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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Richard Engel, David Cay Johnston

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Lawrence, I am so turning you in for saying that you‘re going to skip lockup.

O‘DONNELL:  Don‘t.  It is my secret.  That‘s my secret.

MADDOW:  I will see if I can get you excused.  Thank you, Lawrence.

(LAUGHTER)

           

MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

If you were king for the day, if you got to make the decisions in this country and you wanted to bring down the deficit, would you raise taxes on people making more than $1 million a year?  Would you let the Bush tax cuts expire for the richest people in the country?  Would you get rid of the subsidies, the tax breaks for oil and gas companies?

Would you do all those things?  Really?  Are you that liberal?  Are you that liberal that you would do all those things?

If you are that liberal that you would do all of those things, then you are an average American.  The support for these policies—look at this—the support for these policies is the support you get for the contention that puppies are cute.  Eighty-one percent of the country supports raising taxes on millionaires to close the deficit, 81 percent.

If you look at the policies that Americans say they support, then we are the “Soviet Republic of Americanistan.”  We are a bunch of commies in this country.

If you don‘t, tell somebody whether a policy is a liberal idea or a conservative idea.  If you don‘t say who is proposing or supporting the policy, if you don‘t say where the idea is coming from, big majorities of Americans support really, really liberal economic policies—more liberal policies that are being supported even with Democratic majorities in Washington.

These are from the new NBC News/”Wall Street Journal” Poll that just came out today.  Same poll also asked nationwide whether or not people oppose or support what Governor Scott Walker is doing in Wisconsin.  Seventy-seven percent of people -- 77 percent of people in the country say that unions should be able to hold onto what the Republicans in Wisconsin are trying to take away from them.  Seventy-seven percent of Americans are for public sector collective bargaining rights.

The American people turns out are a bunch of commie, pinko libs. 

We‘re hippies.  Dogs on streams.  Soak the rich.  Kumbayah.

Here‘s the most amazing thing, though.  The same group of people who says that this is what they believe in, in terms of policy, the same group of people who believes this, mostly call themselves conservatives.  Thirty-six percent of people in this NBC News poll, in this poll with these numbers, identify themselves as conservatives.  Only 24 percent identify as liberals.

We like to use this word conservative.  You keep using this word.  I do not think it means what you think it means.

How can you simultaneously be a country that believes in all of this stuff to this degree and be a country that calls itself conservative?  You really can‘t be—not if the word conservative has any meaning.  But the word conservative, the whole concept of conservatism has been treated to a really expensive rebranding campaign over the last generation or so, and that‘s what it‘s thought of.

People who don‘t believe in conservative ideas at all think that they do, because they like the idea of calling themselves conservative.  In reality, in terms of real ideas, though, it‘s economic populism that‘s popular.  Policies that benefit people who have to work for a living are popular in this country.  Policies that single out and demonize and attack people who have to work for a living, those are not popular.

What‘s happening in Wisconsin right now, what Republicans are trying to do in Wisconsin, is really, really, really unpopular.  Republicans appear to be shocked by that.  After all, they picked this fight in Wisconsin because they thought they were going to win it and they thought they were going to nationalize it.  They thought it was going to be part of their new post-Bush, post-McCain branding.

But they are at the point now of not just losing, but losing really dramatically, publicly, in a way that nobody will ever be proud of.  They‘re now at a point of scraping the barrel of the barrel for the most desperate tactics they can think of to win.

Today, Scott Walker and the Republicans came up with some new ideas about how to ratchet up pressure on Wisconsin‘s Democrats who are preventing them from passing this union-stripping thing.

In addition to stuff like cutting Democrats‘ pay and cutting off Democrats staffers‘ access to the capitol building‘s machine, Republicans today move to zero out Democrats‘ office budget.  They move to fine Democrats $100 every day.  They moved to remove their parking privileges.

They‘re parking spaces?  Seriously?  Yes, their parking privileges.

That‘s the ground of which the Republicans are now trying to win this.  That‘s the ground on which Republicans are left to fight this out in Wisconsin.  That‘s what they have to stand on.

Republicans have gotten to the bottom of the barrel in terms of what they can do, and their support has just disintegrated.

As we talked about earlier this week, if the gubernatorial election were held in Wisconsin today, not only would Scott Walker lose according to one of the latest polls, but the state is evenly divided on whether or not they actually want to recall him out of office.  Republican state senators who are supporting Scott Walker on this are now facing their own recall drives.  The conservative-leaning “Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,” which endorsed Scott Walker for governor, today that paper came out against what Walker and the Republicans are doing with this union-stripping bill.

And listen to this—listen to this: this is a Republican state senator from Wisconsin on a Wisconsin radio station today.  This—listen to what he had to say about what his own party is doing now.  This is amazing.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

STATE SEN. DALE SCHULTZ ®, WISCONSIN:  All I know is we‘re not talking, we‘re wasting valuable time about collective bargaining, which I don‘t ever remember being a part of last election‘s discussion whatsoever.  But, most of all, you know, to me this looks like the classic overreach.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The classic overreach—this Republican state senator calls what his own party is doing.

Nationally, the American people are against what Governor Walker and the Republicans are doing.  Statewide in Wisconsin, the people also appear to be against it.  Among even some elected Republicans in conservative-leaning media that previously supported this Walker guy in Wisconsin, they are against it now, too.

They are down to their most desperate measures.  They‘re down to parking spaces.  They say they won‘t negotiate.  They are hemorrhaging support to the point they may get recalled from office.

But you know who does support Scott Walker and the Republicans trying

to strip union rights and isn‘t afraid to say so?  One of the Koch brothers

a real one, not a fake one on a prank call.

           

The billionaire Koch brothers are not from Wisconsin, of course.  They do own a large oil and chemical company, however.  And Charles Koch wrote in “The Wall Street Journal” that he is on Scott Walker‘s side—both a bit of an anti-climax and a rally instructive thing for why this is a national story.

There are two sides in this fight.  There is the side that believes in this, right?  There‘s a side that believes in all these populist economic policies.  That‘s one side.  And then there‘s a few guys like David and Charles Koch and the multibillion dollar oil and chemical conglomerate they inherited from their dad.

It‘s kind of a numerical mismatch between these two sides.  But it always is.  It‘s the upper crust versus the middle class.  It‘s the few people who own the company versus the number of people who work for the company.  It‘s the people who write the paychecks versus those who cash the paychecks.  It‘s the economic elite versus the average person.

And what the elite lack in terms of numbers of people, they makeup for in leverage in terms of the amount of money they can spend in order to advocate for their side.  And that—that split between these two sides, aside from social issues and civil rights and issues of political style, that‘s split is the reason that there are two different political parties in the United States of America.

The Chamber of Commerce spent more money in last year‘s election than any other outside spending group.  They put 93 percent of their Chamber of Commerce donations towards Republican candidates.  There are two sides.

And because the Democratic side is inherently the one that has more people in it, and this is a democracy, and it‘s one person, one vote, the Republican side, in order to compete with that, has to use money to leverage as many votes as they can, because their side represents the interest of fewer people.  That‘s where they found social issues and abortion and gay rights and religion and all of these other things to come in handy.

There‘s an economic split between the two parties, between Democrats and Republicans, but more people are on the Democratic side of that economic split, almost by definition.  So, Republicans, by and large, have had to use noneconomic issues to get people to vote with the economic elite and against their own economic interest.

The other way this works, though, is this—to the extent that Democrats embrace their role as standing for the average American, standing for the rights of people who work for a living, to the extent Democrats embrace that, people who work for a living and the institutions that represent them, that represent working people, and even poor people, they have over the years pushed the Democratic Party to endorse populist policies—to endorse stuff that helps regular working people.  Stuff like minimum wage laws, stuff like expanded health coverage, stuff like workplace regulation, stuff like responsible tax laws that don‘t soak poor people to subsidize rich people.  That‘s economic populism.

Endorsing those policies and pushing for those policies has the happy progressive side-effect of paying real political dividends for the Republican Party.  Fighting for issues like that just happens to work for Democrats at the polls.  There‘s nothing I have ever seen that gooses Democratic turnout, that helps Democratic chances all the way down the ticket than putting something like a minimum wage law on the ballot.

Economic populism is really popular.  People really like these policies.  Even people who call themselves conservatives like these policies.

We never talk about the differences between the parties like this anymore, but see, it seems so old school.  It seems almost too big picture to acknowledge.  But the reason there are two different major parties in America is because one of the parties, the Republican Party, represents the interest of a comparatively smaller number of people.

They decided to represent the interest of corporations.  You can see it in how the elections are funded.  They have decided to represent the interests of people like the Koch brothers that own the corporations.  The Republican Party represents those economic elites.

And on the other side, the other party, the Democratic Party, represents a much greater number of people, the non-elites, everybody who has to work for a living.  That‘s the reason there are two different parties.  That‘s the reason the two different parties exist, even if it is unfashionable to say so and recognize that it is.

And to the extent that the Democratic Party embraces that split and supports policies that make it clear where they stand, that they stand for most working Americans, to the extent that Democrats do that, it helps the Democratic Party.  And to the extent that the Democratic Party forgets that and gets away from it, and starts chasing corporate money as well at the expense of its base constituency, not only is there less reason for two different parties to exist in this country, but the Democratic Party is sowing the seeds of its own demise.

As the poli-sic 101 fortune cookie says, given the choice between a real Republican and a watered-down Republican, people generally take the real one.  The reason Democrats are even tempted to try to be more like Republicans, to chase corporate interest, to give up on what makes them different from Republicans is because they tend to forget that economic populism is so popular.  They forget numbers like this.  They forget that this is what this country believes in.

And now, Scott Walker and the great Republican overreach of 2011 has served to remind them.  It has reconnected the Democratic Party with its reason for existing.

Scott Walker is looking at being recalled as governor in Wisconsin.  What‘s happening on the other side?  Well, the progressive group Act Blue put out a call for people to support the Wisconsin Democratic senators who fled the state in order to stop Walker and Republicans from what they‘re doing.  So far, with that call, which I bet you didn‘t even hear about, they‘ve raised more than $540,000 for state senators.

The AFL-CIO, the biggest federation of unions in the country, they are now reveling in their newfound support.  The AFL-CIO president saying, quote, “We‘ve never seen the incredible solidarity that we are seeing now.”

The head of the United Mine Workers quoted by “The Associated Press,” saying, “People are looking at this and saying, this is a struggle I want to be part of, this is our moment.”

A group called the Progressive Change Campaign C put out the most pointed “stand with the people who work for a living” ad that we have seen in a very long time.  They asked for support online to keep it running.  Within eight hours, they tell us they raised $145,000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMILY PEASE-CLEM, TEACHER, MADISON, WI:  Governor Walker and the Republicans just gave over $100 million in tax cuts to corporations, and now, they‘re asking teachers and nurses to pay for it, and attacking workers‘ rights to negotiate for benefits.

KRISTINE FANTETTI, SECRETARY, WHITEWATE, WI:  I‘m just a secretary, and this bill that Walker‘s proposing is going to cost me over $3,000 a year.

KATHLEEN SLAMKA, ELECTRICIAN, OAK CREEK, WI:  This is Republican class warfare, an attack on the middle class.  This is a battle and we need to win.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  In Washington, Democrats like Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan find themselves looking into CSPAN cameras and making this kind of case for what the Democratic Party stands for.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TIM RYAN (D), OHIO:  The issue that we are talking about in Ohio, in Wisconsin is an issue of respect for the average worker in the United States of America.  The issue is: are we going to respect work in the United States of America?  Are we going to respect the workers in the United States of America while all these fat cats have gotten off scot-free?  And we turn around and tell the workers in Ohio and Wisconsin and Indiana and the Big Ten Conference, you got to take the hit.  It‘s unfair and it‘s disrespectful and it is not an American value.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  When is the last time you heard Democrats talking like that in Congress?

Democrats are placing themselves on the side of Americans who have to work for a living and against the corporate interest and the political party those corporate interests pay for who are trying to strip them of their rights.  This is happening among Democrats at the state level, right?  The Wisconsin 14, those Wisconsin state senators have been out of the state 14 days now.  They show no signs of wavering.

In Indiana—Indiana—Indiana, land of Democrats like Evan Bayh—in Indiana, state Democrats there did what the Wisconsin Democrats did.  In Indiana, they fled the state.  Once they fled the state, Republicans caved, and then the Democrats decided to stay out of the state in opposition to privatizing the state school system, too.

Indiana that happened?  The fighting progressive Democrats of Indiana? 

Indiana.  Indiana.

Indiana and Wisconsin Democrats have galvanized to take the kind of

stand and to show the kind of spine that the Democratic base has frankly

been weeping for my entire adult life.  In the state, Democrats are

remembering now that there‘s a reason there are two parties in this country

remembering why the Democratic Party is not the Republican Party, remembering that the Democratic Party stands for people who work for a living, stands for the kinds of economic populism that are wildly popular in the United States of America, even when people call themselves conservatives.

           

In the states, in the Midwest, in places like Wisconsin and Indiana and Ohio, the Democratic Party is rediscovering its soul, remembering why it exists.  No national Democrats remember that, too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Understand this: if American workers are being denied their right to organize and collectively barring on when I‘m in the White House, I‘ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself.  I‘ll walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States of America because workers deserve to know that somebody‘s standing in their corner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That was candidate Barack Obama in 2007.  There‘s no picket line in Wisconsin, but those rights are certainly being stripped.

What‘s happening in Wisconsin is galvanizing the Democratic Party in the States and reconnecting Democrats to what great majorities of Americans believe—economic populism, the interest of people who work for a living.

Republicans picked the wrong fight here.  They are isolated and defensive and desperate on this.  And even if they win—which I don‘t think they will—they will never be proud of how they won it.  They will only be able to hope people forget how they won it.

This has become the Democrats‘ moment.  When do we get to hear from our Democratic president on that?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Today in Ohio, the Senate there voted Wisconsin-style to strip union rights.  The measure passed 17 to 16, even though six Republicans jumped ship and voted with Democrats to protect the unions.

In Ohio, Democrats couldn‘t block a quorum, so they didn‘t have the option that Wisconsin Democrats had of stopping the bill by leaving the state.  The Ohio union-stripping measure heads over to the assembly now where Republicans will probably pass it there, too.

That said, the protests in the streets in Ohio, and the wild unpopularity of what Republicans are doing, and the Republican defections on this do not make passage a sure thing.  And if it does pass, Democrats say it will be repealed by public vote this November.

For anyone concerned about Ohio‘s budget, which is why Republicans say they are attacking unions there, one part of the hole in Ohio‘s budget is because a few years ago, the state eliminated income taxes for corporations, which would have been paid to the state.  So now, of course, there‘s a crisis in the budget and that‘s a reason to kill the unions?

“The New York Times” printed how former Secretary of State Jennifer

Brunner explained the Ohio situation on her Facebook page this week.  She

wrote there, quote, “A dozen cookies are put in front of a CEO, a union

member, and a Tea Partier.  The CEO stakes 11 of the cookies.  Then he says

to the Tea Partier, ‘Hey, that a union guy wants yours.‘”

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Cut spending, raise taxes.  Cut spending, raise taxes.

If you‘ve got money trouble, if you‘ve got a budget problem, if you‘re spending more than you‘re taking in, how do you fix that problem?  Cut spending, raise taxes.

Cut spending, raise taxes, right?  That‘s the fight.  Those are the two basic tools you‘ve got to fix that problem.

And they are both pretty ugly little puppets.  I mean, you can spin either one of them—aren‘t they hideous?  You can spin either one of them to sound better or worse, depending whether on you‘re for it or against it in the first place, but those are essentially two unpleasant little puppet options for dealing with an unpleasant money problem.

Wouldn‘t it be great if you could start to fix a money problem like this, if you could start to fix a deficit problem without having to do either of these things, without having to either raise taxes or cut spending?  Wouldn‘t that be amazing?

Well, welcome to your amazing life—because there is another option, there is another way to do it.  And that is to—without raising taxes—to increase the amount of money you collect from people who owe taxes.

If this were a small business, if you were a plumber doing this, it would mean getting better at your billing.  Not raising your prices, not raising your hourly rates, but just making sure that money that‘s supposed to be coming in to you is actually coming in.  That‘s how it would work if you were a small business.

For a government, the equivalent to getting ready at billing is cracking down on tax cheats.  When people owe taxes, it‘s getting them to pay those taxes.  It is catching them when they try to evade taxes or when they cheat.  It‘s not cutting spending or raising taxes.  Sorry, you guys.  But it does reduce the deficit.

Every dollar the IRS spends going after tax cheats pulls in more than $10 against the deficit.  It is the technocratic good government efficiency way to cut the deficit without raising taxes or cutting spending.

And Republicans want to do less of it.  Republicans this year say they want to cut $600 million out of tax enforcement.  How can you say you care about the deficit and then propose that?  Whatever you think about these bad ideas, that has got to be the worst idea ever.

Joining us now is David Cay Johnston.  He‘s a Pulitzer Prize-writing columnist, a columnist at Tax.com, a professor at Syracuse University and author of the book “Free Lunch.”

Professor Johnston, thank you so much for your time.

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON, TAX.COM:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Please, forgive the puppets.  But is there something I‘m missing about cutting the IRS budget?  Is that secretly somehow a smart move if you‘re interested in bringing down the deficit?

JOHNSTON:  Well, if a lot of your campaign contributors aren‘t paying their full load of taxes, it would be very smart.  But, you know, it‘s called the Internal Revenue Service.  It‘s functionally the sales department of the federal government.

And so, if you need more revenue, would you fire salespeople or hamstring them with all sorts of rules, or do what the Republicans started in 1995, tell your sales force to go after the working poor and pull back on the rich?  That‘s like a police chief saying, I want more people on the parking ticket squad and we‘re going to shut down the homicide bureau.

MADDOW:  I am interested in what you alluded to actually there with your first sentence there, into what is being called fiscal policy.  But that is really about accomplishing other political goals.  I think—I think that‘s what we have in Wisconsin, an attack on unions that‘s purportedly justified by the budget but it‘s not actually not related to the budget at all.

Do you—“A,” do you think that‘s the case in Wisconsin?  And do you also think that‘s what‘s going on with this call to cut corporate tax rates?

JOHNSTON:  I think this is going on all over the country.  I have written a number of times about a former IRS official who figured out how to catch all sorts of tax cheats using computers.  And I finally was told by an official in Kentucky that the governor‘s office sent word that no, they weren‘t going to do this because it might catch some of the donors to the governor.

In New York, we have a huge amount of tax cheating going on that‘s easy to catch involving real estate.  The state won‘t pursue it.

In Wisconsin, we have the same thing.  The previous administration fired state corporate auditors while saying we don‘t have enough revenue.

MADDOW:  Ad where does the revenue come from?  You keep using those words.  Is there real evidence that cutting corporate tax rates helps with deficits or helps with the economy?  I mean, it is one thing to have it be sort of nakedly partisan or nakedly about cronyism.  But is there any economic evidence to support that argument?

JOHNSTON:  You know, Rachel, it‘s been 10 years since we started with the Bush cuts.  It‘s been 30 years since Reagan.  But 10 years.  So what‘s happened?

The median and average wage in this country in 2010 was smaller than it was in 2000.  Corporate tax revenues are down more than a third, even though profits are up 60 percent.  Individual income tax revenues are down 30 percent.

What‘s going on here is very clear.  We have a policy that does not work.  How long do we have to let it go?  Do we have to totally break the country before we recognize this policy didn‘t work?

George Bush said, you know, elect me, I will cut taxes.  You will all become prosperous.

And he was very clear, everyone.  And he never wavered from that message.  He didn‘t say, oh, it‘s beyond my control.  He stuck to that message.

Well, it‘s not working, and a lot of us predicted it wouldn‘t work.  There are a lot of people wrote papers explaining why it wouldn‘t work, and we need to recognize we have a failed policy.  The bottom 90 percent of people in America today, Rachel, make less than $300 a year more than they did in 1980.  But the top tenth of 1 percent have seen their average go from $1,400,000 to almost $6 million.  All the gains have been going for 30 years now to the top tenth of 1 percent, 300,000 people.

MADDOW:  Let me ask you specifically about a broken policy and about ways that fiscal situations are being used to justify really radical political action.  In Wisconsin, the governor there, Scott Walker, started signing tax cuts for businesses as soon as he took office there—despite the state‘s budget shortfall and his purported concern for that.

What were the taxes like for corporations in Wisconsin that Governor Walker felt needed to be changed?

JOHNSTON:  Well, what all of these governors—what‘s happened—here‘s what happened with large corporations.  Large corporations set themselves up within America just the way they do overseas.  So, you take your profits in a place like Delaware where you‘re not taxed or Florida, and you put all of your costs in a place like Wisconsin.

So, in Wisconsin, as in most states, most of the corporate income tax doesn‘t come from big companies, it comes from mom and pop businesses, people who own restaurants or small hardware stores, maybe car dealers.  It doesn‘t come from big national companies, and the states are all busy giving away money.

The states are now giving away at least $70 billion a year to corporations.  Where I live in western New York, one of the counties here just gave Verizon a deal, $3.1 million for each of 125 jobs they‘re creating, and those jobs are going to pay about $50,000 a year.  This is crazy!

MADDOW:  Wow.  This is absolutely crazy.  David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, author of “Free Lunch”—thank you very much for your insight.  Really appreciate it.

JOHNSTON:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  There is fresh data for study in the John Boehner is bad at his job hypothesis project.  I am willing to be convinced otherwise, but this hypothesis is gaining steam as you will see.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  You know what‘s been a great business to be in since, say, 9/11?  Oil.  In the last 10 years, the top five biggest oil companies have made collectively almost $1 trillion in profit.  Not in revenue, in profit!

Yesterday, House Democrats put forward a motion that said, hey, given that, maybe we should stop providing tens of billions of taxpayer dollars in subsidies to big oil.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. WILLIAM KEATING (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  Let‘s stop sending taxpayers money to the most profitable companies in the world.  The time is now to stop subsidizing the largest oil companies.  I think it shocks every American taxpayer to know that they‘re required to fork over, over $40 billion in subsidies over the next decade to the most economically profitable of companies, especially as oil soars to $100 per barrel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  That motion to cut taxpayer subsidies for big oil companies was soundly defeated.  Every single Republican who was voting voted against it.  They voted unanimously as Republicans to keep giving taxpayer money to an industry that made $1 trillion in profit in the last decade.

How are they going to explain that?  Are they just going to say it helps jobs or something?  Let me warn you off that argument right now, OK?  ExxonMobil, the Babe Ruth of making money, ExxonMobil saw its income go up and up and up and up and up again from 2005 to 2008, while the number of people employed at Exxon, the number of jobs at Exxon in these years went down and down and down and down.

That‘s who Republicans want to give taxpayer money to, for jobs maybe? 

Yes.  Cue the 2012 campaign commercials now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Until 1947, the United States had a Department of War.  Now, we have a Department of Defense—a Defense Department, which is a euphemism.

And in keeping with that euphemism, there is the fantasy it is easy to use the military for defensive purposes, that the military can be deployed in fact as a shield.  In reality, it doesn‘t really work that way.  Missile defense is just other missiles.  Peacekeeping forces have guns which are used to shoot at people.  Military force pretty much always just force.

Right now in Libya, the leader of that country is using the force of that country‘s own military against his own people.  This is footage from Brega today, an oil town on the Mediterranean.  Reporters on that city witnessed Libyan jets dropping bombs there.

As the rest of the world is trying to come up with ways to stop Gadhafi from attacking his own people, one of the fantasies has been this idea of imposing a no fly zone, using military force as defense to protect the people, not so much attacking Libya as halting attacks in Libya.

But you know, there‘s a reason we used to call the War Department.  Today, Secretary of Defense Bob Gates popped that military force as defense balloon when he said that, yes, if ordered to, the U.S. military would impose a no fly zone in Libya, but what that would mean logistically is bombing them—bombing Libya‘s air defense systems.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  There‘s a lot of frankly loose talk about some of these military options.  And let‘s just call a spade a spade.  A no fly zone begins with an attack on Libya, to destroy the air defenses.  That‘s the way you do a no fly zone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  The general in charge of CENTCOM told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday the same thing, in even blunter terms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JAMES MATTIS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND:  You would have to remove the air defense capability in order to establish the no fly zone, so there‘s no illusions here, it would be a military operation.  It wouldn‘t simply telling people not to fly airplanes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Setting up a no fly zone, even if the rebels there want us to in effect means starting a war in Libya—another war in the Middle East.

The defense secretary today putting none too fine a point on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GATES:  We also have to think about frankly the use of the U.S.  military in another country in the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW:  Another one, in addition to the others.

Military force is not defense or even defense.  It‘s military force—planes, guns, warships, ammunition, ordnance, force with a capital F.  And as much as our country wants to stop what Gadhafi is doing in Libya, the Pentagon is, in effect, telling Congress that the military force options for doing that are not good options.

Joining us now is NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, live in the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Richard, thank you so much for joining us tonight.  Are you safe and sound out there?

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  No, we‘re actually very much in the eye of the storm.  It‘s a very surreal situation here in Tripoli.  There‘s almost an environment like people are pretending the war doesn‘t happen here—shops are open, people are going to work.  The Internet is working, phones are up.  It is a different reality from rebel-held Libya.

So, right in the capital, yes, there are troops and armored vehicles rigging the city.  But when you get to the middle of it, it actually feels very calm.

MADDOW:  In Tripoli tonight, should we think of that calm because this is a Gadhafi stronghold?  Is it peaceful because Gadhafi still has supporters, has a constituency there?  Or is it the force that is keeping things calm there?

ENGEL:  I think it is the threat of Gadhafi‘s continued presence, and I saw a similar situation to this in the final days of Saddam Hussein.  People were nervous, people were scared.  People wanted to go out and express their feelings.

But as long as Saddam in that case was still in power, people had to go along with the fantasy that Saddam had, which was the war is not coming.

Well, Gadhafi is using that same analogy.  He is saying the war is not coming.  There is no war.  There is no rebellion.  All there are are some terrorist-inspired, drug crazed youths who are causing problems in a few far away places, and hopefully, the people of Libya will just wake up.

He told the people of Benghazi today to reign in their sons, to tell their sons to stop this nonsense and take their weapons away from them before something really bad happens.

Now, I think that‘s his paternalistic way of warning the people that something very bad could happen, but also gives an insight into his tone, the tone that he‘s taking about this conflict, that it‘s somewhere else.  And when you‘re here in Libya, in Tripoli in particular, it does feel somewhere else.

MADDOW:  Richard, I know you‘ve been able to report both from some of the rebel-held territory as well now from Tripoli.  From what you‘ve seen across the country, do you think that we should understand this as a civil war?  Is this—is this a war that‘s going on?  Is it a protest movement?  How should we think of this?

ENGEL:  I wouldn‘t think of it as a civil war.  Now, civil war, to me, is sort of what we had in the later years of Iraq.  You had civilians killing civilians because they had religious differences or ethnic differences.

This is more like a revolution.  People are gathering steam and trying to topple the regime.  It‘s more like the French Revolution model or American Revolution.  Yes, it‘s true that you have Libyans who are loyal to Gadhafi fighting against—and some mercenaries—and Libyans who are part of the rebellion.  But the goal is not because Libyans want to kill them to settle a score.  They want to topple this government and are fighting against the loyalists of the government.

So, I think it‘s more of an armed rebellion than it is a civil war.

MADDOW:  Richard, how long do you think this will take to resolve?  Do you think this revolution has a real chance of succeeding?

ENGEL:  The geography is working against them.  The biggest stronghold is obviously in Benghazi.  Now, Benghazi is far away.  And there are some strongholds, particularly the town of Sirte, right in the middle.  And then it‘s not a mechanized force.

So, just to get from Benghazi, which has a population of about 1.2 million to here in Tripoli is a long way, and they‘re probably not going to arrive here in force.  They‘re coming in a few vehicles at a time, 10 vehicles, 20 vehicles, not even that many.  So, what we‘re seeing in the east is they‘re trying to just defend their own territory.  And today, they repulsed that sort of weak attack on Brega and Ajdabiyah in the east.

What is much more a threat to the Libyan capital are the suburbs around here, the suburbs around Tripoli that have fallen.  If those suburbs can mobilize and if they can tap into frustration that is in Tripoli, but is right now afraid to express itself, then this capitol does have a real chance of falling and Gadhafi‘s regime has a chance of falling.

But it‘s going to be much slower.  In Iraq, when there was that same sort of trepidation that people were very afraid to express, everyone had to pretend to go about their business, they knew that the American military was on its way to attack.  Here you have rebels that are outside the city that are not particularly well-armed, motivated, but not the kind of force to sweep in and overwhelm the city.

So, this could get—this could get quite violent if it gets into the city itself and it could be quite protracted.

MADDOW:  NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, right in the middle of it as he finds himself, reporting live from the capitol of Tripoli—Richard, stay safe.  Thanks for joining us, man.

ENGEL:  My pleasure.

MADDOW:  All right.  Coming up at the top of the hour, Ed Schultz‘s stellar, unparalleled coverage of what‘s going on in Wisconsin continues.

And next on this show, we have been hard at work on a new chapter in the John Boehner is bad at his job hypothesis.  It‘s now trending towards a dissertation.  All new data is coming up shortly.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  I have slightly less fashion sense than the average toddler.  Food stains included.  However, on the rarest occasions, somebody like a world leader—preferably a dictator—chooses something to wear that even I think deserves public pointing and laughing.  One of those rare occasions is next.  No matter how you dress, I think you, too, will deputize yourself into the fashion police for this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  Two years ago, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made a very important, official visit to Slovenia.  As you do, he visited the president there, he did things that presidents do, the way that Egypt state information service reported on and it sounds it was really boring.  The discussion they say included, quote, “ways to strengthen relations in the areas of trade, investments, industry, transport, energy, tourism, Tim Pawlenty, technology, information, communications, Tim Pawlenty.”

But this visit only sounds like it was super boring.  It was not in fact boring, because on this trip, Mubarak showed up in Slovenia wearing this.  Charcoal colored pin stripes.  Nice, right?

But look closer.  There‘s something about those pin stripes.  No, really, look even closer.

Hey, wait, those pin stripes are trying to tell us something.  And that something is Hosni Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak.  Dude showed up in Slovenia wearing personalized pinstripes, pinstripes that are actually letters spelling out his own name over and over again.

It is good to be dictator.  Now that I know this sort of thing is possible, our producer Will Femia has figured out online where anybody can get this done.  I am now having a suit made that says, “Don‘t eat the garnish, don‘t eat the garnish, don‘t eat the garnish.”  It doesn‘t make me a dictator.  It does make me see the appeal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MADDOW:  We‘ve introduced the hypothesis on this show that Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner is bad at his job.  It‘s not about whether he‘s a good guy, whether he has or bad ideas, or even whether or not what he‘s trying to accomplish as speaker is good for the country.  It‘s about whether he‘s good at being speaker.  It‘s about—whatever his agenda, whatever he wants, is he skilled enough to reach his goals?  Can he do it?  Is he good at his job or bad at his job?

That‘s Speaker of the House John Boehner.  He‘s the most high-profile Republican in the country.  He‘s one of the only Republicans other the chairman of the Republican National Committee, the very famous Reince Priebus, who has a national position.

Mr. Boehner is the face of the Republican Party.  What House Republicans do under his leadership establishes how America thinks about Republicans, heading into the presidential election year.  And so, under that kind of pressure, one way to be a good speaker, one way to be good at that job is to make sure that when the eyes of the nation are upon you, you are not caught out being really petty.

You may feel petty, but try not to show it.  Rise to the occasion.  Members of your caucus may have petty instincts, but be their leader.  Stop them from putting their pettiness on parade.

Yesterday, in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, they held a hearing that was titled the “Consequences of Obamacare.”  That is not the shorthand nickname.  That is not the shorthand nickname for the hearing.  The committee actually put Obamacare in the title.

That‘s like if you were the University of Michigan, and you were hosting your big rival Ohio State.  But instead of putting Buckeyes up on the scoreboard, you put “suckeyes” up on the scoreboard.  Hilarious.  Also petty.

House Republicans keep doing stuff like this.  Let‘s have a hearing where we call it Obamacare.

Even their bill, their repeal health care reform bill was not called the “Repeal the Affordable Health Care for America Act.”  They called it the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act.

Republicans report—Republicans report about health reform was titled “Obamacare: A Budget-Busting, Job-Killing Health Care Law.  These are the actual formal titles.  Suckeyes!

Over and over again, they keep proposing or doing stuff under John Boehner‘s leadership that just isn‘t ready for primetime.  For example, Republican Congressman Aaron Schock of Illinois put forward a resolution to ban signage, anywhere in the country, that would identify any project as being funded by the stimulus.  Suckeyes!

At the same time, you had California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa threatening to launch an investigation into signage on stimulus act projects.  Well, not only tear down the signs so nobody knows what the stimulus is funding, we‘ll investigate the signs, too.  We‘ll subpoena the signs.

This is sort of what the House is like under Speaker Boehner.  It‘s like J.D. (ph), it‘s spitball time.

Another example, there are more than 100 cities, not all of which rhyme with San Francisco, which ban Styrofoam food packaging.  You know how McDonald‘s doesn‘t even use it anymore, that‘s because Styrofoam practically is half life of nuclear waste.  Its toxic components leach into the food it holds.  You can‘t even find this stuff at McDonald‘s.

But know where you can find it now?  At the House cafeteria.  Because mean-old Nancy Pelosi took away that precious Styrofoam and the House Republicans made it an urgent priority to kill the biodegradable food packaging program.  And they killed it.

And John Boehner‘s press secretary cheered it this week with this tweet.  “The new majority - plasticware is back,” along with a picture of Styrofoam.  Suckeyes!

The petty parade extends all the way to how they‘re actually doing business, the business of Congress.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew back from Geneva to appear before the new House Committee on Foreign Affairs yesterday to answer questions about all of the myriad things going on in foreign policy right now.

She was supposed to be answering questions, but under John Boehner‘s leadership in the House, the foreign affairs committee instead just sat her there, and fired long-winded questions at her, and would not allow her to answer those questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE:  I feel strongly that we‘re

making an impact -

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN ®, FLORIDA:  Thank you, Madam Secretary.  And I respectfully request written responses as you offered to the questions that you were not able to answer because I asked so many.

CLINTON:  Certain organizations and individuals—

ROS-LEHTINEN:  Madam Secretary, I‘m going to be a little ruthless, because we want to get all of our members in.  Thank you so much.  Thank you.  I know my good friend understands.

CLINTON:  Try to help those who are -

ROS-LEHTINEN:  Sorry to jump in, Madam Secretary.

Thank you, Madam Secretary.  I do apologize.  Thank you, Madam Secretary.

CLINTON:  So, it‘s important we keep doing that.

It‘s forced sterilization, it‘s forced abortion.

ROS-LEHTINEN:  I‘m sorry, Madam Secretary.  I‘m sorry.  Thank you so much.  Mr. Ackerman, the ranking member on the subcommittee on Middle East and South Asia is recognized for five minutes.

REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK:  Just when it was getting good.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

MADDOW:  Thanks for flying back from Geneva.  We didn‘t actually leave any time to hear what you had to say.  We‘re just going to talk on our side instead, Madam Secretary of State.

Let‘s us add this additional data to the John Boehner is bad at his job hypothesis.  It is not yet a (INAUDIBLE).  It is still hypothesis.

But let this be open for discussion—one of the ways John Boehner is a bad speaker of the House, one of the ways he does not represent the interests he‘s supposed to be representing, is that he has allowed the House under his leadership to behave in a manner that is exactly as petty as they feel.  Having petty impulses, feeling snot-nosed, and vindictive in your world view, that is something I have a lot of sympathy for, deep down inside where it counts, I am as petty and immature and vindictive as it gets.

But if I were a member of Congress, I would expect the leadership to stop me from showing it every day at work.  Suckeyes!  Don‘t do that.

Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.”  Have a great night.

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

END   

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