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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Friday, May 29

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Amy Klobuchar, Richard Thompson Ford, Steve Benen, Kavya, Shivashankar, Kent Jones>

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

Somebody important calls bullpucky on Dick and Liz Cheney, somebody formerly important.  George W. Bush reminds us all who he is.

And yes, somebody amazing.  The 13-year-old National Spelling Bee champ plays stump-the-liberal-cable-TV-news-anchor right here live on the show.

All coming up this hour.

But we begin tonight with the extreme ratcheting up of the rhetoric against President Obama‘s first Supreme Court nominee.  Over the course of the past week, the substantive case that conservatives have made against Judge Sonia Sotomayor has, for the most part, fallen apart.

You want to attack her for saying that judges sometimes make law?  Well, you‘ll have to attack Justice Scalia for saying the same thing.  You want to attack the man who nominated her for praising her empathy?  Well, you‘ll have to go back and attack George H.W. Bush for praising the same quality in Clarence Thomas.

You want to attack her for bringing her ethnic background to bear on her decision-making?  Well, you‘ll have to attack Justice Samuel Alito for doing that as well.  You want to attack her for bringing her gender to bear on her decisions?  Greg Sargent, today, at “The Plum Line Blog,” uncovered a 1981 interview with conservative former Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor in which she confessed to that grave sin as well.

The conservative arguments against Sotomayor that had been tried out this week have largely fallen apart.  Despite that or maybe because of that, conservative commentators have decided to take their opposition to Judge Sotomayor to another level.  They‘re now all but calling for a race war over this nomination.

Today, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh had this to say about why Judge Sotomayor got the job.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  How do you get promoted to the Barack Obama administration?  By hating white people—or even saying you do or that they‘re not good or that putting ‘em down, whatever.  Make white people the new oppressed minority and they‘re going right along with it because they‘re shutting up.  They‘re moving to the back of the bus, saying, “I can‘t use that drinking fountain.”  OK.  “I can‘t use that rest room.”  OK.


MADDOW:  Stoke racial resentment much?

Mr. Limbaugh didn‘t stop there.  He went on to compare Judge Sotomayor to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.


LIMBAUGH:  She brings a form of bigotry or racism to the court.  I don‘t care—we‘re not supposed to say it, we‘re supposed to pretend it didn‘t happen, we‘re supposed to look at other things, but it‘s the elephant in the room.  How can a president nominate such a candidate?  And how can a party get behind such a candidate?  That‘s what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke.


MADDOW:  We highlight these comments today not to make Mr. Limbaugh and his radio show the issue, but highlighting these comments because they are representative of how the conservative movement is talking about this nomination now.  It‘s not just Rush Limbaugh.

Here‘s radio host and conservative hero and Watergate felon, G. Gordon Liddy.


G. GORDON LIDDY, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST:  I understand that they found out today that Miss Sotomayor is a member of La Raza, which means in illegal alien, “the race.”  And that should not surprise anyone because she‘s already on record with a number of racist comments.  Let‘s hope that the key conferences aren‘t when she‘s menstruating or something, or just before she‘s going to menstruate.  That would really be bad.”


MADDOW:  The language is actually called Spanish.  It‘s not called

illegal alien.  But points to you, sir, for actually making a David Duke

reference seem appropriate.  You know, they said it couldn‘t be done.


At the beginning of the week, you would have been forgiven for thinking that a few unhinged over-the-top comments from talk radio land defined the fringe of the objections to Sotomayor.  It turns out it‘s really not the fringe.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Republican Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker entered the fray too.  In a widely circulated entry on his Twitter Web site, he said, quote, “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw.  Latina woman racist should also withdraw.”

GLENN BECK, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST:  They‘re just like, “Hey, Hispanic chick lady.  You‘re empathetic?”  She says, “Yup!”  They say, “You‘re in.”  That‘s the way it really works.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  She‘s also an affirmative action pick, Chris.  Clearly, the president was down to four choices—all four of them women—and he picked the Hispanic.

FMR. REP. TOM TANCREDO, ® COLORADO:  I‘m telling you, she appears to be a racist.  She said things that are racist in any other context.


MADDOW:  This is the conservative case against Judge Sonia Sotomayor.  And now, apparently recognizing belatedly that maybe this is a little over-the-top for the 2000s or even the 1990s or possibly even the 1890s, some Republicans and conservatives are attempting to put a lid on this pot that‘s already boiled over.

Karl Rove, for example, earlier this week, launched this attack on Judge Sotomayor.


KARL ROVE, FMR. BUSH SENIOR ADVISOR:  I‘m not really certain how intellectually strong she will be.  She has not been very strong in the second circuit.  She‘s not liked by her colleagues.  She‘s not particularly respected by her colleagues.


MADDOW:  That was earlier this week.  Now, Mr. Rove says it‘s time to treat Judge Sotomayor with some respect.


ROVE:  I think Republicans need to take her on in the appropriate

fashion, which is about her judicial philosophy, her record on the court,

her writings and her statements—particularly her statements.  But they -

and they need to do so with respect.



MADDOW:  Is this a bad time to bring up that Mr. Rove also called the judge a schoolmarm earlier in the week and said that she would discard the rule of law whenever emotion moved her to do so, and said about her that he knows a lot of stupid people who have gone to Ivy League schools?

There‘s also RNC Chairman Michael Steele.  Two weeks ago, even before Judge Sotomayor was nominated, Mr. Steele had this to say about the judge.


MICHAEL STEELE, RNC CHAIRMAN:  She‘s not—she‘s not a bell ringer.  She‘s not one of these justices who‘s really kind of distinguished herself and made a name for herself on the appeals court.  The word on the street is she‘s rather abrasive.  And that‘s the one thing a Supreme Court is not, is a place for abrasive personalities.


MADDOW:  Supreme Court is definitely not the place for abrasive personalities.  That‘s actually why they make Justice Scalia telecommute from home now.

But those were comments from Mr. Steele two weeks ago.  Now?


STEELE:  It was an uphill battle.  You know, let‘s start slammin‘ and rammin‘; but I think we really need to just take a step back from this.


MADDOW:  Now it‘s time to take a step back from this—after you‘ve called her abrasive and undistinguished?

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are trying to get this boiling water back into the pot as well.  Senator John Cornyn of Texas singled out Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich last night during a radio interview.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN, ® TEXAS:  Neither one of these men are elected Republican officials.  I don‘t think it‘s appropriate and I certainly don‘t endorse it.  I think it‘s wrong.  I think it‘s terrible.  This is not the kind of tone that any of us wants to set when it comes to performing or constitutional responsibilities of advice and consent.


MADDOW:  He says, “I think it‘s wrong.  I think it‘s terrible.”  Very glad to hear that, Senator Cornyn.

What do you think about Glenn Beck calling her Hispanic chick lady?  What do you think about G. Gordon Liddy, who was calling the Spanish language the language of illegal alien wrong?  Was it terrible what he said about women judges?  What do you think about Karl Rove calling her stupid?  What do you think about Michael Steele saying she‘s undistinguished?

This is not some isolated problem with minor fringe figures and conservative circles.  This isn‘t a pet project of Michael Savage on some college radio station somewhere.  This is the character of the opposition to Sonia Sotomayor‘s nomination for the Supreme Court.

Elected Republicans are now belatedly starting to minorly freak out about it.  But honestly, is that all they have to say about it?  Is this all they‘re going to do?

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.  In addition to being a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she is also both the junior and senior senator from the great state of Minnesota.

Senator Klobuchar, thanks for coming back on the show.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR, (D) MINNESOTA:  Well, thank you, Rachel.  That was quite a collection of comments you gathered there.  And you know, the problem is that people are listening to it.  So, I‘m glad that you are giving me an opportunity to set the record straight.

You know, this is a woman who came from nothing—on her own words—a modest and challenging background, went on to be the valedictorian of her high school class, went on to be tops in her class at Princeton, went on to get in the Yale Law Review and be one of the editors there.  You don‘t get there unless you‘re smart.  Her own boss is a prosecutor, a former prosecutor—I admire this—called her fearless.  She went on to have a good career in the private sector and then has been on the bench more than anyone that has sat on the Supreme Court, for something like 70 years.

So, this is a woman of experience—someone who doesn‘t just know the law and the Constitution, she also knows America.  And she is someone of great dignity, and I would hope that the hearing that we have in the Senate Judiciary Committee and that my colleagues will treat her with great dignity.

MADDOW:  Do you expect that it‘s going to be a more dignified proceeding in the judiciary committee that the criticism of her will happen at a different level than what we‘re experiencing thus far?  As you can tell—you can tell how I feel about the level of discourse, so far.

KLOBUCHAR:  You know, I would hope so.  I think you see some of this dialing back.  Senator Sessions is talking about how he didn‘t think there will be a filibuster.  They‘re talking about a thorough but careful hearing.  You hear those kinds of words.  And I think that that is very promising.

I mean, they know the facts.  You know, the 400 opinions she wrote—something like five of them have been reversed.  The time that she‘s been on the panel with the Republican-appointed judge, 95 percent of the time they‘ve agreed.

So, all of this criticism that‘s been lobbed at her and all of these name-calling and shame-calling that‘s been going on, it‘s just not merited by the facts, and I believe they know that.

MADDOW:  When you call it name-calling—and I do think that it‘s been ad hominem, I think it‘s been inappropriate, as you can tell from the way that I introduced this.  Do you also think that there‘s a sense in which this is—this is—it‘s more than just unfortunate?  That it is dangerous on some level, bad for the country?

KLOBUCHAR:  You know, when people listen—and you know there are a lot of people listening to those shows and don‘t have the right facts, of course, it‘s never a good thing.  But that‘s why we have other shows that get the facts out, and you hope people listen and you hope they watch the hearings and tune in, and see for themselves.

And, so far, you really haven‘t seen the majority of the American public swayed by this kind of rhetoric and mud-slinging.  It just doesn‘t happen.  So I think that‘s a very good sign.  I think the president‘s introduction—her own words were very helpful.  People watched that.

And then you just have the facts.  You know, I love this—the latest is they‘re calling her abrasive.  And I was sort of thinking of all the male judges that I‘ve met in my life and maybe we have reached a point in this country where we can have nominated a woman judge that may be a little gruff and to the point, because we certainly have enough men judges that are like that.


MADDOW:  Do you think, though, because the rhetoric is so over-the-top, and it is—it is in the media.  It‘s on the TV shows and it‘s on the radio shows, and it‘s sometimes in columns and things is where we‘ve heard this most over-the-top stuff.

Do you think that Republicans who are elected officials should be going further to essentially tell those people to cut it out, to say it‘s bad for the country and stop doing it?  I‘ve heard about it a little bit, but not very much.

KLOBUCHAR:  You have.  I mean, Senator Cornyn just did it.  I think you‘re starting to hear some of it.  It‘s certainly bad for their party and I think people have an obligation to call because—and I just had a guy come up to me at the airport the other day, I was coming back from northern Minnesota, I had a guy come in and just say to me, “You know, this is going to be a problem because she‘s putting her feelings in front of the law.”  And so, I, you know, went back at him and told him all these statistics and what the truth was and that just wasn‘t the facts, but people are listening to this.

So, I think it‘s very important that the American public tune into these hearings; that they look at all of the opinions she‘s written, so many of them.  And she, basically, is someone who just takes the law—whether you agree with her or not—takes the facts and applies the law to those facts.  And that‘s what you‘re supposed to do when you‘re a judge.

I always added, as I told this guy, “Hey, she brought back baseball to America.  That‘s not too bad.”


MADDOW:  Well, if we can learn half as much about Judge Sotomayor through this process as we have learned about the right-wing through this process, thus far, it will be very informative indeed.

Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota—thank you so much for time tonight. 

It‘s really great to have you back on the show.

KLOBUCHAR:  Well, thank you very much, Rachel.  It‘s great to be on.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

In addition to the incendiary name-calling, conservatives are also attacking Sonia Sotomayor for a 2003 case where she rejected a discrimination lawsuit brought by firefighters in New Haven, Connecticut.  You probably heard a lot about that case already.  Probably 90 percent of what you‘ve heard is bullpucky.  We will talk about what really happened in that case and how it has been misconstrued—coming up next.

And George W. Bush is back, and he is everything you remember him to be.  We will have details on that coming up.


MADDOW:  I have an alert for you about D.C. drama that is yet to come.  It‘s likely that before the Senate votes on confirming President Obama‘s first Supreme Court nominee, the current Supreme Court will make some big news—by ruling on one of that nominee‘s cases.  It‘s a case about racial discrimination in the New Haven, Connecticut Fire Department.  Opponents of the nominee, Judge Sotomayor, have pounced on this case like bogeymen grabbing bare ankles dangling over the edge of the bed.


LIMBAUGH:  I referred to her today as a reverse racist, and you can see in the Ricci case that‘s currently before appeal on the Supreme Court. 

She ruled against a white firefighter—Ricci and other white firefighters

just on the basis that she thought women and minorities should be given a preference because of their skin color, and because of the history of discrimination in the past.  The law was totally disregarded.  That‘s what I mean when I refer to her as a reverse racist.


BECK:  When I hear this, I—I mean, gee, she sure sounds like a racist.

BUCHANAN:  I would say she‘s sustained an act of bigotry against seven or eight white firemen.


MADDOW:  Sustained bigotry.  She‘s a racist.  All because of the Ricci case.

On the other hand, Stanford law professor, Richard Thompson Ford, says Judge Sotomayor rejected that discrimination claim because it, quote, “It threatened to burn down civil rights law.”

Joining us now to explain is Stanford law professor, Richard Thompson Ford.  He‘s author of “The Race Card: How Bluffing About Bias Makes Race Relations Worse.”

Professor Ford, thank you very much for joining us tonight.


MADDOW:  You wrote at this week that the Ricci case threatened to burn down civil rights law, which was a pretty different take on it than we‘re seeing in most of the media when they‘re talking and writing about this subject.  Can you explain to us—non-Stanford law professors—a little bit about this case and the civil rights law that surrounds it?

THOMPSON FORD:  Sure.  Well, the case involved the New Haven Fire Department promotes firefighters based on—among other things—a written exam.  But the written exam is the main thing that they use.

When the results came back and it turned out that all those several black and Hispanic firefighters that actually passed the exam—this is something that most people haven‘t talked about—but several passed the exam, but they weren‘t among the very top scorers, and therefore, because of some civil service rules they would not be eligible for promotion.  And, in fact, no black firefighters and only one Hispanic firefighter would have been eligible for promotion.

The city then decided to drop the exam results and go back to the drawing board.  And that‘s what everyone is complaining about.

Now, what‘s been left out is that civil rights law requires employers to avoid promotion procedures or hiring procedures that unnecessarily screen out members of underrepresented groups.  It doesn‘t require them to hire people who aren‘t qualified but it does require them to try to avoid unnecessarily screening out members of underrepresented groups.  And New Haven determined that that‘s what this test did.  And that‘s why they rejected it.

MADDOW:  So, couldn‘t have—not only could you say, you know, “no blacks need apply, no whites need apply,” for a specific job, but you couldn‘t—and this is something that you wrote about that sort of opened my eyes to this, when you wrote about it in this week—you couldn‘t, for example, have a—bench-pressing 200 pounds .


MADDOW:  . be the test that you needed to pass in order to get a job just because the employer liked strong employees.  That would have the effect of having a disproportionate effect on women employees, and this sort of—this rule in civil rights law would also exclude that sort of a test.  Is that the idea?

THOMPSON FORD:  Absolutely.  That‘s exactly the idea.  Now, it‘s important to say—if the job is one where having a lot of upper body strength is really essential to the job, then the employer could have that test and they could have it even if it would have the effect of screening out most of the women.  The problem comes in when the employer has something like a weight-lifting exam and it‘s not closely related to the job or, in some case, maybe it‘s not related to the job at all.

So, when an exam has a disproportionate effect on an underrepresented group, the employer is required by law to make sure that it‘s closely related to actual job qualification and that there‘s not a better way to go about testing for this job qualifications that doesn‘t screen out the minority group.

MADDOW:  And this challenge in this case had Justice Sotomayor—

Judge Sotomayor ruled the other way, she would have been ruling that those

types of tests—essentially that are designed to smoke out discrimination

those couldn‘t be used.


THOMPSON FORD:  If she ruled the other way, she would have been ruling that the employer can‘t consider that, that the employer can‘t consider the fact that their test might be screening out underrepresented groups, and that would undermine a significant part of civil rights law.  It would really put employers in kind of a catch-22 -- because, on the one hand, the law requires them to consider the racial or sex impact of the test and make sure that the tests are job-related.  On the other hand, now they‘re saying, if they consider the race or sex impact, that they‘d be violating the law.  So, it really would put employers in a bind.

MADDOW:  Stanford law professor Richard Thompson Ford, thank you so much for your time tonight.  We‘re going to post a link to your piece from about this this week at, so everybody can do their homework.  Thank you.

THOMPSON FORD:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Last night, George W. Bush was asked if Barack Obama is a socialist.  You will be glad to know that his insights were as penetrating as ever—it‘s coming up.

And, in just a few moments, I interview the winner of last night‘s National Spelling Bee.  I am really nervous.  What if I just blank?


MADDOW:  Coming up: We will be joined by the most intimidating 13-year-old on the planet.  She won the National Spelling Bee last night, and tonight, she will put me to the test.

After that, there has been widespread weakness over the world over the last several days.  Kent Jones joins us with the “Weak in Review.”

But first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Former President George W. Bush has made known his personal principled decision to not criticize his successor.  He has said about President Obama, quote, “I‘m not going to spend my time criticizing him.  There are plenty of critics in the arena.  He deserves my silence.”  Ah, protocol.

George Bush won‘t criticize the new president, he won‘t undermine him.  That task is left to the Cheney family.  Or at least it was.  Last night at a speech in Michigan, a speech in which Mr. Bush reiterated that he did not want to criticize President Obama, he ended up not being able to stop himself from doing it any way.

Asked about what he thought about conservative pundits who say Obama is opening the door to socialism, Mr. Bush replied, quote, I‘ve heard talk about that.  I think the verdict is out.  I think people are waiting to see what all this means.”

I think the verdict is out?  Doesn‘t the verdict come in because the jury is out?  How could a verdict be out?  Maybe the same way that “I won‘t criticize Obama” can also mean “I won‘t deny, dude, might be a commie.”

Next up: International news.  Russia has accidentally bombed itself.  And now, Russia is saying “I‘m very sorry” to itself.  The Russian navy accidentally shot about 14 live artillery shells into a sleepy farming town near St. Petersburg.

During a military exercise in the Gulf of Finland, a Russian anti-submarine vessel was trying to hit aerial targets.  It missed very badly, more than a dozen times.  Thankfully, no people were injured but a few cottages were damaged.  One local farmer described the shelling as, quote, “a metal hail.”

Russia‘s military is considering adopting Murphy‘s law as its 21st century motto, or at least it ought to.  In the year 2000, a Russian nuclear sub, the Kursk, sank to the bottom of the Bering Sea.  All 118 men on board were killed.

In July last year, seven soldiers were killed when a live tank shell

they were loading accidentally exploded.  November of last year, a

firefighting mechanism on a nuclear sub malfunction and spewed out Freon

gas, 20 sailors died in that accident.  In January of this year, two

Russian military planes collided, killing five people.  And I could go on -

3,500 Russian soldiers die in accidents or by suicide every year.


Also, did I mention that this is the same country that still has thousands of nuclear weapons?  But don‘t worry.  I‘m sure they‘re taking better care of their nukes than they are of their submarines, their planes, their tank shells and their humans.

And finally, as a person who is easily distracted from my work—sorry.  As a person who is easily distracted from my work, I sympathize with the French tennis player in the French Open who just had to play a match against Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal.  Ms. Larcher de Brito is not only a very good tennis player; she is a very loud tennis player.



MADDOW:  Ms. Larcher de Brito‘s noises were such that her opponent today asked the umpire several times to please make her be quiet.


ARAVANE REZAI, FRENCH TENNIS PLAYER:  Please, sir, she is disturbing -

she‘s disturbing me with her screaming.



MADDOW:  She is disturbing me with the screaming.  The French player, Aravane Rezai was able to defeat her vocally well-endowed opponent in two sets.

The Portuguese teenager is hardly the first tennis player to get attention for the sound of her game.  Monica Seles and Maria Sharapova have also been famous for their shrieking on the game—during the game.

Ready for the strange part of the story?  Seles, Sharapova and Michelle Larcher de Brito all trained at the same place - Nick Bollettieri‘s tennis academy in Bradenton, Florida.  So, there‘s your screaming sports conspiracy theory for the weekend.  You‘re welcome.


MADDOW:  Dick Cheney and his daughter, Liz, have now made so many appearances on television that it is becoming statistically unlikely that they will be able to continue to reject the advances of this show for long.

Ultimately, if they keep doing this much TV, one or both of them is going to end up as a guest on this show, just as a rounding error.  And if that happens—please, please, please—we pretty much know exactly what they will want to talk about.


DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity.

LIZ CHENEY, DAUGHTER OF DICK CHENEY:  There are documents that show the intelligence we gained from that program...

DICK CHENEY:  But when you‘ve got memos out there that show precisely how much was achieved and how lives were saved as a result of these policies, they won‘t release those.

LIZ CHENEY:  Well, gosh, he‘s going to the National Archives.  I‘m happy to provide them with the room number of the office he needs to go to, if he wants to just declassify the memos while he‘s there.

DICK CHENEY:  So far, they‘ve refused to put out memos that were done by the CIA that I‘ve requested be declassified, that show the positive results of the detainee program.

LIZ CHENEY:  The memos are sort of the focus right now, because these memos do show the effectiveness of the program.


MADDOW:  Every interview they both go on and on and on about these memos—unrebutted and unchallenged.  These are the memos that prove that torture works.  Nobody ever challenges them on this, because the memos are classified.  So, no one can fact check the Cheneys on whether what they‘re saying is true.

If only there were someone else who had also seen these memos who could tell us whether Dick and Liz Cheney are telling the truth about what these memos actually say.  If only there was someone.

Ta-da!  It turns out that that someone does exist, Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  And that apparently is a job that gives him access to these same memos that Dick and Liz Cheney have been using to make their “torture works” arguments on the TV—every day.

Here‘s what Senator Levin had to say about them this week at the Foreign Policy Association annual dinner.


SEN. CARL LEVIN, D-MICHIGAN:  Mr. Cheney claimed last week that President Obama‘s decisions have made us less secure and that abusive interrogation techniques worked.  Mr. Cheney‘s claims are directly contrary to the judgment of our FBI director, Robert Mueller, that no attacks on America were disrupted due to intelligence obtained through the use of those techniques.

Mr. Cheney has also claimed that the release of classified documents would prove his view that the techniques worked.  But those classified documents say nothing about numbers of lives saved, nor do the documents connect acquisition of valuable intelligence to the use of abusive techniques.


MADDOW:  So, no matter what they say is in those memos, other people who have seen those memos say that they say something different.  That‘s apparently how you talk back to Dick Cheney.

Joining us now is my friend, Steve Benen, who writes for  Thanks for coming on the show, Steve.  Nice to see you.

STEVE BENEN, WASHINGTONMONTHLY.COM:  Good to see you.  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Is this Carl Levin calling the Cheneys‘ bluff?  Do I sort of have this right in terms of what he‘s saying here?

BENEN:  Absolutely.  I think that Carl Levin has had enough.  He‘s watched Cheney on all of the networks.  He‘s seen Liz Cheney everywhere.

And he‘s saying, look.  I‘ve seen the same memos.  I know what‘s in those memos.  I know the truth, and Dick Cheney isn‘t telling it.

And he did it in a very diplomatic way.  He said that Dick Cheney was bearing false witness, which I think is a very classy way of saying that Dick Cheney is lying.

But either way, Carl Levin has had enough, and he‘s out there and setting the record straight.

MADDOW:  Carl Levin is not known for gratuitously picking political fights.  And so, is it the fact that it‘s him, that it‘s Carl Levin, does that affect the significance of this rebuke?  Does that affect how we should see the impact of this politically?

BENEN:  I think so.  I don‘t—I mean, Carl Levin‘s been around for a long time.  He has a reputation for having stature, having credibility with members of both parties, with the media.  He‘s not known as an ideologue.  He‘s not known as a partisan bomb-thrower.

And the fact that he came out and did this—you know, he introduced his remarks by saying he intended to talk about Obama, and talking about how he‘s satisfied with the direction that we‘re on foreign policy-wise.

But he felt so compelled to speak out against Cheney, because Cheney‘s been so dishonest of late.

I think that Carl Levin‘s unique stature lends this significance that may not have been tied to a different senator, had another senator given the same speech.

MADDOW:  Well, Steve, we‘ve been wading through this Cheney family media tour all of this time.  It‘s been—I mean, I thought that when he gave the American Enterprise Institute speech, then he was going to go away.  But he‘s still doing it ever since then, as has his daughter.

And we‘ve been waiting all this time for someone else who has seen these memos to make exactly the argument that Senator Levin has now made.

So, when these claims from the Cheneys are discussed now, either by third parties or by the Cheneys themselves, should they at least be labeled as contested claims now?  They never get rebutted when they‘re making these cases.

BENEN:  Right.  I think that‘s part of the reason that Carl Levin did this.  I mean, to a certain extent, it sets up a “he said, he said” situation.  On the one hand, Cheney has seen the memos, and he claims one thing.  Carl Levin has seen the same memos.  He‘s claiming something else.

But I think it‘s worth remembering, these are not two people of equal credibility here.  I mean, on the one hand, Carl Levin has a reputation for being a straight-shooter, for being honest.

On the other hand, we have Dick Cheney, who has a reputation for being Dick Cheney.

And so, given that, one person of the two has earned the benefit of a doubt.  And I‘ll give you a hint.  It‘s not the vice president.

MADDOW:  President Bush gave a speech in Michigan last night in which he said, essentially, that torture works.

I wonder if you think, Steve, if the whole debate starts boiling over again, all over again now, now that it‘s not just Cheney, but also, former President Bush is weighing in on the subject, too.

BENEN:  Yes.  But you notice how it has a Groundhog Day quality to all of this?  You know, we could have seen the same speech from Bush and Cheney a month ago, or four months ago, or a year or two years ago.

You know, they want to restart the debate again, but the facts haven‘t changed.  They‘re still wrong, and Carl Levin is still right.

MADDOW:  Steven Benen from, thank you so much for coming on the show tonight.  Steve, it‘s great to see you.

BENEN:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Can you spell the word Laodicean?

It‘s not even easy to say, let alone spell.  Don‘t even bother with the “I before e, except after c” stuff on this one.  It‘s not going to help you.

But coming up next, we‘re going to be talking to the winner of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a 13-year-old who was able to spell that word, and a truckload of other impossible-to-spell words correctly.

P-L-E-E-Z, stay tuned.

But first, one more thing about the Bush administration‘s view of torture and their contention that they never violated the Geneva Conventions.  A noted reckless liberal, by the name of General David Petraeus, says he disagrees.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND:  When we have taken steps that have violated the Geneva Convention, we rightly have been criticized.  And so, as we move forward, I think it‘s important to again live our values, to live the agreements that we have made in the international justice arena and to practice those.


MADDOW:  That is the head of U.S. Central Command, the man once in charge of running the war in Iraq, publicly stating his belief that, thanks to Bush-Cheney, we broke international law.

Witness for the prosecution, anyone?


MADDOW:  As the Republican Party searches for meaning in the political minority, one of their past stars and would-be future stars is getting an unsolicited makeover, courtesy of the Gregory Brothers.

Remember the Gregory Brothers?  We had them on the show.  They are the Gregory Brothers and wife who make songs out of the news by playing them through the autotune software.

The Gregory Brothers‘ latest actually stars Newt Gingrich testifying at the clean energy hearings in Congress recently.  At these hearings, Mr.  Gingrich said that Democrats want to regulate your Jacuzzi.

Mr. Gingrich‘s co-stars in “Autotune the News” this week are Congressman Jay Inslee of Washington and a gorilla.  Take it away.


NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER REPUBLICAN SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  This bill actually has the secretary of energy regulating Jacuzzis.  Now, the idea strikes me as close to being nuts.

REP. EDWARD MARKEY, D-MASSACHUSETTS:  I agree.  I‘m an angry gorilla. 

And that makes me angry.

REP. JAY INSLEE, R-WASHINGTON:  The only Jacuzzis (UNINTELLIGIBLE) regulate would have to produce 2,500 megawatts of energy.

MARKEY:  You made angry with (ph) lies (ph).  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) my angry gorilla (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  I‘m angry.

GINGRICH:  On page 233 of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) portable electric...


GINGRICH:  ... spa that I was told was a Jacuzzi.


MADDOW:  The full new edition of “Autotune the News” is linked right now at our Web site, which is  Check it out.


MADDOW:  Do you know how to spell “Maecenas”?  Perhaps a few clues would help.

Maecenas means a generous patron of the arts.  The language of origin is Latin.  Maecenas.

No?  Nothing?  Yes, me neither.

I don‘t even think I could read the spelling of Maecenas right off the teleprompter.

Let‘s see if 12-year-old Tim Ruiter, who knew how to spell it at last night‘s Scripps National Spelling Bee.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The end of this word is tricky (UNINTELLIGIBLE) spell (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Maecenas is spelled M-A-E-C-E-N-A-S.


MADDOW:  Tim Ruiter gave it a really great shot.  But he was done wrong by a handful of wily vowels.

That left 13-year-old Kavya Shivashankar to become the 2009 Scripps National Spelling Bee champion.  If she could correctly spell the word Laodicean.



Laodicean.  L-A-O-D-I-C-E-A-N.  Laodicean.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have a champion.


MADDOW:  Joining us now is Kavya Shivashankar, who actually needs no introduction, because she is the person in America who is most famous today for being smart and for working hard.

Ms. Shivashankar, thank you very much for joining us.


Thank you.

MADDOW:  I have to ask.  When you were given the winning word, Laodicean, which I‘ve been practicing pronouncing all day, did you know that word and how it would be spelled as soon as you heard it?

SHIVASHANKAR:  Yes, I was familiar with the word.  I had studied it before.  And I knew I knew the word as soon as I had heard it.

MADDOW:  Do you study by memorizing hard words that you think might turn up in the spelling bee?  Or do you study through some other means?

SHIVASHANKAR:  No.  I don‘t use memorization as a technique, because it‘s really hard to be able to memorize all the words in the dictionary.  That‘s just not possible.

So, my dad is my coach, and he and I work together.  And we find the roots of the words, and we study that, and study patterns from the language of origin—like for French and German, the same patterns those words have.

And we—my dad just coaches me that way.  And he expands our lists, and I just study them.

MADDOW:  So, when you—so, you‘re looking for the foreign origins, you‘re looking for the root words, these things that are sort of clues and patterns to help you figure out the word.

And you were always asking, I noticed, for alternate pronunciations, the language of origin for the word.  Even when you know the word, do you ask for that additional information just to sort of slow down the process and make sure that you don‘t rush?

SHIVASHANKAR:  Yes.  It‘s always good to make sure I have the spelling correctly.  And that‘s also why I write on my palm.  That‘s my technique to make sure all the information that I‘ve asked for fits and the word makes sense before I spell the word.

MADDOW:  But you didn‘t always ask for the words to be used in a sentence, and a lot of other competitors did.  How come you weren‘t always asking for that?

SHIVASHANKAR:  I don‘t think I‘ve ever asked that, because I just—I don‘t know.  For me, I don‘t find that useful.  I don‘t get anything out of it, so I just—I don‘t ask that question.

MADDOW:  When—it seems like a lot of your techniques, once you‘re in competition—not for preparation, but once you‘re there—and the way that you‘re talking about it now, it‘s all a lot about, like, concentration, poise, not getting rattled, making sure you don‘t get rushed into anything.

Is that how it feels to you, that it‘s a lot about discipline and making sure that you don‘t get rattled?

SHIVASHANKAR:  Yes.  I think from doing spelling, as well, I‘ve just learned so much discipline and focus.  And that‘s really helped me on the stage to be able to be composed and try to stay calm and clear my thoughts.  That helps me focus on the word on stage and be able to think it through and make sure it‘s 110 percent right before I spell the word.

MADDOW:  Hearing somebody who has just turned 13 explain that is very impressive.

And I think a lot of people spend their whole lives trying to figure out how to stay poised, stay focused, be operating from a position of confidence.

I have to ask if all of the training that you‘ve done to be able to succeed at this level, if it‘s actually been fun, or if it‘s really just about accomplishment and the hard work?

SHIVASHANKAR:  No.  This is something I love to do, or else I probably wouldn‘t have done it.  But spelling is just my passion, and I love doing it.  And I love competing.

And I think it‘s going to be really weird after this, because yesterday was my last spelling bee, and I won‘t be able to compete again.  So I‘m really going to miss it, because it was such a big part of my life. 

And I love doing it.  It was a great experience.

MADDOW:  Do you think you‘ll do any other kinds of academic competitions in order to sort of fill the void, if you‘re going to miss this?

SHIVASHANKAR:  Probably.  I‘ll have to see.  I don‘t know.  I‘m just going to focus on high school for now.  And I know in 10th grade I want to get into some science programs, because I want to be a neurosurgeon when I grow up, so that would really help me.

MADDOW:  Well, at this point, I would have confidence in you, in your future in doing that.

Let me just also ask you some sort of pedestrian advice here.  A lot of people have trouble with the same words over and over again.  I always get the word “separate” wrong, and I have ever since I was little.

Do you have any tricks you can let us in on for people who maybe have trouble spelling the same words over and over again?

SHIVASHANKAR:  Well, I guess, those kind of words you just have to memorize it.  Although I usually use something like a phoneme, or something to help me remember a word.

I‘m not sure.  Like something you can connect it with, something personal, or something to help you remember the word.

And I think it just—the whole spelling takes a lot of hard work and a lot of effort to be able to master it.

MADDOW:  Would you—maybe you could let me share in a little bit of your glory here.  Would you ask me one of the hard words from this year‘s bee, so I can give it a shot and fail miserably?

SHIVASHANKAR:  OK.  Well, one of my words that actually I wasn‘t familiar with that I got this year was “ergasia.”

MADDOW:  Ergasia.


MADDOW:  Country of origin, please?

SHIVASHANKAR:  It comes from Greek.

MADDOW:  Ergasia.  Now, I know you never ask this.  Could you please use it in a sentence for me?

SHIVASHANKAR:  I don‘t really know how to use it in a sentence.


I‘m sorry.

MADDOW:  All right.  Well, how about—how do you spell ergasia? 

That‘s a sentence.

I would guess that it was E-R-G-A-S-I-A?

SHIVASHANKAR:  That‘s correct.

MADDOW:  You‘re kidding.


MADDOW:  Well, I‘ve never been happier on this show than I am right now.

Kavya Shivashankar, thank you very much for miraculously giving me a word I knew how to spell.  Congratulations on being the 2009 spelling bee champion.  I know you‘ve done a lot of interviews today.  Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

SHIVASHANKAR:  Oh, thank you.

MADDOW:  All right.  Coming up on COUNTDOWN, Keith Olbermann takes on the torture debate, and Dick Cheney‘s smack-down at the hands of one Senator Carl Levin.

Next on this show, it‘s the W-E-A-K, “Weak in Review,” with Kent Jones.  Stick around.


MADDOW:  Now for the “Weak in Review,” we are joined by the one and only Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.



JONES:  There is an embarrassment of quality weakitude out there.

MADDOW:  All right.

JONES:  Shall we?

MADDOW:  Yes, indeed.


JONES (voice-over):  First up, “Typo of the Weak.”  The National Organization for Marriage is delirious.  Anti-same-sex marriage ads has been a godsend for comedians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There‘s a storm gathering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A giant, gay storm.


JONES:  One hiccup, they don‘t seem to be able to spell the word “marriage.”  Look closely.

According to their latest ad, the National Organization for Marriage is categorically opposed to “same same sex marraige.”

Hey, geniuses, if you can‘t spell it, you can‘t define it.

W-E-A-K spells weak.

Next, “fashion cop of the weak.”  Is it illegal to wear a “Yankees suck” tee-shirt?  The Texas Rangers think so.

When Christine Knapp Webb (ph) wore this shirt to a Rangers-Yankees game, a security guard asked her to turn it inside-out or leave the Arlington ballpark before the start of the game.


CHRISTINE KNAPP WEBB (ph), TEXAS RANGERS FAN:  He said the Texas Rangers organization considers that shirt to be profane.  And I‘m not in anybody‘s face going, you know, “oh, yeah,” or anything like that.  I‘m just wearing the shirt.  People are laughing.

I think profanity needs a definition, and I don‘t think “sucks” is included.

JONES:  And what if the Yankees do, in fact, suck?  Final score? 

First Amendment one, Texas Rangers weak.

Finally, “you better work of the weak.”

Modeling‘s not easy.  You have to be able to walk and smile and turn -

and swim.  I hope that‘s not dry clean only.  There‘s pretty, and there‘s pretty weak.



JONES:  I know.  I would have done it.  I‘ve done it 100 times.

MADDOW:  Not only off the runway, but into the pool.

JONES:  Yes, yes.  She‘s earned her stripes.

MADDOW:  When I heard about...

JONES:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) not (ph) a good (ph) thing (ph).

MADDOW:  When I heard about that Texas Rangers story, I thought it was the Texas state police...

JONES:  Oh, no.

MADDOW:  ... made her turn the shirt inside-out.

JONES:  No, no, no.

MADDOW:  It was actually the baseball team.

JONES:  Yes.  Exactly.

MADDOW:  All right.  A cocktail moment for you, Kent.

JONES:  Great.

MADDOW:  It was going to be a different cocktail moment until tonight‘s show happened.  And then, seriously, the best thing that has happened to me all week was the moment when I accidentally spelled that word right when I was talking to the spelling bee champion.

JONES:  Oh, yes.

MADDOW:  Would you mind terribly reliving that with me right now?

JONES:  Would I?

MADDOW:  Come on.

JONES:  Come on.

MADDOW:  Do it.  Go.


SHIVASHANKAR:  Well, one of my words that actually I wasn‘t familiar with that I got this year was “ergasia.”

MADDOW:                  I would guess that it was E-R-G-A-S-I-A?

SHIVASHANKAR:  That‘s correct.

MADDOW:  You‘re kidding.


MADDOW:  Well, I‘ve never been happier on this show than I am right now.



MADDOW:  I realize, I know...

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Some kids need praise that bad.

JONES:  Yes.

MADDOW:  Thank you very much, Kent.

JONES:  Ergasia.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Kent.  Thank you for watching.  Have a spectacular weekend.  E-R-G-A-S-I-A.  There.  I did it again.

COUNTDOWN with Keith Olbermann starts right now.



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