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updated 3/16/2011 3:23:07 PM ET 2011-03-16T19:23:07

Guests: Bob Bazell, Howard Fineman, Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, Rick Maese, David Albright, Nagy Elsayyad, Bryan Norcross, Joshua Keating, Shushannah Walshe, Errol Lewis

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Nuclear danger.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews out in Los Angeles. 

Leading off tonight: Heading towards Chernobyl?  How horrible will this nuclear crisis in Japan get?  Right now, all four reactors at the Fukushima plant are badly damaged, endangering and terrifying the local population.  People are evacuating the area and even moving away from cities as far away as Tokyo.  Out of 800 workers on the site of the nuclear plants, 50 are still there, only 50, and they‘re in a very dangerous situation.  We‘ll get a report on the ground on how serious the situation is and what it could mean for Americans here at home.

Plus, how much radiation can anyone be exposed to before risking significant health problems?  We‘re going to talk to the experts about how much is too much.

I‘m going to talk to the Weather Channel, of all people, about which direction the winds are now blowing and who‘s in harm‘s way.

Also, the neocon crowd—no surprise here—is back again, calling for yet another war.  They always do.  This time, it‘s Libya.  The neocons are itching for a no-fly zone to force Gadhafi from power.  How many wars in Muslim countries do these guys want to fight at one time?

And if a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, how will very little knowledge affect Michelle Bachmann‘s chances?  Is it a problem in this country when even well-known politicians have so scant a knowledge of their own country‘s history?

We start with the crisis in Japan.  David Albright is a former nuclear weapons inspector and is currently with the Institute for Science and International Security.  Thank you very much for joining us.  I guess I want to know what‘s going on over there in terms of those four reactors right now.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: 

Well, today‘s been a quieter day, thank God.  I mean, it‘s not—there‘s no—there‘s not been an explosion or a new fire.  And so—and the radiation doses on site have generally come down.  There‘s been, I believe, some aftershocks.

There‘s still a lot of trepidation about what could happen and whether these reactors are going to go out of control.  And so- and it‘s also—there‘s—concern has grown over the fifth and sixth reactor there.  And so you have a situation where we‘re just waiting to see if the Japanese can get it under control.

And we‘re still suffering—and I say “we” in the sense of other government, individuals, the public, like myself, governments, the International Atomic Energy Agency—we‘re not getting a lot of information from the Japanese government, and that‘s becoming an increasingly—increasingly difficult problem as people begin to worry more and more about, Well, what radiation dose am I getting?

MATTHEWS:  Well, Japan‘s facing a potential nuclear catastrophe right now after three explosions have damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Saturday.  The first explosion ripped off the outer wall and roof of the number 1 reactor.  Workers are pumping sea water into that reactor to cool it, and the containment vessel surrounding the reactor remains intact.  That‘s good news.

Yesterday, an explosion destroyed the outer structure of the number 3 reactor.  At this point, core melting is presumed and sea water is again being used to try to cool the reactor vessel.  That‘s the outer—or rather, the inner core.

Perhaps the biggest concern centers on number 2 unit, where an explosion last night U.S. time actually damaged the inner steel containment vessel.  Containers are crucial in maintaining the safety of the fuel, and a breach reaches the possibility of a full-blown meltdown.

Number 4 reactor was not operating at the time of the earthquake, but a fire broke out there today, which could be a problem if the spent fuel at that site becomes exposed.

Let me ask you, David, about the threat to people.  What is it—let me get really basic here.  The threat to human bodies of radiation—what is it?

ALBRIGHT:  Well, it damages the—in large doses, it can cause sickness.  It‘s called radiation sickness.  You can damage the blood.  You can vomit.  And in larger doses, you can actually die.  And so you have to be very careful to reduce the risk.  And that‘s really what the workers face.  That‘s why the site was evacuated.  The dose rate got so high yesterday that it wasn‘t safe to stay there, and so only essential personnel were kept there.

There‘s less radiation that goes out to the public, outside the site, and there‘s an evacuation zone.  But the problem that the public is going to face over time is that the radiation that‘s been emitted, and Got forbid if there‘s more, can get into the food chain, for example.  There‘s radioactive iodine that falls on pastures.  Cows eat it.  It gets into milk.  It falls on vegetables, and so you have to worry over time if these releases—particularly if these releases continue that you‘re going to have radiation working itself through the food chain and ending up in humans and then—

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the workers—

ALBRIGHT:  -- raising the risk of cancer.

MATTHEWS:  Well, David, the problem I‘m looking at is 800 people were working at the plant the other day.  With this explosion and the deterioration out there in Japan, it‘s down to 50 workers.  Are they almost a suicidal—or not suicidal, sacrificial position, those workers?  If they stay there, even in rotation, what will happen to those workers at the plants, near the reactors?

ALBRIGHT:  Well, I don‘t think they‘re in a suicidal position and they‘re certainly not in a sacrificial position.  I mean, they can rotate in and out.  The workforce has a lot of radiation monitoring equipment.  They‘re going to be trying to work around radiation hot spots.  They‘re going to try to reduce their doses.

But what they‘re facing, unfortunately, is that they are going to be getting higher doses and they‘re going to be driving up the risk of cancer in the long run.  If they‘re not careful or they‘re unlucky, if they happen to be there if something happens, or were there when something happened, they can be getting large enough radiation doses that it can—it can start to affect their immediate health.

MATTHEWS:  Compare, if you will, the—both the containment and the damage or the actual explosion of the reactors themselves to what happened at Chernobyl, the worst case so far in the world?

ALBRIGHT:  Well, it‘s less.  I mean, Chernobyl involved a an explosion with a tremendous release of radioactive material into the atmosphere.  What you have here is an accident that‘s less, although I would say it‘s more significant than Three Mile Island.  But you‘ve had a kind of a slow bleeding of radiation into the environment, and that‘s being picked up in various parts of Japan.

And you have a risk that something worse could happen, and we saw a preview of that.  The International Atomic Energy Agency reported yesterday, based on Japanese information, that there was a fire in the spent fuel ponds—or he spent fuel pond at unit 4.  And there you can have—radiation material can go directly into the atmosphere.

There‘s also been a worry that if they don‘t cool the reactor that you could have a meltdown.  There‘s been a partial melting of fuel, according to most observers and experts, and that that could become worse.  And in the very worst case, it could actually go through the bottom of the reactor, and then there can actually be steam explosions if that hot material reacts with groundwater, and then you can have fissures in the ground that then release large amounts of radiation, probably not as much as Chernobyl, but nonetheless, a very significant release that‘ll have—will be—unfortunately, could contaminate quite a bit of land.

MATTHEWS:  On a critical mode here, how would you evaluate the

Japanese handling of this and the way they set up these reactors?  Are you

from an American point of view, did you think they did a good job in creating and designing these plants, these reactors?  And also, do you think they‘ve done a good job in this situation of the disaster taking place?

ALBRIGHT:  The Japanese nuclear industry is very competent and very

capable.  And these reactors are American reactors, and we have several of

them here.  They‘re old.  I don‘t think—we would never approve the

construction of such a reactor now.  But the Japanese, I believe, are very

competent.  I think they‘ve just been hit with, you know, a multi-punches -

multi-punches, with the earthquake, the tsunami, lack of backup systems. 

And it‘s been very tough, but I think they‘ve handled it pretty well, and they shouldn‘t be faulted for that.

Where they‘ve had a problem, I think, is they‘re overwhelmed.  And they also have not been communicating.  I mean, we don‘t know the risk.  I mean, everyone wants to know, Am I at risk of getting a radiation exposure that could elevate my chance of getting cancer?  And the Japanese government has not been doing the job very well to either convince people it‘s not going to happen or tell them what to do to prevent it from happening in case there is going to be a release.  And so there‘s a lot of dissatisfaction from governments, from the public, from International Atomic Energy Agency that the Japanese government is just not doing enough to communicate what is going on.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security.

Right now, we‘re going to go to Rick Maese.  He‘s with “The Washington Post.”   He‘s just returned from Tokyo and from Fukushima itself, where the nuclear power plant is located.  He joins us by phone right now.

Rick, give us a sense—I mean, there‘s so much going wrong in Japan right now with the nuclear reactors unstable right now.  We (INAUDIBLE) The food shortages, the water shortages, the gas—people worried about their gas and getting out of town.  And of course, affecting us most directly is the financial perhaps meltdown over there, which affects—it‘s already affecting their ability to buy our bonds.

RICK MAESE, “WASHINGTON POST” (VIA TELEPHONE):  Well, there‘s just a huge sense of uncertainty, you know, across the country.  You know, up in the Fukushima area, a lot of the locals—they‘ve lived in the shadow of these power plants, you know, for years and they‘ve understood the inherent risks.  And you know, they just have no way to really evacuate at this point.  Train service didn‘t resume to the area until yesterday, and it‘s still not hitting all parts.  And even then, it‘s difficult for many people to reach a train station because, you know, either they have no car or there‘s no gas for their car to, you know, reach a station and find some safety.

We spoke to a lot of foreigners (INAUDIBLE) at the Tokyo airport Tuesday afternoon, and there‘s definitely more sense of panic among some of the foreigners we talked to, Americans, Australians, French.  They‘re trying to get out as soon as possible.  Many arrived, you know, more than 24 hours early to the airport for their flight.  The uncertainty, you know, and the unreliability of some of the information given out by the Japanese government has just sparked, you know, just fear that hasn‘t calmed, you know—you know, a single day here.

MATTHEWS:  What is going on with the food supply?  We heard there‘s people are all stocking up or hoarding (INAUDIBLE) the word—what is the word?  How would you describe the situation with just the survival efforts over there?

MAESE:  Well, I can tell you further up north, you know, the closer you get to Sendai and the area that‘s impacted most, I mean, store shelves are just completely empty.  On our way back, basically, all you would see is ice cream, cheap candy and beer in most of the convenience stores and grocery stores.  So it‘s really not there.

And it‘s difficult for resources to get in there.  You know, it‘s normally just a three, four-hour trip.  It‘s taking, you know, 12-plus hours.  There‘s mud slides on the roads, the major arteries getting down there, and they‘re having a lot of difficulty getting any kind of resources, you know, up to the area.

And even down in Tokyo, you‘re see, you know, a lot of empty stores right now.  A lot of businesses are closed.  When we finally returned to Tokyo on Tuesday evening, I mean, it wasn‘t a complete ghost town, but you know, lights were off.  Businesses were closed.  People were not out in the streets.  There aren‘t cars because there‘s—you know, there‘s not a lot of gas available.

So you know, the resources just aren‘t available right now, and they‘re having a difficult time getting up to the region where it‘s needed most.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re looking now at pictures that have been developed over the last couple days, these amazing scenes of gigantic ships, almost, in the—right out on the land there.  They‘ve just floated over onto the land.  It‘s astounding what we‘re seeing of devastation.  I don‘t even know if it‘s like World War II at the end of it, but it looks like it.  It looks like Berlin or Tokyo after the war.

And I‘m thinking they‘re going to have such a demand for investment just to recreate their country in parts that they‘re not going to be lending much money to us.

MAESE:  Well, it‘s going to be difficult because, I mean, they have entire villages, entire towns that need to get rebuilt.  You know, we spent a lot of time in shelters the past few days, and no one‘s quite sure, you know, where (INAUDIBLE) money‘s going to come from or how they‘re going to rebuild.  But you know, these people have lost their homes, their livelihoods in these areas.  You know, we‘re talking about fishermen, people that were processing seaweed, people that relied on their homes right there on the water—

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MAESE:  -- and on the coast.  They live there for a reason.  And certainly, a lot of people, you know, around the nuclear power plants (INAUDIBLE) It‘s all got to be rebuilt from the ground up and no one‘s quite certain how that‘s going to happen at this point.  People are waiting to hear from the government if there‘s going to be some kind of temporary shelter, housing.  You know, after the Kobe earthquake, I think they—people say they heard a lot sooner.  The government reacted a little bit quicker.  And people are just kind of shrugging their shoulders, wondering when they‘re actually going to get some answers.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Rick, this makes New Orleans look like nothing compared to this.  New Orleans was hell, but this is just something.  I‘ve never seen anything like this, ever, and I—this does look like World War II about 1945.  Anyway, thank you, Rick Maese, from “The Washington Post,” reporting from over in Japan.

Still ahead: What are the risks of radiation exposure here, of course?  And what effect does radiation have on the human body?  We‘re getting to the realities of this thing and why it‘s so scary.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Rescuers in Japan have found two survivors in the rubble left by the tsunami.  One of the survivors was a 70-year-old woman whose house was washed away by the water.  She was found inside the home conscious but suffering from hypothermia.  It‘s a rare bit of good news in a country traumatized by the disaster.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Well, radiation escaping from Japan‘s damaged nuclear reactors has raised concern not just in Japan but around the world.  Thousands are being evacuated from within a 13-mile radius of the Fukushima plant.  Within 19 miles, people are being told to stay indoors.  Beyond that, some countries are even temporarily moving their embassies from Japan, Japan‘s capital, Tokyo, to get even—their personnel even further away from any radiation.

So what are real dangers of radiation exposure?  Dr. Nagy Elsayyad is a professor of radiation oncology at the University of Miami—the great University Miami, I should say, school of medicine.  What a great school to be coming from.  And I just want to ask you—I want to stay very organized here.  How much exposure is safe for a human being, doctor?

DR. NAGY ELSAYYAD, RADIATION ONCOLOGY SPECIALIST:  Well, there are effective dose limits that are set by the International Commission on (ph) Radiation Protection, as well as the NCRP, which is our own national commission here in the United States.

And that upper dose limit is five millisievert.  The name of the unit is a sievert—S-E-I-V-E-R-T.  (SIC).  So five millisieverts annually.  Just to put this in perspective, a chest X-ray would give you about 0.1 millisieverts.  The question that you asked is a little different, and I‘m glad you did ask it, because there is no such thing as a “safe dose.”  This is the dose limit that we think, based on mathematical modeling, could be set at because we get, like, cosmic rays or background radiation, which is about 2.4 millisieverts a year.  But the dose response curve as far as certain effects of radiation, especially the long-term effects, including cancer, for example, induction by radiation therapy or by radiation, is—doesn‘t have a threshold.  So there is no such thing as a safe dose.

MATTHEWS:  Are Americans at risk from radiation coming from Japan?

ELSAYYAD:  So—I‘m sorry. Could you repeat the question, please?

MATTHEWS:  Are we at risk over here in this continent of North America from what‘s happening in Japan right now, in terms of the dangers of meltdown in those four reactors over there?

ELSAYYAD:  I think that would be highly unlikely.  I think that just learning from the Chernobyl experience, of course, the wind blew in the direction of Belarus at the time of the accident, but that was next door to it.  But I think we‘re separated by an ocean, and it would have to be quite minimal, if I had to guess.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Just running through the logical question, what about our food chain?  What impact would it have on the food chain?  Can it contaminate someone else, what‘s going on over there?

ELSAYYAD:  That‘s—yes, that‘s the most important question, actually. 

See, most of the—one of the most prevalent radioisotopes or radionuclides, elements that are produced by a fission reaction, is radioiodine.  And the reason for that is that just its—its—its atomic number such that it‘s about half the atomic number of the uranium-235.

And, therefore, fissile products contain a lot of iodine-131.  Now, iodine-131 could potentially, if it goes into the food chain, like what happened in Chernobyl, could result in far-reaching late effects of radiation. 

For example, in Chernobyl, the risk of thyroid cancer increased amongst newborns and infants exposed at the time simply by ingestion of cow milk—cows grazed, of course, on the grass that contained iodine after it settled in the soil—was increased about 87-fold.  And we knew that about 20 years later.

In adolescents, the risk increased 12 -- as the age grew, as you go—as you get older, then obviously the risk for cancer induction is less, because it depends on how—how much more years of your lifespan you have to live. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Next question.  If you—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Next question is, if you are exposed to radiation, can you contaminate someone else?  Is it contagious?  That‘s maybe a pretty primitive question, but it‘s being asked. 

ELSAYYAD:  No.  No.  No.

As—unless you are exposed to radiation dust, like you‘re in the immediate vicinity of the—the accident, and that dust gets just mechanically off your clothes on somebody else, I think the only way that somebody could—could pass along internally deposited radiation, as opposed to externally—to external radiation, is if iodine-131 is ingested, it can be excreted in the milk.

So, for a nursing mother potentially who has ingested radioiodine, it can go to the—to the infant. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ELSAYYAD:  But that‘s the only way that you could actually pass it along. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Dr. Elsayyad, you are the expert.  I just need your—one or two questions now.  It seems like we grew up in this country not really worried about X-rays, for example.  We went to shoe stores and they would give you a shoe.  You know, you stick your feet into one of these things and you get an X-ray. 

ELSAYYAD:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  It was casual. 

And then we got to the point where doctors go fleeing from the office or dentists the minute the X-ray goes on.  You go, wait a minute.  This must be serious business. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And then there are people today who are really concerned about even going through the airport a lot.  They don‘t having to—for a lot of social reasons or psychological, they don‘t like being exposed to that kind of exposure, if you will. 

What—is there—is this something we‘re more serious than we should be worried about or less serious?  Is there something—because what I‘m hearing from you in the beginning, I‘m hearing perhaps that this is a serious thing to worry about.  Well, tell me how you read it right now.  What‘s going on in Japan, should we be worried about it, we Americans? 

ELSAYYAD:  Well, I think—I think we need more figures. 

You know, looking at the data—and I had just in front of me here the—the International Atomic Energy Agency announcement this morning.  And they mentioned, based on what Japanese data were, that the rate—the dose rate that was measured close to the reactor was about 12 millisieverts an hour. 

Now, that‘s two-and-a-half times what‘s allowable for one year of exposure in one hour.  And then at maybe 6:00 in the morning, six hours later, they announced that it went down 20 times to 0.6.  So, I think that we really need, before drawing any conclusions, to get more figures -- 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ELSAYYAD: -- where are these measurements made, are these in the immediate vicinity, are these far away and so forth, to really draw conclusions. 

But I think the main three things that they have done is, number one, they evacuated the area.  And you can never go wrong with that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ELSAYYAD:  As distance increases, then the exposure decreases quite rapidly. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ELSAYYAD:  And they started also giving people potassium iodide, which is one of the major things that should be done, based on the World Health Organization report of 1999, for prophylaxis against exposure to radioiodine. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Dr. Nagy Elsayyad.  Thank you for coming from the University of Miami, a great school. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Officials in Japan are closely monitoring the weather, as wind patterns play a big role, of course, in the dispersement of these radioactive particles.  We will get the latest from The Weather Channel.  We‘re hearing from everybody. 

People are worried about this.  We‘re trying to let you know how much to be worried on HARDBALL.

You‘re watching it, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL. 

It‘s day five, of course, of Japan‘s nuclear crisis.  The big question today, where is the wind blowing, the radiation is going?

Joining us now is Weather Channel meteorologist Bryan Norcross. 

I guess let‘s talk about Japan itself.  What is happening to wind conditions and how it‘s affecting this danger of radiation? 

BRYAN NORCROSS, THE WEATHER CHANNEL:  (AUDIO GAP) now is that the winds are blowing offshore. 

So, there is not concern at the moment and for the immediate future if something more were to happen from the nuclear plant there that those winds would be over a populated area.  And during the day today, it rained, so that tended—tends to dampen things down.  So if there was any kind of contamination, it‘s more likely to be local.  And of course they evacuated that area. 

Going downstream, as we look into the weekend, the winds become much more light and variable.  And again we don‘t see any significant transport of anything coming out of there, assuming it stays in this quasi-contained state that it‘s in right now. 

MATTHEWS:  What about crossing the Pacific to us? 

NORCROSS:  Unlikely, unless you get a massive kind of explosion there. 

In Chernobyl, what happened, remember, was you had the nuclear meltdown.  You didn‘t have the containment, but all that nuclear fuel was then—there was an explosion separately from that that pushed this way up into the atmosphere, and, therefore, the upper-level winds, which are a lot stronger, were able to move it downstream a significant distance. 

So, as long as they keep this thing at least quasi-contained, there would appear to be no threat at all to us.  And even if it were to be bad, by the time it got all the way across the Pacific, the likelihood is that we would not have a significant effect even then. 

MATTHEWS:  You mentioned the rain being a beneficial element here, but it seems to me, based upon my little information on this—and check me if you can—when the rain comes down, it takes the particulates, the nuclear particulates, out of the air, the stuff you don‘t want landing on you, and it lands in puddles, obviously.

And if it‘s snowing, it lands in snow piles.  But, apparently, it‘s still radiation, it‘s still radioactive, it‘s on the ground.

NORCROSS:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s still dangerous. 

NORCROSS:  That‘s exactly right. 

The thing is, it keeps it from—from dispersing.  I mean, the rain is only good in the sort of contained sense.  The fact is, they‘re going to have a radioactive area near that plant, no matter what happens now.  They have been releasing radiation into that immediate atmosphere. 

What their goal there is to keep something really bad from happening that disperses it out way beyond the plant and it gets into the atmospheric and the oceanographic distribution systems of the Earth—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

NORCROSS: -- and move it a long distance.

So, right now, there‘s just no way they get out of this thing, it doesn‘t look like to me, without having a contaminated area.  It‘s just a matter of degree to—to—and how big the area is that‘s contaminated.  And that‘s why they have evacuated. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Bryan, I hate to say it, but the only time we‘re going to come to you is for bad news—

(LAUGHTER)

NORCROSS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS: -- I mean, nuclear fallout and horrendous situations worldwide.  We‘re not coming for the nicest weather in Miami. 

Anyway, thank you, Bryan Norcross of The Weather Channel for coming to

HARDBALL. 

Up next:  Moammar Gadhafi‘s forces are consolidating power in Libya.  And now the neocon crowd, the ones that always like the next war, they want the United States to reestablish—or establish a no-fly zone to drive Gadhafi from power, if that would do it.  Should we get involved in this third war, and what would it mean for us if we do?  Serious questions. 

Let‘s get the answers analytically when we come back on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHELLE CARUSO-CABRERA, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Michelle Caruso-Cabrera with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks pared losses after some very steep declines this morning.  The Dow finished lower by only 137 points.  I say only because it was down as much as 300 points early in the session.  The S&P 500 fell 14.  The Nasdaq tumbled 33. 

That initial sell-off was triggered mostly by declines in overseas markets due to the nuclear crisis in Japan.  Tokyo stocks were down more than 14 percent at one point overnight.  Oil prices also falling sharply, finishing below $109 a barrel on concerns the disaster will depress global demand. 

Gold and other precious metals plummeted as investors moved to more liquid assets, like cash.  And Toyota and Subaru are scaling back production at plants in North America while they assess the availability of parts from Japan.

And the Federal Reserve today noted growing strength in the economy here in the U.S., but decided to leave interest rates unchanged near their record lows. 

That‘s it from CNBC.  We‘re first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s going to be very important for us to look at a wide range of options that could continue to tighten the noose around Mr. Gadhafi and apply additional pressure.  And so we will be continuing to coordinate closely, both through NATO, as well as the United Nations and other international forums to look at every single option that‘s available to us in bringing about a better outcome for the Libyan people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was President Obama, of course, on Monday, as pressure builds from some people who want a no-fly zone established by us basically in Libya. 

Today, a group of them today, including Liz Cheney, the daughter of the former vice president, Bill Kristol, Dan Senor, Randy Scheunemann, Paul Bremer, Cliff May, sent a letter to the president that said—quote—“We call on you to urgently institute a no-fly zone over key Libyan cities and towns in conjunction with U.S. allies.  We also call on you to explore the option of targeted strikes against regime assets in an effort to prevent further bloodshed.”

Do the America people want us to start fighting in another Middle East country? 

The Huffington Post‘s Howard Fineman is an MSNBC political analyst, and Joshua Keating is associate editor for “Foreign Policy” magazine.

Joshua, I see the familiar names up there, like Kristol and Senor and the rest of them, Marty Peretz.  The usual hawks in the Middle East are hawkish here. 

And my question is, is the option here to put our planes in the air to shoot other planes down, or is the real option on the table, no matter what anyone says, and it‘s implied here, to basically go to war with Gadhafi, that you start shooting, you‘re cratering his airfields, you shoot his AAA fire, you really get engaged in a war to bring him down?

Is there any sense of just going in and doing a no-fly by itself and letting him win, for example? 

JOSHUA KEATING, “FOREIGN POLICY”:  Well, the no-fly is often considered a kind of intermediate step when the international community is demanding action, but a full military engagement would be untenable. 

But you‘re right that this does in a certain sense imply that we‘re getting involved in another military action in Libya.  The previous no-fly zones that have been imposed in the form of Yugoslavia and over Iraq following the first Gulf War, those were sort of limited, but real combat operations.  We shot down six Serbian fighter planes in 1994. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s an act of war. 

KEATING:  Well, I mean, the—

MATTHEWS:  Is there any other way of framing it if you go to another country and shoot down its airplanes?  Isn‘t that an act of war against that government of that country? 

KEATING:  Well, the Bosnian one was framed in terms of a—there was a U.N. resolution which actually imposed the no-fly zone. 

The—in the case of Iraq, the U.S. and several allies acted without the U.N., and the legality of that operation is still disputed to this day. 

MATTHEWS:  Howard, let me bring you in here. 

It seems to me that it‘s a slippery slope.  If you‘re for it, it makes sense to get into a slippery slope.  The neoconservatives who have signed that letter are very clear about it.  They are honest.  They want to go for a no-fly zone, but then they immediately say, well, let‘s go after those assets.  I love the way they use antiseptic terms, those assets.  They‘re people you are going to start blowing up over there. 

Is this a real left/right fight over a war situation again? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, not quite. 

Senator John Kerry, the Democrat who is head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is on record very strongly in favor of a no-fly zone, in conjunction with—as even the neocons said, in conjunction with allies. 

The problem is that Kerry and—and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the secretary of state, haven‘t been able to engineer the kind of international cooperation that would be necessary to give such a thing the color of international law. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

FINEMAN:  So, there are some Democrats who you would think of as skeptical about the war who are willing to consider a no-fly zone.

But the American people are pretty clear.  They might accept a no-fly zone in conjunction with allies, which we don‘t even have yet.  They are not going to be willing to accept another act of war leading to another war in yet another Arab country. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I love the fact, Howard, that we have all these allies when it comes to going to war, but once when we‘re in it, we‘re alone.

FINEMAN:  Yes, right.

MATTHEWS:  And, by the way, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry were both for the Iraq war, let‘s not forget.

FINEMAN:  It‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  They were hawks the last time around.  This is the usual suspects.  The one big difference is that Lugar, who‘s always shown sanity, who‘s now the ranking member on foreign relations, Lugar of Indiana, has laid it out clearly he‘s against going in with a no fly.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Howard.

FINEMAN:  So, is Secretary of Defense Gates.  I think he‘s made it very, very clear that he thinks it‘s a bad idea both of—even the no-fly zone, let alone any kind of direct military involvement.  So, it‘s basically State versus Defense among other things.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the American people.  Here‘s the new “Washington Post”/ABC poll that‘s just out -- 56 percent of Americans support the U.S. participating with a coalition of countries enforcing a no-fly zone.  There the coalition is the word.  The number of supporters drops to 45 percent for a unilateral U.S. going alone with a no-fly.

Among the no-fly supporters, these are people who are hawkish on this, when they‘re told it requires bombings and air patrols, one out of four drops.  But, still, a majority, of a majority, sticks with it.

Josh, I guess you could argue the American people are somewhat divided although relatively hawkish on this one.  Do they think—do you believe they understand the ramifications of going into another country and then forcing a no-fly?

KEATING:  Well, I think that that international support that you‘re talking about is simply unrealistic.  You know, if you look at—well, France and Britain, they‘re supporting this.  But Germany is very skeptical within NATO.  Turkey, a key country within NATO, is against it.  And Russia and China will likely oppose it in the Security Council.

So, this—putting it under banner of an international organization which we did in Bosnia is simply not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  What about Arab League?  I love the fact the Arab backed us in the first Iraq war, although I didn‘t back it.  The Arab League did.  And my question is, I thought Lugar was very smart.  He said, if they back it, pay for it.

Is there any chance the Arabs will pay for us to go in to their region, into Libya and fight one of their governments?  Pay for it.

KEATING:  The Arab League suggestion was that we bring this to the Security Council, which is the same thing Hillary Clinton has been saying as well—

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KEATING: -- and some other proponents.  The former director of policy planning for the State Department, Anne-Marie Slaughter, has also supported bringing this to the Security Council.

You know, the thing as I mentioned the no-fly zone gets thrown around as an option when political action is untenable.  But, right now, we just have a conversation about a no-fly zone and we‘re pre-imposing these conditions.  And meanwhile, things in Libya are proceeding at their own pace while this conversation is going on, and it‘s not clear that there‘s ever going to be support to actually impose this.

FINEMAN:  And, Chris, if we do --- if we do it on our own, if we do a no-fly zone on our own, that‘s more like a war situation and would not have backing of the United Nations or any color of the kind of international support that was the case in both Bosnia and Iraq in the first no-fly zone there.

MATTHEWS:  And the bottom line is, we‘re not going to get Russia and China.  They‘re on the Security Council.

FINEMAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Is that right, Josh?  It‘s very unlikely we‘re going to get Security Council-backed U.N. action here.

KEATING:  Russia and China are kind of what‘s traditionally considered the sovereignty caucus.  They are skeptical of any kind of intervention into another country‘s internal affairs, and, you know, the Russian foreign minister has been pretty blunt about this.  He called it a superfluous action and basically said it‘s unnecessary.

And it‘s not just those countries.  I mean, Germany as well.  The foreign minister there said he requires more information.  And he‘s kind of skeptical about the idea.

So, while there are other allies supporting this, notably the French who are coming out in strong support, which is a contrast with the way they responded to events in Egypt and Tunisia, you know, it‘s just—to have it framed in terms of one of these organizations that require a consensus decision is just not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  Howard, last thought from me—I think the American people when told no-fly, they think it‘s an easy one.  It‘s just everybody—as Josh has just said, it‘s sort of halfway between going to war and not.

But, in effect, if you go halfway to war, it‘s like being half pregnant.  We go into that war situation, we start killing Libyans in the government side, we start killing civilians by accident.  We‘re in that war.  And even hawks like Ms. Slaughter who mentioned it in the paper the other day, she said you got to hit the ground, you got to hit the air fields, you got to hit the AAA fire, it‘s serious business.  And the idea of the no-fly zone is somehow antiseptic and doesn‘t kill people is dishonest.

If we go to war, we better win it.  We better win it fast.  The American people don‘t like long wars.  They hate being stuck in another third world country over there.  We‘re stuck in two of them now.  And when we get out of one or two, we can start talking about the third.  That‘s my position.

Thank you, Howard Fineman.  Thank you, Joshua Keating.

It‘s easy to blow the trumpets.  It‘s hard to end the war.

Up next: Michele Bachmann proves once again she really doesn‘t know much about history.  Maybe that‘s not a big surprise.

We‘re going to get to this.  How do you get the social promotions in the Republican Party now where you‘re a serious candidate for president but not serious about knowing anything?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, now, it looks like Tim Kaine is actually running for the Senate down in Virginia after all.  The University of Richmond college newspaper says Kaine told the class yesterday with good sourcing, apparently, that he was going to give it a shot.  That‘s his phrase.  And a public announcement he said would be coming in a week or so.

Well, that report conflicts somewhat with the official line of Democratic National committee which he runs which is that he‘s only increasingly likely to get in the race.

Well, it looks like he‘s edging to the race here.  Kaine is the Democrats‘ top choice to run against George Allen for Jim Webb‘s seat.  That‘s going to be the most watched campaign in all across the country next year.  We‘ll be right back—except for the presidency.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back. 

Tea Party leader and potential 2012 presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was in New Hampshire this past weekend speaking to supporters.  But it‘s not the crowds she drew or the policy ideas that she stirred that caused the attention.  It‘s her complete lack of historic knowledge.  Let‘s listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty.  You‘re the state where the shot was heard from around the world at Lexington and Concord.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, of course, the battles of Lexington and Concord were in Massachusetts.  Everybody knows that—not New Hampshire.  But it wasn‘t a slip of the tongue.  The paper reported she said it not once but twice that weekend.

Should everyone running for president know some basic history?  The themes of our history, like, you know, the periods—oh, slavery, things like that.

Let‘s go to show Shushannah Walshe of “The Daily Beast” and Errol Louis, host of “Inside City Hall.”

Now, people on the far right who have gotten into this sort of anti-intellectual cant now as if not knowing anything is somehow knowing everything.  And that is the belief system that‘s out there now.  I don‘t want to get into that.  This is not a gotcha or slip of the tongue, people make them all the time.  I make slips of the tongue.  Everybody in broadcasting does it.

It‘s a question of not knowing fundamental information.  This person, Michele Bachmann, made her name on this show on HARDBALL by having no awareness of the McCarthy period.  In fact, she called for another McCarthy period.  She wanted the media to go back and investigate everybody going back—and here it is.  There‘s—here it is, the Bachmann back in 2008 talking about wanting us to investigate members of Congress for anti-American activities.

Let‘s watch, as if it never happened once.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, this is a character issue.  You believe that Barack Obama may—you‘re suspicious because of this relationship—may have anti-American views.  Otherwise it‘s probably irrelevant to this discussion.

BACHMANN:  Absolutely.  I absolutely.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  So, you believe that Barack Obama may have anti-American views.

BACHMANN:  Yes, absolutely.  I‘m very concerned that he may have anti-American views.  What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating expose and take a look.  I wish they would.  I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they are pro-America or anti-America.  I think people would be—would love to see an expose like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Shushannah, somebody needs a different kind of expose here.  Here‘s—anyway, no knowledge of the McCarthy period.  We went to the whole thing.  She thought slavery was sort of fought by the Founding Fathers when it wasn‘t.  We had slaves held by presidents right up to Lincoln, practically.  Doesn‘t know a lot about the themes of American history—is that a problem?  Forget the details, the themes.

SHUSHANNAH WALSHE, NEWSWEEK:  I do.  I think it‘s very worrisome.  Not only has she shown signs that she wants to run for the presidency with time in New Hampshire and Iowa, but she also says over and over again how committed she is to the Constitution.  But, as you said, and you pointed out, it doesn‘t seem to be a slip of the tongue, accidents are made, but she said this twice, and coupled with all the other statements you just mentioned—I do think that it‘s really worrisome, incredibly worrisome.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go back to Errol because I think the great thing about American history is that we have learned.  This is a country that gets better.  We extend liberty.  We extend freedom.  We learn where we fail, certainly the horror of slavery, which was certainly one of our—it was our original sin, most would say.

And to not know these things is to really not know our country.  I don‘t think.  That‘s my view.

ERROL LOUIS, NY1:  Well, that‘s certainly a valid argument.  I think what‘s more troubling actually is that nobody around her caught any of these gaffes.

MATTHEWS:  Yes!

LOUIS:  There should have been 10 or 20 people—

MATTHEWS:  Yes!

LOUIS: -- grabbing her and saying, wait a minute, let‘s rewrite that basic speech.  You‘re getting some of this stuff wrong here.  But, you know, Chris, I think some of this is a deal with the devil that the Republicans and the conservative movement made 30 years ago, trying to unite the country club Republicans with the Sunday school Republicans.  I‘m just using shorthand there.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

LOUIS:  And I trying to sort of get—dig into the long-standing Democratic populist base and getting that working class on their side.  And there‘s a fair amount of anti-intellectualism that went with that effort.  And sometimes, it comes back to bite them.

MATTHEWS:  Well, know nothing-ism is making a comeback here, Shushannah.  I mean, literally, not just being anti—being nativist and anti-foreigner but—or anti-immigrant.  This thing, why is it appealing?  Just give us a primer.  Why is not knowing things somehow attractive to the grassroots of the Tea Party?  Which, by the way, is a phrase borrowed, of course, from our revolutionary period, the Tea  Party.  You think there‘d be some honoring of the facts.

WALSHE:  That‘s an interesting point that you bring out.  But I think that supporters of somebody like Michele Bachmann will say, well, that they like her because that she‘s just like them.  She‘s a mom.  She‘s somebody who went to Congress to fight for them.  And those are the themes that you hear over and over again.

And she—you even saw today, she blamed the media for reporting on those remarks, not taking the blame herself.  You know, and it was clearly a mistake.  And so, in the eyes—in her eyes, and also in the eyes of her supporters, it shows—they see those media ganging up on her because she‘s a Republican, not pointing out accurately serious mistakes about the founding of our country.

LOUIS:  But, you know, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

LOUIS: -- there‘s always a lot of fuel for that sentiment because, look, you and I know—I think, Shushannah, we all know, there are a lot of elitists out there.  There are a lot of people out there who disregard what regular folks think.  And if you sound like one of them, you know, you‘re fair game.  And that‘s what keeps a Michele Bachmann in business—no matter how many mistakes she makes.

MATTHEWS:  I think if you love our country, you should get to know it.  Anyway—if you love our history, get to know it.  And there‘s nothing wrong with sitting down—she should do it know.  Go get a history book and study.  It‘s a wonderful history.

           

LOUIS:  Or hire somebody else.

MATTHEWS:  With a lot of troubles.  Just go do it.  Just learn it, it‘s not hard.  It‘s not—we don‘t have that long a history you can‘t master it.  And I mean master it.

Anyway, thank you, Shushannah Walshe—

WALSHE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS: -- and Errol Louis.

I‘ll be right back in a moment with some closing thoughts.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  “Let Me Finish” tonight with a simple proposition: Do we stop building this country, go into a fetal position because of all that‘s going on in the world?  Or do we, damn it, keep on building the way that‘s made this country great—the country everybody in the world seems to want to get into, even if they have to climb a fence, swim a river or sneak in some other way?

I say we keep on building.  In the middle of the Civil War, with half of us fighting the other half, we went out and built the continental railroad.

In 1940, with world war looming, we built the Pennsylvania turnpike.  And then we built the interstate highway system so we‘d have these 95s and 70s and 80s crossing up and across the country, instead of a bunch of a country roads and speed traps.

We kept building, even sent some spaceships to the moon in the 1960s, despite everything else happening in the world, disturbing, dispiriting and inspiring is that decade was.

Now, today, some Americans, some senators led by John Kerry, the head of the United States Chamber of Commerce, the head of the top labor unions of the country, they all got together today and they said—let‘s do it again.  They talked up a new infrastructure bank to leverage hundreds of billions of dollars of private money to get this country moving again, literally, across highway and railway—real American stuff.

Now, I know this cuts across the grain of the times.  The governor of New Jersey says it‘s time to tighten our belts.  He blew the whistle on building a new tunnel from New Jersey to New York.  The governor of Florida is calling for a stop to building rapid rail from Tampa to Orlando.  They will get some short-term glee out of the Tea Party from this.

But history won‘t think a whole lot of them.  Nobody roots in the long run for the people who think in the short-run.  Let‘s hear it for the builders who still want this country to go!

That‘s HARDBALL for now.  Thanks for being with us.

More politics ahead with Cenk Uygur.

           

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