RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Thank you, Keith.
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: Thank you.
MADDOW: And thank you for staying with us at home for the next hour. Lame duck watchers saw more quackitude in 45 minutes from our president today than we have seen in the whole two months-plus since the presidential election. Katrina went great; Guantanamo, awesome; the economy, couldn‘t be better. Wow, truly remarkable.
We have a Lame Duck Watch special report coming up tonight.
But first, there is another story we have been following quite closely, and not just on “Saturday Night Live.” Tonight, we have a brand new United States senator. I think it is safe to say that his path to the Senate seat has been—unconventional? It was the “get appointed to the Senate by your embattled governor who, by some accounts, is likely to be forcibly removed from office in the next three weeks because he is under investigation for trying to sell that very same Senate seat” path to the Senate.
On Friday, you will recall, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was impeached by the Illinois House of Representatives for, among others, allegedly trying to auction off President-elect Barack Obama‘s now vacant U.S. Senate seat, for things that would be of value to the governor himself, preferably things with giant dollar signs on them. Illinois State Representative John Fritchey told us Friday, after casting his “yes” vote for impeachment, that it will be a matter of just a few weeks before Mr. Blagojevich is removed from office by the Illinois Senate. That was on Friday.
Today is Monday. And today—Governor Blagojevich sort of won. Roland Burris, the man Blagojevich selected to fill that vacant Senate seat, was told that he will get that seat. Impeachment, shmimpeachment. This afternoon, Mr. Burris was seated in the U.S. Senate by the chamber‘s Democratic caucus.
Now, at first, Mr. Burris faced political resistance from the Illinois secretary of state and from Senate Democrats. They pledged they would not seat anyone by Governor F-word no matter who it was. Then Mr. Burris was not allowed to take his seat when he showed up in Washington, D.C., last week because he allegedly didn‘t have the proper paperwork.
Now, an appropriate piece of paper has been full count with the Illinois secretary of state‘s signature on it. This is all stuff for the encyclopedia entry on Roland Burris at which future generations will scratch their heads and say, “Wait, what? How did this go?”
But anyway, Mr. Burris‘ paperwork today was approved, and Mr. Burris should take the oath of office of his new office later this week. All along, amid the righteous din and indignation and disbelief from Washington to Chicago to Springfield to everywhere else, Roland Burris alone consistently said that he knew what to call Roland Burris.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JANUARY 5)
SENATOR-DESIGNATE ROLAND BURRIS, REPLACING OBAMA IN THE SENATE: I‘m a United States senator. They cannot stop me from doing my senatorial duty. But I am the junior senator according to every law book in the nation. I‘m the junior senator from the state of Illinois.
Members of the media, my name is Roland Burris, the junior senator from the state of Illinois.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: That repeated insistence is not looking so audacious tonight. We now welcome to our show, for the first time, officially, the junior senator from Illinois, Roland Burris. Mr. Senator-designate, congratulations and thanks for coming on the show tonight.
BURRIS: Thank you, Rachel. And you did put the designate on there which is the official title for me right now.
MADDOW: Senator-designate is the right thing to say?
BURRIS: That is correct.
BURRIS: Until I take the oath of office.
MADDOW: Do you know when you will take the oath of office?
BURRIS: Well, it‘s between getting my family together and Vice President Cheney. We are trying to match our schedules. It will be on Wednesday or Thursday and it will have to be—if we can‘t get Vice President Cheney, then we will use another distinguished senator to swear us in.
MADDOW: Not very many people in America have the occasion to say getting my family together with Vice President Cheney.
MADDOW: You are in a very small amount of company. Mr. Burris, you are now the sole African-American in the United States Senate. You have arrived there by a very circuitous path. After you are sworn in, and you officially become senator, what‘s your first priority?
BURRIS: Well, my first priority is to learn the rules and regulations of the august body. And, of course, in terms of legislation and problems with the country, is to certainly look at what President Obama would have sent to us and then begin work on the stimulus package so that we can get people in this state and in the nation back to work, so people can earn money. Their earnings will allow them to, of course, to spend and then improve our economy.
We must also do infrastructure legislation and—I mean, infrastructure funding so that we can do our roads and our bridges and our water for purification and greening of our cities. So, I‘m ready to hit the ground running on those issues that are impacting our state and our nation.
MADDOW: One of the issues that has divided Senate Democrats, although that may be too strong a word at this point, there‘s at least discussion among Senate Democrats, is on the issue of that stimulus package. How much of it should be government spending in the fewer sense, and how much of it should be tax cuts? Do you yet have an opinion on whether or not tax cuts should be a major part of this initial approach to the economic crisis?
BURRIS: Yes. I noticed that President-elect Obama has, you know, made some amends to what he offered on the campaign trail. And, of course, that is to try to bring more people in. And I‘m pretty sure the Senate and the House will put their impressions on that legislation. So, it will come out maybe not as President Obama has sent it, but it will come out to the best interest of the people of America.
MADDOW: The questions and controversies, and the long process surrounding your appointment have taken up a lot of the Senate‘s time and attention over the past week, and they really settle in now at the start of the 111th Congress. Do you have any regrets about having accepted this appointment and fighting for the seat in this way even if it did make you into sort of a distraction for the Senate at a critical time?
BURRIS: Well, definitely, Rachel, I have no regrets, because my whole goal in accepting that appointment from the governor was to be a person and a public servant on behalf of Illinois. I didn‘t want Illinois to go into this 111th Congress short-handed. And so, with the strength of my community and friends and supporters, all, you know, encouraging me to move forward, I found, you know, no regrets whatsoever, because my whole life I‘ve set out to be a public servant. And that‘s what I love to continue to do and now, I have the opportunity to even help us in this distinguished august body in the United States Senate.
MADDOW: Now that the question of your appointment seems all but settled, there is still the question of your ongoing relationship with Governor Blagojevich. I know that before you were appointed to the Senate, you called the evidence against the governor pretty appalling. President-elect Obama has called on the governor to resign. Do you agree with Mr. Obama on that?
BURRIS: Well, what I said at the time when our attorney general had brought an action to have the governor to step aside that if what was true and is proven in the court, naturally, the governor should suffer the consequences of his actions should they be proven. But we also understand that you are innocent until you are proven guilty. And so, we end up with a situation where the governor‘s going to have to face, you know, the consequences that, you know, we say that he made for himself.
But that does not, in any way, cause me to, you know, condone his actions or say that his actions were, you know, they were reprehensible. If what they say is true—I mean, proven to be true, then there is no way that I can, you know, condone that type of behavior of the chief executive seeking to sell a Senate seat. And that is, you know, just unconscionable.
MADDOW: The Illinois House of Representatives has voted to impeach him. The vote was 114-1. We know that the Illinois State Senate will take up a vote to convict and possibly remove him from office. And that will happen shortly. If you were in the Illinois State Senate right now, do you know how you would vote?
BURRIS: That is too hypothetical. I‘m not a senator, Rachel. And I don‘t even want to, you know, go down that path, because I am not—I will not be privy to the evidence that will be submitted. You know, this is cross-examinations. So, you know, there is still a burden of proof on the prosecutors in this case to, at least convince 40 of our state senators that what the governor has done is a convictable offense after the impeachment.
You recall President Clinton‘s situation when he was impeached by the House, but they could not get a conviction in the Senate and he continued to serve out, you know, very successfully, the rest of his term.
MADDOW: One last quick question. Do you agree with the decision of the House—to impeach him?
BURRIS: Oh, yes. The House had to take on this constitutional responsibility. And, certainly, they are carrying out their duties and they‘ve come to that conclusion. I was not there to listen to all their evidence, either, but I certainly would say that they have made their proper decision the same way they have to pass on legislation.
So, yes, I think they took what position they had to take based on what information they had, to follow the law with the impeachment process.
MADDOW: Roland Burris, the senator-designate from Illinois for the next couple of days until he is sworn in, whereupon he will be the junior senator r from Illinois—thank you so much for coming on the show tonight. Congratulations on surviving this odyssey, sir.
BURRIS: It‘s my pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: President Bush gave his last ever presidential press conference today and it was a “coffee shooting out your nose, oh, no, he didn‘t, say what, cavalcade of incredible.” Among his claims today? The federal response to Hurricane Katrina was, quote, “pretty quick,” and the world doesn‘t have a bad view of America because of Guantanamo. Also, Dick Cheney is really a pony unicorn.
Coming up, the first ever RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Lame Duck Watch special report, our first ever.
And, after some backtracking this weekend, President-elect Obama now reportedly is going to issue an order to close Guantanamo, immediately after taking office. Joining us next: An Army major involved in the military tribunals at Guantanamo who says that the president-elect has got this one right.
But first, just one more thing about the brand new 111th Congress. Do you remember SCHIP, the kids‘ health insurance bill? Kid‘s health insurance got really famous during Bush years, because even though it had broad bipartisan support, it was thought of as one of the most effective health programs ever, President Bush pulled out his big red veto stamp to stop the expansion of SCHIP, to stop the expansion of this program twice. He had vetoed exactly one thing in his first six years in office; he saved up that political capital to go after the demon effective kid‘s health insurance program.
Well, now, in a goodbye Bronx cheer for the outgoing president, the House has decided to start off its year in law-making and President Bush‘s last week in office—by pushing through that same twice-vetoed kids‘ health insurance bill. It will presumably be signed into law by President Obama.
Imagine a popular legislation expanding an effective program that won‘t have to go through Karl Rove or Dick Cheney or Tom DeLay first. I need a minute. Go to commercial.
MADDOW: If Al Franken gets seated in the United States Senate, the blue-red balance in the Senate it will be 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans.
Now, one of truisms of running for office is that it‘s easier to get reelected than elected for the first time. Incumbency is a very powerful thing. So, even in a best case scenario for Republican senators in the next few elections, there will be more Democratic incumbents defending their seat than there will be Republican incumbents defending their seat. That‘s bad news for the Republicans.
Worst news for the Republicans—is that five, count them, five sitting Republican senators have now announced that they are stepping down. They are not going to run for re-election. The most recent is Ohio Senator George Voinovich who just announced he won‘t seek re-election in 2010.
Also saying goodbye will be Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, Senator Mel Martinez of Florida, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, and Texas senator, Kay Bailey Hutchison, who recently announces her plans to challenge incumbent Texas Governor Rick “Gee, your hair smells terrific” Perry, for his job. That makes five seats currently held by Republicans that will be open seats in the next election.
Remember when Karl Rove predicted that he and George Bush were creating a permanent Republican majority?
MADDOW: With seven days left in his presidency, President Bush today
gave his, quote, “ultimate exit interview,” a news conference so laden with
I don‘t know, what‘s the censor-friendly way to put this? Spin?
Defiance? Quackitude? So laden with that that we now present the first ever RACHEL MADDOW SHOW Lame Duck Watch special report because one segment just will not be enough to do justice to what the president tried to pull off today.
MADDOW: We begin our special report on the subject of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and the president‘s statements about it today. Seven years and a day since the very first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo on January 11th, 2002, the end of that prison may finally be in sight. Obama transition aides are saying the incoming president is likely to issue an executive order within his first week in office to start shutting down that prison.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has published an easy as one, two, three how-to manual for closing Guantanamo. They start to finish, the prison could be shut down entirely within three months. The president-elect says he thinks it will be a challenge to get it closed quickly, but he unambiguously commits to closing it.
Also on the chopping block—the entire justification for Guantanamo Bay‘s existence at this point, the military tribunal system. One high level Obama aide tells “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff that Obama intends to freeze any tribunal cases from going forward once he is sworn in as president.
For his part, President Bush said today that he disagrees that the abuses at Guantanamo, the existence of Guantanamo, has at all damaged America‘s moral standing in the world. He‘s blaming other countries for the mess at Guantanamo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES: I disagree with this assessment that, you know, people view America in a dim light. I just don‘t agree with that. And I understand that Gitmo has created controversies. But when it came time for those countries that were criticizing America to take some of those—some of those detainees, they weren‘t willing to help out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: So, since they won‘t help us clean up what we broke, we can‘t get in trouble for breaking it?
The big problem at Guantanamo is not that we locked up hundreds of people in an American-run prison in a foreign country without charges or trials or rights, the problem is that other countries won‘t help us out with that?
Joining us now is an Air Force Major David Frakt. He is defense counsel with the Office of Military Commissions which administers the tribunals at Guantanamo. He is defending a young man named Mohammed Jawad. He was a teenager when he was arrested and is still at Guantanamo Bay.
Major Frakt, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
MAJ. DAVID J.R. FRAKT, LEAD DEFENSE COUNSEL: My pleasure.
MADDOW: As the daughter of an Air Force captain, I particularly apologize for having attributed you to the Army earlier. I‘m sorry about that.
If today‘s reports are correct that President-elect Obama is getting rid of the military tribunal system, would that put you out of a job? And, in your eyes, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
FRAKT: Absolutely, Rachel. In fact, the defense counsel with the Office of Military Commissions have been trying from day one to do precisely that. That is put ourselves out of a job. My belief, I believe it is shared by my fellow co-counsel, is that this is an unfair, rigged system.
You know, we took an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, and we‘re doing that by serving as defense counsel and assuring that our clients are not tried in an unconstitutional system.
MADDOW: President Bush‘s defense of Guantanamo today was, in part, that other countries won‘t take these prisoners who have been at Guantanamo. So, therefore, they don‘t have a right to criticize what we have set up there. I‘m curious as to your response to that assertion from the president?
FRAKT: Well, I have a couple of reactions. First of all, I don‘t think it‘s accurate. I believe a number of European countries have stepped forward in the past few weeks and indicated a willingness to accept some of the detainees at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release.
I think one of the conditions that they are putting on that, quite reasonably, is that the United States also accepts some of the released detainees into our own country. They are reluctant to help out the Bush administration by taking them now because the administration has basically ignored the will of the international community for the past seven years.
MADDOW: The “New York Times” in writing about your case, your client, Mohammed Jawad, described that case as emblematic of everything that is wrong with Guantanamo. Do you think that‘s true? What should most—what should Americans know about the case that you are defending?
FRAKT: Well, there are several things that are quite problematic about the case. First of all, I think many Americans would expect that the military commissions would focus on high-level terrorists, people responsible for 9/11 and other serious terrorist attacks against the United States. In fact, the early focus of the commissions has been on child soldiers, drivers, foot soldiers—and in Jawad‘s case, he is not even accused of being affiliated with al Qaeda or the Taliban. He is not charged with any known war crime. He is not charged with any terrorist crimes.
So, then we have the fact that he was a child. That there‘s evidence actually now proven in the military commissions themselves that he was tortured both by the Afghan authorities and subjected to cruel and inhumane treatment at Guantanamo and at Bagram Prison. He was subjected to 14-day sleep deprivation program, extended periods of isolation. He tried to commit suicide. So he‘s been there for six years now.
The case itself has been plagued with problems—ethical problems involving the prosecution with unlawful influence by—and political influence by the legal advisor to the military commission‘s general officer. My opposite number, Lieutenant Colonel Darrel Vandeveld, the U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, a very courageous soldier, quit essentially or asked to be reassigned to other duties because he decided he could no longer ethically-proceed with a prosecution of Mohammed Jawad because the evidence just no longer stood up to scrutiny.
So, it really is emblematic of the many problems that these commissions have faced. And I want to emphasize that the defense—there is a reason that there only have been two detainees tried over the last seven years at Guantanamo, and that‘s because of the efforts of defense counsel, military defense counsel who have fought tooth and nail to prevent their clients from having tried in an unfair kangaroo court.
MADDOW: The speaking out of defense counsel in these cases, and the repeated resignations of prosecutors in these cases, has been one of the most moving things about this whole legal debacle.
Air Force Major David Frakt, defense counsel with the Office of Military Commissions—thank you for joining us, sir. Thank you for your service.
FRAKT: My pleasure. Thank you.
MADDOW: Later on, our Lame Duck Watch special report continues.
Today, still, President Bush insisted the federal response to Hurricane
Katrina wasn‘t slow, and that he inherited the recession. In other words -
the quackitude was deafening today.
MADDOW: Coming up: Our Lame Duck Watch special report continues as we look into President Bush‘s handling of Hurricane Katrina and the economy. And by handling I mean, like, the way Edward Scissorhands might handle an egg or a kitten.
First, though, it‘s time for a couple of underreported holy mackerel stories on today‘s news. We not only get a new president as of a week from tomorrow, we also already have a brand-spanking new Congress. The 111th Congress took its first baby steps yesterday with the U.S. Senate in its first vote passing the largest expansion of wilderness protection in 25 years, 200 million acres in nine states—the Sierra Nevada, Zion National Park in Utah, the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia, Mount Hood in Oregon.
This is a big deal for those of us who care about where the wild things are. But there‘s one detail that‘s a little bit strange. This vote was yesterday, Sunday.
Why did the Senate vote on this on a Sunday? Well, that‘s because even though this was the first vote of the new Congress, it was used that was used to settle an old score. What passed yesterday was actually a collection of 160 different bills that all got voted on as a package all at once.
The common thread linking all these bills—is that they were all opposed by one senator, Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. He likes it if you call him, “Dr. No,” though I don‘t think he has any connection with Ursula Andress, except maybe in his mind.
Senator Coburn personally objected to so many otherwise popular bills in the Senate that Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to just combine all of them into things Tom Coburn hated, as an omnibus. It‘s an omnibus “Tom will hate this bill.” They actually called it the “Tomnibus bill” and they put it up on a Sunday just to make it extra annoying to ratchet up the pressure on old Senator Tomnibus.
Harry Reid, one. Dr. Tomnibus No, zero.
Finally, Vermont‘s independent senator, Bernie Sanders, has taken the National Portrait Gallery to task, not over any of the paintings they have on their walls, but rather over a caption on one particular brand-new painting. It is this portrait of a flower pot next to a man who, if you look closely, appears to be the outgoing president of the United States.
Underneath the painting is a caption that states that Bush‘s terms in office were marked by, quote, “The attacks on September 11th, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Led to. Led to? Led to. Yes.
You know, that‘s exactly how Bernie Sanders felt. Senator Sanders wrote a letter to the director of the gallery suggesting a change in the wording, quote, “So that in explaining our current president‘s portrait, we do not inadvertently rewrite history.”
The director of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery agreed saying that the portrait gallery would remove the word “led to” from the caption. Of course, if they need to use those words elsewhere in the caption on Bush‘s picture, they could just add in an “I” and make it “lied to.” I‘m sure that would fit in the caption somewhere.
MADDOW: Welcome back to our “Lame Duck Watch” special report where we are still absorbing President Bush‘s doozy of a farewell news conference. Among the dooziest subjects of inquiry was Hurricane Katrina - not just a natural disaster but a cataclysm. 1,800 Americans killed, a great American city, in many ways, lost and a presidential administration infamously flat-footed, if not criminally negligent in its response.
When the topic of Hurricane Katrina came up during his farewell press conference today, President Bush still had his eye on the wrong ball.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: I thought long and hard about Katrina. You know, could I have done something differently, like land Air Force One either in New Orleans or Baton Rouge?
The problem with that and - is that law enforcement would have been pulled away from the mission. And then your questions, I suspect, would have been, how could you possibly have flown Air Force One into Baton Rouge and police officers that were needed to expedite traffic out of New Orleans were taken off the task to look after you?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Think about this for a second. President Bush thought long and hard about Katrina, and what he came up with was, “Maybe I could have done the photo-op differently. Actually, on second thought, I nailed that photo-op.”
Wow. Not surprisingly, there were a number of follow up questions after that gob-smacking answer. When asked what more needs to be done in New Orleans, the president used the opportunity to vehemently defend his government‘s response to the hurricane.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: You know, people said the federal response was slow. Don‘t tell me the federal response was slow when there were 30,000 people were pulled off roofs right after the storm passed. 30,000 people were pulled off roofs right after the storm moved through.
That is a pretty quick response. Could things have been done better? Absolutely. Absolutely. But when I hear people say the federal response was slow - then what are they going to say to the chopper drivers or the 30,000 that got pulled off the roofs?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The problem for President Bush here is that his legacy on this is our legacy on this as Americans. And it is New Orleans‘ legacy up close. We know what happened. It was well-documented mostly on tape. And the federal response to Katrina encompassed a heck of a lot more than the helicopter rescues. For the record, National Guard troops did not arrive in the area until two days after the levees were breached.
FEMA did not finalize its request for buses to move people out of the affected area until six days after Katrina hit. FEMA trucks loaded up with ice were rerouted to Georgia, and South Carolina, and Maine.
Maine? Yes, Maine. And it isn‘t as if we didn‘t all have warning. This was the language the National Weather Service used that Sunday which was the day before Katrina hit, quote, “Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer. At least one half of well-constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. Power outages will last for weeks. Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.”
Armed with that dire warning, here is what our leaders in the federal government were up to. As a historical reminder, Katrina made land fall on Monday, August 29th. That day, President Bush spent the morning eating birthday cake with Sen. McCain in Arizona.
If you look at the official White House photo album for August 29th, 2005, this is what you see. The next day, on Tuesday, as reports came in of looting in New Orleans and thousands of people trapped in the superdome at the convention center, President Bush traveled to southern California and was photographed playing a guitar with a country music singer Mark Wills.
On Wednesday when things were getting really, really, really bad, FEMA seemed more concerned about how much time Michael Brown had to eat dinner than whether food and water were getting to those people who were stranded in New Orleans.
Quoting the Associated Press, “A FEMA official E-mailed Brown to tell him that thousands of evacuees were gathering in the streets with no food or water and that estimates many will die within hours.”
A short time later, Brown‘s press secretary, Sharon Worthy, wrote colleagues to complain that the FEMA director needed more time to eat dinner at a Baton Rouge restaurant that evening, quote, “He needs much more than 20 or 30 minutes.”
The same day, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was heading out for a vacation. Her day reportedly included hitting some tennis balls with tennis pro, Monica Seles, and taking in the musical “Spamalot” on Broadway. I hear it‘s great. Killer.
The next day, Thursday, newspapers across the country ran headlines like “New Orleans in Chaos: Looting, Mass Evacuation and Shortages of Food and Water Plague City.” Condoleezza Rice was seen buying Ferragamo shoes on Fifth Avenue.
And Michael Brown was admitting that FEMA had just learned about the thousands of Katrina victims stranded at the convention center.
That‘s the legacy of the federal response to Katrina. It is public record. A Bush administration, ill-prepared and not just slow, but lead-footed in response, so much so that aides to President Bush had to put together a DVD of news coverage to show him how bad things had gotten in New Orleans because the news media were covering it even if his own government wasn‘t.
The coup de gras here? President Bush‘s speech in Jackson Square, 2 ½ weeks later. A speech that had to be lit with floodlights since much of New Orleans was still without power.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: As all of us saw on television, there is also some deep, persistent poverty in this region as well. That poverty has roots in the history of racial discrimination which cut off generations from the opportunity of America. We have a duty to confront this poverty with bold action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Remember in wake of Katrina, President Bush‘s bold action to turn the nation‘s attention to confronting poverty. Remember that?
Joining us now is Jed Horne. He is the author of the book “Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near-Death of a Great American City.” He was city editor of the “New Orleans Times Picayune Newspaper” when Katrina hit. Mr. Horne, thank you so much for joining us tonight.
JED HORNE, AUTHOR, “BREACH OF FAITH”: Well, my pleasure, Rachel.
MADDOW: What is your reaction when you hear President Bush say that the federal response was not slow?
HORNE: Well, I think if you are looking to rewrite history, you ought to attend more than the photo-ops. I mean, it really is astonishing, I think, to us here in New Orleans to hear this kind of chatter when, in fact, the situation was so much more dire than any trip to Baton Rouge or Orleans by Air Force one could possibly have remedied.
And in reference to the Coast Guard, no one here disputes that the coast guard did spectacular work. It remains to wonder then why given their performance, the rest of the federal apparatus was so slow, so retarded. Why days later Mike Chertoff still evidently didn‘t know that there were levee breaches in New Orleans, that people were seething and in fact dying in front of the convention center.
Why it was that they evidently didn‘t know that the storm could be lethal to 60,000 people or claim not to know that when in fact tapes revealed, released later on, showed Bush getting the update on Sunday in Crawford in which those kinds of casualty numbers were very much a part of the conversation.
MADDOW: There is, as you say, broad agreement that the Coast Guard performed courageously in the wake of this storm. With the research that you did and what you experienced during Katrina, in your estimation, if you could pick a lesson for the Federal Government to have learned from Katrina, the worst thing that they need to make sure to never do again, what would you have them learn?
HORNE: Well, I think they need to learn, above all, to give federal agencies some leeway, some autonomy to function efficiently and expeditiously. What happened almost immediately and this was, you know, as the blowback to Bush became deeply embarrassing to the administration, everything became political. And thereafter, for three years to this day, a very toxic kind of partisanship has shaped the federal involvement in the Katrina mess, and it remains a mess to this day.
It was, you know, particularly unfortunate to see squabbling late in that first week over whether Bush could get Gov. Blanco to capitulate and somehow throw the State National Guard into the arms of the federal armies that were still not reaching New Orleans at that time as though this would reveal her own shortcomings and in that way shift blame from the Bush administration.
And it just went on from there - efforts to draw invidious comparisons between Blanco and the good Republican Haley Barber over in Mississippi - proportionally huge amounts more of money heaped on Mississippi per capita than on Louisiana despite the far greater need, of course, in Louisiana - the far greater devastation here.
MADDOW: Mr. Horne, President Bush gave that speech in Jackson Square about 2 ½ weeks after the hurricane hit, pledging famously that he was going to start working on poverty. He was going to start working on the legacies of racial discrimination. This far out from Hurricane Katrina. The residents of New Orleans are still living in a city that is dramatically changed by - dramatically hurt by that storm. Is there any sense that he has kept any of the promises that he made in that speech, any the post-storm promises?
HORNE: Well, there have been things done down here, make no mistake about that. The housing projects were reduced to rubble at a time when many people thought we probably needed to save them for a time in order to have low-income housing available to the work force that was, at that point, unable to return to the city.
Work has begun on the levee system. Two years after the storm, we have finally gotten - there have been endless studies and all sorts of drum roll. We finally were told what the Bush commitment would be to flood defense. And the astonishing thing, really, from the perspective of New Orleans was the commitment - was to protect the city from a 100-year storm.
Now, that sounds good. You know, you figure one storm in a century. In fact, 100-year storm is a term of art. There is a one percent chance of a 100-year storm happening in any given year or perhaps two or three times a year as it happened in 2005 when Rita followed Katrina.
In fact, a 100-year flood defense is not enough to have protected the city from Katrina. Katrina was a 300-year storm, three times the strength of the storm that now somewhat grudgingly the Federal Government has agreed to shore us up against. The Dutch and people like that who take flood defense really quite seriously are flabbergasted by this sort of feckless, lackadaisical response.
The Dutch had their Katrina in ‘53. They have fortified their coast against weather events that can be expected once in 10,000 years.
That‘s a flood defense 100 times as strong as the one that the Bush people
and it is still unfunded - have promised New Orleans.
MADDOW: So the best case empty-promise scenario is that New Orleans would not be protected if this happened again. Incredible.
Jed Horne, author of the book “Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near-Death of a Great American City.” Thank you very much for your time tonight, sir.
HORNE: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Coming up next, you do realize that President Bush inherited this recession and that he‘s been unfairly accused for the current economic free fall, right? That‘s what he said today. And that is why we are doing a “Lame Duck Watch” special report tonight. The response should always be commensurate to the level of quackitude.
MADDOW: Maybe the worst foreign policy blunder in American history, the condoning of torture as officially a U.S. practice, 9/11, not getting Bin Laden, Iraq, Afghanistan and still going on - the holding of prisoners indefinitely without charging them, the disappearance of a great American city.
And as our “Lame Duck Watch” special report on President Bush‘s farewell press conference continues, there‘s also the onset of what may be only the grizzliest recession anyone can remember. And that‘s if things go well. Mr. President, any thoughts?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: In terms of the economy - look, I inherited a recession. I‘m ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted job growth.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: There have, in fact, been two during recessions during the George Bush‘s time in office. The first was a mild economic downturn which started in March ‘01. And you know, back in 2001, March came after January, which is when Bush took office. So it makes it kind of hard to call that one something he inherited.
The second downturn began last December. If it lasts until the second half of this year, which is likely to do, the current recession will have surpassed in length all other economic downturns since World War II.
In the meantime, those 52 months of uninterrupted job growth the president boasted about is actually true and grossly misleading. There was sustained job growth from September of 2003 through January of 2007. That is 52 months.
But lots of economists, including some former Bush advisers, say that the nation‘s economic expansion at that time was driven by interrelated bubbles in the housing markets, consumer spending and financial markets. According to “IHS Global Insight” from ‘02 to ‘06, the housing boom generated about 600,000 to 800,000 jobs that otherwise wouldn‘t have been created, jobs built to last until the phony-baloney bubble burst.
Since the bursting, job numbers have declined in every month since January 2007. 2.6 million jobs disappeared last year alone - 2.6 million jobs. That‘s the most job losses since World War II. And unemployment hit a 16-year high 7.2 percent in December.
Overall, during Bush‘s eight years in office, a net total of 3 million jobs were created. In comparison, about 21 million jobs were created under President Clinton. Yet, President Bush and his advisers are still trying to rewrite his record on the economy.
Bush‘s chairman of economic advisors recently said that, quote, “It does look like a great eight years, aside from the last quarter, unfortunately.” Or if you will, we had this amazing house of cards that totally amazed everyone and it stayed standing for longer than most houses of cards. And then a stiff breeze flattened it entirely. Good for us.
Joining us now is Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Dean, thank you very much for coming back on the show. Nice to see you.
DEAN BAKER, CO-DIRECTOR, THE CENTER FOR ECONOMIC AND POLICY RESEARCH:
Thanks for having me on.
MADDOW: How would you rate President Bush‘s handling of the economy, not just through the current crisis, but over the past eight years?
BAKER: Well, it‘s pretty hard to rate it as anything other than very dismal. I mean, him saying that he inherited a recession is kind of like a student that flunks the final and says, “Well, I was sick the first week of class.”
You know, there were some problems when he took office. But he‘s been sitting there for eight years watching this housing bubble build up, watching this house of cards, as you put it, build up and looking the other way - in fact, celebrating it.
The fact that it collapsed and led us to calamity - this was predictable. The exact timing, of course, was not predictable, but that this would collapse and lead to a bad situation, if he had been awake, his team of economic advisors had been awake, they would have seen this coming. They wouldn‘t be sitting there looking very surprised.
MADDOW: Right now, as we consider a large economic stimulus program and as Democrats debate whether or not tax cuts should be part of that, it‘s probably an appropriate time to look back on Bush‘s tax cuts. He came into office with a large multibillion dollar budget surplus that evaporated with his tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. Looking back on those, were those bad for the economy?
BAKER: Well, his tax cuts - and we did have a recession. It was probably good to have something to stimulate the economy. But tax cuts are not the way to do it, and particularly tax cuts oriented towards the wealthy which is what he had done.
So we needed stimulus given the downturn that we are facing in 2001 and 2002, that helped boost the economy. But this was the least effective way to do it. We should have done it, as President Obama‘s talking about it now, with infrastructure, with clean jobs, with spending and different sorts. And if you do tax cuts, you direct them towards low and moderate income people who would spend them, not to the wealthiest people in the country as President Bush did. So that was not the way to go.
MADDOW: President Bush on behalf of the president-elect has now formally asked Congress to release the rest of the TARP funds and part of that money they say will be used to help homeowners facing mortgage foreclosures. Do you think this is a good idea?
BAKER: Well, you have to look at how it goes. I mean, one concern I have is often what‘s portrayed as relief to homeowners is, in fact, relief to banks. So if we‘re giving banks a lot of money to keep people in their homes in which they have no equity and they‘re falling in price, that‘s probably not a real good deal.
So you have to look at that very, very carefully, not to say we do want to help homeowners. Absolutely - we should be trying to help out homeowners, but we want to do it in a way that the beneficiary are the homeowners, not the banks. And I‘m not sure, at this point, how this will be structured.
MADDOW: Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Even when you don‘t have the answer to help us figure out the right questions, which is very important, thanks for joining us tonight, Dean.
BAKER: Thanks a lot for having me on.
MADDOW: Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith‘s take on Bush‘s ultimate exit interview. And next on this show, I get just enough pop culture from my friend, Kent Jones.
MADDOW: Now, it‘s time for “Just Enough” with my friend, Kent Jones.
Hi, Kent. What have you got?
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: Good evening, Rachel. Sunday afternoon‘s inaugural celebration for Barack Obama at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington is going to be a monster. Huge.
Scheduled to perform - Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce, John Mellencamp, Usher, Shakira, Sheryl Crow, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Garth Brooks, Mary J. Blige John Legend and more.
JONES: Plus, there‘s going to be readings by Jamie Foxx, Martin Luther King III, Queen Latifah and Denzel Washington.
Fun fact - Rod Blagojevich has asked all of them to stand behind him during his next press conference. Wrigley Field should only last two or three hours. Big show.
And finally, one last lame duck watch from President Bush‘s absolutely jaw dropping press conference today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: There‘s not a moment where you don‘t think about being president, unless you‘re riding mountain bikes as hard as you possibly can, trying to forget for the moment.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: You know, if you really want to forget the presidency, try falling off your mountain bike a lot. See, that works, too, mostly as a metaphor. Rachel.
MADDOW: Wow. Thank you, Kent. Appreciate it.
JONES: Yes, absolutely.
MADDOW: Thank you for watching tonight. We will see you here tomorrow night. Until then, you can check out our podcasts. Go to iTunes or Rachel.MSNBC.com. You can also hear my radio show, 6:00 p.m. Eastern coast to coast on Air America Radio. “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Good night.
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