updated 6/19/2009 9:58:40 AM ET 2009-06-19T13:58:40

Guests: Reza Aslan, Ana Marie Cox, Wayne Slater, Derrick Pitts, Kent Jones

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

Yes, the Senator Ensign affair did the opposite of just going away.  Ana Marie Cox will be along in a moment to assess the latest, really quite amazing details, and how they are making trouble for the Republican Party as an institution.  This one is getting bigger.

According to former President Bush, President Obama deserves to not be criticized by Mr. Bush.  But Mr. Bush is criticizing him anyway.

And, America is going back to the moon, this time, to fire a rocket into it.

That is all coming up this hour.

But we begin tonight with what it sounds like in the cities of Iran now after dark.  We‘ve got a short clip to show.  It‘s not at all a complicated scene.  But this is one of those cases where even a few moments of video is worth a thousand words.  This was posted to YouTube from the city of Esfahan, which is south of Tehran.

And as much as we here in America are dependent on the latest technology, you know, using the Web and proxy servers and social network tools in order to find out what‘s going on in Iran, in order for us to find out what‘s happening there—inside of Iran, with cell phone service shut down and texting shut down and the Internet nearly inaccessible, here‘s what the opposition sounds like in the cities of Iran after dark.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(PEOPLE CHANTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  This is video uploaded to YouTube by an Iranian.  It‘s people shouting to one another in the dark, rooftop to rooftop.  Allahu Akbar!  Allahu Akbar!  God is great!  God is great!

Call and response.  It‘s essentially an anonymous show of force.  The opposition is alive, even if you can‘t see us.

Today, further signs from Iran that the uprising there is not only alive, it may, in some ways, be succeeding.  But at least the resolve in unity of the official Iranian state regime—the clerics, the government, security services—may be falling apart in the face of six straight days now of increasingly massive peaceful anti-government protests and calls for last week‘s presidential election to be rerun.

The scattered signs of the success of the opposition are assembled from the written reporting of western reporters who have been able to stay in Iran and from when what we‘re able to monitor on Iranian Web sites and importantly, crucially, for what has been uploaded from Iran and e-mailed out of Iran by eyewitnesses and by participants in the uprising themselves.

Today, based on all that sourcing, we can report that despite a continued official ban on demonstrations, despite continued intimidation and violence and arrests of reformers, the call from the opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, to, today, publicly mourn protesters who have been killed in the uprising, that call was met by demonstrations around the country—and in the streets of Tehran today, it was met by a protested estimated by some at 1 million people.  Mousavi himself addressed the rally.

This is, reportedly, the biggest demonstration yet of the entire uprising.  You recall that the march on Monday was described, at that time, as the largest demonstration in Iran since the revolution in that country 30 years ago.  Today, apparently, was bigger.

There‘s also been an increase in the number of anecdotal reports of soldiers and even members of the Revolution Guard not only showing some signs of sympathy with the protesters, but also, in some cases, saying that they will not attack the protesters if ordered to do so.  This follows encouragement by Iran‘s most senior cleric that members of Iran‘s security forces should not obey any orders to attack protesters.

We can also report that there are cracks in the Iranian state media apparatus as the semiofficial English language Press TV service has started acknowledging the participation of hundreds of thousands of Iranians in these demonstrations an as the government-run Fars New Agency starts distributing images of the protests.

We can also report, based on Parsi language news sources in Iran that had been translated by people who are helping out Nico Pitney over at “The Huffington Post,” that there was apparently a fight or maybe even a few fights inside the parliament today, between members of parliament who were loyal to or opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So fights in parliament, the Guardian Council meeting with the opposition candidates on Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Iranians defying an order from the supreme leader not to demonstrate yet again today, signs the security services maybe can‘t be counted on to act against the opposition if so ordered, signs of cracking even within the government-controlled media.

Day six—this uprising is getting bigger, not smaller, and it‘s getting broader—which means that the government may not be able to crush it, even if they want to.

Joining us again now is Reza Aslan.  He‘s columnist at “The Daily Beast.”  He‘s author of the new book, “How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror.”

Reza, thanks very much for joining us again tonight.

REZA ASLAN, DAILY BEAST COLUMNIST:  My pleasure, Rachel.

MADDOW:  So, last night, you predicted that today‘s day of mourning for people killed in the uprising would be the biggest crowds that we have yet seen in Tehran.  It appears that you were right.  What‘s your take on what happened today in the streets of Iran?

ASLAN:  Well, I also predicted that it would probably result in some violence.  In fact, that was in some ways, the whole purpose of this.

Remember, I was saying that the people who are running the show in 2009 are the same people who brought down the shah 30 years ago.  They know what they‘re doing.

The call and response of “Allahu Akbar,” that was the signature symbol of the ‘79 revolution, where people would go up on the rooftops and shout “Allahu Akbar” to each other to let—it‘s almost like a beacon to let everybody else know that the opposition is alive live and well.  And so, we‘re seeing those same patterns repeat themselves.

But if you thought that the—that the protests were large today, wait until tomorrow, Rachel.  Tomorrow, of course, is Friday.  It‘s the Islamic Sabbath.  Nobody goes to work.  All the shops are closed.

It‘s a day in which I think everyone is going to pour out on to the streets, and more importantly, tomorrow, the Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, is scheduled to give the Friday prayer service in Tehran.  And, of course, he‘s going to have to say something.

Now, what he says is going to, I think, really define what the next week of these protests are going to look like.  If he comes out strongly in support of Ahmadinejad again, that, I think, will just embolden the protests and Khamenei will start to become the enemy in many ways.  If, however, he dithers a little bit and perhaps comes off a little bit wishy-washy, that, too, will embolden the protesters who will now think, well, we‘ve got the upper hand.

So, you ain‘t seen nothing yet.

MADDOW:  Is there anything that the supreme leader he might say or do tomorrow?  Is there anything that you can imagine unfolding in the next 24 hours that would cause the strength and the energy of this movement to dissipate at all—that wouldn‘t embolden the protesters?

ASLAN:  Well, see, this is what the supreme leader has been—has been sort of thinking about the entire time.  His strategy has been that if he can just sort of appease the candidates, like Mousavi and Karoubi, if he could start a bit of a recount in certain provinces and areas, begin to address some of the fundamental grievances that the reformers have, then perhaps things will just dissipate, people will go back to their homes, everyone will just sort of quiet down.

Of course, the exact opposite has happened.  This is now day seven of these protests, and every day has been larger than the day before.

So this was a real strategic miscalculation on the part of the supreme leader.  So, he‘s going to have to come out and he‘s going to have to say something quite specific.

Now, this is the thing about Khamenei, is that this is not the kind of man that he is.  He‘s a very quiet person.  He‘s always in the background.  Although technically, he has all the power in the country, he rarely—if ever—actually wields that power.

He‘s somebody who sort of steps in to moderate arguments between different groups.  If one group gets too big, he comes in, shuts them down.  If there‘s a sense of instability, he comes in, creates stability again.  But by the fact that he‘s sort of step out of this for so long, it‘s now completely out of his hands.

MADDOW:  Reza, as you mentioned, we did not see a mass show of force by the state today.  They didn‘t roll in the tanks.  There wasn‘t a major full frontal crackdown, at least on the demonstrators in Tehran, although we still are hearing scattered reports of violence on the side streets in Tehran and in cities outside of the capital city.

Given that—I mean, I‘m not expert on Iranian political dynamics but I feel like I‘m seeing some signs that the authorities are becoming less unified, that elements of the regime may be tilting towards the opposition.  Does it seem that way to you as well?  Are you seeing those signs?

ASLAN:  Yes.  In fact, we have some reports, unconfirmed, of course, from my sources in Iran, who tell me that a number of high-ranking generals in the army, not the Revolutionary Guard, in the army, have been detained by the Revolutionary Guard precisely because they have said that they refuse to fire on the protesters were that order to be given.

Now, the truth is that I‘m not sure if that order can be given any longer, for two reasons.  And we have to sort of go back to 1999, the last time that there was a real uprising in Iran.  The difference between then and now, then, of course, the security services crackdown hard.  There was a real—just blood-letting that took place, real brutal suppression of the protestors.

The difference now is that, A, these are not just kids.  These are not just college students.  They‘re not just reformists.  Some of them, the Rafsanjanis, the Khatamis—these are the pillars of the Islamic republic.  They are the people who actually brought the Islamic republic to fruition 30 years ago.  So, you can‘t just open up fire on these people.

And secondly, unlike in 1999, in the 21st century, there is no such thing as a media blackout.  Everything that happens in Iran, we will know about—in real time sometimes.  So, they can‘t hide behind sort of a blackout of the media.  They know that whatever they do, the entire world is going to see.

MADDOW:  That‘s absolutely true.

Reza Aslan, columnist of “The Daily Beast,” author of the new book, “How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization and the End of the War on Terror”—thank you again for your time tonight.  You were so close to right last night.  I felt like we had to go back to you tonight just for luck.  Thanks, Reza.

ASLAN:  Take care now.

MADDOW:  Coming up: The sordid little scandal about Senator John Ensign‘s infidelity is mushrooming.  From a “senator having an affair” story into a larger “senator gets the whole Republican Party in trouble” story.  Ana Marie Cox will join us to talk about that in just a moment.

And, so much for former President George W. Bush‘s statesman-like silence about President Obama.  In just a while, we will review Mr. Bush‘s new and fairly feeble Dick Cheney impersonation.

That is all coming up.  Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  New jokes tonight on the math of Iran‘s presidential election results.  First came reports of more ballots than voters.  Now come reports of more voters than voters.  According “Ayende,” Iranian news Web site, which remains neutral during presidential campaigns, at least 30 Iranian towns recorded turnouts for Friday of more than 100 percent.

According to “Ayende‘s” source, 120 percent of the population turned out in a town called Chadegan; 132 percent in a town called Kohrang; and a whopping 141 percent of the electorate allegedly voting in a place called Taft, 141 percent.

No word yet on the returns from West Palm Beach.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Late in the day on Tuesday, when Nevada Senator John Ensign called a press conference in Las Vegas, the news that he was announcing he‘d had an affair registered about a 4.0, say, on the political Richter scale.  Significant damage unlikely, though you may sense some moderate shaking.  That‘s how it felt initially.  Not that big a deal.

But it turns out this wasn‘t a short sharp shock.  It turns out this is one of those prolong earthquake experiences in which the aftershocks do way more damage than the initial ka-chunk.  The initial announcement from Ensign, backed up by a statement by his office, was that the senator had conducted an affair from December 2007 through August of last year with a campaign staffer who was married to a man who worked in his Senate office.

So, both the woman he was sleeping with and the man she was married to were on Ensign‘s payroll.  A personal failure to be sure, which the senator himself proclaimed, and an ethical fiasco given that both of these people work for him.  Also, a hypocrisy problem, given Senator Ensign‘s demand that President Clinton resign because of his affair with Monica Lewinsky and Senator Ensign‘s demands for the resignation of Larry Craig, after Senator Craig got nabbed in the famous wide stance in the men‘s room public sex sting.

But the personal failure, the ethical issue and hypocrisy problem were all evident right away on Tuesday.  Those were the initial shock.

The aftershocks?  The subsequent reporting about this scandal? 

They‘ve been even worse.

NBC News has reported that on the day he announced that he‘d had the affair, Senator Ensign explained to other senators that the reason he was coming forward about the affair now was because his ex-mistress was trying to extort money from him.  The same claim always anonymous, but remarkably similar in language and tone was made to “The Associated Press,” FOX News, Politico.com, “The Las Vegas Review Journal” and “The New York Times.”  This claim that his ex-mistress‘ husband was also a former employee of Senator Ensign had demanded a substantial such money from the senator and that‘s what prompted his public revelation.

Here‘s the problem with that claim: extortion is a felony.  Extortion of the United States senator is the kind of felony that‘s likely to get a lot of law enforcement attention.  But local authorities in Las Vegas and the FBI claim that no reports of an extortion attempt were ever made to them, nor are they investigating any claims of extortion against Senator Ensign specifically.

Today, as picked up on by Zachary Roth at TPM Muckraker, the extortion claim was replaced by another still anonymous claim sourced this time to Senator Ensign‘s staffers that the reason the senator had to go public now was because his ex-mistress and her husband were not trying to extort money -- that‘s old story—the new story is that they had approached a television news network about publicizing the affair.  And that‘s why he had to go public now.

The shifting of anonymous explanations for the senator‘s timing and coming forward were emerging today alongside new details about the employment history of the senator‘s ex-mistress and the employment history of her family.  In 2007, when her affair with Senator Ensign began, Cynthia Hampton was employed at Ensign‘s Battle Born Political Action Committee.  She was earning about $1,400 a month.  Once the affair with the senator got under way, her salary was doubled to nearly $2,800 a month.

At the same time, Ms. Hampton was also employed by Ensign‘s campaign committee.  Again, around the time the affair began, her salary at the campaign committee doubled, from $500 a month to $1,000 a month.

Even more remarkably, during the time that Senator Ensign and Cynthia Hampton were having an affair, John Ensign was the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.  That‘s the part of the Republican Party responsible for electing and re-electing Republican senators.

For the record, depending on how the Coleman-Franken thing turns out, while Ensign was at the helm of the NRSC, the Republican Party lost eight, maybe nine seats in the Senate.

But anyway, while he was head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and while he was caring on an affair with Cynthia Hampton, the National Republican Senatorial Committee found it in its heart to also put Mrs. Hampton‘s 19-year-old son on the Republican Party‘s payroll.  The National Republican Senatorial Committee, then chaired by John Ensign, paid his mistress‘ 19-year-old son $5,400 over a period that started four months into the affair, between Senator Ensign and this young man‘s mother, and ending the month that the affair ended.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee today confirmed to us that Cynthia Hampton‘s 19-year-old son was listed on the organization‘s expenditures.  They then referred all further questions to Senator Ensign‘s office.

For the record, the 19-year-old was supposedly paid for research policy consulting.

Despite the involvement in this scandal now of the actual Republican Party and its fundraising and campaign arms, Republican senators are not exactly falling all over themselves to weigh in on the matter.  Senator Kyl said, “I‘m not going to say anything.”  Senator Grassley said, “It would be intellectually dishonest for me to comment.”

Senator Gregg said, “It‘s a personal matter.”  Senator Crapo said, “I‘m going to reserve comment.”  Senator Collin said, “I don‘t have a comment right now.”

Senator Vitter, he said, “I‘m late.”  He actually said, “I‘m late.” 

Senator Vitter.

The John Ensign scandal, it seems, is just getting started.  It Republican senators try to ignore this the way they‘ve tried to ignore David Vitter after his prostitution problem, does that mean that the Democrats can pass any old gay rights legislation they want without fear of Family Values moralizing from the “wide stance” side of the aisle?

Joining us now is Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for Air America Radio and contributor to “Playboy” magazine.

Hi, Ana Marie, nice to see you.

ANA MARIE COX, AIR AMERICA NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Good to see you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Senator Ensign has resigned his leadership job in the Senate but he has not resigned from the actual Senate yet.  Do you think that he will?

COX:  No.  I don‘t.  I think—also, I‘m not sure if he should resign over the affair.  However, this favoritism is kind of an issue.  And, you know, there‘s a word for when you pay the people you sleep with.  I‘m trying to think of what it is.  But—anyway, maybe David Vitter can you help us out later.

MADDOW:  Maybe you think of David Vitter.

COX:  Yes, I know.  It‘s weird.

MADDOW:  Yes.  Well, you know, if he‘s not going to step down from the Senate, I mean, most Republican senators aren‘t commenting on this at all.  A few Republican senators are saying positive things about him.  They both happen to be his roommates.  Thad Cochran said, “He‘s a bright young man and lots of people make mistake.”

COX:  You know, it‘s what he brought home to the department.  But anyway—go ahead.

MADDOW:  Jim DeMint said, “He‘s a great leader,” and he hopes Ensign will stay in the Senate a long time.  Is that just roommate privilege?  This don‘t talk smack about the people who you share a chore wheel with or people is always going to support him?

COX:  Well, you and I talked before about how the Senate is a very exclusive club.  And once you‘re in, it‘s really hard to get kicked out of it.  And I think that‘s one of the things you‘re seeing here.

And also, Rachel, I have to say.  I mean, you‘re making the point about whether or not the Family Values Coalition would have a hard time making its stance wide or not on that issue now having had some very prominent people embroiled in these extramarital affairs.

I have to say—I think people against marriage equality and against repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” have a very thin ear for hypocrisy or else they wouldn‘t have those feelings at all.  Now, the one thing, I think this would be a really kind of amazing and amusing thing for us, if Ensign could prove that it was gays getting married that caused him to have the affair.

MADDOW:  Oh, that‘s brilliant, like his marriage was diluted and therefore .

COX:  Everything was going great and then the gays started to marry.  And all of a sudden, you know, this lady looked really good and he started paying her twice as much.  You understand.  You understand!

MADDOW:  I would love to see him try to pull that off.  I would absolutely love that.

OK, well, let‘s get to the issue, though, of the—of the money in this case.

COX:  Right.

MADDOW:  If the Republican Party put Ensign‘s mistress‘ son on the payroll, if he doubled his mistress‘ salary, paid by campaign funds while she was sleeping with him, this is such a bigger scandal than Larry Craig.  I don‘t see how they can avoid turning on him if it involves, literally, Republican Party money.

COX:  I think they‘re going to have to at least do an investigation.  I mean, I think this does look very, very poor.  And again, I think Americans are—to their credit—pretty live and let live when it comes to people‘s personal lives and to what goes on in the bedrooms.  That‘s why most Americans are for repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” and a lot of Americans are for marriage equality.

But when you start to pay the people that you‘re sleeping with, that‘s the problem.  And when you start to use government money or sort of taxpayer money, at least—the people who are trying to support political cause do that kind of thing—that‘s something, I think, we can all get upset about, even if we‘re not upset about the affair itself.  I mean, that is really problematic.

MADDOW:  I think, the affair itself is utterly un-newsworthy except for the fact that he has been advancing his political career on backs of calling for other people to resign who do exactly the same thing.  (INAUDIBLE).

COX:  There is one piece of news that is newsworthy about that affair, which is that some Republicans in the country got someone to sleep with him -- which, I think, for a lot of Republicans considering the state of the party right now is probably really good news.

MADDOW:  I‘m just going to leave that exactly where it lies.

Ana Marie Cox, national correspondent for Air America Radio, contributor to “Playboy” magazine—it is always a pleasure and an implicit threat to have you here.  Thanks for being here.

(LAUGHTER)

COX:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Back in March, George W. Bush graciously said that President Obama, quote, “deserved his silence.”  That he wouldn‘t criticize President Obama because he didn‘t like it when former presidents criticized him while he was in office.  It was very classy.  Also, it‘s over.  It‘s over very quickly.

Gaby Machiaferton (ph) last night slammed Obama about Guantanamo, about health care.  He kind of implied he thought he was a commie.

That‘s all coming up.

Next: Democrats versus Republicans.  Let‘s play hardball, literally. 

Congressional baseball—is coming right up.

But first, One More thing about Senator John Ensign of Nevada.  “The Washington Post” Mary Ann Akers is reporting that Ensign‘s Senate office intern coordinator has sent out an e-mail this afternoon which reads, quote, “I am trying to find out if anyone has any openings for interns.  I have some really great interns that want to relocate to another office.”  Any other office, anyone—except maybe not Senator Vitter‘s office.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We sent a new rocket ship into outer space today.  And the mission includes blowing up part of the moon.  I‘m not kidding.  An extended moment of geek is coming up in just a moment.  And our chief pest control correspondent Kent Jones files a report on President Obama‘s fly swat heard around the world.  That is all coming up.

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

North Korea‘s economy has had a bit of rough go of it since the end the Korean War.  With just two robust trading partners, China and South Korea, the reclusive Stalinist dictatorial regime of Kim Jong-il has been forced to investigate new and creative avenues for finding cash, such as crime, include counterfeit money—a superior quality of counterfeit money that the authorities call “super notes.”

In 2004 and 2005, federal agents in the U.S. confiscated millions of dollars worth of nearly flawless fake American $100 bills hidden inside cargo ships.  The primary suspect was North Korea.  The United States responded by shutting down a bank suspected of having close ties with North Korea and freezing North Korean assets. 

And so, shortly thereafter, a new white collar venture was reportedly launched from Pyongyang.  According to the “Washington Post,” Kim Jong-Il‘s regime has resorted now to international insurance fraud.  Quote, “In interviews and court documents, western insurers, U.S. officials and defectors, said the impoverished and isolated North Korean government collected hundreds of millions of dollars from some of the world‘s largest insurance companies on claims on large and suspicious claims for transportation accidents, factory fires, flood damage and other alleged disasters.” 

In 2006, just after the crackdown on the counterfeit money, North Korea filed claims on four pretty big reported accidents - a helicopter crash, two train crashes and the sinking of a ferry, all of which may have just not happened. 

The source for these claims is a defector who once worked as an executive at North Korea‘s state-run insurance company.  Last year, North Korea was removed from the United States‘ list of state sponsors of terrorism.  Perhaps it‘s time to start a new list - state sponsors of insurance fraud?

And finally, an important sports update for you on a story that we covered yesterday.  Last night was the 48th Annual Roll Call Congressional Baseball Game, congressional Democrats versus congressional Republicans.  Not quite a Subway Series or Beltway Series, more like a down-the-aisle series, maybe. 

In an incredible reversal of fortune, the Democrats actually managed to end the Republican eight-year winning streak.  They won the game 15 to 10.  But the Republicans did win one contest.  A beer salesman at Nationals Park reports that the Republican fans drank way more Anheuser-Busch beer than their Democratic counterparts.  Democrats reportedly preferred Miller Lite. 

The lineups look like this.  Democrats had more than 30 players on their team including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Washington State Representative Jay Inslee, 72-year-old Representative Bill Pascrell from New Jersey, Colorado Representative Jared Polis, the lone woman on the team, Representative Linda Sanchez of California, who, by the way, had just had a baby. 

She wears a jersey with the number 9 on it in honor of title 9, which guarantees equal funding for women‘s and men‘s sports.  And of course, there‘s New York Representative Anthony Weiner, who is reportedly one of the more enthusiastic members of the team.  That said, he‘s sort of enthusiastic about everything, as far as I understand it. 

Republicans had 28 players on their roster, including Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, Rep. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Connie Mack of Florida, whose great-grandfather is an actual baseball legend and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California. 

Now, longtime congressional baseball fans chalked the Republicans big loss up to the loss of one of their best pitchers, Nevada Sen. John Ensign.  He was on the roster but did not show to play, which is not that much of a shock, actually, given the circumstances. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Back in March, former President George W. Bush said of President Obama, “He deserves my silence.”  It‘s sort of that nanosecond or series of nanoseconds of feeling.  You know what?  Good for him.  He was the worst president ever.  But at least, he‘s a mensch now.  Remember that feeling?  You can forget it. 

Mr. Bush gave a speech last night to the Manufacturers and Business Association in Erie, Pennsylvania.  Try as he clearly has been, he could not resist going after the current president.  “The Washington Times” reports that during the period of prepared questions, Bush was asked if he finds Obama‘s policies to be socialist. 

Mr. Bush reportedly started to answer and then stopped.  He‘s quoted as saying, quote, “I hear a lot of those words, but it depends on - we‘ll see.”  That sort of makes the other line that he‘s reported to have uttered last night, “I told you I‘m not going to criticize my successor,” feel slightly less gracious than it felt out of context. 

On closing Guantanamo, the former president said, quote, “I‘ll just tell you that there are people at Gitmo that will kill American people at a drop of a hat.  And I don‘t believe that persuasion isn‘t going to work.  Therapy isn‘t going to cause terrorists to change their mind.” 

This is probably an awkward time to bring up the fact it was Mr.  Bush who actually did send Guantanamo prisoners to a Saudi Jihadi therapy program called the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Care and Counseling.  Not kidding. 

Joining us now is Wayne Slater.  He‘s the senior political reporter at the “Dallas Morning News.”  Mr. Slater, thanks, as always, for joining us.  

WAYNE SLATER, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, “DALLAS MORNING NEWS”:  Great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  What happened to gracious in exile, George W. Bush?  

SLATER:  Hey, five months.  Five months here or there, you know.  Look, this is about the legacy.  This is about redeeming the message and who his candidacy was, what his presidency was all about.  This is what this is all about.

And he‘s finding it, I think, difficult now that he has several hours alone or with the former first lady in North Dallas to think about this.  Immediately after Reagan left office, you had 1,000 people who are burnishing the Reagan legacy before the first brick was laid on the Reagan Library. 

And I think George Bush looks around, he‘s got three horses of the apocalypse, Rove, Cheney and Rush Limbaugh.  And Limbaugh really isn‘t that - it doesn‘t look like his heart is really in burnishing the Bush legacy.  So I think he‘s decided it‘s time to get out there and begin talking about his administration.  

MADDOW:  Well, in all the time that you‘ve reported on him, based what you know of his career, of his personality, what you know about how he‘s spending his time now - if he didn‘t feel that necessity to burnish his legacy, do you think that he would otherwise want to wade back into these political fights? 

It seems like when Vice President Cheney is doing it, you just get the sense that he has a real relish to be back into it.  He doesn‘t quite know how to be out of public life. 

SLATER:  I think you‘re right.  I mean, my instinct that - I‘ve known George Bush for 15 years.  My instinct is that he really would not like to do this.  I think he would not like to criticize Barack Obama.  I think he sees some value and the same thing that you said on uptake on this, that he was a mensch there briefly by not wanting to attack his predecessor. 

But at the same time, I think there is a sense in his heart, in his mind right now, “I need to do something and begin actively working, because my legacy doesn‘t look very good right now, and we only have a few people talking about it.  I need to talk about it.”

And because the Barack Obama administration is so diametrically opposed on these key issues, so starkly different that anything Bush says to defend his own legacy is implicitly, indirectly a criticism of the current president. 

MADDOW:  We all know and I think that George W. Bush seems to be self-aware about the fact he‘s not great off the cuff when he‘s making stuff up on his feet.  Sometimes it comes out wrong.  Even just reading the quotes from this speech last night, it‘s hard for me to read them without sounding like I‘m making fun of them because he‘s obviously speaking extemporaneously.  And sometimes stuff comes out wrong when it‘s George W.  Bush.

I wonder if he feels like he needs to burnish his legacy and he therefore needs to criticize President Obama.  If he‘ll start to do it in a more premeditated way, he‘ll start to do it with help from spin doctors, maybe in prepared speeches? 

SLATER:  Truly - well, you know that the president says he doesn‘t do that kind of stuff.  And it‘s very evident that it‘s exactly what he‘s doing.  I mean, this was like the old days where you had Bush channeling Bush‘s brain, Karl Rove. 

Remember the remark about the therapy?  That was a Karl Rove line from 2005, where he said, “We‘re not going to prepare indictments and prepare therapy and understanding for our enemies.” 

When you‘ve heard bush talk about health care, in effect, criticizing indirectly the Barack Obama approach on health care, that was almost word for word what Karl Rove is writing in the “Wall Street Journal.”

So in a sense, this is very premeditated.  This is very scripted.  And I don‘t think that you‘re going to see in the weeks, months and years ahead - as Bush talks about his legacy, I don‘t think you‘re going to see him being off the cuff much.  Mostly by the script.  

MADDOW:  You know, it‘s one thing to understand the impetus on the side of former President Bush to do this sort of thing.  And I think that you make a pretty good case that it‘s understandable why he would want to do this. 

It‘s another thing to understand the impact of it once he does it.  And when Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked about President Bush‘s remarks today, he said, “We have that debate.  We kept score last November, and we won.” 

You get the sense this is sort of a fight the Obama administration would want to have.  If they could have run Barack Obama against George W. Bush, they would have in November.  And I think they would take that any day of the week, wouldn‘t they? 

SLATER:  Oh, yes.  Oh, yes, absolutely.  Look, the Barack Obama administration is publicly talking about looking to the future.  They‘ve got to do that.  At same time, they‘ll take a fight if the other side is Cheney.  They‘d love a fight if it is Rove and they would relish the fight if it is against the policies of eight years of the Bush administration.  As Gibbs said, “We ran that through the electorate last time and won the game.”  

MADDOW:  Wayne Slater, senior political reporter at the “Dallas Morning News” - thanks for your time tonight, Wayne.  

SLATER:  Sure.

MADDOW:  So not all space missions are created equal, OK?  Today, NASA launched afternoon unmanned rocket to the moon.  What‘s it going to do?  Scout out locations for moon colonies.  Shoot a missile into the surface of the moon, and take pictures of some astronaut poop that we left there 40 years ago. 

Not kidding about any of that.  An outer space and totally excellent moment of geek is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, one to stay in the political minority is to counter all policy proposals from the majority with as little substance as possible and a firm declaration that your policy is simply better. 

While introducing their big new health care reform plan at a press conference this week, Republicans could not say how much their plan would cost, how they would pay for it, or how many people it would insure.  That‘s called striking out looking. 

Still, true to their strategy, Republicans insisted loudly that their plan is, quote, “better.”  And it is better if numbers make you sick. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Five, four, three, two, one.  Main engine ignition and liftoff of the Atlas V rocket. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  America‘s first step of a lasting return to the moon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:   A spectacular moment of geek today as America headed back to the moon for the first time in more than a decade, simultaneously sending two different probes into the stratosphere.  The first probe‘s mission is to map out possible lunar colonies so moon pioneers of the future can stay up there for months at a time. 

The mapping they‘re doing uses technology like a cosmic ray telescope and a laser altimeter.  The first probe will also photograph all of the boots and tongs and straps and cameras and cars on cinder blocks and other stuff that we left up on the moon between 1969 and 1972. 

The list of lunar debris that we‘ve let there from our moon missions in the past reportedly includes four containers designed to hold astronaut poop.  Not kidding.  

The second probe‘s mission is to shoot a rocket into the moon‘s south polar region this October.  That‘s expected to produce a six-mile high plume of debris, which the probe will then analyze for traces of water before ending its own life in the same kamikaze-style “crash me into the moon” fashion. 

So we‘re scouting for cheap real estate.  We‘re photographing old litter and we‘re blowing the place up.  That‘s very neighborly of us, don‘t you think? 

Joining us now is Derrick Pitts, the chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  Mr. Pitts, thank you very much for being here. 

DERRICK PITTS, CHIEF ASTRONOMER, FRANKLIN INSTITUTE:  Hi, Rachel. 

Thank you.

MADDOW:  I have to ask you the least scientifically important thing first, if you don‘t mind. 

PITTS:  Of course. 

MADDOW:  How come we left all that junk up there? 

PITTS:  Well, the real reason why we left it there is not just to hold a place for us against all other aliens that might come there.  The reason why we left those stuff there really is because it was extra weight that we really we didn‘t really want to have to bring back in the spacecraft. 

We wanted to minimize the amount of weight there was so that we could bring more rocks back.  And so, you leave the stuff you don‘t really need and just bring back the stuff you do, namely the people and the rocks. 

MADDOW:  When they are looking for places where people could stay for months at a time on the moon‘s surface, are they looking at some of the landing sites that we have already been to, the other times we have sent people to the moon?  Is that why we are going to be back there photographing those spots - if we want to go back there?

PITTS:  The real reason why we‘re photographing the moon, entirely remapping the moon at a very high resolution and imagery is so that we can find the best spots of the greatest interest and find the safest landing spots. 

You have to realize, Rachel, when we went before, a lot of that landing stuff was done by the seat of the pants of the pilots who flew the spacecraft there.  So a lot of the final selection of the location where they actually put it down was done by the pilot himself. 

In this case, we want to minimize the risk by being able to map very carefully the surface of the moon and identify the best places to land. 

MADDOW:  Now, what about this part of the mission that‘s going to happen in October?  We are going to shoot a giant rocket into the surface of the moon, create a plume six miles high, test the plume, and then kill the probe that did the testing.  It seems very ornate. 

PITTS:  Well, it might.  But this is actually the easiest way to analyze the soil very quickly.  We can use sunlight to reflect off the material that gets blown up above the crash location and we can analyze it to see what‘s there. 

MADDOW:  Well, are we looking for something in particular?  I know water is obviously one of the main things that they are worried about trying to find if we are going to have a sustained presence on the moon because water weighs a lot and it‘s hard to bring it up from earth, right? 

PITTS:  Yes, that‘s right.  Yes, it‘s very expensive.  You know, it costs about $50,000 per pound of anything to get up into space.  And water is actually particularly heavy.  At eight pounds per gallon, that is a very, very high expense. 

So the better thing to be able to do as we‘ve learned with International Space Station is make it on location or be able to find it there already. 

MADDOW:  It does seem like it‘s a little un-neighborly to shoot a rocket into the moon just in order to test the debris cloud once it blows that up.  Is there a Plan B for doing this sort of thing if it doesn‘t work, or is this a “one-shot and you are done” sort of deal? 

PITTS:  Well, let‘s see.  There are two ways to see that, actually.  If it turns out that the first probe, for some reason, can‘t crash into the moon - I mean, you know, the second spacecraft, if that can separate that one and crash that.  Other instruments will be watching that will be able to make some of the same determinations, hopefully. 

But again, this is sort of the easiest way to do this rather than actually sending people to do the examination in situ right in the location.  So if we can do this, it‘s less expensive, it‘s just as effective, much less risky and gives us all the information or a lot of the information we need. 

MADDOW:  Derrick, I know that it‘s not just gravity that‘s different on the moon than earth.  I understand there are temperature swings of like over 600 degrees Fahrenheit between day and night on the moon.  Is that true?  And if we did want to have people up there months at a time, do we have a technology to mitigate those kinds of massive, massive temperature swings?

PITTS:  Actually, you would be surprised to learn probably that we do have the technology to mitigate that.  And we can go back to the technology - not really go back to, but look at the technology that was used during the Apollo missions. 

The astronauts were actually very comfortable in their enclosed environments, those space suits.  And the spacesuits have the capability to mitigate that temperature.  And you‘re right - the temperature swing is very big.  So it‘s anywhere from 220 degrees plus in the sun to maybe as low as 400 degrees below zero on the cold side, in the shadow side.  So there is that big swing. 

And we can figure out how to do that.  The real issue, of course, is how do we make everything comfortable for long-term stays.  And it is turning out we have the capability to create that technology.  In fact, we see it being employed at the International Space Station already where we have coming up, as soon as the next space shuttle launches, as many as 13 people living in a shirt-sleeve environment very comfortably. 

MADDOW:  Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer with the Franklin Institute.  Thank you so much for joining us tonight.  And I‘m sorry to make you talk about astronaut poop. 

PITTS:  That‘s quite all right.  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  Coming up on “Countdown,” Melissa Harris Lacewell joins Keith to discuss the latest slur against the Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.  This one involves vacuuming.  Next on this show, my friend, Kent Jones on the Obama-inspired parodies flying - flying around the Web.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We turn now to our pest control comedy correspondent Mr. Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent. 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  President Obama‘s now legendary fly-killing interview with CNBC‘s John Harwood has turned out to be a generous comedy stimulus package.  Check it out. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(voice-over):  It was the buzz kill heard around the world.  Let a million parodies bloom.  Obama as kung fu master or ninja seems to be an emerging genre. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Obama-san you have killed the fly with your bare hands. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is Obama a ninja?  That is the question, my friend.  Let‘s see.  Obama-san kill fly.

JONES:  One borrowed from the movie, “300” for an ancient history angle. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is Sparta!

JONES:  “Vanity Fair” took the question and answer route.  How do you respond to critics who say your right hand doesn‘t know what your left hand is doing?  How about for all the party people in the house? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now, suck it.  Where were we?  Hey, hey, hey, hey.

JONES:  Or would you prefer something in Espanol? 

(MUSIC)

Si, se puede. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Very nice.  RIP - very nice, Kent.  A cocktail moment for you. 

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Last week, in the midst of the fight over California‘s budget crisis, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sent over to the State Senate president a package, a gift that he said would give the State Senate president the necessary fortitude to make the tough budget choices needed to make.  It was a statue of a bull‘s testicles. 

JONES:  Oh!

MADDOW:  The State Senate president sent it back. 

JONES:  Nice gift.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Kent.  “COUNTDOWN” starts right now. 

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