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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, October 22, 2009

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Keith Olbermann, Maj. Gen. Paul Eaton, Jane Mayer, Howard Dean

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Keith.  Could I see you again in just a minute or two?

KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST:  Yes.  I just have to—let me just run across the street.

MADDOW:  OK.  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  OK.  Bye.

MADDOW:  See you in a minute.

And thank you at home for staying with us this hour.  It‘s an hour about our country‘s biggest, most awkward conflicts.

There‘s President Obama‘s big fight with FOX News, which appears to have now caught MSNBC in the crossfire.  There‘s the Democratic Party‘s battle with itself to pass real health reform.  There‘s former Vice President Dick Cheney‘s one-man public battle with the Obama foreign policy, as well as America‘s undeclared and ongoing war in Pakistan which we are fighting with flying robots.

Keith Olbermann, General Paul Eaton, “The New Yorker‘s” Jane Mayer and Dr. Howard Dean will all be my guests live this hour.

We have a very big show for you.

But we begin tonight with the escalating war of words between the Obama White House and one of the country‘s major news organizations.  What had been a battle between White House aides and the FOX News Channel ratcheted up a level as President Obama himself has now stepped into the fray.

During an interview with NBC White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie, President Obama commented for the first time publicly about the ongoing feud between his administration and FOX News.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  What our advisors have simply said is that we are going to take media as it comes.  And if media is operating basically as a talk-radio format, then that‘s one thing.  And if it‘s operating as a news outlet, then that‘s another.  But it‘s not something I‘m losing a lot of sleep over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Over the past week, White House aides have been in a verbal war with FOX News Channel, calling FOX, quote, “Opinion journalism masquerading as news”; calling it, “The communications arm of the Republican Party”; calling it, quote, “not really a news station.”

It‘s a war that has gotten quite a lot of publicity lately and it‘s a war that, frankly, has not been all that bad of news for FOX News itself.  After the president and his advisers made their case against FOX, that network has run with it and run with it in an attempt to presumably try to glean some commercial success from it.

Sean Hannity, for example, is now branding his show “Not White House Approved.”  And one of the ways that FOX has decided to go after the White House on this is by going after Keith Olbermann and me.

On Monday of this week, Keith and I were part of big group of commentators and columnists attended an off-the-record meeting at the White House.  Our attendance at that meeting has been breathlessly reported by FOX News as some sort of smoking gun evidence of a double standard by the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS:  A White House official confirms to us that the audience for Monday‘s off-the-record briefing with President Obama included MSNBC personalities Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow.

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS:  And now we learn the president spent 2 ½ hours on Monday -- 2 ½ hours—meeting with the far-left media people.  In addition, the president, David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs sat down with three columnists from “The New York Times” to MSNBC commentators, as well as variety of other committed left wingers.

MICHELLE MALKIN, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST:  I think that the news-consuming audience ought to know what was discussed.  We ought to know and it‘s ought to be disclosed what was discussed by those attendees when they talk about this White House and its policies.

GRETCHEN CARLSON, FOX NEWS:  Apparently, in this reporter gaggle was Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann, who are opinion people over at MSNBC.  I find that highly entertaining that they apparently were amongst these reporters, and they‘re officially fair and balanced apparently according to the White House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Since Mr. Olbermann and I have been brought into this story by FOX News in this national story of White House versus FOX News, FOX News has decided to bring us into it, let‘s set the record straight here on what‘s being alleged and how the presidential—how various presidential administrations handle the media.

I have been in national talk radio since 2004.  And during the Bush administration, I tried many times to get myself invitations to the White House when they held White House availabilities for administration staff or even meetings with the president for talk radio hosts.  And although these meetings were billed as talk radio meetings, just talk radio meetings, they were always, in practice, during the Bush administration, exclusively for right-wing talk radio hosts.  So, I could never get an invitation, much to my chagrin.

Here for example is President Bush in the Oval Office in October of 2006, meeting with right-wing commentators, Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved, Mike Gallagher, Neal Boortz—I‘m sure they‘re all very nice and diverse people, but I don‘t actually know any of them, but I do know that there‘s not a liberal among them.

Here‘s a nice little class photo of right-wing talk radio hosts when they met with President Bush in August 2007.  There‘s Mark Levin, Neal Boortz, Hugh Hewitt, Scott Hennen, Bill Bennett, Michael Medved, Glenn Beck, Lars Larson, and Janet Parshall.

This is what the Bush administration did and they had every right to do it.  They invited in talk radio hosts and columnist who agreed with them.  And all of us who didn‘t agree with them were out of luck.

Well, now, it‘s the Obama era.  And, frankly, I did get an invitation to the White House.  And the Obama administration also meets with conservatives, too.  The last meeting like this that I was invited to was back in January, just before President Obama was inaugurated.  It was roughly the same group of people who attended the meeting this week, give or take a few additions and subtractions.

We met at the Obama transition office back in January.  You want to know what happened the day after our meeting with the president-elect, he went to a gathering of conservative commentators at George Will‘s house in Chevy Chase, Maryland.  “Washington Post” wrote it up at that time, they said, quote, “During a three hour dinner conclave, Obama charmed eight of the right‘s most prominent commentators.”  According to an Obama adviser that time, “Obama enjoys debating his ideological opponents more than his allies and plans further meetings with journalists of varying stripes during his term.”

Liberals could not get an invitation to meet with President Bush to save our lives.  President Obama is now inviting us in—and he‘s also been talking to people on the right.

You can be upset all you want that the president meets with people who you disagree with.  But consider being fair and balanced in your criticism, at least admit that this White House has met with both sides while the Bush White House did not.  You should especially admit that if you happened to have been a member of the Bush White House during that administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH SENIOR ADVISOR:  It is demeaning the office of the president by taking the president and moving him from a person who want to be talking to everybody and communicating through every available channel, but saying, “If you oppose me, if you question me, if you‘re too tough on me, by gosh, me and my people are not going—are not going to come out, we‘re going penalize you.”  And that‘s just is wrong, fundamentally wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If you‘re too tough on me, me and my people are not going to come on.

According to Mr. Rove, that sort of punishment is fundamentally wrong

·         that‘s something the Bush White House would never have done, right, former Bush White House Press Secretary Dana Perino?

                       

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, FMR. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Believe me there, were some people who really wanted me from the podium to go after MSNBC.  And I just thought it was a bridge too far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And not only did you not go after them, you gave them interviews as did the president, gave them all interviews.

PERINO:  Well, towards the end, we didn‘t do a lot with MSNBC.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Oh, yes, right.  MSNBC was frozen out at the end of the Bush administration and Bush officials now admit it.

The Bush administration had media wars of their own.  You remember, back in 2000, when President Bush said this about a “New York Times” reporter named Adam Clymer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  There‘s Adam Clymer.  A major league (BLEEP) from “The New York Times.”

DICK CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  Oh, yes, big time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Oh, yes, big time.

After that, would it surprise you to learn that President Bush never did one interview with “The New York Times” during his entire presidency?  Not one in eight years?

And it wasn‘t just freezing out news organizations that they didn‘t like, it was paying conservative columnists to write articles that were favorable to their agenda, was calling on fake reporters during White House news conferences that lobbed softball questions.  It was publicly attacking NBC News for its reporting on the Iraq war.  It was even threatening to arrest and prosecute “New York Times” reporters for reporting on illegal spying.

You know, you can be upset with Keith Olbermann and with me all you want for attending a meeting at the White House with the president, but if we‘re going to fight about this, let‘s at least start with getting the record straight here.

Joining us now is Keith Olbermann.  Hi, Keith, how are you?

OLBERMANN:  You were—you went in January?

MADDOW:  Yes.  Are you mad?

OLBERMANN:  I didn‘t go in January.

MADDOW:  No, but.

OLBERMANN:  It got lost in the mail.

MADDOW:  I will tell you that when we went this week, there was food. 

When we went in January, there was just water.

OLBERMANN:  Well, they got their act together.

MADDOW:  They got their act because they knew you were coming.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that‘s what it was.

MADDOW:  First of all, let me just say, and this is a little bit unprofessional of me to do so.  But I apologize for having been looking at the script the entire time I was doing that, our teleprompter is broken.  So.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, how delightful for you.

MADDOW:  It worked OK for you?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  You want to run cartoons the rest of the hour?

MADDOW:  No.  It just means I might be doing a lot of the show like this.

OLBERMANN:  OK.

MADDOW:  So—anyway.

OLBERMANN:  After all, we are working with scripts provided by the White House.

MADDOW:  Yes, exactly right.  Well, OK.  Karl Rove is now saying, “If we did anything like that, people would go nuts.”

OLBERMANN:  Do you—people are talking about post-traumatic stress disorder in politics—do you ever feel like they‘re walking examples of this, like they have forgotten what they did half the time while in the White House?

This is exactly what they did.  They had—not only did they have these meetings, but as you pointed out correctly, they were much more doctrinaire and much more politically—there were eligibles and ineligibles, and nobody ever cross from one to the other.  They tried to manipulate the news.  They paid Armstrong Williams as you noted.

It‘s just—it is—it is pot and kettle.  And it‘s—it is stunning.  And also, basically, conservatives got in there first this time with this president before he actually took office.

MADDOW:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s just—it‘s just—it‘s just confounding and stupid and silly, and it just looks like another thing that they want to wring their hands about as loudly as publicly as possible to scare people for no purpose whatsoever.

MADDOW:  I think what‘s—I mean, the reason that I‘m leading with this is not only did the president address it himself, which I think makes it quite newsworthy, but I do also think that sort of mainstream take on this fight between the White House and FOX, the mainstream common wisdom sort of calcifying around the FOX argument that this is unprecedented and that it‘s somehow unfair and that FOX has being given the short end of the stick in a way that previous administrations have never done anything like this.

OLBERMANN:  Other than the previous administration and in much greater degree.  If we‘re going to—if we‘re going to talk about this, as you point out, that—those last eight years were attempts to manipulate where they could not completely control.  I mean, they controlled FOX News on it.  Clearly, I mean, there‘s no argument about that.

And then they went and proceeded to go after us particularly.  This—most of this occurred before your show went on the air.  But, I mean, there were—the abuse and the pressure behind the scenes stuff never let up.  What the Obama people have done while, you know, really kind of cutting through the fog and not trying to be subtle at all is really kind of just raise an objection saying, “We don‘t think this is news.”  They didn‘t say, “Hey, Major Garrett, you‘re not admitted here anymore.”

MADDOW:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  “Hey, by the way, we‘re not going to let you do live shots from the White House.  You‘re not going to be on the plane,” or any of these things.  There‘s no attempt to silence them.  There‘s an attempt to say, “You know what, this is dangerous because this is often a way by which nonsense stories get trumped up through the purely political conversation kind of paranoid shows, like Glenn Beck and Hannity and O‘Reilly.  They put out crazy stories or take obscure trivial ones, blow them up to gigantic proportions and then report the reaction to these stories in what are supposedly straight newscasts.

MADDOW:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  And that‘s the—that‘s stage one of it.  And stage two of it is, of course, they then take—if you report on ACORN for 457 consecutive shows, every news organization in America is going to go, “Well, we didn‘t think this was any sort of story, maybe we‘re wrong.  Let‘s look into.  Let‘s do a story about why we didn‘t do a story.”  And suddenly, there‘s an ACORN story on the front page of several leading newspapers.  And I think it‘s a—it‘s a way to sort of bring in crap through the side door which is a secondary thing besides the obvious stuff that you see everyday on fox.

MADDOW:  Interesting to me that they‘re not saying they‘re going to freeze out FOX altogether.  They said that they will still make people available to the FOX stations.  They‘re not even ruling out making the president available to FOX at some point.  But they‘re just going to treat them as if they‘re talk radio.

And I think it‘s going to be interesting to see how that works out.  Remember that—given that President Bush was happy to invite right-wing talk radio into the White House quite that way.

OLBERMANN:  Non-stop and—you know, and got them cake and cookies and things although the meal was fabulous.  That‘s what we can talk and we can say.  We‘ve been authorized to talk about that.

MADDOW:  The peach cobbler was spectacular.

OLBERMANN:  And salmon melted in your mouth.

MADDOW:  Very liberal salmon.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDOW:  The host of MSNBC‘s “COUNTDOWN” and my pal, thank you for sticking around, Keith.  Appreciate it.

OLBERMANN:  Of course, need me to hand you scripts if things go wrong the rest of the way.

MADDOW:  Maybe.

OLBERMANN:  OK.

MADDOW:  All right.

OLBERMANN:  I‘ll just sit here for a little while.

MADDOW:  All right.  The good news is that Dick Cheney is apparently back in fine physical form after his latest round of mysterious surgery.  The other news is that his first public act after getting out of a hospital was a big impassioned speech about the patriotic virtues of torture.

Up next, the retired major general who today responded to that speech by calling the former vice president an incompetent war fighter.

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  There was a big awards dinner put on by the neoconservative think tank, the Center for Security Policy last night in D.C.  And there were a couple of notable winners.  Scooter Libby took home the Service Before Self Award.

In possibly related news, you will recall that it was Scooter Libby who took the fall for Valerie Plame is an undercover CIA officer leak—a leak that came from somewhere in the White House.

And now, the neocons have given him a Service Before Self Award. 

Hmmm.

Also walking away with some hardware last night was the man for whom Scooter Libby was chief of staff, former Vice President Dick Cheney.  Mr.  Cheney is out of the hospital from his most recent round of surgery, and last night, he was given the Center for Security Policy‘s Keeper of the Flame Award.

To the extent that Mr. Cheney is still in charge of maintaining any sort of fire source, there should be no doubt that he‘s using it to try burn the Obama administration.  Last night, he said the new president is wrong on Iran, wrong on missile defense, even as the vice president is abroad right now talking about that.  Vice President Cheney even said that President Obama is wrong to withdraw troops from Iraq, even though in Iraq, President Obama is keeping to the withdrawal plan that Bush and Cheney negotiated while they were in office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Prime Minister Maliki met yesterday with President Obama, who began his press availability with an extended comment on Afghanistan.  When he finally got around to talking about Iraq, he told the media that he reiterated to Maliki his intention to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Right.  You negotiated that.  He‘s keeping to your plan. 

That‘s a problem now?

But the former vice president saved most of his fire last night for the other war that he started but didn‘t win.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  We should all be concerned as well with the direction of policy on Afghanistan.  Having announced his Afghanistan strategy in March, President Obama now seems afraid to make a decision and unable to provide his commander on the ground with the troops he needs to complete the mission.  The White House must stop dithering while America‘s armed forces are in danger.

(APPLAUSE)

CHENEY:  Make no mistake, signals of indecision out of Washington hurt our allies and embolden our adversaries.  Waffling while our troops on the ground face an emboldened enemy endangers them and hurts our cause.  Recently, President Obama‘s advisors have decided that it‘s easier to blame the Bush administration than support our troops.

When we deployed forces eight years ago this month, it was to make sure Afghanistan would never again become a training ground for killing Americans.  It‘s time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  President Obama must do what it takes to win this war.  Now, he tells us.  Those seven years while he was ignoring and losing Afghanistan, Mr. Cheney had what it takes to win as a secret plan that he forgot to implement.  Thank God he‘s still around and President Obama can ask him now how to win.

Mr. Cheney also really, really, really, really, really still wants to talk about torture a lot—which I‘m guessing today‘s Republicans are not all that psyched about politically speaking.  But when Dick Cheney wants to talk about torture, you just can‘t stop him.  He is insatiable about this stuff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  They‘ve chosen a different path entirely—giving in to the angry left, slandering people who did a hard job really well and demagoguing an issue more serious than any other they will face during these four years.  No one knows just where that path will lead.

On the political left, it will still be asserted that tough interrogations did no good because this is an article of faith for them and actual evidence is unwelcome and disregarded.

President Obama himself has ruled these methods out and when he last addressed the subject, he filled the air with vague and useless platitudes.  To completely rule out enhanced interrogation in the future in favor of half measures is unwise in the extreme.  In the fight against terrorism, there is no middle ground and half measures keep you half-exposed.

For all that we‘ve lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The former vice president of the United States making the difficult argument that we can only hold onto our moral bearings if we say that torture will not be out of bounds—which makes me want to ask a follow-up question about what exactly he means by moral and by the word bearings.  But Vice President Cheney won‘t let me interview him or any members of his family, so I don‘t get to ask.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  George W. Bush and I handed the new president and vice president both a record of success in the war on terror and the policies to continue that record and ultimately prevail.  We had been the decision-makers but those seven years, four months and nine days without another 9/11 or worse, were a combined achievement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Even beyond the two wars they started and didn‘t win, the Bush-Cheney record of eight full years, of course, does include the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil ever for which we were left unwarned and unprepared and undefended by the government of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney.  If I had that eight year record I suppose, too, I would ask people to please only judge me on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  . seven years, four months and nine days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  If I were him, I, too, would try get away with being judged on seven years, four months and nine day—those at least that elapsed after the horrible terrorist attack that happened on my watch.

Joining us now is retired Army Major General Paul Eaton.  He served more than 30 years in the United States Army.  And from 2003 to 2004, he oversaw the training of the Iraqi military.  He‘s now a senior advisor with the National Security Network.

General Eaton, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

MAJOR GEN. PAUL EATON (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  Rachel, thank you very much for inviting me on.

MADDOW:  Now, I want to be clear and I don‘t want to create the impression that by appearing here, you implicitly agree with all the criticisms I just levied against Vice President Cheney.  But I want to talk to you about the tough response that you wrote in response to Mr. Cheney‘s speech.

You said that Mr. Cheney was an incompetent war fighter.  What exactly did you mean by that?

EATON:  Well, first, Rachel, I got to tell you that I‘m not sure if I‘m more embarrassed by the vice president—the former vice president‘s remarks or by the applause that he received by my fellow Americans by these egregious comments that he made.

But the former vice president, I comment that he‘s an incompetent war fighter was party to the Rumsfeld-Cheney-Bush prosecution of war in Iraq and in Afghanistan.  And they never properly established the mission.  They never properly established troops to task and they have dumped onto the American soldier the expectation that they will pull their chestnuts out of the fire.

So, I am very happy to see President Obama pull together a team who will do a judicious review of what we really want to achieve in Afghanistan.

MADDOW:  When we attacked Afghanistan, it was 2001.  And it was 2002 and 2003 when the Bush administration started to gear up to invade Iraq.  What was the material effect on the war effort in Afghanistan by switching focus to Iraq at that time?

EATON:  Well, the consistent comment, because we didn‘t have sufficient ground forces or all the material, the helicopters, the ground combat equipment to support both wars, that Afghanistan became the extra effort.  They became a—the other theater while we put all our resources into Iraq.

MADDOW:  You were among the generals in 2006 who came out in opposition to the continued employment of Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary.  When you talk about the Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld approach to war, what‘s the lesson to be learned for us as a country?  Not about them as individual but about how we shouldn‘t approach war again?

EATON:  The—when I talk about that, in effect, one pundit said what the retired generals did was respond to a crisis in our execution of our constitutional requirements, a constitutional crisis.  And what we had was a Congress that surrendered power to the executive branch, we had a media that go silent, and we had power inside the executive branch concentrate into the hands of three people: President Bush, Vice President Cheney and the secretary of defense.  The output of that, that group think that set into that triumvirate produced some very problematic results in Iraq and the theater in Afghanistan suffered as a result.

MADDOW:  Retired U.S. Army Major General Paul Eaton—thank you for your service, sir.  Thanks for speaking out and thanks for joining us tonight.

EATON:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  We are right now waging a war in a country in which we are not supposed to be at war.  President Obama has in fact escalated that war since the Bush administration.  And this is not some sort of hokie liberal metaphor.  I‘m talking about a real war with real bombings and hundreds of people killed.  The only reason we don‘t call it a war is because we‘re not waging it with our human troops, we‘re waging it with robots—with flying robots piloted from somewhere else.

Jane Mayer of “The New Yorker” joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Earlier this year, “New York Times” reporter, David Rohde, escaped over a wall after being held by the Pakistani Taliban for seven months.  This week, the “New York Times” has run a riveting five-part series of his first-person account of his seven months living with the Taliban in north and South Waziristan. 

In the middle of that time, a U.S. drone blew up a house a few hundred yards from where Rohde was being held by his Taliban captors. 

Mr. Rohde writes, quote, “For months, the drones had been a terrifying presence, remotely piloted propeller-driven airplanes.  They could be easily heard as they circled overhead for hours.  To the naked eye, they were small dots in the sky, but their missiles had a range of several miles.  We know we could be immolated without warning.”

The United States government uses these flying robots to kill people.  There are two different programs.  One of them we admit to is the military‘s drone program and that is designed to kill people in Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries we admit to being at war. 

The other drone program is something the U.S. Government doesn‘t admit to, but the worst-kept secret since Elton John came out.  It‘s the drone program that‘s run by the CIA.  And in that drone program, we kill people in at least one country in which we are not technically at war. 

I‘m talking about Pakistan.  Our not-so-secret war in Pakistan is actually bigger under President Obama than it was under President Bush - a lot bigger.  In his first 9 ½ months in office, President Obama has reportedly authorized as many drone strikes in Pakistan as President Bush did in the whole last three years he was in office. 

We‘re bombing Pakistan once a week on average now.  The total number of people our drones have killed this year in Pakistan is a hard number to pin down, but is estimated to be 300 to 500.  Is this a good strategy? 

Well, drone proponents say it‘s essentially the only thing we‘ve done since 9/11 that‘s been consistently effective against al-Qaeda.  Drone strikes have killed the majority of the high-value targets on the CIA‘s most wanted list.

Reports suggest that the drones have militants paranoid and that they disrupted the way they move and operate.  Now, on the other hand, an increasing number of military strategists seem to be arguing that the means of these drone strikes do more harm than the end benefit of killing al-Qaeda leaders. 

David Rohde, for example, wrote this week that in Waziristan, the Taliban was really helped by the drone strikes.  He said, quote, “The Taliban were able to garner recruits in their aftermath by exaggerating the number of civilian casualties.” 

Some counterinsurgency experts including those advising the U.S.  military about what to do in Afghanistan say that the drone civilian casualties make them overall a bad bet.  They say that in the big picture, they are counterproductive. 

One expert quoted in Jane Mayer‘s incredible new piece in “The

New Yorker” “likened the drone attacks to ‘going after a beehive, one bee

at a time.‘  The problem is inevitably ‘the hive will always produce more

bees.‘” 

Joining us now is Jane Mayer, “The New Yorker” staff writer whose article, “The Predator War,” is in this “New Yorker” magazine.  She‘s also, of course, the author of “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.”  Jane Mayer, thanks very much for joining us.  

JANE MEYER, AUTHOR, “THE DARK SIDE”:  Great to be with you. 

MADDOW:  One of the things that jumped out for me you‘re your article was your report that last month, the Air Force lost control of a drone and had to shoot it down over Afghanistan.  Are you able to tell us anything more about what happened there?  

MAYER:  Well, I think it was good thing that nobody was hurt, as far as I know.  It went down in an area nobody lived.  But it raised really interesting questions, which is what happens if one of these drones goes down in such a way that people are hurt or there‘s some kind of accident with it? 

Because the interesting thing about the CIA‘s program, which is the one that you mentioned in Pakistan, is that it‘s supposed to be a secret program.  So there is no chain of command.  There‘s no after-action reports that we know of. 

There‘s just a - it‘s been described as existing in an accountability void, basically, where people are dying but there‘s no kind of public acknowledgement of it.  So what happens if there‘s a mistake?  Who do you hold responsible in a democracy like ours?  

MADDOW:  Politically, I think policymakers like the idea of drone strikes because they‘re supposedly surgical strikes.  That said, one of the things you documented that it took 16 drone strikes to kill Baitullah Mehsud, the Taliban leader.  The first 15 drone attacks trying to get him missed. 

Are we having technology errors?  Are we having human errors?  Is this sort of an error rate inevitable whenever you‘re shooting missiles at anyone?  Could this be more surgical if we were better at them? 

MAYER:  I mean, you know, the technology is a marvel.  It‘s really incredible that they can see a target from two miles up and they can shoot in the night time, too.  They shoot these hellfire missiles.  I mean, it is an amazing program. 

But it is based always on human intelligence telling you which target to go after.  So unless they actually can get good intelligence that it‘s based on, they‘ll wind up taking out the wrong people. 

And that‘s basically what‘s happened some of the time.  They‘ve gotten some tremendous success in killing al-Qaeda leaders.  The CIA thinks that they probably killed more than half of the top 20 that they wanted to take out. 

But at the same time since 2006, they‘ve killed between 750 and 1,000 people only.  You know, so the number of al-Qaeda is a small fraction of all the people that they‘ve killed. 

There‘s a lot of so-called collateral damage, meaning some innocent people and some lesser people that really, you know, as someone says in my story, don‘t necessarily deserve to have a hellfire missile up their rear. 

So it‘s a program that people fear is going to have unintended consequences.  It is going to become a propaganda tool for the Taliban.  And it‘s going to create retaliation against the United States and maybe against Pakistan‘s government which we‘re trying to prop up. 

MADDOW:  I know that Pakistan wants its own drones.  Do you think that in a few years we‘re going to see a lot of countries using these the way they are?  Is this the warfare of the future? 

MAYER:  Well, I think this is one of the great worries about this.  Inevitably, if the United States, which is a leader and sets the pace about what you can do in warfare - if we do it, we really don‘t have any argument against other countries doing it. 

And you know, there is some worry that maybe Russia, for instance, would do this against people in the breakaway republic they say are terrorists or that China would do this against the Uighurs or, in fact, that our own people would then be actually fair game to be hit by drones if other countries can say that they are, you know, the people who operate the drones here from Nevada and even northern Virginia are combatants in this war.  So it really is a kind of a scary frontier.  

MADDOW:  Jane Mayer - the new article in “The New Yorker” called “The Predator War.”  It‘s out in this week‘s “New Yorker” magazine. 

I read a lot about drones, and I read a lot about Pakistan and Afghanistan.  And I learned a ton in this article, even just the fact that seven out of eight times since Obama has been president when we were shooting drone missiles, we weren‘t shooting at al-Qaeda.  We were shooting at people that Pakistan wanted us to hit.  It‘s fascinating stuff.  It‘s great reporting.  Thanks, Jane.  

MAYER:  Thanks.  

MADDOW:  Sen. Olympia Snowe, last week‘s hero of bipartisanship, is this week‘s symbol of total down-the-line, rock-rib, super-partisanship.  After voting yes on health reform legislation, she now assures that she prepared to vote with Republicans to stall the ultimate health care bill to death if she doesn‘t like it. 

Former DNC chairman Howard Dean is here to talk about what that really means.  Stick around. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  It‘s getting to be vote counting time on health reform.  Democrats shouldn‘t be counting on Sen. Olympia Snowe, it turns out.  So the question is whether or not they can count on their own selves to get something done.  Dr. Howard Dean will join us to talk about that in just a moment. 

But first, a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Today, the Senate overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 68 to 29 a measure to expand federal hate crimes protection. 

The measure now just needs to be signed by President Obama.  Of course, not everyone is cheering on this expansion of civil rights.  One Republican senator called the vote today, quote, “deeply troubling.” 

Another warned that it was a step toward thought crime.  The measure is called the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act named for Wyoming college student Matthew Shepard who was tortured and murdered 10 years ago because he was gay.

The new law broadens the current definition of federal hate crimes which covers attacks motivated by race, color, religion or national origin, to now include gender and sexual orientation and gender identity and disability. 

The late Sen. Ted Kennedy had championed the Hate Crimes Bill for years.  But President George W. Bush had vowed to veto it if it ever reached his desk.  President Obama says he will sign this measure.  The human rights campaign today lauded it as, quote, “our nation‘s first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”  

Also today, a huge victory for the men and women who fight our wars.  It came today disguised as a mundane shift in how our government bureaucracy works.  President Obama fulfilled a campaign promise by signing into law a bill that authorizes Congress to approve the Veteran Administration budget at least a year in advance. 

Now, like I said, this was a move that shifted a budget deadline.  It‘s not exactly a fireworks display.  But here‘s why it may have an enormous impact.  For 20 out of the last 23 years, the V.A. budget was passed so late that it affected the funding of the nation‘s largest health care provider. 

The V.A. covers 23 million veterans.  And their care had, at times, been rationed, thanks to Capitol Hill politics and these missed budget deadlines.  That is all over now. 

This new law was the top legislative priority of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America this year, whose founder and executive director Paul Rieckhoff has been a frequent guest on this show. 

Today, Mr. Rieckhoff stood behind President Obama along with other veteran service advocates as the bill was signed into law.  I know, I know - advanced funding for the V.A. sounds boring, but it will actually make a huge difference for a lot of really deserving people.

And it is therefore a credit to the people who have been willing to work so hard on stuff even when it‘s very boring stuff because it‘s the right thing to do for the country.  Mazel tov.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  One of the most contentious, most frequently debated aspects of the health reform fight can finally be resolved tonight.  It‘s the issue of bipartisanship. 

Earlier this month, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe supported one Senate committee‘s version of health reform.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE (R-ME):  Is this bill all that I would want?  Far from it.  Is it all it can be?  No.  But when history calls, history calls.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The history called there that Sen. Snowe was talking about was her vote on the Finance Committee Bill.  Now, the Finance Committee Bill didn‘t include the public option.  She voted yes on the most conservative of all the health reform proposals, the only one without a public option. 

And at the time of that vote, the senator made no promises that she would cross the aisle again to vote for reform once it reached the full Senate floor.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOWE:  My vote today is my vote today.  It doesn‘t forecast my vote will be tomorrow.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Despite her apparently reluctant vote for the weak bill in the Finance Committee and her waffly valedictory afterward, beltway common wisdom decreed that bipartisanship was back because of that one vote.  And the senior senator from the nation‘s 40th most populous state was crowned the most powerful woman in Washington. 

Well, today, a wrecking ball slammed into that beltway common wisdom when Brian Butler at “Talking Points Memo” broke the news that not only does Sen. Snowe say she will not vote for any kind of public option whatsoever - opt in, opt out, trigger or whatever - she will almost certainly vote to filibuster a bill that does have a public option. 

Quote, “I‘ve said I‘m against a public option, yes.  It would be difficult to support allowing the bill to proceed to a vote.” 

OK, then.  This is all clear now.  We‘re down to one central question.  Will health reform require a simple majority to pass or will it require 60 votes - 50 votes or 60 votes?  That is the single question that it seems will most determine what we get for health reform as a country. 

If it‘s a 50-vote margin, progressives will likely be very happy with the health reform outcome.  If it‘s a 60-vote margin?  No.  Which it is depends on the Democrats alone. 

The Republicans cannot force a 60-vote threshold without at least one Democrat helping them do it.  Three likely Democratic suspects for helping the Republicans with this include, of course, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. 

And even though Lieberman and Pryor and Landrieu say they do not support a public option and won‘t vote for it, they have all recently indicated that they will not go with Olympia Snowe and the Republicans to block a vote on it and force a 60-vote threshold.  They will allow the bill to go to the floor. 

And that takes the mantle of “most perceived power in the Senate for the moment” out of Sen. Snowe‘s hands and actually puts it into the hands of the other conservadems, people like Ben Nelson Blanche Lincoln. 

If Sen. Nelson or Sen. Lincoln decided to allow a vote on health reform, if they decided that it would be a 50-vote margin rather than a 60-vote margin, health reform and a strong health reform bill has a great chance of passing. 

If they join Republicans to block the vote, if they join Republicans to make it a 60-vote threshold, then we‘re in different territory. 

Joining us now is former Vermont and DNC chair Dr. Howard Dean. 

Gov. Dean, thanks very much for coming on the show. 

FMR. GOV. HOWARD DEAN (D-VT), FORMER CHAIRMAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL

COMMITTEE:  Thank you for having me on. 

MADDOW:  OK.  Sen. Arlen Specter on “The Ed Show” on MSNBC today said he thinks Democrats have 60 votes to invoke cloture without Sen. Snowe.  If that‘s true, is real reform a done deal? 

DEAN:  Well, look, nothing is ever a done deal until the final vote, but I think that‘s true.  You know, there‘s a long history in legislative bodies, in the Senate and the House in Washington or one of them that you can vote any way you want, of course, on a substantive issue. 

But you‘ve got to vote with the leader of your party on a procedural issue.  That is, if you are in a caucus and you owe your position of your chairmanship or your ranking member or whatever it is, to the leader and to the party, then you owe the party, not a vote on an issue.  That‘s your own business and your constituents‘ business, but you owe the party and the leadership the ability to run the chamber. 

And that is why I think that there will be 60 votes.  And I think Sen. Reid will do the best he can to get it.  And I think he‘ll get them.  

MADDOW:  Why do you think there‘s been so much talk about the inevitability of a Republican filibuster on health reform and so little discussion about the fact that a Democrat would have to make it happen? 

Republicans really can‘t do this alone.  But although we‘ve tried to stress that on this show, it doesn‘t seem to be the main narrative about the way people are talking about how this gets done.  

DEAN:  You know, it‘s interesting, Rachel.  This thing is not going the way the Republicans would like it to.  The Republican obstructionism has really gotten to be a problem. 

An increasing number, since August, of people supporting the public option - there was a poll in “The Washington Post”-ABC that came out which was just stunning, which showed that 51 percent of all Americans would prefer a solution without any Republicans as long as it had a public option. 

Now, that is an unbelievable change in position since August.  And I think, you know, the Senate ultimately is going to respond to what their constituents want. 

MADDOW:  You and I have talked in the past about the strategy for the final vote and who‘s going to be put on the spot.  If it‘s a very progressive bill, then conservative Democrats will be facing the choice of whether or not to vote no on health reform in order to seem conservative. 

If it‘s a conservative bill, then liberal Democrats will have to decide whether or not they‘re going to vote no on health reform in order to seem liberal.  Which do you think is a better strategic bet for Harry Reid? 

DEAN:  You know, I think we should stop talking about liberal and conservative.  What this is about is whether the American people get to make choices and whether politicians and bureaucrats and insurance companies are going to make the choices. 

The reform here is not in what the House and Senate do.  It‘s in what they let us do.  If we get an option, then the American people will decide whether they want reform health care or not by whether they choose the public option or not. 

If we don‘t have any choice, then I think it‘s going to be a big problem, because what we really want is choice.  This is not a debate about whether the public option is better than insurance companies.  It‘s whether we get to make that choice for our families and our kids or whether other people get to make that choice. 

MADDOW:  Former Vermont governor and DNC chair Howard Dean, very ably dodging my strategic question there, but giving us a great answer nonetheless.  Hats off to you, sir.  Thanks for joining us. 

DEAN:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  OK.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Rep. Anthony Weiner joins Keith with his reaction to the insurance industry labeling Democrats as the enemy.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I want to say thank you for bearing with us through our exciting teleprompter disasters this evening, but we do have one last story for you tonight.  And barring any further disaster, all this has is a punch line and no funny business with scripts. 

All right, on Tuesday night, we reported that Republican Senator John Ensign‘s parents, who, of course, are famous for their $96,000 gift to their son‘s mistress - John Ensign‘s parents, we reported, had maxed out their personal do nations to a Democrat. 

They had made the biggest political donations that individuals can make to Sen. Harry Reid, who, of course, Nevada‘s other home state senator.  Harry Reid is also the majority leader in the Senate.  He is also very obviously a Democrat.  So that was a very collegial donation of the Ensign family, right? 

Well, now, Manu Raju at “Politico.com” reports that there‘s more to this cross-the-aisle Nevada familial political kumbaya.  In addition to Sen. Ensign‘s parents donating money to Harry Reid, maxing out their personal donations to Sen. Reid‘s reelection campaign, Sen. Ensign himself has offered Harry Reid perhaps the most potent political gift that he personally has to offer.

Sen. Ensign has offered to campaign for Harry Reid‘s opponent.  And when you‘re the senator who would have his picture in the Senate yearbook under the heading “most likely to be indicted this year,” and when you‘ve got the approval ratings and reputation that Sen. Ensign has right now, offering to glom yourself onto Harry Reid‘s opponent is actually a pretty nice political gift to Harry Reid.  Congratulations, senator. 

Thank you for watching tonight.  We‘ll see you again tomorrow night.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.

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