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Msnbc Live at 6 p.m. ET, Friday, March 25th, 2011

Read the transcript from the Friday 6 p.m. hour

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Guests: Shibley Telhami, Michael Singh, Nicholas Kristof, Clarissa

Martinez, Ron Brownstein, Paul Gunter

CENK UYGUR, HOST:  Welcome to the show.  I‘m Cenk Uygur. 

And I‘ve got news for you.  The Middle East is on fire. 

Revolutions are lighting up the region.  Today, we have unrest in at least five countries, including deadly clashes in Syria. 

Government forces reportedly open fired on protesters in several Syrian cities.  Much of the violence occurred in the city of Daraa.  Residents reported fatalities with unconfirmed reports of as many as 30 slain throughout Syria, according to Al Jazeera television.  Prior to that, at least 55 people had been in Daraa during this week of unrest. 

In Libya, coalition warplanes are hammering Gadhafi‘s forces in the eastern city of Ajdabiya today.  Ajdabiya has been under siege for more than a week, with rebels holding down the center of the city, fighting off shelling from Gadhafi troops.

The air strikes come on a day that France declared the no-fly zone “under control.”  Beginning tomorrow, a Canadian general will take over command of the NATO mission in Libya. 

Today, the White House said President Obama will address the American people “in the very near future” about the U.S. role going forward.  And delegates from Gadhafi‘s government met with the African Union to try to hammer out a cease-fire and a political solution.

Now, look, there‘s violence elsewhere in the region as well.

In Jordan, the Associated Press reports more than 100 people were injured in fighting between pro-and-anti-government demonstrators.  The clashes in Amman were the most violent in that country in more than two months of protests. 

In Bahrain, security forces fired tear gas and pellets at anti-government protesters.  At least one person was killed and more than 50 injured as thousands defied a ban on public gatherings following Friday prayers. 

And in Yemen, the embattled president addressed tens of thousands of supporters at a rally in the capital.  He said he‘s ready to step down, but only if he can leave the country in safe hands.  Government security forces there have killed more than 40 protesters in the last weeks.

Gadhafi is now negotiating.  The leaders of Tunisia and Egypt are already gone.  Saleh, in Yemen, is on the verge of getting knocked out, as you just heard.  These long-running dictatorships are on the ropes. 

Why?  Because history is changing before our very eyes. 

There used to be a time when barbarism and conquest or in retaining power was par for the course.  It was what was expected. 

The Mongols once wiped out a town so thoroughly, that they not only killed every man, woman and child in that town, and destroyed every building, but they also diverted a river that ran through the town.  You want to know why?  Because they wanted to wipe the town off the map.  And they did. 

Do you know what the name of that town is?  No?  Well, you‘re not alone.  No one does.  It disappeared into history.

War was hell, and of course you killed civilians.  Even in this century, the amount of civilians killed during World War II numbered in the millions, and we did our fair share.  That‘s, of course, in the 20th century.  But two things have changed since then that have changed the world, in my opinion—America and media. 

I know some will accuse me of being jingoistic, rah-rah America.  But I‘m trying to remind us of our better angels. 

We rebuilt Europe, we rebuilt our former enemies, and we turned them into our top allies.  We started the United Nations.  We spread the idea of human rights throughout the world until something amazing happened.  We changed expectations. 

Yes, many civilians have died since then in times of war.  But now the entire context of war has changed.  Everyone assumes we are supposed to protect the civilians. 

As I said, that was partly us.  But one more thing helped tremendously

the media. 

Now, let me give you an example in a different context. 

Black people were crushed and abused in this country for centuries.  But when we saw with our own eyes people running fire hoses and releasing vicious dogs on black crowds who were there peaceably protesting, we couldn‘t look at ourselves in the mirror anymore, and television was that mirror.  And it continues to be now with the help of the Web. 

So, when Hafez al-Assad rolled into the town of Hama in western Syria in 1982, he killed anywhere between 17,000 to 40,000 people, including civilians.  And what did the world do?  Nothing.  Partly because no one ever saw it. 

But when al-Assad‘s son who‘s currently in charge of Syria kills 30 people, the whole world sees it and wants to take action.  Just ask Gadhafi if you can still kill your own people and not have the world respond. 

Now, is our response perfect?  Of course not.  Can we stop the killing or oppression of all people throughout the world?  Of course not.  But we are on the right road. 

We are on the road to justice.  And we should be rightfully proud of that. 

Now, with me to discuss this more is Michael Singh, managing director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and former senior director of Middle East affairs at the National Security Council.  Also joining me is Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland.  He‘s also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. 

Shibley, let me start with you.

In Libya, are we on the right road here?  Have we prevented massacres?  And is that already a form of victory in terms of the road to justice that I just laid out? 

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND:  Look, there‘s no question.  I think if you look at it, had we not intervened, imagine what might have happened in Benghazi.  No one today doubts what Gadhafi is capable of doing.  This guy is living in his own world. 

And obviously a lot could have happened, and the rest of the world would have seen it.  As you pointed out, it‘s impossible, even with all the restrictions that are being applied by the Gadhafi regime, it‘s impossible for people to see it.  And the pressure would have mounted on the international community to intervene. 

And if we didn‘t, we would have failed the people of Libya, but, more importantly, you know, it‘s not just—it‘s certainly a moral issue for the international community and was done right because it was through the U.N., with support from the Arab League, with Arab public opinion largely supportive of this intervention.  So, in that sense, it was done right. 

You know, if we hadn‘t intervened, you could imagine also some consequences for America‘s national interests.  People talk about, you know, what‘s the American national interest in Libya?  Well, it‘s not just Libya.

You know, this is a movement that is sweeping the entire region.  It‘s being watched not just by Libyans, it‘s being watched by Egyptians and by Tunisians and by Yemenis.  What we do matters for everything else.

And I think in the end, this is a movement on the right side of history.  It is an empowerment of the public that is not going to go away.  It‘s not always going to succeed, but it‘s not going to go away.

And if we‘re not on the side of that movement, we‘re going to pay a price, because in my own judgment, the success of the mostly peaceful revolutions—and think about this—not just in Egypt and Tunisia, but also in Libya, started as peaceful demonstrations.  In Yemen, despite all of the weapons that are available, the slogans, “Salmiya (ph), salmiya (ph), salmiya (ph), “peaceful, peaceful,” those are the slogans in Syria. 

This is, you know, exactly the nightmare of bin Laden, who wants to try to create change through militancy.  So, in some ways, we have an investment in seeing those movements succeed for American‘s national interest, in addition to the moral investment. 

UYGUR:  Right.

Michael, you were part of the Bush administration.  But as you look at this, you‘ve got to be fairly ecstatic over it.  And here it is, you know, we‘re helping to hopefully topple a dictator and support democracy in the Middle East.

Isn‘t that what you guys wanted? 

MICHAEL SINGH, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY:  Well, I agree with Professor Telhami.  I mean, I think that if we had not acted when we did, the catastrophe in Benghazi could have been tremendous.  And I think that our servicemen and women who are participating in this should be proud that they prevented that from happening. 

And I also think that there are probably knock-on effects in the region.  I think that Syrian protests and others, they see the international community intervening in Libya, and perhaps it gives them hope that people in the world are actually standing with them. 

I do think though that we need to look more systematically at our policy in the region and ask, first of all, in Libya, the administration does have this problem of squaring the stated political aim of regime change—you know, Gadhafi must step down—with its much more modest approach to the actual military invention.  And I think that failing to square those things has sort of ironically brought them criticism from both sides.  You know, both from people who don‘t think we have interests there, and from people who think we do and should be there (ph) more robustly. 

UYGUR:  Michael, let me stay with you though.  Hold on.

SINGH:  Sure.

UYGUR:  If that‘s the case, though, I mean, you‘re not advocating for ground troops, are you?  I mean, that obviously proved disastrous in Iraq, and here we would be in the middle of three Middle Eastern wars. 

SINGH:  Well, I‘m advocating for a couple of things, Cenk.  I think that, first, the administration needs to be much more clear about its strategy with people. 

You know, they spent time building up a rhetorical case that the stakes are quite high for America in the region, and the stakes are quite high for America, specifically in Libya, and yet they seem to be still reluctantly going into this intervention and reluctant to take any kind of leadership of it and saying, you know, we want to get out as soon as possible, which it‘s difficult to square those things.  And then as you look across the region—

UYGUR:  Well, not really.  Michael, not really, and I‘ll tell you why.  Because, look, on the one hand, we want to do the right thing and we want to lead in doing so.  And we did in the beginning.  And on the other hand, obviously we don‘t want the responsibility of a third war.   And if our allies can handle it, isn‘t that a great thing? 

SINGH:  I think what we need to do, Cenk, is be clear with the American people, if there‘s a strong U.S. interest here, what are we doing to satisfy that interest or advance that interest?  And if you look around the region, Cenk, you‘ll see that in each case of an uprising here, and including the one right now in Syria, we‘ve taken a lot of time evaluating the situation as though we‘re sort of not really sure of what our overall policy is towards these issues. 

You know, do we believe that standing up for democracy in these countries is in our interest?  Do we think that there is something important here like Professor Telhami said, that‘s broader than just the individual circumstances in one city or one place?  Or is this much more narrow and, in fact, there aren‘t great U.S. interests at stake here, in which case the American people could expect something different? 

And I don‘t at all agree that we shouldn‘t have intervened in Libya. 

I do think it‘s quite important that we intervened in Libya. 

What I think is important is that we communicate to the American people very clearly what the American interest is here and what we‘re doing to advance it. 

UYGUR:  All right.  So—

SINGH:  You know, the president spoke robustly about Libya in the days and the weeks before this intervention, but then when we intervened, the president has been relatively silent.  And I think we need to hear more.

UYGUR:  Well, there‘s a good reason for that.  Look, I wanted him to move into Libya quicker as well.  But do you know what happened?  It turns out, behind the scenes, he was actually organizing allies.  And it‘s better to go in with allies than go in unilaterally. 

And, you know, I would love for Gadhafi—

SINGH:  But, Cenk—let me say something about that, Cenk, which is that our allies made clear that, in fact, we were the ones who were reluctant for about a week and a half about the U.N. Security Council resolution. 

UYGUR:  It depends on which allies you‘re talking about though, Michael. 


UYGUR:  If you‘re talking about the French and the British, that‘s right.  If you‘re talking about the Turks, that‘s not right. 

TELHAMI:  I think that that‘s actually not right also, because, ultimately, everybody was waiting for the Arab League because everybody understood that you need this regional legitimacy. 

UYGUR:  Exactly. 

TELHAMI:  And once that came, it happened very rapidly.  Not only that, the U.S. actually strengthened the resolution and made it possible to go beyond the no-fly zone to protection of civilians, which allowed the forces to act more forcefully.  That was an American amendment to the resolution.  So the U.S. moved rapidly once that support came from—

UYGUR:  Let me follow up on that then.  Professor Telhami, let me follow up on that. 

Then do you think we should stay until Gadhafi is gone, or is that too ambitious a goal? 

TELHAMI:  Well, I think that is the goal of the American foreign policy.  The president stated it. 

Whether or not this is going to be the interpretation of the U.N.  Security Council resolution remains to be seen.  The resolution authorizes any action that endangers the civilians.  Now, whether or not people interpret Gadhafi in power to endanger civilians, as in the international community, we will see.  But that‘s clearly an objective of American foreign policy. 

But let me just make one thing clear.  Look, the administration—part of the reluctance was not just to get international support, which is essential.  And it should not have been done unilaterally under any circumstances.  But remember, one of the wonderful things about the Tunisian and the Egyptian revolution is that they were indigenous and there was no foreign intervention, and no one could point and say, here, this is the U.S. meddling, or France meddling, or some other power meddling. 

The Middle East does not like foreign intervention, let alone Western intervention.  And it was to balance those two together. 

And it‘s incredible that it was played well enough that now we have receptivity by an Arab public which historically opposed any Western intervention in the Arab world across the board.  If you look at the sentiment in the region, it‘s far more hospitable to Western intervention, including American intervention in Libya.  That is a huge accomplishment, the likes of which we have never witnessed before. 

UYGUR:  Right.

Michael, let me end with you on that then. 

SINGH:  Sure.

UYGUR:  Look, this president did do nuance, and he brought these people on board, he brought the Arab allies on board, he brought the European allies on board.  And it looks like it‘s working for the moment being. 

Shouldn‘t he get a lot of credit for that? 

SINGH:  Well, look, I think that the president should get our support, certainly, in what is a military intervention in another country.  And I think that, yes, we‘re to congratulate, again, our servicemen and women and our president from preventing a massacre in Benghazi. 

But I think what I want to convey here is that, yes, multilateralism is quite important, and the support of our allies is important.  But we need to be clear about tradeoffs, Cenk. 

And the fact is that earlier intervention, as you acknowledged, would have had more impact here.  And the fact is that right now, the rebels control only this eastern slice of Libya when, in fact, they previously controlled much of also western Libya.  And there was a tradeoff in there. 

UYGUR:  No, no question about that. 

SINGH:  And the fact also is that—

UYGUR:  Bringing the allies was incredibly important.  And look, you know, it‘s an imperfect world.  And the fact that we‘ve actually taken action I think is a good thing, and obviously we‘re going to have to see how it plays out. 

The Canadians apparently are taking command tomorrow.  So that will be interesting to watch as well.

Michael Singh and Shibley Telhami, thank you both so much for joining us this evening.  We really appreciate it. 

SINGH:  Thanks, Cenk.

TELHAMI:  Thank you.

UYGUR:  All right.

Now, Newt Gingrich has tried to explain his flip-flop on Libya.  But guess what?  He‘s digging himself even deeper. 

Come on.  Stop, man.  Not again. 

And an explosion in the Hispanic population is horrible news for Republicans, but they have a plan to attack voters.  That sounds like a bad idea.  But we‘ll tell you all about it. 


UYGUR:  Newt Gingrich is still flip-flopping on Libya. 

Oh, come on, man.  You‘ve got to give it up! 

Last night on Fox News he ripped into the no-fly zone strategy. 


NEWT GINGRICH ®, FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  If they‘re serious about protecting civilians, you can‘t do that from the air.  This is a fundamental mistake, and I think is a typical politician‘s overreliance on air power. 


UYGUR:  So last night air power alone wasn‘t enough for Newt.  But are you going to be surprised to find out that he sang a different tune two weeks ago on the very same Fox News show? 


GINGRICH:  And we don‘t have to send troops.  All we have to do is suppress his air force. 


UYGUR:  Oh, come on!  Are you for the no-fly zone or aren‘t you? 

This is about the fifth flip-flop on this same exact issue.  And what does Newt think of flip-floppers?  Well, this is what he said in 2004 when talking about John Kerry: “You can‘t flip-flop and be commander-in-chief.” 

Exactly.  Well said, Mr. Gingrich. 

But he isn‘t alone.  The chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, is right there with him. 

In late February, she released this statement about Gadhafi: “Stronger penalties must be imposed in order to hold the regime accountable for its heinous crimes.  Additional U.S. and international measures should include the establishment and enforcement of a no-fly zone.” 

But then, the very day that the no-fly zone was enforced, she told a local TV station, “The case has not been made for me to be satisfied that this is the right move for the United States at this time.”

Now, I would say that that‘s unbelievable, but that kind of hypocrisy has unfortunately already become normal operating procedure for Republicans. 

But perhaps the most ridiculous flip-flop comes from good old Oliver North.  Here it is. 


OLIVER NORTH, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR:  Quite frankly, it‘s unparalleled.   In my entire experience in the military, going all the way back to the 1960s, every president has gone to the Congress to get a resolution to support whatever it is he wanted to do. 


UYGUR:  So, now all of a sudden Oliver North thinks we should get congressional approval?  Congressional approval?  Oliver North? 


NORTH:  I will tell you right now, Council, and all the members here gathered that I misled the Congress.  I misled—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At that meeting? 

NORTH:  At that meeting. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Face to face? 

NORTH:  Face to face. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You made false statements to them about your activities in support of the Contras? 

NORTH:  I did. 


UYGUR:  Oops.  North, of course, is infamous for not getting the approval of Congress as he sold weapons to Iran for the benefit of the Contras.  He was indicted on 16 felony counts for not getting congressional approval and for lying to Congress. 

Now, you‘ve got to give it to them, man.  They‘ve got chutzpah to put North up there to say you‘ve got to get congressional approval. 

So obviously the Republicans are playing political games here.  We‘ve seen it before. 

Now, that‘s a shame, because if we give the president more than a week to make his strategy work in Libya, it may just be the approach to humanitarian intervention that we‘ve been trying to get right for years. 

Now, I asked Pulitzer Prize-winning “New York Times” columnist Nicholas Kristof that very question last night when we spoke while he was in Cairo. 


UYGUR:  Isn‘t this what we‘ve been waiting for, for decades, global action taking—to head off massacres by dictators? 

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  Yes, it absolutely is.  I mean, maybe the oldest problem in international relations is what you do when you have a dictator devouring his own people. 

And normally the answer is you kind of wring your hands.  And then after it‘s over, you hold memorial services and solemnly say, if only we had known. 

This time we‘re actually doing something, and we‘re doing it pretty speedily.  It took three-and-a-half years after Bosnia began before the U.S. and international community really reacted.  This time, it took about three-and-a-half weeks.  So there is real progress. 

UYGUR:  And what are people on the ground saying?  The average Libyan, if you will, are they happy with the military intervention? 

KRISTOF:  There‘s no doubt that people in eastern Libya are overwhelmingly happy with intervention.  Now, it is true that people in eastern Libya have always been more antagonistic to Gadhafi.  And in western Libya, it‘s a little harder to gauge because that area is under Gadhafi‘s control and people obviously don‘t speak freely.  But as far as one can make out, you know, when one does speak, when people do talk to people in Tripoli or in places around it, then there does seem to be a real antipathy for him as well, although perhaps not as much as there is in the east. 

UYGUR:  And there‘s always ways of telling, too.  Like, for example, the refugee movement.  Can you tell us about that?  Are people going in or out of the country?  And what do you think that indicates? 

KRISTOF:  Yes.  Well, I mean, that‘s fascinating, because obviously there is a lot of concern about whether the strikes, the air strikes, are going to lead to civilian casualties. 

But right before those air strikes began, you had Libyans pouring out of Libya into Egypt at about eight times the normal rate.  And then once those air strikes began, the exodus stopped and, in fact, was reversed.  And now Libyans are returning to Libya, going back over towards the air strikes, which suggests to me that their real concern isn‘t, you know, allied air strikes.  It‘s, rather, Gadhafi himself. 

UYGUR:  Right.  So is it fair to say at this point that, at least as far as stopping the massacres—you know, I know there‘s many objectives, but that‘s certainly one of them—that that has worked for the moment being? 

KRISTOF:  Yes, it absolutely has.  It certainly worked in Benghazi.  If we had not intervened, Benghazi‘s streets would be drenched with blood right now. 

And in Misrata, it was a harder case because Gadhafi was already right inside Misrata.  But now he has pulled back.  Apparently, today, there were only two injuries after days in which there were many, many people killed. 

So the momentum seems to have shifted and these kind of massive massacres that would have happened otherwise just are not happening.  And it‘s hard to get attention to a massacre that doesn‘t happen.  You can‘t cover a massacre that doesn‘t happen, but that is, in fact, what the alternative reality would have been had we not intervened. 

UYGUR:  And how is this different than Iraq, which you opposed? 

KRISTOF:  I opposed Iraq because, you know, when you talked to Iraqis, then it was clear that on the one hand, they distrusted Saddam, they disliked Saddam.  On the other hand, they also distrusted the U.S., disliked the idea of U.S. troops on their territory, and they thought this was all a big con to steal Iraqi oil. 

On the other hand, you talk to Libyans, and they desperately want U.S.  involvement.  Maybe not troops on the ground.  And, you know, I don‘t think we should send troops on the ground, and many Libyans would not want that either. 

But the kind of intervention that has happened so far in terms of no-fly zone, a no-drive zone, air strikes, that is something that seems to have overwhelming support from Libyans themselves.  And that‘s a huge difference from Iraq. 

UYGUR:  Now, you know, I‘ve been talking about this throughout this show.  It seems that people cannot get it through their thick heads that maybe the extreme answer isn‘t the right answer in every case, whether we either do absolutely nothing or we send in every troop we‘ve got in a ground invasion.  That perhaps the best answer in a case like this is to do air cover and see if Gadhafi gets toppled. 

But I want to ask you an interesting question.  If Gadhafi doesn‘t get toppled, is it still a bit of a victory because we‘ve stopped the massacres? 

KRISTOF:  Oh, absolutely.  I mean, it would be nice to liberate in Tripoli from Gadhafi.  But if you happen to live in Benghazi, and you are alive today, and your children are alive today because of that no-fly zone, well, that sure feels like a victory to you.

And throughout the history of the last hundred years or so, the biggest problem in averting humanitarian disasters is that there are no ideal solutions.  Nothing works perfectly.  And as a result,  the temptation always is to do nothing. 

Well, you know, this time we‘re doing something.  It‘s not ideal.  There are a million uncertainties.  But one of the certainties is that there are a lot of people in Benghazi who are alive today who wouldn‘t be otherwise. 

UYGUR:  Now, it seems to me that people are being wildly unfair to the president.  I mean, we haven‘t had even a week of this so far, and it seems like it‘s already accomplished one of its major goals.  And somehow this is being chalked up as a bad idea just because it‘s a solution that‘s in the middle. 

Now, that‘s my thought on it.  Do you think that this strategy might actually work?  Are the critics here at home being unfair to this approach? 

KRISTOF:  Well, I mean, on the one hand, I think a lot of some of the criticisms have some real validity to it.  There are uncertainties.  But, you know, on the other hand, you have to weigh that against a lot of people who are alive today who wouldn‘t be otherwise. 

And the other criticism that is made which also has some validity is that we‘re inconsistent, that we intervene in Libya and we don‘t in Ivory Coast.  And, you know, that‘s true, too, but I would rather inconsistently save some lives than consistently save none. 


UYGUR:  All right.  We want to thank Nick Kristof, of course. 

And up next, what on earth are Steven Seagal and America‘s sheriff Joe Arpaio doing in a tank together?  We‘ll tell you. 


UYGUR:  America‘s sheriff, so called, Joe Arpaio rolled out two armored vehicles, a S.W.A.T. team and Steven Seagal to bust one suspected cock fighter in Phoenix this week.  Look, the story is already fun to discuss (ph).  Steven Seagal on a cock fighter.  Let‘s see what happens next.  The small army with Seagal on the lead armored vehicle ran over a gate, stormed the property, and arrested the unarmed suspect without incident.

Wow.  That wasn‘t exciting.  Some residents of the quiet neighborhood were so worried about the massive show of force, they actually called 911.  Seagal was on the scene because Sheriff Joe is allowing him and his TV crew to film his reality TV series “Law Man” with the Maricopa County Sheriff‘s Department.  Some are criticizing Arpaio for spending taxpayer dollars to promote Seagal‘s reality show.  That‘s a very fair criticism.

While they were wasting taxpayer money, the raid resulted in thousands of dollars worth of damage to the property.  And 115 of the 130 roosters were actually euthanized.  So, what was the point of busting up the cock fighting if you‘re going to kill all the roosters, any way?  That doesn‘t make any sense, but that‘s the Republican way.  An upside, it can work with Seagal‘s next movie title “The GOP: Violence is the Answer.  I forgot the question.”

All right.  Republicans have a history of going after Hispanic voters.  That‘s a bad idea, but news out today makes their fight much harder, and I‘ll tell you why.  That view might eventually destroy the Republican Party.


UYGUR:  As the Republicans war against immigrants is very revealing about the way that the GOP views Latinos in general.  Last week, during a debate on immigration, Arizona State Senate president, Russell Pearce, sent his colleagues a letter from a local substitute teacher which he claimed read in part.  It did read in part.  He claimed it was a substitute teacher.

Hispanic students do not want to be educated but rather be gang members and gangsters.  They hate America and are determined to reclaim this area from Mexico.  Then, one of Pearce‘s colleagues read the letter on the Senate floor.  So, that hateful language is now in the official record of the Arizona legislature.  And Russell Pearce is standing by it, refusing to apologize.

Now let me show you why this is a disastrous political strategy for the Republican Party.  The 2010 census shows that Hispanics now make up more than 16 percent of the population, twice the percentage of 2000.  Huge growth.  And the reason that scares Republicans, Latinos generally vote Democratic.  Even during the Republican wave of victories in the House of Representatives last year, Latinos voted 60 to 38 in favor of Democrats.  It was even worse in Arizona.

Seventy-one percent of Latinos voted for the Democratic candidate, only 27 percent went for Governor Jan Brewer.  And it‘s the same story in other states.  In Texas, only 38 percent of Latinos voted for Governor Perry, and 61 percent chose the democratic candidate last year.  Further more, the Hispanic population in Texas has jumped more than 43 percent since 2000.

Now, understand this, Texas is key, because if it turns blue and Democrats start winning its 38 electoral votes, that‘s game over for the Republicans.  But Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives are on the case.  This week, they passed a bill requiring people to show government issued photo I.D. when they vote.  The funny thing is it turns out people who don‘t have photo I.D.s are overwhelmingly minorities and senior citizens.

They‘re U.S. citizens, they just don‘t have that form of I.D., and Texas isn‘t the only state doing this.  Ohio Republicans also just passed an incredibly restrictive voter I.D. law that could affect almost 900,000 people, again, mostly senior citizens and minorities.  Republicans say the bill is to combat voter fraud.  Well, let me show you how ridiculous that is.  In Ohio, there were only four instances of voter fraud in 2002 and 2004 out of more than nine million votes.

Come on.  And Ohio‘s Latino population has also increased 60 percent over the last 10 years.  Look, this isn‘t complicated.  More minorities vote for Democrats, so Republicans try to find every conceivable way to prevent minorities from voting, but they‘re plugging a hole in a dam and that dam is going to blow.  If this demographic shows continues and the GOP continues to insist on demonizing Latinos in this country, they‘re in for a world of political hurt.

All right.  Now, let‘s discuss the issue.  Joining me now is Clarissa Martinez, director of immigration for the National Council of La Raza and Ron Brownstein, editorial director for the National Journal Group.

Clarissa, let me start with you.  You know, reading that letter into the record in Arizona, gratuitous, it‘s not even clear if that guy is actually a teacher anywhere, is kind of rubbing in people‘s face, like, this is what we think of Latinos.  What is it?  I mean, that makes no political sense.  Is it just that they can‘t help themselves?

CLARISSA MARTINEZ, NATIONAL COUNCIL OF LA RAZA:  I think we‘re seeing a lot of nonsense being talked about by elected officials, and I hope that we, pretty soon, can turn that corner.  And this is not the only issue, but I‘ve got to say I agree with you that it‘s suicidal for the Republican Party to continue on this track.

The one thing I would say is that Democrats can also not take this vote for granted, because part of the reason why Latinos rejected so many, particularly, Senate candidates last year is because of the demonization of the community, but Democrats need to deliver to keep Latinos in their corner.

UYGUR:  All right.  Ron, how about these I.D. laws.  You know, I know Republican and conservatives say wait, wait, wait, just give an I.D.  What‘s the big deal?  But is it really an effort to target senior citizens and minorities because they think, certainly, minorities don‘t vote in their direction?

RON BROWNSTEIN, NATIONAL JOURNAL GROUP:  Well, look, this is one of the analyst fights between the parties.  Republicans rail about voter fraud, Democrats talk about voter intimidation.  I really think—it‘s really at the margin either way in the sense of the demographics are irresistible.  You know, the minority share of the vote has doubled, more than double Bill Clinton first got elected in 1992 at 12 percent to 26 percent in 2008.

It fell off sharply in 2010 where sharply than it does from a

presidential to a midterm on average and that was one of the reasons why

Democrats had such a bad night, but this is kind of—as the census  today

I mean, the census results this week were like a postcard from the future.  I mean, the next America is arriving faster than people thought and almost every state, Hispanic share of the population, the overall minority share of the population is bigger than people thought it was going to be.

And that is something that you might be able to kind of tamp down at the margin, but depending on how you try to manipulate the voter laws, but it really is an irresistible change in the basic structure of our politics.

UYGUR:  Clarissa, is there any chance that the Republicans actually lose Texas?  And if they do because of the large Hispanic population, are they in more trouble than they realize?

MARTINEZ:  I think that Republicans are in more trouble than they realize, and there‘s a really important debate going on within the Republican Party about not keeping on this course.  And let‘s face it.  It‘s not that you need to do pro-Latino policies.  You just need to do sensible solution-driven policies that, by the way, Latinos support and so do the rest of Americans.

But there‘s been this embrace of demonizing anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-Latino rhetoric which is not going to pay off.  But, again, let‘s not forget that right now, Republicans are Democrats‘ best friend when it comes to the Latino vote.  And democrats also need to watch out.

UYGUR:  Right.  You know, Ron, they see these startling numbers.  Did Republicans get the message at all?  Are they at all worried yet or are they like no, we‘re going to head off that cliff, no problem?

BROWNSTEIN:  No, look, it is a mixed message.  I mean, Hispanic share of the vote significantly lags the share of the population.  You noted 16 percent of the overall population, 14 percent of the adult population only 9 percent of the vote in 2008.  And as you noted, that was 2 to 1 for Obama.  That did fall off in 2010 to 60 percent.  And if Republicans get 40 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2012, they would be satisfied with that.

The problem they have is that there is this enormous and typical (ph) pull in the party now toward a very hard line position on immigration.  Just the other day, Jeff Flake, who was one of the few remaining Republicans, the congressman from Arizona supported a comprehensive immigration plan, renounced it as the first thing he did running for Senate.  You are going to see that in 2012.

When you look at all of this, I think it does raise the question of whether Republicans will feel a lot of pressure to try to solve this problem in one stroke by putting an Hispanic, if they have one, Marco Rubio, something like that, on the ticket in 2012, because you are talking about a population that is growing, and as importantly as the overall numbers is the breadth.  I mean, this is a thumb on the scale now in a lot of states. 

Hispanics are the majority of the population growth in 18 states in this decade and were at least 30 percent of the population growth in 30 states.  So, this is not only Texas, Florida and California anymore.  This is Iowa and North Carolina and Georgia and the Midwest.  A lot of places where this is now a factor in the election than it had not been before.

UYGUR:  Absolutely right.  Clarissa Martinez and Ron Brownstein, thank you both for your time this evening.  We appreciate it.

MARTINEZ:  Thank you.

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, a major setback at the Fukushima nuclear plant, raising new questions about the safety of nuclear plants here at home.  That is very troubling.  We‘re going to talk about that next.


UYGUR:  We a potentially major setback at the Fukushima power plant in Japan today.  Right now, officials are trying to find the source of radiation leaking from one of the streaking reactors.  Workers have, once again, been evacuated from the plant while engineers reassess the situation.  Officials are calling the situation, quote, “very grave and serious.”

Two workers accidentally went into a pool of water 10,000 times more radioactive than normal.  That is not good.  They apparently weren‘t wearing boots, also not good and their feet were soaked.  They‘ve both been hospitalized.  More countries have banned food coming from Japan amid fears it has been tainted with radiation.  Taiwan and South Korea join the groundless (ph) of countries that include Singapore, New Zealand and the U.S.

There are also alarming new details about the safety of America‘s nuclear plants.  Keep in mind, there are 104 nuclear power plants in the U.S.  The inspector general of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has released a troubling report about those plants.  They explain that almost 30 percent of those plants failed to report equipment defects that can pose, quote, “substantial safety risks.”

According to the report, there were 24 such instances in a 10-month period between 2009 and 2010.  The inspector general says the reporting failures prevent regulators from learning about emerging defects that could be cropping up at plants all across the country.  So far, the lapses haven‘t led to significant accidents.  So far.  But here something that‘s going to give you chills.

It has to do with the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  The coastguard commissioner report on what went wrong, and what they found is a crucial valve called a blowout preventer didn‘t work.  It was supposed to seal off the pipe when there was a certain pressure.  Instead, two blades that should have closed tighter jammed and left a 1.4 inch space.  That‘s just 1.4 inches.  And all 4.9 million barrels of oil gushed through that space.

And that is what caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history.  Now, by the way, the report found it wasn‘t BP‘s fault.  It was a flaw with the blowout preventer‘s design.  But now, does anyone want to bet that there aren‘t similar flaws at our nuclear plants?  Especially as we just told you about all this Equipment defects at nuclear plants.  If 1.4 inches did that much damage with an oil spill, how much damage can it do at a nuclear facility?

with me now is Paul Gunter, director of Reactor Oversight for Beyond Nuclear Public Advocacy Group.  First, I want to ask you about these equipment defects.  How serious are they?  How concerned should we be?

PAUL GUNTER, BEYOND NUCLEAR:  Well, Cenk, you know, the issue here is that this is an inherently dangerous industry as we‘ve seen every night on our televisions now coming from Fukushima.  And so, we need to have the assurance that there is quality control and quality assurance for parts that are directly related to our safety.  And what this OIG report, the Office of the Inspector General has found is that, in fact, there‘s been a bobbling of reporting of safety defective parts, fuses, circuit breakers, pumps, motors, any number of parts that are, you know, vital in the event of preventing operations from going into an accident or controlling an accident once it starts.

The big problem here, though, the bigger picture is that the U.S.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission was reported back in 1990 by the U.S.  Government Accountability Office as not managing counterfeit and substandard parts.  And so, the report from the OIG now in 2011 is disturbing because it‘s back—harkening back on the faults and failures of the agency to capture substandard parts again.

UYGUR:  Well, Paul, let me ask you about this, because I‘m worried about the profit motive.  In general, I mean, look, if you make shoddy sweaters, all right, then I go to a different manufacturer to get my sweaters.  That‘s how capitalism works.  No problem.  But if you have a problem to cut corners in a nuclear plant, that obviously seems like it could be disastrous.  Have we had any indications that that might happen at our plants here in the U.S.?

GUNTER:  Absolutely.  You know, there has been this constant tug of war between production margins and safety margins, and we‘ve had a number of close calls precisely because there‘s a bias towards production.  And to keep these plants running and to get, you know, get out of outages, get through maintenance, and get on with making electricity.  And, you know, that‘s very risky.

But I think the other side of this is that what‘s now being demonstrated as the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is falling down on the job as the cop on the beat.  I mean, for all this non-reporting, we don‘t see any enforcement action.  And what we want to see is—in fact, if you want impetus for improving and raising safety margins, we‘ve got to have an agency that prioritizes enforcing safety margins rather than shielding the industry and its production agenda.

UYGUR:  Right.  Well, look, the other thing I‘m worried about is, over and over, our politicians get bought by the different industries they‘re supposed to regulate.  I mean, we see that with the oil industry, and if that happens in the nuclear industry and they start cutting corners to make an extra couple of bucks, that is not something you can play around with.  That‘s what we‘re concerned about.  Paul Gunter from Beyond Nuclear.  I know that‘s what you‘re concerned about.  Thank you so much for joining us tonight.  We appreciate it. 

GUNTER:  Thank you, Cenk.

UYGUR:  All right.  Now, it‘s March Madness, everybody.  You know that.  In college hoops and March Madness also when it comes to overthrowing dictators, we‘ve decided.  Who will survive?  Get your brackets ready.  We‘ll show you which dictators will make it to the final four and which will go home early.


UYGUR:  We‘ve got breaking news.  The president will address the nation on Libya this Monday evening at 7:30 from Washington D.C. MSNBC, of course, will cover that live.

Now, it‘s March Madness in college.  Hoops also March madness when it comes to overthrowing dictators apparently.  So, we‘re coming out with a dictator brackets.  We‘re going to find out which dictators are more likely to keep their grip on power and survive to the end.  So, let‘s go to the seeds.  We start with one seed and former president of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, who‘s been a one seed for decades.

Mubarak takes on surprising fourth seed, Moammar Gadhafi.  Gadhafi was on the bubble, but he‘s been on the bubble for 43 years.  The next matchup features two-seed, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, facing three-seed, former dictator of Tunisia, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, and over in the next bracket, we have the perennial favorite, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia taking on four-seed Yemen‘s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh.  And in the final match-up, Bashar al-Assad of Syria goes up against the King Hamad of Bahrain.

So here we go.  How‘s it going to work out?  The match-up serves set.  Let‘s take a look at what happens in the brackets.  In the first matchup, Gadhafi upsets Hosni Mubarak.  Who saw that coming?  Down goes Mubarak.  He went home before Gadhafi.  Mubarak was once a powerhouse, but how the mighty have fallen?  This upset win might finally earn Col. Gadhafi a promotion.  Will he (ph) like ever become a general?

In the next match-up, Ahmadinejad takes it.  This was a laugher.  Ahmadinejad was pressed early in 2009, he unfortunately hung in there and Ben Ali was bounced out of the tournament first.  Then in the Middle East bracket, well, they‘re all the Middle East bracket, actually.  We‘re projecting King Abdullah over Saleh.  Saleh‘s top general turned on him earlier in the week.  So, he might be going home sooner than expected.

And we are projecting al-Assad to outlast King Hamad who‘s been shaking Bahrain.  So, we are down to the final four.  Gadhafi, Ahmadinejad, Abdullah, and al-Assad.  This Gadhafi-Ahmadinejad matchup has got Vegas going wild.  It‘s a tough call.  Both are vicious fighters who have a knack for hanging around, but Gadhafi already has F-15s overhead.  So, we‘re projecting Ahmadinejad to go all the way to the finals.

And in another final, the al-Assad family has been running Syria for decades, but Bashar has no offense (ph) Syria doesn‘t have oil.  Abdullah in a walk here.  So, we believe the finals would be Ahmadinejad from Iran versus King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.  This could go to final death.  And, by the way, that is really the Middle East, Iran versus Saudi Arabia.

And in the end, we are projecting the winner of the dictator brackets as King Abdullah.  He‘s got all the oil and he‘s got us on his side, so he‘s likely to win.  All right.  There you have it.  Thanks for watching, everybody.  Follow me online, of course,  And right now, “Hardball” is next.

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