Guests: Richard Engel, Morgan Loew, Clancy Dubos
KEITH OLBERMANN, “COUNTDOWN” HOST: Good evening, Rachel.
RACHEL MADDOW, HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thank you for that.
And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.
We do begin tonight with the president signing into law a $600 million bill to increase security along the U.S.-Mexico border. It‘s an effort to toughen border enforcement even though, as Mr. Obama‘s homeland security secretary pointed out today, the fact is that the problem of illegal immigration—as reflected in immigration enforcement—the problem hasn‘t gotten any worse over the last decade.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Everything that is supposed to be going up is going up, and everything that is supposed to be going down is going down. Seizures are up and rose across the board last year. Apprehensions, or illegal crossings, are down.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It is sort of taboo to say these days. It‘s at least against the common wisdom. But the illegal immigration problem in America is not actually getting worse. It‘s just that the people who like to say it‘s getting worse—despite the facts—are complaining about it a lot louder now.
And as their complaints get louder and louder and louder—despite the facts—their complaints are starting to go get stranger, too. In our newsroom here at our offices, I can‘t watch it because I‘m really, really easily visually distracted.
But everybody else who works on THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW, everyone who works like in our little newsroom hub, always has all of the other cable networks on during the day to monitor the news during the day. I don‘t, but I‘m easily distracted.
And I was walking past one of our banks of monitors one day this week and I just stopped dead in my tracks on front of this on CNN. “Terror babies?!” That was the topic of discussion on Anderson Cooper‘s CNN show last night.
Terrorist babies. Really? Hats off to Mr. Cooper, actually, for discussing and debunking this conspiracy theory.
But the theory itself is amazing. The idea is that very farsighted terrorist foreign ladies are coming to America to have babies here. Why are they doing that? They‘re doing that to get their terrorist spawn born in America—so that the terrorist baby will be born as a U.S. citizen.
Then the terrorist baby will to toddle home and be raised as a terrorist toddler and then a terrorist child and then a terrorist teenager, and so on, and eventually, it will come back over here 20 or so years later and use its terrorist baby American passport to enter this country and carry out terrorist attacks. Ta-da!
These very, very farsighted terrorist uterus wielding ladies are not apparently supposed to be terrorists themselves. They are just terrorist baby incubators. They are terrorist baby mommas.
As farfetched as the terrorist babies theory may seem—I know, right
it‘s the latest anti-immigration point of hysteria on the right.
And I do—again, hats off to Anderson Cooper. He ably debunked this. But, nevertheless, the terrorist baby theory is still being given a voice on the floor of Congress.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT ®, TEXAS: They would have young women who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby, they wouldn‘t even have to pay anything for the baby, and then they would return back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, 20, 30 years down the road, they could be sent in to help destroy our way of life.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: See? You thought I was exaggerating. You thought that I was using hyperbole. I was making it sound more kooky than it is.
When Louie Gohmert says it, he actually makes it sound more crazy than me paraphrasing it.
They wouldn‘t have to pay anything for the baby, he says. Then they would return back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. Terrorist babies—sure, they look like babies.
Clearly, we have to repeal the 14th Amendment so babies born here, any babies, are no longer U.S. citizens, to protect us from the terrorist babies. It‘s amazing.
You know, fear is a tried and true political strategy. Scaring people about foreign threats, the treats posed to you and your way of life by people who look different than you, no matter how tiny those people are—it‘s a well-worn strategy in conservative politics to stoke fear like this.
The problem is that trying to scare the electorate about immigrants, in particular, is always a tempting strategy for conservatives, but it never really pays off. At least it doesn‘t anymore. It doesn‘t seem to work that well anymore, electorally speaking. And that‘s because demographically, it‘s done.
In 2004, exit polls showed that a whopping 44 percent of Hispanics cast their votes for Republicans. Two years later, when the anti-immigration rhetoric got too tempting again for conservative politicians, when the anti-immigrant “be afraid” stuff got ratcheted back up, that number cratered to 29 percent. Republicans managed to make up a little ground in 2008, taking 31 percent of the Hispanic vote, but any white voters that Republicans picked up from the “be afraid of the scary brown people” strategy, they were not enough to prevent a huge drubbing for the Republican Party that year.
Now, the people who are trying to scare away people for political gain aren‘t strategically stupid. I mean, they‘ve seen these numbers, too. Anti-immigrant politicking feels good to a party that likes to run on fear, but anybody can tell it doesn‘t work. Just ask “President Tancredo.”
Smart Republicans know how to read these numbers. This is not a mystery. You will hear smart Republicans articulate that same phenomenon that I just described. Republicans know this.
So, how come they keep going back to the anti-immigrant stuff in election years? What else could be driving them to these harsh anti-immigration policies despite their best electoral interest?
Last night on this show, we talked about how one of the unheralded direct impacts of Arizona‘s “papers, please” law is that it would have in all likelihood put millions of dollars per month into the hands of the private prison industry—specifically a private prison company called the Corrections Corporation of America. CCA holds the contract to imprison federal detainees in Arizona.
How do you get to be a federal detainee in Arizona? Well, when you‘re picked up in Arizona and you get detained on an immigration charge—that means you get set to a CCA prison, which is a for-profit entity that gets paid by the government to hold you.
CCA could potentially reap huge financial benefits from Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signing S.B. 1070, since 1070 was designed to lock up a lot more people in Arizona on federal immigration charges. Cha-ching! And that is really convenient given that two of Governor Brewer‘s top advisers have direct connections to the Corrections Corporation of America.
As the CBS affiliate KPHO first reported and we talked about last night, Governor Brewer‘s deputy chief of staff used to be a lobbyist for CCA. His wife is currently a registered lobbyist for CCA. Also, one of Governor Brewer‘s policy advisers, the man who runs her campaigns, owns a firm that represents CCA.
So, Governor Brewer signing S.B. 1070 into law—which, again, would result in more immigrants being arrested and detained—potentially benefiting this prison company linked to a pair of her advisers in a very big way.
Now, it turns out there‘s an even more direct link between S.B. 1070 and the private prison industry which stands to benefit from S.B. 1070. Do you remember who introduced S.B. 1070 in the first place? Somewhere deep in your memory bank on this issue is the name Russell Pearce. He‘s the Republican state senator in Arizona who pushed through S.B. 1070. It was really his baby.
Russell Pearce is chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee in Arizona. He‘s a powerful guy in the state legislature. And his connections to the industry that is licking its chops at the prospect of more arrested immigrants, and therefore, more profit in Arizona—his connections to that industry are even more stark than those of Jan Brewer.
Joining us now to explain is the reporter who‘s been doing much of the leg work on this story, Morgan Loew, with the CBS affiliate in Phoenix, KPHO.
Morgan, thanks very much for coming back on the show.
MORGAN LOEW, KPHO REPORTER: Rachel, it‘s my pleasure.
MADDOW: I think people nationally connect S.B. 1070 with the governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer. What is the connection between Russell Pearce and S.B. 1070?
LOEW: The idea behind S.B. 1070 is something Russell Pearce has been thinking about for years. In fact, in 2006, he introduced for the first time a bill that would make it a state crime for an illegal immigrant to be in Arizona. Back in 2006, that actually passed our state legislature, but then-Governor Janet Napolitano vetoed it.
This time around, he had a Republican governor, one who was apparently looking for a big issue—immigration became a big issue in Arizona a few months ago, even bigger than it had been before. She signed it into law, increasing her popularity among Arizona residents, and making Russell Pearce even more powerful.
MADDOW: We talked about Governor Brewer‘s connections to the private prison industry, specifically to Corrections Corporation of America last night. What are Russell Pearce‘s financial connections to that industry?
LOEW: We just look through his financial reporting sheets this afternoon, and he enjoys support from the private prison industry. The political action committees funded by the two private prisons that have contracts at the state of Arizona have both donated in the last year the maximum amount allowable to Russell Pearce. He‘s also made money from the lobbyists who work for those companies as well as the other private prison industries, businesses out there.
And the thing that‘s funny about Russell Pearce is he‘s running for
re-election. He could get reelected without spending a dollar, he‘s become
so popular. So, he‘s sitting on about $73,000 in his campaign war chest—money he really doesn‘t even need to use.
MADDOW: As I understand it, Mr. Pearce, looking ahead at this point, has a far political horizon. He‘s not just looking toward his next re-election. He seems to be a relatively ambitious political figure in Arizona.
Given that war chest, given the expected ease of his re-election effort, Morgan, is there an indication of what Russell Pearce plans to do next on this issue?
LOEW: Well, after he successfully passed S.B. 1070, we looked through about two months of his e-mails. He‘s a public official. We had a right to look through his state e-mail account.
And in it, we started seeing a pattern of an initiative that he is planning to push forward, and that is this birthright citizenship abolishing, you know, the 14th Amendment movement that you referred to earlier in your presentation. His idea is to enact a bill in Arizona that would deny children born to illegal immigrants birth certificates for Arizona. That is something he plans to push potentially next year.
Who knows what he‘s going to use that money for? But he‘s got money he could use to push the issues that he‘s looking toward.
MADDOW: Morgan, am I also right in thinking that Russell Pearce was the man behind the effort last year to privatize all of Arizona state prisons?
LOEW: He was. He sponsored that legislation, and we looked through his legislative record, and it looks like as far back as 2003, he was pushing legislation that was calling for the privatization of state prison beds. I think 1,000 beds back in 2003, another 1,400 before that.
But the biggest one is the bill that you just referred to, which would have handed over our entire prison system to the private prison industry.
Now, that bill was vetoed, but another bill passed that essentially did the same thing. Last year, our prison system would have, in a sense, most of it would have been handed over to the private prison industry, but none of those companies would come forward to bid on them.
Morgan Loew, investigative reporter with CBS affiliate KPHO, in Phoenix, Arizona—thank you for your reporting and for your time in helping us connect these dots at the national level, Morgan. We really appreciate it.
LOEW: Rachel, it‘s my pleasure.
MADDOW: A sitting senator, sitting U.S. senator, who is a family values politician, got caught paying hookers in order to cheat on his wife. The senator, even though he got caught, has thus far paid no political price for that—at least he hadn‘t before today. Today, he apparently has had his past catch up with him. That‘s next.
MADDOW: By the end of this month, U.S. combat troops will be gone from Iraq, gone. The war, as we‘ve known it for more than seven years—the war that changed America even as it completely changed Iraq, that war will be over. NBC‘s Richard Engel just interviewed the general in charge for the United States in Iraq as we are leaving that country.
Richard Engel live from Baghdad—coming up.
MADDOW: This is the way that Louisiana Senator David Vitter has tended to turn up in the past couple of years, when he does turn up on cable news. This is a short clip that you have to wait until the end because, naturally, he is the punch line.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: See if you can spot the irony in this particular line of questioning being pursued by this particular United States senator.
SEN. JOHN ENSIGN ®, NEVADA: Do you think that the incentives that are set up in firms like Goldman Sachs are the proper incentives to have folks engage in ethical behavior?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, I think Goldman Sachs works hard to engage in ethical behavior.
ENSIGN: I didn‘t say that. Do you think that those incentives are there that lead to ethical behavior?
MADDOW: Imagine what it was like in the Republican cloakroom before this hearing.
OK, who‘s going to go after these guys for unethical behavior?”
“Who‘s going to go after these guys on ethics?
John Ensign, are you up for it? John Ensign, currently under federal investigation with ethics charges in regards to shtooping your employee and your former staffer‘s wife? John Ensign, you want to be out ethics point man here?
Hey, David Vitter, you want to go after them on hookers?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: That‘s the way David Vitter has been making his appearances recently on cable news, actually, over the last couple of years. Senator David Vitter crusaded against Bill Clinton for him having had an extramarital affair. Senator Vitter campaigned for his office on the basis of his own purportedly superior family values.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA: Bottom line, for the sake of our children, there‘s a lot of things I‘m going to change.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great, David. You can start by changing Jack.
VITTER: I‘m David Vitter, and I approve this message.
Marriage—it‘s often said, but it‘s very, very true and is worth repeating—marriage is truly the most fundamental social institution in human history.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
MADDOW: After proclaiming—once David Vitter got elected, after proclaiming his own good family values and his stern disapproval of other people‘s bad family values, David Vitter then got caught up in a prostitution scandal or two. His name turned up on the phone list of the D.C. madam, and David Vitter apologized.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VITTER: I want to again offer my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past. I am completely responsible, and I‘m so very, very sorry. No matter how long ago it was, I know this has hurt the relationship of trust I‘ve enjoyed with so many of you and that I have a lot of work to do to rebuild that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: You know, sometimes when politicians show up on client lists at the local hooker emporium—especially if they‘ve been a family values campaigner—sometimes, they have to quit. But not David Vitter.
About a year after he stood alongside his wife apologizing, he stood with former Idaho Senator Larry Craig—another Republicans—co-sponsoring the marriage protection amendment so marriages like those of David Vitter, the hooker guy, could be protected from the grave threat of same-sex couples being allowed to get married too.
Well, David Vitter‘s coffee-out-the-nose stunning hypocrisy has led to him being sort of a national joke on the Internet and on cable news. It really hasn‘t had much of an effect on his political career in Washington, in Beltway circles. It‘s like everybody‘s afraid to mention the hooker thing. They all pretend like it isn‘t happening.
At least they did. Someone has now finally cross the Rubicon with David Vitter and the hooker problem and some of his other women problems. Crossed the Rubicon right square in the middle of Senator Vitter hypocri-stan along with the senator‘s troubling record on other issues.
Check this out.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. CHARLIE MELANCON (D), LOUISIANA: I‘m Charlie Melancon, and I approve this message.
ANNOUNCER: We know how David Vitter handled his serious sin, and when Vitter staffer violently abused his girlfriend, Senator Vitter let him keep his job, working on women‘s issues.
David Vitter on women—he voted against equal pay for equal work, against coverage for mammograms, even against protections for women raped on the job.
David Vitter, for women, his serious sin isn‘t even his worst.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: David Vitter‘s Democratic opponent in the November election, Charlie Melancon, has finally pointed out the big elephant for hire in David Vitter‘s political living room. He has also set up two Web sites to go after Senator Vitter—SeriousSins.com and ForgottenCrimes.com. I cannot believe those URLs were not already taken.
Joining us now from New Orleans is Clancy Dubos. He‘s owner of “Gambit Weekly.”
Mr. Dubos, thank you very much for you time.
CLANCY DUBOS, GAMBIT WEEKLY OWNER: Good evening, Rachel. It‘s a pleasure to be here.
MADDOW: Does David Vitter have a sort of standard way to respond to an attack like this? It seems to me like people in politics have actually been pretty shy about going after him on this issue?
DUBOS: Well, I think there are two reasons. First of all, Vitter has two modes of response. When he‘s caught by the press or cornered by reporters, he tends to run and duck. He went into hiding for weeks after the prostitution scandal broke. And after the latest scandal involving his staffer attacking the girlfriend, he went into hiding for a week or so.
But when opponents attack him, he tends to fire back—at least with equal ferocity. In fact, when he was a state representative, his own colleagues gave him the nickname “Bitter Vitter.” And I think people know, if you‘re going to tangle with David Vitter, you‘re in for a fight because he‘s sort of epitomizes that old adage about no rules in a knife fight.
MADDOW: I was going to ask you, if one of the reasons that David Vitter keeps surviving - keeps surviving things that a lot of other people wouldn‘t survive—is because he has backup from the GOP in the state, because the state party and power brokers in the state party really like him. But you‘re saying that they‘re more afraid of him than they like him?
DUBOS: I think people—the Republican Party in Louisiana likes, or loves, the Governor Bobby Jindal. They tolerate David Vitter.
I don‘t think David Vitter has that many close, close personal BFFs in the Republican Party. They know him for what he is, but they do like the fact that he‘s a conservative, he‘s a senator. He‘s the first Republican U.S. senator from Louisiana since reconstruction. So, they like that. So, they tolerate everything else.
MADDOW: What do you anticipate will be the impact of Charlie Melancon going there essentially with David Vitter on an issue in which the press has gone after him but a lot of politicians really have not?
DUBOS: Well, I think this was inevitable. I think Melancon decided to fire back when Vitter attacked him with a commercial. Both of these men coincidentally have to survive their own respective party primaries, but both of them are expected to do so. So, it‘s almost as if Vitter and Melancon are looking past the August 28th party primaries and already going at each other. I think we can expect is an increase in temperature, which is kind of a Louisiana tradition.
MADDOW: Do you think that this attack on this particular type of issue, though, will resonate with Louisiana voters? Is this—are those things that are brought up in the very hard-hitting ad, are they the sort of thing that voters are receptive to hearing about, that they‘re likely to react to, or is there a possibility it will backfire?
DUBOS: I don‘t think it will backfire. First of all, just everybody in Louisiana knows about hooker-gate for David Vitter, and most people probably know about the staffer, although they might not know all of the details.
I think that ad—if you look at it closely and listen to it just once or twice more, you will see that—in my opinion—it‘s aimed directly at women. And I think polls have shown that, if Vitter has a weak underbelly, it is with women voters. Women voters who will not like his hypocrisy, will not like his phoniness on family values, where he wrote an op-ed about Bill Clinton not being morally fit to be president, and the whole time since then was—mingling with hookers and paying for sex. And women just have a short fuse on that understandably.
And then this latest round with the aide who stabbed his girlfriend and threatened to kill her, and then Vitter kept him on. I think he punished him for a week. He suspended him for one week and then put him back on and put him in charge of women‘s issues.
I think a lot of women are going to respond to that by having some very serious concerns about David Vitter. And I think Melancon knows that‘s part of Vitter‘s underbelly.
MADDOW: Clancy Dubos, the owner of “Gambit Weekly,” joining us from Louisiana—thank you so much for your time tonight, sir. We really appreciate it.
DUBOS: A pleasure, Rachel. Thank you.
MADDOW: So, the National Democratic Party has put together what is probably its most potent, most effective, most devastating anti-Republican political hit in at least a year. They have done it. Naturally, they have released it on a Friday in August. It‘s still a kick in the teeth, though. That‘s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT: Was worth it, that it achieved results and why?
GEN. RAY ODIERNO, COMMANDING GENERAL, U.S. FORCES, IRAQ: First, I would say, my answer to that question is: it‘s still yet to be determined. And I believe that Iraq, if you just look where Iraq is on a map, you realize how strategically important it is to stability to the Middle East. And I think, if we get this right, I think overall stability will improve in the region, which means it will translate to the United States in my mind.
ENGEL: But it‘s still an open question because if it—
ODIERNO: It is.
ENGEL: If we don‘t get it right—
ODIERNO: It is.
ENGEL: -- then it was not worth it.
ODIERNO: Yes. I mean, again—
ENGEL: Is that—
ODIERNO: Again, what I‘m saying is the result we‘ll know in three to five years is what I‘ve always said.
ENGEL: Three to five years from now?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: NBC chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel speaking with Army General Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, about whether or not the Iraq War was worth it, whether or not the Iraq of the future, the Iraq of 2013, 2014, 2015, will be a stabilizing force in the Middle East, and whether that will translate to additional national security for the United States.
On September 1st, the war in Iraq ends. It‘s over, not metaphorically or symbolically, but really actually over. The security agreement between the Bush administration and the Iraqi government dictates that the U.S. combat mission in Iraq ends September 1st, 2010. All troops will have to be withdrawn next year.
At some point after the initial invasion of Iraq, which was justified by false claims that Iraq had had a hand in 9/11 or that Iraq was an imminent threat to attack us with weapons of mass destruction, at some point after those claims sank under their own lying weight, the Iraq war justification changed.
It was no longer the WMD claim that Paul Wolfowitz admitted was just an ostensible reason for us going. At some point they started selling us instead the idea that war could be a force for good, that war there could be constructive, that it would and could and should have a positive effect on Iraq and the greater Middle East because an invaded, conquered, occupied Iraq could be a spark for Democratic hope in the Middle East.
That became the guiding vision for why we were there for so long. We couldn‘t leave because things were bad. We had to keep doing war there until war there made it better there.
Yet we are leaving now, and we are leaving now not because things magically reached a point where it was magically OK for us to go. Things are not drastically better this month than they were last month or the month before that.
September 1st is not the day on which bombs will magically stop exploding in Iraq. We‘re going now because we said that we would go. That is the way the Afghanistan War will likely end as well, unless our politics about that war get even less coherent than they are now.
Looming over the ends to these wars is the recognition that, at least as the Iraq war ends, so too does the end - so too ends the narrative that an elective war could be constructive, an elected war could turn things around and make a broken place better.
What‘s different now than it was before is the acknowledgement of the United States that the success and the future of these countries where we have been fighting, that success, the future of these countries, is not up to us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ODIERNO: We have to allow Iraq to do that. We can‘t do that for them. What we‘ve done is set the conditions, now, that allows them to do that.
And that‘s what I think we should be proud about, at least, from a uniform perspective, is that we believe that we‘ve now provided the space and time for the political process and the economic process to start moving forward. It‘s now time for them to grab on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: The space and time. We‘ve provided them the space and time. It‘s now time for them. So says the top U.S. commander in Iraq, as the U.S. combat mission there ends. If that sentiment sounds familiar to you, it‘s because you‘ve been very good and you‘ve been paying attention.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIG. GEN. BEN HODGES, UNITED STATES ARMY: We have enough to do what we have got to do in Kandahar, assuming at that time Afghans step up and do their part.
MADDOW (on camera): If they don‘t?
HODGES: Well, then, we‘ll have given them the best chance they‘ve ever had.
MADDOW: We will have given them the best chance they‘ve ever had, says Brig. Gen. Ben Hodges in Afghanistan. We can‘t do it for them, says Gen. Ray Odierno in Iraq. This is new. Hearing that about both wars, maybe it‘s a whole new world. NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel joins us live from Baghdad, next.
MADDOW: What you are seeing here is the first flight home for the last U.S. combat brigade leaving Iraq. They‘re leaving Iraq bound for the United States. This footage was shot just hours ago by NBC‘s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel and crew, who are live right now for us in Baghdad. Mr. Engel joins us now, where it is in the wee hours of the morning in Baghdad. Richard, thank you so much for getting up so early to talk to us.
ENGEL: Hey, it‘s my pleasure, Rachel. If I get up early, do I get a “Mr. Engel.” Is that the way it works?
MADDOW: I can call you uncle. I can call you professor, whatever you like, Richard. You‘ve earned it at this point.
Let me begin with that footage that we just played there. I know you shot that earlier this evening. What specifically are we seeing there?
ENGEL: We‘re seeing American combat troops, the - some of the last combat troops that are in this country, getting on a plane tonight and leaving and going home.
Now, according to the plan, all American combat troops are supposed to be out of this country by the end of this month, and we are seeing the first flight directly back to the United States of the last combat brigade in Iraq.
MADDOW: What will the U.S. presence look like in Iraq after all of the U.S. combat troops leave this month? Obviously, there‘s still going to be another 50,000 Americans there, but they are very specifically described as non-combat troops. What will their mission be?
ENGEL: There is not only a new mission. There is an entire new war, if you will. The Operation Iraqi Freedom, OIF, which began with the invasion in March 2003, will end at the end of this month with the end of combat operations.
What will start is something called “Operation New Dawn,” and that is a training mission. There will be 50,000 American troops here. They‘ll be working with the Iraqi police, intelligence services, the armed forces, to train them, to give them intelligence support, some logistics, and just trying to make sure that the Iraqi security forces can hold on to some stability in this country.
MADDOW: Richard, let me ask you about what Gen. Odierno said to you about the future of Iraq not being up to the U.S., that it‘s up to the Iraqis. Asking about the deadline to leave Afghanistan next year earns a similar response from U.S. authorities talking about that war now. When you hear that, is that new to you? Is that a change from the way these wars were talked about during the Bush administration?
ENGEL: What you‘re hearing now is more trying to put the responsibility on the Iraqis. And I think that comes when you feel that you‘ve done everything you can do. What the U.S. has done right now in this country - they toppled Saddam Hussein. Iraqis are still thankful about that. Saddam was really that bad.
They built credible institutions. They built credible Iraqi security forces. And Iraqis and the U.S. military speak with great sincerity when they think that their army right now is infinitely better than it was just a few years ago and infinitely better than it was under Saddam Hussein.
But what the U.S. has not been able to do is create government. They have not been able to bring political institutions here or in Afghanistan. And I think there is a realization that is something the U.S. military can‘t do. The U.S. military can create other militaries, but it can‘t create political systems that are accepted by people in Iraq or in Central Asia or anywhere else in the world.
And I think that is something that they are perhaps just realizing and saying, “We can‘t do it anymore. Now we need some grassroots support.”
MADDOW: How does that redound to the standard of living for Iraqi civilians right now, for what it‘s like just to live in Baghdad or to live in another Iraqi city, not having a functioning government? What‘s the standard of living like?
ENGEL: Iraqis are furious about this. They accept Saddam is gone. That‘s good. They accept that their security institutions are better and that life is safer on the streets.
But Baghdad is still no place anyone would want to live today. There are only a few hours of power. When the power comes, it arrives in waves and will often blow out any of your electrical appliances. It‘s not consistent.
And there is no one to call. People were coming up to me on the street while I was filming yesterday and saying, where is the government? The United States came, and they didn‘t build a government.
Now, the United States will say, “That‘s not our responsibility.”
At some stage the Iraqis have to step forward and do this for themselves. But there is a real sense of a political vacuum here, that no one is in charge and U.S. troops are leaving.
And if you look on the ground, there still is no government. There were elections in this country five months ago. The different political parties are still jockeying for positions and haven‘t been able to agree on a new prime minister.
That is a soft spot, is an inherent weakness, and it is something that the U.S. troops and U.S. military commanders are worried about but can‘t really do much about.
MADDOW: Well, that dissatisfaction in that vacuum - is it possible that that will lead to instability? Is it possible that civil war comes back to Iraq?
ENGEL: Civil war - Iraqis don‘t seem to want it anymore. A period of Sunnis killing Shiites and bodies in the streets - they had that for 2006, 2007. Unless there is a cataclysmic event, something that really sets off the - tears the fabric of society again, it is something that Iraqis tried and found incredibly distasteful and are very afraid of.
What could happen and what most people expect is you‘re going to have a series of - you‘re going to have a period of chaos, political assassinations, corruptions - corruption, the settling of scores. So perhaps not full-scale civil war where people are killing each other house to house, but a mafia-style state where you can do whatever you want and there is not a lot of law and order.
MADDOW: NBC‘s tireless chief foreign correspondent, Professor Richard Engel. Richard, again, thank you for the discomfort of staying up this late for us. It‘s great to see you. Thank you.
ENGEL: It‘s a pleasure. Thank you.
MADDOW: So there‘s something that Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and most people who have ever had taxes withheld from their paychecks agree about. And amazingly, the Republican Party of 2010 is not on board with that.
Happy birthday, social security. Have you met the Republican plan to reduce the deficit? Introductions are next.
MADDOW: It is the most popular government program in history.
Everybody who contributed to it wants it. Franklin Roosevelt created it. Dwight Eisenhower endorsed it with a funny word that he used from his writing his brother.
And today‘s Republican brain trust thinks it is time to pull the plug on that program. It is social security, and it is social security‘s birthday. And Republicans appear to be celebrating that birthday by handing Democrats a political gift about it. Please stay tuned for that.
MADDOW: If any of the men and women you know who are serving in the military overseas have been a little cranky lately, there may be a policy reason for that. Back in March, the Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act became law.
It was intended to keep kids from buying cigarettes through the mail by requiring that all tobacco shipments be sent express mail so the recipient would have to sign for the cigarettes and would have to be required to provide proof of age. No signature, no proof of age, no cigarettes. That‘s why the express mail rule was put in place.
The problem is the military doesn‘t accept express mail shipments overseas. So since June 29th, when the law went into effect, there‘s accidentally been no way to ship cigarettes to troops abroad.
And I don‘t care how you feel about smoking, if you are in uniform and you are stuck in some other country because you are in that uniform, if it turns out you also want a Newport, you should have a Newport.
This week the postal service announced that it will bend the rules and allow troops to receive their tobacco without having to sign for it so they will be lighting up again as early as August 27th.
MADDOW: So Democrats have done some of their very best politicking in a long time. Of course, they have done it on a Friday in August, so no one will see it. Ta-da! Welcome to why liberals have ulcers. If you are curious, though, here‘s what Democratic good politicking looks like.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: For 75 years, American seniors have been able to grow old with dignity and security. But Republicans want to change the system, risking social security in the stock market, privatizing it for corporate profits, pending guaranteed benefits or getting rid of it all together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: It‘s a potent argument and not just because the music turns creepy and the announcer guy‘s voice gets all sinister when he starts talking about Republicans.
It is a powerful argument even if he spoke pleasantly the whole time because social security is a very powerful political issue. It‘s a powerful social contract in this country. And quite frankly, the Democrats do have room to run on this right now because check out who they‘re running against this election cycle.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHARRON ANGLE ®, NEVADA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: We need to phase Medicare and social security out.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t know whether it‘s Constitutional or not.
It is certainly a horrible policy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let young working people opt out, the sooner the better.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don‘t fix it. You‘re saying don‘t do any of these fixes.
ANGLE: I‘m saying it can‘t be fixed. It‘s broken.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s a Ponzi scheme. They‘re taxing us to pay for the current generation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The idea that the federal government should be running health care or retirement or any of those programs is fundamentally against what I believe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Those are not random, like, speakers at tea parties or random activists we found in dark corners on the interwebs. Those are Republican nominees for the United States Senate, from the great states of Nevada and Colorado and Kentucky. And those are the views they‘ve expressed on camera about social security.
“It‘s a broken Ponzi scheme that needs to be phased out because it‘s wrong” - tell that to the 20 million Americans for whom social security means not living in poverty.
So the Democrats have found a good fighting words kind of issue to thump the other party with this Friday in August. The Democrat Senate campaign arm even has a handy interactive map on its Web site that shows you each state where a Republican who wants to mess around with social security is running for office.
Of course, the only excuse the Democrats have for bringing out this particular political weapon on a Friday in August when no one will see it is that there is a historical hook to the whole issue this weekend.
It is the 75th birthday of social security. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law August 14th, 1935. So the Democrats are presumably thinking, “Hey, maybe now‘s a good time to remember how awesome it is that social security is a thing we have now in America, thanks to FDR.”
It‘s also a good time to remember that social security and unemployment insurance were born at the same time, because, as luck would have it, both of those policies are under attack today from conservatives.
When FDR signed the Social Security Act 75 years ago, he made the case for the unemployment insurance side of it on two grounds. One was the moral imperative to help individual people who would otherwise fall off a financial cliff.
But the other was that it was a safety net for the entire economy, because tens of millions of Americans having zero purchasing power - they not only have to live off cat food as individuals, they also, with their lack of purchasing power, lock the economy into a downward spiral that the economy can‘t get out of.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT: The unemployment insurance part of the legislation will not only help to guard the individual in future periods of layoff against dependence upon relief, but it will, by sustaining the purchasing power of the nation, cushion the shock of economic distress.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Both of those arguments for unemployment insurance are as true today as they were then, especially since we‘ve just gone through the worst financial calamity since the Great Depression which, of course, was the context in which the Social Security Act was passed and made law 75 years ago.
But after 75 years of watching unemployment insurance work, conservatives are against it. And it‘s not just that they don‘t think unemployment insurance is good for the economy. They also disagree with FDR on the moral imperative part.
They don‘t think we should be helping people who might otherwise become homeless or, you know, living off cat food. This is the Republican line on unemployment insurance this year. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, for example, thinks people are unemployed because of unemployment.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JON KYL (R-AZ): That doesn‘t create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: See? Very sound logic. People are unemployed because there‘s unemployment insurance. The logic by which everybody who has homeowners insurance right now should be burning down your own house on a regular basis.
For his part, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah thinks anyone getting unemployment benefits deserves to be drug tested.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R-UT) (through telephone): You know, we should not be giving cash to people who basically are just going to go blow it on drugs.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
MADDOW: Also, everyone‘s favorite Senate hopeful, Sharron Angle, running to replace Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada - she thinks people who have lost their jobs are spoiled because of unemployment insurance.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGLE: That‘s what‘s happened to us is that we have put in so much entitlement into our government that we really have spoiled our citizenry and said you don‘t want the jobs that are available.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MADDOW: Also, don‘t forget Iowa Congressman Steve King, who said on the subject of extending unemployment benefits quote, “We shouldn‘t turn the safety net into a hammock.” Or Nevada Congressman Dean Heller whose super-offensive take on the unemployed was also super-strange.
“Heller said the current economic downturn in policies may bring back the hobos of the Great Depression, people who wandered the country taking odd jobs. He questioned the wisdom of extending unemployment benefits, quote, ‘Is the government now creating hobos?‘ he asked.”
So that‘s what today‘s Republicans think of the unemployed. People who don‘t have jobs are a bunch of lazy hobos who are probably on drugs.
Today my friend Steve Bennett at “Washington Monthly” pointed out another great historical detail about social security and unemployment insurance, which is that not only are today‘s conservatives still arguing with FDR 75 years later about whether these things are a good idea, whether or not America having a basic safety net is a good idea, whether or not we were better off before 1935, they‘re still having that same argument.
But people who would be today‘s liberals, the conservatives of the 1950s, in other words, like Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, those folks foresaw that politicians would keep resisting these programs. And Ike also foresaw the political disaster it would bring about for people who resisted them.
Steve Bennett today quoted a letter that President Eisenhower
wrote to his brother in 1954, quote, “‘Should any political party attempt
to abolish social security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws
and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political
history,‘ Ike said. The president acknowledged in the letter there are
some who advocate such nonsense, but added quote, ‘Their number is
negligible and they are stupid.‘”
“Their number is negligible and they are stupid,” end quote. I have to say as usual, I am, in theory, with Ike on this one. But calling today‘s Republicans stupid - that just seems very harsh and uncivil.
That does it for us tonight. We will see you again on Monday. Meanwhile, there‘s lots to add to what you see on this show. We‘re very proud of our excellent blog at “MaddowBlog.MSNBC.com.” Our E-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org and our free podcast is at iTunes. Have a great weekend. Good night.
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