October 12, 2009
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT.
THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Guest Host: David Shuster
Guests: Rep. Anthony Weiner, Chris Kofinis, Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach, Gordon Goldstein, Jim Tankersley, Kent Jones
DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST: Lawrence, good evening to you and thank you.
And thanks to all of you for staying with us for the next hour.
Rachel is a little under the weather tonight.
But in the next hour, the president's latest promises to repeal "don't ask, don't tell"; the role of Iraq war supporters, like John McCain and advocating the next phase in Afghanistan; a former Bush administration cabinet secretary under federal investigation; Rush Limbaugh's hopes to own a pro-football team; and a look at paranormal activities.
That is all ahead.
But where we start tonight is with Bernie and Kelli Lange. The Colorado couple who were guests on MSNBC's "THE ED SHOW" earlier today, the reason that Bernie and Kelli Lange are in the news is because they have a 3-month-old baby named Alex. And Baby Alex was just denied health insurance coverage by his parents' insurance company.
The reason Baby Alex was turned away-check out this amazing piece of reporting from NBC 11 in Grand Junction, Colorado.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR: Imagine having a perfectly healthy 2-month-old baby and having your insurance tell you that they won't cover him. Well, Baby Alex is perfectly healthy with no pre-existing conditions, but because of his size, he was turned down for health insurance. His height and weight put him in the 99 percentile, according to CDC guideline, and the insurance cutoff is at the 95th percentile.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: That's right. Because of his size, Alex was denied health insurance coverage. The company-the insurance company, decided this 3-month-old baby was obese and, therefore, uninsurable.
If the Lange family's experience was the only news you heard about America's health industry today, you would still have more factual information about how our health system operates, and if you have read the report the insurance industry released today on the health reform proposal now being debated in Congress. House reform has to pass five committees in Congress. It's already passed through four. And tomorrow is a big vote in the fifth and final one, the Senate Finance Committee.
On the eve of that vote, the health insurance industry is committed what appears to be an April Fool's Day joke, releasing a brand-new report that warns if the current version of health care passes, they'll be forced to dramatically raise their rates. According to their new report, if the Baucus bill passes in its current form, the average family would see their rates go up 40 percent over the next four years. Those rates will go up 73 percent by 2016. And 111 percent by 2019.
That horror movie scare tactic comes for from a report paid by AHIP, America's Health Insurance Plans.
Does the name of the organization sound familiar? Well, back in August, AHIP's contribution to the health reform debate was in the form of talking points that they distributed to fire up protesters at town hall meetings. Their main objective at that point was to kill the public option.
But tapped into the AHIP's talking points was also this nugget: a demand for, quote, "a personal coverage requirement to get everyone into the system-a personal coverage requirement, otherwise known as a personal mandate, forcing everyone to have insurance.
The reason AHIP is now lobbying against the Baucus bill is because the punishment for not getting coverage isn't strong enough for them. They say it right in the report, quote, "A weak individual coverage requirement."
The penalty for not getting coverage was weakened by the Senate Finance Committee. And if people are not forced to get coverage, that means fewer customers for the for-profit insurance company. And in the insurance industry's estimation, this bill doesn't equal enough new customers for them. So now they are saying they will jack up rates up to loan shark levels if this bill passes.
AHIP didn't produce this report themselves. They paid the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to do it for them. It's worth noting that PricewaterhouseCoopers has a history with this sort of thing. In the 1990s, when the federal government was thinking about taxing tobacco, PricewaterhouseCoopers was hired by the tobacco industry to produce a report warning of the perilous economic dangers of a tobacco tax.
Now, the America's Health Insurance Plans wants to warn of the perilous economic dangers of health reform they called-you guessed it-
Joining us now to talk about how the health industry may have shot itself in the foot with this report is Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York.
And, Congressman Weiner, it's nice to see you again.
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: My pleasure. Thanks.
SHUSTER: Congressman, first of all, the report assumes no behavioral changes whatsoever in response to the new propose policies. That seems like a dead giveaway that this report is flawed. But what's your view?
WEINER: Well, the one behavioral change we are clearly not going to see is the insurance companies aren't going to suddenly start saying, "You know what, we are going to stop making 30 percent profits and cut it down to 10 percent or 5 percent because of this bill." You know, they unwittingly did this but they made the single best argument I've seen in a while for why you need a vigorous competitor for the health insurance industry, namely, the public plan. They are freely saying that it doesn't matter what you guys in Congress do. We are going to keep raising our rates, raising our rates.
You know, there is a word for this. It's called chutzpah. They are, right now, on the eve of this vote, saying, "You know what, since you didn't public a public option in, we are going to raise the rates" in their own calculation, "by 111 percent." They really do seem to have no shame about the way they've perceived, but many of my colleagues saw this report and are responding in exactly the opposite way that I think the insurance industry thought we'd respond.
SHUSTER: And these are colleagues of yours who may have been on the fence as far as trying to rein in the for-profit insurance companies?
WEINER: Well, you know, a lot of us are wondering what-what's going on here. Here it is, we are giving the insurance companies millions of new customers, because we're going to require people to get coverage, and their way of saying thanks is, on the eve of the vote, to say, "You know what, you can do that but we're still going to raise rates."
But the fact that they are going to raise rates is actually a rare moment of honesty for this industry. They are saying, clearly, that unless they have some competition, they aren't going to contain costs themselves. You know, I started a website CountdowntoHealthcare.com where we're using it to put pressure on some of the more moderate members of my party. But we're going to circulate this health care report as an example for why you need the public option.
SHUSTER: Well, Congressman, tell us a little bit more about the Web site CountdowntoHealthcare.com. I mean, how is the effort going to try to reach out to conservative Democrats?
WEINER: Well, you know, it's going fairly well. I mean, it's remarkable the amount of energy there is. You know, we think that many of these moderate districts people don't favor health care. We're learning quite the opposite.
A lot of the reasons why Democrats got elected in these so-called swing districts is because we're committed to doing something about the high cost of health care. And the numbers of people that are signing up for it saying, "You know what, I'm from a blue dog district" or "I'm from a Republican district and I want health care" has been quite profound.
You know, in CountdowntoHealthcare.com, every day, we kind of do a wrap-up of the day's events and we put up reports like the one that you led this story with, about children being denied coverage because they are a little bit overweight. And this is why we need competition.
SHUSTER: The Rocky Mountain Health Plans reversed their decision today and decided to cover that baby when, quote, "a recent situation in which we denied to coverage to a heavy, yet healthy, infant brought to our attention a flaw in our underwriting system."
Is this what reform would like if the insurance industry had, say, a change in policy only when they're shamed into it?
WEINER: We've got to understand how the health insurance industry works and they're not venal people. But they want to take inasmuch money as they can and pay out as little as they can for health care. That's what their shareholders demand, and that's what they are rewarded for in the marketplace.
The problem is, that's exactly the opposite of what we, in Congress, should be advocating for. We should be advocating for as little as possible coming out of consumers' pockets and as much health care coming out of that.
So, that's the conflict we have, and the insurance industry today loud and clear announced, "You know what, we don't care what you do in Congress, we are going to keep raising rates." Which is why if we don't have a single-payer plan like Medicare for all Americans, which is something I would support, we have to very at least have to have some form of competition in order to keep them honest.
If just being a heavy baby is a crime, my niece, Reese (ph), who turns 18 months today, would have to be locked up because she's a little portly. But that's not should be-that should not be what health insurance industries does.
SHUSTER: The White House has been fairly critical of the health insurance industry, but publicly, the industry hasn't fought back. They've been trying to portray themselves as partners, not adversaries. Is something very different going on in the halls of Congress now?
WEINER: Well, you know what? The health insurance industry, so far, has gotten a lot of what they wanted in the finance committee bill that's going to be passed out tomorrow. They didn't get a strong public option. There's very little true cost containment in there and they got the requirement that more customers will be driven to their doorstep because of there's a mandate for coverage.
And when we try to do even the most modest form of a public option, they have fought back vigorously.
Look, there's no doubt about it. When you consider the hundreds of billions of dollars each year don't go into health care, they go into health insurance company profits. When we do nothing to compete-to make sure that they compete for-in pharmaceutical industry, for example, so we get the lowest prices, just like you might get at Wal-Mart, they don't want any of those changes to happen. And, frankly, that's where Congress has to get a spine and stand up to these industries.
SHUSTER: Congressman Anthony Weiner, Democrat from New York, a fierce advocate of the public option, even single-payer-and, Congressman, thanks for your time today. We appreciate it.
WEINER: It's my pleasure. Can I say the Web site one more time?
WEINER: It's CountdowntoHealthcare.com. Thanks.
Now, for politics of all of this, even the Web site, we turn to Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, he's the former communications director for the John Edwards presidential campaign.
Chris, great to have you on tonight.
CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Hey, David. How are you doing?
So, one could argue that fewer healthy people who enroll in health insurance could mean higher cost pressures on everybody else. But the hand-fisted way this report was put together, how does that affect what happens next in Congress?
KOFINIS: Well, I-you know, I think the political strategy that AHIP may have desired, which is to kind of slow down health care reform, may have just spurted. And I think Congressman Weiner is right that this document, in a weird, perverse way, has, I think, given a lot of fuel to those public option advocates that are saying the insurance industry is basically telling you that they are going to raise rates. And so, the argument, you know, for a public option now, I think, becomes a little bit, you know, stronger.
Now, part of the problem here is, you know, you have the Baucus vote tomorrow. You know, I think that's going to-obviously, it's going to pass. The question is: Does Senator Snowe go for it or not?
And then the real work begins in terms of getting these votes out of the Senate, out of the House, into the conference and back to the House and back to the Senate for another vote. So, it is-there's still a long ways to go before this legislative process is over.
SHUSTER: You heard Congressman Weiner talked about the Web site and the effort to reach out to conservative Democrats. Where is that headed in your estimation, in terms of the effort by the more liberal Democrats essentially counting heads, and see where the moderate Democrats are?
KOFINIS: Well, I think in the House, there's still, I think, very strong desire to have a public option. I think that you're seeing pushback in the Senate amongst, you know, some conservatives Democrats and, obviously, almost all the Republicans, if not every Republican, who, you know, oppose a public health care option.
I mean, my argument and what I've been saying before-at the end of the day, I think the way to look at this politically is what solves the problem? I think that is where you gain politically both in the short-term and in the long-term. And if a public option helps drive down costs and expands coverage, which I think are the two key criterias to determining this policy being a success, then I think there is a strong argument to have a public option in there.
And even though conservative Democrat may face some short-term backlash, those constituents, those voters, are going to thank them when their health care costs go down. I think that is part of the problem, is making those conservative Democrats buy that argument. It is not something that is easy to do given the politics they face in their own states.
SHUSTER: Well, let's talk about the two issues you raised as far as driving down costs and expanding coverage. Let's say the insurance industry is right and that this bill leads to an explosion in health care rates. How does disastrous would that be politically for the Democrats, even if they have the expanded coverage, and do you think they are sufficiently aware of that possibility?
KOFINIS: Well, I mean, listen, just to be brutally honest about it, if we pass dramatic health care reform and health care costs skyrocketed, this health care, if the analysis by the insurance is correct, and I don't believe it is-but let's say, for argument's sake, it is, then you have a major political problem because I think the majority-overwhelming majority of Americans want health care form under the assumption that one, it's going to drive down costs as well as expand coverage to those who don't have it. And I think that is obviously the key thing that's motivating the White House and Democrats.
You know, again, I think that this is where the insurance industry in a weird way may have just spurred even more significant health care reform as this legislative process moves forward and you're going to start seeing a lot of people say, "Wait a second, we need even more checks on the insurance industry given what they are basically telling us they are going to do."
SHUSTER: And speaking in the White House, President Obama has not taken a very adversarial approach to insurance industry. Is this new report his vehicle to do it and would it be wise?
KOFINIS: Well, I mean, he's been-he's been, I think, kind of critical of the health industry and he may pursue his strategy of trying to get as many of the major players involved. And you saw the insurance industry in the beginning say they were supportive, except when it came to the fact that they may not make the profits they desired. And all of the sudden, they are not so supportive.
I think what you're going to see is the White House, I think, be much stronger and much more vocal against, not only these claims in this report, but against this notion that somehow we don't need health care reform. But at the end of the day, it's pretty clear what the insurance industry wants: health care reform on their terms. That is not going to be good health care reform for the country.
I think we need health care reform that's good for the country. Not for the insurance industry.
SHUSTER: Democratic strategist and former John Edwards' communication director, Chris Kofinis-Chris, thanks as always for your time. We appreciate it.
KOFINIS: Thanks, David.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
This weekend, President Obama promised that he would repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy prohibiting gay people from serving openly. What he didn't say was when he would repeal the policy. In the meantime, more servicemen and women are being kicked out. We will talk with Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach forced out after 18 years in the Air Force because he's gay.
Stay with us.
SHUSTER: History was made today. For the first time, a woman was declared the winner of Nobel Prize in economics. Meet Elinor Ostrom, a political scientist at Indiana University in my hometown of Bloomington who won the award along with Oliver Williamson, professor at the graduate school of business at Cal Berkeley. They will split the $1.4 million prize. And this afternoon, Ostrom spoke about being the first woman to win the award.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELINOR OSTROM, NOBEL PRIZE WINNER: We've already entered a new era and we recognized that women have the capabilities of doing great scientific work, and, yes, I appreciate that this is an honor to be the first woman, but I won't be the last.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Ostrom won the award for her work showing how people use common resources like fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes and groundwater basins can successfully manage them without private companies or somebody in Washington making a rule. This was a big year for the United States, with Americans taking on the 11 of the 13 Nobel prizes.
Congratulations to Elinor Ostrom for being the first and likely not the last woman to win a Nobel Economics Prize.
And Dr. Ostrom, to you and your husband, Vincent, residents of Bloomington, and members of the Indiana University faculty for 45 years, in the words of the I.U. fight song, "We're all for you."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody in America should be fired because they're gay despite doing a great job in meeting their responsibilities. It's not fair. It's not right. We're going to put a stop to it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: "Nobody in America should be fired because they are gay," says the man who's in the process of firing this guy because he's gay. This is Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, who will join us in a moment.
He's a fighter pilot who has flown 88 combat missions, earned nine air medals and estimates that the military spent $25 million training him. But after a civilian outed him to the military chain of command, Lieutenant Colonel Fehrenbach was told he was being discharged under "don't ask, don't tell" after 18 years of service.
President Obama's speech before the Human Rights Campaign this weekend was heavy on firm commitment to end "don't ask, don't tell," but kind of light on details about how and when that will happen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: I'm working with the Pentagon, its leadership and the members of the House and Senate on ending this policy. Legislation has been introduced in the House to make this happen. I will end "don't ask, don't tell." That's my commitment to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The day after that speech, even as tens of thousands of demonstrators converged on the National Mall to call for-among other things-more details and swifter action on "don't ask, don't tell," General Richard Myers, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had this to say about "don't ask, don't tell."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEN. RICHARD MYERS, FMR. CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Gays can serve in the military. They just can't serve openly. They do and there are lots of them and we are-and we are-and we're the beneficiary of all of that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: General Myers offering a fairly succinct summary of the basic complaint about "don't ask, don't tell."
Joining us now is Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach.
And thank you for your time tonight. We appreciate it.
LT. COL. VICTOR FEHRENBACH, U.S. AIR FORCE FIGHTER PILOT: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: Lieutenant Colonel, given what happened to you, you lived by the "don't tell" part of the rule for years only to be outed against your will. What do you think when you hear General Myers' characterization of "don't ask, don't tell"?
FEHRENBACH: I think it's very disappointing. It shows a real disconnect there about what is really happening. You know, there's been 13,000 men and women, brave men and women, who have been discharged under this policy. And I don't have the exact number but I think over half are cases like mine where somebody involuntarily was outed.
You know, I kept my private life private for 18 years. I never wanted to tell-the Air Force never asked me. So, I lived by the law. So, in many ways, this law isn't working for me or for thousands of others that continue to serve bravely.
SHUSTER: You have not been formally discharged yet. Tell us about the status of your case.
FEHRENBACH: That's correct. On April 15th, that was the final day of my administrative discharge board, and the board recommended an honorable discharge. And I've been waiting since then. The process from that point was supposed to go through a brief legal review, then on to a personnel review board, and then up to the secretary of air force for his final decision.
That normally takes about five months based on other cases. But my case has been stalled in the legal review process. In many ways, that's great for me because I get to put on the uniform and serve every day. At the same time, I'm in limbo. Since I've been recommended for discharge, I don't know when I will eventually be fired, if that's the case.
SHUSTER: Are you holding out hope though that "don't ask, don't tell" will be repealed before you're formally discharged?
FEHRENBACH: I am. I hold out hope every day. And, you know, each day I get to serve, it's an honor for me and it's also good to show that my squad or my fire wing, they continue to do the job every day and we prove every day that this policy needs to be repealed now.
SHUSTER: By my count, more than 400 servicemen and women have been kicked out under "don't ask, don't tell" since President Obama took office in late January. Obviously, you have a real sense of urgency about ending "don't ask, don't tell."
What did you think about the way President Obama addressed the policy this weekend? Do you think he understands the urgency?
FEHRENBACH: I hope he does. I mean, we've heard words like this before when he was a candidate last year. And then also, when I was fortunate enough to go to the White House in June, I heard similar words. Obviously, the words over the weekend, they were more definitive than we have heard before. So that gave me, again, hope.
But we've heard words before and as a military man, we like to judge people on their actions, not their words. So, we've heard words like this before. And I just hope now, we can have action from the Congress and the president and from the American people if they can help put pressure on our lawmakers to do the right thing.
SHUSTER: And real quickly, Colonel, if "don't ask, don't tell" is repealed, say, January or February, well after health care, would that be enough time for you to stay in?
FEHRENBACH: I hope so. You know, if we were to follow the normal timeline, I would have been fired this week. So, hopefully, my process can move slowly and, hopefully, the Congress can act fast enough to save my career, you know? But if not, it's for the greater of good. So, if I am fired but the policy is repealed in the spring, then that's for the greater good for thousands of others who can continue to serve.
SHUSTER: Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, we really appreciate your joining us tonight. Good luck with the review process. And on behalf of so many of us, thank you for your service.
FEHRENBACH: Thank you, David.
SHUSTER: You're welcome.
Should the leaders who supported President Bush's pursuit of the Iraq war have a say about what to do about Afghanistan? Senator John McCain clearly thinks so and he's not alone.
Plus, a federal grand jury here in Washington is investigating, and a top Bush administration official is under scrutiny. Were crimes committed? We'll have that story in a moment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEIL CAVUTO, FOX NEWS: Many argue the conflict isn't over.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: Well, then why was there a banner that said mission accomplished on the aircraft carrier?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID LETTERMAN, TALK SHOW HOST: How are things going in Afghanistan now?
MCCAIN: I think we're doing fine. I think we'll be fine. The second phase-if I could just make this one, very quickly-the second phase is Iraq. There's some indication, and I don't have the conclusions, but some of these anthrax may-and I emphasize may-have come from Iraq.
LETTERMAN: Oh, is that right?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Senator John McCain was an early, vocal, and enthusiastic proponent of invading Iraq in 2003, saying we would be, quote, "welcomed as liberator." In November of that year, he was asked whether or not he was still concerned about Afghanistan, a war effort that had essentially been raided for troops and supplies in order to start a second simultaneous war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: In the long term, we may muddle through in Afghanistan.
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SHUSTER: We'll muddle through Afghanistan. Sen. McCain's record on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is clear and it's something that should not be forgotten. But here in Washington where political expediency often matters more than integrity, Sen. McCain is now leading - is now a leading proponent of dramatically increasing our troop numbers in a conflict he once said we could muddle through.
And there's no acknowledgement and no apology that the war in Iraq contributed to mess in Afghanistan. Instead, there was only the here and now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that the United States can win in Afghanistan with fewer than 40,000 more troops?
MCCAIN: I do not. And I think that the great danger now is not an American pullout.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Sen. McCain is now being joined in the Afghanistan drumbeating by conservative Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, head of the Intelligence Committee who, like McCain, voted in 2003 for war against Iraq.
As recently as two weeks ago Sen. Feinstein said the president should take his time to make the right decision on Afghanistan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), HEAD OF THE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I
think the president is correct to take his time to really examine what the alternatives are at this time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: But now, Feinstein is joining Republicans like John McCain in saying that Mr. Obama needs to hurry up and send more troops.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FEINSTEIN: I think that the decision has to be made sooner rather than later.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Feinstein and McCain and the other conservatives, arguing for more troops right now for Afghanistan, say that the president must follow that course because the troop increase has been recommended by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan.
Of course, in America, the commander-in-chief doesn't take orders from the military. He gives orders. But (UNINTELLIGIBLE) know they are on firmer political ground if they look like they are just pushing the respect for the generals rather than making recommendations based on their own troubling records.
Here now, Gordon Goldstein, a former international security adviser to the United Nations and author of the book "Lessons in Disaster:
McGeorge Bundy in the Path of War in Vietnam." Mr. Goldstein, thanks for joining us.
GORDON GOLDSTEIN, FORMER INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER TO THE UNITED
NATIONS: It's a pleasure to be with you.
SHUSTER: What's your reaction to Senators Feinstein and McCain arguing for more troops in Afghanistan on the basis that the president must follow the strategy recommended by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, fortunately, Sen. McCain and Sen. Feinstein represent exactly two percent of the Senate and entitled to voice their opinions. But it should not be used to try to accelerate an extremely critical decision that the president has to make on his own timeline.
This is a decision the president must focus on in a methodical fashion, dispassionate fashion, has to be based on a clear strategic review of our success thus far and our failure. And that's what he is precisely trying do.
SHUSTER: What are your thoughts on Gen. McChrystal's call for 40,000 more troops? I mean, if President Obama does not agree with McChrystal's plan, will the president be forced to look for another general who is more in line with his overall strategy?
GOLDSTEIN: You know, it is very interesting. There's a parallel here to what President Kennedy encountered in 1961. In that year, another young, untested president was presented with half a dozen different proposals to send in the first ground combat forces to South Vietnam.
He was essentially circled by his senior advisers who, in November of that year, told him the odds were against -strongly against prevailing there if he didn't send in commitment of troops that would be the down payment on a total force of 200,000 men.
Kennedy was not intimidated. Kennedy was not pressured. Kennedy stood his ground. And what we are seeing here is another instance where a young president is being pressured by those who have a very strong view about the necessary increase of troop numbers.
But this president has to determine whether he believes that this is, in fact, the necessary mission for the United States population protection, General McChrystal's state of mission and whether, in fact, that mission is viable. And I believe that there are serious questions about both of these propositions.
SHUSTER: A new PBS documentary on the war in Afghanistan is called "Obama's War." Is that fair? I mean, Mr. Obama has been in office less than 10 months. Is this really his war?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, I - you know, he inherited it and he inherited a terrible mess, deteriorating security situation, a corrupt and ineffectual government and declining public opinion for support of the war.
But one of the facts that is missed in all the noise around this debate is that the president also inherited what was a fairly successful policy with respect to counterterrorism. And he had appropriated the Bush administration policy of targeting the al-Qaeda infrastructure. And he's, in fact, expanded it.
There were 36 drone and predator attacks in 2008. By some measures, we had hit 15 in the top 20 al-Qaeda leadership. And this strategy has proven somewhat successful although that fact is not featured in the current debate in which we appear, according to those urging the president to make this commitment, Afghanistan stands on the precipice of collapse. I'm not sure that's true.
SHUSTER: You talk about the issue of success, for example, with the
predator drones, overall, regardless of whether the Afghan war is Obama's
war or not. Ultimately, will the outcome essentially be put and be decided
I mean, depending on how this war goes, is that the ultimate arbiter in terms of whether or not this is Obama's war and whether this is on his shoulders?
GOLDSTEIN: Well, you know, one of the lessons that President Kennedy learned again in 1961 was that you can receive all of the advice from the best minds around you. But at the end, counselors advise but presidents decide.
Kennedy learned that lesson the hard way at the Bay of Pigs when he authorized the disastrous invasion of that island. And after that, he was determined to evaluate every military proposal that came to him with a strict cool realism, with a dispassionate rigor because he understood that he owned that strategy. He owned military success and he owned military failure.
And yes, this president is going to be learning that same lesson. He is going to own the outcome in Afghanistan, that's why I believe that he is so determined to pause the clock, to not be rushed, to not be crowded, to arrive at his own conclusions, do what he does best thinking methodically, thinking deliberately, thinking strategically.
SHUSTER: Gordon Goldstein, former international security adviser to the United Nations and author of the book "Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam." Thanks so much for your time today.
GOLDSTEIN: Pleasure to be with you.
SHUSTER: Gale Norton, President Bush's interior secretary, is under investigation because of her involvement with Shell Oil. Oops. That story is next.
SHUSTER: Welcome back. I'm David Shuster, in for Rachel tonight. A senior cabinet member from the Bush administration is under Justice Department investigation and faces potential criminal charges for political corruption.
President George W. Bush's first interior secretary, Gale Norton, is the first and only Bush cabinet secretary to be the subject of a formal criminal corruption investigation.
The "Los Angeles Times" is reporting that a federal grand jury right here in Washington is investigating Norton and has subpoenaed records from energy giant Royal Dutch Shell. The grand jury is looking into whether Norton talked to Shell in 2006 about giving her a job while at the same time she was heading up an agency that was handing out lucrative deals to Shell.
In early 2006, Norton's Interior Department granted Shell Oil three valuable leases on federal lands in Colorado to explore for oil shale. Two months later, in March, Norton resigned from the Interior Department. And nine months after that, Shell announced Norton was hired.
Norton became general counsel for Shell's unconventional resources division - unconventional resources meaning new technologies like oil shale. So Norton's Interior Department grants a huge oil shale deal to Shell - oil shale deal to Shell.
Norton quits two months later and gets a job from Shell to oversee the division that includes oil shale shortly after that. Maybe it is all a coincidence. And maybe Gale Norton will be subpoenaed next so she'll get the chance to make that case before the grand jury.
Joining us now, "Los Angeles Times" energy and environment reporter, Jim Tankersley who reported the Justice Department probe into Gale Norton. Mr. Tankersley, thanks for being here. We appreciate it.
JIM TANKERSLEY, "LOS ANGELES TIMES ENERGY AND ENVIRONMENT REPORTER:
Yes. Thanks for having me.
SHUSTER: What do the subpoenas issued to Shell ask for specifically?
TANKERSLEY: Well, they are looking for any evidence of contact between Shell and Gale Norton at the time when she was secretary and before she quit and went to work for shell. What they are looking is a violation of a federal law that says that if you are a federal official, you can't oversee a process that financially benefits a company you are in active negotiations to go work for.
SHUSTER: So they would start with subpoenas for E-mails and phone calls and what not to try to put the main focus on these connections. Any indication as to whether or not Gale Norton has received a target letter or any sort of formal warning that she might be indicted?
TANKERSLEY: Well, my colleague, Josh Meyer, and I who broke the story
our sources have told us that it is very likely that that's the sort of thing that would come at the end of the investigation, the actual interviewing of Gale Norton.
We do know that Shell has been made formally aware of the investigation. They initially told us that they were not formally aware of it. And then after our story ran last month, they said that they were now, in fact, formally aware of it.
SHUSTER: How many other companies put bids in for the oil shale leases? Did they have the technology to get at the oil shale as well?
TANKERSLEY: Well, more than a dozen applied. And each of the companies that applied thought that they had, of course, the type of technology. This is not an easy process - squeezing petroleum out of rock in the Rocky Mountains. It takes a lot of heat and it is very costly.
And so what the Interior Department was looking to do was to find companies who could develop the technology to do this on a commercial scale. And they picked - they ended up handing out six leases, three of them to Shell. And a bunch of companies, including Exxon, went home empty-handed.
SHUSTER: Explain why these oil shale leases are so valuable to energy companies.
TANKERSLEY: Well, the lease can be turned from just the 160 acres that are handed out for this research and development into more than 5,000 acres. And that's very, very valuable land. You are talking about potentially billions of barrels oil for Shell underneath the three tracts of land that was given, which when you do the math with the cost of oil today could be close to $1 trillion of profit for Shell if they recover the entire resource.
SHUSTER: And finally, Jim, any word from Gale Norton or her attorney in response to this grand jury investigation?
TANKERSLEY: We haven't been able to get a hold of Secretary Norton. And so far as I can tell from the other folks who have been trying to cover this story, no one else has either. So she has been mum on all of this.
SHUSTER: "L.A. Times" reporter Jim Tankersley, fascinating investigation. Jim, thanks for coming on the show tonight. We appreciate it.
TANKERSLEY: Thank you.
SHUSTER: And by the way, you can all read more of Jim Tankersley's reporting at "LATimes.com."
Rush Limbaugh is part of a group that's trying to buy the St. Louis Rams football team. So how's the response both inside and outside the NFL? Well, put it this way. They are not saying ditto. We will have that story, next.
SHUSTER: Now, to a remarkable story of heroism in Munson Township, Ohio which is 45 minutes outside of Cleveland, where an elderly woman lost control of her minivan while she was pulling into a gas station.
Her van slammed into a gas pump and knocked a man over. The 500-pound gas pump fell on top of him and caught fire, pinning the man under the burning gas pump. Gas station employees and a bystander rushed to help using a fire extinguisher and shutting off the pump with an emergency switch.
They then lifted the 500-pound gas pump off the man and pulled him from the flames. Fire officials say there was no explosion because employees shut off the pump with an emergency switch.
The rescued man has bruises, scrapes and burns but should recover. As for the station employees and bystander, they are being hailed as heroes. And they are. Bravo.
SHUSTER: More pushback today against the possibility that Rush Limbaugh could be part of an investment group which would bid to buy the St. Louis Rams football team. National Action Network president Al Sharpton is asking NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to block Limbaugh from buying the team.
Over the weekend, the head of the NFL Players Association encouraged players to publicly voice their concerns. New York Giants defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka, among others, including Jets' Bart Scott vowed he would play for the Rams were Limbaugh to have an ownership stake in the team.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said, quote, "If he is rewarded to buy them, congratulations to him but I won't be in St. Louis any time soon."
Rush Limbaugh has a different point of view which he expressed on his radio show today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: One of the things that is going around out there is that black NFL players will boycott playing the game if I am owner in the league, which, of course, is patently absurd. But this is being reported and it is designed to affect the outcome of all of this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: The controversy derives from Rush Limbaugh's various comments about race. In 2003, he resigned after a short stint as an analyst at ESPN after saying McNabb, who is an African-American quarterback, got a lot of credit he did not deserve.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LIMBAUGH: I mean, what we have here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Limbaugh also says in 2007, "The NFL, all too often, looks like a game between the Bloods and Crips without any weapons."
Meanwhile, an NFL spokesman says the Rams, arguably the worst team in the sport this season, have not agreed to sell to anyone. And reports indicate there are between three and six groups interested in bidding on the team.
Here now is sports writer Dave Zirin, sports correspondent with "The Nation" magazine. Dave, first of all, I want to clarify I think I misstated as Mathias Kiwanuka and Jets' Bart Scott - they both said they would not be willing to play for Limbaugh.
In any case, should the NFL allow Rush Limbaugh to be part of an investment group which could buy the St. Louis Rams football team?
DAVE ZIRIN, SPORTS CORRESPONDENT, "THE NATION" MAGAZINE: Look, David, you wouldn't want Dick Cheney to head up Amnesty International. You don't want Rush Limbaugh owning an NFL team. And it's not because he is conservative. I mean, most NFL owners are to the right of Genghis Khan and many have fleeced our cities for billions of dollars over decades.
This is because in a league that is 70 percent African-American, the NFL cannot have an owner with a history of statements that, to put it mildly, are racially insensitive or to put it bluntly are stone-cold racist.
I mean, you mentioned that he said the NFL players look like the bloods and the crips. But I would say that the NFL, which has an historic relationship with the NAACP, cannot have as one of their owners somebody who once said that the NAACP needs to do riot practice by busting and breaking into liquor stores and practice their looting.
The NFL can't have an owner who says, in Obama's America, that's where the black kids beat up the white kids and everybody cheers. It's too divisive. It's too insulting. And that's why players and the union are standing up.
SHUSTER: David, how rare is it to see active players make statements about ownership?
ZIRIN: Wow, about as rare as a hair on Dick Cheney's head. It never happens and there's a reason for it. It's because there are not guaranteed contracts in the NFL. So speaking out on any social issue, let alone the issue of ownership, is something that rarely happens.
Remember, a player plays on average for only 3 ½ years. You only have a short window to grab that golden ring. So the fact that Bart Scott, who's a pro-bowler, Mathias Kiwanuka, who is also a big-time NFL player, Donovan McNabb, six-time pro-bowler, the fact that these guys are speaking out and players, white players - I want to say that, because Limbaugh sees everything in this black/white lens.
But white players have said to me that they would have problems playing for Rush Limbaugh. So this is not just about black and white. This is not about left and right. This is about right and wrong.
SHUSTER: Al Sharpton sent a letter about Rush Limbaugh to the NFL commissioner today. Sharpton said he would take it to the next level if he doesn't get a response by tomorrow. Does this get worse for the NFL by the hour that they don't essentially shoot this down about Rush Limbaugh?
ZIRIN: Absolutely. And you know, let's face it for a second. NFL owners are hardly the Mormon tabernacle here. I mean, this is a group of brigands and thieves. I mean, Al Davis is an NFL owner for goodness' sake. The man is practically the crypt keeper.
Children in Oakland wake up in the middle of the night and say, "Al Davis is coming to get me." But at the same time, Rush Limbaugh is the next step because his money has been made by the practice of the politics of division, because his repertoire is so extensive, because of the people he has offended week in, week out. It has to happen.
I'll tell you the one thing, this gives you an idea of how hypocritical the NFL owners are. One said of them said off the record today but said it to the press that Rush Limbaugh's past use of OxyContin, his pharmaceutical addiction, might be grounds to not have him as an owner.
I mean, this was the one time I almost felt sorry for the guy. I mean, think about the number of NFL players who have to take painkillers on a week in, week out basis. But I'll tell you, one of the jokes on the Internet today, I just have to repeat it - they said wow, if OxyContin keeps Limbaugh from owning an NFL team, it really will be the miracle drug.
SHUSTER: The Rams haven't won a game since October 2008. Maybe it's a good way for Rush Limbaugh to throw his money away.
ZIRIN: I mean, and I was also going to say, can he really be much worse than Dan Snyder, the person we suffer with here in Washington land? I mean, how bad could he really be? But check it out. Every time a player is drafted by the Rams, it'll be, "What do you feel about playing for Limbaugh?" Every time there's a trade, "What do you feel about playing for Limbaugh?"
I got about a hundred E-mails like in the last day and a half of people saying, "So what's the boycott plan if Limbaugh gets the team?" I mean, it's such a distraction to the NFL brand which is the most successful and important brand in all of American sports. I can't imagine they won't shoot this down posthaste.
SHUSTER: Dave Zirin, sports correspondent with "The Nation" magazine
Dave, thanks as always for joining us tonight. We appreciate it.
ZIRIN: My pleasure, David.
SHUSTER: Coming up on "COUNTDOWN," insurance industry whistleblower Wendell Potter on the real motivation behind the insurance industry study on the Baucus health care bill.
And next on this show, Kent Jones and how to turn $15,000 into $7 million plus. Stay with us.
SHUSTER: We turn to our cult phenomena correspondent Kent Jones.
KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST: You know, I don't usually pay a lot of attention to the weekend box office totals. But the movie came in fifth place this week - very different. Check this out.
JONES: That movie is "Paranormal Activity," a cheapo suspense thriller about a couple who set up a camera in their house in the hopes of catching ghosts. A true recession-era work of DYIs, director Oren Peli made "Paranormal" for less than $15,000. And yet, it raked in $7.1 million on a ridiculously few, 153 screens this weekend.
That was good enough for fifth place, beating out big budget mastodons like "Fame," which despite the song, does not live forever. "Paranormal's" creepy Web cam anti-style has also hooked the critics. But beyond that, "Paranormal Activity" may be the first Twitter blockbuster as word of mouth was spread through social networking sites and online petitions demanding the movie be brought to your town.
Hey, wouldn't that work with - I don't know - health care reform? Twitter nation - three bigger - and as for the little thriller that could, never under estimate the public's need to grope each other in the dark. Besides, the bizarre, unexplained phenomena materialize in people's homes all the time.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Kent. We appreciate it.
JONES: Sure thing.
SHUSTER: And thanks to all of you for watching tonight. I'm David Shuster, in tonight for Rachel. Rachel, get better soon. I'll see you here on MSNBC tomorrow afternoon at 3:00 Eastern. "COUNTDOWN" starts now. Good night.
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