Guests: Rep. Charlie Melancon, Linda Tollner, Jim Meade, Kent Jones
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST, COUNTDOWN: And now, to discuss her latest “Geek Week” extravaganza, an up close look at the rebuilding at World Trade Center site, ladies and gentlemen—here is Rachel Maddow.
You wouldn‘t want to take “Geek Week” to the Gulf and try to figure it out, would you?
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: I‘m not a good enough week to be down there in any capacity other than being somebody—being in somebody‘s way.
OLBERMANN: I think you‘re—I think you‘re overrating the other geeks. You have your own hardhat.
MADDOW: That‘s true, actually. I now have a new one. Anyway, thank you—
OLBERMANN: Oh, yay.
MADDOW: Thank you, Keith. Appreciate it.
And I want to thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
There‘s a lot of news going on in the world right now, a lot of news going on in the world today and a lot of news going on right now. Just in the next few minutes, we‘ve got very big news coming up on “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”
Plus, “Geek Week continues—as Keith mentioned.
But we‘re going to begin tonight with the really big question that is facing the country right now: Did the top kill work? The answer? Don‘t know. Sort of looks like it‘s working—maybe? That seems to be as far as anybody‘s willing to go at this point.
Here‘s what it looks like at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico right now. B.P. was forced to suspend the top kill procedure at one point today. They‘ve now resumed pumping cement into that well. They say it will likely be another 24 hours or so before they know for sure if it worked.
If the top kill has worked, if it does work, if there‘s no longer any oil leaking from that pipe, this may be the right time to ask the next big question facing the country: What damage has been done? It turns out that the damage that‘s been done is way worse than the damage we thought had been done. Remember when B.P. said the blown out well was leaking 1,000 barrels of oil a day? It turns out those were the days.
Then B.P. said it was actually more like 5,000 barrels a day. And now, it turns out those were the days, too. Because now, a federal team created to come up with the best estimate of how big this disaster is says their most conservative assessment, looking at what‘s on the surface and what they‘ve been able to see coming out of that pipe, they‘re most conservative assessment is more like 12,000 barrels per day, 12,000.
Not 1,000, not 5,000, but 12,000 -- 12,000 barrels of crude oil pouring into the Gulf of Mexico every single day. That‘s their conservative estimate. Between 12,000 and 19,000 barrels a day, they say, is a reasonable range. It could be as high as 25,000 barrels a day.
So, the damage, the pollution, the threat, might be 25 times worse than what we were initially told.
Even if you take the most conservative informed estimate of the size of this spill now, that means this is the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. More oil has been spilled into the Gulf than what the Exxon Valdez spilled in Alaska in 1989. And when I say more, I mean twice as much.
So, let‘s say that top kill worked. Just for argument‘s sake, let‘s say B.P. manages to cap that well right now, this instant. If that happens, congratulations. We now graduate to the next level of disaster. Dealing with more than twice the amount of oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez in the Gulf of Mexico, getting it off the shore and out of the wetlands where it‘s already come in. Keeping the rest of it offshore and getting it out of the Gulf.
In terms of getting all that oil out of the Gulf, things also appear to be way worse than we thought. You might remember last week when scientists on board the research vessel The Pelican said essentially: don‘t be consoled by the lack of oil on the surface of the water because we think we found huge amounts of oil suspended underwater, in those big vertical undersea plumes. Remember that last week? They describe these big blobs essentially, these plumes floating well under the surface of the water.
The largest one that they described last week was 10 miles long, three miles wide and 300 feet thick. Today, scientists say they have found one like this -- 22 miles long, more than six miles wide, and about 3,000 feet thick. This is the largest plume of oil under sea that they know of right now.
So, again, even if the top kill works, stopping the leak doesn‘t make the leak suck this stuff back down or anything. What do we do about this? How do we get rid of this?
This is in the Gulf of Mexico right now, and who knows how many other plumes there are like it. Not to mention this—this is what‘s happening on the shore already: miles and miles of marshland coated in oil.
Just like with the leak itself, we know it is B.P.‘s responsibility to contain the oil, to keep it off the shore, to clean it up. But just because this part of the disaster doesn‘t have to happen 5,000 feet below the sea, doesn‘t mean anyone knows how to do this part of it safely either.
Workers have been hired to do cleanup of the beaches and the coastal waters that have been hit by oil already, and at this point, seven of those workers have been hospitalized because of the toxicity of the material that they are working with.
Even if that well is capped right now, what harm is being done to the people who are working in the cleanup? How much harm has already been done to the Gulf from the oil that‘s sitting out there now? And how do you get that oil out of there?
How do you keep these oil-coated suffocated wetlands that are essentially the life jacket that keeps Louisiana from drowning? How do you keep them, now they‘ve been hit by oil? How do you keep them from dying and eroding into the sea?
That gushing well needs to be plugged, but once the oil stops coming out, this disaster is not over, it is only just beginning. That is the reality for the people of Louisiana trying to imagine living through this disaster and for all of us who believe that defending Louisiana is defending America.
It is a reality that was put in stark, raw emotional relief today by Congressman Charlie Melancon who represents that area.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE MELANCON (D), LOUISIANTOLLNER: The recovery phase is just as critical as the response phase. Our culture is threatened, our coastal economy is threatened, and everything that I know and love is at risk. Even though this marsh lies—along coastal Louisiana, these are America‘s wetlands.
Excuse me. I‘ll just wish to submit for the record. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thank the gentleman, and every member of our committee and every American is praying for the people of Louisiana and the people of the Gulf. It‘s just an unimaginable tragedy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Joining us now is Congressman Charlie Melancon, whose district essentially is the map of this disaster‘s most directly affected areas in southeastern Louisiana. He has just traveled from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans.
Congressman, thank you so much for joining us tonight. I really appreciate your time.
MELANCON: Thank you, Rachel.
MADDOW: Sir, you were obviously emotional during that congressional hearing this afternoon. Can you tell us what sort of impact this disaster is having on the ground in your district?
MELANCON: Well, after Katrina and Rita and, of course, Gustav and Ike, this entire coastal region that has been beset by these catastrophic events, the last thing they needed was something of this magnitude and especially something that could be environmentally detrimental that could go for decades and not knowing. The people that I know down along the coast that make their living there, I‘ve hunted and fished in all these marshes and coastal areas all my life. My son, I hope to have my grandson be able to do it, it is heartbreaking. It‘s heart-wrenching.
Today, when I got to the meeting to make a statement, I started hearing what I heard after Katrina, and that was the finger-pointing episodes of “I‘m going to blame you, I‘m going to blame you,” and the anger built, the frustration that was already there was at a peak level. My staff will tell you, I‘ve not been the friendliest in recent weeks because I guess it‘s just all built up in me.
But I see us going down that same political path, the path that America‘s tired of, the path that the people of Louisiana are tired of. We just need to buckle down, go do what we need to do, and we‘ll worry about apologizing for it or taking blame for it later. You know, pull ourselves up, let‘s go do it.
That‘s what these fishermen want to do. That‘s what these people in the coastal areas want to do. Give them the ability to save that which they love, where they make their living, and it‘s so important to this entire state and this nation.
MADDOW: Congressman, the focus right now, it‘s obviously still on the response effort, trying to plug the leak that is still, as far as we know, may still be leaking with—the conflicting reports about what we‘ve heard about the top kill and its success. But even if the success—even if the top kill does work, an enormous recovery effort lies ahead. Not only protecting the areas that are on the marshlands and on the coast from the oil that‘s still out there in the Gulf, but getting that oil out of the Gulf and cleaning up the areas that have already been hit.
What do you think is the most imminent challenge, what are you most focused on in terms of making sure that that cleanup and protection effort works?
MELANCON: Well, right now, the most important thing obviously is plugging this hole, stopping that, and then we can work with whatever that quantifiable amount may or may not be, and start protecting the marshes and doing those things.
The people of south Louisiana are resilient. They‘re not giving up. They‘re in fighting mode. They want to do what it takes to preserve and save that which is important to them. And I want to be there with them.
We‘re not getting anywhere by just playing the politics of who can do and who can‘t do. There‘s laws that—and we‘ll find out tomorrow where the president may or may not be handicapped.
This is not Katrina. This is not a natural disaster. We need to hold B.P.‘s feet to the fire, hold them accountable.
We also need to look at the government and the people within the government that allowed for waivers of the law. I couldn‘t get rules waived to help the people of New Orleans in this region after Katrina, and that agency waived the law. That‘s—it‘s unthinkable. I can‘t imagine.
But we need to, while we—main focus right now is plug the hole, simultaneously continue and try to continue to figure out what it is that will protect America‘s wetlands, these coastal marshes that are so important to this country. But a lot of people didn‘t know and I didn‘t know, the parishes along this coastline in Louisiana, if they were rated as an economy, would be 29th in the world -- 29th in the world. That‘s how important we are to this country.
It‘s about something that‘s precious to me, something that‘s precious to the people in south Louisiana, and for that matter, it should be for everybody in Louisiana.
MADDOW: Congressman Charlie Melancon of Louisiana—thank you for your time tonight, sir.
MELANCON: Thank you.
MADDOW: Everybody in the country right now has a little bit of their heart in your district.
MELANCON: Thank you.
MADDOW: Thank you.
All right. In addition to the riveting news on the B.P. disaster today, today was also the big day on a civil rights issue that has been simmering on at least one of the proverbial political burners in our country for at least 17 years. “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” today is the day. Big vote in the Senate, big vote in the House.
So, what happened? It‘s actually still happening right now this second and we‘ve got the very latest live from Capitol Hill—next.
Also, “Geek Week” continues inside the largest construction site in the country building the largest building in the country, in a place where a lot of people thought nothing would ever be built again. Double (INAUDIBLE) concrete, rebar the size of your arm, and the weirdest place for a sandwich shop ever.
Please stay tuned.
MADDOW: We are expecting a live vote in the House of Representatives on the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” imminently, live. Stay with us. We‘ll be right back.
MADDOW: Breaking news from Capitol Hill tonight, where the House of Representatives is expected imminently to vote on an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill that would repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” pending Pentagon review. The vote provoked some strong words on the floor tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
REP. JOHN LEWIS (D), GEORGITOLLNER: “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” what does it mean? It didn‘t make sense then and it doesn‘t make sense now. Just like the military help ended segregation based on race, we should have put an end to “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” long ago. It is an affront to human dignity and to the dignity and worth of every man and woman serving in our military.
We cannot wait. We cannot be patient. We must end discrimination in the military and we must end it now. Discrimination is wrong and we must end it.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Today, by repealing the discriminatory “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy, we also honor the service and sacrifice of all who dedicated their lives to protect the American people. We honor the values of our nation and we close the door on fundamental unfairness. I urge my colleagues to vote for the repeal of this discriminatory policy of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” and make America more American.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: The amendment would kick in after the Pentagon study on how to repeal policies released on December 1st. Essentially, the amendment makes repeal contingent on that Pentagon review that‘s due in December. It‘s also contingent on certification by the president, the secretary of defense, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” would not harm militant readiness.
Now, this vote in the House comes just hours after the Senate Armed Services Committee voted 16 to 12 to also repeal the policy legislatively contingent on Pentagon review and certification. Now, all the Republicans on the Senate committee except for Senator Susan Collins of Maine voted to keep the policy in place. All the Democrats on the Senate Armed Services committee except for Senator Jim Webb of Virginia voted that the policy should be repealed—again, pending Pentagon review.
Once again, the House is expected to vote any minute now on an amendment to repeal the 17-year-old “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy that bans gays and lesbians from serving openly in the United States military.
Joining us now, our NBC congressional producers Ken Strickland and Shawna Thomas, both of whom have great jobs and both of whom I kind of idolize.
Ken and Shawna, thank you both for your time tonight. I really appreciate.
KEN STRICKLAND, NBC CONGRESSIONAL PRODUCER: Sure.
SHAWNA THOMAS, NBC CONGRESSIONAL PRODUCER: Thank you.
MADDOW: Shawna, what‘s going on in the House right now? What do you expect in terms of the timing on the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” amendment?
THOMAS: Well, right now, they are in a series of votes that are multiple amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill. The “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” amendment is fifth in the series. The bells ringing means they‘re on the second one. So, we could have another 30 minutes until we actually get to that bill, to that amendment.
MADDOW: And in terms of the—I guess, in terms of either of you with your reporting on the Hill today, are either of you able to report anything about the numbers, about the likelihood of a repeal, that repeal amendment passing? When Speaker Pelosi was speaking there, it sounded like it was done, that it was going to pass.
THOMAS: No. I talked to multiple Congress people and it‘s a done deal on the House side. This amendment‘s going to pass tonight. The Defense Authorization Bill as a whole tomorrow may be something different. But the amendment‘s going to pass tonight.
MADDOW: Ken, let me ask you the significance of the vote in the Senate Armed Services Committee today. That passed. The vote was 16 to 12. Will that amendment survive? Again, that‘s just a committee vote, not the full Senate voting on it.
STRICKLAND: Sure. Sure. Here‘s the way the Senate works and you know the rules around here. If you learned anything from health care, we know that the rules around here are very complicated.
But for the people who support this, the repeal of this ban, this vote today was significant, and here‘s why: once you get an amendment placed in the bill before it goes to the—before it goes to the floor and faces the full Senate, it‘s a lot harder to take that measure out of the bill. So, people who oppose this measure to repeal the ban will then basically be forced to try to kill the entire bill.
The Defense Authorization Bill has a lot of goodies in it for a lot of people. Most importantly, it has pay increase for people in the military. It also has things for all the future weapons systems, planes, trains, automobiles, boats, ships, fighters, it‘s all in there. So, it‘s really hard to not pass this bill.
In most cases, the Defense Authorization Bill always passes. Not every time, but in most cases.
So, at the end of the day, people are going to have to decide: is it a vote for the military or is it a vote against the military? Do they want to block this for one single issue? It remains to be seen.
MADDOW: Is there anything else more controversial than usual about this particular Defense Authorization Bill other than “don‘t ask, don‘t tell”? Or is this a fairly standard authorization bill?
STRICKLAND: Shawna or—
THOMAS: I think it‘s a fairly standard authorization, but one of the other amendments being voted on right now has to do with an engine that there‘s been a little controversy about, that the secretary of defense says he doesn‘t want the money for. Other groups have said they don‘t want the money for. But there are certain Congress people that have those companies in their district that do want the money.
So, there are a couple of other things, but this seems to be what people are focusing on.
STRICKLAND: If I could say something about the Senate side, the bill has yet to go before the full Senate. It‘s yet to go to the floor. So, that means more amendments can be added.
In some cases, this is a very local bill, depending on what type of senator you are, where you‘re from. There could be something in there for building of ships in your state. Whether or not that‘s in there can determine your support.
So, on the Senate side, it remains to be seen if there will be another amendment that‘s offered that can be a poison pill or something that could secure votes. Again, in the Senate, Democrats and the supporters of the repeal of the—the repeal of the ban would need at least one Republican. Remember, it always takes 60 in the Senate to pass anything controversial. They‘re going to be looking for at least one Republican to join them to pass this bill.
MADDOW: NBC News congressional producers, Ken Strickland and Shawna Thomas—I know you guys much prefer being behind the scenes, feeding us information rather than being on camera. So, thank you for breaking your rule. It‘s great to have you both on the show.
STRICKLAND: Thank you.
THOMAS: Thanks, Rachel.
MADDOW: All right. We will be keeping an eye on what‘s going on in the House tonight to let you know when and if the vote comes up, we‘re looking for a final tally on the House amendment on repealing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” contingent on Pentagon review. That is all happening right now. They‘ve been going through this process throughout the night, including a voice vote earlier, and then a recorded vote later. We‘re keeping an eye on it.
“Geek Week” is still to come. I get a chance to construction geek out and to security geek out at a place where it is amazing, the country doesn‘t know much about what‘s going on—given that it is a site of national symbolic and historic significance.
Much geekery—all coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: You guys in New York City can‘t get a hole in the ground fixed and it‘s five years later.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has always had a knack for saying things that upset people. But when in 2006 he said, hey, New Yorkers it‘s been five years since 9/11 and essentially ground zero is still a hole in the ground, part of the reason that set people on edge is because it really seemed true.
Well, now, next year, we‘re looking at 10 years since the 9/11 attacks and what‘s happening at the World Trade Center site anyway? Turns out it is the largest construction site in the United States. They are building the tallest building in the United States here, and the security stuff going on down here? Mind bending. This is very, very, very large scale geek. Come on.
So, this is the One World Trade Center site. And we‘re here with Lynda Tollner, who is the project manager for the overall One World Trade Center project.
Linda, thanks very much for your time. I can tell you‘re very busy.
LYNDA TOLLNER, PROJECT MANAGER, ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER PROJECT: Yes.
MADDOW: Give us the—give us the overview about what we‘re looking at here. What‘s the big picture on the site here?
TOLLNER: We‘re looking at toward what‘s not my site. What you‘re seeing here is the number one line subway, is this box up at our level here.
TOLLNER: And underneath it, we‘ve been underpinning and digging below to capture that space, all the while the subway is operating.
MADDOW: So, the subway line already exists and you‘re building around it. So, people riding the one train through this station.
TOLLNER: Go right through our site.
MADDOW: Go right through all of this.
MADDOW: Blissfully unaware, hopefully.
MADDOW: Now the building at the base here, this is the One World Trade Center Tower.
MADDOW: This is going to be the biggest building in the United States?
TOLLNER: The height of the building is actually the same height as the original World Trade Center Tower One. But then the antenna puts it at 1776, for the height.
MADDOW: In terms of doing a building project of this scale on this site, specifically here—obviously, we‘re surrounded by working, living New York as it was and is. What are the specific challenges of trying to build something this big and a site that this contained?
TOLLNER: It‘s very challenging. All of our programs overlap. Sometimes, we do things for each other. I liken it to putting 10 kids in a 10 by 10 sandbox and giving each one of them a shovel and saying work with each other.
TOLLNER: There‘s a lot of coordination that has to go on between all the different stakeholders on the site because we do have operating people, the one line, the traffic around the site. They‘re taking down Deutsche Bank Building.
MADDOW: Deutsche Bank Building is the one down right—
TOLLNER: That‘s the blue shadowed building. That‘s the Deutsche Bank Building.
MADDOW: And the Deutsche Bank Building was damaged in 9/11 and hasn‘t been brought down yet and has to be brown down quite carefully.
TOLLNER: Yes. Next to that building there is the security center. They‘re doing work there. We just finished building our slurry wall. And we‘re going to start excavating.
MADDOW: What‘s a slurry wall?
TOLLNER: So, the way they build this slurry wall was—they want to build the wall 60 feet down. So, they start digging a hole with a special tool, and it‘s about 20 feet at a time, three feet wide. They dig down. They go into rock if they have to, depending on the design, and as they‘re digging, they‘re filling the hole with a slurry. The slurry keeps the soil from collapsing.
TOLLNER: So then after they get the hole down to where they need it to go they‘ll build a re-enforcement cage on the site 60 feet tall. They‘ll lift it up, drop it into the hole, drop it into the slurry.
TOLLNER: Then we‘ll pump concrete into the hole. The concrete is heavier than the slurry. So they‘ll pump the slurry out as they‘re pumping concrete in.
MADDOW: The concrete goes in the slurry bubbles out.
TOLLNER: Slurry bubbles out.
TOLLNER: You take the slurry out, you will fill it up to the top with concrete. And you keep doing that with your 20-foot sections all the way around to create the backup, and then you can excavate the site without water infiltration because we‘re below the water line here.
MADDOW: So that‘s why you need a bathtub all around here.
TOLLNER: We need a bathtub to keep the water out, yes.
MADDOW: This isn‘t supposed to be land, really.
TOLLNER: But we‘re engineers. We can make that happen.
MADDOW: Excellent. So we‘re standing here at the base of what‘s going to be One World Trade Center, and it‘s clear that the bottom part of the building is different than the top. This first couple hundred feet of space doesn‘t look like it‘s going to be office space. How is it different?
TOLLNER: This bottom level here, this area here at the very lower level is the lobby. It‘s a very tall lobby. It‘s about 50 feet tall. Above that is several levels of mechanical space, electrical equipment, mechanical equipment. So our first office space is about 187 feet up and we call that the 20th floor.
MADDOW: So the 20th floor is the first floor where people are going to work.
MADDOW (voice-over): The reason there won‘t be offices below the 20th floor? In short, it‘s because everyone‘s worried that once again this site will be a target for terrorism. But One World Trade Center is a really, really, really hardened target. And I mean that literally.
TOLLNER: The base is built out of 60-foot-long, 70-ton steel columns.
As well as super-compressed concrete, really, really dense concrete—
14,000 psi. That‘s twice as strong as the kind of concrete used in most office buildings.
MADDOW (voice-over): When we get up to that 20th floor, the focus of the day today, we‘ll be talking about how they build a core that will hold the other 82 stories up on top of that super-hardened base.
MADDOW (on camera): So, Linda, tell me what these guys are building here. What‘s this sort of meshwork of rebar?
TOLLNER: OK, what you‘re looking at here is our north floor. These
are sheer walls, concrete walls and what they‘re doing is they‘re placing
re-enforcement, rebar, and they‘re tying it off according to the design.
And what you‘ll see later is something like what you see here.
MADDOW: So this is essentially the spine of the building.
TOLLNER: Yes. It‘s a fully concrete floor. There‘s pumps we put down in the street, and we‘re pumping concrete up the center floor.
MADDOW: But you need to have a spine that‘s this—I mean what looks remarkably overbuilt in a comforting way.
MADDOW: You need to have a spine this intense because the building is so tall and so massive..
TOLLNER: Because it‘s so tall and so massive.
MADDOW: So in terms of trying to understand this steel core, if
anybody at home has, like, dealt with rebar before, they probably felt like
I‘ve dealt with this. Like, there‘s some of this in my house. When you measure rebar, you were calling that a four bar earlier. What does that mean in terms of size?
TOLLNER: It‘s four-eights of an inch. Four-eights of an inch, so a number 11 bar is 11/8ths of an inch in diameter.
MADDOW: So a four is what most people are used to.
TOLLNER: Right. That‘s half. That‘s number ten.
MADDOW: Number 10, 11. This is a 20.
TOLLNER: This is a 20 bar.
MADDOW: And this is the spine of One World Trade Center.
TOLLNER: A lot of 20 bars down below. We have 20 bars going each way that probably weigh, I don‘t know like 18 pounds a foot. About 2 ½ inches in diameter.
MADDOW: That‘s—I am a 90-pound weakling but that‘s about all I can manage with that. So you not only have this running vertically. You have this running vertically and horizontally down below.
TOLLNER: Down below, yes. Up here I think is only vertical.
MADDOW: You know that size 20 rebar we‘re talking about in terms of the steel spine of the building in order to get up 1776 feet in the sky? What you‘re looking at behind me here, that‘s not pipe, those aren‘t hollow.
That‘s that rebar. That‘s solid steel all the way down and all the way up, in a lot of cases, crosswise too. Wow. So this is the largest construction site in the country, and, of course, at the heart of this construction site is the site of the World Trade Center tower that came down on 9/11.
Now, we can sort of tell from up here, we‘re about six levels up now -
construction levels. You can see the footprints of the original towers.
Now, that‘s—the footprints of the original towers are going to be the memorial sites, right?
TOLLNER: Those are the memorial pools, there‘re going to be waterfalls cascading down the sides of the depressions. What you can see now on the one pool is the black stone going up. The other pool, we‘re not quite as far along but you can definitely see the two pools and the plaza in between the two pools. There will be trees covering this plaza for the most part.
MADDOW: And then underground in between the footprints of the two buildings, in between the two memorial pools will actually be the museum about the event.
MADDOW: What‘s incredible, what you don‘t realize until you‘re up here looking down on it, is that what this site feels like, essentially that‘s all at ground level and even below, and everything else around it, all of these other towers, all of these other buildings, including One World Trade Center where we are now, sort of stand guard around this low ground, this street level ground that is going to be both open space and sort of solid space.
TOLLNER: Yes. It‘s going to be a beautiful space.
MADDOW: When do you expect to get all the way to the top?
TOLLNER: Well, with steel we should be up there in early ‘12. 2012 with everything else following behind.
MADDOW: Can I ask you one really weird totally pedestrian question?
MADDOW: You‘ve got thousands of construction workers in here. Everybody‘s sort of working on the same schedule, obviously you‘re working in daylight. What happens at lunchtime?
TOLLNER: A big exit to get lunch and come back.
MADDOW: Doesn‘t it take hours for everybody to get down and get lunch and then get back up?
TOLLNER: It does take some time. We have to put extra people at the gates to scan people back in, yes.
MADDOW: Is there anywhere to eat up here?
TOLLNER: Our steel contractor brought in a trailer with a Subway—outfitted with a Subway sandwich shop and as soon as I get enough power they‘re going to be able to come up to eat at the top.
MADDOW: The very highest concepts of American symbolism and the very lowest concept of American guttural needs at all at once in the same giant building. Thank you so much for your time—
TOLLNER: Thank you so much.
MADDOW: -- and for explaining this. And I‘m sorry that I‘ve taken this much time away. I hope it wasn‘t on autopilot while we were here.
TOLLNER: It was wonderful talking to you. Come back.
MADDOW: I will.
MADDOW: I will.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Still ahead, more Geek Week. Plus, our reporting from last night on how the response to oil disasters hasn‘t changed in 30 years. That reporting turns up in Congress today to very intense effect. That‘s ahead.
Also there‘s more geeking I swear, coming up. Yes.
MADDOW: Here is the state of Hawaii. Here is the island of Oahu. Here‘s Honolulu, which is Hawaii‘s capital city, and here north of Honolulu on Kaneohe Bay is a big Marine Corp base. It used to be called the Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay. The day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, that naval air station at Kaneohe Bay got hit first, got hit seven minutes before Pearl Harbor did.
A chief petty officer named John Finn was in charge of the weapons on a squadron of PBY planes at that air base at that time. Now PBYs are planes that are also sort of boats. They fly like a plane, they land on the water. They can move in the water like a boat. PBYs were also bombers and they were also mounted with .50 caliber machine guns.
Now when the Japanese attacked on December 7, 1941, John Finn woke up to the sound of the attack. He raced to the hangars where his PBY planes were stored and there he found most of the planes already on fire on the ground. Some of the men from the squadron were actually trying to use the .50 caliber machine guns that were mounted in the burning planes to shoot at the Japanese fighters.
These huge machine guns were not designed to be used without something to mount them on. Hence, the clamoring over the burning planes to try to use them from those. But John Finn found an instruction stand. It wasn‘t supposed to be used for combat. It was supposed to be used as a stand to train people on how to use that gun.
John Finn grabbed a machine gun. He grabbed that instructional tripod as a makeshift mount, and he ran out into an open lot so that he could get the best possible shot at the Japanese planes that were attacking Hawaii. He went out in the open as the planes strafed that lot and the hangar over and over and over again.
John Finn was hit with shrapnel in 21 places. Shrapnel or bullets went through his chest, his belly, his arm, and his foot. He held that machine gun position in the open and kept firing at the attacking planes for two solid hours until the last Japanese plane was gone.
John Finn survived all those wounds. He stayed in the war. He was the first person awarded the nation‘s highest combat award, the Medal of Honor in World War II. John Finn died early this morning in San Diego. He was 100 years old. Mr. Finn will be buried with full military honors alongside his wife at the Campo Indian Reservation near California‘s border with Mexico.
And this upcoming weekend is a three-day weekend in America for a reason.
MADDOW: And now a quick check of our Viewer Mail Bag. Viewer Wyatt writes, “Dear Rachel, you don‘t ever seem to use the highlighter that‘s always visible on your desk during the show. Is it just a prop?”
The highlighter is not a prop. I keep the highlighter here because if you put two highlighters together, it makes a light saber. It‘s not a prop. It‘s my light saber. Thanks for writing, Wyatt.
MADDOW: So Geek Week travels. Geek Week went to Tennessee where Kent Jones talked to a scientist with an unusual or should I say disgusting collection. Ew! Hi, Kent.
KENT JONES, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Rachel. So why is a professor of paleontology from East Tennessee State University part of Geek Week? Well, it might be his enormous, meticulously-cataloged collection of poop.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES (on camera): If there is a hall of fame for poop, this man is in it. Professor Jim Meade. It is a pleasure to be here.
JIM MEADE, PROFESSOR, EAT TENNESSEE STATE UNIVERSITY: It‘s wonderful, but don‘t call me professor, just call me Jim. I—you know, studying this material, it‘s best just to call me Jim.
JONES: Keeps you down to earth.
MEADE: It keeps me down to earth, yes.
JONES: So in total, how many pieces do you have in all?
MEADE: How much dung do we have?
MEADE: Between 800, 900 -- actually, 900 to 1,000 specimens from every continent almost.
JONES: That is a [ bleep ] load.
MEADE: It is a lot.
JONES: Why is poop important?
MEADE: Well, I mean the dung is important if you have certain questions. So if you want to know what an animal ate, maybe why it died, you need to look at the dung because this is what was tossed out of the animal. OK?
MEADE: So if you want to identify the dung and know what animals were there, then you need to reference it to something. Compare this to that. You say, oh, I have such and such dung.
JONES: Pick out a few of these and discuss these with me.
MEADE: Here, this is—
MEADE: This is African elephant, loxodonta, and you can see it doesn‘t chew things very well. It‘s a very poor chewer. It just stuffs in 600 pounds, pumps out 500 pounds, and that‘s what it is. This would be a rhino.
MEADE: And rhino—
JONES: Little smaller than the elephant.
MEADE: Yes. This is long and stringy, and this is grass mainly. This rhino, it‘s a browser. So it‘s clipping things off. So everything looks like broken up match sticks. Well, that‘s diagnostic. It‘s a different shape, too, even though it comes screaming out the other end. It‘s a little bit different shape.
JONES: So the rhino will actual chew the food perhaps more—
MEADE: Like mom said, 13 times and then gulp it down. Elephant? Not doing that.
JONES: The other thing, the rhino flosses. When you get a new sample, what do you do?
MEADE: Pick it up and smell it.
MEADE: Okay, and why that? Well.
JONES: Yes, why that?
MEADE: Well, this sounds strange too but if it is older than about 5,000 years, it takes on a different smell. Sort of like a wine. Think of it as wine.
JONES: Now I am thinking of it that way. Yes.
MEADE: And if it‘s really old, it has a sweeter smell.
JONES: Sweeter? Older is sweeter?
MEADE: Trust me.
JONES: Believe me, I do. You‘re the man on this.
MEADE: If it‘s younger than that, it really does smell acrid.
JONES: I noticed the hyena here. Different color.
MEADE: Different color.
JONES: What‘s going on there?
MEADE: It‘s white because it‘s chewing up so much bone.
MEADE: So if your pet poodle or whatever you had munched down on lots of bone it, too, would produce heavily carbonated white chalky poop.
JONES: Poor gazelle for instance.
MEADE: Poor gazelle. Lots of gazelle, yes.
JONES: What do you get out of all of this?
MEADE: I get out of it the science and a chuckle. I mean—
MEADE: Let‘s face it. You got to have fun doing what you‘re doing. You got to laugh. But if the questions are what animal was living in this area a long time ago that‘s dead, that‘s kind of cool that you are reconstructing a past environment.
So I get a kick out of that. I kind of like to, I mean, the fossil bones, you know, these bones behind here, we can reconstruct what the animal looks like but to say this is what its diet was, well that‘s kind of cool. And if we can say well not only was it eating oak but it lived in a pine forest or whatever, that‘s kind of cool.
So in some ways I‘m living in the past. It‘s just that it‘s a smelly past.
JONES: So I wanted to go look for some poop myself so we came out to the grave fossil site. Jim, what‘s going on back here?
MEADE: Well, what we got going is this is the excavation and the material dates about 4.5 to 7 million years old.
MEADE: Million years old. All that black sediment is representing a pond with essentially a marsh area and it had rhinos and tapirs. Tapirs that we were just looking at with the dung.
JONES: Oh, yes, the tapir poop.
MEADE: We might be able to find it here. Tell you what, why don‘t we go down and they‘re actually digging down there. Let me show you what it looks like up close.
JONES: Tapir poop?
MEADE: We hope to find tapir poop. We got to find it.
JONES: Let‘s go. Come on. What cool thing is going on over here?
MEADE: What they‘re doing is hunting for the bones of all the different types of critters here and that‘s really important, reconstructing the community. What I want to see is poop.
MEADE: So we got to kind of put on different glasses and what the excavators are doing is they‘re going to be looking for plant fibers that seem to have kind of a shape to it. Okay?
JONES: The shape again.
MEADE: The shape. We‘re back to the shape. And if they can find that then they‘re going to say okay, Jim, is this a pile of rhino poop or tapir poop or what? So then when you think about it we go back to the lab and say, OK, are these twigs clipped? Are these twigs all in alignment and probably washed there by the water? Do we have potential tapir poop? And that of course would make me very happy.
JONES: So here‘s a question, if I were to find tapir poop . . .
JONES: Would that be an appropriate Christmas gift?
MEADE: That would be fantastic. You can‘t ask for anything better than that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Wow. That was amazing.
MADDOW: I love when he‘s searching for a random animal to talk about.
He‘s like say if you had a poodle.
JONES: A poodle.
MADDOW: A poodle. Can‘t be a lab. Can‘t be a cat. Anyway. Cat.
JONES: Too close.
MADDOW: That‘s amazing. I‘m sorry you always have to do the poop stuff, Kent, but that was really cool.
JONES: It‘s my destiny I guess.
MADDOW: I love you, man. All right, thank you. Coming up on “Countdown” Keith asks the host of sci-fi science on The Science Channel about the science of stopping the Gulf oil leak and we will be right back.
MADDOW: What you‘re looking at right now is a live vote count in the House of Representatives. The House, the full House is voting on an amendment that would repeal the Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell policy which bars gay men and lesbians from serving openly in the United States Armed Forces.
Right now the number you‘re looking at here, see where it says totals there, democratic, republican, independent, and then totals? You‘re looking under the yeas and nays columns there under totals. Well, right now at 210 yes‘s, 180 no‘s. If that yea‘s column goes from 210 to 217 or higher, now it‘s at 211, then the Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell repeal amendment will have passed the House of Representatives.
Earlier today it passed the Senate Armed Services Committee. It is similar language that is passing, looks to be on its way to passing the House right now. If it happens again it will be to vote for legislative repeal of Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell. But the repeal, itself, will be contingent on Pentagon review.
The Pentagon is in the midst right now of reviewing the Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell policies repeal. That review—the review of how to repeal it is due on December 1st. The way this language is written, the way the language is written they—what will happen is that the report will have to be completed. The Pentagon will have to review it. The president will have to review it, and then the president and the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will have to certify that it is consistent with military readiness to repeal Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell.
They have now done it. They have now gone over the top. They needed 217. They now stand at 219 votes in the House of Representatives, 220 to repeal Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell. Again, this is an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill. The Defense Authorization Bill essentially sets aside money for the Pentagon.
It‘s all sorts of Pentagon spending, it‘s a multi, multi, multimillion dollar bill. It‘s the sort of thing that almost always passes. Republicans, not all of them, but republican leadership are so opposed to the prospect of Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell being repealed that members of the Senate like Roger Wicker from Mississippi and John McCain of Arizona have said that they will not only filibuster the Defense Authorization Bill in order to prevent this Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell repeal amendment from becoming law, they will not only filibuster the Defense Authorization, Pentagon spending, they will not only—they‘d rather not have a military than have a military that allows gay people in it.
They will not only filibuster. They are planning to do everything in their power as Senators to stop this from becoming law. Obviously the political calculus here is that democrats wanted to get this done in Congress before the November elections. It is a historical axiom that in the first mid-term election after a president is elected, the opposing party gains seats in the first mid-term election.
Every one except for two since the Civil War that has happened in the first mid-term election after the election of a new president. And so republicans are expecting to gain seats both in the House and the Senate. Democrats wanted to get this done before that happens but again, repeal, itself, contingent on that Pentagon study about how to repeal the bill and certification from the president, the Secretary of Defense, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that repealing this 17-year-old policy will not be contrary to the standards of military readiness that the United States intends to maintain.
Again, right now the vote 229, well more than—well over the 217 vote threshold the House need to pass this repeal of Don‘t Ask Don‘t Tell amendment. This is not over but this is a huge, huge step.
That does it for us tonight. “Countdown” with Keith Olbermann starts right now. Have a good night.
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