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'The Rachel Maddow Show'for Tuesday, March 31

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

Guest: Matt Duss, Matt Taibbi, Vonn Watson, Derrick Pitts

Spec: Government; Politics; Policies

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

I‘m in San Jose, California, at KNTV tonight—a big thank you to the crew here for helping me out today.

President Obama is in London and so is our friend, Richard Engel, who will be with us live in just a moment.

The new neocons, the neo-neocons, are sort of the same old neocons but they did get together again to play war in Washington today.  We will have a report from their little conference.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner‘s potential second-in-command has a potential problem.  Matt Taibbi will join us to discuss that.

Plus, a story of trouble that began with a motorized barstool.  That story ends with a man named “Skeeter” appearing live on this show.  It‘s going to be very, very good.

That‘s all coming up this hour.

But, first, President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle, and an entourage of more than 500 have touched down in London to start an eight-day summit-filled trip through Europe—meeting the queen of England, attending the G20, direct talks with South Korea and India and Britain and Russia—Russia—and China as well, a speech on weapons proliferation in Prague, a speech in France on transatlantic relations, the president‘s first trip to a Muslim country when he goes to Turkey.  It all is going to happen over these next eight days, but it all starts in London.

Waiting for Obama on the ground in London, aside from about two-thirds

of the entire American press corps and the British bankers who have decided

to dress down these days so as to not look like bankers, so as no to get

egged by angry mobs—waiting for Obama today was a familiar sight for

recent American presidents: protests.  Big difference from when Bush—

from when President Bush used to travel abroad, though, these protests

greeting the American president‘s arrival were not of the flaming effigy

variety, but rather of the down with the global capitalist system variety -

sort of a different vibe.

Now, while the big economic talks of the G20 Summit are the first thing on the president‘s European agenda, they may not actually pose the biggest challenge facing him on his trip.  That may be at the NATO summit in Strasbourg later this week.  At that meeting, President Obama will make his case to the NATO allies that helping out in Afghanistan and Pakistan is a better idea now than it was when George Bush kept asking, and they kept saying no.  The case the White House is making is that Obama‘s plan is a big civilian effort, a big development effort, not just combat troops.

And, of course, there‘s the strategic argument that al Qaeda allied Taliban warlords having the run of the place in Afghanistan and Pakistan isn‘t just a security threat for Afghanistan and Pakistan and for us, but for everyone.  Ahead of that effort with the NATO folks, Obama‘s age of diplomacy theme scored a major victory today with a major non-ally, Iran—yes, that Iran—agreed to help out in Afghanistan.  In an International Conference on Afghanistan in Holland today, Iran pledged to help fight drug trafficking in its big, lawless, dusty neighbor to the east.

We also had another pretty big breakthrough with Iran today—as you know, we have not had diplomatic relations with Iran in 30 years.  But today, we passed them a note directly, not like through the Swiss or anything, we did it.  Now, in modern American diplomacy, us passing a note to Iran, that‘s like the sun rising in the west.  This is like Radiohead singing a happy song.

Richard Holbrooke, President Obama‘s special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan, handed Iranian diplomats a note from our government asking Iran to release three Americans who are currently missing or detained inside Iran.  We have it on very bad authority that the note said something to the effect of—I haven‘t done this in a while—pick, yes or no or maybe or I don‘t know and meet me by the swings after recess.  We actually have no idea what the note said, which is why we had to make up the prop.

But it was a note from us, directly to Iran—which diplomatically-speaking is a huge deal and it is a start.  It also turns out, for the record, that Iran‘s take on what we are doing in Afghanistan really isn‘t that far off from our own take on what we‘re doing there.

Their deputy foreign minister arguing at The Hague today that us upscaling the number of our combat troops in Afghanistan might not work, arguing that we ought to upscale our training of Afghan troops, arguing that the Afghans getting their act together on their own security would be the best way to combat terrorism in that region—that‘s what Iran says.  And that happens to be exactly what our new U.S. president is saying, too.

So, we‘re in agreement with Iran—which, frankly, sort of makes the whole thing where we call them the “axis of evil” and they call us “the Great Satan,” it makes that whole game a little awkward when we agree.

That said in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region today, the threat of international terrorism from that area took a turn as the 35-year-old warlord-in-chief of the Pakistani Taliban started making direct threats to attack U.S. interests in the United States.  Five years ago, Baitullah Mehsud was a gym instructor in Pakistan.  Now, he‘s trying to consolidate his power over the various Taliban fighters in the border region.

He today phoned both the “Associated Press” and “Reuters” to take responsibility for the attack on the police academy in Lahore that killed 12 people yesterday.  He said it was revenge for U.S. drone strikes against the Taliban.

Then came his threat—he said to the “A.P.,” quote, “Soon we will launch an attack in Washington that will amaze everyone in the world.”  And then since, apparently, he‘s got the whole western media on untraceable satellite phone speed dial or something, Mr. Mehsud also called NBC News to say, quote, “I will prove to the Americans that we can operate anywhere, in Washington or even in the White House.”

If there‘s any reason to believe that Baitullah “Gym-bunny-gone-bad”

Mehsud can actually project force all the way to the White House?  No,

there‘s no reason to believe that.  Is it still scary and resonant to hear

well-armed, nihilist extremists from that part of the world threatening to

launch terrorist attacks against the east coast of the United States?  Yes

yes, it is.

Welcome to Europe, Mr. President.  You can have all of these little problems wrapped up by the time you come home, that would be great.

Joining us now live from London is NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel.

Richard, thank you for staying up late for us.  Nice to see you.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  It is good to be here with you, Rachel.  Always a pleasure.

I‘m here not necessarily covering the economic part of the summit of the G20 but covering a lot of the protests, the demonstrations, the anarchists that are out on the street who are threatening to disrupt the activity here, and waiting to see what‘s going to happen later today when there‘s supposed to be the biggest protests.

MADDOW:  What do you make of the magnitude and the character of the protests thus far?  I have characterized them as not so much being anti-American as anti-capitalist.  Is that what you‘re seeing?

ENGEL:  Absolutely.  I was speaking today with one of the anarchist leaders, which they always describe is a little bit counterintuitive that it‘s an anarchist movement.  But they‘re well-organized.  They have been using the Internet, Facebook, Twitter, to call for their rallies.

And we talked about this specifically.  For the first time that I can remember, it‘s not anti-American at all.  President Obama is actually being welcomed by some of these fringe movements.  The target is really the bankers, conspicuous spending, anyone driving a fancy car.

The Ritz Hotel in London today was putting boards up in front of its main lobby way in downtown.  They‘re concerned that bankers are going to be targeted.  Some bankers have been told, don‘t go to work.  Don‘t wear your typical banker-looking suits, you know, the dark suit with the pink shirt and the tie.

So, people are worried that they could be specifically targeted.  And some bankers‘ homes have been—have been directly attacked.

MADDOW:  In terms of the relationship of these protests to President

Obama‘s visit specifically, as you said, some of these leaders are saying

that they actually are welcoming President Obama.  I wonder if you could

contrast what it was like to travel with President Bush to big

international events like this in the past—something I know you‘ve done

to what it‘s like now with Obama, even when there‘s a lot of protests, a lot of even anger in the air, to have it not directed at the American president.

ENGEL:  It‘s a very different feeling.  For years, you‘re generally—

I have grown accustom and assumed that there were protests that were going to happen.  And here, there‘s going to be many protests.  And some of them do have a more anti-American flavor.  There‘s protests against the environmental causes of disaster.  There are protests against the Israeli/Palestinian issue.

There are protests—most of them right now, however, are focused on the global economic recession.  And the most fringe ones are being led by anarchist movement.  They want the end to the capitalist system, and they want the bankers to hang from street lamps, as some of them have called it.

But it is in general not an anti-American sentiment.  It is something that the anarchist, this fringe movement wants to try and tap into some general and real frustrations in this country with the state of the economy.

MADDOW:  Richard, let me also ask you about this new threat coming from Pakistan.  I know that you‘ve been traveling in Pakistan and Afghanistan recently.  What do we know about Baitullah Mehsud?  And how concerned do you think Americans should be about this threat that he‘s making to attack Washington, D.C.?

ENGEL:  Baitullah Mehsud is someone who should be taken seriously.  He‘s a very dangerous person inside Pakistan itself.  He‘s been carrying out increasingly bold attacks ever since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister who his group has been often pointed at and accused of orchestrating Bhutto‘s assassination.  Then he claimed credit for this very brazen attack in Lahore, where a group of gunmen, sort of Mumbai-style, took over this police training facility.

So, he holds large sway in that country.  And I think what you‘re seeing from him today is increasing confidence, increasing bluster.  I can carry out attacks anywhere I want.  I can carry them out even in the White House is what he is saying.  But it shows his degree of confidence.

And with that amount of confidence—we have seen in the past, small militant leaders who have a focus that is locally, as they get more confident, they start to get more ambitious and start to look abroad.  The people who carried out the attacks in Mumbai, for example, were never thought to be a group, that was called Lashkar-e-Taiba, they were never thought to have international reach.  They had much more narrow focus, fighting inside the Kashmir, but they reached out of the region and carried out the attack in India.

So, I think you would be naive to just dismiss it as someone who was talking beyond their capability.  He has the capability to carry out attacks seemingly with impunity in Pakistan.  And if he is interested, it wouldn‘t be a great step to carry them out certainly in a place like London or in the U.K. in general where there‘s a very large Pakistani community, as there is in New York City.

MADDOW:  Certainly putting a very fine point on the president‘s argument that what happens in Pakistan and Afghanistan doesn‘t just stay there, and everybody needs to see it as their own security problem.

Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent—thank you for staying up light to be on the show.  Safe travels to you, Richard.

ENGEL:  I will be here.  We‘re waiting for the revolution.  So, I will be here the next several days to see if it happens.


MADDOW:  Keep us posted.  Thanks, Richard.

All right.  We‘ve got Matt Taibbi joining us in just a moment, following up on his reluctant patriots‘ crusade to help the country at large become slightly less dumb about the financial crisis.

It turns out that the new nominee for the Treasury Department, to be the number two guy in the Treasury Department—he fits right in to one of the easy lessons about things we have done wrong in the financial sector in the past that we should fix now.  And the guy fits into that lesson in a very bad way.

Matt Taibbi from “Rolling Stone” will be here in just a moment.

But, first, One More Thing about President Obama‘s trip to London.  He will be getting a meal at 10 Downing Street while he‘s there, courtesy of Jamie Oliver, aka “The Naked Chef.”  Mr. Oliver will not literally be nude while cooking, but the papers are all reporting breathlessly that he will be stripped of his cell phone for security reasons before they let him in the Downing Street kitchen.  The actually difficult complication of this is that Mr. Oliver‘s wife is due to give birth one day after the prime ministerial/presidential “no-cellphone-for-the-chef” dinner.

So good luck to “The Naked Chef” and to his wife, and good luck to our president if “The Naked Chef” decides to serve haggis because he‘s mad about security taking his phone.  Try mustard, mustard totally makes it better.


MADDOW:  Representatives of world journalism, watchdog groups, and American politicians have all had their guided tours.  And so, it was apparently time for the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay to open itself up to representatives of the universe.  Specifically, to Miss Universe, Dayana Mendoza, who, along with Miss USA, visited American troops and the prison at Guantanamo as part of the USO effort.

According to the “New York Times,” Miss Mendoza wrote on her blog, quote, “We visited the detainees camps and we saw the jails, where they shower, how they recreate themselves with movies, classes of arts, books.  It was very interesting.”  Calling the whole trip, a quote, “looot of fun,” Mendoza said, quote, “I didn‘t want to leave.  It was such a relaxing place, so calm and beautiful.”

Now, if she really didn‘t want to leave, indefinite stays are a specialty at Guantanamo.


MADDOW:  Representatives of 72 countries are meeting in Holland to try to figure out a way to snatch a victory in Afghanistan from the jaws of American neo-conservatism‘s defeat, to try to come up with a working plan for success in that poor country.  You know who‘s not there at that meeting?  The neoconservatives, the old gang from the Project for a New American Century.

Why are they not at the world-figures-out-Afghanistan meeting?  Because they lost the elections badly, specifically the Republican Party that attached themselves to the neocons, and put their cockamamie ideas into action to disastrous effect, the Republicans lost the last two elections badly.

So while Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke are working with 72 countries now to try to clean up the mess created by the Bush administration‘s neoconservative foreign policy, the neocons themselves are back home in Washington with their minority party lost the election Republican patrons.  Together they are forming a new neocon think tank.

The old neocon think tank was called the Project for a New American Century.  The new one is, the Foreign Policy Initiative.  Yesterday, the paid blogger of the McCain campaign last year, Michael Goldfarb, Twittered, quote, “PNAC, Project for a New American Century equals mission accomplished.  New mission begins tomorrow morning with the launch of the Foreign Policy Initiative.”  Mission accomplished—you know, that does have a familiar ring to it with these guys.

Bill Kristol, who recently lost his job as a “New York Times” columnist, he was a founding member of both the Project for New American Century and this new neocon group.  He is famous for proclaiming, quote, “The endgame seems to be in sight in Afghanistan.”  He said that on—let me see—November 26th, 2001.  That would be six weeks into the Afghanistan war, of which we are in year eight now, but six weeks in, Bill Kristol and the neocons thought the end game was in sight.  So, no reason not to move on to Iraq then, right?  Shazam!  Mission accomplished.

In April 2003, a month after we invaded Iraq, Bill Kristol also proclaimed, quote, “The battles of Afghanistan and Iraq have been won decisively.”  In 2003.  So it was a six-week-long war in Afghanistan and a one-month-long war in Iraq before he proclaimed victory.

Is this the point where I point out that the new neocon think tank that has launched itself has done so with a conference called “The Path to Success in Afghanistan”?  Would you buy a pack of batteries from these guys on the subway, let alone a supposed “Path to Success in Afghanistan”?  And John McCain was the featured speaker at their conference today—really?

Joining us now, Matt Duss, national security editor for  He attended the Foreign Policy Initiative conference today.

Matt, thanks very much for coming back on the show.


MADDOW:  There are these guys here who said back in 2001 that Afghanistan‘s already won, mission accomplished.  Then they made the case that we should go on ahead into Iraq.  Those were the guys that were at this conference today.  Does that mean that their conference was a “Whoops, we sure blew it” apology conference?

DUSS:  Well, certainly not.  There‘s never really been any accountability for these guys or any admission that any of their fantasies about transforming the world at the point of an American gun were kind of ridiculous.  They‘ve just kind of moved on to their new attempt to rebrand themselves as a bipartisan foreign policy organization, protecting America from what they seem to think is this rising tide of isolationism.

I haven‘t seen any evidence of this isolationism, but they were telling us today that it‘s all around us and we need to guard against it.

MADDOW:  Well, what about the things that have come to pass, that the neocons argued so vociferously against?  Things like a binding time line for leaving Iraq, things like talks with Iran—are they still railing against all of those things, because they said it would be the end of the world if either of those things happened and they both happened?

DUSS:  Right.  I mean, they just moved very smoothly into, you know, support for President Obama‘s plan, and as part of their attempt to kind of reintroduce themselves into the conversation.

But as you said, it‘s very striking that a lot of these things that are now treated as really just conventional wisdom, the idea that we are going to reach out to our enemies and see if we can gain strategic advantage over other worse enemies, we‘re going to try to negotiate with Iran to see if we can come to some accommodation before just going ahead and bombing them, as the neoconservatives have advocated for many years.  There‘s really no admission that these ideas have simply been discarded as part of this project that they‘re now trying to rebrand themselves.

MADDOW:  Well, it‘s one thing to campaign against this straw man of isolationism that doesn‘t really exist; it‘s another thing for them to take policy positions that are different than what‘s actually happening in the U.S. government now.  What, for example, is John McCain proposing when he spoke there today that‘s any different than what Obama is already doing?

DUSS:  Well, you can always count on these guys to be in favor of more force, and to the extent that they differed from the Obama administration‘s plan for Afghanistan, there it was.  There was general agreement among Kristol, Kagan and Senator McCain that President Obama should have gone ahead and just given General McKiernan all of the troops that he asked for instead of the more limited increase in troops that President Obama announced.  And this really—this was what generally they‘ve always been about.  There‘s really no problem in the world that can‘t be solved with the application of more military force.

But as President Obama said in an interview on Sunday, he seems to understand that there are problems that cannot be solved by simply adding more troops.  And as we go forward in Afghanistan, and if it isn‘t working, he‘s not—as he said, he‘s not simply going to say let‘s add more troops.  And I think that‘s really important and refreshing.

MADDOW:  And, of course, one of the main things of counterinsurgency theory is sometimes more force is the problem and less force is more effective.

One very quick last question, Matt.  Did you have any neocon celebrity sightings today?

DUSS:  Oh, yes.  There were quite—it was kind of a reunion of John McCain‘s presidential campaign but I also saw Scooter Libby showed up.

MADDOW:  Oh, no way.

DUSS:  Yes.  You know, he came out for that, you know, to see all—to shake hands and kind of see the people.  So, that was exciting.

MADDOW:  Yes, I forget he‘s not in prison.

Matt Duss, national security editor for—thank you for coming back on the show.

DUSS:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The guy happened to be Tim Geithner‘s right-hand man, the guy who was tapped to be Tim Geithner‘s right-hand man at the treasury to help fix the economic crisis has something on his resume that—when I read his resume today made me go (INAUDIBLE).  It‘s very upsetting.

Matt Taibbi from “Rolling Stone” will join us to translate that in just a moment.


MADDOW:  OK, it‘s not the most important story of the day, but it‘s also kind of the story of the day.  The element—a barstool on wheels attached to a motor and the sound of a 911 call.  The tape and a live motorized barstool demonstration—I‘m not kidding—coming up on this show.

But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.

First up, as I mentioned earlier, President Obama is in London today, meeting with other leaders from the G20 -- the Group of 20, the 19 largest economies in the world plus the European Union.  They are, of course, going to be talking about the international financial crisis, whether they can coordinate all of the myriad national rescue policies into a global solution for this nearly global problem.

But just as governments have various reactions to the crisis, employees across the globe—workers also have different ways of dealing.  The French, for example, seem to specialize in taking their bosses hostage. 

This now happened a third time just this month.

First, it was a Sony factory.  Employee there‘s took the boss hostage and held him overnight after he announced the factory would be closed.  Then it was a French factory from the U.S. company, 3M.  They held a manager hostage for more than 24 hours just last week over compensation for laid-off workers.

Now today, it‘s another French office of another American firm, the Caterpillar plant in Grenoble, France, where Caterpillar announced it would be cutting 700 jobs.  The workers there wanted to negotiate.  Boss said no.  Workers took boss hostage.

Actually, workers there took five executives hostage.  They are demanding a new round of talks about those layoffs.

And you know, it‘s not just companies.  The “Associated Press” also reports today that townspeople who are mad about the economy have taken their own mayor hostage in a little town called Pont-Saint-Esprit in the south of France.  They apparently won‘t let their mayor out of city hall.

I know Republicans like to complain that America is getting “Francified.”  Somehow, I don‘t think hostage-taking is what they are referring to.  Food for thought, though, isn‘t it?

Next, I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords.  We have know for a while now that America‘s war in Pakistan is being fought by drones, but our armed flying robots there. 

The Obama administration insists that we will not put ground troops into Pakistan but we are, at least in theory, fighting a war against al-Qaeda in al-Qaeda‘s home base in Pakistan. 

So to fight there, we‘re using drones, armed robotic remote-controlled planes for both surveillance and for blowing stuff up.  Afghanistan, too, has seen the occasional American drone fired missile strike.  And there were some eyebrows raising reports last month that in Iraq, U.S. troops shot down a drone that was Iranian.  Iran has drones?  Yes, they do, Virginia. 

But today, a few reports of new places drones are being used where they weren‘t being used before.  Reuters reports that the Iraqi military is now itself flying drones to police Iraq‘s borders.  The maiden Iraqi border patrol drone flight took place about two weeks ago. 

What is the Iraqi drone actually do on the border?  The Iraqis

say they use the plane to chase cross-border infiltrators.  I don‘t know if

what this is actually like.  But in my mind, it‘s like this.  I imagine it‘s just like this. 

But drones aren‘t apparently just for chasing uncannily handsome men like in “North by Northwest” by the Nile.  In flood-stricken Fargo, North Dakota this week, in addition to 5 million sandbags and helicopters dropping one-ton blocks of sand and tractors and boats and a heck of a lot of people power, customs and border protection also brought in some very special equipment, one of their Predator B drones. 

They brought it into the flood zone to do non-enemy surveillance of the flood situation on the Red River.  It‘s got infrared cameras and TV cameras and mapping radar.  And, of course, it has the fearful loyalty of all of those who recognize and bow to our new robot masters.  


MADDOW:  Irony alert, jobs at President Obama‘s Treasury Department have been hard to fill.  In the worst job market in at least 27 years, some jobs, like the job of cooling the economic meltdown, apparently have not been seen as worth taking. 

Nine days ago, the president told “60 Minutes” that essentially, he couldn‘t give top treasury jobs away.  People kept backing out because of expected scrutiny or embarrassment or low pay or all of the above. 

But tonight, good news-bad news developments here.  First the good.  In the last week or so, the president has announced six new picks for top treasury jobs.  Now choices for 10 of the top 23 treasury jobs have been announced, nominated or confirmed, which I think means they‘re running ahead of the Republican National Committee on that. 

The bad news?  One of the newly announced job candidates, the guy tapped to be the deputy secretary of the treasury, the second in command to Tim Geithner - he has a worrisome line on his very distinguished resume. 

While serving as general counsel in the Clinton Treasury Department, Neal Wolin reportedly played a role in the drafting of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1989.  Gramm-Leach-Bliley overturned Depression-Era regulations and wisdom and made it OK for commercial banks and investment banks and insurance companies to all be the same thing, to merge with one another. 

After decades of that being against the rules, Gramm-Leech-Bliley let giganto-mega companies form in the financial sector, companies that were essentially too complex to police well and also too big to fail. 

Gramm plus Leech plus Bliley in 1999 equals trillion-dollar bailout 10 years later.  Reporter Greg Sargent at “The Plum Line” reports that Stuart Eisenstadt, a deputy treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, confirmed that as treasury‘s general counsel at the time, Neal Wolin, quote, provided the technical and legal drafting for the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. 

And now, with the seminal act of today‘s global crisis on his resume, Neal Wolin is on track to be the deputy secretary of the treasury.  A Treasury Department spokesman did not refute the report about Mr. Wolin today but told us that “Plum Line” took the quote about him from Stuart Eisenstadt out of context. 

The treasury secretary today told us, quote, “Mr. Wolin supervised a few of the lawyers who worked on it but he didn‘t do any of the legal writing or drafting of the legislation.” 

So Mr. Wolin supervised the writing of this deregulation that effectively mugged the country but he didn‘t personally write it.  He supervised the writing.  He didn‘t write it.  That‘s going to be the only defense here? 

Joining us now is Matt Taibbi, “Rolling Stone” contributor and author of the book “The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics and Religion.”  Matt, thanks very much for joining us again.  I appreciate your time.

MATT TAIBBI, AUTHOR, “THE GREAT DERANGEMENT”:  Thanks, Rachel.  Thanks for having me.  

MADDOW:  So remind me who else is nominally in charge of cleaning up the mess caused by deregulation also was part of the way that we got deregulation in the first place? 

TAIBBI:  Sorry, what‘s the question again? 

MADDOW:  The guy who‘s going to be number two at treasury worked on Gramm-Leach-Bliley.  We‘ve got Lawrence Summers who was the treasury secretary when it went into effect and hailed it. 

TAIBBI:  Right.  Right.  I mean, there‘s a whole host of people who are in that Clinton White House as key economic players who are now in the Obama treasury.  You know, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers were key figures on Obama‘s transition team and they were both treasury secretaries under Bill Clinton and prime sponsors of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. 

I mean, the truth is we should be rounding up anybody who had anything to do with that law and chaining them to a rock in the middle of ocean.  And instead, we are basically putting them right back into the White House.  The only person who is missing is Rubin himself and he was leading Obama‘s transition team. 

MADDOW:  Why is it that the only people who were - it‘s only people who were part of the problem who are being put forward to provide the solution?  Surely, there are other candidates who weren‘t part of creating this mess, right? 

TAIBBI:  Well, this is just the way Washington works.  I mean, who did you think was going to get these key jobs in the treasury secretary - I mean, a child poverty advocate?  No, I mean, it‘s always people from Wall Street who get these jobs. 

And it seems like it‘s the same narrow group of people who get regurgitated throughout these posts over and over and over again. 

MADDOW:  Matt, supposedly some of these people have had epiphanies.  I guess post-crisis epiphanies.  

TAIBBI:  Right.  Just had that come-to-Jesus moment, right? 

MADDOW:  Yes.  I was a deregulator then.  But now, I see the error of my deregulating ways.  

TAIBBI:  Right.  

MADDOW:  Do you believe them?  Do you think it‘s just convenient? 

TAIBBI:  Well, of course it‘s just convenient.  I mean, did you really think that if the politics weren‘t, you know, heavily swung the other way, that they would have had that change of heart? 

I mean it‘s telling that when these people were feeling confident about their - you know, their opinions that they actually were enthusiastically in favor of deregulating the entire economy. 

Now, of course, it would be politically impossible for them to have any other opinion except that they‘re against it.  So it‘s - you know, it‘s impossible to trust these sort of late-stage conversions that they are all having.  

MADDOW:  I don‘t want to chain anybody to a rock and put them at the bottom of the ocean except proverbially speaking. 

TAIBBI:  Right.

MADDOW:  But what do you think needs to happen in American politics for deregulation to be something that people don‘t want to associate themselves with for the long run?  I just feel like ideologically speaking, there‘s been such a paucity of good argument around this stuff.  

TAIBBI:  Well, one thing that really has to happen that hasn‘t happened with this financial crisis is that we need to go back and hold everybody who was responsible for this mess accountable in some way or another. 

I mean, the only thing that‘s really happened to the people who are guilty of causing this whole mess is they either received trillions of dollars of public money or they‘ve been given, you know, incredibly influential posts in the White House.  Those seem to be the two outcomes for people who were primarily guilty of this crisis. 

I mean, there has to be some kind of consequence for people who made these errors and there hasn‘t been.  And it sends a tremendous message to Wall Street that they can continue, you know, to pursue this kind of thinking and without any kind of retribution. 

MADDOW:  People like Barney Frank, people like Byron Dorgan who pretty famously was right about Gramm-Leach-Bliley and the other deregulation that helped cause this mess.  They have said on this show that they think that the re-regulation of Wall Street will be for real, that it will actually be done well and that there‘s reason to be hopeful about this thing being put back together in a way that makes more sense and isn‘t going to get us into this mess again.  Do you think that‘s ridiculous? 

TAIBBI:  Well, I do think it‘s ridiculous because you have to remember that Gramm-Leach-Bliley itself was sold as a regulatory program.  It gave the Federal Reserve sweeping regulatory powers over the financial services industry.  And it was supposed to actually help tighten legislation, or that‘s what they said at the time. 

Another famous move that was supposed to be increasing regulation was in 2004, when we created the so-called Voluntary Regulatory Program that actually relaxed lending rules for the top five investment banks in the country. 

So every time they tell us that they‘re going to give us more regulation, it almost always turns out to be exactly the opposite.  So I will believe that when I see it.  

MADDOW:  Well, I hope that you will come on this show and help me make fun of them while they do it.  Matt Taibbi, contributor of “The Rolling Stone” - thank you so much for joining us tonight, Matt. 

Still coming, the motorized barstool-on-wheels.  I‘m telling you it‘s going to happen.  We‘ve got the 911 emergency call borne of said barstool-on-wheels.  And we believe, if all goes well on this show before it ends this hour, we will have a live demonstration of the motorized barstool.  It‘s coming up in our cocktail moment.


MADDOW:  While the Republican Party continues its search for mean in the minority, one Republican congressman, John Shimkus of Illinois, maybe should stop searching.  Just sit down, congressman and take a breather, honestly.  Check this out. 


REP. JOHN SHIMKUS (R-IL):  Today, we have about 288 parts per million in the atmosphere.  I think in the age of dinosaurs, where we had more flora and fauna, we were probably at 4,000 parts per million.  There is a theological debate that this is a carbon star planet, not too much carbon. 


MADDOW:  In other words, we shouldn‘t bother trying to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere because the dinosaurs did just fine with the tons of carbon that God gave them for their atmosphere.  Also, the dodo bird ate plenty of cholesterol.  And the saber tooth tiger never, ever flossed.  Stop worrying, people.


MADDOW:  Things in outer space have been a little weirder than usual since space shuttle “Discovery” went up 16 days ago.  Not little green Martians and alien abduction weird that we know of.  But, still, weird. 

First, there was Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata‘s experiment on the International Space Station.  He‘s wearing a J-wear undergarment which absorbs moisture and kills bacteria.  In other words, self-cleaning underpants. 

And what you just experienced there was the harmony of wow and eew in one news item.  Then, there was the strange fireball and loud booms seen and heard but not photographed, sadly, over parts of Virginia and Maryland and North Carolina on Sunday night. 

Officials first speculating they were part of a falling booster rocket from the Russian Soyuz spacecraft that launched on Thursday.  Now, they‘re thinking it was just a natural meteor thing. 

And today, a story so strange that NASA says they don‘t know anything about it and they don‘t really believe it.  A Russian newspaper reporting that there is a Cold War standoff happening right now on board the International Space Station, way up there. 

One of the Russian cosmonauts is claiming he is no longer allowed to use the Americans‘ bathroom or the American exercise bike on the space station.  But the Russian cosmonaut says he is not blaming his current roommates. 

He told a Russian newspaper, quote, “Cosmonauts are above the ongoing squabble, no matter what officials decide.  It‘s politicians and bureaucrats who can‘t reach agreement, not us.”  Get it?  Really, literally above the squabble?  Yes. 

Joining us now is the man who we turn to when confronted with multiple confounding space cases, Derrick Pitts, the Franklin Institute‘s chief astronomer.  This week, the Franklin Institute will launch a new exhibition, Galileo, the Medici and the Age of Astronomy, which features Galileo‘s original telescope, which is right there.  Derrick Pitts, thank you so much for joining us tonight.  


MADDOW:  What do you make of this tip about the bathrooms and the exercise machines on the space station?  Do you buy it? 

PITTS:  Maybe the Russian cosmonaut can borrow the Japanese astronauts‘ underwear.  That would clear things up, don‘t you think? 

MADDOW:  That would make everything so much worse, Derrick, and you know it. 

PITTS:  Well, you know, it‘s a funny thing that this comes up, because, you know, when these guys are working together on the International Space Station, it actually almost as if - it‘s almost like they sort of have their own sort of situation going on there.

And it has happened in the past that astronauts have gone on strike from the ground controllers because the astronauts on board the space station weren‘t really happy with what commands they were being given. 

This happened very famously back with Skylab back in the late out ‘70s.  So I‘m sure they will straighten this out, if it‘s really a problem.  

MADDOW:  And the idea is that at mission control, they‘re saying we need to keep our budget line item separate so make sure you don‘t eat any of the other guy‘s food and make sure you only flush in our special flushing area.  I mean, is it really conceivable that a rule like that might be coming from mission control in either country? 

PITTS:  No, I think it‘s very unusual.  This kind of - I worry about this kind of reporting because they‘re very sensitive to how comfortable the astronauts are while they‘re on orbit. 

You know, while it is a short-sleeve environment, Rachel, the fact of the matter is that it‘s still a very dangerous environment and they do have to be extraordinarily careful about how they do everything, including how much - how they regulate their food and exercise and all of these sorts of things. 

So I think they do everything they can to make everybody as comfortable as possible.  And even if they have to curtail something else on the science side, they‘ll do that to make sure that the astronauts have every possible comfort.  

MADDOW:  Speaking of comfort, I have to ask about the new space under pants that are supposed to absorb moisture and kill bacteria and you never have to change them.  I have to wonder if this is one of those things that‘s like scientifically good but may be really bad for morale? 

PITTS:  I think it depends if they are boxers or jockey shorts - which one it is.  You know, I think it‘s a great thing to sort of test in this kind of environment, but I don‘t think they should talk about it too much more.  

MADDOW:  I understand.  I‘m over it probably at this point.  Let me ask you one last thing - these booms and flash of light over three Atlantic states on Sunday.  Does this happen all of the time when meteors reenter the atmosphere, but we only hear about when it‘s over a really populated area? 

PITTS:  Actually, meteors are always reentering the earth‘s atmosphere.  It happens all the time.  Typically, they‘re very, very, very small.  You know, tons and tons of this material falls in all the time. 

The bigger ones are the ones we see or we may get some sound from.  And in order to come this far down in the atmosphere, they have to be about the size of a grapefruit in order to make it that far in.  But when you look at this one, it‘s interesting that it was heard but no photographs were taken and seen.  Meteor showers are rather common and these bigger ones are a little bit less common.  But nonetheless, certainly possible to occur.  

MADDOW:  Somebody might find this in their driveway, in other words? 

PITTS:  If they dig deep enough, I‘m sure they‘ll find it.  

MADDOW:  Derrick Pitts, the Franklin Institute‘s chief astronomer and an all-around good sport, thanks for your time tonight.  

PITT:  My pleasure.  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann, Sy Hersh of “The New Yorker” shares his latest reporting on Vice President Dick Cheney. 

And next on this show, have you ever heard of motorized barstools?  Neither had we until our cocktail moment.  Coming up.


MADDOW:  Our cocktail moment today comes to us courtesy of Newark, Ohio and a rather mystifying 911 call.  


911 OPERATOR:  911.

CALLER:  I got a friend here that wrecked a barstool, hit the pavement with his head.

911 OPERATOR:  OK.  But he fell just from the barstool?

CALLER:  No.  He was riding the barstool.


CALLER:  Motorized barstool.


MADDOW:  Point the totally nonplussed 911 operator there - fell off the barstool, did he?  OK.  He was riding the barstool.  Oh, right.  Yes, the motorized barstool.  Barstool you can drive. 

Totally nonplussed.   Police say that Kyle Wygle was going at about 20 miles an hour when he crashed his motorized barstool.  And they say, as you might expect from a man on a barstool - the police say that he was intoxicated. 

Now, Mr. Wygle denies actually driving drunk.  He says that he was sober when he crashed his motorized barstool at 20 miles an hour.  But then, he drank a half bottle of whisky afterwards because he crashed and hit his head and his head hurt. 

Without getting too far into the particulars of Mr. Wygle‘s arrest, can we just stop for a second here and figure out the whole motorized barstool that goes 20 miles an hour thing? 

Yes, America.  Yes we can.  Because joining us now is the man who made Mr. Wygle‘s motorized barstool and many others, Vonn Watson, owner of Skeeter-Watson‘s Barstool Racers.  Mr. Watson, thanks you so much for joining us.  


MADDOW:  Well, let‘s get the basics here.  I see you‘re on a barstool that is welded on to something with a motor.  Can you give us a basic description?

WATSON:  Yes.  I bend up a frame for it and it bolted on to a motor. 

This one actually runs 67 miles an hour. 

MADDOW:  Sixty-seven?

WATSON:  Sixty-seven, yes.  This one runs 67.  But I bought a tubing vendor and I work on small inches of lawn mowers.  In my spare time I wanted to build something as a joke and it kind of took off.  

MADDOW:  How popular are these?  Have you sold a bunch of them.

WATSON:  No.  I haven‘t sold a whole lot of them.  But I sold eight myself.  They are on the Internet and I got the idea off the Internet.  And I just started building them so I could build them.  They sell for anywhere from - oh, I don‘t know - $2,800 to $3,800. 

And I said I can build them myself and save myself some money.  So I‘ve been doing that and sold them to friends.  I‘ve known a friend - he would like to have one for, you know, parades or at the race track, driving around the pits - that kind of stuff.  

MADDOW:  Do you get the motors - do you make the motors specially or are you taking them off of other machines? 

WATSON:  Roto-tillers, riding lawnmowers and that kind of stuff is where the motors come off.  

MADDOW:  OK.  Would you mind driving around on it and showing me how it works?

WATSON:  Sure.  This one happens to be electric start.  

MADDOW:  Oh.  Wow!  I don‘t think I‘ve ever been happier than I am at this exact moment right now, I just have to say.  Can you do that?  But I have to ask you, that was pretty smooth-looking and this guy with the DUI charge - that all started because he fell off.  Is it easy to fall over if you corner too hard? 

WATSON:  Oh, yes.  If you corner - at 20 miles an hour, I wouldn‘t want to turn a sharp corner.  I mean, they‘ll tip over. 

MADDOW:  Yes -

WATSON:  They‘ll fit into a regular house door.  You can drive them through a doorway.  It‘s like 29 inches wide and 30 inches long - 36 inches long.  And yes, if you turn too sharp, they‘ll roll over.  

MADDOW:  Can you stand up so I can see the seat for a second? 

WATSON:  Sure.  It swivels too.  It‘s a regular barstool.

MADDOW:  Very nice.  Have you ever, like, just ridden one to the bar so you didn‘t have to compete for a barstool with other people who aren‘t as lucky as you? 

WATSON:  They are nice to go to bonfires and stuff, because you just pull up and still have your seat. 

MADDOW:   Yes.

WATSON:  You don‘t have to worry about going to the grandstands and - like drag races, you can pull up.  I haven‘t had one in a bar yet.  No.  No, not yet.

MADDOW:  One last question for you.  Are you, by any chance available to take over the banking bailout, the TARP bailout for the financial industry? 

WATSON:  Probably not.  Probably not. 

MADDOW:  All right.  Vonn Watson, motorized barstool maker, owner of Skeeter Watson‘s Barstool Racers, thank you so much for making my day.  I really appreciate your time, sir.  

WATSON:  OK.  Thank you.  

MADDOW:  That about does it for this hour.  Thank you for watching.  We will see you again tomorrow from Washington, D.C. where I‘ll be interviewing former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Have a great night. 



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