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'The Rachel Maddow Show' for Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guests: Eugene Robinson, Sen. Chuck Schumer, Victor Fehrenbach


RACHEL MADDOW, HOST:  And thanks to you home for staying with us for the next hour.

You know when you‘re a kid and you go on a road trip or are in the car with mom or whoever at the wheel, and you‘re the kid in a car and you pass a trucker on the road, what do you do to a truck?  You go, right?  You make the universal, “Hey, trucker, honk your horn” motion with your arm.  I was a very, very serial offender of doing this to truckers when I was a kid.

But, you know, if the trucker sees you do that as a kid and honks at you, that is the best thing in the whole world when that happens.

Well, today in midtown Manhattan, while I was sitting at my desk here at Rockefeller Center, I witnessed an only on New York, only on summer vacation update to the whole “trying to get the trucker to honk his horn” thing.  It was open top tour buses, full of school kids visiting New York on summer vacation.  Open-top tour buses, right?  So, the convertible double-decker buses, full of school kids driving through midtown Manhattan.

And as they are driving through midtown Manhattan, the kids in the buses are screaming and clapping and cheering at the top of their lungs up toward all of these New York City skyscrapers they are driving past.

What are they doing?  Trying to get us worker bees, us little people working in the office buildings in midtown Manhattan to wave at them as they go by.  And, of course, the streets are packed right now because it‘s summer vacation in New York City.  So, they are also trying to get the tourists on the streets and everybody else packing the sidewalks to wave and clap for them, too.

It was so loud.  It was so great.  It was like a roving standing ovation all through midtown today.

I love summer vacation, even when I am not on it.


But summer vacation for kids in some rural school districts in New Mexico and in Idaho and in a few other states has a slightly different vibe this year than had has in years past.  That‘s because at the end of this summer vacation this year, kids in September in those states will not be going from the glory of summer vacation back to five straight days of school every week, they‘ll be going from the glory of summer vacation back to four straight days of school, three-day weekends every weekend.

Kids in Hawaii got put on this schedule a couple of years ago as well.

And although any three-day weekend sounds great to us working stiffs, the school kids of rural New Mexico, and rural Idaho, and Hawaii a couple of years ago, they are not going down to a four-day school week in order to give them a taste of vacation all year round, they are going down to a four-day school week because in America now, we can‘t afford to keep our schools open five days a week.  It‘s tough times, can‘t afford it.

In the town of Alto, Texas, kids are still expected to be in school five days a week, but that town has decided that what it has to cut is its police force.  They are not trimming back the number of police officers or the number of hours that police officers working, Alto, Texas, is eliminating the entire police force.

“Forbes” reported on this last week.  This is a town of about 1,200 people.  It‘s between Tyler, Texas, and Huntsville.  A city councilman from Alto named Jerry Flowers explains that the town of Alto is so broke, quote, “We had to do something.  The police department being a non-money making entity was the easiest to get rid of while we catch our breath and build up some cash.”

So, the town of Alto, Texas, fired its police chief and all four police officers.  They padlocked the police department, and they‘re just hoping for the best.  The sheriff‘s department has an office 12 miles away, they say they can‘t promise they‘ll be able to get an officer to Alto every day but they will do what they can.

It‘s tough times.  Can‘t afford it.  Good luck.

You want to know what else we can‘t afford anymore?

You may have followed the story earlier this summer about the really quite scary E. coli outbreak in Europe, mostly in Germany, that got more than 4,000 people sick.  This outbreak killed more than 40 people.  That outbreak of E. coli was not a typical strain of the bacteria, it was a more rare, more virulent form that was eventually traced to a sprout farm in northern Germany.

The scary thing about that for Americans is that the Food and Drug Administration here in the U.S. does not regularly screen for that strain of E. coli.  The FDA screen for what you might call standard t strains for standard E. coli, the 0157-H-7 strain.  But they don‘t screen for this other kind that caused all these fatalities in Europe.

Fortunately, though, even though our FDA doesn‘t screen for that strain, there is another U.S. government program that does.  It‘s called the microbiological data program, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  This program costs taxpayers less than $5 million a year to scan 15,000 sample of produce, produce that‘s susceptible to things like E.  coli.

When they find something dangerous, that usually leads to a product recall.  As reported in the “Chicago Tribune” today, House Republicans have zeroed out funding for this E. coli screening program because—hey, who needs a government that screens for virulent, deadly forms of E. coli anyway?  We can do that at home ourselves, right, with our home rare E.  coli strain testing kits.

The E. coli testing program is not dead yet.  The Senate still has to make its decision on it.  But according to House Republicans, hey, it‘s tough times.  You just can‘t afford it.

As my friend Steve Benen wrote at “The Washington Monthly” today, “Welcome to austerity in America.  We can afford tax breaks for millionaires but we can‘t afford five-day school weeks.”

When the Obama administration‘s new education secretary got confirmed by the Senate two years ago, he told the Senate then, quote, “Our school day is too short.  Our school week is too short.  Our school year is too short.”

And in terms of our global competitiveness as a country, that is pretty much what everybody believes about American education, and though everybody pretty much agrees about that, the summer school budget—summer school budget in Los Angeles County this summer went from an $18 million budget to a $3 million budget.  It‘s not that we think it‘s a better idea to not have summer school in L.A. this year, we‘re just not doing it.

Tough times.  We choose to cut back on that.

The U.S. Senate was supposed to be off this week for the July 4th recess.  They decided to stay in D.C., instead, to have a big fight in Washington about the direction of the country, about what we are going to prioritize in this country, what we are going to spend money on and what we are not going to spend money on.

The president said yesterday that this fight about the debt ceiling right now is not going to be some short-term stop-gap measure to tie this fight over to another day.  The president said he really wants to have the fight now.  And so, this fight is happening now.

We are coming out of the great recession, but still very tough times economically.  And given that it is tough times economically, how should we be allocating our resources as a country?

The Republican stance in this big argument, the Republican position, is that they will not allow taxes to go up one penny, even if Democrats only want to raise taxes on the richest people in the country.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  A tax hike cannot pass the U.S. House of Representatives.  It‘s not just a bad idea, it doesn‘t have the votes, and it can‘t happen.  The American people don‘t want us to raise taxes.


MADDOW:  The American people do not want us to raise taxes, period, full stop, makes for a really nice, tidy, talking point in this big fight.

It does not, however, appear to be a true talking point.  The most recent NBC News/”Wall Street  Journal” poll to poll on this question showed that when asked if they would support a federal surtax, an extra tax on people earning over $1 million a year, 81 percent of Americans said, yes, they would support that -- 81 percent of Americans, just perspective, do not agree that ice is cold or the word “duh” has a “t” in it.  But 81 percent agreed raise taxes on millionaires.  That we can agree on.

When asked if they can support phasing out Bush tax cuts for those raising a quarter of a million a year, 68 percent of Americans said yes.

You would never know from the talking points in the Beltway that the American public is actually quite overwhelmingly cool with some taxes being raised on the wealthiest people in the country.  Republicans have also been adamant that taxes on U.S. corporations should not be allowed to go up at all, the American people would not support that, they‘d say.

But when you actually ask the American people, the majority of Americans think that corporations are not paying their fair share -- 56 percent of Americans say corporations are paying less than their fair share, just 22 percent of Americans say they are paying the right amount.

And, you know, it turns out the American public is more astute than you might think they‘d be about what corporations are doing with all the money that they get from their various tax breaks.  Sixty-one percent of Americans say what companies are doing with their tax breaks is using that money to pay bonuses and dividends.  Only 23 percent of Americans say they are using that money they get from tax breaks to reinvest in their business.  Just 4 percent say they are using that money to create new jobs for American workers.

The Republican argument of this big direction of the country fight in Washington right now is that corporations need to have giant tax breaks because they‘ll use that money to create jobs.  Only 4 percent of Americans believe that is true.

A Republican argument right now is that high taxes on corporations in the U.S. are stifling job creation here and that corporations need more taxpayer money because they‘ll use that to create jobs.

In terms of what corporations pay in taxes overall, here‘s how we stack up to the rest of the world.  That‘s us down near the bottom.

As a percentage of GDP, we are all the way at the bottom of the list, second lowest in the developed world.  That‘s a pretty sweet deal for corporations that do business in America.  And that‘s corporate income taxes generally in aggregate as a proportion of GDP.

Looking at some of the big companies, looking at Citigroup, for example, Citigroup was the recipient of huge tax breaks last year, in 2010.  The corporate tax rate is e35 percent.  But Citigroup, they pay less than half of that.  Citigroup only paid 16.9 percent last year.

What did that massive tax break translate to?  It translated to Citigroup getting rid of more than 5,000 jobs between 2009 and 2010.

How about the pharmaceutical company Johnson and Johnson?  Instead of the normal 35 percent tax rate, their tax rate in 2010 was just 21.3 percent.  What did that giant corporate tax break mean for jobs at Johnson and Johnson?  It meant a fifth straight year of job reductions at that company, over five years of huge corporate tax rates for them, the company killed 8,000 jobs.

Then there‘s General Electric, part owner of this network.  Last year, G.E.‘s corporate tax rate was a measly 7.4 percent.  The corporate tax rate you hear so much about is 45 percent.  They only paid 7 percent.

Did all of those corporate tax breaks lead to American jobs, jobs, jobs?  G.E.‘s workforce shrunk by 17,000 employees compared to the year before.

Same deal with the giant tech company Hewlett-Packard.  The corporate tax rate maybe 35 percent.  But if you‘re H.P., you don‘t worry, knock 15 percent off that, keep it for yourself.

What does the tax payer get for that corporate welfare largess towards Hewlett-Packard and their 22.2 percent corporate tax rate?  The U.S.  taxpayer gets diddly for that.  But overseas and other countries, they got shipped to them what used to be H.P.‘S American jobs.

Despite the evidence that massive, massive, massive corporate welfare, massive corporate tax cuts and tax loopholes do not translate to more jobs here in America.  The Republican argument in Washington right now is, hey, it‘s tough times.  We can‘t afford stuff like E. coli screening and five-day school weeks anymore, can‘t afford luxuries like that.  And any money we got right now, we got to spend it on giving corporations more tax breaks or else.


BOEHNER:  And if you raise taxes on the people that we need to grow our economy and to hire new workers, guess what?  They are not going to do it if they have to pay higher taxes to the federal government.


MADDOW:  Corporations need these tax cuts, more of them, for jobs or something.

That argument may hold sway in Washington.  When you ask the American people if they believe it, 4 percent say they agree.

I will admit that it is a little congruous they‘d be having this big, super serious direction of the country, hard at work fight going on in Washington right now, in the middle of glory of summer vacation, honk, honk -- but I got to tell you, if any fight is worth having as a country, this fight is worth having right now.

Joining us right now is New York Senator Charles Schumer, a member of the Democratic leadership on the Senate.  He sits on the finance committee.

Senator Schumer, thank you so much for being here.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  What do you think the likelihood is the parties are just too far apart on these basic questions, that there can‘t be an agreement on raising the debt ceiling, that we are at risk of actually hitting it?

SCHUMER:  Well, you‘ve hit the nail on the head.  The thing that‘s really holding it up is the insistence on the Republican side that we do no revenues, that we cannot even close the most egregious of tax loopholes on the very, very wealthy.

And you‘re right, you know, when you‘re wealthy, the way you get the government to help you is through a tax break.  When you‘re middle class or poor, you don‘t have the ability to do that.  And so, by saying no one, no one should have their taxes or the loopholes closed or the tax rates raised for people above $1 million, they are putting the entire burden of this deficit, which is a real burden, on middle class and poor people and American people as polls show are wise to that.

So, we are making this fight.  We are debating this week instead of being away on recess, a resolution that says millionaires and billionaires should pay their fair share and partake in the sacrifice everyone else has to partake in, and we‘re gaining ground.  The Republicans are feeling the heat.

MADDOW:  The resolution you described, a sense of the Senate resolution that millionaires and billionaires, as you say, should play a part in bringing down the deficit, sort of sharing the burden.

Why bring that up as a non-binding resolution?  Why proceed with something like that that‘s not binding legislation?

SCHUMER:  Well, we‘re hoping to influence both the public and those who are making the decision, and if you‘re quiet about this issue, Speaker Boehner, Senator McConnell and the Republicans will hold their ground, but they are feeling the heat when we point out that for instance, they want to give yacht owners a tax break that says you can treat your yacht as a second home and use the mortgage deduction—when they resist the fact that when you buy a corporate jet, you get a special tax break, a bigger one than Delta Airlines buys.

When they fight the fact that everyone else is paying but the highest-income people are getting the largest tax break, we make some real progress.

And so, debating this resolution is putting pressure on them.  You know what they‘ve done through the years, Rachel, they simply say the Democrats want to raise your taxes—and they make the upper middle class person think we mean them.

And, finally, what we‘re doing here is drawing the distinction by saying yes, anyone under $250,000, we don‘t want to touch your taxes.  But the people above, yes, you should be part of the sacrifice, and I think we‘re gaining ground.

MADDOW:  When you say you‘re gaining ground, the president is due to meet with leaders of both parties tomorrow at the White House.  From your perspective in the Senate leadership, do you feel something is close to being agreed to, do you see any movement?

SCHUMER:  No, I don‘t see us that close, but if the president holds his ground and we Democrats hold our ground that revenues have to be equal to spending cuts, I think we can force them to move further than they‘ve done.

Boehner says on the TV there.  Well, we can we don‘t have the votes for any spending cuts, then we‘ll get anywhere.  Everyone has to give.  They‘re not giving at all.

We are willing to give on painful spending cuts, the spending cuts you‘ve pointed out—but not alone.  There‘s got to be revenues that should be, we believe, the vast majority of Democrats believe, higher revenues on corporate loopholes and people who make above $1 million should be half the deal.

MADDOW:  In laying out his own negotiating position this week, the president openly talked about the need to have trillions of dollars in spending cuts over the long-term, the Fed and CBO have warned that crimping spending in the short-term, crimping spending right now could put us at risk of getting back into a recession.  Do you think that concern seriously that spending cuts might be dangerous for the overall economy?

SCHUMER:  I do.  I do think the deficit problem is real.  And over the next 10 years, we have to get a handle on it.  But in the immediate short-term, most of us—in fact, the Democratic leadership sent a letter to the negotiators saying that job creation should be part of it as well, particularly in the early years.

I‘d like to see spending on infrastructure.  Our infrastructure is really in need of repair, and that creates the kinds of construction jobs that would normally be created by the private sector and housing industry but isn‘t being created now.  So, we would like to do that, and perhaps jobs will be part of this package.  I hope so.  I‘m less optimistic on that regard than I am on trying to get revenues.

We‘ve drawn a strong line on revenues.  I‘m glad we‘re here this week.  I‘m glad we‘re debating that resolution.  And I think if we stick with it, the public will finally understand that the sort of trick that Republicans use, which says Democrats want to raise taxes—meaning letting the average person think it‘s theirs when it‘s we want to make sure that those at the highest income participate in the pain that everybody else has to participate in.  I think we‘re making some progress in that regard.

MADDOW:  Senator Charles Schumer of New York—thank you for your time tonight.  I really appreciate it.

SCHUMER:  Thank you, nice to talk to you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  “The Best Thing on the World Today” is a word, a single word.  A word so wonderful I defy you to watch “The Best New Thing in the World”—I defy you to watch “The Best New Thing in the World” and not say this word out loud to your television.  I personally bet you, that you cannot resist saying it.

That is ahead.


MADDOW:  There was big news today on the military‘s “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy, including some big and exclusive news that we alone have got that you have not heard anywhere else.  That is coming up in just a moment.


MADDOW:  The clean up of the Exxon pipeline oil spell in the Yellowstone River in Montana continued today.  ExxonMobil says 350 people are now engaged in wiping away the estimated thousand barrels of oil that its busted pipeline spilled into the flooded Yellowstone this past weekend. 

The ExxonMobil pipeline president said yesterday the company had closed off

the pipeline within a half hour of realizing that there was a problem with

it.  But then today, they said maybe that was an estimate, a rough

reference as Exxon calls it.


Today, that same company boss said it actually took 49 minutes to close the pipe.  He said, “We have not tried in any way to mislead anyone.”

Something else we‘ve just learned about ExxonMobil.  Back in December, the company said that the pipeline that just burst under the Yellowstone River, they said it was between five and eight feet under the river bed.  They said it was five to eight feet down below the river bed.  They said that until maybe that wasn‘t deep enough.  I‘m not sure.

Again, from “The Associated Press,” quote, “When the river started to rise this, federal pipeline regulators contacted ExxonMobil and were told by the company on June 1st that was not at risk, that it was buried 12 feet beneath the riverbed.”

The company president disputed that report today, saying the 12-foot number was not one that ExxonMobil had given out and he believes that it really was five to eight feet down.

So, for now, just to review here since the oil spill happened late on Friday night, ExxonMobil has said it was unlikely that any oil was in the water, were that so.

Right after the accident, Exxon estimated that the spill would mostly affect a 10-mile area.  A day later, they acknowledged that wasn‘t so.

Officials now in North Dakota are now worrying about the oil reaching a lake in that state, a town hundreds of miles away.

Exxon has also said no injured wildlife had been found pursuant to the spill, though the local press had pictures of oil pelicans and turtles.

ExxonMobil has said there was not danger to public health from this spill, when in fact Montanans were telling the company that people have gone to the hospital after getting sick from breathing the fumes from the oil.  And the EPA, which has now taken over the cleanup warned, quote, “some of the chemicals may cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, or vomiting.”

Last night, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer told us on this show that he had been assured a year ago that emergency equipment in the event of a spill was staged, it was ready, close by, ready to go—only to find out when the spill actually happened that close by meant the equipment was in Utah and it would days before workers had a boat on the river.

And now, we have the questions about how long oil was gushing into the river and whether Exxon told the truth about that and also how deep the pipeline was buried and whether or not Exxon has said various things about that as well.

So, this is a mess.  This is a mess of an ExxonMobil oil spill in the Yellowstone River.  It is also a mess of ExxonMobil‘s truthiness about that spill.

Now, they‘ve got this new slide show up on their company Web site.  And at first I thought it was kind of pitiful, two pictures in the whole slide show that they got there.  Now I‘m thinking this might be ExxonMobil‘s most transparent moment in the spill yet, because this is the clean-up of Yellowstone River with 40-year old technology, you probably do get the picture from these two pictures they posted in the slide show—the lousy boom and their frickin‘ paper towels.

Lousy boom, paper towels—this is the response capability of the wealthiest corporation in the history of the United States of America.


MADDOW:  In December, during the lame duck session of Congress after the election, the Senate voted to repeal “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  By a vote of 65 to 31, they ended the U.S. military‘s 17-year policy of firing people from our military for being gay.

Days later, President Obama signed that repeal into law, and the Pentagon started to put in place its long, comprehensive, detailed plan for repealing the “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” policy very slowly and very carefully.

But as of this morning, that process of ending it was still playing out.  Seven months after repeal, the policy was technically still in effect, most people estimating that the process of getting rid of the policy would not be complete until September.

Either September or maybe this afternoon—the 9th U.S. circuit court of appeals, just one tier below Supreme Court, this afternoon ruled that the government needs to get on with it already about “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” citing the Obama administration statements that it is unconstitutional for the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, the 9th circuit court ordered that the government stop implementing “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” now, as immediately.

A Pentagon spokesman put out a statement in response, saying we will, of course, comply with orders of the court and also said the Defense Department is reviewing the ruling, that the Justice Department and that the military will start notifying its personnel of the ruling immediately.

Does this mean everybody in the military living a closeted life should come out immediately?  Well, the lawyer for the plaintiff organization in this case, the gay Republican group called the Log Cabin Republicans, that lawyer says no, telling “The Associated Press” today that gay service members are cautioned against coming out now until the government declares that it intends to abide by the ruling.

The head of Servicemembers Legal Defense network also referenced that same issue today, saying that his organization hopes the Defense Department will not challenge the ruling.

For more than two years now, U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach has been fighting to keep from being discharged under “don‘t ask, don‘t tell.”  He is a fighter pilot and he is a decorated combat veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

And over these past two years, his decision to fight the Air Force‘s efforts for firing him for being gay have made him a nationally-known symbol of the cost of this policy.

He joins us now from Idaho.

Colonel Fehrenbach, thanks very much for your time tonight.

LT. COL. VICTOR FEHRENBACH, U.S. AIR FORCE:  Thanks.  Good to be with you, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Since you first came on this show and told your story, Victor, there have been many twists and turns and the unmaking of this policy.  What‘s your reaction to this court ruling effectively shutting down of the policy right away?

FEHREHBACH:  You nailed it, Rachel, there have been a lot of twists and turns.  There were a lot of great news today, but I greet it with cautious optimism once again, mainly because they do have a opportunity, the DOJ and the DOD have the opportunity to challenge this order in court once again, I believe the date is August 29th or they could also, as I understand, appeal directly to the Supreme Court.

So, we need some clarification once again.  As you mentioned, they say that they would comply with the order and they would take immediate action and notify the force.  So, again, maybe we‘ll get clarification within days like we did in October where the news trickled out.

But also, the thing that would end all of this confusion is if the president, Secretary Panetta and Admiral Mullen would just move to certify the repeal immediately, you know, within days of this ruling.

We have gone through the training, the Marines, the Coast Guard, the Navy, the Air Force are all complete.  The Army is more than—as I understand it, is 75 percent complete with their training.  So, the thing that would end all the confusion in the world is if the president would certify the repeal of “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” and that they would make an announcement saying that they did not intend to repeal or challenge this order.

MADDOW:  In the meantime, until there‘s that clarification that you‘re describing, do you have—I realize you‘re not a lawyer here.  You‘re a person who have been in the middle of this and don‘t want you to speak beyond your level of comfort.  But do you have any advice for people who are currently serving in the military about disclosing their sexual orientation, people who have been discussing this ruling today.  Is there any change whether or not people should feel comfortable coming out?

FEHRENBACH:  No.  In fact, just as you pointed, the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network put out again a warning once again to service members that “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” is still the law of the land, that it is not safe for service members to come out.  Again, until we get clarification and again, the Pentagon did say they take immediate steps to notify the force, but the one thing that would clarify this for everyone is that the president, secretary of defense, and Admiral Mullen certify repeal and we got this process underway immediately and if they announce that they would not appeal the ruling.

You know, there‘s still hundreds of cases—my case technically is still in limbo.  I could be discharged tomorrow.  Theoretically, we don‘t think that‘s going to happen.  But there are hundreds of cases right now that SLDN is taking care of, and there‘s tens of thousands of service members serving right now in harm‘s way that are just waiting for this certification to happen, waiting for “don‘t ask, don‘t tell” to be a page in history.

MADDOW:  In terms of your own case, Victor, I think we‘ll be able to make some news here tonight.  You were just a couple of years away from being able to retire at your full rank.  when your investigated under “don‘t ask, don‘t tell,” facing being forced out of the Air Force after 18 years of service with—forgive me, nothing to show for it but your chest full of medals at that point—can you tell me now what your next set of military orders are?

FEHRENBACH:  As you know, I think you reported that I received my retirement orders in January signed by the secretary of the Air Force.  And, in fact, just yesterday, another small step towards me seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in my case in particular was I received my certificate of retirement, the official certificate signed by the chief of the Air Force and my official certificate of appreciation from President Obama.

So, I do plan on retiring, it‘s effective 1 October and I plan on having a small ceremony over Labor Day weekend, and having those certificates in hand started to make this real for me.  I also have a ticker in my office right now.  I have 30 duty days left until I‘m effectively retired.

So it‘s starting to feel real.  But again, I‘m the lucky one.  We have still hundreds of cases that are going on at this moment and we have tens of thousands of service members waiting for this to be over.

MADDOW:  Lieutenant Colonel Victor Fehrenbach, thank you so much for your time, Victor.  It‘s good to see you and good to get this update from you, I appreciate it.

FEHRENBACH:  You too, Rachel.  Thank you very much.

MADDOW:  Thanks.

I wanted to say good-bye before I said this, but, you know, if anybody out there is looking for a guy who served his country, fought for his country in two wars, and then went on to be come kind of a civil rights hero, I was just going to say, not to put this out there, he didn‘t ask me to say it, but he‘s newly on the job market—first time since he joined the Air Force when he was a wee child.

I‘m just saying.  His name is Victor Fehrenbach.  Bald, big arm muscles.  You can‘t miss him.

All right.  Senator James “Mountain” Inhofe of Oklahoma, in addition to being the picture in the dictionary next to the phrase “rock-ribbed conservative” is also a pilot, and unlike Victor Fehrenbach, James Inhofe is a terrible pilot—a terrible, dangerous pilot.

You can also say that James Inhofe is a vindictive terrible, dangerous pilot based on what he did today.  This story about the senator is so weird.  Details are coming up.


MADDOW:  Oklahoma Republican Senator James “Mountain” Inhofe has long-styled him an enemy of what he calls government overreach.  But today, that fight got personal.  It all comes down to a brush that senator had with the Federal Aviation Administration last fall.

See, Senator Inhofe is an amateur pilot, and his terrible piloting nearly caused an accident last fall at a small airport in south Texas.  At the airport at Fort Isabel, Texas, there was a runway closed for construction.  The runway was marked closed.  They painted a giant “x” on to it to show that it was closed.

And not incidentally, the closed runway was also covered with a whole bounce of construction equipment and dozens of living, breathing, human construction workers.

Undeterred, Senator James “Mountain” Inhofe decided to land his private plane on the closed runway anyway.

You may remember the Smoking Gun Web site got ahold of the FAA documents about what Senator Inhofe did that day, as well as some of the witness audio from the incident.  Please listen to this.


WITNESS:  Scared the crap out of us on the north end, then he started to land on the other side of us, and there were a couple of trucks there.  He damn near hit a big red dually.  And he hopscotched over him and landed on the runway anyway.

FAA:  OK.  Did you get a call sign of the aircraft?

WITNESS:  Yes, sir, I‘ve got it.  I got the pilot‘s name is James Inhofe.  Well, he landed right in the middle of us.  And I‘ve got a list of witnesses.  I‘ve got about 10 people who was out on the runway, scared the death out of us.

And then some people that were up here at the hangar, which is real close to where the red truck was coming up the runway.  That boy pulled over, I think he actually wet his britches.  He was scared to death.  I mean, hell, he started trying to head for  the side of the runway.  The pilot could see him, or could have seen him, or he should have been able to.  He was right on him before he could—

FAA:  Yes.  And let me—you said you had his name.  What was his name again?  James what?

WITNESS:  James Inhofe.  They tell me he‘s a senator from Oklahoma.


MADDOW:  He is a senator from Oklahoma, Senator James Inhofe.  In the end, Senator Inhofe got off easy, considering what might have happened.  He was just ordered by the FAA to take some remedial flying classes despite the rather serious seriousness of what he did.

How has Senator Inhofe responded to that?  By going after the FAA with both barrels.  The senator maintains that he was not at fault when he flew over a giant yellow “x” marking the runway closed and tried to land amid the construction workers.  He says he was frustrated by how long it took to resolve his case from October 2010 when he scared the bejesus out of those people to January of this year when he found out about his punishment—classes.

So, about two and a half months of him worrying that maybe he would lose his pilot‘s license, even though he didn‘t.

So, now, Senator Inhofe has introduced legislation to combat what he calls the overreach of the FAA.  Senator Inhofe almost landed a plane on a group of construction workers on a closed runway, inexplicably, but now, he‘s the victim, and he‘s using his power as a senator to show that the government agency in charges of protecting us all from people who are as bad at flying airplanes as he is, that agency is the enemy and must be reined in.

Senator Inhofe saying today at this crackdown on the FAA, “I was never fully appreciative of the feeling of desperation until it happened to me.

Senator Inhofe, I accept your feeling of desperation and I raise you this -- 


WITNESS:  That boy pulled over, I think he actually wet his britches, he was scared to death.  I mean, hell.


MADDOW:  We will be right back.


MADDOW:  This is the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana.  The Lake Pontchartrain causeway, and the longest bridge over water anywhere in the world—the longest bridge anywhere until last week when this ugly little number took the new record.  This is a new bridge in eastern China that‘s just opened.  It‘s more than the length of a marathon, 26.4 miles long.  It  cost about $1.5 billion for China to build it.  They got it done in about four years.

It‘s so big you can see it from space.  Here‘s what it looks like.

The World Economic Forum keeps the list of infrastructure quality for all the developed countries in the world, our ranking on that list has now fallen to 23.  We are 23rd in the world in terms of quality of our infrastructure.  USA -- 23rd?  Seriously?

But if you listen the way this gets talked about in Washington, you might think there‘s hope for us to getting back in the game here.  President Obama at his Twitter town hall event today talked about how he not only wants to invest in infrastructure, but he thinks he might be able to bring Republicans around to that idea as well.



at a time when interest rates are very low, contractors are looking for work and the need is there.  That is something that could make a huge positive intact on the economy overall.  And it‘s an example of making an investment now that ends up having huge payoffs down the road.  We haven‘t got the kind of cooperation that I‘d like to see on some of those ideas and initiatives, but I‘m just going to keep on trying, and eventually, I‘m sure the speaker will see the light.



MADDOW:  By speaker, he means Speaker John Boehner, leader of the Republicans in the House.

The Republican infrastructure guy in the House is Congressman John Mica of Florida.  And you would think from the way John Mica talks about this issue that he might be on board with President Obama on infrastructure.  On the two-year anniversary of the stimulus being acted, John Mica certainly sounded like he wanted more infrastructure money.


REP. JOHN MICA ®, FLORIDA:  I stood on the floor of the House of Representatives and begged them to double the money for infrastructure, and then condense the amount of time to get the projects out.


MADDOW:  The congressman putting out a statement at the time as well, saying funding for infrastructure appropriately invested can effectively create jobs.

So, if you are an infrastructure geek, if you say like bridges that don‘t fall down, this kind of thing is good news, because this is the Republican chairman in charge of infrastructure in the House saying he supports infrastructure.  His complaint he says about the stimulus is that it didn‘t have enough infrastructure spending.

So, now, in a country that‘s infrastructure ranked 23rd, with some ugly bridge in eastern China relegating Lake Pontchartrain to statistical irrelevance, with the president saying he want infrastructure investment, the Senate Democrats proposing a multi-billion dollar bank for infrastructure investment, with Republicans putting a self-describe infrastructure spending advocate in charge of infrastructure pending in the House, now in that great context, that Republican congressman you just saw is set to put out his proposal tomorrow for how to invest in infrastructure and it turns what he‘s going to propose, at least we‘re told, is that he wants to cut funding  for highways and mass transit by a third.

One staffer quoted in the Washington Post saying, “It‘s pretty devastating.  Last year, we were looking at $550 billion, and now, we‘re looking at year we‘re looking at $230 billion.”  Big difference.

Sam Stein at Huffington Post today had a brilliant piece about how anti-spending Tea Party Republican freshmen are dealing with the issue infrastructure in their districts.

Steven Fincher of Tennessee in March begged the Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for $13 million in federal spending for a port project in his district.  Why did he want that $13 million infrastructure spending for his district?  Well, at the ribbon cutting ceremony, Congressman Fincher said, “We just wanted to make sure that we could do everything possible to create jobs, this was a part we could play.”

Having pocketed that money for his district because he said it would create jobs, two days later, Congressman Fincher voted to cut billions of dollars of transportation funding federally.  He put out a press release excoriating out of control and reckless spending.

So, if you ask one Tea Party Republican freshman congressman in Tennessee, over $10 million federal infrastructure spending in his own district can create jobs.  But that kind of spending anywhere else is out of control and reckless and he‘s against it.

If you ask the top infrastructure guy for the Republicans in the House, whether infrastructure spending can create jobs, he says, yes, funding can effectively create jobs.  He‘s all for it, until he votes to cut it by a third.

President Obama saying today that he thinks Republicans are going to see the light on this issue.  Why does he think that?

Joining us now is Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for “The Washington Post,” MSNBC political analyst and somebody who I bet is more optimistic on this than I am.

Hi, Gene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST:  Hi.  How are you doing, Rachel?

MADDOW:  I‘m good.

ROBINSON:  I don‘t know how optimistic I am in the short term, maybe in the longer term.

MADDOW:  Well, do you see any light at all here?  Do you think there could be any agreement about pursuing job creation by pursuing infrastructure investment?

ROBINSON:  Well, not job creation per say.  I mean, job creation would have to be like a happy byproduct because it‘s Republican ideology that government cannot and never does create jobs.  Therefore, you can‘t have infrastructure projects can‘t create jobs.

However, there is an iron clad rule in Washington which says that—as you noted, the rickety bridge that needs to be replaced in my district is vital infrastructure, if it‘s in somebody else‘s district it‘s out of control spending.  Now, one thing the administration can do, and in a more Machiavellian administration might do is, you know, Ray LaHood sort of figure out which district needs to get those transportation funds, which district needs to get that new senior citizen center or that road that‘s—that really needs to be resurfaced.

And, you know, you can influence things at least on the margins that way.

MADDOW:  Do you think that‘s the sort of thing that needs to be done with Republicans in secret?  That‘s the sort of thing you can lure Republicans in voting for things, or at least going along with things by offering them things that will make big difference in jobs and infrastructure in their district.  But is the political climate such that they can‘t own up to the fact that those thins would be a material good?

ROBINSON:  Well, eventually they have to own up to a simple arithmetic and basic logic.  So you do have to put it out there, and have you to get them to the point where they recognize objective reality, we are number 23 and falling by the way.  I mean, it‘s not as if we‘re going to go up from there unless we put a lot of money in.

Now, President Obama wanted to create a natural infrastructure bank, $550 billion.  We‘re now talking $230 billion and change and state infrastructure banks setup is not going to be as effective, it‘s not going to get us where we need to get to.

So, you tell me, Rachel, how do you make Republicans accept the arithmetic that is—that underlies the budget that any sixth grader can understand?

MADDOW:  You make them—you work very hard on making them embarrassed when they have raw hypocrisy on the subject.  And some of us work that hard every day, but it never works.

ROBINSON:  We‘ll keep trying, won‘t we?

MADDOW:  Eugene Robinson, Pulitzer Prize-wining columnist for “The Washington Post” and MSNBC political analyst—thank you very much, Gene.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here, Rachel.

MADDOW:  All right.  Coming up, awesome as this is and no question this is awesome in the literal sense of the word, inspires awe, there is something about this that you‘re looking at here that may be more awesome than these pictures.  “Best New Thing in the World Today” is coming up.


MADDOW:  “The Best New Thing in the World Today” is not this, but it has to do with this.  This is footage of the massive dust storm that engulfed Phoenix, Arizona today.  It‘s a fast moving cloud of dust, a mile tall and up to 100 miles wide.  It downed trees, grounded flights, knocked out power to thousands of people.

But while yesterday‘s storm was unusually intense.  Big sandstorms are fairly common in desert areas all over the world.  The name for such a weather phenomena is an Arabic word, the name is haboob.  Haboob.  And it is that, the official term for such a sandstorm that spawned the “Best New Thing in the World Today,” because all day, Newscasters and meteorologists had to keep repeating the word haboob over and over and over again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is a haboob.  Not a made up word, an official weather term.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s a haboob.





UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re going to talk haboob here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Actually called a haboob.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s just say it because it‘s the official title, haboob.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Take a look at this haboob.  Haboob.  A haboob.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is a haboob in the making.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Got to get a haboob hat, get that on the air.  There‘s another definition for haboob.  It‘s a word you can address any form of action, activity or person or car.  So, I guess you can use it like it‘s an adjective like wow.  Stephanie, that is a haboob car you have.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is a haboob.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What is a haboob?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Haboob is the word of the day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are lost in a mighty haboob.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why do you keep saying haboob?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Say it again, Ali, I know you love to say it.



MADDOW:  I love the guy who‘s like, right!  “Best New Thing in the World Today.”  Good night.  That does it for us.

Here comes “THE ED SHOW.” I‘m sorry.



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