updated 5/17/2010 11:55:53 AM ET 2010-05-17T15:55:53

Guest Host: Lawrence O‘Donnell

Guests: Ed Rendell, Michael Smerconish, Ted Kaufman, Robert Reich, Mike Papantonio, Heidi Harris, Karen Hunter, Robert Greenwald, Bill Halter

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  Good evening, Americans, and welcome to THE ED SHOW.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell, in for Ed Schultz. 

Here are the stories we‘re hitting tonight. 

A year ago on this show, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell predicted Joe Sestak would get killed if he challenged Senator Arlen Specter.  We‘ll see what the governor says tonight.  Governor Rendell joins me in just a moment. 

President Obama is fired up about Republican obstructionism.  He says they drove the economy into a ditch and they‘re trying to keep it there. 

And experts say the damage from the Gulf oil disaster may be grossly underestimated.  That‘s all coming up. 

But first, it is high noon for Democrats in Pennsylvania.  The fight between Congressman Joe Sestak and converted Democrat Senator Arlen Specter will be decided Tuesday.  Here is where the polls stand now. 

Quinnipiac has Specter up by two.  That‘s a statistical dead heat, with 14 percent undecided.  Franklin and Marshall has Sestak up by two, also a statistical dead heat, with 25 percent undecided. 

Some factors those undecideds may be considering, the Democrats didn‘t have a supermajority until Arlen Specter switched parties in April of last year.  Specter admits that the switch was self-interested.  He said, “I wanted to keep my job.” 

Nonetheless, without that 60th vote, health care reform wouldn‘t even have gotten started in the Senate, let alone accomplished.  The Republicans would have been able to just say no and the new Democratic president would have met the Waterloo the Republicans had set up for him.  The landscape for the Democrats in November is not pretty, but it looks a whole lot worse than it would have looked a whole lot worse running with 10 percent unemployment and no legislative achievements. 

But can Democrats trust Arlen Specter to remain a reliable Democrat once he‘s out of danger of being ousted in the Democratic primary?  MoveOn put it to a vote.  Sixty-seven percent of its Pennsylvania members voted to endorse Joe Sestak.  The announcement from MoveOn today focussed on the concerns from Democratic voters. 

Sell (ph) from State College told MoveOn that Sestak is a Democrat out of conviction, not desperation.  While Christine (ph) from Meadville worries that Arlen Specter is an opportunist and cannot be trusted to side with the Democrats. 

The real question is, which candidate can win in November?  Democratic purity tests won‘t matter if a Republican ultimately wins. 

Will the roughly one-fifth of undecided Democrats follow President Obama‘s lead and support Specter, or will they rage against the Pennsylvania political machine and vote for Sestak?  We‘re just three days away from finding out.  And on Tuesday, we‘ll see how Democrats are really feeling. 

Nancy Pelosi said, “There‘s no question at this point there‘s an anti-incumbent mood out there,” but she says she has confidence in her members to be able to handle that.  Come Tuesday, we‘ll find out and we‘ll get a better picture of what November holds. 

Get your cell phones out.  I want to know what you think. 

Tonight‘s text survey is: Does Arlen Specter deserve the Democratic nomination?  Text “A” for yes, text “B” for no to 622639.  I‘ll bring you the results later in the show. 

Joining me now is Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. 

Governor Rendell, Sestak was going to get killed, according to your first prediction about this race on this show.  How are you feeling about Tuesday now? 

GOV. ED RENDELL (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  Well, I still think Senator Specter is going to win.  Interestingly, you quoted the F&M poll, which has Sestak up by two, which is also a margin of error.  But among all Democratic voters, Arlen is up by nine, and it‘s just a case of making sure that we get a significant turnout.  If we do, I think he wins comfortably. 

But let me say, I underestimated the anti-incumbency feeling in America.  If you had told me that Senator Bennett in Utah, where I thought he was almost a folk hero, would get bounced and not even allowed to run in his own primary in January, that would have been unthinkable.  It happened. 

So, the anti-incumbency feeling is out there, and Arlen is a 30-year incumbent.  So that‘s problem number one. 

Problem number two, Joe Sestak has my media consultants, the one who has run all my successful campaigns.  And I should never have betted against them making it a close race.  They‘re terrific, the campaign group.  Larry, if they were in Washington, they‘d be the number one coop (ph) in the country, but they‘re in Philadelphia. 

So they‘ve run a great campaign.  A great campaign.  And look, they‘ve made some effective ads. 

But the question you asked is the seminal question, does Arlen Specter deserve the Democratic nomination?  And he deserves it big-time. 

There‘s a Sestak ad out right now that says Arlen Specter voted to save only one job, his.  Wrong, Joe. 

Arlen Specter, in addition to health care, providing the crucial vote that saved President Obama‘s major legislative initiative.  He also was the crucial vote when he was a Republican. 

He looked down the barrel of the gun at his own extinction and he did something which took a lot of courage, and that was vote for the stimulus plan.  And because of that, we just released figures at the end of March for the first quarter of the year -- 20,558 jobs were stimulus paid for in March -- 20,558. 

So, Joe, Arlen didn‘t just vote to save his job.  He voted to save over 20,000 jobs in Pennsylvania.  And those are newly created jobs.

He also, by his vote for stimulus, saved me from having to cut because of the $2.5 billion of stimulus funds that are in the state budget.  He saved me from having to lay off 15,000, 20,000, 25,000 state workers, firemen, policemen, emergency workers.

So, Arlen Specter deserves the Democratic nomination.  He‘s always supported Democratic causes, even when he was a Republican.  But he certainly has shown what he‘s made of by making that courageous vote on stimulus and by the deciding vote on health care, as you noted.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, these numbers look very bad for an incumbent.  As we all know, the undecideds tend to break for the challenger.  They‘ve had a long time to make up their minds about the incumbent. 

These are large undecided blocs in these polls.  So, how does Specter convince someone who‘s had 30 years, if they‘re old enough, or several years to be convinced that he should be the senator if he hasn‘t convinced them already?  How does he do that between now and Tuesday?

RENDELL:  Well, I think the ad with President Obama is enormously effective.  I think robo calls that are going in from the president, from the vice president, from me in the southeast, in the Lehigh Valley, I think you‘re hearing from people who bleed Democratic blue in their veins.  And they‘re telling Democratic voters that not only is Arlen Specter an OK vote, I think President Obama says in the ad—he ends the ad by saying, “I love Arlen Specter.”

And so do I.

Now, I love him because I‘ve had a 40-year association with him.  He gave me his first job.  But I also know that whenever I needed him as mayor of Philadelphia, whenever I needed him as governor, it didn‘t matter whether he was Republican or Democrat.  He delivered for Pennsylvania.

We don‘t want to throw away that 30 years of seniority and the tremendous clout he has for the state in Washington, D.C.

O‘DONNELL:  Governor, quickly, before we go, why does Arlen Specter have a problem with President Obama‘s choice for the Supreme Court?  Why can‘t he say today, “Of course I‘m going to vote for Elena Kagan”?

RENDELL:  I think he is going to vote for Elena Kagan, but Arlen has a lot of integrity.  I laugh when I hear people say that he doesn‘t have integrity.

He‘s not ready to commit his vote just for political expediency, just like if Arlen Specter wanted to do the expedient thing, he wouldn‘t have supported the stimulus bill.  He could have saved himself.

As you‘ll recall, Congressman Toomey was talking about running for governor at that time, not senator.  He might have gotten the Senate nomination by himself.  And in a general election, Arlen Specter has always pulled Democratic votes.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks very much, Governor Rendell.

RENDELL:  Well, Larry, people out there should higher The Campaign Group.  That‘s the moral of this story.

O‘DONNELL:  OK.  That‘s the ad of the day.  Thanks very much, Governor.

RENDELL:  Thanks, Larry.

O‘DONNELL:  For more, let‘s bring in Michael Smerconish, radio talk show host on WPHT in Philadelphia and columnist for “The Philadelphia Inquirer.”

Michael, it‘s breaking.  It looks like it‘s really breaking for Sestak here.  With running neck and neck like this, with an undecided bloc big enough to decide it, what can  Specter do between now and Tuesday?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, COLUMNIST, “THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER”:  Well, my hunch is that Joe Sestak peaked too soon, Larry.  I think that he peaked probably two or three days ago.  And what I‘m seeing in some of that polling data now is a settling out of those numbers, and perhaps breaking back toward Arlen Specter in the next couple of days. 

My own view, for what it‘s worth, is that this is not a campaign that ultimately is going to be dictated by what have been effective television commercials on both sides, but rather now it all gets down to who has a better organization, a better field organization, on Election Day.  And that‘s Arlen Specter, because it‘s Specter who has the Democratic leadership, not only the governor who you just heard from, but statewide elected officials, meaning elected officials in Democratic ranks all across the commonwealth, the unions and so forth. 

And Joe Sestak has had tremendous television.  He has some hardcore liberals in his corner.  But I think the party organization is going to make the decision in this case, and if so, it will be Specter victory, albeit not by a big margin. 

O‘DONNELL:  Michael, how is the Supreme Court issue playing up there?  Here you have Arlen Specter, a committed Democrat, he says, who‘s unable to say, as most other Democratic senators are right now, that, of course, he‘s going to vote for Elena Kagan. 

How is that playing among Pennsylvania Democrats? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, at a minimum, it puts him in a very awkward position.  I have questioned Senator Specter any number of times on this particular issue. 

What he says is that he was dissatisfied with the level of response, the lack of response by then-Solicitor General candidate Elena Kagan.  And so now, you know, he‘s kind of boxed in. 

He can‘t say, well, obviously, she‘s someone for whom I will vote to confirm on the Supreme Court because of the way in which he went in that.  So that‘s been bad timing for him.  That‘s been a terrible issue that he‘s had to confront in the last couple of days, and I think that probably accounts for some of the numbers that you made reference to at the outset. 

O‘DONNELL:  Michael, who would be stronger in November, Sestak or Specter? 

SMERCONISH:  Well, Larry, that‘s where I say, if I were a Democrat, I‘d be looking at this.  And if everything was equal, I‘d be going for Arlen Specter, because here‘s one thing we all know.  If Specter had stayed in the Republican Party, having voted for the stimulus bill, and if Toomey had then entered a GOP primary against him, then Arlen Specter would have been defeated on Tuesday by Pat Toomey for all those emotional reasons with which you‘re so familiar, what‘s going on across the country.  That sentiment would have doomed Specter in the Republican Party in a primary. 

I‘m part of that exodus of moderate Republicans who have had enough and have left the GOP.  So, it‘s a very hardcore conservative base that is left behind, and Toomey would have won. 

To answer your question, I say that it‘s Specter who can put together the coalition that would be necessary of both Democrats and Independents, many of whom used to be Republicans, to beat Pat Toomey.  I think that if it‘s Toomey and Sestak, then Pat Toomey is the next senator from Pennsylvania. 

O‘DONNELL:  Michael Smerconish of “The Philadelphia Inquirer.”

Thanks for joining us tonight. 

SMERCONISH:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, spilling out of control.  A new report says the amount of oil gushing into the Gulf is more than 10 times the official estimate.  The lawyer suing BP will join me at the bottom of the hour. 

And no more Mr. Nice Guy.  President Obama slams Republicans for killing the economy.  Robert Reich gives me his take. 

Plus, a strip club in Tampa is making quite an offer to any Republicans that swing by. 

You‘re watching THE ED SHOW on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Susan Collins says she isn‘t worried about Elena Kagan‘s lack of judicial experience.  Senator Scott Brown says he isn‘t concerned that she once banned military recruiters as dean of Harvard Law.  Neither of those Republicans has committed to voting for Solicitor General Kagan, but their comments don‘t sound like the start of a GOP filibuster either. 

For more, let‘s bring in Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman, a member of the Senate Judiciary.

Thanks for joining us tonight, Senator. 

SEN. TED KAUFMAN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Hey, Lawrence.  Thanks for having me. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, it seems no real problem on the right.  In fact, Susan Collins said she doesn‘t think there‘s any reason to mount a filibuster here. 

This is a good show for you to address the qualms of progressives.  There are a lot of progressives out there worried about Elena Kagan.  They don‘t feel confident in her progressive credentials. 

What do you have to say to them? 

KAUFMAN:  Well, I just say look at her pedigree and look at where she is and look where she worked.  I mean, she worked in the Clinton administration.  She worked for Senator Biden when we did the judicial nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

She‘s now working in the Obama administration.  I mean, she‘s been Democrat, Democrat, Democrat.  She‘s very, very smart, a very hard thinker. 

I think there—and you look at what she‘s done, and she‘s dean of the Harvard Law School.  I mean, just look at her, where she‘s been, and I think you‘re going to know where she‘ll go. 

O‘DONNELL:  And we have not had such a constitutional scholar as president before making this kind of selection.  Do you think there‘s any way that some kind of stealth conservative could possibly have gotten past Barack Obama in his vetting process? 

KAUFMAN:  I think—look, I think when you go back to some of the others with Souter and the rest, we knew early on that Souter was not going to be a (INAUDIBLE) Republican.  You remember back then when Senator Biden was chairman of the Judiciary Committee.  You know, it‘s—you can find out when there‘s going to be a big change. 

Everything about Elena Kagan—and maybe someone can slip by some way, somehow, but it‘s not going to be Elena Kagan.  We know Elena Kagan.  She has so many personal relationships with people. 

This is not a stealth right-wing candidate.  This is a candidate that I predict will be one of the great Supreme Court justices.  She‘s got the mind, she‘s got the thought. 

And, as you know, Lawrence, I‘ve been saying for a while, it‘s OK to have circuit court judges on the Supreme Court.  That‘s fine.  But nine circuit court judges, I think we went a little bit overboard. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Ted Kaufman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Thanks for joining us.  Thanks for your insights on this.

KAUFMAN:  Thank you, Lawrence.  Thanks for having me. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks. 

Coming up, the president is slamming Republicans for driving our economy into the ditch.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You would have thought at a time of historic crisis, that Republican leaders would have been more willing to help us find a way out of this mess, particularly since they created the mess.  They‘ve done their best to gum up the works, to make things look broken, to say no to every single thing. 

Now, after they drove the car into the ditch, made it as difficult as possible for us to pull it back, now they want the keys back. 

(LAUGHTER)

No.  You can‘t drive.  We don‘t want to have to go back into the ditch.  We just got the car out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Some tough and funny talk from President Obama last night at a Democratic fund-raiser in New York City. 

The president also defended the steps his administration took to rescue the economy, and he emphasized the importance of preventing another crisis by passing financial reform. 

Joining me now is Robert Reich, former secretary of labor and a professor at UC Berkeley. 

Bob, what do you make of the president‘s speech last night?  Is he finding the right tone for conveying who deserves the credit for any upticks we‘re seeing in the economic indicators? 

ROBERT REICH, FMR. LABOR SECRETARY:  Well, Lawrence, obviously this is going to be the campaign theme for the midterms.  It might even be the campaign theme for 2012. 

That is, the Republicans did have the car keys, and we know what they did with them.  We know that George W. Bush had a big surplus going into his administration, and he, by the end of the administration, had a $1.3 trillion deficit.  And that every vote since then, the Republicans have said essentially no, no, no, without coming up with a single new idea or a single remedy, whereas the Democrats have come up with, well, not only a stimulus package, but also health care and credit card reform, and financial reform, and everything else to get the car out of the ditch. 

So, we‘re going to hear more and more about it. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, despite its validity as an argument, how do you—you have to deal, I think, with some voters‘ sense that might be too much of a reach-back.  You‘re reaching too far back, since in politics we have such short memories. 

How do you make that story current?  How should they, going forward, make it feel like it‘s a legitimate reach-back? 

REICH:  You make it current, Lawrence, by pointing out that the Democrats—that the Republicans, even today, vote after vote they are saying no.  They don‘t have any clear strategy for financial reform.  Wall Street, according to the Republican naysayers, would just go back and do the same thing over again that it did before. 

With regard to every other major vote—and there are many votes on environment—on the environment, on everything else—the Republicans just simply say no without coming up with their own plan.  And so, what the president needs to do and I think what he is trying to do is basically say to the public, these are the guys that got us into the problem, but these are the guys who also say essentially no to every idea we have for getting us out of it.  And on top of that, we are beginning to see the economy turn around. 

Now, that‘s the problem.  This is centrally the problem that the president has.  If come the midterm election, November, the economy is not substantially turning around, if most Americans don‘t feel that they are going to be in better shape fairly soon, then no amount of shifting blame, no amount of partisan politicking is going to really be of much help to incumbents of either party. 

O‘DONNELL:  Before we go, I just want to take you back to your secretary of labor days, and just ask you, do we really, in the 21st century, live in a country that cannot guarantee worker safety in dangerous jobs?  Coal mining, this accident with the—the so-called accident, which I think is a corporate crime that we‘ve seen in the Gulf, are we really allowing people to go to work in environments that are so dangerous they can loose their lives?  And isn‘t there anything that the Labor Department can be doing about that? 

REICH:  Lawrence, there is no excuse for any worker who loses his life or her life or any limb during the course of employment.  We have to have tough regulations. 

OSHA, the—actually, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, MSHA, the Mine Safety Administration, the administration in the Interior Department that was supposed to be looking out for oil rigs, all of these particular agencies have to do more.  There is no excuse for overlooking any safety violation.  There‘s no excuse for being cozy with industry. 

There‘s also no excuse for not having the right fines and penalties that are adequate for making industry obey the law.  And that is sometimes the case. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, Robert Reich, former secretary of labor. 

REICH:  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, more bad news for BP.  A not-so-surprising new report says the amount of oil pouring into the Gulf is much worse than estimated.  The lawyer suing BP sounds off next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Lost in the massive media coverage of the environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is the worst part of this industrial crime, the killing of 11 men who entrusted their lives to the corporations that put them on the Deep Water Horizon oil rig and guaranteed their safety.  You can be horrified by the pictures we bring you of the oil floating on the Gulf.  You can feel for the birds.  You can feel for the shrimpers.  You can feel for the kids who just want to have fun on a clean beach. 

But you should feel something more for the loved ones of the Deep Water 11.  We in the media should never let you forget them.  We should make sure that all the corporate executives responsible for these 11 deaths have to see their pictures every day, every night. 

Shane Roshto was a roustabout (ph), 22 years old.  He leaves his wife, Natalie, and his son. 

Roy Wyatt Kemp was a darakand (ph), 27 years old, leaves his wife, Courtney, and two daughters. 

Karl Kleppinger, Jr. was a floor hand, a Desert Storm veteran.  He leaves his wife, Tracy, and one son. 

Jason Anderson was a tool pusher.  He leaves his wife, Shelley, and two children. 

Stephen Curtis was an assistant driller.  He leaves his wife, Nancy, a son, and a daughter. 

Dewey Revette was a driller.  He leaves his wife, Sherry, and two daughters. 

Adam Weise was a floor hand, 24 years old, high school football star, leaves his girlfriend and family. 

Blair Manuel was a mud engineer.  He leaves his fiancee, Melinda, and his three daughters. 

Donald Clark was an assistant driller.  He leaves his wife, Sheila, and four children. 

Aaron Dale Bukeen was a crane operator.  He helped get other crew members to safety in the minutes after the explosion, but could not get off the rig in time to save his own life.  He leaves his wife, Rhonda, and two children. 

Gordon Jones was a mud engineer.  He leaves a son and his pregnant wife, Michelle, who is due to give birth seven days from now.  Just before the explosion Gordon called Michelle.  She told “the Los Angeles Times,” quote, “his last words were, I love you.” 

Ten minutes later, everything changed.  Yes, everything changed, but the executives at BP and Halliburton and Transocean don‘t know that yet.  They think they can get away with ducking blame in Congressional hearings and wait for all of us to move on and forget these 11 men.  And they think they can admit missteps and keep calling a crime an accident. 

Not this time.  Not as long as I can get to a microphone.  These corporations and these executives are going to be charged with wrongful death in civil cases and they are going to settle those cases out of court because they know there is not a jury anywhere in this country who would not find for these 11 men.  The only legal questions remaining are: has everything changed enough so that this time they will face criminal charges of manslaughter?  And is that what it takes to get the corporations running our oil rigs, our coal mines, to at long last find their consciences? 

For the answer to those questions, let‘s bring in Mike Papantonio, an environmental lawyer who‘s leading the class-action lawsuits against BP.  Mike, clearly there will be wrongful death cases mounted here, it seems to me.  Am I right in calling it that they won‘t make it to trial?  They will absolutely settle these things?  They‘ll be afraid of any civil jury here. 

MIKE PAPANTONIO, ENVIRONMENTAL LAWYER:  Lawrence, they‘ll settle some. 

But I got to tell you something, the problem is—and you pointed it out -

this company has to be concerned about more than civil problems.  They have to be concerned about the criminal aspects of what‘s happening here.  Something happened yesterday that I think is critically important.  When Obama forced BP to release the Deep Water video of this catastrophic oil gusher, it became apparent that this company has been lying to the American public and to the federal government from day one. 

           

And what‘s happened is when this video was released, all of a sudden, this lie becomes something that they really can‘t cover up anymore.  Here‘s what I‘m trying to say here.  Remember when they began their story by saying this was a minor problem?  This was simply going to pass?  Day two, it was 25,000 gallons that was leaking into our Gulf.  Day three, it was 45,000. 

The important thing about this is it tells you something about the culture of this company.  It tells you about something—when you see a culture like this, inevitably it ends up with criminal problems.  Today, we learn there‘s about four million gallons a day gushing from there. 

And it didn‘t just happen.  This isn‘t something that just happened by negligence.  One way this happened is by way of politics, the corporate shield that comes on to the scene.  The Lisa Murkowski, who today was saying that this company should not have to pay for the full claim.  What you have to understand is that‘s part of the denial game that this company has played from day one. 

When they start a denial game like that, what ends up happening in the end is it usually spins into criminal problems.  Murkowski is a good example.  Let me just tell you something.  You know name it, Exxon, Coke Industries, Constellation Energy, 300,000 dollars has spun to politicians like Murkowski to become a sock puppet for this industry, so they could get away with virtually anything they wanted. 

If you look at this story as it develops, it‘s like kicking over a rotting log and seeing these creepy characters run out from underneath it day after day.  The Murkowski types, who are nothing more than shields for this industry.  When that starts—

O‘DONNELL:  Mike, let me get to the manslaughter question.  I‘ve been chasing this manslaughter question.  It‘s been bothering me from the start here.  What is the legal threshold that has to be met to bring a manslaughter case in this instance? 

PAPANTONIO:  Recklessness to the point that it almost—it almost knocks on the edge of intent.  Manslaughter—when you see manslaughter driving incident, it‘s not that they intended to kill somebody, but they were so reckless—they just had so little attention to what they should have been doing.  There was a reckless abandon in the way they approach the issue.  That is all over this case. 

From day one, we started seeing it.  Day one, we started hearing stories that—at first blush, they were almost implausible.  You‘d hear a witness call and say, this is a company that drilled deeper than their permit.  This is a company that failed to have a fail-safe system in place that‘s used all over the world.  This is a company that knew hours before this thing was—before it blew—that they had an intrinsic problem in the safety system.  This is a company that knew all this and chose to ignore it, because to respond would have cost them money. 

When you get to the point where there‘s such reckless abandonment—such little care about human life, then you do knock on the door of something like manslaughter.  So I—let me tell you something, I used to be a prosecutor.  I have to tell you, if I had the facts of this case in front of me when I was prosecuting, I would tell you the chances of success in a real criminal—real criminal conviction are very high. 

The problem we have here is we don‘t throw corporations in prison.  The U.S. Supreme Court says we have to treat a corporation like they‘re a person.  Who are we going to take to prison?  Are we going to take Tony F Hayward, the CEO of this company, who today said this was a relatively tiny problem, that it‘s a tiny problem because it was such a small spill in this huge body of water called the Gulf of Mexico?  Are we going to put Tony Hayward in prison? 

The corporate structure is put in a way—we can throw a man in prison for robbing a Jiffy Store with a gun.  When you get a man with a briefcase who kills people for nothing more than sheer greed, then we have problems with that and we have to relive the way we look at corporate America. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mike, we‘re going to have to leave it there for today.  I appreciate your passion and insight on this.  Thanks, Mike. 

PAPANTONIO:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now let‘s get some Rapid Fire response from our panel on a couple stories.  Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe says members of the U.S.  military won‘t be willing to fight and die for comrades who are gay. 

In Nevada, Tea Party endorsed candidate Sharon Angle is surging in the fight to challenge Senator Harry Reid. 

And the “Washington Post‘s” Ruth Marcus says it‘s easier for a brilliant, accomplished woman like Elena Kagan to get a Supreme Court nomination than to get a man. 

We‘ll see what our panel thinks about that one.  With us tonight, publisher Karen Hunter and radio talk show host Heidi Harris.  Let‘s go in reverse order.  Ruth Marcus had an interesting piece today in the “Washington Post.”  Provoked by the Elena Kagan situation and questions about her personal life.  And Ruth Marcus says that it‘s very difficult for women to—for smart, accomplished women to find mates.  And it‘s very unlikely that they will find guys who are comfortable with the women being smarter than they are.  Karen Hunter, what do you think? 

KAREN HUNTER, PUBLISHER:  Well, I mean, the statistics are there.  We can drum them out and obviously, you know, they do point to that—in that direction.  I think that‘s ridiculous.  I don‘t know any case where if you‘re in love with someone that it really matters whether or not that person is smarter.  I just think it‘s one more reason for us to try to discount Ms. Kagan‘s nomination. 

O‘DONNELL:  Heidi, Ruth Marcus wrote, “the smarter and more successful the woman, the more complicated the dating dynamic.  How to leaven that intellect and competence to make the package a bit less threatening.” 

HEIDI HARRIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  So women are supposed to play stupid to get a man?  I think that if a man is confident and intelligence in his own right, not necessarily with as much education as she has, but certainly as intelligent, and maybe has his own talents and abilities that are different than hers—I don‘t think a real man is threatened by a woman who‘s smart.  I know some men who prefer to date dumb women, but smart guys will date smart women. 

O‘DONNELL:  The Republican primary in Nevada, it‘s very tight.  You have Lowden at 30 percent, Angle at 25 percent, Tarkanian at 22 percent.  What‘s the best outcome for Harry Reid?  Does he want a Tea Partier to run against?  Or does he want a more traditional Republican?

HARRIS:  It‘s interesting.  I have to tell you the truth, just in the last couple weeks, as you mentioned, Sharon Angle is doing much, much better.  The Tea Party has endorsed her, as you mentioned.  I never counted her out.  She‘s a scrapper.  She‘s fighter.  She has quite a record here in the state of Nevada.  Sue Lowden I‘ve known for a long time.  Danny Tarkanian I‘ve known for a long time.  So I think they‘re all really good candidates. 

What‘s happened with Sue recently is she made those comments about taking chicken to the doctor, kind of bartering for medical care, which I don‘t think is a ridiculous statement to make.  People have done it.  They still do it.  It was taken out of context.  What‘s happened is that has fed into this Marie Antoinette thing.  Let them eat cake.  Let them take a chicken to the doctor.  The problem for Sue is she‘s beautiful and she‘s wealthy.  And there‘s already a certain group of people who resent her for that.  That‘s what‘s fanning the flames I think more so than just the chicken comment in itself. 

HUNTER:  To answer your question, I think he‘d rather face a traditional Republican, because I think the Tea Party movement is galvanizing a lot of people in that area.  And even with those off statements that she‘s made, she‘s still going to be a tough opponent, tougher than a mainstream Republican. 

O‘DONNELL:  And Karen, to Senator Jim Inhofe‘s comment that in the military, you won‘t—they won‘t be willing to fight for their gay comrades when they‘re in combat? 

HUNTER:  He went so far to say that people don‘t fight for their flag, they don‘t fight for the country, they fight for the person in the foxhole next to them, which I thought was a very gay comment.  I think he needs to move into the 21st century.  When he served in the military in 1957 and ‘58, we didn‘t have rights for women.  We didn‘t have rights for blacks in this country.  He needs to be reminded that this is a new world and that people in this country have a different way of thinking about things, as evidenced by our president, Barack Obama, being elected. 

So, you know, someone needs to pluck him in the head and wake him up. 

O‘DONNELL:  Heidi, Jim Inhofe never saw one minute of combat, but he feels he‘s an authority on how it will work nowadays in the foxhole.  What do you make of his comment?

HARRIS:  He‘s gone through training.  Barack Obama‘s not a veteran.  So ultimately I think the problem with bringing gays into the military is lack of unit cohesion.  Whether you have women and men sleeping in the same building, men who want to sleep with other men sleeping in the same building, it‘s a big mistake. 

HUNTER:  They‘re already there. 

HARRIS:  I know that. 

HUNTER:  We‘re acting like there are no gays in the military right now?  We‘re just doing this whole thing with the Don‘t Ask/Don‘t Tell.  They already know, and they‘re already telling.  So what‘s—I can‘t believe we‘re talking about this in the 21st century. 

HARRIS:  I have my own Don‘t Ask/Don‘t Tell policy. 

O‘DONNELL:  Heidi, we‘re going to have to cut it there.  Sorry, Karen gets that last word.  Thank you, Karen Hunter and Heidi Harris. 

Coming up, kneel and cover.  If you think Arizona is the most radical state in the nation, listen to this: the Louisiana House just passed a bill clearing the way for loaded guns in church.  More on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGNI VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is the U.S., along with its allies, winning the war in Afghanistan? 

GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, INTL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE:  I

think in the last year we‘ve made a lot of progress.  I think I‘d be prepared to say nobody is winning at this point.  The insurgents I think felt that they had momentum a year ago, felt that they were making clear progress, I think that‘s stopped. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  So the U.S. commander in Afghanistan says nobody is winning the war there.  And today we found out the U.S. is spending more in Afghanistan per month than we did in Iraq.  Robert Greenwald is the founder and president of Brave New Films, and the director of the documentary “Rethink Afghanistan.”

OK, Robert, I‘ll bite.  Tell me how to “Rethink Afghanistan.” 

ROBERT GREENWALD, BRAVE NEW FILMS:  Well, begin with the basic assumptions.  Why are we there?  How long are we going to be there?  How much is it costing?  How many troops?  And when do we know it‘s time to get out? 

These questions are tragically not being answered.  And the result is what you just talked about.  It‘s a war that‘s not winnable.  There are many problems there. 

I was in Afghanistan.  We have reporters and people over there.  And

over and over again, we hear about the problems, but they‘re not solvable

by military solutions. 

O‘DONNELL:  Robert, it seems the question that the strategists keep ask asking, and the reason they advocate staying, is their unsettling answer to the question, what happens if we leave?  What do you think happens if we leave? 

GREENWALD:  What happens if we leave is the civil war in Afghanistan -

and make no mistake, it‘s a civil war.  It‘s not good guys and bad guys here.  It‘s a civil war that plays itself out.  Over and over again—look, they took a poll.  The U.S. Army took a poll in Kandahar; 94 percent of the people in Kandahar said they don‘t want a military solution, or they don‘t want a military invasion.  They want a negotiation.  There can be a negotiation.  There can be all of our extraordinary efforts and strengths put into solving the problems, we‘d be able to do it. 

           

But we‘re never going to do it with the killing and the taking over of large parts of this country.  It‘s just never going to work. 

O‘DONNELL:  It seems to—Afghanistan seems to have fallen off the political radar screen.  We have these Democratic Senate primaries going on around the country, and Afghanistan does not seem to be one of the areas of difference.  It doesn‘t seem to be one of the areas of any kind of campaign argument.  How does Afghanistan find its way back into our campaign politics? 

GREENWALD:  Well, that‘s a really good question.  It is in some races.  Out here in California, Marcie Winigrad (ph) is running against Jane Harman.  Marcie is running on a very strong policy of opposing the financial cost of this war in Afghanistan. 

But I think ultimately it‘s the news that came out today.  We‘re spending almost seven billion dollars in one month on the war in Afghanistan.  That‘s 30,000 health care jobs.  As people really begin to understand that part of the reason our economy is going to hell is these two wars, as they get the idea of what it means to spend one trillion dollars on these two wars and not tax people, I think the dots will start to be connected, and then people will start to continue to ask these important questions, as well as, sadly and tragically, the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan is going to reach a thousand very soon. 

O‘DONNELL:  Robert Greenwald, thanks very much for your time today. 

GREENWALD:  Certainly, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  A story update on—a story update you need tonight.  A Tampa area strip club is already gearing up for the 2012 RNC convention.  The owner of the legendary Mons Venus Club is promising secrecy for all convention-goers.  We hope that includes all pundits.  He says any time there‘s a convention in town, clubs do well.  And he didn‘t expect it to be any different with Republicans. 

The RNC ended up in some trouble earlier this year, you will recall, after financial records revealed GOP officials entertained themselves at a lesbian bondage-themed nightclub in West Hollywood, which I still have not found my way into. 

Coming up, another incumbent Senate Democrat is clinging to her job before next Tuesday‘s primary.  Arkansas‘s Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter has Blanche Lincoln on the run.  I‘ll ask him if he can close the deal, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to THE ED SHOW.  The Democratic Senate primary race in Arkansas could be headed for a runoff.  A recent poll shows incumbent Blanche Lincoln leading Her closest competitor Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter by nine points.  But she falls short of the 50 percent she would need to win outright on Tuesday. 

Arkansas Lieutenant Governor Bill Halter joins me now.  Lieutenant governor, the first time we spoke on this network, we were talking about your differences with Blanche Lincoln on health care.  You had not yet decided to run against her.  You‘re now within closing an election here where you may force a runoff.  Doesn‘t this kind of primary just make it easier for the Republicans in November, with a very divisive Democratic party now in Arkansas? 

BILL HALTER, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF ARKANSAS:  Absolutely not, Lawrence.  In this sense, I run five to eight points better against all the Republican opponents than Senator Lincoln does.  It‘s a testimony to how much political trouble she‘s in that she‘s consistently polling well beneath 50 percent in a Democratic primary.  And against Republican opponents, she‘s way back. 

This doesn‘t divide Democrats.  This gives us an opportunity to have the strongest possible team on the field in November. 

O‘DONNELL:  Now this would be a quick sprint to a runoff, June 8th

Is there a different strategy you employ if you‘re in a one-on-one runoff. 

HALTER:  I think the intensity of our supporters is such that we have real advantages in that runoff.  I think they‘re throwing everything but the kitchen sink at us to avoid that run off.  We‘re going to win on May 18th, Lawrence.  That‘s what we‘re shooting for.

The fact is, I just came out of a debate with Senator Lincoln.  Every observer has said that we won that debate cleanly.  We have all the momentum in this race.  And, look, I‘m really excited about where we are.  There is a lot of enthusiasm out in the field.  We have the momentum.  Senator Lincoln actually now has a right-wing Republican group running 1.5 million dollars in ads on her behalf.  What does it tell you when the Republican party is coming in to intervene in a Democratic primary to try to steal an election? 

O‘DONNELL:  Give me an idea what the differences are between you and Blanche Lincoln going forward as senators?  If you‘re in the Senate next year, what would you be supporting and voting for that she would be voting against? 

HALTER:  The cleanest thing that came up in the debate today was she is still proposing either the massive cuts in the estate tax or the complete elimination of the estate tax.  I said today that at a time of 1.4 trillion dollar deficits, seven trillion dollars of additional debt in the last ten years, the last thing we need to be doing is providing a tax cut for those people with 10 million dollars in wealth and above.  That‘s one area. 

Another area is just battling against special interest groups.  I challenge Senator Lincoln today to give back 126,000 dollars in contributions she‘s received from the eight banks that Attorney General Cuomo is now investigating in New York.  And she didn‘t respond.  Of course, previously, I challenged her to give the Goldman Sachs contributions back.  She only gave a portion of that back.  This is a fight for—

O‘DONNELL:  I‘m sorry.  We‘re going to have to halt it there.  You‘re just plain right on the estate tax.  You win that round. 

HALTER:  Thanks, Lawrence. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s going to be it for today.  Thanks for watching.  I‘m Lawrence O‘Donnell.  Ed Schultz is back on Monday.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copyright 2010 Roll Call, Inc.  All materials herein are protected by

United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,

transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written

permission of Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,

copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>

transcript

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,