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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Sen. Tom Harkin, Steven Simon, Spencer Ackerman, Michael Grunwald


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Good evening, Lawrence.  Thanks very much.  Good to see you.


MADDOW:  We start tonight with some breaking news.  This has just broken moments ago.  And I‘m bringing this to you courtesy of “The Associated Press,” which is the information that we have on this, thus far.

In a landmark decision, a federal judge, a district court judge, in New Orleans has ruled that Army Corps of Engineers‘ failure to properly maintain a navigation channel led to massive flooding during Hurricane Katrina.  Again, this news is just breaking.  It‘s U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval, and late today—just recently, just tonight—he has ruled in favor of New Orleans‘ residents who alleged that the Army Corps of Engineers‘ shoddy oversight of the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet led to the flooding of New Orleans‘ Lower Ninth Ward and of St. Bernard Parish.

This ruling today upholds in part the contention, as “The Associated Press” puts it, the contention long held in New Orleans that Hurricane Katrina, which struck the region on August 29th, 2005, was a manmade disaster caused by the Army Corps‘ failure to maintain the levee system protecting the city.

Again, this is a district court ruling.  This has just been handed down.  As you know, the federal court system is the Supreme Court at the tippy-top.  And then, the circuit court, which is the court of appeals, and then, district courts.  This is a district court ruling in Louisiana, potentially with huge implications for—not only for the region but in terms of dealing with the ongoing accountability—issues of accountability for the response to Hurricane Katrina.

So, again, it‘s just breaking.  We will give you updates on that as they come through over the course of the hour.

But we begin tonight with verifiable action in the fight for health reform.  Not talk about health reform.  Not a TV ad campaign about health reform, or a tea party, or a “You lie!” outburst.  Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid has reintroduced to his 60-member caucus the Senate‘s version of health reform, what would be one among the biggest changes in the history of American domestic policy.

After the caucus meeting today, Mr. Reid met the cameras.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER:  We all acknowledge this legislation‘s a tremendous step forward.  Why?  Because it saves lives, it saves money, and protects Medicare—makes Medicare stronger.  We‘ve traveled really a long ways to where we are, and tonight begins the last leg of this journey that we‘ve been on now for some time.


MADDOW:  The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office today reportedly estimated that the bill will cover 94 percent of Americans.  It will reduce the number of uninsured Americans by 31 million.  It will cost $849 billion.  It will reduce—reduce—the deficit by $127 billion over its first 10 years.  And the Senate bill does not include the draconian anti-abortion language from the House bill.

The critical challenge for proponents of this bill now is to let the argument over it begin.  Harry Reid and high-profile members of the Obama administration are now leaning hard on conservative Democrats to hang together as a “gang of 60” to vote in favor of starting a debate—a vote that we are told to expect on Saturday.

This afternoon, Mr. Reid held a closed-door meeting with three of those reportedly wobbly conservative Democrats: Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.

Senator Nelson coming out of that meeting today sounding like he is leaning toward voting to let the debate happened.  He said, quote, “The meaning of the motion to proceed is very simple: It‘s a motion to commence debate and an opportunity to make changes.  If you don‘t like the bill, then why would you block your own opportunity to amend it?”

And after reports today suggested that Senator Landrieu was thinking about blocking debate as well, she also started to sound today like she intends to let that bill go to the floor.  Of today‘s cost estimate, Senator Landrieu told that it, quote, “sounds like the numbers I was expecting to hear.”  She continued, “Democrats were trying to stay as united as we can be.  We know this is an important issue for the country and it‘s important we get it right.  And we‘re moving in the right direction for the most part.  At least we‘re getting bills that are less than a trillion dollars that are paid for, that are lowering the cost to the taxpayer and to businesses, so we‘re moving in the right direction but there‘s still improvements that could be made and I‘m hoping to see that on the floor.”

Important point there—of course, it only gets to the floor if Senator Landrieu and all of the other Democrats vote to send it to the floor.

So, it sounds like Senator Landrieu and Senator Lincoln are both leaning—excuse me, and Senator Nelson, are both leaning toward voting to let the debate begin.  Democrats, of course, need all 60 senators to break the Republican filibuster and allow the debate to begin.  Those helping to hold the 60 in line on Capitol Hill today included former senator and now vice president, Joe Biden, and, former senator and now interior secretary, Ken Salazar, who is reportedly friendly with some of the Senate‘s most conservative Democrats.

This is the homestretch here.  This is the homestretch.  After 60, 70 years of trying to reform health care in this country, this really is the political homestretch.

Joining us now is Senator Tom Harkin, chairman of the Senate Health Committee.

Senator Harkin, we‘ve been really looking forward to getting you on the show.  Thank you so much for your time tonight.

SEN. TOM HARKIN (D-IA), HEALTH COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Rachel, good to be with you.

MADDOW:  You need 60 votes to overcome the Republican filibuster and start debating this bill.  Do you think you have the 60 votes?

HARKIN:  Rachel, to put it in baseball terms, we rounded third and we‘re heading to home.


HARKIN:  And I‘ve got to tell you: no member of our caucus is going to want to be the one person that stops this from getting to home plate.  We‘ve all had our input.  We‘ve all had our debates.  But I believe, now, the team is together.  And our team is going to hold together and we‘ll have those 60 votes to move ahead.

MADDOW:  There is, of course, a public option in this bill that was presented today to your caucus with the provision that states can opt-out of that public option if they want to.  How happy are you with that element of the bill?  Are you at all concerned that the opt-out provision might significantly weaken that public option?

HARKIN:  Well, Rachel, it‘s like a lot of things.  If I were the dictator in writing this bill, I wouldn‘t have written that in there.  As you know, our bill that came out of my committee did not have that.  But, again, in order to get the votes and to—to get some people on board, it was necessary to put that in there.

And so, it‘s a compromise.  And I think it‘s—it‘s a reasonable compromise.  Whether or not a state will vote to opt-out or not, well, it‘s up to the states.  I would think most people in any state would want to have that competitive edge that a public option would present.  So, I—quite frankly, I can‘t imagine too many states actually having their legislatures vote to decrease competition.  If anything, they want increased competition and that‘s what the public option does.

MADDOW:  Senator Harkin, you, of course, have a long and progressive record on health reform.  Are there changes to make this bill more progressive that you or any other Senate liberals will be pursuing through amendments when it—if and when it does make it to the floor?

HARKIN:  Rachel, first of the all, as the chairman of the committee and part of the team that‘s trying to get this bill through, quite frankly, I think we have a good product here.  Our leader, Senator Reid, has done a great job in putting this together.  And, sure, it‘s a compromised package.  And so, I want to get it through.

When we go to conference with the House, then maybe we‘ll have to make some adjustments and some changes at that point in time.  But quite frankly, the bill, as it is, is a bill that I can support and gladly support.  Do I agree with everything in it?  Not really.  Like I said, I‘d like to move it perhaps in a different direction in many cases.  But I recognize that we have to have the 60 votes and so, I‘m sort of being trying to be (ph) a Hubert Humphrey Democrat, OK, Rachel?


HARKIN:  He always said—he always said, “If you can‘t get a whole loaf, by gosh, get a half loaf, and then we‘ll go after the rest of the loaf later on,” and that‘s what I intend to do.

MADDOW:  Well, in terms of that—in terms of that loaf, there‘s, of course, this first procedural vote to get the bill to the floor.  You‘re saying tonight that you feel like you‘re rounding third and heading toward home on that one, that it looks like it will go to the floor.  There will, of course, be a second procedural vote on whether after debate—whether or not this bill comes up to a final vote.

If there are not 60 votes at that point, if Senator Lieberman, for example, follows through on his threat to filibuster at that point, this could be passed through reconciliation.  That would mean it would only require a majority, 51 votes.

Do you think that would mean we‘d get more of that loaf then?  We‘d get a more progressive bill because nobody would have to woo conservatives, like Lieberman and Nelson, anymore?

HARKIN:  Not really, Rachel.  That would probably be the worst thing that we could do right now because if—because of deadlines and dates, if this were to go to reconciliation now, it would not be written by my committee, which is a very progressive committee.  It would be written by the budget committee.  And it wouldn‘t even go it our committee.  And that has all kinds of implications for how this bill might be drafted by the budget committee.

The other thing is, if it goes to reconciliation, all of the things I‘ve worked so hard on for prevention and wellness, and trying to put more emphasis on keeping people healthy rather than just going to the hospital and fixing them up, all of that would fall by the way side.  And I think this is one of the most important parts of this bill, is to start focusing on a health care system rather than a sick care system, which is what we have right now.

So, if we go to reconciliation, all of that falls by the way side.  I‘ll tell you, we don‘t have to go to reconciliation.  We are going to have 60 votes.

MADDOW:  Including Joe Lieberman?

HARKIN:  Including Joe Lieberman.  We‘re going to have the 60 votes.

Look, just look at this bill we have here now.  It cuts the deficit.  You pointed out earlier—it cuts the deficit by $127 billion.  It‘s going to cover 94 -- actually, 98 percent of all of the people in this country, when you factor in Medicare.  It comes less than the $900 billion that the president had stipulated.

It has all of these insurance reforms: no more pre-existing condition clauses, and insurance company can‘t just drop you because you get sick, your children would be able to stay on your policy until they‘re age 26.  We have all of these insurance reforms.  Plus, we have all of the wellness and prevention programs in there.

To me, this is a good deal for the American people and I think that the more that they learn about what‘s in this bill, the more they are going to realize that this is really good for the American people.

MADDOW:  Senator Tom Harkin, the huge news today, of course, is the content of the bill.  I think you made some real news with us here on this show with your comments, especially on reconciliation.  And I will tell you that I‘m going to call Senator Lieberman‘s office and tell him that you said his vote is there in health reform, and then, maybe he‘ll come and talk to me about his feelings on it.

Thank you for helping us make this news, sir.

HARKIN:  Thanks, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Appreciate it.

As the Senate rounds third and heads towards home—as Senator Harkin said—on health reform, groups outside of Capitol Hill who are trying to stop reform are getting a little sloppy in their desperation, it appears.  A whole bunch of them have just been unveiled as corporate fronts and as more funny than scary wackadoodle extremist groups.

This new reporting is honestly kind of brilliant.  It‘s next.  Please hold one moment.


MADDOW:  It has been five years in the making.  The Department of Justice‘s Office of Professional Responsibility reports a big ratio between boring name of the reports and big important implications.  This report reportedly recommends that Bush torture lawyers, Jay Bybee and John Yoo, be disbarred by their state bar associations.  Attorney General Eric Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee today that after five years, he finally expects this report to be out by the end of this month.

More ahead—stay with us.


MADDOW:  At this very moment, tonight, there is a high-stakes battle under way in the nation‘s capital.  It is an arm-twisting, vote-wrangling, down-to-the-wire, choose your cliche efforts to get health care reform past.  Senate Democrats are trying to hold off Republicans while keeping their own conservatives in line.  That‘s the battle on health reform that‘s happening on the surface.

Just below the surface is a battle for public opinion that is being shaped by a lot of different interest groups, but by some groups in particular that are trying to shape the debate while disguising their own role in doing so.  As health reform proceeds and these folks get more desperate and more sloppy, some great investigative journalism done recently by “The Associated Press,” by the Center for American Progress and by “Mother Jones” magazine has uncovered some of the inadvertent hilarity in who‘s behind the opposition to health reform.

If you happen to be an avid viewer of the FOX News Channel, you‘re probably not watching me.  But let‘s say you are.  You have probably seen a lot of analysis on health reform on FOX News by a FOX News medical contributor named Dr. Marc Siegel.


DR. MARC SIEGEL, FOX NEWS MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR:  Millions of people are going to lose their current health insurance in favor of this government insurance.  The government can regulate the amount of care that‘s delivered.  That‘s also known as rationing care, by the way.


MADDOW:  Rationing care.  Millions losing their insurance.  FOX‘s Doctor “The government‘s trying to kill you” Marc Siegel was reportedly a senior fellow at the time he made those comments at something called the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, CMPI.

The Center for the American Progress today documents how CMPI has been a big player in the anti-health reform movement over the past few months.  They sponsored anti-Obama tea party protests.  They have organized a “U.S.  Policymakers” series that hosts anti-health reform interviews with a not-so-broad range of Republican lawmakers, including Michele Bachmann, Joe “You lie” Wilson, Jim DeMint, David Vitter.  They produced a number of anti-health reform online ads and video and even anti-health reform video games.

So, shocker, right?  FOX News‘ medical contributor was a member of a staunch anti-health reform organizing group, this CMPI.

But it might also be useful to know that CMPI has also been funded in part by the pharmaceutical industry.  According to, CMPI‘s biggest contributors in 2006 with the drug maker Pfizer and PhRMA, the drug industry‘s trade group.

Who runs CMPI, the Center for Medicine and the Public Interest, this group?  Well, its president is a man named Peter Pitts.  In addition to heading up this ostensibly nonpartisan medical think tank, Center for American Progress notes that Mr. Pitts is also the director for Global Health Care at the giant P.R. form, Porter Novelli.

Porter Novelli, of course, has a bit of a history when it comes to shilling for the health care industry, having helped that industry kill the Patients Bill of Rights way back in 1994.  They said at the time that it was part of a, quote, “big government agenda.”  Why does that sound so familiar?

CMPI, of course, would not tell the Center for American Progress who is funding them, but it is true that they sprung from a famous pro-tobacco ostensibly grassroots corporate front group that was funded by Philip Morris.  So, we leave it to you to make your best educated guess as to who is funding their current anti-health reform agenda.

Meanwhile, “The Associated Press” this weekend shine another big, bright spotlight on yet another group.  This one called Americans for Quality and Affordable Healthcare.  It sounds great, right?  I mean, who doesn‘t want quality and affordable health care?  If you think you‘d like to be a member of this group, good luck joining.

At the group‘s Web site, you‘ll see lots of very happy, sunny pictures of doctors and healthy kids and test tubes.  You‘ll find plenty of talking points about why we cannot afford a government-run health care system and how essentially it is that every American be forced to buy health insurance.

What you won‘t find is any phone number or address of who runs Americans for quality and affordable health care.  It‘s just a generic “contact us” form on a Web site registered to a hide the Web sites owner‘s proxy site.

It turns out, Americans for Quality and Affordable Healthcare, despite the charming clip art, is not really run by doctors and nurses.  “The Associated Press” connects Americans for Quality and Affordable Healthcare to a North Carolina law firm that‘s called Moore & Van Allen.  They a big beltway P.R. and government affairs practice.

The law firm acknowledges running the site on behalf of its health care clients, but they won‘t specify who those health care clients are.  A spokesman for the law firm is telling “A.P.,” quote, “They want to stay in the background and off the front page.”  No kidding!

So, Moore & Van Allen won‘t say who funds Americans for Quality and Affordable Healthcare.  But with talking points like, no public option, that everybody must buy private health insurance, it‘s not that hard to imagine who might be behind this one.

There‘s also one other group.  They‘re called the Association for American Physicians and Surgeons.  You might want to sit down for this one, OK?  It‘s a fair warning.

While some anti-health reform front groups appear to have some financial corporate incentives to try to kill health reform, the motivation of this last group appears to be more ideological.  The Association for American Physicians and Surgeons has been busy in recent months.  Back in September, they organized a rally on Capitol Hill, ahead of the big Glenn Beck/9-12 march.

Their annual meeting last month featured, among others, Republican anti-health reform congressmen like Tom Price and Paul Broun.  Members of the group have also appeared on—you guess it—FOX News to slam health reform.



Americans can stop this.  They need to call Congress and they can go to places like  They can go to  If hundreds of thousands of people call their senators in their own district, this government takeover of medicine will stop.


MADDOW:  That was Florida doctor, David McKalip, a member of the Association for American Physicians and Surgeons, who you might remember is also being the guy who mass-emailed this image of President Obama around, the one with Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose, who‘s also somehow secretly a communist.

That sort of subtlety turns out to be par for the course for this rather benign-sounding organization.  I mean, again, they‘re called the Association for American Physicians and Surgeons.  It sounds really mainstream, right?

Well, great reporting by “Mother Jones” magazine today revealed some of the causes that this group propounds.  The group‘s statement of principles, for example, declares that it is evil and immoral for physicians to participate in Medicare and Medicaid.  Its Web site features claims that electronic medical records are a form of data control, like that deployed the East German secret police.  An article on the group‘s Web site speculates that Barack Obama may have won the presidency by hypnotizing voters, especially cohorts known to be susceptible to neuro-linguistic programming.  That is—according to the writer—young people, educated people and—wait for it—possibly Jews.  Yes.

Here‘s the actual article.  I‘m not kidding.  I swear, it‘s real. 

“Oratory or Hypnotic Induction?”

Remember that scandal where Lou Dobbs got caught peddling that insane conspiracy theory that illegal immigrants had caused leprosy epidemic in the U.S.?  That was these guys, too.  That was in their journal.

This is the group that‘s providing the medical experts for the “Glenn Beck” specials against health reform on FOX News.  This is the group that‘s providing the doctors in white coats at the anti-health reform tea party protests.

This is the character of some of the highest profile current opposition to health reform in the country—which might explain why we‘re closer than ever to getting health reform in this country.

All of these groups have every right to do what they‘re doing.  We also have every right to tell you who funds them and what wacky conspiracy theories they propound.  And, no, we have not be been neurologically or—excuse me—neuro-linguistically programmed to do so.  At least, I don‘t think we have.



ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I‘m not scared of what Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has to say at trial, and no one else needs to be afraid either.  We need not cower in the face of this enemy.  Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready.


MADDOW:  At least some of our people are.

Attorney General Eric Holder at the Senate Judiciary Committee today, defending his decision to put accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on trial in civilian criminal court in New York City.  The attorney general is asking politicians purporting to be scared by that idea, frankly, to buck up.

President Obama echoing his attorney general today when asked by NBC News if some Americans might be offended by Mr. Mohammed having a real American trial.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t think it would be offensive at all when he‘s convicted and when the death penalty is applied to him.  I‘m not prejudging and I‘m not going to be in that courtroom.  That‘s the job of the prosecutors, the judge, and the jury.  What I‘m absolutely clear about is that I have complete confidence in the American people and in our legal traditions and prosecutors, tough prosecutors from New York who specialize in terrorism.


MADDOW:  Nick Baumann and David Corn reporting today that Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich and Liz Cheney all tried to gin up a protest at the hearing in which the attorney general spoke today, a protest organized by Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol‘s anti-Obama pressure group, Keep America Safe.

Apparently, despite the efforts of these Republican and conservative celebrities, nobody showed up for the protest.  The lack of a summonable by Twitter grassroots mob to protest the attorney general at the hearing today however is not holding back some conservative critics of the administration from trying to make maximally outrageous political hay out of the Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trial decision.  Exhibit A through Z on this is Congressman Louie Gohmert of Texas.  Here he was speaking last night on FOX News.


REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX):  You‘ve got millions of New Yorkers who are being put at risk by this.  And unless they are trying to create a new jobs bill by allowing terrorism back in New York, this is insane.  And even that would be insane.  


MADDOW:  Do you think that would be insane, saying that we want to allow terrorism back in New York as a form of a jobs bill, according to the congressman from Texas? 

Joining us now is Steven Simon, who is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.  He‘s also co-author of “The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam‘s War Against America.”  Mr.  Simon, thank you very much for joining us tonight.  


ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Pleasure to be here.  

MADDOW:  The attorney general said in his testimony today that he‘s not scared of what Khalid Sheikh Muhammad may say at his trial.  In terms of its propaganda value, presumably, he said nobody else needs to be afraid of it either.  What kind of propaganda or PR opportunity might this trial really pose? 

SIMON:  Well, I think that propaganda opportunities are in favor of the United States.  Khalid Sheikh Muhammad is not going to have a huge opportunity at the trial to express himself perhaps as fully as he might like. 

There are no cameras in the courtroom in these federal trials.  So there won‘t be any imagery to project.  The defense can really only ask questions.  They can‘t make speeches.  And if, in answering questions, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad starts to make a speech, the judge, who is essentially king in that domain, can shut him down. 

I don‘t think that there‘s going to be a huge opportunity for oratory. 

MADDOW:  You wrote today on the “New York Times” editorial page that the alternatives to putting Mr. Muhammad on trial in a civil court like this actually hold more opportunity to inspire militant recruits.  Why did you say that? 

SIMON:  Well, Khalid Sheikh Muhammad really wanted to be tried by a military commission.  Because if he were tried by a military commission, he would be able to portray himself as a soldier captured on the field of battle doing honorable warfare against the United States. 

Well, that‘s, in fact, not what he did.  He was a criminal and a terrorist and he killed 3,000 innocent people.  And he broke federal statutes in the process.  If he were actually a combatant captured on the field of battle, that would be a very different story. 

This arrangement is not going to let him make that claim.  It‘s not going to let him portray himself as a warrior in defense of Islam.  

MADDOW:  Are there historical precedents - American historical precedents or other relevant international (UNINTELLIGIBLE) historical precedents for having the opportunity to choose military or civilian proceedings for somebody who has committed a mass crime of this sort?

And what do you think those precedents tell us about the effectiveness about this decision for how these people are viewed by history? 

SIMON:  Well, the United States generally treats these people as criminals.  And that was the case with Zacarias Moussaoui, who was convicted of planning to fly airplanes into buildings.

It was true of the blind sheikh, Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman who was convicted in New York City on terrorism charges.  And it was true of Ramzi Yousef, who carried the first attack against the World Trade Center in 1993.  So that‘s generally the way that we do things.  Our view in the United States is that these people are criminals and they are to be tried as criminals. 

MADDOW:  Let me ask you about one larger point about terrorism and the type of extremism and militant recruiting that people are worried about with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed‘s trial.  You also wrote today in the “Times” that among radical clerics and theorists who are influential and the type of movement that Khalid Sheikh Muhammad has come out of.  You wrote that cracks are beginning to appear in the jihadist base.  What did you mean by that?  How might a civilian trial for the 9/11 plotters play into that? 

SIMON:  Well, first of all, there‘s both anecdotal and survey data coming out of the Muslim world.  It‘s not across the board but it‘s a distinct trend that suggested that Muslims are now really questioning the notion that it‘s right to kill civilians in defense of Muslim interests. 

And what this trial does by showcasing the horrible toll of 9/11 and that the casualties were, in effect, all civilians, I think the trial will underscore - it will reinforce that trend in the Muslim world.  And that‘s strongly in the U.S. interest. 

In addition, you do have a former jihadist, imams, clerics, who are increasingly questioning the validity of jihad as a way to pursue the interest of Muslims at this point.  And I think the kind of trial that will be held for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad will reinforce those arguments.  

MADDOW:  Steven Simon, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies on the Council on Foreign Relations, thank you so much for joining us tonight.  I think that the age of secret terror is an incredibly important text for understanding this movement in general.  I found it personally very helpful.  And I‘m really grateful for the chance to have you on the show.  Thank you.  

SIMON:  Thanks so much, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Sarah Palin‘s book, on the other hand, “Going Rogue” went rogue last night on “The Jimmy Fallon Show” like it fought back against its critics.  Let‘s just say I‘m lucky to be sitting here right now.  We‘ll have that tape for you later on.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  Surprise.  Hillary Clinton is in Afghanistan.  A secretly planned, publicly unscheduled visit on the occasion of that country‘s president being sworn in for another term tomorrow after an election in which the U.N. says nearly a third of the votes counted for him were fraudulent. 

President Bush used to talk regularly with Hamid Karzai.  And Karzai was frequently invited to Washington, D.C. where a fawning U.S.  press could always be counted on to complement his hat. 

President Obama has, in contrast, kept Karzai at arm‘s length.  He‘s abandoned the regular phone conferences that Bush did.  And Hillary Clinton is as yet the highest-ranking Obama administration visitor to Mr.  Karzai. 

And if her comments today are anything to go by, Secretary Clinton appears to be in Kabul mostly to tell Mr. Karzai how corrupt she thinks she is. 

She complained openly to reporters today that one of Karzai‘s choices for vice president is considered by the United States government to be essentially a drug runner.  Clinton‘s visit comes on the day that the Afghan minister of mines is alleged to have accepted a $30 million bribe. 

It comes one day after a report listed Afghanistan as the world‘s second most corrupt country after only Somalia, which, frankly, barely qualifies as a country at all anymore. 

President Obama today did a number of TV interviews in which he was asked repeatedly about his plans for Afghanistan.  He said he is close to announcing his decisions about the war.  And he struck some fear into those inside his own government who have been leaking details about this decision.


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  We are very close to a decision.  I will announce that decision certainly in the next several weeks.  We have these deliberations in the situation room for a reason. 

For people to be releasing information during the course of deliberations, where we haven‘t made final decisions yet, I think, is not appropriate. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A firing offense?

OBAMA:  Absolutely. 


MADDOW:  Well, the president tries to stem leaks to buy himself more time for his Afghanistan decision and to crack the whip on our supposed partners in the Afghan government. 

Here is one giant game-changing brand-new fact reported by Spencer Ackerman today that should change the whole way that the country talks about and thinks about this war.  Mr. Ackerman says that army data show that if the president orders 30,000 or 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan, quote, “He will be deploying practically every available U.S.  Army brigade to war leaving few units in reserve in case of an unforeseen emergency.”   

Joining us now is Spencer Ackerman, senior reporter at “The Washington Independent.”  Spencer, thanks very much for being here.  Appreciate it.  


Thank you so much for having me, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  So explain what the army has told you.  If Obama wants to send, say, 40,000 troops, how many active duty soldiers are available to him to make that happen? 

ACKERMAN:  As of December, when he‘ll announce the decision, there are 50,600 active duty army soldiers who would be capable of deploying at that point. 

That means, if we end up going with 40,000, then we will have nearly every soldier in the United States Army, on active duty, either in Iraq or in Afghanistan or ineligible to deploy because they are waiting to recover from a previous deployment. 

So if something happens, god forbid, elsewhere in the world - in Iran or in North Korea - that requires the United States Army to mobilize, we‘ll have very, very little reference to it. 

MADDOW:  Of the troops that would be available to deploy, how many - I mean, how many other combat tours have those brigades done?  I know that asking what sort of shape they‘re in to be fighting and how reasonable it is for us as a country for them to deploy is complicated thing.  But how tours have these divisions or these brigades done? 

ACKERMAN:  Only one of these brigades will not have deployed at all. 

Almost all of them have served two tours.  Four of them have served three.  Several of them are now at a point where - two of them in particular - this would be their fifth tour. 

MADDOW:  So if he wants to send 40,000 troops, in all likelihood, he‘s going to have to send brigades back for which it would be their fifth tour? 

ACKERMAN:  Since 2002, that‘s right.  

MADDOW:  Is it Gen. McChrystal‘s responsibility to factor in things like how many troops are available in the country in event of an emergency somewhere else when he makes his request for troops in of a Afghanistan?  I mean, Gen. McChrystal‘s really only responsible for Afghanistan, right? 

ACKERMAN:  Gen. McChrystal is only responsible for Afghanistan.  There‘s a structural problem whereby oftentimes we are factoring in military decisions, we don‘t look at objective constraints.  That‘s just been the way it goes. 

If this were, say, health care, we would have imposed a cost constraint.  We would have imposed a time constraint and so forth.  But Gen. McChrystal has to look at the needs of the Afghanistan war and what he needs to, in his perspective, become successful there. 

And so he looks at that just on that line.  And so it‘s the responsibility of the president to decide what‘s in the broader interest of American national security.  

MADDOW:  Spencer, I know that it is usually stupid to compare Iraq and Afghanistan.  But a lot of people said that we were already at capacity when President Bush made the decision to order the troop surge in Iraq back in 2006.

And frankly, we were able to do that.  There weren‘t catastrophic consequences for the United States in terms of readiness, at least not those that we‘ve talked about.  Why shouldn‘t we think that the situation is the same in Afghanistan?  That will be a stretch, but we can just pull it off. 

ACKERMAN:  No matter what, it‘s a risk.  I mean, we‘ve been fighting in Afghanistan for eight years now.  But you know, perhaps nothing will occur outside of Iraq or Afghanistan at that point. 

The issue is - someone told me for this story - how much risk are you willing to accept?  Unlike Iraq, Afghanistan‘s escalation is being talked about in terms of not being a one-time surge where, when the initial brigades used for escalation go home, the whole thing goes back to where it was before, but a sustained escalation where new brigades have to come in and release the ones that go home initially. 

So we don‘t really know how long it will be at this escalation, at what point will we have an exit strategy in place, at what point will we be successful.  So it‘s not exactly the same thing as in Iraq. 

This is so important.  I mean, we talked about so many elements of the war effort talking about the actual constraints of what we are capable of doing.  It‘s almost verboten in American politics, but it sounds like absolutely a hard ceiling that needs to be considered here.

Spencer, thank you for your reporting.  Thanks for joining us. 

ACKERMAN:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Spencer Ackerman is a senior reporter at “The Washington Independent.” 

OK.  We are following some breaking news out of New Orleans tonight.  Just as we went on the air, we learned that a federal district court judge has ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers is essentially responsible for the disastrous flooding after Hurricane Katrina in at least parts of New Orleans and in one nearby parish. 

We will have much more on that breaking news story next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  We do have some breaking news to report tonight.  On a landmark decision out of New Orleans, which suggests that Hurricane Katrina was, in part, a man-made disaster.  A federal judge has ruled that the excessive flooding after Katrina hit was caused by substandard work by the Army Corps of Engineers. 

According to this judge, the Army Corps of Engineers failed to properly maintain the navigation channel, the Mississippi gulf coast outlet.  And their failure to do so led to the massive flooding after Hurricane Katrina struck in August 2005. 

The 156-page ruling holds the Army Corps of Engineers liable for the damage.  And the judge in the case, Stanwood R. Duval, Jr. awarded over $700,000 in total compensation to four plaintiffs, residents who allege that poor oversight led to the flooding of the Ninth Ward in St. Bernard Parish. 

“The Times-Picayune” raising the prospect tonight that this could lead to the government paying damages, not to just to those four plaintiffs but to as many as 100,000 local residents who filed claims with the corps after the storm. 

The reaction tonight from an attorney for those residents, quote, “The people of this city have been vindicated.”  The government is expected to appeal this decision but this is a first of its kind ruling and the precedent here could be, well, a very, very big deal. 

Joining us now is Michael Grunwald, senior national correspondent for “Time” magazine.  He wrote a cover story about the Army Corps of Engineers rule in the disaster in 2007.  He also covered the hurricane itself for “The Washington Post.” 

Mr. Grunwald joins us by phone.  Mr. Grunwald, thanks very much for joining us tonight.  I appreciate your time.  


(through telephone):  My pleasure.  

MADDOW:  Can you tell us what you think the implications are of Judge Duval‘s ruling? 

GRUNWALD:  Well, it‘s an interesting case.  I think some of us have been banging our experience on our high chairs for five years about the Army Corps and the way it caused this disaster not only through shoddy levees that were built in the wrong place, but through sort of its sort of environmental destruction that left the city more vulnerable. 

It‘s sort of encouraging people to live in the wrong place as well as the Mississippi River gulf outlet, which was this kind of hurricane superhighway that was pointed at the city‘s gut. 

What‘s interesting about this ruling is that the corps has immunity.  You know, just because they mess up a levee and kill 1,000 people - you know, they‘re allowed to do that under federal law.  You can‘t be sued for them building bad levees.

But they sort of got around it in this case by saying, well, actually this wasn‘t just the levees that failed.  But this navigation project actually made things worse and they‘re not allowed to kill people with the navigation project, only with shoddy levees. 

And the judge essentially ruled that, yes, this Mississippi River gulf outlet, which has never actually carried much navigation, did carry a lot of saltwater and destroy a lot of marshes and ultimately carried the storm surge into the city.  It amplified the storm surge and really made the disaster much worse.  

MADDOW:  And that specific angle, that specific legal angle explains part of a ruling that I didn‘t otherwise understand, which is that the judge, as I understand it, ruled that one of the plaintiffs, at least, from eastern New Orleans was not going to be compensated in this case because the specific dredging project, this navigation project that you described, didn‘t specifically affect eastern New Orleans.  And that‘s where that plaintiff was from.  

GRUNWALD:  Exactly.  Essentially, the fact that the Army Corps built lousy levees that left the city underwater is sort of unfortunate but, legally, not relevant.  But the fact that their navigation project actually made things worse for people in St. Bernard as well as a lot of the city itself - that they‘re actually liable. 

But the fact that this was the Army Corps and the federal government‘s fault, the head of the Army Corps essentially admitted that nine months after the tragedy - but by that point, nobody was paying attention and everybody loved trashing FEMA for showing up late and, you know, heck of a job brownie.

It never really occurred to people that the federal government not only responded badly to the disaster but actually caused the disaster in the first place.  Hurricane Katrina was - it was a big storm but it essentially missed New Orleans.  It was really a weak category 2 in New Orleans. 

MADDOW:  Michael Grunwald is a national correspondent for “Time” magazine.  Mr. Grunwald, we‘re going to pose a link to your 2007 cover story from “Time” magazine, “The Threatening Storm” about this.  I think it‘s necessary background reading for folks. 

We‘re also going to link to some of the local coverage tonight from “The Times Picayune” at our Web site, “”  Thank you for helping us put this in context.  We appreciate it.

GRUNWALD:  Any time, Rachel.  

MADDOW:  All right.  This is THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW on MSNBC.  We will be right back.  


MADDOW:  We turn now to our literary felonies correspondent, Mr. Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent. 

JONES:  It‘s really good to see you, Rachel.  You know, there was an incident last night on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” between yourself and Sarah Palin‘s book “Going Rogue.”  And I‘ve got to tell you that it upset me.  

MADDOW:  I understand.  

JONES:  It upset me. 

MADDOW:  I understand. 


JIMMY FALLON, HOST, “LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON”:  You‘ve must have heard about this, Sarah Palin‘s new book, “Going Rogue.”  It comes out today.  Well, it‘s already a huge bestseller.  And we‘ve got the book right here. 

And - wait.  It‘s gone.  Where is it?  Where is the book?  Where‘s “Going Rogue?”  Get back!  Get back!  It‘s going rogue!  “Going Rogue” is going rogue! 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What?  You‘ve got to be kidding me.  All right, everybody, this is not a drill.  I need all hands on deck.  I need everybody sharp.  Everybody bring your “A” game.  Am I making myself clear? 

What are you still looking at me for, people?  I need answers.  Look at your computers.  Start tapping on those keys.  Let‘s go.  Get on the horn.  Let‘s go people. 

MADDOW:  You. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, new information.  There‘s our perp - 413 pages, 13.5 ounces, published by Harper.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Things just got complicated. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I got them.  I got them. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m hit!  I‘m hit! 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bad news.  I found the first body.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That means it‘s armed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You might want to take a look at this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, my god, this thing‘s number one on the bestseller list already.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Already?  Check it again.  Check it again.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Still number one.  This changes everything. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s up, Carl? 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Whoa, whoa, whoa. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey.  Hey, easy, buddy!  Hey!  It‘s not worth it, man! 


JONES:  Don‘t worry.  “Going Rogue” did not die.  It ended up having a torrid lover fair with Stephanie Meyer‘s tweener‘s bestseller, “New Moon.”  You can see this whole thing on our Web site.

MADDOW:  It goes from shooting me to poor Carl.  

JONES:  Poor Carl - that‘s right.  Yes.

MADDOW:  To jumping off a building, to having sex with another book.  

JONES:  It‘s “Going Rogue.”

MADDOW:  It was the best - 

JONES:  It‘s “Going Rogue.”

MADDOW:  It was the best part of “Going Rogue” ever.  Thank you.  I apologize to the Jimmy Fallon people for being a really bad actor.  But thanks to them for letting me do it on their show.  Thank you, Kent. 

Thank you for watching tonight.  We will see you again tomorrow night.  Until then, you can E-mail us  Our podcast is at iTunes or at  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Have a good night.



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