'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, August 27th, 2010
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Guests: Anne Thompson, Ivor Van Heerden, Beverly Wright, Ann Thompson, Cliff Hall, Ti Martin, Chef Chris Lusk
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thanks very much for that.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We‘re coming to you live tonight from Algiers Point in New Orleans. And I would like to introduce you to my friend MR-GO, the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet. MR-GO was hacked through cypress swamps and coastal marshes, hacked through wetlands, to connect the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico by a means shorter than nature intended.
Building MR-GO in the 1950s and 1960s moved more dirt than digging the Panama Canal. Its impact was disaster. MR-GO, I have come to believe, is trying to kill New Orleans.
MR-GO channels salt water inland, where it‘s blamed for killing 100 square miles of wetlands. It is a perfectly designed system for channeling the storm surge from the hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico right into the dead center of New Orleans. You can thank MR-GO for dumping a significant portion of Lake Borgne into St. Bernard Parish during Hurricane Katrina. You can thank MR-GO for funneling the storm surge all the way up, up, up from the Gulf and dumping it into New Orleans east and then Gentilly and then the bywater and then Treme, and then the Lower Ninth Ward.
A federal judge ruled last year that the Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for much of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina because MRGO was responsible for much of the flooding after Hurricane Katrina, and MR-GO was an Army Corps of Engineer‘s gig.
Why did they build MR-GO in the first place? What was so important that it was worth causing all of that damage, putting New Orleans against all of that risk? What was worth 100 square miles of wetlands and a hurricane alley storm surge funnel right into the heart of New Orleans? What was worth it?
The year before Katrina, taxpayers spent $13 million dredging MR-GO, making it even worse. What was worth all that? What does MR-GO do? What‘s MR-GO for?
It‘s for shipping—it‘s for shipping industry. And MR-GO even sucked at that. Before the storm hit, MR-GO was carrying a grand total of approximately five ships per week. That‘s all.
Well, now, MR-GO is closed. It is closed at least to those five ships a week it used to get. It has a little dam over the end of it, and they‘re supposed to get around someday to getting back the 100 square miles of wetlands MR-GO killed, to shut down the hurricane alley that MR-GO aimed right into the heart of the great city of New Orleans.
It is too late, of course, but at least, finally, MR-GO has close.
MR-GO is gone.
The reason that MR-GO is important and the reason that MR-GO being closed is good is obvious in retrospect. But is MR-GO being closed a sign that we are getting slightly less stupid about picking fights with God down here? About trying to manhandle the river, about waging war on the land?
When the French founded New Orleans in 1718, it was a smart place to put a city, believe it or not. It was perfectly placed for shipping access and fishing and trade and all good things about being on a river with access to the Gulf shore.
The Gulf has always been known for hurricanes, but New Orleans was safe. This was high ground, deep inland, surrounded by hundreds of square miles of the best thing anyone‘s ever invented to disperse and mitigate the power of storms. It made sense to put New Orleans here where it is because New Orleans was safe. It was safe from storms here because it was surrounded by hundreds of miles of wetlands. Wetlands that we promptly set about destroying, carving canals through them, filling them in, draining them, and stopping the Mississippi from continuing to build them and protect them from erosion.
We built walls all along the river. We built dams, and we dredged channels so that all the silts and the muck that used to filter into the wetlands and expand them and replenish them when they would otherwise erode, it either got trapped behind dams, or we mechanically picked up that silt with dredgers and then dropped it way offshore out of our way to make nice deep shipping channels—all in the service of industry. Industry that made this city make sense here in the first place, but that now threatens the existence of this place, the city and the region itself.
Louisiana loses about a football field size—football field size piece of land every 40 minutes or so. Which means this is what‘s happening to the Louisiana coast over the course of decades. It‘s literally disappearing.
The result of all our picking a fight with God handiwork is that New Orleans in effect has moved. The city has not picked up and shifted, but the result of us waging war on the river, waging war on the geography here, thinking we know better, keeping the river from building land like it wants to, the result is that New Orleans is 20 miles closer to the sea than when it was founded—because what used to be land, what should be land is now water.
But, now, on this five-year anniversary of Katrina, after a near existential blow to this city—hey, thanks MR-GO—we are now making a whole new set of decisions to keep this city here. The Hurricane and Storm Damage Risk Reduction System—that‘s its name. I would prefer, of course, something more nicknamy like MR-GO.
The post-Katrina you and I paid for it system to try to protect this city is a $15 billion project that is a 350-mile-long ring of concrete and steel -- 350 mile long ring of flood walls and levees, giant ones, and closeable 32-foot tall steel gates that can try to stop storm surges, and a giant diesel powered pumping station that I kid you not, can drain 15 Olympic-sized swimming pools in one minute. Woo-hoo!
Is this New Orleans fortified like it always should have been, or is this more and better and more expensive fighting with God? Is this still more man versus nature? Because, hint, hint, nature always wins.
Are we restoring the river? Are we restoring the system that made New Orleans make sense as a city in the first place? Or are we just doing the same thing we‘ve always done here, insanely hoping that this time the result will be different?
We are going to try to find out. Please stay with us. Live from New Orleans.
MADDOW: We need not only better sort of leadership on this. I almost feel like we need better story telling. We need better explanatory power for making it clear that the wetlands aren‘t, sort of, a “boutique wetlands are nice, I like swamps.”
ANNE THOMPSON, NBC NEWS CHIEF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:
Yes, no, no.
MADDOW: Wetlands are the issue that determine whether or not New Orleans survives as a city.
MADDOW: I mean, wetlands determine whether or not—wetlands, you know, all of—it‘s functional. It‘s not romantic.
THOMPSON: Absolutely. Wetlands they‘re most basic purpose is to filter the water. And here is you have the Mississippi mixed with the Gulf of Mexico. It‘s a crucial role, especially given all the agricultural runoff that comes from the great bread basket of America and goes into the Mississippi and goes down into the Gulf of Mexico. They‘re losing wetlands at a football field every 38 to 45 minutes, depending on whose calculation you believe. Fast—far faster than they need to.
And the problem is, is that when there are less wetlands, there are less filters. And so, why is there a dead zone piece of the Gulf of Mexico that‘s the size of Massachusetts this year that doesn‘t have any oxygen? It‘s because—in part because there aren‘t enough filters, natural filters for that pollution that comes down the Mississippi River.
The wetlands also are nature‘s nursery. It‘s where the shrimp grow. It‘s where the fish grow. I mean, they serve a very, very important resource. And then in a hurricane, they‘re the protection. That‘s the barrier against storm surge.
So, for all those reasons, we should pay more attention to them.
MADDOW: More with NBC‘s deeply impressive environmental affairs correspondent Anne Thompson plus me with big puffy hair when we come back.
We are live in New Orleans.
MADDOW: Here in New Orleans, man versus nature is not just the subtitle of every high school English term paper ever written, it‘s an actual fight that is taking place on a grand scale and has done so for decades, if not centuries. Even though sometimes it feels like man is winning, spoiler alert, nature is bigger and very patient. And did I mention bigger?
Joining us now is Ivor Van Heerden. He‘s the director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes, and he‘s formerly the deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center.
Mr. Van Heerden—Dr. Van Heerden, thanks very much for being here.
IVOR VAN HEERDEN, CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF PUBLIC HEALTH IMPACTS
OFHURRICANES: Thank you very much for the invite.
MADDOW: You heard my impassioned—my impassioned indictment of MR-GO at the start of the show. Am I justified in wanting to anthropomorphize that canal and then beat him up?
VAN HEERDEN: Yes. You know, we did a lot of research associated with the trial that Judge Duval ruled on.
VAN HEERDEN: And what we found was that 80 percent of the water that got into New Orleans was the result of the MR-GO. It was partially the funnel. It was partially the fact that they never maintained the channel, and partially because they built the levees basically out of sugar. They built them out of sand.
If we had no MR-GO, we wouldn‘t have had the flooding in St. Bernard, in many parts of Orleans East. We probably wouldn‘t have had the failures on the Lower Ninth Ward and some of the failures on the industrial canal into the metro area. The metro area would still have flooded because of the failures on the 17th Street and London Avenue, where those were purely geotechnical engineering mistakes and science mistakes by the Corps.
MADDOW: Well, am I right that this was a crisis foretold, that people knew that MR-GO was going to be a problem?
VAN HEERDEN: Oh, definitely. The residents, when they first heard about this in 1957, put a committee together and said this channel‘s going to create a funnel. That‘s where the term first came from. In the 1960s, after MR-GO had been built and after Hurricane Betsy, the citizens proposed a plan very similar to what the Corps is now building, and said this is going to create a problem.
The Corps of Engineers did a study and then kind of manipulated the results so that they wouldn‘t interpret them properly and said, well, it‘s not going to create a funnel. When I started into New Orleans in 1999, we started warning then about the funnel, but we had an even more powerful tool. We had some computer models. So, we—you know, we had been pushing, pushing, the funnel, the funnel, this is what‘s going to create the problem.
The Corps of Engineers denied it. They actually fabricated—and I use that term very strongly—some storm surge modeling data that said it would have no impact because it didn‘t really raise the water. But when you looked at the data, you saw, well, but it floods everything when there was no MR-GO, no flooding. With MR-GO, enormous amounts of flooding.
So, they even—the year before Katrina, we‘re fiddling with the data and ignoring the real facts.
MADDOW: And the—I mean, it was built in the first place as a shipping shortcut. It was never economically viable. It never served any great industry purpose even though that is why it was made, and then it seems like it was defended because, to acknowledge the problems with it would be to admit a mistake and incur a cost.
But ultimately, MR-GO proved its defenders wrong by—in the worst way possible—by doing exactly what it was feared it would do, by funneling all of this water into New Orleans. As you says, 80 -- as you said, 80 percent of the water that ended up in the city because of Katrina, and now a decision has been made to close it.
Tell me about whether that was just an inevitability or whether I should take that as a hopeful sign that we are getting less dumb about trying to engineer around the river?
VAN HEERDEN: The recommendation to close came from the state of Louisiana forensic investigation team that I headed. We are, number one recommendation was: close MR-GO and build a gate in the funnel. Number two recommendation was: remove the sand levees and build concrete wall support structures. The Corps is doing that.
One needs to put this kind of in a context: the Corps has, to the present, never admitted that anything they did was wrong. But the biggest admission of guilt to me is the closing of MR-GO and building their big wall. They now go on TV and act like they‘re the saviors, but that‘s the wall that we‘ve been asking for and basically is exactly the same as what was proposed in 1967.
MADDOW: Well, is—I mean, I think of this as sort of the great wall of Louisiana, this 350-mile ring. Is it allowing the river to do the river‘s work that is protecting this part of the state, or is it—is this more fighting with God? Is this more fighting with nature and trying to engineer a better way around this that‘s going to fail, too?
VAN HEERDEN: Well, you know, you do need concrete. But we need the wetlands.
VAN HEERDEN: And you alluded to that earlier. Since Katrina, we‘ve lost 100,000 of acres -- 100,000 acres of New Orleans‘ protection. The Corps of Engineers was supposed to develop a plan of how we‘re going to restore the coast, how they were going to. It was supposed to go to Congress. It‘s never got anywhere.
We‘ve looked at it, and some of the modeling was atrocious. Unless we go out and let the river do what it used to do—
MADDOW: Make land.
VAN HEERDEN: -- mimic God, if you will, and let‘s build land. Ideally, we need to restore the barrier islands. We need to build the wetland aprons in front of our levees, because the barrier islands protect the wetlands.
VAN HEERDEN: The wetlands protect our levees, and our levees protect us.
MADDOW: Doctor Ivor Van Heerden, it‘s a real pleasure to have you here and thanks for your work to try to save Louisiana.
VAN HEERDEN: And thanks for your interest and drawing people‘s attention to our needs.
MADDOW: Good luck, sir.
VAN HEERDEN: Thank you.
MADDOW: So, I was mulling over all day this idea of fighting with nature, of fighting with God. Is it OK to use the metaphor fighting with God on TV? Do I really need it as a metaphor? Do I have to clear anything I say on TV about God through Glenn Beck, since that‘s who God speaks through?
I‘ve been mulling over the fighting with God idea all day. And the first thing that happened after this, I decided, yes, it‘s OK—it‘s OK for me to talk about fighting with God on television, the first thing that happened after that I decided that is I was starting an interview with someone really important down here this afternoon, and God interrupted the interview. It is on tape. Glenn Beck has not approved it—but that‘s next.
MADDOW: What‘s driven a lot of the decisions that has made New Orleans and the Gulf Coast frankly more dangerous, the decisions that—I know. I‘ll talk to you later. It‘s always good when God weighs in on these things. Correct me. Correct me.
What‘s driven a lot of the manmade decisions that have made hurricanes harder to survive, that have made life more difficult here, just in a geographically specific sense is industry—it‘s concern for industry. And it makes sense. It‘s not criticism to say that. I mean, the oil industry, the gas industry, the shipping industry—these are huge economic drivers of this part of the country.
So, making decisions to benefit them benefits people. It makes sense to do it, and the balance is finding ways to not hurt the industry and also protect the people and protect the land, to not do things for the short-term benefit of industry that ultimately endanger this beautiful part of the country.
Dr. Beverly Wright is the head of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, which is based here at Dillard University in New Orleans. She‘s the co-chair of the sustainable energy and environmental task force for the city of New Orleans, and she also advises the Gulf Coast Fund.
Dr. Wright, thank you so much for your time today
DR. BEVERLY WRIGHT, DEEP SOUTH CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE:
Thank you for having me.
MADDOW: While I was been down here, one of the things that keeps coming up and comes up in unexpected ways, is this issue about the oil drilling moratorium. There‘s lots of rumors that with President Obama coming here this weekend, he‘s going to make some sort of announcement about the moratorium. I think they are just rumors. I‘ve been trying to confirm them all day.
A lot of people keep volunteering to me, as I keep talking to them—about other things—that they want that moratorium lifted. Is it—is it a very controversial, sort of close to the surface issue here?
WRIGHT: I believe that the idea of lifting the moratorium is one that a lot of people here embrace. But the moratorium is actually a sane response to the insanity that has existed because of the oil spill. The problem for us is really conflicts with ourselves and it‘s so simple. We are addicted to oil. Oil is almost a drug for us.
On the one hand, it is a thing that‘s poisoning the Gulf and could actually destroy our way of life. On the other hand, our economy is closely tied to that industry. So it‘s killing us in one hand, it‘s keeping us alive in another way.
So, people are conflicted. The oil industry, if you‘ve ever seen a map of the different oil wells and rigs in the Gulf Coast, it almost looks like a spider web with all of these connections to our coast, and it‘s really sucking the life out of us in the same way that you would have a spider web that traps you.
MADDOW: In terms of that physical impact, that physical footprint of the oil and gas industry in the Gulf, what you mean is that we‘ve got tons of rigs, tons of wells out there, but also the pipelines and all the other things that are about moving petroleum products in the Gulf. Is that what you mean?
WRIGHT: Yes. Well, let me—let me give you some statistics that bring this home.
MADDOW: All right.
WRIGHT: There are 27,000 abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico.
There are 3,500 rigs and platforms in coastal USA. There are 79 deep wells
deep wells—deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico, and we have 62 inspectors for the whole United States. That means that every inspector would have at least—
MADDOW: For all of those things that you just described?
WRIGHT: For all of those wells.
MADDOW: Plus the rest of the country?
WRIGHT: That‘s right
MADDOW: How many?
WRIGHT: That‘s right. So, that gives each inspector about 56 wells a year to be responsible for.
MADDOW: When people are fighting about this moratorium right now, this drilling moratorium, so many people are against the moratorium. They want deepwater drilling to continue. They don‘t want any pause. They don‘t want anything investigated further. They want the drilling to go on because they think it‘s in their economic interest.
WRIGHT: That‘s right.
MADDOW: Do you—do you think that‘s because people don‘t fully understand what the moratorium is—do you think that people think the moratorium is about stopping the entire petrochemical industry, and it‘s not just about new deep water rigs?
WRIGHT: I really believe that they don‘t understand what it is, and for everybody that says no moratorium, I say to them, you should ask the family members of the persons who died on the rig if they would have liked to see a moratorium where that rig was inspected before they lost their loved ones. And if they say, no, it‘s fine, then that should be the voice that we should follow.
MADDOW: When they say the voice of oil, you‘re, of course, quoting George W. Bush.
WRIGHT: I didn‘t know that. I take that back.
MADDOW: Well, I mean, it‘s important, though, that even a president like George W. Bush, with all of his ties to the oil industry, and how friendly he was to the industry, and his politics overall, he—like lots of presidents—said, “We‘re addicted to oil. We need to get off oil.”
MADDOW: Obviously, we haven‘t. We haven‘t made any progress toward that really at all. We‘ve made very little progress toward that. But you say you want to hear leadership from that at the state level. You feel like that Governor Jindal is who you want to hear that from.
WRIGHT: Absolutely. Absolutely. I have been trying very hard to figure out what our governor is doing to respond to this issue. The only thing I‘ve heard is complaints about the federal government and building berms and booms. That‘s all I‘ve heard, a reaction to the Gulf spill.
I have not seen, for example, a blue ribbon panel brought to deal with economic diversity. I‘ve not heard any discussions about really moving us into this new alternative energy economy, you know, where we are absolutely trying to develop training tracks for our people to move into these new industries and then to attract new industry here.
We‘ve just gotten wonderful news that a windmill manufacturing company will be moving where Michoud was. That‘s really great. And the 600 jobs that will be coming to this city with the windmill, that‘s the most positive thing I think I‘ve heard in the last 20 years that I‘ve been living back home in New Orleans.
MADDOW: Wow. Dr. Beverly Wright, thank you so much for your work and for taking this time to talk to us. And I want to say—can I say happy birthday to your daughter? I know it‘s a surprise.
WRIGHT: Yes, you can. It‘s late tonight. She won‘t know. Danielle is her name.
MADDOW: Happy birthday. We‘re sorry we locked up your mom for the afternoon.
WRIGHT: She will be thrilled. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Thanks, Dr. Wright. I appreciate it.
MADDOW: You can learn more about the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at our Web site at MaddowBlog.com. They are doing wicked hard work against wicked rich enemies in a wicked harsh environment. And they are making strides doing it—very, very impressive.
More ahead, including NBC‘s environmental affairs correspondent, who at this point has spent so much time covering the BP oil disaster here that she is soon going to require an oil change herself.
It‘s all coming up.
MADDOW: The BP oil disaster happened a couple of hours down river and out to sea from here. But the spill‘s impact on the fishery, on the fishing industry, on tourism, on the marine life, on the wetlands, on the waterways and, frankly, on oil drilling made it, like Katrina, not just a gulf coast story, but a New Orleans story as well. The second whammy in a man-made environmental double whammy for this city over the last five years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(on camera): I‘m here with Ann Thompson, who is NBC‘s chief environmental affairs correspondent who has been south of here covering the BP oil spill - covering the BP oil spill in the gulf for four months now?
ANN THOMPSON, NBC CHIEF ENVIRONMENTAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Four months, a little more than four months.
MADDOW: I know this is an answer - this is a question that is deceptively simple, but is it capped?
THOMPSON: It is - yes, it is capped from the top. There is no more oil flowing into the gulf. There has been no more oil flowing into the gulf for six weeks. Now what they‘re trying to do is kill it dead, dead, dead, dead, as Secretary Steven Chu, who‘s the energy secretary, says.
MADDOW: It‘s a technical term.
THOMPSON: Yes, it is.
MADDOW: One of the things about reporting on the Katrina anniversary, one of the things that‘s very clear when you‘re reporting on it from here, is that people here who I have talked to keep bringing up BP, not because BP is not Katrina, but because BP feels like chapter two, feels like a disaster in which the devastation doesn‘t look the same but is on the same scale for this region. How do you feel about that comparison?
THOMPSON: Oh, I think it‘s absolutely comparable in this sense, in that I think you see a lot of the reaction of the people around here to the fact the fear that the federal government will pull out, that BP will pull out long before the job is done.
Why are they so suspicious? Why are they so leery despite all the promises that have been made? Because of what they went through five years ago. They know that the government can fail them.
It‘s going to take years before we truly understand what 4.9 million barrels of oil have done to the Gulf of Mexico. And the Gulf of Mexico wasn‘t exactly a pristine place to start with.
MADDOW: Yes. Yes, exactly right.
THOMPSON: When they did the Exxon Valdez, the natural damage assessment that they have to - or natural resources damage assessment that they have to do took 2 ½ years. Now, we know now what they didn‘t know then is that the herring population still hasn‘t come back, back there.
When they do that and Ken Feinberg has to make the final settlements with the people down there.
THOMPSON: Right. They‘re not going to know, for example, what the long-term impact is on shrimp, on crabs, on oysters, on redfish, on red snapper. Pick - you know, pick whatever fishing species you want.
And so I think the key here is to be patient, to not look at every scientific study that comes out as the definitive study, which I think we all want to do.
THOMPSON: Each one gives us a clue to this sort of greater mystery of what happened and what the impact is and when we have to be patient. Even if you look at the government‘s oil budget, which is very controversial, they think the dispersant only affected eight percent of all the oil that flowed out. It‘s still a lot of oil, but it‘s a very small percentage of what was done.
MADDOW: Given the environmental worries about the effect of the
dispersant itself -
MADDOW: What you got out of it is not that great.
THOMPSON: No. No, it broke up the oil. That was good, if for no other reason, because it kept it from coming ashore in those big black ribbons which you saw.
MADDOW: Which was horrible on TV.
THOMPSON: Right, which looks horrible on TV and which is bad for the psyche.
THOMPSON: The question is, is it good for the fish five years, 10 years down the road? We don‘t know.
MADDOW: Right. The idea of America finally getting its act together on clean energy was on the agenda before the BP oil disaster.
And then, the oil disaster happened and, counterintuitively, to say the least, it became something that was politically impossible. It makes me feel, as somebody who thinks about politics all the time much more than I think about oil, that our political process - there‘s the diagnosis.
We‘re all fundamentally broken. We are no longer capable of addressing the very obvious national problems through the political process.
THOMPSON: Well, I think - the thing I look at is from everything I read and all the people I talk to, that because - oil‘s role in our energy mix is going to have to change. It‘s going to have to become less dominant because it‘s a finite resource and also because of the consequences of global warming.
The problem is, is that the longer we wait to do it, the more severe the economic hardship will be. Think of any - any time you‘re trying to transition from one thing to another. The transition always goes smoother if you plan, if you think about it.
It‘s always most difficult when your back is up against the wall. And we keep delaying, delaying, delaying. Think of all the wakeup calls we‘ve had in this country, the oil crisis in the late 1970s. High gas prices through this decade. Now this, and we keep saying no, no, no, the economy‘s not strong enough. There‘s always a reason not to do it.
And sooner or later, we‘re not going to have any choice. And the other problem is that China is making the choice. India‘s making the choice. Other countries around the world are making the choice. And these choices create jobs and create opportunities.
MADDOW: One last question for you. How are you doing? It‘s not like you seem bad. But I mean, you‘ve been covering this for four months, and the coverage that you‘ve done on our show has been freaking awesome.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
MADDOW: I mean, you‘ve really allowed to us tell the narrative in a way that makes much more sense than if we didn‘t have you to call on to do it. I just wonder if you get mad, if you get emotionally affected by covering a story like this for so long.
THOMPSON: I think, you know, I‘ve always looked at this story this way. This is not a story about pelicans or dolphins or sea turtles. They‘ve all been impacted. This is, first and foremost, an environmental disaster that affects people.
And when you spend time with the people of Venice and the people of southeast Louisiana, they‘re passionate. And they‘re genuine about how much they love the land and how much they love the water. And when you see that, it just inspires you as a journalist.
MADDOW: I‘m - it‘s - honestly, I know that NBC and MSNBC work together and we like each other, but you don‘t have to be on my show as much as you have been at a really awkward hour, so I‘m very thankful.
THOMPSON: Thank you. As I said, I‘ll send you the plastic surgery bills.
MADDOW: There‘s going to be a lot of those. When, I knew we were going to meet on the river, I thought, “We‘re going to have to bring Ann some bugs.” (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Are you going to be able to talk to me without things flying in your hair?
THOMPSON: I know. Exactly. Oh, my gosh. It‘s awful. I am so bitten up. My ankles look like I have, you know, polka dots or measles or something. There is nothing glamorous about this at all.
MADDOW: This is your service to your country.
MADDOW: You have paid with your ankles.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Among many more serious things, one effect of the worry here because of the BP spill, about the gulf coast fisheries, is that that worry provided me an excuse today, an excuse for me and everyone I‘ve been working with down here to eat shrimp and gulf tuna and drink cocktails all day long instead of actually working.
Technically the cocktails weren‘t part of the worrying about the fish story, but they did make me stop worrying about the fish. They made me stop worrying about everything. Please stay tuned.
MADDOW: This is Lafayette Cemetery in the Garden District in New Orleans. And the garden district in New Orleans is - I know you know it‘s beautiful. I know you‘ve heard it‘s beautiful. If you haven‘t been here, it‘s really freaking beautiful. It‘s a really unbelievably gorgeous spot.
This cemetery is historic. It was founded in - I think laid out in 1833. And it‘s actually a really good reminder of where we are, and where in New Orleans has come from.
Some of the tombs here, the entire description of the people buried here is all in German. And they‘re described as being natives of Germany. There‘s other places in which you can see families that have decided to engrave their tombs here, mostly in French.
And this family - natives of New Orleans, natives of France, side by side. It‘s also a reminder of where we are. This is not a cemetery in which you have to worry about the disrespect of standing on graves because all of the graves are above ground.
This is water world. The water table is so high that the soil will not take people being buried in it. They will float away, and so the graves are above ground, such as it is.
It‘s also a reminder of what you are susceptible to in a climate like this and surrounded by water like this. This is a tomb marking the passing of three members of the same family, all children, all - as it says, dead of yellow fever, all in 1878.
The cemetery was laid out in 1833. Within the first 20 years that it existed, it was almost full because of the number of people who died here from yellow fever. New Orleans is an amazing place. The history is unbelievable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLIFF HALL, CO-OWNER, NEW ORLEANS FISH HOUSE: Today, we got some beautiful, gulf-caught American red snapper, caught on lines this week. We‘ve got some beautiful black drum that are caught by the local Louisiana coast fishermen. They‘re also line-caught on a daily basis and brought into our facility.
Then, we have some farm-raised redfish right here. That fish is indigenous to our Louisiana waters. It‘s very popular here. We also have some jumbo lump crab meat caught from the blue crab and processed and steamed and brought. It‘s in many of the dishes here in Louisiana.
We have some soft-shell crabs here, which is an incredible item if you‘ve ever eaten at Commander‘s. You have to have this one time that you‘re here. They do a phenomenal job with them.
And as you can see, some of these can get really, really, really large and beautiful. And when they prepare them, it‘s just outstanding.
Also, the yellow fin tuna is caught in the Gulf of Mexico. As you can see, very high quality. It has everything (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So how long when something like this (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
HALL: A couple of days on the American red snapper. You‘re talking about a daily basis on the black drum. The tuna are usually four to seven days. And of course, the fish caught at the end of the trip are the ones that are the highest grade, highest quality, which would be this criteria.
You come to Commander‘s Palace, you‘re going to get the absolute best the Gulf of Mexico has to offer. I want you to come and try it out. You‘re going to love it. I promise you you‘re going to love it if you come.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: When you think about what makes New Orleans go, as we‘ve been talking about, it‘s definitely the oil and gas industry. It‘s definitely the shipping industry, but it‘s also tourism.
I mean, the things that makes New Orleans New Orleans, the thing that makes it both apart from America and the best part of America is what‘s different about it. It‘s jazz. It‘s the architecture. It‘s the French influence of the culture. It‘s the language. It‘s the food, frankly.
Before Katrina, 10 million people were visiting New Orleans. The year after the storm, it was down to something like 3.7 million. It has steadily been coming back. And economically, it really needs to come back.
At a soulful level, it really ought to come back because everybody should be served a milk punch before starting their next interview.
We‘re at Commander‘s Palace. This dates back to the 1880s. And we‘re here with Ti Martin and with Chef Chris Lusk, who‘s the chef at Cafe Adelaide, which is another Brennan Family restaurant. I‘m so happy to have you both here today. Thank you so much for doing this. Thank you for giving me booze this early in the day.
TI MARTIN, CO-OWNER, COMMANDER‘S PALACE: Top of the morning to you.
MADDOW: So how‘s business? I mean, big picture, how‘s business?
MARTIN: You know, we are not quite back to pre-Katrina levels, but we just had the best year that we‘ve had since Katrina. It‘s exciting. And you know, we were celebrating that little football game we won, you know, last time we were here. We won it right after that.
MADDOW: I heard about that. Yes.
MARTIN: And then - god, we were celebrating. And then we had that oil spill, so we had some little problems. So we are back to celebrating. Things are just so good. We‘re having the best year we‘ve had since Katrina.
MARTIN: And I feel great about it. Adelaide is doing great. Commander‘s doing great. Our friends around town - not everybody. In the coastal towns, they are suffering. In the panhandle of Florida, our friends, the fishermen, a lot of stuff - it‘s tough. But here in New Orleans, things are pretty darn good.
MADDOW: Yes. And you can tell things are good. You can tell that people feel like they‘re on the upswing. The tourism is so important for the overall economy and the number jobs, what it means to be able to live and work here.
In terms of food, in terms of the food part of New Orleans culture that everybody wants to visit, and this is an institution, the Brennan Family Restaurant - how big an issue is it when people worry about the gulf seafood, and what is the availability of gulf seafood right now?
CHRIS LUSK, EXECUTIVE CHEF, CAFE ADELAIDE: The availability is really great. We really haven‘t had to change anything - our menu. Everything‘s available. And right now, as far as people are concerned, the seafood itself is probably as safe as it‘s ever been because it‘s being tested over and over again.
LUSK: And initially there is a little bit of worry from some of our guests. But now everybody comes in and orders seafood just like normal. We sell a lot of seafood.
MADDOW: So one of the ways they test it is by smelling it. Very, very highly trained smelling people whose job that is. Does that make sense to you as a means of testing the fish?
LUSK: Absolutely. Because my business is based on smelling, tasting, things like that. So yes, absolutely.
MARTIN: I taste a glass of wine and, you have people say smell this or smell that. I taste it with Chris and he‘ll tell me eight things that he smells, you know.
So the people doing the testing of the fish, they had like some Dawn soap in the room or something. They had to take it out of the room because they could smell that.
Yes. But that‘s just one of the ways it‘s being tested, so people even know that. But we find that wildly interesting.
MADDOW: So what are we drinking?
MARTIN: This is a milk punch.
MADDOW: Tell me what‘s in this milk punch.
MARTIN: Oh, this is a classic drink that Ms. Blue made for us over here. Basically, you can do it with bourbon or brandy.
MARTIN: You know, and we do it both ways. And it‘s milk, and it‘s a little vanilla, a little nutmeg. It‘s as simple as it can be. It‘s a morning drink.
MADDOW: Nutmeg on the south.
MADDOW: What were you saying that you had another round of cocktail in mind?
MARTIN: I have a little drink called “Oh, What a Night” we might have a little bit later. It‘s called “What a Night.”
MADDOW: What‘s going on in “Oh, What a Night”?
MARTIN: Now, you‘re a whiskey girl -
MADDOW: I am.
MARTIN: This guy (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I think you do, too.
MADDOW: You use the six-year-old (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
MARTIN: I don‘t know if we‘re using that one.
MADDOW: That one there? The baby? I love that, yes.
MARTIN: A little sweet vermouth, a little lemon, a little pomegranate grenadine. You can make your own. You can use good stuff like these, and a little lemon - a little lemon juice. That‘s it. Next, mix that up with a little lemon on top. Oh, girl.
MADDOW: Cold straight up, cocktail glass? Or is that on the rocks?
MARTIN: Mix it with ice, serve it up. It‘s a real drink. It‘s a grown-up drink.
MADDOW: If this ends up just on the web and there is no TV show tonight, I‘ll tell you why. And I‘ll tell you where you can find me. Ti, Chef, thank you so much.
MARTIN: We love having you.
MADDOW: Good luck. It‘s great to be here.
MARTIN: Thank you.
LUSK: Thank you.
MADDOW: Mail a letter to the spot where I‘m sitting right now, here in Algiers Point, New Orleans. Send it from any other nation on the globe. And to ensure delivery, you would have to end the address with New Orleans, Louisiana 70114, USA.
A city and a state, one of the 50 states in the United States of America - USA. Only once you spend some time here, once you talk to the folks who live and work here, or even talk to the journalists who report on what happened here, you quickly hear that some folks don‘t nearly feel like second class citizens. They sometimes don‘t feel much like they are treated as citizens at all.
This is what legendary New Orleans broadcaster Garland Robinette told us last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARLAND ROBINETTE, BROADCASTER: I call this the “untied state of America.” We‘re kind of a dyslexic cut away from America. I‘ve never seen anything like it, from day one, helicopter after helicopter after helicopter. Superdome has two heliports. Convention Center has an open lot.
I spent months in a place in Vietnam where you could barely walk and they could land a helicopter. In five days, the president of the United States or nobody else could fly in water or food to people that were dying.
And now BP, with the oil spill, that took them a while to get going and we‘ve still got people worried about how they‘re going to survive on the coast. It‘s kind of like we‘re not part of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It‘s kind of like we‘re not part of the United States. Not in the days and weeks after the levees broke, but five years later when so much has supposedly been fixed. Five years on from the floods.
Talking to people on this trip, that same sentiment about New Orleans‘ place in America, it keeps coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
THOMPSON: We need to think about wetlands, that they‘re not just some boutique thing for people who like swamps. They play some crucial role in our country.
This area is not just Louisiana‘s paradise. As somebody said - as one of the coastal scientists, Denise Reed from the University of New Orleans said - she said, there are little pieces of New York and Ohio and Wyoming because all the silt from these states come down and this is where it stops.
THOMPSON: And it‘s all - it‘s something that belongs to all of us and we all need to pay attention. And we should never turn our backs on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: We should never turn our backs on it. I did not expect this to be the theme of this reporting trip. Maybe it‘s because we‘re fighting two wars and all our foreign policy talk is about what America is capable of doing in another country.
Maybe that calls the question of what it is we‘re capable of doing in our country, here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILLY SOTHERN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: This is the razor‘s edge of problems that exist everywhere in America. And to the extent they remain unresolved in New Orleans, I think there is very little hope they‘ll be resolved elsewhere.
So while New Orleans does represent this magnification of these problems, you know, most places don‘t have 60 murders per 100,000 residents. New York, for instance, has six.
But to the extent that New Orleans does and they were unable to reform those issues, they were unable to make progress on those points, my feeling is that Americans should be concerned not just for New Orleans. But if we‘re unable to do this here, then it‘s going to come to a neighborhood near them.
MADDOW: That‘s right. Remember New Orleans, part of America?
SOTHERN: It‘s a good part of America.
MADDOW: Exactly right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
A lot of the anniversary talk is resiliency talk, the good people of the gulf doing it for themselves. We visited the Common Ground Health Clinic while we were here in Algiers, which famously was started here right after the storm by locals, by street medics who were used to doing first aid for people injured in protests.
They got medicine donated, voluntary nurses and doctors and medics and therapists from everywhere. They did start up lifesaving work when the big infrastructure collapsed and they are still here, five years on, serving the people. Bootstraps, self-sufficiency, scrappiness.
But you know what? This is a country. Not a strung-together system of well-intentioned start-ups. A city cannot live on volunteer anarchist health clinics alone. Common Ground, like other clinics, got government grants to expand and to do more, and that is good and right.
Government needs to work. We‘re not getting rid of it, I‘m sorry. It is how we express national commitment when part of our beloved country needs it. We need individual scrappiness and resiliency. But ultimately we need to commit because we‘re in this together - United States.
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