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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Malcolm Nance, Steve Clemons

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  Thank you, Lawrence.  Congratulations on that interview tonight.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you.

MADDOW:  Thanks to you at home as well for staying with us this hour.


Four days after U.S. Navy SEALs ended the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, President Obama today came to New York City to commemorate those who lost their lives on September 11th, 2001.

At 9:40 a.m. Eastern Time, the president left the White House, boarding Marine One for the short flight to Andrews Air Force Base.  Ten minutes later, he boarded Air Force One for a 15-minute flight to John F.  Kennedy Airport in Queens, New York.

At a remote corner of the airport, President Obama left Air Force One and took a few moments there to greet the Port Authority and airport employees who had gathered to greet him upon his arrival.

Then after another short helicopter ride, President Obama arrived in downtown Manhattan.  This was just after 11:00 a.m. today.  Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was on the tarmac in Lower Manhattan to greet the president.  They drove together from the helipad, which is near Wall Street, up to the pride of Midtown Firehouse, which was on 48th Street and 8th Avenue.  They arrived at 11:23 Eastern Time, in time to enjoy a firehouse cooked lunch.

But before that, President Obama and Mayor Giuliani together greeted the assembled firefighters and thanked them for their service.  Then the president told them, told the firefighters there, why he had made the trip.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I wanted to just come up here to thank you.  This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day, almost 10 years ago.  What happened on Sunday, because of the courage of our military and the outstanding work of our intelligence, sent a message around the world but also sent a message here back home, that when we say we will never forget, we mean what we say.

I just want to let you know that you‘re always going to have a president and administration who‘s got your back the way you‘ve got the backs of the people of New York over these last many years.  So, God bless you.  God bless the United States of America.

And with that, I‘m going to try some of that food, all right? 

Appreciate you guys.  Thank you very much.



MADDOW:  Lunch was an off camera event, but the firefighters at that firehouse later described the lunch to the press.  They were very happy about it.


ED KILDUFF, FDNY CHIEF OF DEPARTMENT:  We had a great conversation.  A little bit of Mets, a little bit of Yankees, a little bit of White Sox, a little bit of Cubs, and we think the president generally enjoyed his visit to the firehouse.  Again, we‘re extremely appreciative that he was able to join us today for lunch.

JOE CERAVOLO, FDNY, COOKED LUNCH FOR PRES. OBAMA:  He loved the shrimp.  He loved the veal, the eggplant parmesan.  He was really a down-to-earth guy.  Sat down like the chief said, and everything was formal.  We were just—you know, it was just like hanging out with the rest of the guys in the firehouse.

We thank him for what he did on Sunday, and all the troops and all.  We want to let them know that we‘re with them, you know, every step of the way.  And say, God bless them and thank them.  I mean, if it wasn‘t for them, you know, we‘d still be chasing this guy.


MADDOW:  One of the more poignant moments at the pride of Midtown Firehouse came as the president stopped at a wall commemorating the firehouse‘s 15 firefighters who lost their lives on September 11th.  That firehouse that day lost the entire shift, the entire battalion.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We lost a whole battalion.  Everybody working at the 9 Battalion in this firehouse.  Another firehouse 40 and 35 and Engine 23.  Everybody that responded to the World Trade Center, nobody came home.

OBAMA:  Unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A whole battalion.


MADDOW:  At 12:14, the president left that fire station traveling from Midtown back downtown to TriBeCa, to the first police precinct station house.  They were the first station to respond on 9/11.  The president drove past Ground Zero in order to get to that precinct.

The president arrived at the station house at 12:35 p.m. and greeted police officers, including New York‘s police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, before he spoke to the assembled officers, all of whom—all of whom were at Ground Zero on 9/11.


OBAMA:  I‘m not here to make a long speech.  I am here basically to shake your hand and just to say how proud I am of all of you.  What we did on Sunday is directly connected to what you do every single day.  And I know I speak for the military teams and the intelligence teams that helped us get bin Laden in saying that we know the sacrifices and the courage that you show as well, and that you are a part of the team that helped us achieve our goal, but also help us keep our citizens safe each and every day.


OBAMA:  I very much appreciate the fact that Mayor Giuliani is here, because, obviously, we remember his leadership and courage on that day as well.  And it‘s a testimony that we may have our differences politically in ordinary times, but when it comes to keeping this country safe, we are, first and foremost, Americans.

Thank you, Mr. Mayor.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER NYC MAYOR:  Thank you very much.

OBAMA:  Thank you, sir.  Appreciate you.


MADDOW:  Afterwards, the president took time to take photos with some of those officers at the first police precinct station house.  He then headed to the World Trade Center site itself.  The president arriving there just before 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time, greeting the long honor guard of New York City police officers, firefighters, and port authority officers who lined the ceremony.

Then with three members representing each department, the president walked with a wreath to what they call their “survivor tree.”  Now, the survivor tree is a pear tree that survived the attacks.  It was then nursed back to health and replanted at Ground Zero.

After the short ceremony, President Obama met with family members of people who died on 9/11.  He embraced Diane Wall, as her 14-year-old and 12-year-old daughters looked on.  The president also embraced Victoria Giordano.  Her father was a New York City firefighter who died in the 9/11 attacks when she was just 11 years old.

And President Obama also got a fist-bump from 10-year-old Christopher Cannizzaro as his mother Jackie Cannizzaro-Hawkins looked on.  Christopher‘s father, Brian Cannizzaro was a New York City firefighter who died in the 9/11 attacks when Christopher was 10 months old.

Today, Christopher told “The New York Times” about meeting the president.  He said, quote, “He was asking me about my dad.  He asked about my necklace.”  Christopher‘s necklace has a picture of his dad in his firefighter gear.  He said, “He was just being so nice.  He was being open with me.  I was just truly honored to be here.”  Very mature kid.

President Obama spent some time behind closed doors as well today, meeting with approximately 60 family members.  They met at the site where you can preview what the 9/11 Memorial will look like when it opens this September, on the 10th anniversary of the attacks.

At 2:20 p.m., the president left Ground Zero.  He headed back to the heliport and then back to JFK and then back to Andrews Air Force base an hour later, before finally arriving back at the White House at 4:12 p.m.

Tomorrow, President Obama will head out again to Fort Campbell in Kentucky.  At Fort Campbell, he will get to meet and privately thank members of the elite Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden on Sunday.  The president has already met with and thanked their boss, Admiral McRaven. 

Admiral McRaven ran the operation on Sunday night.

The magnitude of Osama bin Laden‘s killing by U.S. forces in Pakistan on Sunday night is hard to yet quantify in terms of its impact on our country.  One early way to measure it this Thursday is the time and attention the American president spent recognizing and remembering the crime that provoked Sunday night‘s punishment.  That was today in New York City.


MADDOW:  Did you know that U.S. forces have been in two of Osama bin Laden‘s houses since 9/11?  It‘s true.  One of them we all know about now, the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was killed on Sunday night.  But U.S. forces also entered another residence of Osama bin Laden‘s months after 9/11 in the city of Jalalabad in Pakistan.  It is not long after bin Laden escaped in the battle of Tora Bora in 2001.  A man who has been inside Osama bin Laden‘s other house, his Jalalabad compound, in 2001 will join us next.


MADDOW:  Osama bin Laden‘s 1996 declaration of war against the United States was titled “Declaration of war against the Americans occupying the land of the two holy places.”  A typically awkward and hard to remember title, right?  Not just because of how florid classical Arabic can sound when it‘s translated to English, but also because Osama bin Laden had such a bee in his bonnet about where he was from.  When he says, the land of the two holy places, what he‘s talking about is Saudi Arabia.  But he won‘t say that because he is so offended that Saudi Arabia would let there be U.S.  troops stationed there that he won‘t say the name of his home country.  He won‘t say Saudi Arabia.

Is that a petulant and childish tactic?  Yes.  So, was renaming French fries, but that‘s folks.  That‘s the kind of thing that people do.

But when Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States—again, his stated reason for doing so was American troops in Saudi Arabia.  After 9/11, the George W. Bush administration did in fact pull U.S. troops out of Saudi Arabia.  But by then, of course, the U.S. had already put troops into two other Muslim countries, our wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq.  So, then those wars, as well as U.S. support for Israel, became the new things that bin Laden and al Qaeda harped on in their statements about what al Qaeda was doing and why.

They would justify their terrorist tactics with cockamamie pseudo-theology and by saying that terrorist tactics were strategically sound.  Quoting bin Laden from 2004, “We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.”

He said al Qaeda found it easy to provoke and bait this administration, talking about the Bush administration in 2004.  Quote, “All that we have to do is send two Mujahedin to the farthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al Qaeda in order to make the generals race there to cause America to suffer human, economic, and political losses without their achieving anything of note.”  Obama—excuse me, Osama bin Laden in his own terms.

This is totally central to what they were doing and how they thought they would win.  They believed that our generals racing eastward across the globe to put our military forces in Muslim countries, they believe that was their most marketable grievance.  Whether it was U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or U.S. wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, resentment of U.S.  military presence in Muslim countries was what bin Laden thought earned al Qaeda the most popular support, their uninterrupted supply of willing suicide bombers, the continued appeal of their overall al Qaeda message despite widespread revulsion at al Qaeda tactics.

That‘s how they thought they would win.  They would channel Muslim pride into hatred of the U.S., into uncompromising rejection of all things U.S., rejection of democracy itself as a Western construct.  And they would get Muslim countries to institute strict religious rule instead.  That was their big idea.  That‘s how they planned to win.

They did not win.  They did not win.  They did not win.  The Muslim world is rising up against their lousy U.S. ally despotic rulers, but they are rising up for democracy, not against it.  The death of bin Laden is generating just about no reaction in the Middle East.

The founder in the worldwide symbol of al Qaeda was its founder, Osama bin Laden.  The source of al Qaeda‘s power was him—his vision, his money, his organizational prowess, his status, his visibility, he was key to al Qaeda‘s strength.  But the other source of their strength was what they believed was the appeal of the al Qaeda core message, that Muslim self determination, U.S. stop humiliating Muslims, U.S. out of the Middle East message.

One source of al Qaeda‘s strength is dead now.  Bin Laden is dead.  Is that enough to kill al Qaeda?  What about their message now?  What about what they always believed was the other great source of their strength?

Joining us now is Malcolm Nance, retired naval intelligence officer, former master instructor and chief of training at the Navy Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape School, the SERE School.  He is fluent in Arabic.  He‘s now a consultant on counterterrorism and terrorism intelligence for the U.S. government.  He‘s also author of the book “An End to al Qaeda:

Destroying Bin Laden‘s Jihad and Restoring America‘s Honor.”

Malcolm, thank you very much for coming back on the show.


MADDOW:  Since we talked on Tuesday night, I have not been able to stop thinking about what you said about bin Laden‘s death being the nail in the coffin of al Qaeda.  You really feel like him dying means that it‘s over for them.  Can you explain why?

NANCE:  Well, it‘s pretty simple.  We are really seeing right now the beginning of the end of the al Qaeda organization.  And a lot of people will say, no, we have the possibility that there‘s going to be terrorist attacks in the future.  That some of his followers are going to lash out, there‘s going to be vengeance.

All of this is true, but that‘s not the central core of what we‘re dealing with.  Al Qaeda organization has lost the heart, the soul, and the charisma of their ideological leader.  This is the man who created bin Ladenism.  And bin Ladenism is a lot broader, a lot bigger than saying that we want to fight the United States and push them out.

This is man who was trying to invoke a clash of civilizations where he thought that as a Mujahedin in Afghanistan, he defeated the Russians and destroyed communism.  Now, he was going to invoke Islam to his variation of Islam, to destroy democracy.

So, with his death, that whole ideological underpinnings has been taken away.  But as we‘ve seen over the last few months, it has really been washed away through the Islamic democracy movement that has sprung up throughout the Middle East.  And those two things combined spell no future for the al Qaeda organization.

Will they actually carry out operations?  Quite possible.  Will they be successful?  In some occasions, they might be.  But do they have a future in the Muslim world?  Not anymore.

MADDOW:  In terms of the American relationship to the “Arab Spring,” to the Muslim democracy movements we are seeing in so many countries right now.  I mean, as you say, nobody really thinks that terrorism is over now.  But should the American construct of a war on terrorism, which we came up with after 9/11, should that construct be over now?  Would that help further decimate al Qaeda‘s popular base of support?

NANCE:  Well, I mean, there‘s always going to be terrorism.  Terrorism is just a hammer in the tool box of people who have political dissatisfaction and who won‘t involve themselves in processes which are peaceful.  So, we‘re always going to have people that will choose that.  Even in this country, we have people that choose that tactic.

However, within the entire broad structure of the war on terrorism—well, in fact, the war on terrorism, its central character was Osama bin Laden.  And he drove this mind.  He was the one who really pushed us into - - by, well, number one, by engineering an attack that killed 3,000 of our citizens and then driving us into wars which he wanted.  He wanted us to invade Afghanistan.  He had no idea that we would gift him with an invasion of Iraq.  And that killed 5,000 more of our service members and tens of thousands of Muslims.

So, with his death, unless someone who was more charismatic than him, who can carry out an attack of greater magnitude than the 9/11 attack, who can prove that they can take his legacy and carry on his vision of salafist, neo-salafist, new Islamic caliphate that will destroy democracy, this war is essentially starting to break down in all capacity for that group.  They are on their way out.

MADDOW:  Malcolm, in terms of the continuing threat of al Qaeda and groups like it and inspired by it, though, we think about figures like Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen, we think about the impact of groups like the al Qaeda groups in Yemen, places, al-Shabaab in Somalia and other places—when you look at groups like that, also some of the Pakistani groups, is the American orientation toward those groups a war orientation?  Is war still the right construct?

NANCE:  Well, you‘re right.  It is a war orientation.

But what we‘ve seen recently is that we know that bringing 150,000 men into a country doesn‘t necessarily stop terrorism.  It kills a lot of people.  It gets a lot of bodies.  But that doesn‘t necessarily stop the ire that it brings out, your mere presence.

In some places, in Afghanistan, it was a lot less dramatic than it was in Iraq, for example, because we had a greater population density.  We had, you know, ideological underpinnings of the war were a little shaky.  But, you know, when you come into it and you bring a broad-based army, as General Petraeus said and as Secretary Gates said, these are no longer the way that we really need to fight this war.

The idea of doing an intelligence war, and doing a war which pinpointed systematic Special Operations strikes which are intelligence-based, raids, pointed assassinations using remote weapons systems, these are the sort of things which have proved far more effective.  Now, you can say that 200 or 300 drone strikes on the Pakistani border are effective and it kills some of the leadership of the al Qaeda organization, but we don‘t lose soldiers at that point.  You put 150,000 ground troops on the ground, and you‘re going to be not only killing some of the enemy who were out on the battlefield, but you‘re going to be killing the civilian population.

And so, we get into that cycle of where the enemy—the population no longer supports us or the population is upset with the operations that we‘re doing.  Well, all of these things can be done by just removing the large ground forces and going back to what I believe at one point was the Biden plan, which we like to refer to—I write for a “Small Wars Journal,” which is a defense blog, and we refer to as counterinterrorism, which is counterinsurgency and counterterrorism in a hybrid.  And that maybe the future for the way we defeat the remnants of what al Qaeda was.

MADDOW:  Malcolm, can I ask you just one last question about something you mentioned on Tuesday?

NANCE:  Sure.

MADDOW:  You said that you were in Osama bin Laden‘s compound in Jalalabad after the Tora Bora operation.  Can you just tell me the circumstances of that?  Are you allowed to talk about that?  Can you tell me what it was like and why that happened?

NANCE:  Well, I can tell you some of it.  I was an intelligence contractor at the time.

But I went to the Osama bin Laden residence in Jalalabad.  And Jalalabad had a special place for Osama bin Laden.  He had residences in other places in Kandahar and Kabul.

But Jalalabad is where he got his combat stripes fighting in the Afghan war.  He did a—he did a mission fighting the Russian forces at Jalalabad airport.  And so, he had a very, very large compound out on the south side of Jalalabad, directly on the road.  If you go outside his compound and get on the road, it goes right up to Tora Bora.

And it was very much like the compound in Pakistan.  It was a large walled structure.  It had five to six buildings inside it.  And it was very austere.  I was rather surprised and impressed that, you know, he could live on a small cot, with a Koran stand, some tea cups, and pretty much nothing other than that other than his weapons and his guards and his family.

But, you know, that was the entire mystique of Osama bin Laden.  And after he left the Jalalabad compound, he was last seen in Tora Bora and he was supposed to be living in caves.  But we now see that that‘s turned out differently.

MADDOW:  Yes, it turned out to be a really, really nice cave.

Malcolm Nance, retired naval intelligence officer, former chief of training in the Navy SERE School, as well author of the book “An End to al Qaeda: Destroying Bin Laden‘s Jihad and Restoring America‘s Honor”—

Malcolm, thank you so much for coming back on the show.  Really appreciate it, man.

NANCE:  It‘s my pleasure.

MADDOW:  Thank you.

So, Osama bin Laden winds up in a big house in a big city in Pakistan, a $2 cab ride from Pakistan‘s equivalent of West Point.  Suspicious is the nicest thing you can say about that.  So, is it true—as we hear from Washington—that the U.S. relationship with the Pakistani government is pretty much unchanged since the news of Sunday night?  Like doormen and potted plants, the answer to this question can only be found in the lobby.  Steve Clemons joins us next.


MADDOW:  In the last 10 years since September 11th, the United States has given our great ally Pakistan about $20 billion, billion.  Twenty billion dollars is a lot of money anywhere.

But in Pakistan, $20 billion is gobs of money.  The average income in Pakistan is about $8,000 a year.

That money was not a birthday present.  It wasn‘t an act of kindness on our part.  We wanted something for that money.  Among other things, we wanted Osama bin Laden.

Within days of 9/11, Pakistan sent officials to Afghanistan to try to get the Taliban government there to hand bin Laden over.  The Taliban refused.  And, of course, bin Laden disappeared.

For years, it was believed by almost everyone that despite Pakistan‘s denials, bin Laden was hiding there, there as in Pakistan.  Not only did that turn out to be correct, it turned out to be correct in an embarrassing way for Pakistan.

Where bin Laden was found was very close to Pakistan‘s capital city, very close to a military academy, and he was living in a town surrounded by lots of retired military officials.  He was not in a cave.  He was not in some lawless Frontier Province.  He was in the Pakistani equivalent of Nyack.

And to a Pakistan that had assured us that bin Laden was dead or maybe they didn‘t know where he was but he definitely wasn‘t in Pakistan, to a Pakistan that had consistently assured us of that, it was embarrassing to find bin Laden where he was found.

What do human beings do when they are embarrassed?  They get defensive.  Pakistan today turned their defensiveness up to 11.  This is Pakistan‘s foreign secretary today when asked whether or not his country had actually been harboring bin Laden.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is a false hypothesis.  This is a false charge.


MADDOW:  In the United States Senate is the foreign relations committee that oversees foreign aid.  Today, that committee met to discuss the whole billions in foreign aid to Pakistan thing, and whether or not to continue to play the role of Daddy Warbucks, whether or not that is actually in our country‘s best interests.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We need to have better oversight and enforcement.  Under those circumstances, we have to be prepared to cut off aid, or at least to suspend aid if in fact the conditionalities are not being met.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have felt that we should alter and really focus this aid in a very different way, OK?  I really have.  So, I look at this as an opportunity, OK?  And we know that they are—for a long time, we‘ve known they haven‘t worked with us in a very cooperative way.


MADDOW:  And so, in Washington, facing that bipartisan criticism, Pakistan has launched a quiet public relations offensive.  “Reuters” reporting from almost the moment we learned that bin Laden was killed, Pakistan‘s lobbyists have been on Capitol Hill every day to, quote, “promote Pakistan‘s position on the bin Laden killing, talking to congressmen, senators, and their aides.”  Pakistan pays one firm almost $1 million a year.

Coincidentally, that firm employs failed George W. Bush Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.  According to her filing with the Justice Department, Ms. Miers lobbies for the Pakistani embassy and the political party to which the Pakistani president belongs.

In the past couple of years, Pakistan and its political parties also hired a firm called Cassidy and Associates.  Another one called BKSH & Associates.  And until 2008, even employed the lobbyist services of RACHEL MADDOW SHOW favorite, Burson-Marsteller.  You may remember Burson-Marsteller from such lobbying gigs as Blackwater, Three Mile Island and the Bhopal chemical disaster.

A couple of years before hiring Burson-Marsteller, Pakistan hired the firm Barbour, Griffith and Rogers.  That‘s Barbour as in Haley Barbour, Republican governor of Mississippi, former head of the Republican Party, and one of the founders of that firm.

Pakistan is a country desperate not to lose its $3 billion a year in U.S. aid.  And after we found bin Laden there, Pakistan is willing to pay handsomely to a lot of very famous American political figures and firms to try to keep that money spigot open.

Joining us now is Steve Clemons of the New America Foundation.  He is founder and publisher of “The Washington Note.”

Steve, thanks very much for your time.

STEVE CLEMONS, NEW AMERICA FOUNDATION:  Great to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  How concerned is the government of Pakistan about losing funding?  How right are they to be concerned?

CLEMONS:  Well, I think the Pakistani military thrives on the money and funding that we give them, the various aid and support, and the toys for their military.  And I think that we actually do help them bolster in big ways what they are most paranoid about, which is India.

So, I think they are very concerned that they essentially had a luxurious safe house going for Osama bin Laden.  Not that they were concerned about that, but now they are afraid of paying the piper.

MADDOW:  Well, what sort of overtures are their very expensive lobbyists and very connected lobbyists now making to try to defend their client, to try—to prove that Pakistan is trustworthy enough to keep giving money to?

CLEMONS:  Well, I think they are out there saying, you know, what General Kayani, we recently had other very high level Pakistan cabinet ministers coming over.  And they make the case that they are at war, too, that they‘re at war with the Pakistan Taliban.  That they‘ve lost—I saw one outline three-star generals, two-star generals, one-star generals, their families, children, who were known to General Kayani and family friends who were killed in battle.

So, they try to make the case, and I think they do.  And part of it is the real story.  You know, Pakistan as you just had up there is a very high-stakes frenemy of the United States.  Part of what Pakistan‘s establishment is, it‘s very wrapped up in the same mission of the United States.  Another part of Pakistan is absolutely working as hard as it can against our interests.

And both of these are true at the same time.  They‘re trying—but their supporters are trying to say the good stuff.  Not the bad stuff.

MADDOW:  I think that nobody—nobody worries about Pakistan‘s assurances that they have a big problem on their hands.  And that the Pakistani Taliban is a big deal and definitely has the Pakistani government, the toppling of that government, in its sights and is a scary force.

I think the concern is that Pakistan has never really purged the radical and radical sympathizer elements from its own intelligence and military ranks.  We‘ve had—when we have assassinations of Pakistani moderate political politicians, it‘s by their own security guards because the radicals have infiltrated or even if not have infiltrated, are that part of the government.

Can they show that they could do some sort of purge in that way?

CLEMONS:  I think it‘s really hard.  It‘s like Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab who was killed, was killed by his guard.  Admiral Mike Mullen has made the point many times that when the United States cut off security aid and exchanges with the Pakistani military, that there was a whole range of officers in the Pakistani military that just didn‘t develop contacts and relationships with the American military because of our worries about their human rights concerns and others.

And that, you know, when you heard from ISI the other day or from people in the Pakistani government that it may have been that the senior leadership of ISI didn‘t know about bin Laden, but the next tier did, that‘s remarkable and it does validate—somewhat what Mike Mullen has been saying is there‘s a core of people—in fact, the next generation, the successors to the current leadership that, they don‘t like us very much and they have been the ones that have been helping to build the LET and have been funding essentially our enemy in Afghanistan and giving safe houses to bin Laden and Mullah al-Baradar, who‘s a deputy to Mullah Omar, and trying to essentially set themselves up as having strategic depth, giving—you know, having hooks they can push into the United States and India if they need to.  But they‘re essentially partly at war with us.

MADDOW:  Steve Clemons, founder of “The Washington Note”—thank you so much for your time tonight, Steve.  Appreciate it.

CLEMONS:  Thank you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  A year and a half ago, America was on the merge of not having an auto industry.  Remember that?  Today, General Motors announced their fifth profitable quarter in row.  As goes General Motors, so goes a lot of important stuff in American politics.  That story and what else has been going on in parallel to the Osama bin Laden news—next.


MADDOW:  When I was outside the White House on Sunday night, in the middle of that crowd celebrating the night‘s big news, about the death of Osama bin Laden, I was on the phone with the studio here.  I was tweeting and reporting back to the folks here in New York what that scene was like, how people were reacting outside the White House.

One of the things I noticed was that really the only chant that ever got any traction in the crowd was, “USA, USA.”  People tried different ones.  They tried stuff like, na, na, na, like hey, hey—they tried that one.  People tried variation of the hey, hey, ho, ho, indecipherable something has got to go, right?

But, really, it was just “USA, USA” or singing “The Star Spangled Banner.”

I thought it was interesting that people also kept trying for “Obama killed Osama,” “Obama killed Osama,” but that didn‘t really stick either.  And that has been consistent with what‘s inside the White House since Sunday, too.

The White House is not releasing any trophy photos of bin Laden‘s head.  President Obama‘s visit to New York today was almost entirely off the record.  They invited President George W. Bush along to the New York trip with President Obama, if President Bush he wanted to go.  He did not.

If the White House had ever even considered trying to make this an Obama killed Osama kind of national moment, they have not done so.  And that‘s kind of what this White House is turning out to be like.

This show has been on the air for 2 ½ years roughly, since right before the election of President Obama and Vice President Biden.  And a couple of different times since President Obama was sworn in, we have felt on this show like this administration had hit a milestone achievement.  A political milestone that made it worth looking back and considering what they said they would do, that they had actually done.

One of the times we did it was last June, when they passed Wall Street reform, the biggest reform of Wall Street since the Great Depression.  We also tried it in December, in the lame duck session, on the eve of the president signing the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  And on both of those occasions, I remember that segment being kind of a hard segment to produce.

And that‘s because this White House does not brag about its achievements.  They do not keep a running list anywhere, at least that I know of.  They do not keep a running list of stuff they said they‘d do that they actually did.

I thought of that again today when we got the news about General Motors.  G.M., you may recall, very nearly went out of business not that long ago.  Only two months after he took office, the new president said he would not let General Motors be a casualty of the great recession.  He decided to have the government step in and take over the company and restructure it and try to bring it back from the dead.  Mr. Obama staked his presidency in part on that.

NBC News‘ analysis at that time was, as the G.M. bailout goes, so goes the Obama presidency.

Well, you know how the G.M. bailout went?  It went great.  G.M. today reporting not just a profit, but a nice profit, weighing in at $3.2 billion, billion with a b.  G.M.‘s North American plants more than doubled their earnings since last year.

When President Obama made the decision to save G.M., his critics said government had no business interfering with business.  Business could not work with government anywhere near it.  Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, for example, conjured the nightmare of Congress micromanaging G.M.


SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER ®, TENNESSEE:  How many cars should have flex fuel?  What should the work rules be at the flint plant?  What should the salaries be in the executive offices?  Where can conferences be held?  Someone will want to know why the Volt, the G.M. Volt, is buying a battery made in South Korea instead of in that congressman‘s congressional district.


MADDOW:  With all respect to Senator Alexander and his crystal ball, frankly, what most people want to know about the Chevy Volt is where they can get one now that it‘s been named “Motor Trends” Car of the Year.

The G.M. government bailout worked.  Sails are up by a quarter over last year, an entire sector of the U.S. economy lives on, thanks to that bailout -- 1.4 million still have jobs who would not otherwise have them in all likelihood.

But the Obama administration is not crowing about it.  They also didn‘t do all that much crowing about the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women or expanding children‘s health insurance, or new hate crimes legislation, or the FDA being able to regulate tobacco for the first time, or reform of the credit card industry, or student loan reform or, hey, health reform.  Maybe that one should get its own screen.

The aforementioned Wall Street reform, a new and better G.I. bill, the biggest food safety bill since the Great Depression, the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” a treaty with Russia to reduce our nuclear arsenal by 1/3, an international agreement to lock down loose nuclear material around the world and keep it out of the hands of terrorists.  Not to mention an economic growth rate that looked like this when President Obama took over and that looks like this now.  That‘s better.

And, oh, yes, also—bin Laden.  Osama bin Laden is dead, and we‘ve got his thumb drives.

This White House does not brag on itself.  We are the ones keeping this list apparently.  Not them.  But whether or not you fault them for refusing to brag, at least in these first two years and a bit, this is turning out to be a speak softly but carry a big stick kind of presidency.


MADDOW:  This is what the nation‘s headlines looked like on Monday after President Obama—look at that—after President Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden late on Sunday night.  For only the third time in the last 43 years, “The New York Times” literally stopped the presses.  Somebody yelled, stop the presses, and they stopped.  Sunday night, they scrapped this plan the Monday front page for this Monday front page instead.

The following day on Tuesday, the nation‘s front pages frankly looked a lot like Monday‘s.  And then on Wednesday, still bin Laden‘s death is what the nation and the world is reading about.  It is what the media is covering.

And that wall-to-wall coverage this week has offered great cover for anyone who wants to do something that would otherwise make news but who wants their news to not really get noticed, who wants what they‘re doing to be eclipsed by the sheer volume of news about something else.

And so, House Republicans chose yesterday to vote on their radical federal anti-abortion bill that interfered with their message that they‘re all about jobs, jobs, jobs.  They also chose late last night to let it leak out that they‘re dropping their plan to kill Medicare.  They had their House Ways and Means Committee chairman announce that he will not move on killing Medicare.  Then House Speaker John Boehner nailed the coffin shut.

Remember, House Republicans already voted to kill Medicare, but now, in the midst of the country really definitely not paying any attention to them, they have decided to very quietly drop it.  And the timing suggests they would really like to not talk about this very much, please.

The smartest politics blogger in the country is Steve Benen, who writes at  Steve Benen noted about this today that John Boehner‘s quiet as possible move on the Medicare thing, quote, “probably won‘t come as a relief to vulnerable House Republicans.  Remember, they knew ending Medicare would be unpopular, but they voted to scrap Medicare anyway.  Some of those GOP lawmakers almost certainly didn‘t want to go along but they stuck their necks out and voted for it because their leaders asked them to.  A month later, those same leaders are moving away from their own idea, leaving their most vulnerable members with nothing more than attack ads to look forward to.”

There is still not too much time to talk about this sort of thing yet, right?  We are still mostly just talking about bin Laden‘s death.  But if the Republicans giving up on killing Medicare after making all of their members vote for it, if this is remembered at all after this news cycle, if this doesn‘t go down the memory hall, this will be remembered as one of the single worst political moves of John Boehner‘s as yet short but happy career as speaker of the House.

Its only competition really as far as I can tell is the oil thing that he‘s doing.  Did you hear about this today?

That‘s next.


MADDOW:  Since Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday night, global oil prices have been down.  Which is always the weirdest possible lens for looking at geopolitical events, right?  But in this case it is a very clear lens.  Look at this.  Quote, “The only action in oil prices this week has been down and Thursday‘s plunge was being viewed by some as the knock out blow.”  That‘s what counts as a Wall Street freak out.

But, today, Wall Street was really freaked out because oil dropped below $100 a barrel.  Shudder at the thought.

Just for preference, for perspective, the day before 9/11, on September 10th, 2001, the price of a barrel of oil was $27 and change.  People were panicking back then.  Wall Street was panicking about the possibility of oil prices surging toward $30 a barrel.

Now, if oil went to $30 a barrel right now we would give that barrel a ticker tape parade down Broadway.  We would give that barrel the key to the city.

The Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was here on this show last night.  We invited him here to talk about how much declaring a war on terror after 9/11 changed us as a country in terms of our economy.  How much different we are, right, since 9/11, than we were before 9/11.

And the cost of a barrel of oil and how much we spend on energy that we wouldn‘t be spending if the price was less—that cost is one incredibly dramatic way of seeing how different America is since 9/11.  Look at this.  This is oil prices.  This is the price of a barrel of oil in the 15 years before 9/11.  A little spike there you can see on the early ‘90s for Gulf War I, but basically pretty steady, right?

Now, look at the price of a barrel of oil since 9/11.  Watch this. 

Oh!  Oh, yes.  That‘s called volatility.  That‘s also called expensive. 

That‘s also called a really awesome time to be an oil company.

The average price of a barrel of oil since 9/11 is 176 percent higher than the average price of a barrel of oil in the decade before 9/11, and that is why, in part, the oil industry is the most profitable industry ever known to mankind.

At a time when U.S. corporate earnings are setting records, we just found out today that U.S. companies posted their third largest profit gain ever this past year, even if they are still not hiring.  At a time when corporate America is really cleaning up, the oil companies are still in a league of their own.

Two of the top three most profitable companies on the “Fortune” 500 list out today are oil companies.  Exxon Mobil is the most profitable company in the country.  Chevron is not far behind at number three.

Osama bin Laden‘s death may turn out to be an economic bummer for oil companies if it keeps driving oil prices down the way it has this week.

But in this past decade, that Osama bin Laden has been alive, this past decade since 9/11, it has been economically great for oil companies.  I mean, great isn‘t even the word.

And it is in that context that today, Republicans in the United States House of Representatives decided to block the latest attempt by Democrats to end taxpayer subsidies of these richest companies the world has ever known.  Democrats tried to force a vote to repeal the billions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money that go to these oil companies every year and Republicans said, no.  Today‘s move follows another vote back in March where Republicans voted unanimously to keep these oil subsidies intact.

If you know a Republican member of the House, then you know someone who voted explicitly as a stand alone measure to keep giving oil companies taxpayer subsidies.  Even though House Republicans blocked today‘s effort to repeal oil subsidies they did in fact take a vote on the oil industry, they passed a bill to further reduce regulations on offshore oil drilling, betting that America will agree with them that offshore oil drilling is just too darned safe.

Republicans also chose this week to launch their big new House energy task force.  Stated goal of this task force is to promote the Republican Party‘s energy message through things like social media and op-eds and TV interviews.

What we put together today is the list of names of the 31 members of the House Republican energy task force.  The dollar figure you see next to each name is the amount of money that particular member of Congress has received in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry over the course of his or her career.  There was not one single member of Congress on the new House Republican energy task force who has not received oil and gas industry money.

The 31 Republicans on this task force have taken in a combined $4.5 million in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.  For five of these Republicans, the oil and gas industry is their single largest contributor over the course of their career.

Everybody is psyched about Osama bin Laden being dead.  The oil industry?  I mean, they are human—so we‘ve got to imagine that they‘re all psyched, too.

But the decade since 9/11 has been a lot better economically for them than the decade before 9/11 was.  So, if they‘re worried this week‘s trend is going to continue, if they‘re worried this means a return to other worldly, pre-9/11 profits instead of super galactic post-9/11 profits, the House Republicans moved this week to assure them that they‘ll always be there for them to hug it out, reassure them, keep everything going the way it has been.  They‘ll be quietly hugging it out with them to reassure them hoping the rest of us do not bother to notice because we‘re too distracted with the really big news in the world.

Thanks for being with us tonight.  Now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW.” 

Have a good one.



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