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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Tom Ridge, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Spencer Ackerman, Jonathan Turley, Kent Jones

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Now, Keith.  Thank you very much, Keith.  I should follow you around in the halls more often than I already do.



MADDOW:  Thanks, Keith.  Appreciate it.  And thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.

President Obama has announced a big joint session of Congress speech on health care, which means he‘s finally deploying the biggest of big metaphorical presidential guns on that issue.

We‘ve also got some life during wartime news for you this hour.  We‘ve got Supreme Court news about another of America‘s great liberal lions.

And we‘ve got news on the extraterrestrial experiences of Japan‘s new first lady.  Now, I‘m not making that up.

But, we begin tonight with my field mission to planet Cheney.  One of the most surprising developments of the Obama era thus far has been the extent to which the voice of national security coming from the Republican Party has been that of former Vice President Dick Cheney—a man who rarely spoke publicly while he was in office but who has been the unshushable voice of the right and all things national security ever since.

The reason it‘s difficult for the Republican Party to have Dick Cheney as their voice on national security is that he‘s not only potentially indictable for his role in the Bush administration‘s decisions to OK torture, it‘s also that the planet from which Mr. Cheney‘s voice emanates appears to be a relatively fact-free one.  He has been asserting in the face of bold facts to the contrary that torture has been proven to work, that Saddam Hussein did have contacts with al Qaeda, that Guantanamo has been a big ball of wind for the United States, an exercise in lawless imprisonment that Americans should just be proud of.

And, of course, he‘s been asserting that the war in Iraq was absolutely necessary.  No regrets on that one.


DICK CHENEY, FMR. U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  I don‘t look at it as we got it so wrong, Bob.  But I think we have, in fact.

BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS:  We got a big part of it wrong.  There weren‘t any weapons of mass destruction.

CHENEY:  Correct.  The original intelligence was wrong.  No question about it.  But there were parts of it that were right.  It wasn‘t 100 percent wrong.  So the intelligence was flawed.  But you never have perfect intelligence in this business.


MADDOW:  That has been the firm line from planet Cheney.  Sure, what we said was true about Iraq.  To start that war, turned out not at all to be true.  And if we didn‘t know it, we sure should‘ve known it.  But no regrets, I‘m still glad that we did it.

Last night on this show, I had for me what was a long-awaited chance to interview one of the men who played a role in selling that war to the U.S. public, Tom Ridge, an almost vice presidential candidate, a potential vice presidential or even presidential hopeful in the future.  A man who since his time as the nation‘s first homeland security secretary seemed to be one of the people who had a real shot at becoming a new voice for the Republican Party on national security.  One that could supplant the divorced from reality extremism we‘ve been hearing since he left office from former Vice President Cheney and oddly from his daughter.

If the Republican Party is to move beyond the disgrace of the Bush years foreign policy and the electoral disasters for that party that followed that disgrace, it has seemed to me that they would have to find a way to rejoin the debate here on planet Earth, to find a new leading voice on national security that isn‘t Cheney.  That no matter the strength of its disagreements with liberals and Democrats, it isn‘t a voice that‘s still trying to sell us the Iraq war.

To my honest surprise, Governor Ridge on this program last night declined to try to be that voice, offered the opportunity to distance himself from the transmissions we‘ve been getting from planet Cheney.  Mr.  Ridge, instead, said, no regrets.

We have received a ton of feedback.  On this interview we did on the show last night.  And it seems that this part of it—which we‘re going to show you here—were my shock and surprise at his answer may be evident is the reason why.


MADDOW:  You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat and us needing to attack them.


MADDOW:  February 2003, you said on ABC, “I agree that as the president has said, as the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery, that‘s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed.  The point in fact is, is that world community has known for 12 years he‘s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery and that‘s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein.  He is a threat to our region.  He is a threat to our allies, he is a threat to us.”

You made that case on national television.

RIDGE:  Sure.

MADDOW:  . a month before we started invading.  Do you regret that?


MADDOW:  Do you think it‘s true?

RIDGE:  At the time I think it‘s true.  And subsequent to that, the president‘s leadership and the things we‘ve done have kept America safe.

MADDOW:  Do you think that Saddam Hussein was a threat to us at the time that we invaded?

RIDGE:  Based on not only the intelligence we had, the intelligence we got from—that we shared, I believe, it‘s been known by the Brits and by the French, they had used weapons of mass destruction, that he was, again, several intelligence agencies thought he still had them.

MADDOW:  Do you believed it at the time?

RIDGE:  Yes.

MADDOW:  You don‘t still believe it, do you?

RIDGE:  Well, it‘s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we hadn‘t found them.  So again.

MADDOW:  You think that there‘s—they might still be there and we just haven‘t found them?

RIDGE:  I doubt it.  I think we‘ve covered that country.  But there were other reasons to go in.

MADDOW:  I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country‘s trust on national security.  The system was broken.  And if you don‘t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you‘re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party.  And I think that‘s the elephant in the room.  I don‘t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policymakers, it wasn‘t the spy‘s fault.

RIDGE:  Well, I think your suggestion that it was only—it was driven by, quite obviously, the people who made the decision knew more about the threat than you and I do.  And, again, I think it‘s a—it‘s a pretty radical conclusion to suggest that men and women trusted with the safety of this country would predicate a decision upon any other basis other than to keep America safe.  We‘ve been litigating it now for about five or six years.  I guess we‘re going to continue to litigate it.

And the historians and the final history hasn‘t been written because of Iraq.  If some form of self-government, some form of democracy ultimately is achieved in Iraq, and it‘s not going to look exactly like ours, but, you know, the Muslim world does admire our freedom of speech, the Muslim world does admire democracy.  As difficult as it is over there, the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed and the history is yet to be written.  Democracy.

MADDOW:  Reversed?

RIDGE:  Well—democracy in Iraq will make a huge difference not just for the men and women and the people and families in Iraq but for the entire region for a lot of reasons.

MADDOW:  You can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq.  You have a wilder imagination than I do.  We were sold that war because of 9/11.  We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn‘t have them and our government should‘ve known it.

And frankly, a lot of people believe our government did know it and it was a cynical decision, and maybe everybody wasn‘t in on it and maybe that is a radical thing to conclude.  But I think that‘s.

RIDGE:  I don‘t share that point of view, you do.

MADDOW:  I know.


MADDOW:  The point that I was ineloquently trying to make at the close of that interview was that this is important information to know about Tom Ridge.  But I think—and I wanted to expand on it tonight in order to say this: I think it‘s even more important information to know about the Republican Party in general.  And about whether or not we are going to get back to a point in this country where both sides, both the left and the right, have something useful, something that relates to the facts, to bring to the most important decisions that a country like ours has to make—war and peace, foreign policy, national security, the way we behave in the world, the way we ensure our survival as a nation.

If we look back at the rationale of Iraq war now, six years on and say, “Well, none of those reasons for the war turned out to be true, but what does that matter?”  If there isn‘t any regret for having started that war under false pretenses, if the thing that Republicans think we‘re going to be litigating forever is whether or not the people who sent us to war based on false information owe the country any sort of apology, whether those people should at least admit to getting it wrong, then the Republican Party, I think is still broadcasting from planet Cheney.

The foreign policy disaster that was the Bush-Cheney years may have resulted in electoral disaster for the Republican Party.  But it‘s not yet resulted in a Republican change of heart or change of mind.

On the one side of the aisle, for example, there‘s this serious debate underway about counterinsurgency and the utility of trying to build a state in Afghanistan using foreign troops.  On the other hand, they‘re still pounding the table about Saddam‘s fake WMD.  It‘s two different worlds.  We‘re not participating in a debate here.

If you are a fan of a one-party state?  Congratulations.  That‘s what America has got right now on foreign policy and national security.

If it‘s not going to be Tom Ridge, I don‘t know who it‘s likely to be who brings the Republican Party back to Earth, back to serious legitimate debates over facts that everyone agrees on about what our country needs to do, about war and peace, about how to recover from the governmental disaster that started the Iraq war over a threat that was not there.

If you like one-party states?  Congratulations.  If, on the other hand, you like a good debate, you think that two parties honestly and respectfully fighting it out makes us stronger?  I‘m sorry, but we‘re not there yet.


MADDOW:  One thing we know about President Obama, when things are not going his way politically, he often makes a very good speech.  There‘s word today that the president will convene a joint session of Congress for a speech next week on health reform.  Senate veteran Lawrence O‘Donnell joins us for a check-up on what a good talking to can achieve when it comes to health care reform.  That‘s next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  A week from tonight, President Obama will deliver a primetime health care speech to a joint session of Congress.  A speech to a joint session of Congress is a really big deal for a speech on a single topic.  Joint sessions are usually reserved for things like the State of the Union or foreign leaders addressing Congress.

It‘s not unprecedented, though, for the president to convene all of Congress for an address on one subject.  President George W. Bush, for example, did it in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks.  And, like President Obama, President Bill Clinton convened a joint session to give an address on health care, eight months into his first year in office.


BILL CLINTON, THEN-PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  For the first time in this century, leaders of both political parties have joined together around the principle of providing universal, comprehensive health care.  It is a magic moment, and we must seize it.



MADDOW:  That speech may be most remembered as the one that President Clinton delivered almost flawlessly even though a different speech, the wrong speech had been loaded into his teleprompter.  The president had to recite his health care speech from memory while watching the words of the wrong script scroll up on the TV cameras he was looking into.  It‘s very hard to do.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

President Clinton later said that during that speech, he thought, “God

must be testing me,” as recounted in Bob Woodwork‘s book, “The Agenda,”

when Clinton was asked how it felt to be giving—giving what was then the

most important speech of his life with the wrong text in front of him.  His

exact quote was, “Well, I thought, ‘God, you‘re testing me.  OK.‘”

So, he didn‘t give a banged up, partially off the top of his head speech, and he did get a boost in the polls after that speech.  But there is a reason why we are still trying to reform health care 16 years after Bill Clinton‘s stab at it.  Clinton may have won with his joint address to Congress, but he did not win health reforms.

Is it going to be any different this time?

Joining us now is MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell who was in the House chamber the night President Clinton gave his health care address in ‘93.

Lawrence, thanks very much for coming on the show.


MADDOW:  So, we know that President Clinton got a boost for his big health care speech, big joint session speech, the one you were there at.  But it still failed.  Do you think that Obama is in a similar place now in September ‘09 that Clinton was in in September ‘93?

O‘DONNELL:  He‘s actually in a much worse place.

At the time Bill Clinton gave the speech, the Republicans were poised to legislate.  There were Republican bills being offered by Senator John Chafee, a member of the finance committee.  Bob Dole at that point was in our private—in secret negotiations with him, very available to the notion of doing something.  Dole, because he decided to run for president, drifted away over time.

But there was much, much, much more possibility at the time Bill Clinton gave his speech.  He wasn‘t doing it from a defensive posture.  He was doing it to launch the campaign, the legislative campaign to get this done.

Barack—and this was—Clinton‘s was a planned speech.  Obama is giving a speech they never intended to make.  September was supposed to be the signing ceremony in the Rose Garden for this legislation, which was supposed to have gotten out of committees early in the spring and then passed on the floor of both bodies in August and maybe conferenced in September.

So, they‘re doing something now that was not in their script.  They‘re doing this from desperation.

MADDOW:  Well, if at this point things looked better for President Clinton than they do for President Obama on health reform, is this White House learning from that experience in terms of—even if they‘re in a worse place right now, are they learning about—from ‘93 about what went wrong then in terms of making their decisions on what to do next?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, they think they are.  And there‘s a bunch of lessons that people—some people take from it and other people take other lessons for it.  I mean, for example, the obvious lesson they thought they learned was: do not send the Congress a written bill—Hillary Clinton‘s famous 1,400-page written bill—because then the Congress will then have to rip that apart and do its own thing.

So, now, we‘ve seen the opposite tactic used and the opposite tactic is no better.  I mean, I think what you‘re seeing to a great extent here is what I‘ve held to be the case for many years now, which was—even though at the time I thought Hillary Clinton made many mistakes, they weren‘t really making mistakes, we just weren‘t going to be able to do this.  And the Obama approach to the extent that it‘s opposite from the Clinton approach simply shows you that neither one of these approaches really works in this area.

MADDOW:  Is there an approach that you think does work or would work or could work in fantasy?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, I don‘t—here‘s the fantasy approach, and I don‘t think it‘s fantasy anymore.  I think the Democrats should have shut up about this for two years after 1994 and then started very seriously proposing Medicare for all.  And then maybe 13 or 12 years later, when you get another Democratic president, the country might be ready for it.  But it would take a decade of campaigning for Medicare for all.

Ted Kennedy came on board with Medicare for all.  You‘ve heard how articulate Anthony Weiner as a member of the House is about Medicare for all, and there‘s a huge advantage to it, which is—it‘s very easy to understand and we are all related to someone who can explain it to us.  If you don‘t know what Medicare is, ask your grandmother.

Now, there‘s no one and anyone in any kitchen table around America who can explain to you what any one of these bills are in the House or the Senate.

MADDOW:  Do you think that President Obama can reset the debate enough to reclaim the possibility of the health reform this year?  Or do you think it‘s completely impossible?

O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t think the speech can do that.  Speeches do not drive legislation.  As Bill Clinton‘s speech showed—Bill Clinton‘s speech was very strong.

He actually held up a veto pen, something that we‘ve never seen in that chamber before—held up a veto pen and said, “If you don‘t give me universal coverage,” by which he meant, “If you don‘t give me the employer mandate,” which was then the hot button issue one the legislation, “If you don‘t give me that, I will veto what you send me.”  It was very dramatic.

I was actually sitting beside Bob Packwood, the Republican senator at the time, who was the lead Republican on the finance committee, the equivalent of Chuck Grassley now, and I said to him immediately after the speech, because I thought this was the very, very strong moment and it was kind of a scary moment in legislation because the president is saying, “If you don‘t have this specific thing in it, it‘s dead,” and that‘s very rare.

I said to Packwood, “What are you—what are you going to do?  I mean, he said, you have to have an employer mandate.”  And Bob Packwood‘s reaction was, “I don‘t believe him.”

And that‘s the big challenge that the president has next week, is he has to have Republicans and Democrats walking out of that hall believing him.  That he will hold to a certain set of conditions.  That is a very difficult thing to achieve in that room.

MADDOW:  Lawrence O‘Donnell, MSNBC political analyst and today‘s bucket of cold water in the face—Lawrence, thanks very much for.

O‘DONNELL:  Sorry, Rachel.

MADDOW:  No, it‘s OK.  We all need it every once in a while.  Thanks very much for joining us.  It‘s good to see you.

O‘DONNELL:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  If you are searching for a visual metaphor for how out of control things are getting for Americans in Afghanistan, try this one.  These are American contractors assigned to guard the U.S. embassy in Kabul.  Yes, the naked guy, too.  All it‘s missing are a conch shell and the kid named “Piggy” with a pair of broken glasses.  Spencer Ackerman from “Washington Independent” joins us in just a moment.


MADDOW:  Senator Ted Kennedy left a void in the pantheon of American liberalism.  And tonight, there is news that another enormously influential American liberal might soon be leaving public life, as well.  It‘s a Supreme Court story.  Jonathan Turley joins us to talk about that in just a moment.

But, first, it‘s time for a couple of holy mackerel stories in the news today.

If there is a benefit to the maddening Democratic Party failure on the issue of the public health insurance option, it could be the revival of the once believed to be extinct hard line liberal base.  The AFL-CIO yesterday drew its own line in the sand by saying it would not support Democratic candidates who do not support the public option in health reform.  And as David Sirota notes at “Huffington Post” today, threats from the left have shifted the rhetoric of incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado.

Here‘s where Senator Bennet started.  At a town hall meeting in Pueblo on Saturday, Senator Bennet gave flimsy support to the idea of the public option.  He said then that he favored the option, but, quote, “As I stand here today, I think it‘s very unlikely that the public option part of this will pass.”  In other words, he was saying he would probably vote for health reform without the public option.

Then, reports circulated that Senator Bennet will likely face a primary challenge from Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff.  And now, look at what Senator Bennet has posted at his Web site.


SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO:  I do support a public option as part of this.


BENNET:  I have said I support a public option.  I‘ve supported a public option.  I support a public option.  I‘ve supported a public option.  Why?  I also support having a public plan.


MADDOW:  So, the senator supports the public option after all.  Yes.

You know, having been taken for granted and triangulated and on occasion just stomped on during decades of Democratic Party policy decisions, the left may be learning its lesson.  If you don‘t lie down in front of the door, you‘re less likely to get used as a door mat.

Meanwhile the Senate seat filled for 47 years by “Liberal Lion,” Ted Kennedy, will have a new resident—thanks to a special election in Massachusetts in January.  And it seems that a genuine New England legend, a man who brought Ted Kennedy and the whole of Boston glory that washed away heartbreak nearly a century old might be considering a run for that office.  His name is Curt Schilling, the bloody (ph) Sox hero who pitched the 2004 Boston Red Sox to the team‘s first World Series championship in 86 years.

Speaking to New England cable news, Curt Schilling says he has been contacted about a possible run for the Senate.  After that interview, he wrote this on his Web site, quote, “I do have some interest in the possibility.  I am not going to comment further on the matter since at this point it would be speculation on top of speculation.”

As much joy as Curt Schilling surely brought Ted Kennedy in October of 2004 and me, it‘s important to note that Curt Schilling is no liberal, no Democrat.  He publicly and stridently supported the reelection of George W.  Bush in 2004 and he campaigned for John McCain, and he remains a staunch Republican, which is to say that the big righty is a big righty—just so you know, important to remember.

And, finally, President Obama had his first conversation by phone today with incoming Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who won his position in Sunday‘s national election.  Now, the two leaders pledged to strengthen ties and work for international peace and, you know, that sort of not all that holy mackerel kind of thing they always do.

What they probably didn‘t discuss was Mr. Hatoyama‘s nickname, which is “The Alien.”  They call him “The Alien” apparently because he has prominent eyeballs, or he‘s considered to have prominent eyeballs.  I don‘t think they‘re all that prominent, anyway.

But they probably also didn‘t discuss the fact that the new prime minister‘s wife, Mrs. Hatoyama, the future first lady of Japan, has apparently met actual aliens.  Miyuki Hatoyama wrote a book last year titled, “Very Strange Things I‘ve Encountered.”  She‘s not kidding about the title.

Name another first lady of anything who ever wrote something like this about a life experience 20 years ago, quote, “While my body was asleep, I think my soul rode on a triangular-shaped UFO and went to Venus.  It was a very beautiful place and it was really green.”

Which doesn‘t sound like Venus, but full disclosure, I‘ve never been, so, who am I to say?  And I, for one, welcome our UFO abductee, Venus-visiting Japanese lady overlord.


MADDOW:  Here‘s the good news about the latest round of photos to surface of Americans in a war zone, photos that involve nudity, simulated sex and other frankly totally inexplicable obscenity that appears to have no relation to what we thought America was doing and what we used to call the war on terror. 

The good news about these images is that none of the nudity and simulated sex this time apparently is being forced on prisoners.  The activity you see here also does not appear to be tied to a larger campaign of down-the-rabbit-hole-voodoo science, interrogation and torture as were the last round of photos we saw remotely like these from the prison at Abu Ghraib.  That‘s the good news about these photos. 

Also, the people you see pictured here are not members of the United States military.  That is all good news.  The bad news is that you and I have been and are still paying these guys in those photos $180 million a year to guard the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. 

Because apparently in some accounting somewhere, it turns out to be a genius idea to pay to have these guys guard the most important American building anywhere in the world outside of America instead of having the U.S. Marines do it, which is how we used to guard our embassies when we were a normal country with a normal relationship to our normal military. 

The images you see here are of Wackenhut contractors who have the current contract to guard the American Embassy in Kabul.  They are being paid by the U.S. State Department.  Two years ago, the State Department investigated this contract and found the company to be, quote, “deficient.”

A follow-up Senate report on the contractors called them, quote, “a case study of how mismanagement and lack of oversight can result in poor performance.”  But yet, earlier this summer, despite those findings, the Wackenhut contract got re-upped. 

Now, it‘s the project on Government Oversight, the non-profit watchdog group, that has written to the State Department and passed on these photos it says are from Wackenhut whistleblowers. 

And this time, now that we‘ve got photos of naked contractors in the capital of a country Americans are still fighting and dying in because we‘re supposedly helping them build national respect for the authority of government. 

Now that we‘ve got pictures of naked American contractors on the State Department payroll drinking vodka out of each other‘s butts; now, apparently, the State Department is really looking into whether this contract is still a good idea.  Now, they‘re really looking into it. 

The department spokesman today saying that diplomatic security investigators will be sent to the embassy in the next few days and that the department‘s inspector general is also investigating. 

This latest controversy only underscoring the biggest picture concerns about this life during wartime, about what it is we are doing in Afghanistan and to what end.  A new congressional research service report finds that as of March of this year, contractors employed by the Defense Department out number our troops in Afghanistan. 

And that doesn‘t even count the contractors that work for the State Department and other agencies.  Afghanistan is now host to, quote, “the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by the Defense Department in any conflict in the history of the United States.”

And remember, when you think contractors, think these guys.  Yes, the majority of the people for whom we are footing the bill to be in Afghanistan are for profit contractors. 

Meanwhile, a new CNN poll puts opposition to the war in Afghanistan at an all-time high in this country.  Fifty-seven percent of Americans now say they are against it.  Opposition among beltway opinion makers is coming from all sides, as well, with liberal Sen. Russ Feingold last week calling for a timetable to withdraw, and conservative commentator George will this week following suit. 

In Washington, Gen. Stanley McChrystal has submitted his long-awaited review of the law.  It reportedly does not request more troops yet for Afghanistan, but it apparently, reportedly, lays the groundwork for that request.  President Obama‘s due to be reviewing that report over this coming Labor Day weekend. 

And 52,000 Americans in uniform in Afghanistan now fighting in the deadliest environment for U.S. troops since we invaded eight years ago.  Wait amid this milieu to hear their future of their own mission. 

Joining us now Spencer Ackerman, senior reporter for the “The Washington Independent.”  Spencer, thanks very much for your time tonight. 


evening, Rachel.  Thanks for having me. 

MADDOW:  General McChrystal‘s review is reportedly in.  What do you think it‘s likely to say about the goal of the American military fighting in Afghanistan right now? 

ACKERMAN:  What Gen. McChrystal has said ever since his June confirmation hearing is that the overarching goal of American forces in Afghanistan is to protect the population of Afghanistan.  And that means that primarily in areas afflicted by Taliban rule, southern and eastern Afghanistan, as we‘ve seen. 

The idea is that as we ensure that the population of Afghanistan is cleaved away from the Taliban that eventually they‘ll come forward with more and more intelligence tips.  This will get us closer to the ultimate goal that President Obama laid out in his March speech of eradicating al-Qaeda on the poorest border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about the nuts and bolts of that.  The “L.A.  Times” reports today that the Pentagon is planning to add 14,000 combat troops to Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them, in the words of the “L.A. Times” “with trigger pullers.” 

If you‘re nation building, if you‘re trying to put distance between the Taliban and the population of Afghanistan, if you‘re trying to build support among the Afghan people for the legitimate authority of the state, doesn‘t that mean more forces who do things other than pull triggers, not less? 

ACKERMAN:  It definitely means more.  And the question is going to be in this strategy review that we haven‘t seen the degree to which McChrystal argues for an increase, as he‘s indicated in the past, that he advocates in civilian capabilities in indigenous Afghan forces, both security and governmental, to ensure that this isn‘t simply an American face and not simply an American military face on this war. 

And a lot of people, particularly in progressive circles, are wondering precisely the question that you‘re opposing, to what degree do we have a mismatch between not just resources and the goal, but does the goal, in fact, advance American interests in Afghanistan and beyond? 

MADDOW:  Well, how insulated is the Washington debate from the public opinion on this right now?  And I know that it‘s not a direct line between public opinion and decision-making on issues of war and peace.  When you talk to your sources on national security issues, do they care about the poll numbers?  Do they care if the American people don‘t see the point of this war? 

ACKERMAN:  They care now.  They care in the sense that they‘re starting to see a greater amount of decay in support for what - you know, no one ever used the term “the good war.”  But nevertheless, what was presumed to be a bipartisan broad and deep consensus for the mission in Afghanistan. 

And now, what a lot of people say is it appears that that support was ultimately as deep as the coverage of Afghanistan when it was, of course, overshadowed by the Iraq war. 

And now that the American people are starting to get a sense of precisely how deep this war pledges American commitments in both blood and treasure, the more they‘re wondering really fundamental questions about it.  And that worries a great deal. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you one last big question about the contractors‘ issue.  The common wisdom argument about contractors is that it‘s a manpower issue, that we just can‘t possibly have troops or the State Department‘s diplomatic security corps do this work, do what troops of the State Department used to do. 

Isn‘t that sort of the point, Spencer, that we would self-limit our military ambitions or start a draft if we had to if we didn‘t have the personnel to do something?  We didn‘t just support infinite military goals by writing infinite checks for the manpower for these companies? 

ACKERMAN:  Ultimately, it comes down to a question of what our national priorities are.  As we‘ve seen throughout the course of not just the Afghanistan war but the Iraq war as well, the placement of American contract personnel in traditionally military roles is extremely problematic. 

We don‘t know exactly what legal authority they‘re under.  We don‘t know a whole lot about how they operate in conjunction with the American military.  General McChrystal says that the overarching goal of this war is to protect the Afghan people. 

Well, the goal of contractors who are guarding diplomats is to protect the diplomats.  And already, we‘ve seen, and this is something of an amazing and underappreciated point, the contractors that guard diplomatic personnel who go outside of the wire, not the ones that we‘ve seen in these disgusting photographs, are Blackwater, the same company that opened fire on all of those Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in Nisour Square in 2007. 

They‘re out of Iraq now and they‘re into Afghanistan.  And the State Department doesn‘t really want to talk a whole lot about the process under which that Blackwater might still keep its contract when it‘s up for bid later this year or early next year. 

MADDOW:   Spencer Ackerman, senior reporter for “The Washington Independent,” great analysis and, as always, concise and to the point.  I really appreciate taking the time tonight, Spencer.  Good to see you.

ACKERMAN:  Same here.  Thank you. 

MADDOW:  It appears that another liberal lion may be approaching the end of his career.  And this time, it is a Supreme Court justice.  Any chance President Obama and the Congress will replace this liberal stalwart with another liberal stalwart?  Jonathan Turley joins us next.

But first, one more thing about giant defense contractors.  As Spencer was just alluding to, the firm formerly known as Blackwater, which now calls itself XE, which I insist on pronouncing “she.”  This company was banned from operating in Iraq by the Iraqi government after that whole allegedly shooting 17 civilians problem.

Well, now, Blackwater is having its contract in Iraq renewed by the U.S. State Department, which apparently established the Iraqi government in order to ignore all of Iraqi‘s free and sovereign laws. 

ABC News is reporting that Blackwater‘s contract is only temporary until, of course, they‘ll be replaced by new defense contractors who surely won‘t break any local laws or embarrass the United States at all, surely. 


MADDOW:  Until now, we amateur geeks could only see molecules by looking at or building things like this, big multi-colored models of molecular structure that I‘ve always found very hard to understand. 

But now, thanks to the miracle of atomic force microscopes, scientists have managed to take the very first actual photograph of an individual single molecule, which I think we showed before, but we should show again now.  Come on, put it up there.  Put it up there. 

Thank you very much.  Now, that is a zoom lens.  This is a picture of a single pentacene molecule.  It‘s made up of five carbon rings that have diameters about a million times smaller than a grain of sand. 

Now, can I wrap my mind around what it means to be a million

times smaller than a grain of sand?  No, of course, I can‘t and you can‘t

either.  But what I can now understand is that those freaking models that

never made sense to me in organic chemistry, turns out they are freakishly

look at that - exactly what real molecules look like in the real world which we now know because we can take pictures of them.  And that is the new record for the single, geekiest moment of geek we have ever done ever.  Hurrah!  Hurrah!  Yes.


MADDOW:  And now, a teeny, teeny, teeny tiny, not-very-widely-covered story that is actually a huge deal.  Huge as in this is a story that will eventually make a big difference as to what kind of country we live in. 

Eighty-nine-year-old Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has only hired one law clerk for next year‘s term.  Why do we care about justices‘ hiring practices and the hiring prospects for law clerks?  We care because this is a darn good indication that Justice Stevens may be planning to retire. 

Typically serving justices keep four law clerks while retired justices have just one.  Justice Stevens, the man in the bowtie here, is thought to be in good health.  But considering that he would be 90, 90 years old at the start of the 2010 term, the possibility of his impending retirement is not a shock. 

But it would deprive the Supreme Court of one of its most liberal voices.  Among Justice Stevens‘ rulings from his 33 years on the bench - well, in Wallace versus Jaffree in 1985, he struck down an Alabama law that authorized teachers to allow a minute of meditation or prayer in schools. 

In Planned Parenthood versus Casey in 1992, one of the court‘s most famous cases, he protected a woman‘s right to choose.  In Bush versus Gore in 2000, he tried unsuccessfully to try to stop the Supreme Court from ruling against the Florida recount. 

In Roper versus Simmons in 2005, he held the death penalty cannot be used for crimes committed by someone under the age of 18.  In Hamdan versus Rumsfeld in 2006, he ruled that the Guantanamo military commissions were illegal, writing the majority opinion that, quote, “The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction.”

John Paul Stevens was never demonized by the right like Sen. Ted Kennedy was, but he has long been another pillar of American liberalism.  So what happens if he steps down?  The first time a liberal justice retired under President Obama‘s watch, the president replaced David Souter with Sonia Sotomayor, a moderate whose appointment probably tilted the balance of the court to the right. 

If another liberal, Justice Stevens, leaves the court, will the president pick a true blue liberal to replace him, someone who will be as much of a champion of liberal causes, a consistent voice for the liberal philosophy, as was Stevens?  Or will he again pick a moderate, moving the court to the right yet again? 

Joining us now is Jonathan Turley, professor of Constitutional Law at George Washington University Law School.  Professor Turley, nice to see you again.  Thanks for joining us. 



MADDOW:  Does the news of Justice Stevens hiring just one clerk for the 2010 year signal to you that he will be retiring soon?  Is that how you read this? 

TURLEY:  Well, it does.  Well, you know, court commentators often are like Sovietologists.  The only way you can tell a shift on the court is who is standing where on Lenin‘s tomb.  And really, one of the indicators that you look for is in fact the hiring of judicial clerks. 

It doesn‘t mean he can‘t change his mind but he needs more than this to be a fully serving justice.  Also, retiring next year makes a certain amount of sense.  He‘s going to be 90 years old. 

He will also, in February of that year, establish a record as the oldest justice to serve on the court.  He will be one year away from setting the record as the longest-serving justice.  That was Justice Douglas, who he happened to replace in 1975. 

But there‘s a lot of reasons for this to happen.  The most important one is that if he wants to guarantee that he will be replaced by a true liberal, next year is the year to do that.  Because if you get too close to the end of the first term, particularly with President Obama‘s poll numbers falling, it becomes more difficult to get a nomination through and much, much more difficult to get a real liberal through. 

MADDOW:  If Justice Stevens does retire, if this is being addressed, say, next year as you suggest, do you think that President Obama would be working off the same short list of potential nominees that he used to replace Justice Souter?  or would this bring a whole new group of potentials into the running? 

TURLEY:  Well, I think, Rachel, you really hit the nail on the head in your introduction.  Liberals, I think, are going to be much more vocal on this occasion.  They were a bit reluctant positive oppose Sotomayor even though many were disappointed.  Because if she votes the way she did on the Second Circuit, liberals will lose ground on the Supreme Court. 

She was on the short list for a Republican nomination to the court at one point.  So liberals are very disappointed in that sense, even though they admired her as a person.  For Stevens, he‘s a real liberal icon, and I think that liberals are going to make it clear that it would be a real betrayal if politics is played and they try to move this nomination and the court to the right. 

The other thing is that to replace Stevens with somebody who is more conservative would have cascading effects.  There‘s a bunch of 5-4 decisions that would be in the balance.  And we could lose - that is liberals - could lose considerable grounds, particularly civil libertarians could lose considerable ground. 

MADDOW:  At the risk of asking you to be throwing up clay pigeons to be shot at, are there any specific liberal potential nominees whose names you will be looking to circulate if they are going to pick a real liberal to replace Justice Stevens? 

TURLEY:  Well, the two people that I thought should have gotten the Sotomayor nomination I think should still be considered.  My favorite is really Harold Coe, who is in the administration.  He‘s a former dean of Yale.

He would send a message to the world because he‘s not only really incredibly brilliant - he‘s one of the best minds of his generation—but he is a great voice for human rights.  And it would send a message to the world that Obama is committing himself and the court to that human rights agenda. 

The other is Diane Wood, who I thought would get the nomination.  She‘s more liberal than Sotomayor.  She‘s on the Seventh Circuit.  She‘s widely respected. 

So there‘s a number of those possibilities.  But I do think you‘re going to see the liberals will be more vocal about saying that there should not be compromise to replace such a great and iconic figure as John Paul Stevens. 

MADDOW:  I think you are absolutely right.  Jonathan Turley, Constitutional Law professor at George Washington University Law School.  I have a feeling this is going to be the first of many conversations on this topic.  Thanks very much for your time tonight, Jon. 

TURLEY:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  The CIA probe needs to be expanded to include the former vice president, Dick Cheney.  That suggestion is now coming from Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  He will join Keith on “COUNTDOWN” next to explain. 

Next on this show, Kent Jones investigates a forthcoming winter of extreme discontent.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  We turn now to our speculative meteorology correspondent, Mr.

Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent. 

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  The Farmer‘s Almanac is out and they make their predictions for this winter‘s weather.  Two words - long underpants. 

MADDOW:  Oh, no.

JONES:  Let‘s work it out.

MADDOW:  Oh, no.



JONES (voice-over):  They‘re saying this winter, for big chunks of America, it‘s going to be, quote, “an ice cold sandwich - very, very cold, very, very frigid with a lot of snow.”  Great, just what we need. 

MIKE MYERS, ACTOR:  It‘s freaking freezing in here, Mr. Bigglesworth. 

JONES:  We‘re in the worst recession since the ‘30s.  People are trying to block healthcare reform.  Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan - all nightmares, all at once.  Kooks are coming out of the woodwork. 

Dick Cheney -

DICK CHENEY, FORMER UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT:  The enhanced interrogation techniques were absolutely essential. 

JONES:  The banks are partying on our dime, and to top it off, the Yankees look like they‘re going to win it all.  And now, you come in here and dump your ice cold sandwich in our laps?  Metaphorically, it‘s already cold, OK? 

Now, given all that we‘re going through right now, couldn‘t you have just, you know, lied?  Come on, it‘s the weather!  It changes all the time.  No one will blame you.  I think you can spin it a little like, “It‘s going to be a sparkling winter wonderland full of elves and reindeer and dancing snowmen.” 

Something like that.  We‘ve got a lot on our plate here.  Be a pal.  Take some off of it.  Hey, if you do, I‘ll come over and shovel your driveway. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Happy birthday! 


MADDOW:  I - for all of my geeky aspirations, I swear by the Farmer‘s Almanac.  That‘s terrifying. 

JONES:  Oh, well.  There you have it. 

MADDOW:  A cocktail moment clarification for you, Kent. 

JONES:  All right.

MADDOW:  Monday night you played a song by a Croatian singer where she sings “gas, gas, gas.”

JONES:  Severina?


JONES:  My new favorite. 

MADDOW:  I said at the time at least we know how to say “gas” in Croatian.  It turns out that‘s not how you say “gas” in Croatian. 

JONES:  Oh my.

MADDOW:  It‘s benzene(ph). 

JONES:  I‘m terribly sorry. 

MADDOW:  I‘m working on it.  Yes.  Thanks very much, Kent.  Thank you for watching tonight.  “COUNTDOWN” starts right now. 



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