'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, May 14th, 2010
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Guests: Kent Jones, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Danielle Brian, David Corn
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: And now to analyze Alaska Senator Murkowski‘s personal block of increased corporate liability for oil spills with Senator Sanders of Vermont—ladies and gentlemen, here is Rachel Maddow.
Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you very much.
And thanks to up at home for staying with us for the next hour.
Tonight, we have decided to pick up the show and relocate. We‘ve relocated to Zug, Switzerland. That‘s right, beautiful Zug, perfectly nestled right in the heart of the northeast corner of Switzerland. It‘s a beautiful place, really. Lovely alpine horn sounding in the distance.
Kent Jones, as you can see, has already adopted the local dress, a stud (ph) and traditional Swiss lederhosen. He looks awesome.
Why did we decide to pick up and move to Zug, Switzerland? Because that‘s what a lot of big international companies have decided to do and we figured, we‘d follow their lead. Among the companies that have relocated here to Zug is Transocean—whose name probably sounds familiar to you because it was their deep water oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last month and is causing the enormous oil spill that continues to gush off the coast of Louisiana.
This, Zug, is where Transocean is headquartered. Zug, Switzerland.
Now, I know what you‘re thinking. Why would a deep water drilling company like Transocean be located in a landlocked nation, like Switzerland?
Well, on our way over here today we decided to surf around a little bit on MySwitzerland.com, and we found out that among the many charms of Zug, the tourism authority notes that, quote, “Zug is highly rated by business people because of the low rates of taxation.”
Huh! Really? You‘re kidding. OK. (INAUDIBLE) Thank you.
Has a form of piercing the brain, the yodeling. It‘s almost like, you know, you have jewelry in your ear, like a nose stud or something. It‘s like having your frontal lobe had an ice pick shoved through it again and again and again.
Transocean used to be an American company. Transocean was headquartered in Delaware. But, now, Transocean is a Swiss company—by which I mean a couple dozen of Transocean employees have moved to Switzerland while 1,300 or so employees are in Houston, Texas. So, you got that? Roughly 1,300 employees in Texas; roughly 13 employees in Switzerland. So, naturally, they want to be thought of as a Swiss company.
Here‘s the building in Zug where Transocean rents a little bit of office space. They call it their company‘s headquarters. Earlier today, Transocean held its closed door annual shareholders meeting here in Zug.
Now, because they are nominally a Swiss company, because they‘re located here in beautiful Zug, Transocean doesn‘t pay a whole lot in taxes. Zug levees no taxes whatsoever on any money that Transocean earns outside the nation of Switzerland.
And since—as you know, they‘re a deep water drilling company, they‘re not generating a whole lot of revenue here, again, in landlocked Switzerland. Handily, though, the corporate tax rate in Switzerland is half of what it is in the United States altogether.
Now, Transocean is sort of new to the neighborhood in Zug. Before they moved here about a year ago, they were based in another noted tax haven. They were based in the Cayman Islands, which has been called s home by some other big companies like, say, Coca-Cola, and Oracle, and Tyco.
And the other major company involved in the Deepwater Horizon scandal and the actual physical drilling at the deepwater rig was, of course, Halliburton. Halliburton still purports to be an American company but they‘re not based in Texas anymore. Now, Halliburton is headquartered in Dubai. Again, that‘s handy.
This is what these companies do. This is what companies do. Even if the Supreme Court wants to call corporations citizens and say they‘re just equivalent to you and me—you and me, we don‘t have the same year to year options of venue shopping for the best tax liability, for the least regulations, for the least accountability.
You might remember us reporting a few days ago on the fact that even though Transocean is nominally a Swiss company—yes, whatever—their rig that exploded and sank in the Gulf was flying the flag of where? The Marshall Islands.
Why was that purportedly Swiss rig flying the flag of the Marshall Islands when Transocean isn‘t based in the Marshall Islands, when the rig wasn‘t built in the Marshall Islands, when the workers on the rig didn‘t come from the Marshall Islands? It‘s a good question. It was a flag of convenience, as they say—convenient in the sense that preventing to be a rig from the Marshall Islands meant that deepwater horizon could avoid pesky attention and regulations that might be down from any country they actually did have any single freaking thing to do with.
“The New York Times” reported today that, quote, “No one from the Marshall Islands ever inspected the rig. The nongovernmental organizations that did were paid by the rig‘s operator, in this case, Transocean.” Also handy.
Hey, me, how am I doing? I‘m doing good. How about me? I‘m doing good, too. Thanks, me. Let‘s check it again later. See, me.
This week, Transocean filed a petition in a Houston federal court to have its legal liability resulting from this disaster in the Gulf limited to $27 million. That works out to roughly three days of Transocean profit. That‘s what they make in profit in three days.
As outrageous as this behavior may seem, this is not outrageous behavior for a corporation. A corporation is not a person. A corporation isn‘t moral or immoral. A corporation is, by design, a device that is created by humans. It‘s on paper and its purpose is to seek profit.
And so, obviously, it makes sense for Transocean—just like it makes sense for THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW to relocate here to beautiful Zug, where the tax burden is low and the lederhosen are lovely.
This is what companies do. Judging corporations for trying to lower their taxes or evade regulations that might hurt their bottom line is like scolding a hawk for eating a mouse. It‘s like fining a boxer for punching someone. It‘s like being mad at a Tampa, Florida, death metal band for singing about corpses.
Corporations are devices created by humans to maximize profit.
This is what corporations do. This is not a bug. This is a feature.
This is what they do.
Don‘t be mad at companies for preventing they‘re Swiss when they‘re not just to avoid taxes. Don‘t be mad at corporations for pretending they‘re from the Marshall Islands to avoid their ships being inspected by someone they‘re not paying. Don‘t be mad at corporations for trying to evade responsibility when they caused disasters.
If you want them to not do those things, don‘t bother being mad at them, they‘re doing what they‘re designed to do. If you want them to not do those things, you have to stop them from doing those thing—or not, if you‘re, say, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.
You might remember the first day that we were broadcasting down in the Gulf after the spill, doing the show from there, we had on Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey to talk about the fact that since the Exxon Valdez oil spill, there‘s been a $75 million cap on what oil companies have to pay in damages after a spill -- $75 million. That‘s it. That was exhausted in about the first three seconds of this current disaster in the gulf.
We talked with Senator Menendez that night about his proposal to raise that damages cap from $75 million to $10 billion. That proposal was blocked in the Senate yesterday by Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska. Her explanation? She said raising that dollar amount of damages that oil companies would be responsible for in the event of a spill would mean that only the, quote, “biggest of the big oil companies could drill for America‘s offshore resources.”
Think about that argument for a second. She‘s saying making companies responsible for a bigger proportion of the damage they cause when things go wrong would, what, prevent more companies from potentially creating offshore oil spills? Mom-and-pop companies, really -- even small businesses should be able to create really large offshore oil spill that‘s cause more than $75 million in damages. She wants to make sure anybody can do the drilling, even if they can‘t necessarily pay for it if something goes horribly wrong.
So if something does go horribly wrong, which does from time to time happen, Senator Murkowski wants to make sure that the oil companies will not have to pay. The taxpayers will.
Listen, I understand why companies, like ours, move to Zug. Look how beautiful Zug is. Look at how awesome Kent looks in his lederhosen. There‘s nobody who is not flattered by lederhosen. Look at him—hunk.
Hunk of Kent.
But why it‘s a better idea for the taxpayers to pay to clean up oil spills rather than the companies that cause those oil spills—that is a harder question. That is a harder question to get your Swiss Miss around.
Joining us now is independent senator, Bernie Sanders of the great state of Vermont.
Senator Sanders, thank you for your time tonight, sir, and for enduring the tiny little bit of yodeling that slipped through the sensors.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Not at all. That was great.
MADDOW: I know that you, sir, are a co-sponsor of Senator Menendez‘s bill to raise the legal liability for these drilling companies. Are you surprised that it‘s being blocked right now? Do you have hope that it can get around this block?
SANDERS: Rachel, I‘m in the United States Senate. Nothing surprises me.
These guys talk about—you hear often personal responsibility.
They remind us about the huge deficit and national debt that we have.
But when it comes to—when it comes to protect corporate interests—
I mean, that‘s in fact what they do. No personal responsibility. Let the taxpayers pick up the burden.
I would say, Rachel, in the midst of all of this, if there‘s any silver lining to this absolute, horrendous environmental disaster, I hope it is that the American people in Congress understand not only that we‘ve got to terminate offshore oil drilling, but that we have to transform our energy system away from fossil fuel into energy efficiency and sustainable energy.
At the end of the day, if you do all the offshore drilling you want, in the year 2030, do you know what the savings will be on a gallon of gas? It will be 3 cents -- 3 cents. Do you think the risk is worth saving maybe 1 percent of what you pay for a gallon of gas? I think that that is pretty crazy.
Furthermore, if we move to strong CAFE standards, as we are, in the year 2016, if we go to an average of 35 miles per gallon, you know what we will save the average consumer? A dollar a gallon -- $1 a gallon.
So, I think the evidence is overwhelming that we‘ve got to suspend any new offshore drilling, that we really have to, in a very, very bold way, move to energy efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal, biomass. We have the capability of doing it now. This is no longer a pipe dream.
And if there is anything that‘s positive about this terrible tragedy, I hope the American people wake up, Congress wakes up, and we move in that direction.
MADDOW: Well, politically, this spill is unfolding right now as Democrats are trying to move this climate change bill through the Senate. Do you think this disaster makes it less likely that a climate bill passes this year? I mean, the fly in the ointment here is that the political calculus was made to include an expansion of subsidies for offshore oil drilling in order to hopefully buy votes to pass that bill.
SANDERS: And subsidies for coal, and subsidies for nuclear, and nowhere near enough money for energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Whether or not we even get to a global warming bill remains to be seen. The agenda is very tight. Whether or not there will be 60 votes to pass anything of significance remains to be seen.
But I would hope that this tragedy would remind every member of the U.S. Senate that subsidizing offshore drilling makes no sense at all.
MADDOW: Do you think it‘s possible to hive off the sustainable energy elements of that climate change bill, to separate them from the subsidies for the types of technologies you just described, offshore drilling, nuclear, coal—just take the clean energy elements of that and pass them alone without those subsidies for those dirtier industries?
SANDERS: Well, the problem that you have is that one point, you are going to need a cap on carbon. You‘re going to have a price on carbon. No question about that.
But simultaneously, I think we have got to be aggressive in terms of sustainable energy. I have a bill in, for example, that would put 10 million solar rooftops up in this country in 10 years. And it‘s a very cost-effective approach to creating new energy.
MADDOW: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—thank you very much for your time tonight. I know it‘s sometimes hard to do this late on a Friday and I really appreciate your time, sir.
SANDERS: Now, you keep up the great work, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Bernie. Nice to see you.
So, two incredible stories have converged in recent days. First, there was the government oversight agency starring lurid office sex and the snorting of drugs off a toaster often. You remember that one? Then there was that agency‘s complete failure to oversee the Deep Horizon oil rig. Two very, very bad things that go very, very, very, very badly together.
MADDOW: Looking for a villain in the Deep Horizon oil disaster?
Of course, we are. We‘re humans.
How about the government agency meant to regulate deep water offshore drilling whose story happens to include not just inefficacy at that, but snorting methamphetamine off toaster ovens? Yes. Apparently, there‘s going to be some changes there.
Hold on, we‘ll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For too long, for a decade or more, there‘s been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill. It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore. To borrow an old phrase, “We will trust, but we will verify.”
And so, I‘ve asked Secretary Salazar to conduct a top to bottom reform of the Minerals Management Service.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The Minerals Management Service—Minerals Management Service—Minerals Management Service—why is that—oh, yes. Oh, yes, right—Minerals Management Service, home to the only sex and drugs and government scandal I know of where the phrase “snorts crystal meth off a toaster oven” applies.
The Minerals Management Service is supposed to be regulating and collecting royalties from oil companies but, you know, one tiny little investigation from the inspector general, and suddenly, everyone knows them as the agency with a, quote, “culture of substance abuse and promiscuity.”
That now infamous inspector general‘s investigation revealed that the Minerals Management Services employees did drugs together, including, of course, the snorting of crystal meth off a toaster oven. The report found that almost a third of the Minerals Management Service employees in a particular program had accepted gifts from the oil companies they were supposed to be regulating.
MMS employees in that office reportedly had sexual encounters with one another and with oil industry employees—again, the folks they were supposed to be regulating. And two MMS employees—this might be my favorite part that doesn‘t involve a toaster oven—two MMS employees reported that they once stayed overnight at an oil company‘s resort lodge because they were too drunk to get themselves home.
In other news, apparently, oil companies have resort lodges where they get oil industry regulators from the government hammered.
This incredible ethical catastrophe took place in the “royalty-in-kind” office of the Minerals Management Service in Denver. That was part of the agency responsible for collecting royalties for those companies drilling our oil. Companies taking our oil out of federal land are supposed to pay us for it. That sex, drugs and toaster ovens and drunk resort lodges office was the office responsible for collecting those royalties.
Freeze on that thought. Minerals Management Service regulating the oil industry, collecting royalties from the oil industry, quite literally in bed, drunk, with the oil industry.
Now, keep that in mind when you hear this part. This is the next thing that President Obama said in his announcement today about the Minerals Management Service. Here‘s what he said that the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, is planning on doing with the Minerals Management Service.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: This week, he announced that the part of the agency which permits oil and gas drilling and collects royalties will be separated from the part of the agency in charge of inspecting the safety of oil rigs and platforms and enforcing the law. That way, there‘s no conflict of interest, real or perceived.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That makes sense, right? The Obama administration wants to separate these two halves of the Minerals Management Service so there won‘t be a conflict of interest.
And it does make sense of you think about it. They issue permits that allow oil companies to drill, and they collect royalties and fees from those oil companies for that drilling. There is a conflict of interest there if that same agency is also responsible for making sure that drilling is safe.
If you think about it, if they shut down an oil rig because it‘s not safe, the agency can then be criticized that they shouldn‘t have given this permit for this thing in the first place if it ended up not being safe. So, that‘s a butt covering incentive to make sure that nothing on that rig ever gets flagged as unsafe since that‘s the office that permitted it.
Not to mention if the Minerals Management Service shuts down an oil rig because it‘s not safe, guess who isn‘t collecting royalties from that rig anymore? The Minerals Management Service.
So, dividing this agency in two would seem to get rid of that particular conflict of interest problem. But it also does something else. It takes the safety inspection‘s responsibility—which we know is frankly pretty important—away from the division of the agency that is best known for the “snorting meth off a toaster oven” thing. Removing that part of the agency from the part that deals with safety concerns seems smart, even without any deeper analysis.
But there is some worrying reporting in “The New York Times” today about the culture of the agency that makes it seem like there is a bigger problem here, that there will still be trouble at the Minerals Management Service no matter how many times you slice and dice and discipline it, unless you make some big changes.
For starters, the Minerals Management Service isn‘t supposed to have sole, unilateral decision-making—decision-making power over offshore drilling, say, in the Gulf of Mexico. It‘s supposed to consult with NOAA, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration first, to make sure that NOAA also thinks it‘s safe to drill in the Gulf. In fact, the Minerals Management Service is required by law to get permission from NOAA before it allows drilling in places like the Gulf, where drilling might affect marine life.
But “The New York Times” reports today that the MMS apparently just ignored that federal law and they handed out Gulf Coast drilling permits to B.P. and, quote, “dozens of other oil companies” not only without getting those legally-required permits from NOAA but after NOAA warned them that continued drilling in the Gulf was harming endangered marine mammals.
Last week, in the midst of the crisis in the Gulf and the growing questions about the safety of offshore drilling in general, the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, made an announcement about those apparently all too easy to get offshore drilling permits.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEN SALAZAR, INTERIOR SECRETARY: As part of our ongoing efforts to deal with this situation, we also have assigned a team of people that are working hard to develop the recommendations to President Obama. Until we have that review completed, the Department of the Interior and Minerals Management Service will not be issuing any permits for the construction of new offshore wells.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Again, that‘s Interior Secretary Ken Salazar—that was more than a week ago—declaring a moratorium on new offshore drilling permits. No more permits. At least until a review of the current unstoppable, underwater oil-spewing leak has been completed, right? It‘s not going to happen. There aren‘t going to be any new ones.
Well, according to “The Times,” the Minerals Management Service, quote, “has issued at least five final approval permits to new drilling projects in the Gulf since last week.” Head of the department says they‘re not doing it, they‘re not going to do it anymore—moratorium. Whoa, it‘s on hold.
And the agency just keeps doing it.
And here‘s where it gets really good. Listen to this: according to “The Times,” quote, “Despite being shown records indicating otherwise, a spokeswoman for the Minerals Management Service said her agency granted no new permits since Mr. Salazar made his announcement.” So they‘re showing the Minerals Management Service spokesman the permits that they‘ve been issuing and she‘s denying that they exist.
So, who‘s issuing those permits then? Minerals Management Service spokeswoman says they haven‘t been issuing any new permits. The folks at NOAA say they didn‘t sign off on the drilling permit for the well that exploded last month and is currently pumping thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico every day. But these permits are definitely being approved—even the five new ones issued since last week.
What‘s the explanation for this? I guess there‘s a ghost agency somewhere inside the federal government that is handing out offshore drilling permits like candy in the middle of a moratorium on offshore oil drilling permits. How did this part of the government get so crack-addled and what‘s it going to take to fix it?
Joining us now is Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, better known as POGO, a nonprofit government watchdog organization that has been following the Minerals Management Service since the early 1990s.
Danielle, thanks very much for your time today. It‘s nice to see you.
DANIELLE BRIAN, PROJECT ON GOV‘T. OVERSIGHT: Great to see.
MADDOW: What do you think of this decision to split the MMS into two parts? Is that a big deal? Is it going to fix any of this problem?
BRIAN: It‘s a big deal. It‘s just not enough of a big deal. You know, what you talked about is that they‘re going to finally move at least the safety inspections part of the office out of them, but we still have the big problem.
And all the auditing—you were talking about the royalties, the meth on the toaster oven—those guys are still hanging out together. So, you‘ve got the auditors who are supposed to be making sure that the taxpayers are getting those royalties, still hanging out in the same office with the people who are promoting the drilling and issuing those permits.
So, that part of MMS still has got to be moved out. So, you have all the oversight functions out of MMS.
MADDOW: In terms of the overall problem at this agency, one of the ways that it has been diagnosed, the sort of shorthand for this in the past has been the revolving door between lobbyists and regulators, described as a problem throughout government. Is it especially egregious in this part of the government, and around the oil industry?
BRIAN: It is unbelievably bad. The former head of MMS is currently the chief lobbyist essentially for offshore drillers, the National Ocean Industries Association. And their mission is to help with the regulatory environment, to help make sure they can get more offshore drilling. And the former head of MMS also is the head—was the head of that agency as well. It‘s unbelievably bad.
MADDOW: Is the situation any different under the Obama administration than it was under the Bush administration? Has any progress been made?
BRIAN: Absolutely. I think this may be one of the most important things President Obama has done. Early in his administration, he changed the rules on revolving door. So, the head of MMS can no longer turn around and become the chief lobbyist for the industry that they‘re overseeing. So, we‘re not going to see that problem in the future, but we‘re seeing the impact of what the revolving door can do.
MADDOW: In terms of getting to the root of the problem here. Obviously, this is a situation that‘s been a long time in coming. When the president made his comments today, he talked about—for the better part of a decade a lot of these problems having root just in this one agency.
How much of an overhaul does it take? How dramatic does the action need to be? Should we be expecting mass firings? Should there be hearings on those—the scientist who spoke with “The Times” today who said that their findings were still being quashed within this agency if they didn‘t comport with what the agency wanted.
BRIAN: This is such a really weird agency. I mean, it‘s more than a decade, really. We‘ve been doing it for almost two decades, we‘ve been looking at this particular agency. The culture is one where they have Christmas parties at the federal offices, where the lobbyists are coming over and hanging out. This has been going on for years.
You know, just last year, MMS issued Transocean a safety award. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that‘s been going on. So, it is really deeply rooted in their culture.
MADDOW: I‘m—what I find myself hoping for is an Eliot Ness who can sort of get there and actually really remake it. I don‘t know if that‘s going to happen. One last question—
BRIAN: Looking for them, too.
MADDOW: Yes. Well, one last question for you about this and it‘s about the substance of what this agency does. One of the things that I have—I sort of paid attention to around the time that the “snorting the meth off a toaster oven” report came out—
MADDOW: -- was about whether or not these oil companies are paying their fair share to the government for royalties, for using these public lands for profit. Has that issue ever been settled? Has any progress been made?
BRIAN: It‘s not settled. Well, progress has been made. Last year, Secretary Salazar actually ended one of the many royalty scams, which is called royalty in kind. So, that‘s no longer happening.
But we have continued to have real concerns about whether royalties were being paid. It was billions of billions of dollars at stake on this. It‘s incredibly important and we haven‘t felt comfortable because of the kinds of people who are having, you know, drunken, snoring parties with the industry.
MADDOW: Danielle Brian, executive director with the Project on Government Oversight—thanks very much for your time tonight. It‘s good to have your insight.
BRIAN: Hope to see you soon at Smith College on Sunday.
MADDOW: Oh, are you going to be there?
BRIAN: I‘m here now. My—our 25th reunion.
MADDOW: Oh, man. I am so nervous. I‘m actually thinking about asking them if they‘ll let me turn the podium the other way so I can just pretend I‘m alone.
BRIAN: They are so excited about you coming. Don‘t worry about it. It‘s a good audience for you.
MADDOW: All right. I‘ll see you there. I‘ll be the one who‘s beet red and exhausted before I even start.
MADDOW: All right. Worry not citizens of Earth. B.P. assures us that relatively speaking the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is very, very small. It‘s incredibly tiny. You know if you go high enough up in space, you can almost not see it at all. I did not make that up.
Stay tuned for details.
MADDOW: Do you remember “The Tarantino?” Earlier this year, we tried to coin a new phrase to describe something that‘s been going on in DC. In Washington right now, every significant thing that‘s come up in the senate takes 60 votes to pass, instead of just a majority, instead of 50. Used to be the few important things would be forced to 60 votes. A few matters of principle. A few things to minority really felt strongly about. But now, for the first time ever in our country‘s history, everything takes 60 votes to pass. Everything. Everything goes significant thing takes a supermajority of 60 votes. It is outrageous. It is unprecedented.
But the amount of time it took me to just to explain that and that show our filibuster graph means that even though this 60 votes on everything situation is unprecedented and a small d, democratic disaster, a huge change in our constitutional system in government that no one debated, that none of us signed up for, that is strangling our ability as a nation to deal with the problems that face us as a nation. Even though the 60 votes on an everything change is huge, it is also boring. And therefore difficult to get people to talk about it. Hence our attempt to make it a little more exciting by calling it “The Tarantino,” because, you know, it kills bills.
Anyway, it didn‘t exactly work, it didn‘t catch on. But if you are one of the many people who nevertheless understood the outrage of this random, anti-democratic thing, stopping the senate from being able to do what the senate‘s supposed to do, then, boy, howdy, do I have another one for you. I want you to meet the secret hold. It‘s like “The Tarantino,” but it‘s even less rational. If you want to stop a nomination or piece of legislation in the senate, one senator can just personally secretly put a hold on it. You don‘t have to make a principle argument about why you want to stop this thing. Nobody finds out who you are while you‘re doing it. You just get to blackball anything. One person, for any reason or for no reason at all, and nobody is allowed to know who the person is, who‘s doing the blackballing and they never have to explain themselves, in a democracy.
This week, a “Washington Post” editorial said, quote, of all the maddening practices that clog the arteries of the national legislator, the most infuriating may be the senate institution known as the secret hold. A “New York Times” editorial this week called it an insidious tradition that the senate was supposed to have dropped and said now the games need to stop. This is such a rank, indefensible, rule that nobody really defends it. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri has been one of the senators who has been working to try to get rid of secret holds. Here‘s how she explained the situation yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
Senator Claire McCaskill (D), Missouri: We have different kinds of senators here. We have some that are kind of feeling like they‘re being marched to the gallows as they grudgingly support cleaning up secret holds. We have others that want to pound their chests and shout from the rooftops about trying to get rid of secret holds, and we have others that are hiding in the creeks, the crevices, the little bitty tiny dark places that are trying to keep secret holds without anybody knowing who they are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Except we know who they are. In this case, Senator Jim DeMint, republican of South Carolina. Ron Wyden and Chuck Grassley, a democrat and a republican, introduced legislation together to get rid of secret holds. They expected it would finally go through. We‘d finally get rid of this thing once and for all, since a huge majority of senators said they would consent to getting rid of it. But at the last minute with no warning, Jim DeMint decided to block that bill. What‘s his argument for keeping secret holds? For not getting rid of what basically everyone agrees is a totally indefensible anti-democratic process, that no one believes is the way government should work? What is his argument for being the man who saved secret holds? True to form, this is so perfect.
Jim DeMint says, actually, he can‘t argue in favor of secret holds, he‘s against them. He personal thinks they should be gotten rid of. And he therefore killed the bill that would have done that. Ta-da! A perfect solution. Defending something completely indefensible that actually harms the country and then just simply refusing to acknowledge that you‘ve done so. Refusing to explain why you‘ve done so. There couldn‘t be a more perfect way for the secret hold to be kept alive.
Joining us now is David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones and columnist for politicsdaily.com. Mr. Corn, thanks very much for being here. Good to see you.
David Corn, Mother Jones washington, bureau chief: Good to see you. Maybe we should call it the Hitchcock, you know.
MADDOW: Oh, because it‘s—but there‘s no—well, I guess there‘s a little.
CORN: It‘s dark, secret, creepy.
MADDOW: There‘s a little intrigue. It just makes me think about showers or birds, in which case.
CORN: OK. Just trying to help.
MADDOW: Getting rid of the secret holds supposedly has all this bipartisan support. Why can‘t they get rid of it?
CORN: Well, the thing about secret holds, the thing about the senate is every senator wants their own prerogatives. And the secret hold gives any individual senator the power to bring the senate to its knees. They can trade that ability to get other things—there are 52 or so now, Obama appointees, nominees, who are being held back by secret holds. And they‘re not being held back because senators are, you know, have anything, you know, have any beefs with these particular nominees, but they‘re trying to leverage other things they‘re trying to get. Maybe a $20 million rec center for their home state or something.
And so, it‘s a very, very powerful tool that‘s been around for several decades. So, my guess is, even though Jim DeMint is the lead guy on this, probably, a lot of guys in the cloak room saying we‘re with you, Jim, just in secret. But good work out there. So, there are a lot of, you know, the filibuster, there‘s a lot of rules in the senate. The senate is a different beast than the House. And the House is a lot more party discipline and the majority can control the length of debates, the amendments. In the senate, basically any senator can come along and offer any amendment at any point in time. You have to have some unanimous concept agreements to move ahead. And that gives anyone the power to be Dr. No.
MADDOW: But I can argue in favor of minority power in the Senate. I can even argue in favor of individual senator power. I mean, the idea of the filibuster is not something on its face, I think should be eliminated. I think the abuse of the filibuster should be prevented. If it can‘t be prevented, then it should be eliminated. But you should try to keep it and make it sense. I think, one senator being able to hold things up or being able to raise principled objections especially if they relate to their home state or something like that. I can make an argument for that, whether or not I‘m in favor for it. What is any reasonable possible argument for them being able to do this secretly? It‘s the anonymity that I can‘t make a democratic argument for.
CORN: You basically have to ask them. What don‘t you understand about checks and balances? I mean, this just goes back to, you know, civics class, which I hope all of you was took back in high school and middle school. I mean, if you can‘t hold—the whole principle of our government is accountability. That if one person has the power to do this, another person has the power to say, wait a second. At least you have an argument and a debate about it between branches or even with inner branch of government such as the legislator branch. But you‘re absolutely right.
Here you have somebody who can, you know, you can stop a popular bill, an important bill. You know, last I checked, we didn‘t have a person heading up the tsa, and, you know, you‘d think these days that‘d be kind of important, because there was a hold. And, you know, this happens all the time. They‘re not just holding up bills, they‘re preventing government from doing its job to protect us and safe guard the public interest. So, if you‘re going to do that, you should have to put your name to it.
And there was an attempt back in 1997, you know, Trent Lott and Tom Daschle got together and that was when Tom Daschle was majority leader and Trent Lott was minority leader, you know, to block secret holds and then it lasted, I think, for a couple of weeks, a couple of months and it went back to the old ways. So, it‘s possible to do something at this but you‘ve got to get these guys in line. Maybe, generation will shift.
MADDOW: I wonder if the generation—I mean, looking at some of the senators crusading on this now, I‘m wondering if people like Claire McCaskill are going to be the ones who finally get it forced out. We will have to see. David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief of Mother Jones Magazine, thank you so much for joining us, David.
CORN: Good to be with you.
MADDOW: So, Arizona is trying to re-brand itself. To stop the boycotting of the state over its papers please to anti-immigration bill. Arizona could make this end by repealing the bill or they could launch a campaign to convince people who want to boycott them that they‘re wrong for feeling that way. We‘re pitching in to aid that very awful campaign, just ahead.
MADDOW: Facing nationwide boycotts, worldwide ridicule, moral recoil, what do you do? If you‘re Arizona, it‘s re-branding time. That‘s ahead, including some helpful suggestions from you, our viewers, for how the Copper State can shine up its current sickly, vertebrae (ph) image. That is coming up.
But first, a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news. Considering what is going on in the Gulf of Mexico right now, you might think that this would be the worst possible time to ask the government‘s permission to start new offshore drilling. That sort of thinking would disqualify you from being an oil executive. A federal appeals court gave Shell oil the all-clear yesterday to drill five wells at two locations about 75 miles off the coast of Alaska. In waters with some of the fiercest storms in North America. In a place where moving sea ice could mean that there is no credible effective means of cleaning up any oil spill in the area. No effective means known to man. But Shell says, don‘t worry. This drilling is going to be totally different than that drilling with all the mechanical failures, you keep seeing on your TV machine this last couple of weeks.
For one thing, the company says, it has tested the blades that would cut the drill pipe in an emergency. No mechanical failures anticipated there, because, quote, “to address the fresh safety concerns, Shell is now considering a second test.” That‘s two tests, people. Not one. Two, two tests. Even more, something miraculously does go wrong, Shell says, a response ship will be right nearby. Because that of course has made all the difference in the Gulf of Mexico disaster. It‘s all fine down there because there are ships.
But don‘t worry, be happy. Alaska‘s far away, under water drilling is no big deal, and Shell promises to be extra safe. Our government responded to this ruling on shell by manning up and sending the company a very strongly worded letter. It said, quote, “We request that shell provide detailed information with respect to additional safety procedures that the company is proposing to undertake in light of the deepwater horizon disaster.” Oh, snap.
The Interior Department will make its final decision on Shell‘s drilling project in Alaska after the White House reviews its offshore drilling safety report. This new drilling by Shell could begin as early as this summer. Until then, try not to think about what a bp style disaster might be like to deal with in the frozen north. Perhaps she might distract yourself that the knowledge that 710 77345 will always and forever spell shell oil upside down on your calculator. So, they‘re one of the most shocking headlines on the gulf oil disaster was that some independents scientists are saying, the size of the gusher, the rate which oil continues to pour into the golf could be ten times the amount that bp and the government have been using as an estimate.
Bp says, it would like to stick to the old estimate. Duh. And besides, it doesn‘t really matter exactly how big the leak is. Their job is still to shut it down no matter what. Which is true. But if we really are dumping the equivalent of one “Exxon Valdez” spill into the gulf every four days, as some scientists say is possible, then containment and clean up is going to be a bigger job by an order of magnitude than what they have been expecting. And that‘s bp‘s responsibility too. Today in an interview with “The Guardian Newspaper,” that chief executive of bp tried to look at the disaster from a rather different perspective, a more comforting perspective.
He told the paper, quote, “The gulf of Mexico is a very big ocean.” The amount of volume of oil and dispersant we are putting into it is tiny in relation to the total water volume. In other words, the Gulf of Mexico is very big. So big I would like you to confuse it with an ocean. And if you think of it like an ocean, it won‘t seem like there‘s really all that much oil in there at all. Also compared to your whole body, that tumor is very tiny. Literally, a very tiny proportion of your total body mass. Don‘t worry about it. You are mostly tumor free by volume.
MADDOW: Last night, the city council of Austin, Texas unanimously approved a resolution ending all city business travel to Arizona. It called on the city manager to come up with a plan to end city investments in the state. Austin thereby joined l.a., San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland, West Hollywood, El Paso, Boulder, Colorado, St. Paul, and Boston, all of whose city governments have chosen to boycott Arizona.
In response Arizona‘s governor has turned to that last resort of corporate America, the Hail Mary of any institution, with a bad image problem. They‘re re-branding, spending some money to help consultants, advice them how to get people to stop loathing them. You know, like cigarette maker Philip Morris decision to have a parent company called Altria. I think, you want to go out in the fresh air and suck down a Camel filter list, doesn‘t it? Or Blackwater‘s re-branding effort, they are now trying to be called xe. Because, can you really be mad at xe? Governor Brewer set up what she calls a truth telling task force in Arizona to stop the boycott trend against her state.
When papers—became a law there in Arizona‘s land, we solicited our viewers‘ help on mono blog to help Arizona get started on re-branding with a new state slogan. We are for these highlights free of charge for Arizona‘s use. The Grand Canyon state welcomes you. No not you. The white one. Or a slight variation, the Grand Canyon state welcomes you. Well, maybe not all of you. And this one for visitors from neighboring Nevada. The Grand Canyon state welcomes you. We‘ll check your chickens‘ papers, too. There are plenty of other suggestions and mono blog on msnbc.com but we are not finished doing our part.
The Rachel Maddow show‘s desperate tourism marketing correspondent Kent Jones has spent his time today developing a whole campaign. Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, msnbc correspondent: I had something in mind, sort of like this. What do you think?
(voice-over) Lately Arizona has been portrayed as an unfriendly place, like someone built a fence keeping the world out. Well, say good-bye to Arizona and say hello to Fairizona, the state that treats everyone like family. It‘s not in a good, it‘s in a great. Fairizona skies are wide open and so are our minds. Arizona is a gorgeous mosaic of diversity. We‘ve got people here from all over the world. Scotts, Irish, even Belgians. There is no grand canyon of hostility here.
Besides, since the average summer temperature in Phoenix is 105 degrees, it‘s just too hot to hate. Spend some time here and you‘ll have more than a reasonable suspicion. You‘ll want Arizona to detain you for no cause at all. Prepare to look suspiciously happy. So, for your next convention or vacation or anything else that involves giving your money to some other state, discover Fairizona. There are no strangers here. Only friends, we haven‘t met yet. Friends with all their paperwork in order, obviously.
MADDOW: Fairizona. Thank you. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: I have a quick apology to make. At the end of the first segment of tonight‘s show when I was thanking Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, something happened to me. I did something I never do and I have no idea why I did it. I called him Bernie. Not Senator Sanders. Not senator. Not sir. But Bernie, like we hang out. I already conveyed my apologies to Senator Sanders‘ office. He said, he didn‘t mind that everybody calls him Bernie but I am still totally mortified so again, sorry to Senator Sanders and to you. Standards. Geez. Sorry. Hope you have a great weekend. Have a goodnight.
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