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'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Friday, March 11th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Friday show

Guests: Kaori Enjoji, George Lewis, Dr. Edwin Lyman, Glenn Grothman, Talat Hamdani, Russell Simmons

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  One scientist said this morning‘s earthquake in Japan that sent tsunami shock waves to the California coast was like 700,000 nuclear bombs exploding at once.  But tonight, there is a real nuclear danger in Japan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We have some breaking news out of Japan at this hour.  There has been a massive 8.8 earthquake.

O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  Mid-afternoon, Tokyo, the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan leaves the nation‘s most high-tech nation in the dark.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We are talking about the fifth strongest record since 1900.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People are panic for precautionary measures.  A lot of train systems in Tokyo are stopped.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is back to Tokyo where we have gotten reports of fires.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Over a million buildings in Tokyo and surrounding suburbs are without power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) stand up.

O‘DONNELL:  Minutes later, the tsunami floods Japanese coastal towns.  The pictures are devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A 13-foot tsunami hit that area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Boats, cars and buildings and tons of debris inland.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS: Two hundred to 300 bodies have been found in the northeastern coastal areas.

O‘DONNELL:  It didn‘t take long for danger warnings to reach as far away as Hawaii and California.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A tsunami warning is now in place for the entire U.S. West Coast.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You are seeing pictures of the aftermath in Japan.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS:  White House chief of staff Bill Daley notified the president of the earthquake at 4:00 this morning.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Today‘s events will remind us of just how fragile life can be.  And we‘re going to stand with them as they recover and rebuild from this tragedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Southern California and many cities all across this state are already taking precautionary measures.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In Santa Cruz, a normally quiet marina looked more like a slow-speed game of bumper boats.

O‘DONNELL:  By afternoon, the devastation of collapsed buildings is just the beginning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This overheating nuclear reactor on the coast of Japan, and if they don‘t get this under control, the whole reactor vessel could explode.

O‘DONNELL:  Even scientists are struck by the awesome power of the event.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are talking about an event the equivalent of 700,000 nuclear weapons going off at the same time.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, “HARDBALL” HOST:  Seismic.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is a subduction zone where the Pacific Plate is sliding underneath of Japan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This earthquake is a planetary monster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from Los Angeles.

It is now Saturday morning in Japan, just past 10:00 a.m. local time, barely 19 hours since the world‘s fifth strongest earthquake in more than a century ripped across Japan.  Tonight, we‘ve learned nearly 500 people are known dead, nearly 600 more missing.

These are the newest pictures coming into us.  The main earthquake registered an astonishing 8.9 magnitude.  The ground setting on the area closest to the epicenter actually shifted up to 12 feet to the east.  The quake was centered about 80 miles off the east coast of Honshu, the largest and most populated island in Japan.  A million people live there.

In the hours since, there have been at least 100 aftershocks, with a magnitude of 5.0 or greater.  The disaster was amplified by a 23-foot tsunami that wiped out anything in its path—homes, cars, boats, and people.

And now, a new nightmare is developing at a nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan.  The amount of radiation at the plant has reached 1,000 times the normal level after the cooling system failed.  Three thousand people living near the plant have been told to leave immediately.

The Kyodo news agency is now reporting that the government is ordering the plant to release pressure.  In other words, radioactive vapor is going to be heading into the atmosphere to help to try and stop a meltdown of the plant.

And in this country, fears of additional tsunamis racing across the Pacific kept Hawaii and the West Coast on edge all day.  Docks and boats were destroyed in Crescent City, California.  Three people watching the powerful waves in northern California were swept out to sea.  Two men were able to get back to land themselves.  The search for the other man is on-going.

President Obama says a second aircraft carrier is on its way to join one already in Japan, and he vows to provide any other help that‘s needed.

This is how it began, the horror that started at 2:46 p.m. local time, and the terrifying moments that followed.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

O‘DONNELL:  For the story behind these dramatic pictures, we get the latest from CNBC Tokyo bureau chief Kaori Enjoji.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAORI ENJOJI, CNBC TOKYO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over):  The quake hit at 2:46 in the afternoon Tokyo Time, in the middle of what witnesses called a beautiful, calm day.

Terrified business workers scrambled to safety when the tremors hit

debris and office equipment falling everywhere.  In the streets, chaos, as residents tried to dodge bricks and glass crashing to the ground.

      

Japan is no stranger to earthquakes, with reinforced building designs like nowhere else in the world.  But this one was a monster, measuring a magnitude of 8.9, one of the strongest in the country‘s history.

An American university professor in Tokyo on business told us the tremors were relentless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via telephone):  The shaking got worse and worse.  I don‘t know exactly how long it lasted.  It seemed like it went on forever.

ENJOJI:  The country‘s Prime Minister Naoto Kan immediately activated an emergency response plan.

After the shaking came the warning—and the wave, a chilling preview of the disaster to come.  The target: the city of Sendai, some 200 miles northeast of Tokyo.  Hundreds are reported missing there—an unbelievable sight, the force of the swirling water sucking boats into its center, reports of at least one vessel missing with 100 people aboard.

The tsunami hit with incredible force, the sludge sweeping away everything in its path.  This wall of water and mud, some 30 feet high, washed across the low-lying coastal areas; entire towns swept away; thick and brown, strewn with debris, fast-moving, farmlands quickly disappeared.  Entire major roads, bridges and homes gone in a matter of minutes.

The airport at Sendai was completely destroyed.  Workers and others scrambled onto rooftops trying to stay above the mud.

A huge fire at an oil refinery near Tokyo continues to burn.  At least 80 other massive fires are still burning along the coastline after the quake cut off gas lines, causing a series of explosions, leaving homes and businesses ablaze.

Power is out throughout parts of the country, and mass transit is down.  In some places trains derailed.

Tonight, evacuations are under way for miles around this nuclear power plant in Fukushima.  Officials say the cooling system failed during the jolt.  Authorities now say that radiation levels have surged outside the plant.

With daybreak here, the search for dead and injured of this disaster is just beginning—not to mention the cleanup which will likely take months, if not years.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now to discuss the crisis at the nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, Dr. Edwin Lyman, a senior staff scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Dr. Lyman, what do you make of the situation at the nuclear power plant at this point?  And are—is a plant like this built to withstand these kinds of shocks?

DR. EDWIN LYMAN, UNION OF CONCERNED SCIENTISTS:  Well, I don‘t think this plant was built to withstand this kind of a shock.  The problem is that no nuclear regulator requires a nuclear plant to be resistant to the worst-case earthquake and it looks like what we have here is a pretty close to the worst case.  So, it‘s not a surprise that the plants are not doing as well as one would hope.

As a matter of fact, I think we are in a crisis situation there.  From all indications, it was a very serious event and it‘s nowhere near being contained.

O‘DONNELL:  Describe the dilemma that a plant like this faces when the radioactivity is dramatically increasing in the plant.  Is the only option to basically open it up, let the radioactivity escape into the air in order to avoid a complete meltdown of that plant or explosion within that plant?

LYMAN:  Well, the point of venting the gas that‘s accumulating is to prevent a catastrophic rupture of the containment.  If you vent the gas through filters, then there‘s a possibility of eliminating radioactive to the environment.  But if you let the gas accumulate to a very high pressure, you can get a rupture, and essentially if there were a fuel melt, there would be a massive release to the environment.

Whether or not the fuel melts completely has to do with whether or not adequate cooling can be reinstated to make sure that the fuel doesn‘t overheat.  However, if the fuel does overheat and melt, then it could challenge the containment, whether or not it‘s vented.

O‘DONNELL:  And the containment if the worst case scenario occurred in the plant and there was what we called a melt down, is it—what is the effect?  Is the effect like an explosion?  Like a nuclear bomb going off?  Or is it simply what gets released into the air around that area?

LYMAN:  No, it wouldn‘t be as dramatic.

The scenario is this: the fuel in a normal nuclear reactor is in solid form in the form of rods.  If that fuel overheats and melts, it essentially becomes like a lava, which would then flow down into the floor of the vessel that contains it, and it‘s hot enough at that point that it could eat a hole in the vessel and then fall to the floor of the containment building.

At that point it is possible you could get a steam explosion or a hydrogen explosion that would cause the containment to rupture.  It wouldn‘t be like a nuclear bomb but it would be pretty bad, enough to cause a gas in the containment that would allow a large amount of radioactivity to escape.

So, it wouldn‘t be a dramatic explosion, but the aftermath could be anywhere from tens to thousands to tens of thousands of cancer deaths as a result of the release of radioactivity from the site.

O‘DONNELL:  What is the next hopeful development you would look for at this nuclear power plant?  And what is the next negative development you would look for?

LYMAN:  Well, the hopeful development would be that emergency core cooling could be restored and that would mean getting reliable source of auxiliary repower so that they can get electric pumps and valves started up and to be able to put water to the core and keep the core from overheating any further.  At that point, the damage would be contained.

But what I fear is that if they can‘t achieve that, the fuel will continue to overheat until it eventually does melts and it go through the reactor vessel like I explained.  And at that point, it will be hard to stop an extremely severe accident from occurring, and a Chernobyl-like release of radioactivity.

So, I think the next few hours are critical in the cooling really must be restored to up to five reactors or we do face the possibility of a melt down and huge radioactive mess.

O‘DONNELL:  Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists—thank you very much for your time tonight.

LYMAN:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up: what if the scenes coming out of Japan today were really coming from southern California?  This state has been warned for years the big one is coming.  Is California ready?

And today, as Governor Walker signed into law his divisive union-busting bill in Wisconsin, he insisted it was good for the middle class and all about shared sacrifice in his state.  Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman will explain that logic.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  There‘s a 94 percent chance southern California will get hit with a very powerful earthquake sometime over the next 30 years.  Is California ready for that big one?

And later, after yesterday‘s powerful testimony from Congressman Keith Ellison about an American Muslim first responder who died on September 11th, tonight you will meet that young man‘s mother and hear about how she feels about Peter King‘s hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Within 10 minutes of today‘s massive earthquake off the coast of Japan, the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center sent out its evacuation order for Hawaii and the West Coast.  Warning sirens in Hawaii gave people plenty of time to get to higher ground as the tsunami raced across the Pacific at 500 miles an hour.

A seven-foot wave hit parts of Hawaii, sending water pouring into some hotel lobbies, and spilling over roadways.  An hour or so later, along the Oregon and California coast, waves tore into boat docks and marinas in northern California.  Millions of dollars of damage has been reported already.

Still, it seemed like a normal day today at the beach in Los Angeles.  I took this picture on my BlackBerry showing the tsunami warning sign that drivers ignored on their way to the Pacific Coast Highway in Santa Monica, which is inside the tsunami zone.  This wider angle of that same place shows the ocean in the distance at the end of that road and gives you an idea of just how far from the shore the hazard zone stretches.

Traffic seems normal on the Pacific Coast Highway and beach activity seemed normal on a 65 degree day that Angelenos consider a wintry weather.

But in northern California, three men taking pictures of the waves were swept out to sea.  Two of them were able to get back to the shore.  The Coast Guard is still searching for the other man.  Four people had to be rescued off the coast of Oregon.

By all expert accounts today, the U.S. was lucky when it comes to the damage from the tsunami.  But geologists say it is just a matter of time until a big earthquake hits southern California.

Is this state ready?

I am joined now by California resident, NBC News‘ George Lewis—

George.

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Lawrence, behind me is one group of Californians who are ready, the members of the Los Angeles County Fire Department Search and Rescue Team.  And they are getting ready to go to Japan to join the international rescue effort there.  These are the same people who were in Christchurch, New Zealand, just recently.  They were also at the Haiti earthquake.  And people who will have to pull Californians out of the rubble in future quakes here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEWIS (voice-over):  One out of five Californians practice for the big one every year, a massive drill called the “Great Shakeout,” involving school kids, hospitals, first responders.

So, how well-prepared is California?

KEN HUDNUT, U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY:  Obviously, we‘ve got a long way to go.  There are four out of five people approximately that aren‘t participating as far as we know.

LEWIS:  Even as the death toll mounts in Japan, U.S. experts say the Japanese earthquake early warning networks alerted people to take cover—saving lives, a capability we lack.

HUDNUT:  We‘re years away from having that in California or in the

U.S.

LEWIS:  The thing that most worries scientists is the threat of a huge earthquake along the southern end of the San Andreas Fault.  California faces a 94 percent probability of a magnitude 7 or greater quake in the next 30 years.

In one scenario, a quake measuring magnitude 7.8 would leave 1,800 people dead, would sever vital utility and transportation lifelines, and cause billions of dollars in damage.

And, as the Los Angeles County Fire Search and Rescue Team learned recently in New Zealand, an earthquake doesn‘t have to be the big one to be deadly.  The Christchurch quake, magnitude 6.3, was close to the surface, the ground shaking violent.

CAPT. BRYAN WELLS, L.A. COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT:  Buildings resemble Los Angeles, California.  There are some buildings that right next to buildings that are down that have survived the earthquake.

LEWIS:  A warning for Californians: even with building codes that focus on seismic safety, many structures are still no match for violent quakes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEWIS:  Now, among the people going on the team are water rescue experts, that‘s because that tsunami kicked up such big waves and caused so much flooding—Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  George, how ready is California for any real tsunami hitting here?

LEWIS:  Well, that‘s a good question, Lawrence.  It‘s kind of a hodgepodge, varies from county to county.  And Crescent City where they had deaths following the 1964 Alaska earthquake that generated a tsunami, they are very ready.  They got people away from the beaches very fast this morning.

The big concern is there‘s a big offshore fault called a Cascadia subduction zone that runs from northern California all the way past the Canadian border.  If it goes, it could produce a huge tsunami rather rapidly.  There wouldn‘t be much advance warning.

O‘DONNELL:  George Lewis at the headquarters for Los Angeles Search and Rescue Team—thanks very much for joining us tonight, George.

LEWIS:  OK.  Sure.

O‘DONNELL:  Coming up, the 14 Democrats who fled Wisconsin to try to stop the union busting bill from becoming law are on their way home tonight.  They will join large protests tomorrow to show the fight is not over.  We‘ll talk with Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman about why he voted the way he did, and does he fear the recall campaign against him.

And later, after yesterday‘s Muslim radicalization hearings held by Congressman Peter King, today, some in the media are trying to discredit the story Congressman Ellison tearfully told.

Tonight, Russell Simmons and the mother of the fallen first responder at the center of Keith Ellison‘s testimony gets tonight‘s LAST WORD.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Still to come on this hour: Governor Scott Walker signs his union-busting bill into law as the Wisconsin 14 make their plans to return and push for the recall of their Republican colleagues.

And the story of a young American Muslim who died on 9/11 made Congressman Keith Ellison break down and cry in a congressional hearing.  That young man‘s mother will join us and will have tonight‘s LAST WORD.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Tonight in the Spotlight, Wisconsin‘s most polarizing bill becomes law.  Following weeks of protest and unprecedented legislative maneuvering that no one had ever seen and no one predicted, today Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed the bill that eliminates almost all collective bargaining rights from most of the state‘s public employees. 

The bill exempts police and firefighter unions who supported the governor in his election campaign.  It‘s due to take effect on March 26th.  Tomorrow, the 14 Wisconsin Democrats who fled the state will return to join protesters for a homecoming march to the capitol, meant to mark the opening of the battle to recall the Republicans who supported Governor Walker. 

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee sent an e-mail to its members from Democratic State Senator Chris Larson, asking protesters to join the new fight.  “Recalls of the Republicans are kicking into high gear as clipboards begin to replace protest signs in neighborhoods across the state.  Governor Walker and Republican senators refuse to listen to the public.  But now the people will be heard all across the state at the ballot box.” 

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which supports Democratic state lawmakers around the country, released this ad targeting Republican Wisconsin State Senator Luther Olson. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We expect pins to get bold over, pies to get rolled.  But we certainly don‘t expect our senators to get flattened.  Last month, Senator Olson said eliminating collective bargaining is, quote, “pretty radical.”  But last week, Olson voted for Governor Walker‘s back room deal to destroy collective bargaining. 

Now Walker is pushing a budget that will devastate public schools and healthcare.  And Senator Olson refuses to stand up to him.  Call Senator Olson.  Tell him to stop rolling over on Wisconsin families. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is Wisconsin Republican State Senator Glenn Grothman.  Thanks for joining us tonight, senator. 

GLENN GROTHMAN, WISCONSIN STATE SENATOR:  Glad to be on the show. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, how concerned are you about this recall campaign being mounted against Republican members, including some of—obviously your most vulnerable.  You have one member who won by 180 votes.  You have another member whose district was carried by Barack Obama by a much bigger margin than that senator won his district. 

It seems like you have some senators there who are extremely vulnerable to this and others, perhaps yourself, who may be able to ride it out. 

GROTHMAN:  Well, first of all, we‘ve got to be able to get out of the facts and stand up to left wing distortions of the media.  You led off this segment by saying that the teach—that the firemen and the police endorsed Governor Walker.  You have to know that‘s not true, because we have corrected it so many times in the past. 

The fireman‘s union, probably next to the teacher‘s union, is probably the most rabid Democratic union in the state.  The Milwaukee police did endorse Governor Walker.  But the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the biggest police union in the state, supported his opponent. 

So when you say things like we exempted firemen and police because they supported Governor Walker, that‘s just plain not true. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Grothman, could I go back?  Certainly there was at least one police union that supported the governor. 

GROTHMAN:  I said, the Milwaukee Police Union. 

O‘DONNELL:  Are you saying that there were no—there was no firefighter support for the governor‘s election? 

GROTHMAN:  One firefighter local, the city of Milwaukee again, perhaps because they knew Scott Walker because he was county exec.  The vast majority—as far as I know, every other firemen in the state, their union supported Governor Walker‘s opponent, including the fire union where I represent. 

So to say that is just plain misleading. 

Are we worried?  Absolutely, we are worried, because for the first time in my tenure in the state legislature, we‘ve had a governor say no to new spending.  And one of the reasons you‘re going to find out that politicians of all stripes don‘t like to say no to new spending or are very reluctant to say no to any spending is because people get mad.

And a lot of public employees are adult about this.  They told me it‘s time the gravy train had to end.  They were expecting this.  But a lot of other public employees have built themselves up to be very mad, very livid.  And these people are coming after us.  They are circulating papers. 

They feel they are underpaid.  They feel they are going to dislike the fact that their pension contribution is going up, health insurance contribution is going up.  And those public employees will be mad at us. 

It is up for Republicans to explain that the state had a bad budget deficit, that rather than layoff public employees, it was better for public employees, including the legislative staff and others of us, to take our cut in pay. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator, there‘s not a single recall petition that‘s going to be filed because of your move to increase the union‘s contributions on healthcare and on pensions. 

(CROSS TALK)

O‘DONNELL:  You know, senator, that these recalls are being filed because you stripped them of their collective bargaining rights.  The unions agreed—they agreed.  They conceded to you the money issues you just mentioned.  And what you kept going after was stripping them of their union rights to collectively bargain in the ways they have in the past. 

They gave up the money and you kept attacking them. 

GROTHMAN:  No.  Two things, first of all, if you spent any time actually talking to the people who are mad, they are primarily mad because their take home pay is going to go down.  And they feel picked upon and feel that instead we should have raised taxes on business. 

The average person who is circulating petitions or signing petitions, that is why they‘re doing it. 

Secondly, as far as collective bargaining rights are concerned, about half of the state employees are not even members of a union.  As far as other collective bargaining rights, that costs the state taxpayer a lot of money as well.  That‘s not about union busting.  That‘s just about preventing public employee unions holding out for outrageous things. 

For example, right now many—not all, but many school districts in the state get their health insurance through a very expensive teacher‘s union health insurance company, that for the same benefits school districts could provide that health insurance for sometimes 7,000, 8,000, 9,000 dollars less per teacher. 

So this is incredible an expense that the teachers union wants the taxpayer to incur, money that instead could go to middle school orchestras, golf teams, gifted and talented programs.  It is time we put the kids first and not say that the schools are just run solely for the benefit of the teacher‘s union. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Grothman, that would all make sense, except for the fact that your Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald actually confessed publicly to Fox News that this battle was not about the money.  Let‘s listen to what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT FITZGERLAD, WISCONSIN SENATE MAJORITY LEADER:  If we win this battle and the money is not there under the auspices of the union, certainly what you‘re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Grothman, were you surprised that Senator Fitzgerald confessed to what he and the governor were really up to, that they were really just trying to make Barack Obama‘s re-election more difficult, and hoped that they could somehow take the state of Wisconsin away from him? 

GROTHMAN:  I am sure Senator Fitzgerald has given hours of interview on this topic, as have I.  That is certainly not a major or anywhere near the major reason for this piece of legislation.  The major reason is to get Wisconsin back on a solid fiscal footing.

And the people who are most grateful for this is the average guy.  The average person on Social Security who gets no raise every year because inflation supposedly is not going up, but has to have property taxes go up year after year to pay for greater and greater government spending.  And those people are very grateful for the Republicans to finally say no to the big spenders. 

O‘DONNELL:  Senator Glenn Grothman, thank you for joining us on this show once again. 

GROTHMAN:  Glad to be on the show and try to set the record straight. 

>

O‘DONNELL:  During a hearing yesterday, Congressman Keith Ellison teared up when telling the story of a young man, a first responder that lost his life on 9/11.  That hero‘s mother will join us coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGNI VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We let a couple New York boys who came too far south for their own (EXPLETIVE DELETED) good.  Yankee pride at now? 

Whose your favorite one on the big fat morning show. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The New York girl.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Show that show any day. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Snoop.  Snoop.  Snoop.  Snoop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  Time for tonight‘s Rewrite. a Baltimore circuit court judge today ordered actress Felicia Pierson held without bail on charges that she conspired to deal heroin as part of a major drug distribution network targeted by city police and federal authorities.  Felicia Pierson delivered the unforgettable performance as Snoop on HBO‘s extraordinary series “The Wire.”

No other drama in television history has so fully embraced the challenge of exploring life in the American underclass, the poverty population, the world that Michael Harrington called “The Other America” in his 1962 book that changed our understanding of America as a land of opportunity for some, but not for all. 

I give the remainder of this Rewrite space tonight to David Simon, the brilliant creator of “The Wire.”  He issued a statement today in response to the charges against this most talented actress whose work has moved us so deeply. 

David Simon‘s eloquent, heart felt response serves as a Rewrite of the standard reaction to news of another victory for justice in a war on drugs where victory and justice are not possible. 

“First of all, Felicia is entitled to the presumption of innocence.  And I would note that a previous but recent drug arrest that targeted her was later found to be unwarranted and the charges were dropped. 

“Nonetheless, I am certainly sad at the news today.  This young lady has, from her earliest moments, had one of the hardest lives imaginable.  And whatever good fortune came from her role in “The Wire” seems, in retrospect, limited to that project. 

“She worked hard as an actor and was entirely professional, but the entertainment industry, as a whole, does not offer a great many roles for those that can portray people from the other America. 

“There are, in fact, relatively few stories told about the other America.  In an essay published two years ago in “Time Magazine,” the writers of “The Wire” made the argument that we believe the war on drugs has devolved into a war on the underclass, that in places like west and east Baltimore, where the drug economy is now the only factory still hiring, and where the educational system is so crippled that the vast majority of children are trained only for the corners, a legal campaign to imprison our most vulnerable and damaged citizens is little more than amoral. 

“And we said then if asked to serve on a jury considering a non-violent drug offense, we would move to nullify that jury verdict and vote to acquit, regardless of the defendant.  I still believe such a course of action would be just in any case in which drug offenses, absent proof of violent acts, are alleged. 

“Both our Constitution and our common law guarantee that we will be judged by our peers.  But in truth, there are now Two Americas, politically and economically distinct. 

“I, for one, do not qualify as a peer to Felicia Pierson.  The opportunities and experiences of her life do not correspond in any way with my own.  And her America is different from my own. 

“I am, therefore, ill equipped to be her judge in this matter.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Deserve got nothing to do with it.  It is just time, that‘s all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEITH ELLISON (D), MINNESOTA:  Mohammed Salman Hamdani was a 23-year-old paramedic, a New York City Police cadet and Muslim American.  He was one of those brave first responders who tragically lost his life in the 9/11 terrorist attacks almost a decade ago. 

After the tragedy, some people tried to smear his character, solely because of his Islamic faith.  Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim.  But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  That was Congressman Keith Ellison‘s emotional testimony during the House of Representatives Homeland Security Hearings yesterday entitled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community, and That Community‘s Response.” 

One of the character smears of 9/11 hero Salman Hamdani that Congressman Ellison referred to appeared in the “New York Post” a month after the World Trade Center attacks.  It was a story entitled “Missing or Hiding, Mystery of NYPD Cadet From Pakistan,” and read in part, “Hamdani was last seen, Koran in hand, leaving his Bayside Queens home for his job as a research assistant at Rockefeller University.  But he never made it to work.  One source told the Post, that tells me they‘re not looking for this guy at the bottom of the rubble.  The thing that bothers me is if he is up to some tricks, he can walk past anybody using his ID card.” 

Hamdani‘s mother was quoted in that same “New York Post” story saying that she believed her son was arrested shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center.  “The government has him, like it has many of the Muslim kids,” she said.  “They are interrogating him, but they will release him one day.” 

That turned out to be wishful thinking.  Joining me now, Talat Hamdani, who is the mother of the 9/11 first responder Salman Hamdani.  Also entrepreneur Russell Simmons, who demonstrated in Times Square against Congressman King‘s hearings alongside Mrs. Hamdani. 

Talat, when you—did you know that Congressman Keith Ellison was going to tell your son‘s story to the committee?  And how did it make you feel when you heard him do that? 

TALAT HAMDANI, MOTHER OF WTC 1ST RESPONDER:  I was called a few hours before the testimony, the night before, that he will be speaking about Salman.  But I did not realize that he would acknowledge his sacrifice for his nation in front of the whole Congress and the whole nation and the whole world. 

It was a very emotional moment to hear my son‘s sacrifice finally being told to the American Congress, that he was like I had always been saying.  He was a casualty of 9/11, not because of his faith, race or ethnicity, but because he was an American.

And that‘s what I still maintain today, and that‘s what Congressman Keith Ellison told the Congress.  And I am so grateful that he finally brought out the untold story of my son, Salman. 

O‘DONNELL:  Russell Simmons, you were protesting this hearing before it occurred.  What do you wish Congressman Peter King had considered in putting this hearing together?  And should he have had such a hearing?  Should it have been differently framed if he had such a hearing? 

RUSSELL SIMMONS, ENTREPRENEUR:  First, let me state to you that I am the chairman of the Foundation For Ethnic Understanding.  And I work with hundreds of imams and hundreds of rabbis around the world.  In fact, we have our hundred program, where imams speak in synagogues and rabbis speak in mosques in France alone.  We have hundreds in America, a couple hundred here in America. 

So it is something I work on a regular basis.  The idea that Muslims can fight anti-semitism and imams—an rabbis can fight islamophobia is a simple one, and it is spreading around the world. 

Al Jazeera carried our rally.  And they carried it in a very respectful way.  They thanked the rabbis and the priests and the many artists who supported them against this horrible set of trials on the Muslim community. 

I can‘t understand what purpose.  You have CIA.  You have Secret Service.  Why public?  Why put a faith on trial?  How does that help us as these secular revolutions are going on around the world?  What do we get except political grandstanding? 

I know many people are fearful.  I know it is easy to play into that fear.  We‘ve seen America do horrible things when they use fear for politics.  There‘s nothing good can come from the trial. 

Public hearings, when they‘re supposed to be investigating any form of radical behavior by any faith and by everybody—their job is to protect our country.  How does that promote national security by creating more Islamophobia and more fear?  It puts us in a position to support bad choices. 

After 9/11, we had a chance to promote world peace.  We made bad choices.  When the whole Muslim world was sympathetic to our cause and our sadness, we made a very bad choice.  It‘s destroyed our economy.  It‘s destroyed our relationship with the world. 

It‘s hurtful.  These hearings are hurtful.  So that‘s—no one can tell me why it has to be public.  If you are investigating the radicalization of some young people, why is it public? 

So if Peter King can answer that good question, then why is the Congress doing it, instead of all of these organizations that are there for that.  If you‘re Homeland Security, then you go and protect this country without creating more negativity between and amongst Americans. 

O‘DONNELL:  Talat, Congressman King appeared last night on Fox News on a show where, Sean Hannity hosting it, was trying to suggest that there was absolutely no smear in any way against your son, and that there was no—at that time, that they didn‘t find that “New York Post” story that we just showed our audience. 

Can you tell us what it was like when you were hearing these rumors and these suspicions about your son, before you knew what had happened to him? 

HAMDANI:  It was a very difficult time in our lives.  At the time, my husband was alive.  And instead of grieving, we were trying to find him, you know, where he was.  And of course, the hope that even if he detained, but the hope he is alive is intense or apparent. 

And there was discrimination.  We went through that six years—nine years ago.  It was very painful.  And I was just intent on clearing his name.  My son, my community, my people, other people, we are not here to fight each other and cast suspicion and character assassination. 

But the “New York Post” article, their reporter, that is the integrity of that paper—has no integrity.  And I did not watch the show on which Peter King was with them.  We did try—I‘m a member of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, an organization of more than 200 families members.  And many 9/11 family members do agree, we had a meeting.  We were given a meeting in D.C. by his office.  We traveled (INAUDIBLE) from there, and he did not meet us.

O‘DONNELL:  Talat Hamdani, thank you very much for joining us.  Your suffering is unimaginable.  And we greatly appreciate you coming in to discuss this.

Russell Simmons, thank you also for joining us.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW is up next.  We are out of time here.

Good evening, Rachel.

END   

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