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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Monday, December 28th, 2009

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Richard Engel, Kent Jones, Bruce Schneier, Trita Parsi, Melissa Harris-Lacewell

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Big, important news did not take the holiday off.  Richard Engel will be joining us here in just a moment to help us out.  As a country, we probably thought we could sleep through in geography class is now very obviously very important to American national security.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell will also join us this hour to review some of the political misfires in response to the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253.

Big news and some stunning pictures from Iran where opposition protesters have renewed their fight against their own government.

Senator Orrin Hatch makes a shocking admission that I bet he wishes he could take back.

And it‘s good riddance day in New York City, officially.

We‘ve got a very big show coming up.

But we begin tonight with President Obama on the offensive.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable.  We do not yet have all the answers about this latest attempt, but those who would slaughter innocent men, women, and children must know that the United States will do more than simply strengthen our defenses.  We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle, and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen, or Somalia, or anywhere, where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.


MADDOW:  Afghanistan or Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia or anywhere else.

The Christmas Day attempted terrorist attack happened just over Detroit.  It was onboard a flight that originated in the Netherlands.  It was allegedly perpetrated by a passenger who bought his ticket for that flight in person in the nation of Ghana.  The passenger was a Nigerian.  He most recently lived in Dubai.  He had been educated in London.

And as a result of his actions, all eyes today turn to—Yemen?  Yes.  After his failed apparent attempt to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was taken into custody.  He reportedly told the FBI that he had been trained and supplied with the explosives by al Qaeda in Yemen.

U.S. officials are telling NBC news they believe Abdulmutallab spent several months in Yemen this year.  And the group‘s typical delusional, grandiose language, al Qaeda in Yemen calls itself al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.  It‘s considered to be linked with al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia.

ABC News reporting tonight that two Guantanamo prisoners who were let out by the Bush administration in 2007 and sent to Saudi Arabia are now leaders of al Qaeda in Yemen.

Do you remember the shooting of two U.S. military recruiters in Arkansas back in June?  The man indicted in that case was under investigation at the time of the shooting by the FBI‘s Joint Terrorist Task Force because he had recently traveled to Yemen.

Major Nidal Hasan, the soldier charged in the Fort Hood massacre last month, is reported to have been in contact with a radical cleric who publicly praised Hasan after the shootings.  That cleric?  Based in Yemen.

Last September, 10 people were killed when—at a U.S. embassy when it was attacked in a coordinated assault involving car bombs, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons.  That embassy was in the capital city of Yemen.

Of course, the USS Cole attack which killed 17 U.S. sailors took place while the Cole was docked at the port city of Aden in Yemen.

Just four months ago, a suicide bomber narrowly missed killing the counterterrorism chief in Saudi Arabia.  The bomber crossed into Saudi Arabia with his bomb from—you guessed it—Yemen.

The man who is thought to be the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula appears in militant videos touting Yemen as a good place to come get terrorist training, especially if Afghanistan and Pakistan have become too awkward to visit.

So, if you‘ve been paying attention to terrorism and al Qaeda recently, you have likely been paying attention to this poor, largely ungoverned, running out of oil, parched little nation called Yemen.  It‘s rather quietly become, after Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan, something akin to America‘s other, other, other war.  Then-candidate Obama called in the fall of 2008 for a shared security counterterrorism program in Yemen.

Yemen also raised in the president‘s speech on the escalation in Afghanistan.


OBAMA:  Where al Qaeda and its allies attempt to establish a foothold, whether in Somalia or Yemen or elsewhere, they must be confronted.


MADDOW:  In September of this year, President Obama sent his counterterrorism chief, John Brennan, to Yemen.  General David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, also made an unannounced trip to Yemen at roughly the same time.

And oh, yes, we‘ve been bombing Yemen, too—or at least in our government‘s words, we‘ve been providing the firepower for Yemeni air strikes.  As recently as Christmas Eve, we bombed Yemen.  And a week before that, we did it as well.

The president authorizing cruise missile strikes at al Qaeda targets in Yemen.  But like our air strikes in Pakistan, these are something that our government is reluctant to discuss in detail.

The use of secret American bombing campaigns in Yemen is going back as far as 2002.  But, apparently, it‘s rather dramatically escalated under President Obama.

Reluctant to let that reality intrude upon his reverie onset at “FOX News Sunday” this weekend, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut ignored the preemptive American military action that‘s actually been happening in Yemen and called for preemptive American military action to happen there.


SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT:  Somebody in our government said to me in Sana‘a, the capital of Yemen, Iraq was yesterday‘s war.  Afghanistan is today‘s war.  If we don‘t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow‘s war.


MADDOW:  Actually, Yemen has already been today‘s war for quite sometime now, Senator.  I realize it‘s hard to keep up.  Don‘t let that get in the way of your sound bite though.

Today, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula put out a statement taking responsibility for the attempted bombing of Flight 253, managing once again to pull off the patented al Qaeda P.R. technique of seeming both scary and stupid.  The statement said that the attempted bombing over Detroit was a response to the recent American air strikes in Yemen.  That sounds scary, right?

The stupid part here though is that they got their dates wrong.  The first air strike was on December 17th.  The alleged bomber had already bought his ticket for that flight to Detroit the day before, on December 16th.

So, nice try nihilist dirt bags, but it‘s back to remedial propaganda class for you.

With us in studio tonight is NBC News chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, who has been to Yemen several times and is planning a return trip soon.

Richard, it‘s great to see you.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s great to see you.  I hope I‘m not a nihilist dirt bag.

MADDOW:  No.  That would not be you.


MADDOW:  I just—I just, I know, I‘m sort of torn whenever we talk about al Qaeda.  On the one hand, they are this massive threat to security everywhere they choose to strike and a threat to all sorts of things that I hold dear and places where they don‘t strike, in terms of their terrorist effect.  On the other hand, I think they‘re loons and it‘s hard for me not to make fun of them.  And to treat them, I think, with some of the derision that they.


ENGEL:  Well, I‘ve met some of these militants, not the ones who are involved in today‘s—or these recent attacks.  But they live in a different world.  It‘s a totally different mentality.  They are—probably can‘t be reasoned with and can‘t be brought back.

And a lot of them simply are very good.  This young man who wanted to carry out this attack, the Nigerian, a bit of a lost kid, went all over the world.  In addition to that country, those countries you mentioned he also studied in Togo and he‘s been all over the world.  He goes seeking out to the radicals, finds them, and they give him some powdered—you know, some powdered explosives and he fails to set them off.

So, it shows this very nature of al Qaeda.  It‘s a transnational movement.

The U.S. for a long time has been focusing on finding a new home address.  Is it Iraq or is it Afghanistan?  Or is it Yemen?

This group doesn‘t have a home address.  That is the way it operates. 

It operates in different countries.

And, by the way, it has always operated that way.  Even the 9/11 attackers, we talk about it being launched from Afghanistan.  Well, really, if you look at it, they were based in Germany, trained in Florida, had operatives in Boston.

So, it was always a fragmented organization and it still is today.

MADDOW:  And that‘s part of the reason that I wanted to show that map the way we did about all of the different international connections that you could draw if you wanted to, to this event.  But the reason everybody is focused on Yemen is because there is a sense that they have a safe haven there.

ENGEL:  Sure.

MADDOW:  And that that allows for some degree of planning and projection of force that they couldn‘t do if they didn‘t have an essentially ungoverned space from which to operate.

Do you think that‘s a fair way to look at it?

ENGEL:  It is a fair way to look at it.  And the problem with Yemen—

Yemen, by the way, is a fabulous country.  It is beautiful.  It‘s one of my favorite countries in the Middle East.  The people are lovely.  It has incredible architecture and history.

But it is a tough place to govern.  It‘s the poorest country in the Middle East.  It‘s covered with deserts, some very harsh mountains that are coming out of the desert.

There are tribes that are semiautonomous in the country.  They don‘t respect always the authority of the central government.  They are well-armed.  There is an open arms market in Yemen.  By some estimates there are about three AK-47s for every person in Yemen.

So, it is not easy for the central government to exert its authority in certain places.  It also has the—some of the issues you mentioned—there‘s not a lot of water.  They‘re also facing an insurgency by Shiite rebels in the north, facing another insurgency by separatists in the south.

So, when you have all of these strains on a government, then there are pockets where the government simply can‘t reach.  One good thing is that the government is trying to help and they‘ve carried out all of these air strikes against al Qaeda militants, including these two that you rightly pointed out, came after.

MADDOW:  He already bought a ticket.  Right.

ENGLE:  Came after the plot against—Detroit was already under way.

MADDOW:  On the issue of the challenges within that country and the effect of our actions there, the reason that I sort of poked at Senator Lieberman a little bit there in the introduction is because I feel like he‘s essentially calling on the U.S. government to make Yemen its next war.

ENGEL:  Well, that‘s exactly right.  It‘s not Pakistan.  It is not a rogue state.

Since 9/11, U.S. law enforcement, FBI in particular, has been working very closely in Yemen, training some Yemeni special forces.  It‘s a capacity problem.

And sometimes, the U.S.—I spoke with a Yemeni official tonight whose livid at the way Yemen is being characterized as this rogue state that doesn‘t want to cooperate.

It‘s a poor state.  They‘ve been trying to help.  They have trouble reaching a lot of areas.  And it doesn‘t get very much aid.  It‘s not like countries like Pakistan that get billions of dollars.  It gets very, very little aid.

And I think if you see—going forward, you‘re going to see more cooperation between the Pentagon and between the government of Yemen.  Actually, I was told that today by both Yemeni officials and Pentagon sources, that this military offensive that‘s been going on for the last week or so is going to be continuing.

MADDOW:  And meanwhile, all of the amateur counter-terrorists among us will be learning the difference, where Aden is versus Sana‘a is, versus that border with Saudi Arabia.


ENGEL:  Somalia should be the next front.


ENGEL:  And then you could say it should be Chechnya is this next front.  There is no front in this kind of war.  I think that‘s what people have to look beyond.

MADDOW:  Richard Engel, NBC News chief foreign correspondent.  It‘s always great to have you on the show, Richard.  Thanks for being here.

ENGEL:  It‘s always a pleasure.

MADDOW:  So, what do we know about the explosive that managed to get by the security screeners for the Christmas Day attempted bomb?  How did that explosive make it onto that plane?  Why didn‘t it blow up?  And will this alleged terrorist have to live out his remaining days with the shameful nickname of the underpants bomber.  That is coming up.

But first, “One More Thing,” as Joe Lieberman huffs and puffs and suggests declaring America‘s fourth simultaneous war in Asia, Democratic Congressman Eric Massa has pointed out on the floor of the House that Christmas Eve marked our 3,000th day in the Afghanistan war.  It was also the 30th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, which did not end well for anyone.  Except maybe the people we‘re supposedly fighting in our Afghanistan war now 30 years later.

Those anniversaries, let‘s just get this decade over with and start a fresh one.  Hey?


MADDOW:  A stark assessment of the new airport security measures, reporting on the latest violent crackdown in Iran and an unbelievable admission from Senator Orrin Hatch.  Also, a giant bridge implosion caught on tape.  All reasons to stick around.

All of that coming up.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  The FBI says their preliminary analysis of the substance that burned but didn‘t explode on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day is that it was something called PETN.  These images obtained by NBC news showing PETN packed into the alleged bomber‘s underwear.  PETN is a white, powdery substance that is really, really, really explosive.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab reportedly smuggled about 80 grams of PETN in his underwear onto that flight that was due to land in Detroit.

Now, how powerful is 80 grams of PETN?  Consider this for reference.  This is an Internet video which claims to show the explosion of less than 80 grams.  This is actually about 50 grams of PETN strapped to a poor little defenseless tree.


MADDOW:  Convicted “shoe bomber” Richard Reid attempted to use PETN as well during a transatlantic flight back in 2001.  The PETN in his case was formed into part of his shoes.  Richard Reid was stopped by passengers and crew members while he was trying to light that PETN explosive on fire.

The thing about this type of explosive is you usually need some sort of physical detonator to set it off.  But it can technically also be ignited through a chemical reaction, which is probably why the alleged “Christmas bomber” reportedly had a syringe on him loaded up with an as yet unknown liquid, which he was apparently trying to combine with the explosive powder.  The combination of that failed explosion and quick acting passengers appears to have stopped this bombing attempt.

But could the PETN have been detected in any of the beyond metal detector screening devices that have been put into use at some U.S.  airports?  That‘s a good question.

Next question: would you be willing to have TSA employees see you in your birthday suit every time you flew if the answer to that first question was “yes”?

After the failed Christmas bombing attempt, the TSA immediately instituted some new restrictions on passenger behavior in-flight, like preventing passengers from leaving their seats one hour prior to landing and prohibiting passengers from having blankets or pillows on their laps an hour before landing.  Passengers may also be prevented from accessing their carry-on bags during that same time period.

Have these new rules been in effect before Christmas Day would they have prevented this attack?  More importantly, actually, dramatically more importantly, could these new rules realistically be expected to prevent the next attack?  Or will we all end up flying only if we can endure being naked and sedated for the entire trip?

Joining us now is author and security expert, Bruce Schneier.

Mr. Schneier, really looking forward to talking about this.  Thanks for joining us tonight.


MADDOW:  Is there any reason to believe that these new TSA rule changes would help prevent the next attack?

SCHNEIER:  Well, of course not.  I mean, the attacks are designed to get through whatever we‘re doing.  So, the liquid bombers use liquids.  So, now, we screen liquids.  This is a new powder bomber using a powder.

You know, they will look at what we do and do something different.  It‘s sort of a bit of a magical thinking about the last hour.  It‘s not a more dangerous hour.  It‘s the hour this guy happened to choose.  I‘m not sure why the next guy can‘t choose the first hour or a different material, or maybe even not an airplane.

So, you are focusing on the tactic.  You know, it might make us feel a little better, but it‘s not going to make us any safer.

MADDOW:  In terms of the explosives itself, should we be able—technically, should we be able to stop something like PETN from making its way onto a plane no matter—no matter who brings it on?  Are we capable of stopping an explosive substance like that from ever being on an airplane?

SCHNEIER:  You know, probably not.

You know, there are more things we can do.  They‘re very invasive. 

They‘re going to be sloppy.

They aren‘t going to work very well.  They‘ll be very expensive. 

Money could be spent better elsewhere.

In the end, you probably can‘t totally prevent this from getting on an airplane.  The good news is, it‘s surprisingly hard to make work.  You know, we‘ve had two terrorists try and fail to ignite this stuff.  There have been no other attempts that we know about.

So, you know, it looks scary.  The video is scary, you showed.  But this stuff is really hard to work with.

MADDOW:  It has been, of course, about three days now since this incident.  We‘re looking at a similar attempt really to what we saw with Richard Reid, with the shoe bomber, who is now convicted and sitting in federal prison.

Are there things that we should be doing in response to incidents like these that are, in your view, more rational, more directly getting at the problem than what we have done?

SCHNEIER:  So, what I want to avoid is focusing on guessing the next plot correctly.  We‘re really good at defending what the terrorists did last time and pretty terrible defending against what they‘re going to do next time.  It‘s not the same.

So, I want to pull money back from targeted security measures into things like investigation and intelligence.  When I think about the liquid bombers, they were arrested in London before they got to the airport.  It didn‘t matter if they were using liquids, solids, or gases.  It didn‘t matter if they were targeting airplanes or shopping malls or crowded movie theaters.  They were arrested.  That‘s the benefit of investigation intelligence.

This guy should have been denied a visa.  You know, that happened to he was informed on by his father?  Why aren‘t we following up on those leads?  That‘s far more important than building up airport security just in case we happen to guess the next plot correctly.

MADDOW:  I think the strategy has been to try to do everything, to try to do the police side and the intelligence side at the same time as we‘re trying to harden ourselves as a target.

You‘ve been a critic of sort of security theater of things that don‘t really make us safe but make us feel safer in places like airports.  Is it your belief that we actually reassure ourselves to our own detriment?  That it actually does some harm that we should be doing things like having these rules about when people can go to the bathroom and having these types of screening machines that we‘ve got at airports?

SCHNEIER:  Well, I think it does to us some psychological harm.  It‘s often a lot of expense.  I mean, a lot of these new security measures, extra screening, new machines, is money that could be spent elsewhere, so we‘re wasting money.  How passenger affected, I mean, it depends.

For a bunch of years, we were sheep-like and willing to go along with anything the TSA invented.  They take away our liquids.  You know, we might complain but we‘re going to do it.

And now we‘re getting into measures that are going to annoy the airline‘s bread and butter, their business travelers.  You know, if people have to check luggage because they can‘t bring on more than one carry-on, if they can‘t use their laptops, if they can‘t read their electronic books, I think the airlines are going to start losing money, so it will be to our detriment.

It certainly not making us safer, because it‘s so focused on the tactic and the target and it‘s not general.  General is where we‘ll make ourselves safe.

MADDOW:  Author and security expert, Bruce Schneier—thanks very much for your time tonight.  I read your blog religiously on issues like this, and I think you‘ve done a lot to open up people‘s minds in terms of thinking about this strategically.  Thanks for joining us.

SCHNEIER:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  OK.  This is Iran this weekend—this weekend—six months after the government in Iran claimed it won a landslide victory in the latest election.  Tonight on the interview, I‘ll ask Trita Parsi if this is what the beginning of democracy looks like, or whether this is what the end of democracy looks like.

That‘s next.  Stay with us.


MADDOW:  If you have a second, watch this video.  This is kind of amazing.  This is eyewitness video, not shot by journalists but by participants and observers in a street war that is being fought by an opposition movement all over the nation of Iran.

I would say that the Iranian protest movement that riveted the world this summer is back, but it‘s probably more accurate to say that it never went away.  It started with that country‘s disputed presidential election in June.  That sparked weeks of protests and months of government crackdowns.

This weekend, a religious holiday and a period of mourning for a cleric who died a week ago brought the opposition back out into the streets again in huge numbers, bolder than ever—and as you can see here—to dramatic effect.

The government of Iran will not allow journalists to report on what is happening on that nation‘s streets, and so, I have to tell you we cannot independently verify these images.  The protesters are, in effect, reporting on themselves.  They‘re getting word out to the rest of the world over YouTube.

And the government‘s response appears to be its most violent yet.  At least eight protesters reportedly killed in clashes with police around the country this weekend.  Among the dead is believed to be the nephew of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the man the protesters believe won the presidential election back in June.  Hundreds of protesters have been arrested and, just today, opposition activists say authorities have rounded up at least seven prominent opposition leaders.

We‘ve seen many videos from Iran since the protests began six months ago, amateur videos uploaded to YouTube and thus reported out of the country.  But the images coming out of Iran this weekend include scenes like this, what look like members of Iran‘s militias, the Basij, penned in by an angry crowd and reportedly pleading for forgiveness.

There‘s also this one—one of a policemen raising his helmet in what looks like a gesture of surrender.  There‘s also this one of protesters apparently beating a member of the Basij while others in the crowd reportedly try to protect him, some reportedly shouting, “Let him go.”

It‘s images like this that have caused our next guest to ask if the protesters might not be winning now, if the mullahs might actually fall.

Joining us now is Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a contributor to “The Daily Beast,” and the author of “Treacherous Alliance.”

Trita, thanks very much for being here.  It‘s good to see you again.


MADDOW:  We haven‘t seen constant, large scale opposition activities since this summer.  But it does just seem to persist.  It keeps happening.  It‘s not going away.  Can you help us understand what this weekend means about the strength of the opposition? 

PARSI:  Well, Rachel, as you pointed out earlier on, this movement actually never went away.  We may have not paid sufficient attention to it, but it has always been there.  And their way of protesting and their way of defying the government is not necessarily just by organizing big demonstrations like this. 

They‘ve been continuing to defy the government throughout this period.  But precisely when there are holidays like this, when there are sanctioned protests, and when the government itself wants people to go out on the street, that gives them the opportunity to be able to do so in much larger numbers and with a certain level of protection. 

I mean, the government will have a very hard time telling people not to come out on the most important Shiite holiday of the year. 

MADDOW:  What can you tell us about the strength of the opposition movement, about who in Iran, what sectors of society, what groups of people, even what geographic parts of the country are places from which the opposition movement is drawing its support?  How strong is the movement? 

PARSI:  Well, let me put it this way.  The fact that six months after the fraudulent election the protests are continuing and, actually, in some ways, are gaining momentum, is an indication that this movement isn‘t going anywhere.  It‘s not going away.  It‘s still there. 

It‘s still challenging the government.  It‘s still depriving the government of any sense of normalcy.  And in a way, by virtue of not having been defeated, they have scored a major victory. 

MADDOW:  As I said, it‘s impossible to verify the authenticity of these videos that are coming out of Iran.  It‘s also hard to believe they aren‘t authentic given the content.  I know that you‘ve noticed some differences in the types of scenes that we‘re getting brought out of the country on these videos posted to YouTube, some differences in what we‘re seeing compared to what we saw earlier, for example, over the summer.  What looks different to you? 

PARSI:  A lot looks different.  And again, you‘re absolutely right.  All we can see is images, but also by talking to people, there are a couple things that stand out.  One is the boldness of the protesters.  If you take a look at these images, you probably notice that unlike this past summer, in which a lot of the protesters were actually covering their faces, now, it‘s actually the security people, the security personnel that tend to be covering their faces. 

The besieged are covering their faces and not the other way around.  Furthermore, there are more scenes of people from the security forces surrendering, giving up, turning to the demonstrators, to the protesters.  And we didn‘t see that, at least not in these numbers, back in the summer. 

So the morale of the protesters seems to be quite high whereas the morale of the security personnel seems to be plummeting. 

MADDOW:  Trita, President Obama today made a statement in support of the protesters.  Let‘s just hear a little snippet of that.  And I‘d love to get your reaction to it. 


BARACK OBAMA, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens.  For months the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. 

Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days.  The United States stands with those who seek their universal rights. 


MADDOW:  Do you think that President Obama is hitting the right note there?  Is there any risk to him making this sort of statement? 

PARSI:  There would be a risk if he was too explicit in saying he is siding with a particular political faction.  What he is saying is that the United States stands with those who are seeking their universal rights, which is always the case.  The United States is on the side of human rights. 

I think the statement was a positive one.  What is needed is to have more frequent occasions in which the president is talking, speaking out in favor of human rights and condemnation of human rights violations. 

There was a period, particularly during the negotiations between the United States and Iran, in which there was a perceived silence.  And that caused a lot of confusion. 

And a lot of people in the protest movement started to ask themselves if the United States actually is supporting them morally.  I think the statement today was positive.  It needs to be more frequent.  It needs to be a constant part of the vocabulary when talking about Iran. 

MADDOW:  Trita Parsi is president of the National Iranian American Council and contributor to “The Daily Beast.”  It‘s great to have your insight.  Thanks a lot, Trita.   

PARSI:  Thank you so much, Rachel. 

MADDOW:  So baggage handlers joining a union.  Scary, right?  That is what one leading conservative senator says he is most worried about in the wake of the attempted airplane bombing on Christmas Day.  Unionization.  That and other awkward Republican attempts to revive the glorious fear years, coming up with our friend Melissa Harris-Lacewell.  Stay tuned. 


MADDOW:  So everyone with a Muslim-sounding name should stand in a separate line at the airport.  And the TSA shouldn‘t have anyone in charge of the agency because the guy who could be in charge of the agency might unionize baggage handlers. 

Better to have no one running the TSA than that, right?  What decade is this anyway?  Melissa Harris-Lacewell joins us shortly to talk about some of the strangest responses to the Christmas Day bomb attempt. 

Plus, it‘s good riddance day in Manhattan and I‘m here in Manhattan.  We‘ll explore the possibilities later on. 

But first, a few holy mackerel stories in today‘s news.  Apple sold about 20 million iPhones this year.  Next year, sales are expected to double.  I‘m no communication device expert, but I am pretty sure that that‘s what people call a success. 

And nowhere has that success been more impressive than in New York City where it seems the iPhone has replaced the monthly metro card and the far away subway stare as the most necessary inconvenient tool for city living. 

But the retail success of the iPhone has turned into data overload panic faster than you can say 3G.  The excellent Web site, “Consumerist,” first reported yesterday that AT&T stopped selling iPhones on its Web site, but only to people who wanted one shipped to New York City. 

Could this be a really insulting blame-the-victim, low tech way to deal with AT&T‘s data overload problems?  Here in the city that never stops downloading, data sucking iPhones have reportedly overloaded data networks and caused delays in service and dropped calls. 

When asked about the mysterious halt on iPhone sales to New York City, a spokesperson for AT&T would only say this, quote, “We periodically modify our promotion and distribution channels.  Which may be business-ese for, “Give us 24 hours to make this slightly less embarrassing,” which AT&T did, first by blaming the sales blackout on an effort to reduce fraud and then by resuming the sale of iPhones to New Yorkers. 

Good move, AT&T.  They may have figured out there is no app for calming down angry, uncompromising New Yorkers that doesn‘t involve barricades and horses. 

And now for some very real, very blunt honesty in advertising.  Every single Republican senator opposed to the health reform bill when it was voted - every single Republican senator opposed the health reform bill when it was voted on, on Christmas Eve. 

And that includes the 24 Republicans who voted for George Bush‘s Medicare prescription drug expansion in 2003.  Now, that expansion in 2003, unlike the reform bill that‘s currently being debated, added tens of billions of dollars to the deficit. 

And this makes for awkward politics because many Republicans are citing worries about the deficit as their reason for voting against health reform now.  How do you explain the inconsistency, voting in favor of Bush‘s deficit ballooning bill and voting against Obama‘s deficit neutral bill? 

How do you explain that inconsistency?  It was explained rather well by Utah Republican Orrin Hatch this weekend.  Mr. Hatch told the Associated Press that back when they were voting on the Medicare expansion, like six years ago, he said, quote, “It was standard practice not to pay for things,” end quote. 

I literally had to double check and do some digging to be sure someone was not punking Sen. Hatch with that attribution.  But apparently, even not being punked, he said it to a reporter.  Back then, quote, “It was standard practice not to pay for things.” 

In the Bush presidency, with the Republicans in charge in Congress, it was standard practice not to pay for things.  This is going to make the 2010 campaign so much simpler. 

And finally, Sen. Jim Bunning of Kentucky, like every Republican senator, opposes health reform.  Just before the Christmas Eve vote in which the bill survived a Republican filibuster, the senator said, quote, “I believe we need to reform health care but this bill is not the answer.” 

So to Sen. Bunning, health reform was important enough to press release against but it was not important enough to show up and vote against.  Sen. Bunning‘s hometown paper, “The Courier Journal” in Louisville, reports that Jim Bunning was the only senator to not show up to vote on the health reform bill. 

Why did he not show up?  Because, quote, “The senator had family commitments,” as opposed to the 99 other senators who all along planned on spending Christmas Eve at the office. 

The “Courier Journal” put it best in their summation.  They called the senator‘s no-show on health reform a cap on a year of unusual incidents.  For example, Sen. Bunning has missed 21 votes this month alone including a vote on the defense spending bill which included provisions that he sponsored. 

Sen. Bunning also missed a bunch of votes in January.  Sen.  Bunning also weirdly predicted the death of a Supreme Court justice who, for the record, did not die.  And he swore at a reporter when the reporter pressed him on the issue of his bad, bad polling numbers. 

Sen. Bunning will not seek re-election next year, which will not save Kentucky from having to explain forever why they voted him in the first place. 



OBAMA:  The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep you and your families safe and secure during this busy holiday season.  


MADDOW:  President Obama today announcing efforts to step up security at the nation‘s airports and on its planes.  But when 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab allegedly tried to detonate explosives onboard that Northwest flight on Christmas Day, he was targeting an aviation system that currently doesn‘t have a chief of security. 

That‘s because President Obama‘s nominee to run the Transportation Security Administration, the TSA - that nominee has been held up by the minority party in Congress, specifically, at least in part, by South Carolina Republican Senator Jim DeMint. 

Jim DeMint‘s big complaint about the nominee, a man named Erroll Southers who runs the police force at the L.A. International Airport - his big complaint is that Mr. Southers might let TSA baggage screeners unionize and bargain collectively for better working conditions. 

After this latest threat to bring down an airliner, you might think that the whole opposition to labor unions issue would be an embarrassing reason to leave the TSA without a leader. 

If you thought that would be embarrassing, you‘d think differently from Sen. Jim DeMint.  Sunday on Fox News, Mr. DeMint was asked to join the conversation about President Obama‘s handling of terrorism whereupon Sen. DeMint volunteered his own thoughts on labor unions for baggage screeners. 


SEN. JIM DEMINT, (R-SC):  Chris, I am concerned because it‘s related to another issue that we‘re dealing with now in the Senate.  The administration is intent on unionizing and submitting our airport security to union bosses‘ collective bargaining. 

And this is at a time as Sen. Lieberman says that we‘ve got to use our imagination.  We have to be constantly flexible.  We have to outthink the terrorists.  


MADDOW:  Outthinking them apparently means making sure they have lousy benefits - the baggage handlers that is, because obviously they‘re the issue here.  Not to be outdone, here was Congressman Peter King of New York who, I must say, was very nice to me when I ended up on the same plane as him at one time.  But here is how Peter King reacted to the Christmas bomb plot news on Fox News this Saturday.  


REP. PETER KING (R-NY):  There are situations like this where we are afraid of being accused of profiling.  The fact is, while the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding people, on the other hand 100 percent of the Islamic terrorists are Muslims.  That is our main enemy today. 


MADDOW:  A hundred percent.  You do the math.  If you‘re starting to feel like maybe this is more about politicking than it is about counterterrorism, consider this meme being taken to its logical conclusion by conservative talk show host, Mike Gallagher, speaking, you guessed it, on Fox News. 


MIKE GALLAGHER, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST:  There should be a separate line to scrutinize anybody with a name Abdul or Ahmed or Muhammad.  


MADDOW:  And if somebody‘s middle name is Hussein?  But what do we do then?  The fear card turned up in the Michigan governor‘s race, too, when Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who is the Republican candidate for governor in the great state of Michigan, took the occasion of the Christmas Day bomb plot to send out a fundraising letter, a fundraising letter specifically asking people to send him money because of the Christmas Day bomb plot. 

He said, quote, “I understand the real and continuing threat radical jihadists pose to our great state of Michigan and our great nation.  I have pledged that I will do everything possible to prevent these terrorists from coming to Michigan.”  Please send me money.  I wonder if Pete Hoekstra could have raised even more money if the bomb had actually gone off.  

Joining us now is a person I can assure you would do everything in her power to defend Michigan, Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell.  Thank you for interrupting your holiday in New Orleans and joining us. 


AMERICAN STUDIES, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY:  Absolutely.  Happy to be here. 

MADDOW:  Pete Hoekstra sent out a fundraising plea saying, “There was this bomb plot.  Please send me money.  Only I can protect you.”  Like a few other things in today‘s news, I thought it was a joke at first.  Is there no line of political decency on these things that people are worried about crossing? 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, I mean, the notion that the GOP would have worries about politicizing terrorism is clearly sort of a seven or eight-year-old worry that, you know, we‘re clear that what the GOP sees as its clear sort of ability to attack the Obama administration is on this question of national security and terrorism. 

They can‘t, as you were just speaking about earlier, go after him on the economy.  They handed him a tanking economy.  They did so apparently because it wasn‘t common practice to pay for legislation in the previous administration. 

And so, you know, it‘s sad, but there is a way in which this terrorist plot, which did not take any American lives - you know, they saw, I think at least some members of the GOP clearly saw as a holiday gift, an opportunity to once again put terrorism on the agenda some place where they think they are strong. 

MADDOW:  I agree with you in the sense that I believe that Republicans would love to make national security and terrorism a political issue.  They feel like that would be - that would help them in 2010.  And at the same time, I‘m completely mystified by Jim DeMint. 

Jim DeMint might be the presidential nominee of the Republican Party.  He‘s this rising star in national Republican politics.  What he does, other senators do soon thereafter. 

And here he is proudly proclaiming that the real issue in the TSA is the labor unions, and he‘s blocking the nominee to be the head of airline security.  It seems like there‘s got to be a political cost on the other side of that.  At least, I would expect there would be. 

HARRIS-LACEWELL:  Well, you know, maybe our first question is like, “What is going on in South Carolina?”  You know, this is our second South Carolina legislator making real news this year.

But I think the other thing is a kind of position towards working people, right?  What does it mean that you think we are safer if the people who work for us in airports are less well-paid, have fewer benefits, have less security. 

It‘s a bit like saying, “You know, let‘s be sure that we put our children with child care providers who aren‘t unionized and don‘t - “ oh, actually we do that, right?  We put our children with child care providers who, in fact, don‘t get good benefits. 

I mean, it‘s a backwards sort of way of thinking that the people who are serving the thing most precious to us, our children, our lives, in airports, that they would be paid insufficiently, that they would have less job security.  In fact, exactly what we want is the opposite. 

Now, there are arguments on both sides about unions, but clearly the idea that we are safer if our baggage handlers, you know, are paid less is ridiculous. 

MADDOW:  And the idea that that‘s your winning political argument, a chance for an anti-union argument, is that there was an attempted bomb plot.  It‘s just - it‘s twisted. 

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, associate professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University, thank you for talking with us and allowing us to see your analogy wrap back on itself live television.

All right.  Coming up on “COUNTDOWN,” Keith Olbermann looks back at “COUNTDOWN‘s” favorite stories of the year, including the revenge of Levi Johnston and the year in everything Blagojevich. 

Next on this show, forget the champagne.  What you really need for New Years Eve is a giant shredder.  Kent Jones explains.  Stay with us. 


MADDOW:  We turn now to our ritual destruction correspondent, Kent Jones.  Hi, Kent.

KENT JONES, POP CULTURIST:  Hi, Rachel.  These long rough year is about to come to an end.  It‘s time to throw some stuff overboard, get rid of it.  Check it out. 



JONES (voice-over):  Happy good riddance day.  Today, in Times Square, people were encouraged to write down anything that weighed them down over the past 12 months and then shove that piece of paper in an industrial shredder.  Or you can whack them with a sledgehammer.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t forget the hammer.  

JONES:  Instant karma reversal. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Last year, we had a lot of good riddance to George Bush.  This year we have a lot of people looking forward to say good riddance to job hunting and things that have to do with the recession. 

JONES:  But this my - I surveyed THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW staff to find

out what would most like to shove into the shredder of history.  Some of

the most popular responses - Bernie Madoff.  Thirty-four holiday bowl games

play off people, play off.  Mafia Wars, Carrie Prejean, author, Jon, Kate, Jon & Kate plus or minus eight.  Religious people who want to cure gay people. 

Michelle Obama‘s arms are arms, not guns.  The words “confuzzled”

and “hella.”  The Appalachian Trail.  Orly Taitz, valid birth certificates

any combination thereof.  All Nazi references not about actual Nazis. 

“Transformers II,” audience 0.  The Snuggie, the Neckie, anything you wear ending in “ie.”  Sarah Palin, Twitterer.  Plastic push through gum packages.  So annoying.  Teabags meaning anything other than a bag containing tea. 

And because we have the kind of staff we have, number one, the New York Yankees.  2010‘s going to be awesome.  


MADDOW:  I love that people were also shredding drunk Twittering.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  My three broken ribs is great.  A “Cocktail Moment” for you. 

JONES:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  Today, the Lake Champlain Bridge, which goes between New York and Vermont, was imploded safely and beautifully.  Watch.  Watch it. 

Oh, I know that stuff gets imploded all the time.  But I could watch safe implosions all day long.  It‘s the end of the year kind of satisfaction.  Watch one more time.  One more time.  Go, go! 

JONES:  Into the shredder!

MADDOW:  That does it for us.  Thank you, Kent.

JONES:  Sure. 

MADDOW:  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.  Good night. 



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