that Burson-Marsteller could have worked for Blackwater and but not been paid for it? Remember, “We didn‘t take a dime”? Burson-Marsteller did Blackwater‘s public relations for free? It was a pro bono thing? Blackwater was their charity case?
I welcome any further opportunity to clear up the record.
MADDOW: Now, here is something you do not hear a commanding general say every day. Check this out. This is a piece of a radio interview and it is just remarkable.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN, COMMANDER OF THE U.S. AND NATO FORCES IN
AFGHANISTAN: In the southern part of Afghanistan, especially, but in parts of the east, where we are not winning.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: We are not winning. The commanding general of both the American troops and the NATO troops in Afghanistan. His name is David McKiernan. That was an interview with the BBC.
Do you want to know why that didn‘t make a huge, ginormous political splash today? Because the American president said the same thing on Friday. I know.
In an interview on board Air Force One, the “New York Times” asked him, “Are we winning in Afghanistan?” And the president‘s response was, and I quote, “No.”
No. That‘s direct and that‘s a change. Here was President Bush less than a year ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are we winning in Afghanistan?
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I think we are making progress in Afghanistan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think we‘re winning?
BUSH: I do. I think we are making good progress. I do, yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can I just add to that?
BUSH: No, you can‘t. This is the second follow-up. You usually get one follow-up. I was nice enough to give you one. I didn‘t give anybody on this side a follow-up. And now you are trying to take a second follow-up.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I tried.
BUSH: I know you tried. Yes. They just cut off your mike. You can‘t.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wow. Charmed, I‘m sure. The new president is not only answering that question without all the junior high whining about the follow-ups. He‘s also suggesting that he might end up being open to some sort of overture toward elements of the Taliban.
This is from the same interview on Air Force One. He says, quote, “If you talk to Gen. Petraeus, I think he would argue that part of the success in Iraq involved reaching out to people that we would consider to be Islamic fundamentalists, but who were willing to work with us because they had been completely alienated by the tactics of al-Qaeda in Iraq. There may be some comparable opportunities in the Afghanistan and the Pakistani region.”
Given how the Afghanistan war effort turned out under the last president, I think - I‘m guessing, honestly, that Americans are sort of open to new ideas about what to do there from the new guy.
But we are in our eighth year there already. We learned this weekend that fatal IED attacks in January and February were triple what they were this time last year. Yesterday, North of Kandahar City, a Canadian soldier named Mark Diab was killed by an IED. Another IED killed a woman in her Hira(ph) province as well.
When we have been there for eight years already and things are, by all accounts, just getting worse and worse and worse. I get the temptation to just try something completely different, but reaching out to the Taliban? That might be too different.
Joining us now is Sarah Chayes. She has been living and working in Kandahar, Afghanistan since 2001 when she covered the fall of the Taliban for national public radio. She left journalism the following year and started a cooperative in Kandahar. We‘ve got a link to that cooperative‘s Web site at our Web site today.
Sarah is the author of the indispensable book, “The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban.” Sarah Chayes, thank you for being on the show.
SARAH CHAYES, AUTHOR, “THE PUNISHMENT OF VIRTUE”: It‘s a real honor.
MADDOW: You have written that what is need is not for the Taliban to be defeated, but for them to be rendered irrelevant. Does that mean that you think that overtures toward the Taliban by the U.S. are a bad idea?
CHAYES: I actually think it is an irrelevant idea. The problem is that the Taliban don‘t represent the Afghan people in any kind of an organic way. It is not like Hamas. It‘s not like the IRA to which they are often compared.
What‘s happened is that the Afghan population has been driven to distraction practically by the behavior of government officials that we actually ushered into power after 9/11 in late 2001 and 2002.
And so, in fact, there weren‘t any Taliban in Afghanistan when I first got there - very, very few in December of 2001. And the entire population - I went to Kandahar right below Omar‘s, you know, den - basically his fiefdom and everybody there was really overjoyed with the Karzai government and with the international presence in Afghanistan. So it is not quite true that Afghan‘s are intrinsically against any international involvement with them.
The problem was that we were like bent on chasing al-Qaeda, right? And so we brought in - back into Afghanistan - a lot of really repudiated warlords, basically, and put them back into power. And I actually think the Afghan population has been pretty tolerant and patient with these folks.
And so, basically, now eight years on, what‘s happened is the Taliban have been injected in from across the border. And they are making more and more headway because the people are just so desperate with the behavior of the government that is currently in place that it is kind of six of one-half dozen of another.
And so to me, the answer to this problem is not let‘s go and bring some other oppressive people and bring them back in, meaning the Taliban, to share power in Afghanistan. It‘s much more let‘s start buckling down on the government officials that we brought back in. Let‘s start asking for accountability. Let‘s start giving some redress of grievances of the Afghan population.
And that‘s what then renders the Taliban irrelevant. And it means that all of the kind of foot soldiers that people are talking of engaging with in a negotiated way, they just come back in without being lured back in by any kind of a bargain.
MADDOW: Could the development of functioning government that protected the people that provided raw justice and basic services for the Afghan people - could that be the people who are there now just doing their jobs better? Or does it need to be a new third party coming in and taking over those administrative roles?
CHAYES: I don‘t really think you need new - I mean, you might need new people in certain places. There are definitely some people that need to go because they have just been abusing the population for too long and with too much impunity.
But I actually think that with a lot of people, you can start putting mechanisms in place that would begin to put the screws on them and change their behavior. And an example of this, actually, is the Afghan national army. And I remember when it rolled out, you know, a few years ago, it was terrible. It was really awful.
I mean, they were beating people up and they were stealing shop keepers‘ goods and stuff like that. And they were very rude in the south because they didn‘t speak the local language and they didn‘t like the local population.
And what has happened is that we‘ve had army officers, both American and European, who literally embed with Afghan army units and that living and working and eating and fighting together has provided a degree of oversight that‘s completely changed the behavior of the Afghan national army. And I think that is a model that you could extend to the civilian administration.
And there are other devices that you could do, but you are right that there are some people who probably shouldn‘t stick around.
MADDOW: Sarah, how are the living conditions in Kandahar now compared to when you moved there in - I guess it was 2002 when you first moved there?
CHAYES: Yes. 2001 even. A lot worse. I mean, I used to be able to drive around. I used to be able to drive to the next province at night. I used to be able to, you know, really walk around downtown.
And now, I take much, much more care. And it means that my movements are a lot more constrained. It means my cooperative members have to do basically evasion and escape just to get to work in the morning.
We are living with a degree of psychological pressure that is really substantial. I mean, my cooperative members are pretty sure that somebody in their immediate family is going to die in the next 24 to 48 hours. And that is a lot to have to live under.
And then, they get it coming and going because they are afraid of the Taliban. And then, for example, one of my cooperative members was bringing some car parts - he has an auto parts store - in from the border. He had to pay bribes at eight different checkpoints, you know, to the police.
So it‘s like you are afraid of the Taliban and then the government is abusing you, too. And it is this constant navigation of trying to make your way between these two hostile forces in a way.
MADDOW: I don‘t always feel like I know what the commanders or even the president is talking about when they talk about winning or losing in Afghanistan. But I can tell you that what you just described is definitely not winning.
Former NPR correspondent Sarah Chayes. You live and work in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I should tell our viewers that Sarah has founded a cooperative that‘s called Arghand - A-R-G-H-A-N-D. We‘ve got a link to Arghand‘s Web site at our Web site today. Sarah Chayes, thank you so much for coming on the show.
CHAYES: It is an honor. Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: Coming up, we‘ve got an exclusive interview with the person who provided us with this picture. Now, just a moment, I will explain what you are looking at there and why it will probably make you really, really, really, really mad at Dick Cheney and several others. That‘s next.
MADDOW: A year ago, this week, we learned from an article from “The Boston Globe” that the single biggest contractor for the U.S. Government in the Iraq war isn‘t paying U.S. taxes. The company is called KBR. That used to be part of Halliburton.
And while Vice President Dick Cheney was the head of Halliburton, they finished moving their operations officially to the Cayman Islands, known for its stingrays, its red-footed boobies, and it‘s facilitation of anti-patriotic impulses of American companies who want to avoid paying Medicare and Social Security taxes by pretending like they operate out of a post office box in the notorious tax shelter that is the Cayman Islands.
Under the Bush administration, military contracting increased to levels never seen before. KBR has enjoyed a multibillion-dollar contract to provide support services to U.S. troops in Iraq. They‘ve got contracts worth eight times as much as any other contractor.
And the problem is not just that it is short-sighted and dangerous for the U.S. military to give up the logistical capacity to sustain itself so it needs private companies to go to war and stay there from now on. It‘s not just KBR headquartered itself in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying U.S. taxes.
It‘s also that KBR is alleged to have been criminally negligent in its work in Iraq. The company is defending itself in two lawsuits from the families of U.S. servicemen killed in Iraq, electrocuted due to faulty wiring where they lived and worked.
The House Oversight Committee released a list of a total of 19 suspected electrocution deaths among U.S. service members and contractors in Iraq. Army inspectors say in one two-year period they looked at, American personnel were electrically shocked on average every three days.
KBR also happens to be the largest U.S. contractor in
Afghanistan, too. And now, U.S. troop numbers are rising there. Electricians who are former KBR employees say that the shoddy and dangerous work that KBR is accused of in Iraq continues today in Afghanistan.
Check out this picture. This is a picture taken in Iraq in a trailer used from housing. This is running water from a faucet in a bathroom. And that little (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with the probe sticking into the running water - do you see that? That is a voltage meter.
As you can see, it reads 180.6. The water coming out of that tap
is charged to over 180 volts. You stick a fork in an outlet in your house
that‘s about 120 volts. That water, over 180.
Joining us now is the woman who provided us with that picture. It dates to her two years in Iraq servicing as a journeyman electrician for KBR in the green zone, Debbie Crawford. Thank you so much for joining us.
DEBBIE CRAWFORD, FORMER KBR ELECTRICIAN: Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: First, could you just tell me the context of that picture that we just showed? What was that a picture of and where was that taken?
CRAWFORD: I believe that picture that was sent to me is from Taji. It was sent to me from an electrician there. He was basically - they had gotten some complaints of the occupant of that building being shocked in her bathroom. And the electrician showed up and started doing some checking and checking voltage measurements. And that water was reading 180 volts to ground.
MADDOW: I know you are an experienced electrician. You have worked all over the world. Is that kind of error, that kind of electrical error, easy to make? Is that commonly made, or is that something that you would only do if you really had no idea what you were doing?
CRAWFORD: Clearly, that is an error. Yes. No. You don‘t do that.
I haven‘t seen that anywhere but in Iraq.
MADDOW: When you were working in Iraq, did you ever hear about people being electrically shocked in their showers or in their living quarters at their workplace?
CRAWFORD: Yes. There were quite a few complaints about soldiers or civilians and other subcontractors being shocked in their trailer units. Yes.
MADDOW: What did you find - as an employee of KBR with so much electrical experience, what did you find about the way they just approached their work overall, how they supervised it, whether the people doing the work were qualified to do it?
CRAWFORD: Not everyone, no. KBR does have some very qualified people
working for them in their crafts and you know, other departments. But the
majority of the work is done actually by third country nationals or
Philippine, Bosnian, Iraqis - and they may be very good electricians in
their own countries, but they‘re not up to the standard of the American
licensed electricians. So -
MADDOW: Was the it at least - sorry, go ahead.
CRAWFORD: The American electricians, for the most part, supervised third-country national workers.
MADDOW: In terms of supervision for electrical work, was everybody who was working as a foreman or as an electrical supervisor qualified to do that work?
CRAWFORD: No, they weren‘t. My foreman was not even an electrician - my supervisor.
MADDOW: And would he weigh in on assuming it was - would he weigh in how electrical work should be done even though he wasn‘t qualified to know how to do it?
CRAWFORD: Yes. He and I exchanged words on several occasions about how work was to be done in accordance with the National Electrical Code. And safety was also a big issue with me.
MADDOW: When you spoke up, when you had those words with your supervisor, did you feel like the company was willing to hear your complaints, willing to make improvements?
CRAWFORD: No, they were not. It was very much, you know, “If you don‘t like it, you can go home. You‘re in Iraq. It‘s a war zone. OSHA doesn‘t apply here. If you don‘t like it now, you should have been here a year ago. It was worse.”
So it was a put-up-or-shut-up and if - people who pushed the issue and made a lot of noise were certain to be transferred to other more hostile work environments where combat was a little bit more active or they were sent home.
MADDOW: KBR says that its contract in Iraq never required it to fix potential hazards. So even when their own audits turned up the risk of electrical shock, even when electrical shocks were reported to them, they say that they weren‘t required to fix them. As a former KBR employee, what do you think of that argument?
CRAWFORD: That is just ridiculous. Electrical shock is not a potential hazard. Electrical shock is an indication that something is not functioning correctly. So that‘s the most basic of maintenance. It‘s an indication for an electrician that we need to stop what we‘re doing and fix something that is wrong, something that is broken. That‘s a ridiculous argument.
MADDOW: Debbie, one of reasons that I wanted to speak with you today is because we‘re starting to hear from other KBR whistleblowers that KBR is repeating its dangerous electrical work in Afghanistan.
We started with well over 100,000 troops in Iraq. We‘re upscaling the numbers in Afghanistan. Have you seen anything? Are you in touch with anybody else through the company, your former employees - anybody else that would make you think that the company is systemically getting better about this?
CRAWFORD: No. I get comments on a regular basis on my blog from current and former electricians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some things are getting better. The licensing requirements for electricians have become more stringent.
But KBR is still not stepping up. They are only doing what needs to be done. And when push comes to shove, a lot of times you know, they are - you know, they would rather sign up on the paperwork than actually do the work correctly.
MADDOW: Former KBR employee, journeyman, electrician Debbie Crawford, thank you for telling your story and thanks for testifying to Congress. And thanks for taking time tonight to be with us. I appreciate it.
CRAWFORD: Thanks for having me.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Republicans finally finding it within themselves to criticize Rush Limbaugh. I know, it‘s very exciting.
Next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones, plus a little cocktail moment.
MADDOW: Hello, Kent.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Hi, Rachel.
MADDOW: How are you?
JONES: I‘m OK.
MADDOW: I thought I would just start talking to you like a normal person.
JONES: We‘ll slip it right in.
MADDOW: Hey, Kent. Tell me, what have you got?
JONES: Why not? You know, a lot of people out there are happy President Obama overturned President Bush‘s policy on stem cell research.
Here‘s one rave review, quote, “I‘m very grateful that President Obama has lifted the restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. These new rules will now make it possible for scientists to move forward.”
And what crazy left-wing, moon bat wrote that? Nancy Reagan.
JONES: Go ahead, Bush dead-enders. Head bat her. You‘re going to let her get away with that kind of talk?
MADDOW: Wow. That‘s amazing.
MADDOW: Good for her.
JONES: Reality. Ideology.
MADDOW: Exactly right.
JONES: Next up, a 399-year-old portrait of William Shakespeare was unveiled in London today believed to be the only authentic image of Shakespeare painted during his lifetime. Lots of copies of this image were made after his death. But this one is apparently the real deal.
He‘s had some work done, don‘t you think? Pretty, Crystal, paint me thinner, perchance.
MADDOW: How do they find out if that‘s for real?
JONES: I don‘t know.
MADDOW: Or it‘s just the best pitch for buying that painting ever?
JONES: I think they have very smart art historians going -
MADDOW: With impressive machines that verify things. Yes.
JONES: Very impressive Shakespeare-verifying machines. And finally TOPPS, the baseball cared people, have unveiled a 3D baseball card. Starting today, if you hold one of these special 3D live baseball cards in front of a Web cam you‘ll see a teeny, tiny, tiny 3D version of your favorite player on the computer screen just like that right there.
MADDOW: No way.
JONES: And there he is. He‘s about to pitch. He‘s about to pitch.
MADDOW: Well, it‘s a little funny.
JONES: This is - oh, there he goes.
MADDOW: This is for real? You did not just make this up?
JONES: Not at all. That‘s actually before the growth hormones, after it made a big different.
MADDOW: They are much larger. You‘d need a bigger desk.
JONES: Much bigger.
MADDOW: Thank you, Kent. That‘s excellent. I have a cocktail moment for you ...
JONES: Ah, cheers!
MADDOW: ... which I will admit is completely petty. I don‘t usually cover the political figure sniping at each other thing.
This blows my mind. “Daily Beast,” Meghan McCain, John McCain‘s daughter, “Certain individuals continue to perpetuate negative stereotypes about Republicans, especially Republican women. Who do I feel is the biggest culprit? Ann Coulter. I straight up don‘t understand this woman or her popularity. I find her offensive, radical, insulting and confusing all at the same time.”
Get this, she was one of headliners at the recent CPAC conference. But when your competition is a teenager who has a dream about the Republican Party and Stephen Baldwin, it‘s not really saying that much. Her dad ran for president. Impressive.
JONES: Take it.
MADDOW: Catty, I know. Thank you, Kent. Thank you for watching tonight. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.
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