'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, March 5th, 2015
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Show: THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW
Date: March 5, 2015
Guest: Andrew Blankstein, Mark Stevens, David Wondrich
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. Thank you.
And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. There`s a lot
going on in the world tonight. We`ve got big show planned. There`s lots
But I have to tell you, we`re waiting right now on a live news event.
We`re waiting right now on a live press conference that is due to start
right now in Los Angeles.
And it`s going to happen at the golf course, southern California golf
course, where actor Harrison Ford was in a plane crash just a few hours
ago, a solo plane crash.
Mr. Ford, I should tell you first, has survived this accident. His
son tweeted tonight that Harrison Ford is, quote, "battered but OK", after
crashing his vintage plane on the Penmar golf course in Venice, California.
This crash happened just before 2:30 local time. So, 5:30 p.m. on the East
According to the celebrity news Web site TMZ, a witness said that his
plane nose dived on to the eighth hole of that golf course. TMZ also
obtained some audio, which NBC has not authenticated.
But TMZ has published this audio that they say is Harrison Ford
radioing back to the control tower where he had taken off in Santa Monica,
California. So, radioing back to the air field from which he had taken
off, and telling the control tower there that he was in trouble.
If this audio is what it appears to be, then the first voice you`re
hearing here is Harrison Ford`s. Listen.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Engine failure, request immediate return.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, 1781821 clear to land.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go to three.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, 1781823 clear to land.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Whatever trouble Mr. Ford had with his plane, he did not
make it back to the airport as he was requesting there. Emergency
responders at the golf course where the plane came down in Los Angeles say
that Harrison Ford was conscious when they reached him in the wreckage. He
is now in a local hospital with what "The L.A. Times" describes as moderate
And as I say tonight, we are awaiting a press conference from that
golf course. We`re going to bring that to you live when we get it. I
think based on the live shot that it`s just about to start. Can we go --
let`s see. Are we able to go live to that shot now?
All right, I think we`re going -- the press conference is just
starting, we`re trying to get that shot back. Let`s go to it now.
PATRICK BUTLER, ASST. LAFD FIRE CHIEF: And the NTSB will speak to
the incident itself and that will be from that end.
At approximately 2:30 p.m. this afternoon, the Los Angeles Fire
Department received a 911 phone call of a plane crash in the Penmar golf
course. Los Angeles City fire fighters and paramedics arrived on scene and
found a single engine plane that had crashed here on the golf course with
one male, 70 years old occupant. It appeared to be a solo occupant in an
Already on scene at that time were resources from the Santa Monica
fire department. This incident involved Santa Monica Fire Department, the
Los Angeles Police Department, the NTSB, the FAA, and other agencies.
The paramedics rendered first care to the individual. The patient
was alert, was talking, was breathing. He had some injuries and paramedics
were able to initiate care, spinal mobilization, and transport him to a
local hospital where he was in moderate to fair condition.
There was no fire. No evidence of fire. We checked the area for any
other hazards, there`s a small debris field here where the plane landed.
Other than that, the fire department and resources will maintain here
throughout the night and assist with the other agencies involved. Like I
say, our resources arrived on scene and transported one 70-year-old male
occupant to local hospital. And he`s in moderate to stable condition at
With that, I`d like to bring up the representative from the NTSB.
PATRICK JONES, NTSB INVESTIGATOR: Good afternoon. My name is
Patrick Jones, I`m an investigator with the National Transportation Safety
The first and most important thing is that we have had injuries and
we hope that the family and pilot all recover in a rapid period of time.
Approximately 14:20 this afternoon, there was a Ryan aircraft, a
vintage aircraft that was taking off from Santa Monica. The pilot reported
a loss of engine power and was attempting to return to the runway.
It appears that he clipped the top of a tree and came to rest on the
golf course. As the chief said there was only one person on board who was
treated by witnesses, and transported to the hospital. At this time, the
NTSB has started an investigation with the FAA in attendance and our goal
is to, tonight, is do some on scene documentation. We will ultimately
recover the aircraft tomorrow morning. To a local facility, and continue
And our process is kind of a slow process. And I`m sure that there
is going to be some questions about what caused this, and what is that and
if we solved it. At this point in time, it is the very beginning of an
investigation. It takes us a long time because we want to get it right.
So, I will not answer any questions that have anything to do with causation
at this point.
REPORTER: Mr. Jones --
REPORTER: The pilot (INAUDIBLE) can you talk about a situation like
this and a pilot surviving -- was this pilot very lucky?
JONES: Most accidents -- there are about 2,000 accidents a year.
The question was, was this pilot lucky? Absolutely, a pilot, any time a
human being is involved in an accident, is a lucky individual.
But having said that there are over 2,000 accidents a year nationwide
that involve varying levels of injuries to -- none to fatalities. The --
it is unusual for pilots to lose their lives because aviation is a pretty
safe operation. But there are events that it happens. As I said, any time
someone can get out of any type of accident, whether it`s a car or whatever
REPORTER: Mr. Jones, do you characterize this as it appeared that
the pilot did everything by the book and this was a textbook emergency
landing based on what you see here?
JONES: I`m not even going to go there. I -- there`s no way to --
you`re talking where you`re asking me to analyze something.
REPORTER: Let me rephrase it. Based on what you have seen so far,
the lane is right side up, fairly intact. Does this look like that the
pilot in it -- it was done in a remote area, does it appear it is done by
JONES: I would say any time a pilot survives an accident, or in any
case, that that was a good thing.
REPORTER: Can you specify on his injuries?
JONES: I cannot. All I know is what the fire department has told
me. I -- we have not been in touch with anybody at the hospital and that
is -- we believe that he is going to survive.
REPORTER: You said that it appeared that this pilot left Santa
Monica airport, took off, and then did he circle back around in an attempt
to come back to the runway?
JONES: I`m actually responding to the information of the ATC tapes
that apparently have already been played, because that`s where I heard it
from. The pilot reported a loss of engine power and was attempting to
REPORTER: Mr. Jones, can you confirm or deny if it was Harrison Ford
on that plane? Confirm or deny anything at this point?
JONES: Next question.
REPORTER: How come there was no fire? Was there a fuel issue here?
JONES: That requires speculation that I can`t make at this point.
REPORTER: Do you know how much time elapsed between the mayday call
JONES: Forty thousand people a year die in automobile accidents
every year on the highway. And when there is an accident that somebody
doesn`t die in, you don`t get that question. So, I don`t know at this
REPORTER: How could do have lost power?
JONES: Flying in an aircraft, whether it`s this aircraft, or a
helicopter, or whatever, it all takes experience. This pilot is an
experienced pilot. And I`ll say --
REPORTER: What is the procedure for investigating it? It doesn`t
have a black box? Where do you start?
JONES: The question was this aircraft does not have a black box, no.
It does not have a black box. This is an old vintage aircraft. There are
many aircrafts that do not have what you refer to as a black box nor are
they required to have a black box.
The problem is that we investigated accidents for decades, and it has
only been in the last few that black boxes actually exist. So we go back
to the basics. The initial report was a loss of engine power. We`re going
to look at that and we`re going to look at everything, weather, man, the
REPORTER: Last question, why do pilots always recommend not to turn
around to the airport? We heard that many times that we have a news, that
usually the procedure is not making a u-turn. Why is that actually? I
don`t have any clue.
JONES: A return to airport depends on what altitude you`re at. I
don`t know what altitude this pilot was at, at the time that he chose to do
that. So I have no way of knowing whether that was a good thing or a bad
thing. And if you`re going to slam into a wall, maybe turning away is your
REPORTER: How difficult is it to pinpoint an area like this --
JONES: I`m sure the pilot was glad that there was an airport there -
- I mean, there was a golf course here.
REPORTER: Have you had more incidents than normal?
JONES: No, there are -- and I know that is a local issue, but it is-
- this airport is a very important airport, and there is a lot of business
that comes in and out of this airport. I don`t know when the last accident
was here, but it`s -- I don`t think it is -- flying is safe when done
REPORTER: Do we know where the plane was headed --
REPORTER: I know it is expected a day or two, can you give us a
figure of the estimates of how long it could take?
JONES: The investigation normally takes a few months and normally a
final report we try to get done within a year.
JONES: Do not know. He asked where the plane was headed, do not
JONES: I will say this one more time. Any time a human being is
involved in an accident, whether it`s a car, jet, airplane, or otherwise
and survives, it`s a good day.
REPORTER: Do we know where the plane was headed?
JONES: Do not have that information. Do I not know where the plane
REPORTER: Do you know how much time elapsed between when he took off
and when --
JONES: That is data that we will capture, but at this time I do not
REPORTER: Maybe you said this and I was not listening. (INAUDIBLE)
JONES: The question was whether this was -- he`s just taken off --
my understanding is, and all I know is that I heard the ATC recording on
the news, and the pilot reported that he had an engine failure and he was
returning to the airport. And I believe --
REPORTER: In your experience --
JONES: It`s not immediate at this point.
REPORTER: From your experience, he was taking off, but from the
distance, from the airport to here, how high, what do you think the
JONES: I cannot -- I will not speculate on that.
REPORTER: How far was he from the landing, where the crash occurred?
JONES: Well, the airport is right over there, it`s 100 yards or 200,
300 yards, somewhere in that. I do not know how far away the airport is --
the run way is --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more question, please. One more question.
JONES: I think -- I will say that this pilot is an experienced
pilot, and --
MADDOW: The final question there, just lost the feed from that live
conference at a golf course in southern California, where local officials
and an NTSB investigator you just saw speaking there, were taking questions
from reporters about a plane crash involving 72-year-old actor Harrison
The NTSB investigator saying there, at one point, quote, "I`m sure
the pilot was glad there was a golf course here." Now, what we know here
is the NTSB and FAA are on the scene joining local police, and EMT and
firefighters that were called to this crash.
Harrison Ford has survived this crash. He`s at a local hospital.
His son described him on Twitter as being banged up but OK. Paramedics
apparently initiated care at the golf course after the crash. They brought
him to a local hospital.
The plane did not catch fire. You can see in the images here that
this plane is not your typical American air transport plane. This is a
vintage World War II training plane that Harrison Ford was piloting
himself. There was nobody else on board. We`re told this is a Ryan
Aeronautical ST-3KR plane.
You can see from the markings and also just from the iconic shape of
that plane that it is a vintage aircraft. Apparently, he was attempting to
return to the Santa Monica airport from which he had just taken off when he
radioed back to the control tower about engine trouble.
He took off, radioed about engine trouble, said that he wanted to
come back, was not able to get back, got relatively close. This golf
course is basically contiguous with the Santa Monica airport. We just
heard from the local authorities on the ground there.
Apparently, according to eyewitnesses, Harrison Ford`s plane clipped
the top of some trees, clipped some tree branches on its way down. But
then -- again, according to eyewitnesses, basically nosedived on the eighth
hole at the golf course.
At this point, the NTSB says they will recover this aircraft from the
golf course tomorrow morning. Harrison Ford was injured. He is being
treated at a local hospital. He is expected to survive his injuries.
One interesting note in terms of the expected investigation here and
the investigation that`s already underway, because this is a vintage
aircraft, the NTSB investigator just noted that there is nothing like a
black box. There is nothing like that safety equipment or investigatory
equipment that we find in modern aircraft. So, that won`t be part of the
investigation, but again they expect it to be out there overnight.
I should also note that Harrison Ford has been flying himself for a
very long time. Obviously, he`s a very, very well-known beloved actor. He
has done a lot of interviews over the years about how much he enjoys being
able to fly himself, being able to fly in small aircraft. He`s flown a lot
of different kinds of them.
In 1999, I believe it was, I may not be exactly right on that date,
but in the `90s, at one point, he was involved in another crash that was
actually a helicopter crash. It was 1999. He was in a helicopter crash
along with a flight instructor for that helicopter and came down in what
again was a very scary hard landing in southern California.
He was able to walk away from that crash in 1999. He was treated at
the hospital after this crash tonight.
For more on what`s happening here and what we know about the crash
and about the actor`s condition, we`re going to go to Andrew Blankstein,
who`s an NBC investigative correspondent at the L.A. bureau for NBC News
and he`s been following this story all day long as it`s unfolded.
Andrew, thanks very much for joining us. I know there are some
conflicting reports about what happened here. Can you sum up what we know
for sure at this point?
ANDREW BLANKSTEIN, NBC NEWS INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Sure. In
terms of the flight taking off from Santa Monica airport, the vintage plane
that actor Harrison Ford was piloting, that at some point, that there was
engine trouble, he tried to return and landed in the -- put the plane down,
I should say, at the Penmar golf course, which is just west of the airport.
I mean, one thing you did get the flavor of in the press conference,
and this has been an issue with previous crashes at that golf course, but
also the residential neighborhood around the airport. Santa Monica and Mar
Vista, there has been small plane that`s have crashed there. So, it`s
actually a source of controversy having that airport close to the
Now, you see a lot of green there, because it`s a golf course. But
if you pan out, you see a lot of homes. It`s a fairly dense area, all
sides of that golf course, and it has been an issue for some time.
As you said there was the previous crash and it was 1999 with a hard
landing of a real helicopter. It shows -- it speaks to the amount of time
Harrison`s been flying, and the skills that he has. But I think also when
you have -- if this is a mechanical failure, it also speaks a little bit to
a little luck, as well as skill given the homes around there.
MADDOW: Andrew, just one clarifying question. It seems to me the
NTSB was implying that where they`re at in the golf course and where the
plane crashed is basically contiguous with the airport. That the runway is
a matter of several hundred yards away, if that -- is that accurate to
describe it that way, that he may have been very close to making it back to
BLANKSTEIN: It`s a dog leg. I mean, it`s not a straight shot, but
it is very close. If you can get there, you can kind -- I don`t want to
use non-pilot terms, you can turn and land. So it was very close, but
again, we had, and I covered planes that have gone down in those
residential areas. And depending on what the problem with the plane is,
where, let`s say you don`t have that ability to get it over the golf
course, it`s a real danger and it`s been a source of controversy.
MADDOW: Andrew Blankstein, NBC investigative correspondent at the
L.A. bureau for NBC News -- Andrew, thank you very much. Really
clarifying. Really helpful. Really appreciate it.
BLANKSTEIN: Thank you.
So, scary close call for the actor tonight. He is injured, as we
said, but his injuries are not considered to be life threatening at this
point. Just striking to see that beautiful vintage aircraft. Obviously, a
very, very beautiful aircraft, lucky tonight that his injuries were not
more serious. And as Andrew said, given the close residential neighborhood
in which he came down, lucky that nobody on the ground was injured either.
We`ll continue to monitor developments in L.A. We`ll bring you any
new ones as we get them.
Please stay with us. Lots going on tonight.
MADDOW: So, with a huge winter storm today affecting so many states
in this country, it ended up being a crazy day for trains, and planes, and
cars, and other forms of transportation as well. We`re going to have a
bunch of that for you, including the part about the giant fire ball.
We`ll have all of that, politics, plus some genius, plus FOX News
being really, really mad at us. It`s a big night.
Please stay with us.
MADDOW: The regulation is very clear. The regulation says no person
shall coast or slide a sled within capital grounds. No person shall coast.
That is the rule, apparently has been the rule since 9/11. So, obviously,
the terrorists won.
A couple weeks ago in the last big storm to hit our nation`s capital,
Eleanor Holmes Norton, Washington, D.C.`s representative in Congress, asked
the U.S. Capitol police if they would, at her request, please suspend the
no sledding rule for Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Please suspend the
no sledding rule to give D.C. kids a place to have fun in the snowstorm.
Capitol police responded to Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton by saying, no.
That storm that hit D.C. and about a third of the rest of the country
today was even bigger storm than the one a couple weeks ago for which
Eleanor Holmes Norton got turned down. But undaunted, again, yesterday,
Eleanor Holmes Norton formally requested, again, please, come on, you guys,
hey, Capitol police, please allow our kids to sled at Capitol Hill.
Capitol police once again said no, and this time Washington, D.C. responded
by going -- to the Washington, D.C. police.
Look. Look. By the magic of GoPro, we know this child today on
Capitol Hill -- watch, watch this -- is breaking the law. He is about to
break the law. Look at the little lawbreaker. He is breaking the law.
The Capitol police said people were not allowed to do this today, but --
When Eleanor Holmes-Norton sent that request to the cops asking for
special permission to sled, the cops wrote back this big, long public
response saying, no. For security reasons, the Capitol grounds are not
your typical neighborhood hill or playground. There is a prohibition
against sledding and other recreational activities and the regulations for
the United States Capitol grounds. At least 20,000 sledding injuries
occurred in the U.S. each year, for liability reasons, blah, blah, blah.
They wrote back this big long letter, Capitol police even showed up
today on Capitol Hill handing out written copies of the regulation, no
person shall coast or sled a sled within Capitol grounds, no person shall
But the anti-sledding, well-meaning vigilance of the brave police
officers of our nation`s capital honestly, they were no match for the pro
tobogganing fervor of local people and kids from all over D.C. who just
decided that darn the rules, they were just going to sled anyway.
It really -- Capitol Hill really is the best hill on the whole city
for sledding. That west side of the capitol, that west law, that`s the
best it gets in D.C. And so on twitter and on Facebook, via this
change.org, calling for the regulation to be overturned, there was a ground
up, groundswell sled free or die today in Washington. Sledding is not a
crime. Let my people sled.
And heaven forgive self-centered politician who tries to turn this
into a partisan statement or some ideological proof, right? God forgive
the first idiot that tries to use this today at some serious way and some
political way in order to make a point about how right he is and how bad
the other guys are in politics.
Don`t politicize this. What happened today in Washington was an
honest to goodness outbreak of super fun, super chilly, pointless, polite,
Look at that. It was awesome. And I`m sure the capitol police are
right. Lots of people get injuries every year. Part of the reason why
it`s fun is it`s because it`s slightly dangerous.
But you know what? The only people who anybody apparently saw even
falling down today on the west lawn of the capitol, let alone going aw once
they fell, the only people who reportedly were seen falling down and
complaining today were the reporters who turned up to cover the sled in,
not any of the sledders themselves.
So, behold, fun was had today. Illegal fun today was had in
This snowstorm today affected a giant swath of the country. There`s
about 330 million of us Americans. About 100 million people were affected
by this storm. It started last night in the Deep South. It has very
slowly crawled up the Eastern Seaboard, and the whole -- through the whole
central to eastern valley of the country all day today. So, it`s now
In New York City this morning, the storm led to this unnerving site.
You`ve probably seen these images today. Look at that. It`s a Delta MD-
88, with the 127 passengers and five crew members on board. It slid off of
the main runway at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. After it landed,
this flight was coming in from Atlanta.
The plane came down on the runway safely initially, but it was
apparently there was a good build up of snow on the runway. The pilots
lost control of the plane after they had put it on the ground and the plane
ended up skidding off the runway at pretty good speed. It crashed over
that big snow berm, you can see on the side there, crashed through that
Not only tore the plane up pretty good, but as these pictures show,
the plane did come very, very close to continuing to slide. And had it
slid much further, it would have slid into water. It would have slid into
the icy waters of Flushing Bay. Look at that, look at how close it was to
the water, Flushing Bay in Queens.
And in case those images taken from outside of the plane aren`t scary
enough, this is the view from inside the plane, through one of the plane`s
windows. This was taken by one of the passengers on the plane. He posted
this on Facebook and wrote, quote, "Two more seconds, we would have been in
the water." Welcome to New York.
You know, it is super annoying that whenever there is bad weather,
flights get cancelled everywhere, right? This is the reason, why so many
flights get cancelled because of bad weather.
Thank God nobody was seriously injured and nobody was killed in this
very crash at LaGuardia airport today. About two dozen people on the plane
did report minor injuries, a couple people went to the hospital. Members
of the NTSB reportedly travelled to the scene of the crash today to try to
investigate exactly what happened. But it could have been much, much
Meanwhile, this was the day much of the day on Interstate I-65 in
Kentucky today, I -- look at that. I-65 and I-24 in Kentucky, outside of
Louisville, both of those interstates became absolutely paralyzed today
with heavy snowfall that has stranded hundreds of people for hours on those
According to "The Louisville Courier Journal", the stranding started
at least on I-65 when some full size tractor trailers couldn`t make it up
an incline on the interstate. Those trucks couldn`t get in the snow, these
large trucks got stuck in the lanes on the interstate, some jackknifed.
Ultimately, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear declared a state of
emergency and had to call in the National Guard in pretty large numbers to
start digging out the trucks that were stuck and had been jackknifed,
digging out the trucks and rescuing people that were stuck in their cars on
those roads. In some cases stuck overnight from last night.
Now, Kentucky officials like everybody didn`t know this storm was
coming. Honestly, Kentucky officials may not have known it was going to be
this big in and around Elizabethtown, Kentucky, which is apparently some of
the worst of the strandings were, snow totals that have already topped 21
inches by nightfall today.
And, you know, that is hard to keep up with in a place like Boston or
Maine, right, that`s used to 21 inches in a storm. That`s really hard to
keep up with a place like Kentucky.
Meanwhile, as basically a third of the country dealt with what turned
out to be one of the largest storms of the year, if not the largest, today
we also had, simultaneously, we also had this disaster. Look at that.
Erupt right on the state line between Illinois and Iowa. This just outside
of a town called Galena, Illinois. You see it there in northwest Illinois,
very close to the state line and to Dubuque, Iowa.
This is another oil train that derailed and gone up in flames. The
train derailed. At least some of the tanker cars on this train derailed
and caught fire. This was an entire train of oil cars. Some of the cars
as you can see here exploded. We have been watching coverage of this oil
train derailment and the flame shooting up into the sky, and smoke you can
see burning for miles.
We have been watching this footage today through the local NBC
affiliate, KWQC, which has sent out teams to cover it. We have also been
watching through the local paper, the coverage at the local paper, "The
Dubuque Telegraph Herald," which has been excellent. But, honestly, part
of the problem in figuring out what`s going on in this newest oil train
disaster, is that nobody can get that all that close.
Apparently this derailment happened about 1:20 this afternoon. The
tracks run right along the Mississippi River. The rail company says this
train was all oil, 105 cars, 103 of which were carrying crude oil. We
don`t know much about the type of oil, where it was coming from, where it
was going to, or what kind of oil train or tanker cars these were.
The train derailed at about 1:20. Within 31 minutes, the local
fighters from Galena were at the site. They apparently had to go down a
bike trail along the railroad tracks in order to get to this site. So,
they were there on site within a half hour trying to put out the flames in
these oil cars, but eventually, the firefighters had to pull back. By
3:20, the firefighters had pulled back and left the scene.
Local fire department captain telling "The Telegraph Herald" that
because of the intensity of the fire, the local firefighters had to make a
tactical decision to leave and they have now decided that what they`re
going to do with this oil train derailment is let these cars burn itself
out. They don`t have any other options. The local captain telling the
paper that the fire teams had to evacuate quickly once they realized that
these flames were much more than they can handle, and they left, they left
behind all of the equipment they brought out there.
The captain telling the local paper, quote, "We left about $10,000
worth of equipment behind." Quote, "We can replace equipment, not
So again, this 100-car oil train derailed and caught fire just
outside Galena, Illinois, near the state line with Iowa, right along the
Mississippi River this afternoon. We do not know at this point exactly how
many cars have derailed and how many caught fire. We also do not know when
the fires are going to be out, and what the plan is for putting them out.
This is a national problem, as we saw in the last train derailment of
an oil train in West Virginia. There are just not many options for putting
these fires out once these oil trains go up.
People call them bomb trains for a reason. That oil train derailment
a few weeks ago was left to burn for days.
Now, as to what`s going to happen tonight in northwest Illinois, at
the Iowa border, let`s go live to a local reporter to find out the latest
Joining us is KWQC investigative reporter Mark Stevens. He is out in
Illinois right now, as close as he can get.
Mark, thanks very much for joining us. Appreciate having you here.
MARK STEVENS, KWQC INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER (via telephone): You`re
MADDOW: The latest thing I heard is that we heard that evacuations
are under way in the local area tonight, have you heard anything about
STEVENS: Yes, there was a one-mile evacuation put into effect. It
was about six homes in that area. We`re not sure, the public information
officer didn`t know of any of those people were at home, so we don`t know
if they had to get out of there or if they just weren`t allowed to go back
home this evening. And as far as where they went, the PIO didn`t know.
We`re still waiting for more information. They`re actually going to
have a press conference in about 20 minutes, hopefully with plenty more
information from the railroad as well.
MADDOW: Mark, how close have you been able to get and what have you
been able to see over the course of the day since the derailment happened?
STEVENS: Well, the closest we were able to get was actually on the
Iowa side of the river. Where this is at is rather remote. It is about
four miles south of Galena along the river. And they just find a whole lot
of access roads down there.
So, from the Iowa side, we were directly across it. We couldn`t see
the tracks because there is a lot of trees in the way, it`s part of the
upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge. But what we could see is the huge plume
of black smoke. And we saw that actually 20 miles.
And while we were getting video at a farm house, we did see one of
the big explosions that you saw on the West Virginia crash, which was just
amazing video. We didn`t expect to see anything like that. We knew that
one car had been on fire, and my sources are telling me there was at least
another tank car on that tank car. So, when we saw that explosion, we`re
guessing that that was the second tank car, although we don`t know how many
have actually caught fire. We were told (INAUDIBLE) had derailed.
MADDOW: Sorry, Mark, do you know if there is oil in the river or
risk this could turn into a Mississippi River spill?
STEVENS: That we`re not sure of. We did overhear firefighters
talking about booms being placed. That would most likely be in the Galena
River, which is rather close to this.
The river is iced over, so that could help. We actually had a train
derailment in the last couple weeks that spilled a bunch of ethanol into
the river. Again, with the ice on the river, that ethanol was actually
able to stay on top of the ice and froze to it and they were able to
recover most of it off of the ice. So, in that case, it did get into the
MADDOW: KWQC investigator Mark Stevens, doing yeoman`s work today,
trying to get close to scene. Thank you so much for helping us understand,
Mark. Appreciate your time.
STEVENS: You`re welcome.
MADDOW: All right. So, we`re apparently swamped with developing
stories here tonight, and there is more of that to come. Please stay with
us. Lots ahead.
MADDOW: So, there is another piece of new news to report tonight
about oil trains that crash and send fire balls into the sky and then,
first responders have no choice but to just let it burn, because they`ve
got no way to put something like that out.
As a country, we do not have a national standard for reducing the
volatility of the oil that we ship by train. We could make that oil less
explosive and that`s for the carrier. The technology exists to do that,
but we don`t have a national standard that requires the oil companies or
the train companies to do that.
Well, today, "Reuters" reported that the secretary of the Department
of Transportation, Anthony Foxx, recently went to the White House with
concerns about oil trains, these bomb trains, saying we really ought to get
a national standard in place for oil that`s shipped that way. Now, we
don`t know who leaked that to "Reuters", it`s an anonymous source for the.
But according to this anonymous source, the White House chief of staff,
Denis McDonough, shot that idea down, and decided we would not have a
national standard, we would continue to leave it to the states.
Really? Tell me more.
MADDOW: At the start of this new Congress, the Republican majority
picked all their committee chairs. In the House, they chose this richly
diverse group to represent the people, in the people`s house, 21 chairs and
they picked 20 white dudes and one white lady, Candice Miller.
Congresswoman Candice Miller, the only woman chairing a committee now
that the Republicans are in charge on the House, she had lobbied to move up
from being a home of the Homeland Security Committee to chairing that
committee, instead House Republicans put a white guy in that job and put
her in charge of administration. They put her in charge of the House
Committee on Administration, which is like the bathrooms and cafeteria and
stuff. Only woman.
Today, Congresswoman Miller announced that she will be retiring at
the end of next year when her term is up. So, of the 21 chairmanships in
the House, that will leave 20 held by white dudes, I`m holding my breath
for her replacement.
Stay with us.
MADDOW: America invented flight, relatively reliable flight at
least. The Wright Brothers patented their aeroplane in 1903.
America invented the telephone -- thank you, Alexander Graham Bell.
America invented the light bulb. Thomas Edison showed his off in
1879. By 1883, we had General Electric.
America invented the television for better or worse.
In 1927, America invented the laser.
In 1960, the personal computer, and jazz, and baseball, and
And America invented the cotton gin and the blood bank and the
skyscraper and blue jeans.
We have a lot to be proud of in terms of stuff we came up with before
anybody else. America also, it might surprise you to know, invented the
cocktail. We didn`t invent booze.
As soon as homo sapiens stumbled upon rot, we started figuring out
booze for even the earliest civilizations on earth. It was in this young
country of ours, this young country, where we invented the cocktail. The
spirituous liquor, water or ice, sugar or something sweet, and bitters,
cocktail. We invented it in maybe 1800-ish. I know just who to ask.
After it was started here, we then set about developing a whole new
strand of culture, distinctly American culture that was about how to drink
and drink well. And that stemmed along for a century or so, unrivaled by
any other nation on earth, this distinctive American cultural art form.
But then we killed it dead on purpose.
Prohibition. Prohibition turned 95 this year. Prohibition holds
this weird, unique place in American history. It`s something that all of
us, Democrat and Republican, young and old, drinker and teetotaler alike,
we all agree on, and what we agree about it is that it was a terrible idea.
It was a terrible idea for all the obvious policy reasons, but it was
also a bad idea because it didn`t stop us from drinking as a country. It
just absolutely ruined the good way that we used to drink. And until that
point, we were pretty good at it.
When booze became illegal in prohibition, booze in many cases also
became terrible, right? It was all black market, including stuff that
people distilled in their basements. So, this great American cultural art
form of how to drink just devolved into workarounds of this bad policy by
which we made booze illegal and often disgusting.
So, really strong mixers were added to cover up the taste of terrible
liquor. The art of mixing drinks instead became the palate muscling effort
to get you drunk without tasting what it was that was getting you there,
the long history of us leading the world in fine drinking. Teaching the
world how to drink got lost, got waylaid by a terrible policy that lasted
for 13 freaking years, and it caused us to forget not just the recipes of
good old drinks, but the skills and the techniques to make them, and what
we had been great at in the 20th century, right, we got terrible at as a
country, for decades and decades and decades.
And then in the 21st century, something happened and all of a sudden
it got way better real fast. There was a guy who figured out it might be
possible to restart that old awesome best in the world history that we had,
to restart that history, that history that had been so rudely interrupted
by terrible politics and terrible public policy. More than anyone else, a
guy named David Wondrich dug up and pieced together the history of pre-
Prohibition cocktail-making. And, yes, that involved finding recipes and
translating them into modern measurements and ingredients you can get now.
But it also meant figuring out what was important about those drinks
and how and why they worked and how they evolved from each other. This
isn`t just nostalgia or like hipster, artisanal stuff or tongue in cheek,
David Wondrich is a serious historian that recognized that an American art
form had been interrupted in its prime. And it would actually take serious
painstaking work to revive it.
And because of his research and books and magazine writing, and the
way he has travelled the country, now teaching aspiring bartenders who want
to learn the old ways, now because of him, more than because of anybody
else, we are in the midst of a national renaissance, something that we by
right own as a country.
And once again we are the best in the world. And now, all over this
country, you can find this American cultural art form back in the swing,
properly done, with an understanding of the history that earned us this
inheritance. Even if you don`t drink, the change that has happened over
the past decade or so is a big cultural change in this country. It`s
literally a cultural revival of a lost American art that has successfully
been reclaimed and is now thriving.
I feel genuinely patriotic about this, not just because I`m a semi
pro-drinker. We used to be the best in the world at this one thing. And
we lost it for a very long time. And through deliberate effort we are now
once again the best in the world. I think in large part, we have the
genius of historian David Wondrich to thank for that.
Joining us now for the interview is David Wondrich. His James Beard
Award-winning book "Imbibe" is coming up next month in a new revised
Dr. Wondrich, it`s very nice to see you.
DAVID WONDRICH, HISTORIAN: So nice to be here. Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Let me ask you -- I`m sure I got some of that history wrong.
WONDRICH: You got all the history right. I`m just -- there are so
many people that pushed the revival forward.
MADDOW: You don`t have to accept the compliment part of it.
WONDRICH: You know, the compliment part I`m always a little nervous
about, because it work with a lot of bartenders, and, you know, they tend
to be pretty down-to-earth.
MADDOW: And a lot of people are doing great work, but something I
believe, and the reason I think that you are sort of a cultural genius for
what you`ve done, is that I believe the revival could not have had the
staying power that it has had, and could not have had -- not just the legs
but I think the integrity it`s had, without you taking the history very,
Other people who tried to unearth that history but had been very -- a
little cavalier about it. Did you recognize you need to get the details
right in order for it stick?
WONDRICH: Yes, I had training though, because I was an English
professor and I before, I was in graduate school, and I studied under an
actual genius. This guy Seth Bernardete who was a classicist, who thought
me very carefully.
And this guy knew everything about everything in the world,
astrophysics, Napoleonic history. Anything that came up, he knew it all.
And so, just to listen to him talk would blow your mind.
But he always taught me that you have to go down to the finest level
of detail. And if you get down to that detail, every tiniest detail is
tied in the whole larger meaning of a piece. So, nothing is accidental.
I mean, in the real world, we know stuff is accidental. But you`re
not going to know what is accidental unless you treat it all like it`s
MADDOW: Unless you recognize where it starts.
WONDRICH: Exactly. So, for me, going through the history of these
cocktails, and I would go through the bartenders guides and look at the
measurements and ingredients and draw graphs and charts and time lines, and
all this -- it`s a lot of work. But eventually, you start to see patterns,
and then it starts to get clear.
And once you get these patterns, you can put in like who invented
this cocktail in this year, you see the stories that you -- you say, it
couldn`t have happened, because that ingredient nobody was using back then.
They weren`t using grenadine in 1870. That was impossible, if not
impossible it was very unlikely.
So, it`s that kind of work -- it takes a little bit of training, I
think, to do it. Most people who do history drinks started out as
bartenders and they became wonderful bartenders, and they had a good gift
of gab, they didn`t really have academic training.
I was willing to take my fancy academic training and turn it to good
rather than evil. And so, I was able to -- it gave me a little bit of a
leg up when it came to dealing with this massive data.
MADDOW: Did you get insight into doing that, into figuring out why
it was that we were right place to invent cocktails? Why is it an American
WONDRICH: Well, America, we were on our own, you know? We had King
George III, we shook him off, nobody could tell us what to do. And some
people took that very seriously, which meant they could go and drop a
quarter on a cocktail, which is a lot of money back then, and nobody would
say boo. Nobody could tell them what to do.
There was this whole streak of American liberty which we`ve come to
the end of, is that liberty means you can`t tell me anything. There was
the other side that brought us prohibition, liberty means we can all get
rich as long as everyone plays by the rules up to a point. And screw the
people who aren`t getting rich.
MADDOW: Nobody else was in the political position and therefore, the
cultural position that we were in at the time.
WONDRICH: Yes, exactly. We were free, and we had people from all
cultures coming in. We had French people bringing us the best brandy. We
had Germans coming in who liked to build these fancy fruit cups and we took
some of that, you know? We said, oh, you know, we can make them into julep
and maybe some mint and some powdered sugar top, and a dash of rum just
floating on top.
It was kind of fantasy land and you had consumers who dug it, because
it was rock `n` roll. I mean, it was taking the European way and making it
just spectacular, which has always been the American way, is we take a
simple thing and we turn it into just a spectacle.
MADDOW: David Wondrich, writer, cocktail historian and to my mind,
genius. "Imbibe" coming out in its revised edition soon. David, thank you
for being here. Great to have you here.
WONDRICH: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: There might be more about this on Maddowblog.com. I`m just
We`ll be right back.
MADDOW: Our genius interview tonight was America`s foremost
historian of the cocktail. I just asked David Wondrich what one cocktail
everybody should learn to make if we can all only learn one. He`s going to
show me right now and we`re going to post it on Maddowblog.com tonight. I
love my job!
That does it for us tonight. We`ll see you again tomorrow.
And now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD."
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
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